The Church in the Pandemic Age

At certain points in history (world wars, 9/11, etc) the world undergoes rapid change, and while the changes can be large and rapid, they can also be irreversible (does anyone think you’ll ever go back to pre-TSA at the airport?). The dawn of the pandemic age in 2020–2021 will be remembered as such an event, touching all parts of the world, and all parts of society, including religions and the church.

The church underwent major changes at the dawn of the pandemic age (2019–2021), not all of them good as pastors and groups willfully abandoned their primary mission for politics and division.

Of course, anyone looking through church history knows divisive behavior isn’t new, beginning as soon as the church was founded. No, the worst part comes from pastors continuing to find new ways to be divisive and failing to learn from history, abandoning their shepherd role for politics, division, and us-versus-them.

Oregon lost its pastorship very early in the pandemic:

Ten churches from across the state have asked a judge to rule that Gov. Kate Brown’s social distancing order infringes on their religious freedoms so their congregations can resume worship as desired.

“If we’re risking our lives to go to church, if we survive great,” said Salem-based attorney Ray D. Hacke, who filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Thursday. “If we die, then we’re going to heaven. If we want to take that risk, then it’s on us.”

Hacke filed a lawsuit the day before in Baker County Circuit Court on behalf of the nonprofit group Pacific Justice Institute…

Several Calvary Chapels and at least one Baptist church joined in the silliness, as reported by The Oregonian.

Of course, all those claims were 100% wrong, but they blindly marched ahead anyway (showing remarkable failure in logic and ability to think), even knowing they were incorrect.

  • It’s only a few cases, won’t affect us here. WRONG (failure to listen to mathematics and exponential growth of pandemics).
  • It’s no worse than flu. WRONG (Covid is at least 10 times worse than flu).
  • Why are you so afraid? Don’t you trust the Lord? Divisive (Yet you wore your sealt-belt on the drive in.)
  • We won’t obey tyranny and follow regulations (Yet you probably follow health regulations at the coffee bar and keep the milk refrigerated).
  • Lawsuits. Politics over ministry. WRONG.

Tragically the pandemic era church boldly abandons not only Biblical principles, but common sense, logic, science, and caring for the flock.

With “pastors” promoting such nonsense detached from reality, coupled with the bizarre notion they’re willfully and proudly abandoning their duty to protect the flock, it’s not surprising altercations broke out from their actions:

Minor scuffles erupted Sunday morning between rival demonstrators outside Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, which welcomed congregants in defiance of a judge’s order forbidding indoor services as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

Breaking the law and conflicts are now acceptable to pastors? Appears so (unless this pastor’s apology was missed). And they’re proud of their lawlessness. That’s the sad state of the church at the dawn of the pandemic age and how far down the rat-hole some churches and pastors travelled — many of the rapid changes the church experienced have not been for the better.

But they’re not done. Now deceptive tactics appear, making a mockery of religious conviction and freedom.

In Las Vegas, one church is making religious exemptions easy to obtain.
You don’t need to be a member at Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain.
You don’t even need to step foot on the property.
At this church, a religious exemption is one click away.
As the fight against COVID continues, and vaccine mandates begin to shape its next chapter, Calvary Chapel has posted a demand for religious exemption. It’s free to print, sign and hand to your employer.

No doubt exists some people hold sincere religious objections, but it’s quite another to say “Here’s my sincere religious belief … which my church never taught … that I got yesterday … from a form letter … off the Internet … from a political action legal group.” That bizarre promotion makes a mockery of those holding sincere objections, and once again makes the church a laughing stock.

Finally, as anyone watching late-night TV knows, it always ends up in money:

A pastor is encouraging people to donate to his Tulsa church so they can become an online member and get his signature on a religious exemption from coronavirus vaccine mandates.

Which ends in strong ability to rationalize Cognitive Dissonance (the need to explain away contradictory held beliefs at the same time — i.e. wearing a seat-belt because it’s legally required and saves lives, yet screeching against pandemic health protections as tyranny or persecution because they’re required and save lives).

Calvary Chapel San Jose, a church that faces more than $1 million in administrative fines for defying the state’s public health order, received a sizeable taxpayer-funded loan through the Paycheck Protection Program.

According to Santa Clara County counsel James Williams, Calvary Chapel San Jose has continued to hold indoor services, without masks, since August…

“It’s troubling to hear that an institution that is thumbing its nose at the courts and at the public health orders from the state and local levels is simultaneously turning around and taking taxpayer money from the federal government,” Williams added. “That’s quite concerning and a bit ironic.”

Does deception, focus on money, and altercations sound like qualities a pastor should promote? Worse, those ideas destroy the witness of the church as normal rational people using logic notice the absurdity of what transpired the last few years when political-minded pastors make a mockery of religion in their political (not doctrinal) ideological push for purity.

Anyone watching old westerns knows one thing — the pastor (“man of the cloth”) always protects the flock. He could be a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, or monk. While vast religious differences exist among those, they all share the desire to, well, help people.

… as opposed to those screeching they won’t move chairs, install air filters, or follow health protocols to protect the flock from a pandemic.

That’s caused the already large rift between church and unsaved to grow exponentially larger (as well as the divisions they’ve created inside the church). Simply put, “pastors” of the reality-denying sect over the past few years made the actual mission of the church much more difficult, and now exist as part of the problem instead of pointing to the solution.

The Symptoms

It’s fairly obvious (and unquestionable) pastors have gone wildly out of order. How you say? Well, assuming we agree on at least one thing (the Bible is the authoritative Word of God), Paul writes clearly:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division… (Galatians 5:19–20 NLT)

  • Kicking people out of the church over a non-doctrinal political issue (covid) is divisive (and hostile).
  • Arguing and shaming people is hostility.
  • Yelling at those is outbursts of anger.
  • Failure to admit mistakes is self-worship (from of idolatry), pride, and arrogance (as well as failure of leadership).
  • Promoting personal politics instead of ministry is selfish ambition.

… and so on (hypocrisy and deception aren’t good looks either). It’s clear many pastors follow that list, almost as if it’s a recipe.

And it is … for what not to do.

What should they be doing instead? Again, Paul writes:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. … (Galatians 5:22–23 NLT)

Notice the “but” used. That implies those on the previous list do not follow the Holy Spirit.

So should a pastor follow the Holy Spirit or something else? A question having an obvious answer, and yet the pandemic age caused some to abandon the fruit of the spirit for something else.

It’s indisputable pastors in the pandemic age lost their way. The questions are why and what can be done to get off the flesh list and return to the fruit of the spirit.

The Cause

It’s actually simpler than you might think. Pastors willingly abandoned the primary mission and focus they originally claimed to have, focusing on minor irrelevant political or non-doctrinal points instead of the one defining characteristic of Christianity (you know, the Gospel), at least as the apostle Paul defines it — focusing on differences to create disunity, division, and chaos instead of ministering.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. (1 Corinthians 15:3—4 NLT)

The Gospel. They’ve forgotten it to focus on politics and division, and in the process of creating divisions, also missed the largest opportunity the church had to reach new people in decades.

Covid sadly joins the long list of divisive topics the church engages in: baptism, pre-trib, Calvinism … and now pandemic health concerns. Pastors of the pandemic age failed to learn, and instead of repairing divisions and damage of past centuries, preferred instead to create new division based on non-doctrinal personal political opinion.

The Cure

First, stand in the pulpit and admit previous statements were wrong, and it was wrong to divide over it. Simply put, repent.

Second, change course. Since it’s clear what some pastors stated early in the pandemic turned out to be 100% wrong, after repenting a course change must occur.

Finally, focus on the Gospel, not side issues. Learn to not major in the minors.

Sadly, while pastors have freely slung lawsuits and made wild obviously false statements, the repentant part few understood.

One pastor got it right, accepting responsibility (that’s called leadership for those pastors unfamiliar with the concept); he recognized his mistake, admitted it, and changed course.

Calvary Chapel San Antonio’s Pastor said he is heartbroken after a COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in dozens of positive cases.

“Immediately we shut down the church to get everyone through a quarantine period,” said Ron Arbaugh, Pastor of Calvary Chapel. Arbaugh said if he could go back to when they reopened he would do things a bit differently.

“I accept full responsibility. I’m the leader of the church,” said Pastor Arbaugh.

When the church reopened its doors they implemented all COVID-19 required precautions.
“We kept all of the rules to the letter of the law,” said Pastor Arbaugh.

We’ve followed this issue since early in the pandemic, and not many pastors have repented as this one did, preferring to double down on what they know to be false instead of humbling themselves and returning to the correct path.

  • If you hear a pastor say “it’s not my fault” you know they don’t understand leadership.
  • If you don’t hear them acknowledge incorrect statements you know they don’t possess logic and critical thinking skills.
  • If you don’t hear a pastor apologize for creating division over minor issues instead of focusing on the mission, you know they don’t really know what the Gospel is at all.

For pastors drifting away from foundations, it begs the question, can they be trusted on anything else? Pastors aren’t immune from drifting away from foundations ending up in spiritual decay.

We all make mistakes, sometimes large ones. Leaders admit those, and then change course when errors appear (and aren’t afraid to consider new information). Failure to acknowledge and change course runs the ship aground in naval terms, or apostasy in pastoral terms.

What to do about it?

The Action

Sadly, some view the success of a church via two metrics: attendance and money.

If people continue attending and providing money, pastors and elders can be suckered (read that deceived or deluded) into believing they’re on the right track.

But reading through the letters to the churches in Revelation 2—3, you know many existed in the opposite condition from what they believed, and when you get to the end, the people instead of reality are in charge — a position so bad the Lord Himself appears outside knocking to get in!

That church could have many people attending, and passing the plate could be quite lucrative.

Yet it’s dead.

As Walter Martin once said, one way to get out-of-order pastors to examine their position results from a simple idea: withholding your tithes and offerings — it stimulates almost instantaneous repentance (other groups can be temporarily substituted for your tithes).

The Bottom Line

The bottom line remains simple: we all make mistakes, but the failure of a pastor (or leader) to change when data and reality so obviously show them wrong results in a dead and decaying church, no matter how much money they continue to receive, how many people attend, or how many ovations his political opinions receive on Sunday.

Poor pastors in the pandemic age exhibit (at least) three issues:

  1. Failure to admit mistakes (pride) and/or listen to actual reason and science. Early in the pandemic not much was known, but as time went on it became more clear how it spread, what was effective to fight it, and so on. Early ideas must be updated to fit actual reality. Also avoid bizarre contradictions like wearing seat-belts because it’s required and saves lives, but rail against health protections because they’re required and save lives.
  2. Injecting politics not related to the mission of the church. It’s clear some rocks are better not turned over, and doubly so for those having nothing to do with the church or doctrine (they’re personal political matters each individual can handle as they desire).
  3. Willful abandonment of fruit of the spirit behavior. Due to previous mistakes (and others), creating division and splitting Christians into groups the pastor approves of … and those he doesn’t. Repent and return to 1 Corinthians 15 as the Gospel (not political views on a pandemic), and personal actions as much as possible expressing fruit of the Spirit, not divisive prideful fleshly actions.

We all make mistakes; pastors hold a much higher duty as leaders to address them, not magnify errors, create chaos, be deceptive, or cause division. Sadly, some pastors in the pandemic age not only fail to correct their mistakes, they embrace and are proud those mistakes have been made.

… perhaps those pastoring churches which won’t need new pastors after the rapture.

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