Events & News Archive
For the past one month, since the Covid-19 spread across from the East to the West, more and more countries have been hit by it. When it was still spreading and killing people in Wuhan, China, the epicentre, many in the European and American continents were not paying attention to it; perhaps, thinking it's remote, an Asian problem, and the virus should die off before reaching their shores.
Yet, to date, at the time of writing, the Covid-19 has infected 445,756 persons worldwide and killed 20,487. The epicentre has now shifted from Wuhan in China, to Lombardy in Italy, to Madrid in Spain, and now, to New York, United States.
Many countries, including Singapore have locked down cities, countries, airspace, rails and sea ports. In major cities around the world, not only commercial and civil organisations are affected, unable to operate normally. Many of these organisations have to shut down to prevent further spread of the virus. Religious organisations are not spared too, with mosques, temples, and churches ordered to suspend worship services and activities. Even the departed are not spared, with wakes and funerals being hastily performed.
Like Singapore, many major cities in Asia, Europe and US, have banned gathering of no more than two or ten people. This gravely affected churches across these cities. How should we Christians reflect and respond to this scenario where our churches are empty and we have to move from physical to virtual spheres? How should we Christians believe and behave in the midst of a pandemic that is raising fears and anxieties translated into irrational and bizarre behaviour?
Throughout the past two over months, I have noticed there have been extreme responses. Some churches have been hit by the virus, and by order of MOH, have to suspend all services and activities for two weeks. Other churches, upon learning of the situation in these churches, decided to suspend all services and activities as well to protect their congregations. Those who are more confident, somehow are judgmental of those churches who suspend services and activities.
Today, Singapore is moving into a different phase in our fight against the Covid-19 virus. There are across-the-board guidelines for all civic, community and religious organisations - i.e. to suspend all gathering of more than ten people. Our Singapore Government is sparing no efforts in keeping Singapore safe from another round of local transmissions. This require all Singaporeans, individuals and institutions, to work together to achieve this goal!
Now, against the foregoing description of the scenario, I want to share some of my reflections and response to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, as a Christian and pastor.
Let me begin with the quote from Hebrews 10:23-25,
I will use the three injunctions or commands given by the Hebrews author.
Let us CONFESS our hope unswervingly...
The letter of Hebrews was written to Christians who were experiencing intense persecutions, with some of them even facing life-threatening situations. Livelihood disrupted and lives destroyed. Life could not be carried on "business as usual"; it was "business unusual!"
With widespread persecution, the Hebrews Christians were experiencing fears and anxieties. Of course, many of them probably went into hiding. Some, remain visible, but muted in their profession of faith.
Yet, in the face of persecution that provoked fears and anxieties, the Hebrews author exhorted the Christians to CONFESS THE HOPE they have and hold dear for their lives! It may not mean they had to mindlessly go about telling everyone they were believers. Rather, they were commanded to exhibit, express, and engage in attitudes and beliefs that reflect their HOPE.
What is the HOPE that they possessed? It is the HOPE in Jesus Christ, who is the exact imprint of the Father, who is the sum of all the revelations through the prophets through the ages, who is supreme or greater than angels, Moses, Joshua, and Melchizedek (Hebrews 1-7). Jesus is the Great High Priest, who offered the perfect sacrifice once for all, which was none other than Himself, the Lamb of God!
As we have observed – from China to Singapore to Hong Kong to Europe to US and to Australia, everywhere - people were driven by fears and anxieties that prompted them towards panic buying and stockpiling! Am I? Are you? Are we part of this mindless panic buying that emptied the shelves, leaving nothing for the vulnerable - the elderly and the poor?
The world can panic and be anxious. But, Christians, whose hope is in Christ, cannot! We are called to live by faith, not by fear! (1 Corinthians 5:7) We are called not to be anxious about anything or everything! (Philippians 4:6-7) So many times in the Bible we have been commanded by God, "Do not fear!" or "Do not be afraid!" And this command is always accompanied by "For I am with you! You can search the concordance for yourself. Too many verses to list here!
Worse still, as believers, our hope is in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, our hope for this life and the life to come! As such, fear of death cannot be in us, enslaving us! Why did Jesus come in the flesh, becoming a human being? Hebrews 2:14-15 gives us the answer:
I am not belittling our feelings of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, etc. Faith is not the absence of unbelief; it is belief overcoming unbelief. Like the desperate father in the Gospels, in a moment of exasperation, he cried out to our Lord Jesus, "Lord, I do belief; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
Let us CONSIDER how to stir up one another to love and good works...
As mentioned earlier, our lack of hope make us nervy, selfish, irresponsible and even wicked! The panic buying is just a tip of the iceberg of ugly beliefs and behaviour.
It is not enough to avoid behaving ugly in times of fears and anxieties. According to the author of Hebrews, Christians must rise above the situation, conquering their own fears and anxieties, emboldened by the HOPE they possess, to LOVE one another, and perform good works in society!
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which will not only destroy lives, disrupt daily routines, but also destabilise the economy, leading to loss of jobs and livelihoods. Will we lose hope? Will we lose trust in our Heavenly Father always provide our necessities (Matthew 6:25-34)? Will we become ugly, selfish, mean, and wicked to fellow believers and others?
It is not enough just to avoid being selfish, mean, and wicked. Christians, according to Hebrews author, we need to rise above the situation, overcome our fears and anxieties, emboldened by the HOPE we profess and choose to LOVE – instructing one another to love and good works, and inspiring one another to love and good works by example!
I am touched by the volunteers who are going about helping the elderly to understand what’s Covid-19, and how they may keep themselves healthy and safe from being infected. I am delighted that the supermarkets designated times for the vulnerable – e.g. elderly, handicapped, and pregnant women to do their groceries.
Are there vulnerable in your congregation, people who are unable to care for themselves like buying their groceries? Will someone step in and help buy their groceries?
Let us CONTINUE to meet up with a sense of urgency...
When the situation calls for suspension of worship services, many churches jumped on the bandwagon of going online for live streaming. Nothing wrong with that. But, if we are doing it because we want our "business as usual", i.e. gathering "virtually" in big numbers to boost and prop our spiritual highs, then we might have missed the opportunity God has given us in the midst of this calamity.
For recent decades, when city churches embark on a church growth movement, everyone is stuck in the modern spirituality – that kind of "entrepreneur: spirituality that James Houston describes:
So, the small churches want to grow big, the big churches desire to grow bigger, and the biggest churches want to be mega and global! Basically, the whole hype about what church is and doing church has been nothing short of organizational and entrepreneurial. In the quest for growth, worship service has also been “homogenised” in the form of scale and scope that small churches cannot attain and reproduce. The stage, sound, and size of number of people on stage to prop up the service is nothing short of sensational!
While the contemporary Church is working relentlessly to be bigger, this Covid-19 pandemic might be God-sent to break us up and break us down to smaller bits, so that we can rediscover the simplicity in spirituality and authenticity in community.
With the advent of internet, there are so much resources and alternatives to listening to our pastors preaching, and also to "participate" in other more live stream "entertaining" and "engaging" worship services offered in cyberspace.
All these high-tech resources offer conveniences and comfort for our spirituality, a kind that is steers us from simpler, quieter, deeper, and soul-searching form of devotion and worship. Here, I shall mention some of the opportunities that urban Christians and churches should seize during this pandemic to deepen our spirituality.
First, personal devotions. The suspension of the many ministry services and activities should compel us to go back to personal spirituality. It is true that no man is an island, something we emphasise to many young and old believers alike that they should seek to be part of a church service and life. But, times like this is God-sent, for us to exhort our members to go back to basic, simple, and soul-search spirituality – God-Bible-me kind of daily devotions. Do not encourage members to tune in to Christian radio ministry, or engage with live stream worship. Use this time of "alienation" from the rest of the Christian community for personal time with God. Perhaps, for too long, God wants to speak to you and me alone, but the trouble is that we are never alone and we crowd our lives with people and noise!
Second, family devotions. As part of church leadership, we agonise over many decisions in the past months - should we or should we not continue with this or that ministry or activity? One of the key ministries affected greatly is children's ministry. Many churches probably have suspended Sunday schools. So, what do we do...nothing? I hope not! Perhaps, this is the best opportunity offered to us to bring back the message that Christian education fundamentally is the responsibility of parents and the family, not the church. The Church facilitates and provides help in many, many ways. But, woe to the Church that seeks to take away the primary role of parents in Christian education or discipling of children!
I suspect many urban Christian families live very busy lives, usually with dual income, i.e. both mom and dad are working fulltime to provide the good life. And, more of than not, mom and dad are "dead tired" when they reach home and are left with little energy to engage their children. Many of us urban Christian parents probably reasoned that we provide the resources for our children to read the Bible and pray on their own, and that would suffice for Christian education. But, seriously, we miss the joy of gathering the family to have God-talk, i.e. sharing from the Word and life what God is doing in the family life and each of the member's life! When this is regularly done, there is a sense of realism of God in the family life.
So, it is alright to suspend our children's ministry for the safety and health of the children. But, please equip and encourage parents to get their family together for devotions. Do not squander away this golden opportunity to bring back spiritual health and life to the families in our congregation! The church is only as strong as the health and strength of its families!
Third, small groups. Many of the cell groups or small groups in our churches are nothing more than just Bible study groups. Our utmost priority in gathering is to finish answering the questions in each Bible study session. No wonder, our small group ministry makes very little impact on our congregation, for the main exchange taking place is information and not the transformation of lives!
Our small groups should continue to keep in touch and be connected in various ways. We may meet in twos or threes for prayer and sharing. Or, we may meet as a group virtually using of the many platforms available – e.g. Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout. And, if we do meet physically, we need to observe the mandatory guidelines issued by the health authorities.
Instead of jumping on the bandwagon on live streaming our worship services, perhaps, we might want to suspend doing it, leaving gaps for our small groups to conduct its own worship - praising, praying, reading Scriptures aloud, and preaching. Yes, this may require some preparations – for example, providing templates or service order and dispatching our worship ministry teams to assist the small groups in music. Our worship ministry team members – worship leaders and band members – should already be in small groups. There are many resources for creative ways and ideas to get our cell groups to engage in worship.
What I am about to say may get me into trouble with the Synod of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS). What about Holy Communion? Should we allow it to be celebrated in the small groups? Few possibilities exist. For example, pastor(s) may visit each small group or grouping of small groups to celebrate the Holy Communion. Or, empower the Elders in small groups to administer the Holy Communion. Of course, this has to be done with the supervision of the Senior Minister by providing the liturgy and ensuring it is administered by Elders.
If a small group is lacking talents and resources to conduct worship and communion, perhaps, they may do it together with another one or two small groups. There is still a window of opportunity to do this spiritual exercise to step up our cell group life, which may come useful in times of hardships, opposition and persecution. After all, the Early Church met in homes and not many people have huge houses to have hundreds of people gathering for worship and Lord's Supper.
Will We Then...
I should conclude here, as there are many other creative ways for us to respond to the exhortation given by Hebrews author. Let us confess our hope unswervingly, consider how we may stir one another to love and good works, and let us continue to meet up, as we see the Day approaching!
The ideas mentioned here are just the thinking and suggestion of one person. If we are serious about responding to the opportunities given, collectively we can come up with better ideas. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, let us faithfully, diligently, and wisely lead our churches to emerge healthier, stronger, and more authentic as the people of God, shining bravely and brightly in a world dimmed by sin, sorrows, and sickness!
Sincerely Your Pastor,
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