What The Early Church Can Teach Us About The Coronavirus

The early church was no stranger to plagues, epidemics, and mass hysteria. In fact, according to both Christian and also non-Christian accounts, one of the main catalysts for the church’s explosive growth in its early years was how Christians navigated disease, suffering, and death. The church’s posture made such a strong impression on Roman society that even pagan Roman emperors complained to pagan priests about their declining numbers, telling them to step up their game. 

So what did Christians do differently that shook the Roman Empire? And what can the early church teach us in light of the coronavirus? 

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To Lent or Not To Lent?

Let it be said, that in many ways, I’m about as non-conformist, non-liturgical as you can get. Instinctively, I rebel against the idea of the church year and its associated festivals. I won’t unpack my reasons for this, just take it that I’m an old Free Evangelical curmudgeon.

However, while I’m a natural iconoclast, I am enough of a historian to recognise that something would not have survived for as long as the concept of the church year if it did not have some value. I can see that in pre-literate societies, the rhythm of the church year, combined with the rolling of the seasons would have a value in teaching the message of the Gospels through a process of repetition. However, in an urban, literate society some of this value would undoubtedly be lost.

That being said, over the past few years, I’ve begun to think that churches in my tradition are missing a trick by not celebrating Lent. Let me explain.

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False gospels, poverty and justice

I don’t see his face. I know he is wearing a blue shirt and shorts, I guess he is about 10 or 12 and I think he is thin. Why do I know so little about him?  Because he is just in the edge of my vision. I am walking quickly out of the shopping mall amidst a cloud of boys.  They are asking for dinero (money). I am feeling stressed – are these guys genuine or were they sent out to beg by gang leaders? Or is that just my excuse not to stop, to give, to get involved? He isn’t asking for money, just lying on the floor, perhaps the poorest of them all. I don’t know.

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Hope does not disappoint

The Evangelical Alliance has called the UK to believe for a hopeful future following the outcome of the General Election which returned a majority Conservative government.

In a statement responding to the election outcome, Gavin Calver, CEO, said: “I am hopeful for the future of the United Kingdom as we head into 2020.

“Not because one party has won and another has lost, but because we believe in a God who is powerful.

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Integrating international students into local church ministries

These were some of the perspectives (misattributions?) I encountered when I asked students why they joined mono-ethnic Christian groups:

“Why did you form a Hong Kong small group? Why not join your church’s student group?”

“We found the bible studies superficial.”

“What do you mean?”, I asked, thinking of the church’s in-depth inductive bible studies.

“It’s all text book answers – what does the passage say. But people don’t share how they feel, or how they struggle to live it out.”

and…

“Why did you join the Afro-Caribbean Choir instead of the Christian Union?”

“The Christian Union isn’t passionate about Jesus.”

“How so?” Thinking, “yes they are!”

“They don’t worship at their meetings. How can God’s people come together and not want to sing his praises?”

Apart from the fact that students feel more comfortable in such groups, they are often effective at reaching non-Christians from a similar cultural background, and in a way, more efficient at discipleship because methods and messages are tailored to the audience.

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Why Bother?

There are many variations on the same question, but essentially they boil down to one central idea; why should we bother with global mission, when the needs here in the UK are so great? Everyone who is involved in promoting world mission in Britain will have run up against this question in one form or another. There is no single killer answer that will satisfy everyone who asks this question, but there are many ways in which the question itself is flawed.

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Remarkable Opportunity!

If Christians talk about international students at all, they usually talk about them in one of two ways: as a necessity for sustaining our UK universities or as a transient presence in our church communities which doesn’t really contribute anything lasting to the church. The first is true, so we are told by those who know about university finances and judging by how much international students are paying for their courses it is easy to believe. The second is not true and it is sad that this perspective means that some churches do not see the great and lasting benefit of investing in the lives of international students; a benefit to the local church but even more significantly, to the worldwide church.   

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International Students in China: Who will reach this vast and strategic yet invisible group? – Part 5

Church outside of China

Finally, how can the global church outside of China be part of this ISM vision in China? First and foremost, brothers and sisters could commit to praying for this.

Experienced ISM workers could be sent to China to support international churches or to come alongside local Chinese fellowships and campus ministries. Networking could be established between healthy national ISMs, pioneering ISMs outside of China, international churches within China, global sending organizations, and the nascent Chinese ISM movement.

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