Rev. Larry E. Wilson
"Every piece of Scripture, every prayer he'd prayed had brought him to this moment of this particular day." (Paul Stookey, in the song, "John Henry Bosworth")
When Vince Lombardi kicked off the Green Bay Packers training camp in 1961, he began a tradition of starting from scratch. He held out a football and said, "Gentlemen, this is a football." He took nothing for granted. I think that—especially during "the present distress" (1 Cor. 7:26)—we should take nothing for granted. We need to go back and rehearse the basics of walking humbly with our Lord. "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him …" (Col. 2:6). Of all times, now is a time to humble ourselves before the Lord, to examine ourselves, to repent of ways we've compromised, to "re-form" our thoughts, attitudes, priorities, and lifestyles according to God's Word.
The 16th century Reformation was another time of "present distress." People needed to learn and relearn those basics. The bubonic plague was the pandemic of that day. Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet on how to respond. Christians were reacting to the plague in a variety of ways. (They sound strikingly comparable to the various ways Christians are reacting to COVID-19). Luther marshaled gospel doctrine to address these various reactions. Among other things, he said:
"Use medicine. Take potions that can help you. Fumigate house, yard, and street. Shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence …. And act like someone who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire that, instead of consuming wood and straw, devours life and body? You ought to think this way: 'Very well, by God's decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore, I'll ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I'll fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I'll avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God wants to take me, he'll surely find me. I've done what he's expected of me and so I'm not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I won't avoid his place or person. I'll go freely, as stated above.' See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God" (slightly edited).
The fact that Luther had to muddle on through his "present crisis" with a medieval ignorance of germs, etc. didn't change the fact that he gave some biblically wise advice that helped the people he addressed.
Alas, now we're called to muddle on through our own "present crisis"—and no one really knows how best to handle it. Our congregations are providentially hindered from gathering together for worship in the near future. The COVID-19 pandemic is an evil in itself. Add to that its social and economic consequences. But this "dark providence" gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves.
Let's go back to the basics of knowing and walking humbly with the Triune God of grace. Let's examine ourselves honestly in trust and contrition before our Lord. Let's reassess and reorder our priorities in light of what really matters. Let's renew our zeal for the public means of grace and for Christian fellowship. Let's pray not only for the wisdom to see opportunities to serve our neighbors and tell them about Jesus, but also for the courage to seize them. Let's listen humbly not only to each other but also to fellow Jesus-followers of varying stripes—for it's only "with all the saints" that the Spirit will enable us to comprehend Christ's love and be filled with God's fullness (see Eph. 3:18–19). Let's muddle on seeking the all-importance of Jesus as best as we can.
Relying step-by-step on our Father's gracious acceptance and enabling in Christ, then, we need to keep muddling on, as best we can, concretely loving believers and building up the body of Christ. We need to keep muddling on, as best we can, concretely loving our neighbors and serving them in the name of Christ. Do we dare to hope that the Lord is answering the many prayers that he'll revive true religion and reform his church? That he'll discredit harmful counterfeits? I pray so. But that means that maybe we need to be asking additional searching questions before our Lord. Are we really doing the right thing? How long should we keep doing it? Is our Lord preparing us for even greater tribulation, and are we submitting to and learning the lessons he's teaching us now? Shouldn't we be crying out to him in humiliation and recommitment? We find it easier to think of ways the world needs to change than of ways that we need to change. If our Lord does re-form his church, then we shouldn't expect to go back to "business as usual" on the other side of "the present crisis." We should expect things to be different — for us as well as others. So, let's make sure to practice the basics. "Brothers and sisters, this is a Bible."
Larry Wilson is a retired OPC minister. He's serving as stated supply at Grace OPC in Wasilla, AK.