The church must reject fear and division over COVID-19

Let’s return to our core calling.

The+Gospel+needs+to+have+precedence.

Creed Bauman

The Gospel needs to have precedence.

Addie Michaelian, Guest Writer

“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? … We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us … The vast majority of you who have gotten vaccinated, I understand your anger at those who haven’t gotten vaccinated.” 

On Sept. 9, President Biden addressed the nation and laid out a six-day plan to combat the delta variant. His remarks about the unvaccinated pitted the two groups against one another and exacerbated division. Much of the recent media coverage about the virus — too often involving fear-filled rhetoric and playing the blame game — has done the same. 

The church is not immune. Christians have allowed this language of fear and division to dictate their relationships. Extreme fear about COVID-19 and harmful tension over issues like the vaccine and masking have interfered with Christ’s command to love one another as members of one body. 

Paul had strong language for the Corinthians, a church riddled with divisions: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 

The church is called to gospel-centered unity, not COVID-19-centered unity. The church is called to be a people passionate first and foremost about loving God, loving one another and gathering together to proclaim the good news. A pandemic does not change that calling. 

The church has a mission to love God and fear no one or nothing except Him. Paul rebukes the spirit of fear when he writes to Timothy, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV). Fear fractures and divides. It is the gripping fear of a virus with a 97% recovery rate that has led to tension and judgement over mask-wearing on both sides, and anger over vaccine mandates or people’s failure to comply.

We do not serve COVID-19; we serve the living God who knows the number of our days. The Christian convinced that the vaccine is safe and effective has nothing to fear if they worship the one true King. The Christian concerned about the vaccine for legitimate reasons has nothing to fear because their life rests in the hands of the Almighty.

We can make medical decisions to the best of our knowledge, but we cannot control a second of our life or someone else’s. The author of Hebrews wrote to the persecuted church, “We can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6, NIV). 

In addition to loving and fearing God, Christians are called to love and serve one another. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NIV). This love is not based upon someone’s decision to wear a mask or not. It is not conditional upon their vaccine status. It is not qualified by how they interpret the contradictory data flooding our social media feeds. This love must be anchored in Christ’s radical love and sacrifice for each one of us when we were His enemies. 

Love for the other recognizes that the brother or sister sitting next to you without a mask on does not want to kill you. Some Christians argue that you must wear a mask in order to love your neighbor and condemn those who do not as careless at best, or just downright selfish. Many Christians do not see wearing a mask as loving at all, when there is contradictory data about whether masks are effective, or if they hinder meaningful social interaction, especially between children.

Similarly, love for one another doesn’t immediately assume that the brother or sister concerned about your vaccination status is trying to take away all your liberties. It recognizes that they are genuinely worried about your health and the health of others. Our witness suffers when we allow debates about confusing COVID-19 protocols to become more important than the call to be unified around the gospel in love.  

Finally, the church must hold fast to its call to gather together to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world. COVID-19 does not change this mission. Christians are meant to represent Christ together. We cannot do this alone. 

This is not the first time the church has faced adversity, and it will not be the last. Our calling to gather together to proclaim Christ does not include exceptions. The author of Hebrews writes to Christians facing intense persecution from the Roman Empire, but he says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV). 

The church gathers together not to proclaim safety and protection from trials, but the good news of Christ who takes our sins upon Himself and gives us eternal life. Fear and division over COVID-19 has no place in a church unified by the power of the gospel. 

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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