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Standing on Eternal Truths

The last three years saw our world united in the paralyzing grips of a deadly pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic gripped nations, with nearly 650 million people infected with the potentially fatal virus, resulting in more than six and a half million deaths globally. The scope and the cost in human lives, were devastating in every imaginable way. Industries ground to a halt, international travel was suspended, and lockdown regulations changed the daily dynamics of human interactions. Christian Churches were deeply affected; worship services were taken online, and the everyday expressions of worship, instruction, and pastoral care were modified to protect the faithful. Now that we have come to the tail-end of the pandemic, what can the Church glean from these painful experiences?

When we reflect deeply on the challenges and experiences that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the Church, several truths and glimpses about the future might be gleaned. The following eternal truths were rediscovered and strengthened during the pandemic:

The Church is more than a building: The pandemic quickly reinforced the Biblical truth that the Church is made up of people "called out" (the literal meaning of the Greek word used for Church in the New Testament) and that even if we cannot meet together in our dedicated places of worship – the Church remains intact. The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a body to illustrate the interconnectedness of the members of the Church when he writes, "for as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Rom 12:4-5). The calling and the Lordship of Christ organizes and unites the Church.

The Church cannot be destroyed: Since the Church is eternal and sustained by the presence of God, no pestilence or temporal hardship can destroy her. Jesus made this promise to his disciples when He declared, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). The Church is built on the rock of Christ Himself and will remain forever. Nothing can separate the Church from the love and care of God, as the Apostle Paul reminds the Church in Rome, "for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39). The Church is protected and kept by God Himself; nothing can destroy her.

The Church is resilient and limber: Fueled by the Holy Spirit, the Church responds with flexible innovation as she navigates the vicissitudes and provocations brought on by living in a world marred and ravaged by sin. Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the Church, guided by the omniscient and omnipresent God, pivots quickly and walks in a safe path prepared for her. Psalm 32, a psalm by King David, includes the following promise from God, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (Ps 32:8), therefore the Church can say to her God, "You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance" (Ps 32:7). During the pandemic, churches worldwide embraced innovative solutions, guided by Divine providence, to the limitations placed upon them. In many ways, the Christian Church led the way in ingenious solutions to lockdown regulations.

The Church ministers Divine healing to a broken generation: As expected, the pandemic saw a rise in physical ailments and mental health concerns. The Church, uniquely positioned to proclaim and minister the healing of Christ to a needy world, was at the forefront of addressing the needs of spirit, soul, and body. The Gospel of Luke reports that Jesus framed His own ministry and, by extension, the mission of the Church by using the language of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2) when He proclaimed, "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Lk 4:18-19). Disasters and catastrophes bring out the very best of the Church since we are the "salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13) and like a "city set on a hill" that cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14).

The Church offers genuine hope in a dark and hopeless world: The pandemic highlighted the troubling truth that our world is faced with myriad problems – wars, economic collapse, political unrest, global pestilence, and a rapid decline of morality and decency. In a world where we are bombarded with 24-hour news cycles, It is easy to lose hope and sink into nihilist despair. But the Church of Jesus brings a radical message of hope, renewal, and restoration in the midst of this pervasive darkness. To those who have accepted the Lordship of Christ, great hope exists as the Apostle Paul prays, "may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom 15:13 ). In Christ, our hope is secure as He promised to make "all things new" (Rev 21:5), and we know that His word is "trustworthy and true" (Rev 21:5).

The extraordinary experiences of this global pandemic also revealed some essential lessons for the future of the Church:

Technology shows great promise but also has significant limitations: The rapid adoption of technology to alleviate the restrictions of not meeting together greatly assisted the Church in riding out the pandemic. But we quickly found that technology cannot replace the human touch and the blessings of corporate prayer and worship. The Church of the future will have to use and adopt technological platforms and advances in deeply discerning ways. Unlike the eternal disciplines of Biblical Christianity, technological inventions age quickly and sometimes hinder believers' true fellowship.

Community is essential for the Church to flourish: The last three years revealed not only our human need for strong and vibrant communion, but also how much the very fabric of the Church consists of the unity that the Holy Spirit brings as we submit to the headship of Christ Jesus. The Church of the future will make the common bond of Christ-centered love her mark and expression of witness.

Local expressions are of equal importance as global reach: The pandemic and the extreme limitations placed on ministry and missionary outreach forced the Church to refocus its efforts on the local expression of the Body of Christ. The Church of the future will recognize that mission starts where God has placed us and that foreign outreach is both strengthened and energized by how much we care for our immediate neighbors. When the Holy Spirit empowers followers of Christ to be faithful witnesses of Christ, then our world will be brought into His glorious light and salvation.

We stand at a crossroads today. Will we embrace the lessons and the hopes for the future of the Church offered by the COVID-19 pandemic? May the Church of Jesus Church, "which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:23), have the ears to hear and eyes to see what the Spirit is saying (Rev 2:7). No matter what the challenges or difficulties of the future, the Church will be glorious and triumphant – victorious to the end.

We must be prepared for difficult times of tribulation and testing: The Christian life is not immune to suffering. The Apostle Peter cautioned the early believers "do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet 4:12-13). The Church of the future will flourish amid trials and suffering, fully persuaded that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28).

True worship roots the Church in her eternal calling and purpose: The Church of the future will not be distinguished by its beautiful buildings, use of technology, or worldly honors. Instead, it will be known for its true worship of the living God, worshiping the "Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him" (Jn 4: 23). In the consummation of all time and history, a vision of eternal worship of the living God emerges. Our unending adoration and worship of the Holy God, "who was and is and is to come" (Rev 4:8), will define and strengthen the future Church.

We stand at a crossroads today. Will we embrace the lessons and the hopes for the future of the Church offered by the COVID-19 pandemic? May the Church of Jesus Church, "which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:23), have the ears to hear and eyes to see what the Spirit is saying (Rev 2:7). No matter what the challenges or difficulties of the future, the Church will be glorious and triumphant – victorious to the end.

Dr Corné Bekker served as the associate dean for academics for Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg, South Africa, before his appointment as the Dean of the School of Divinity at Regent University in December 2015. He is the 2010 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award at Regent University for outstanding scholarship, teaching, and service. When asked, he describes himself as a sinner saved by grace, a follower of Christ, a husband and a father.

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