by Eugene Higgins
Zoom, Zoar, and Zeal
It was, (as far as I know), at the commencement of the 20th century that it became fashionable to label generations. According to some “authorities,” the nomenclatures now in use are:
- The GI Generation (1901-1926)
- The Silent Generation (1927-1945)
- The (wonderful, fabulous, extraordinary, and highly motivated) Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
- Generation X (also known as GenXers) 1965-1980
- Generation Y (also known as Millennials) 1981-2000
- And Generation Z (2001-today).
But, refusing to behave like a normal year should, 2020 insisted on creating a sub-set to Gen-Z and introduced another moniker: “The Covid Generation,” (or “Covid Kids”). This describes those born during 2020 (and presumably those born in the latter part of 2019, when COVID-19 first came to light). This is a generation of people whose lives from the very start have been altered by the present crisis.
Obviously, no one reading this in 2021 can be described as part of “The Covid Generation,” so you and I at least have escaped that unpleasant description. But there is a side effect from COVID-19 that, while not always fatal, is nonetheless fearful and worrisome. It can produce a case of “covid Christianity,” and I admit that I do worry about catching it because it works subtly and turns its victim into a “covid Christian.” You ask, “What is covid Christianity and why do you fear its effects?” According to a small and somewhat fallible dictionary I carry around with me 24 hours every day, covid Christianity attacks a believer’s devotion to the Lord and his or her love for the place of His name. Once the disease has spread within a believer’s heart, a covid Christian actually prefersthe temporary arrangements that COVID-19 and our deeply sympathetic government officials have imposed.
First of all, let it be said that online meetings during this long-lasting crisis have been a tremendous blessing. Elders could easily have fed their flocks by sending emails containing Bible-based messages. This would have provided food, but not unity and interaction. The sense of “belonging” to the fellowship would have been lost. Seeing each other – even being able to chat online with the believers afterward – was a great anchor for our souls. One pioneering evangelist of a previous day said there were times he was so lonely he would have been happy to see “even a Christian’s dog.” Thankfully, online meetings saved many of us from such serious (Sirius?) loneliness. In fact, when one considers those who still cannot attend meetings due to age or health, this online opportunity may be a valuable thing to continue for their sakes, even when restrictions are lifted. (Although as brother John Prins of Sarnia is wont to say, “The weather was so bad that only the aged and infirm could make it to meeting.”)
However, just as any “positive” can be turned into a negative and any blessing can be misused, there is a fly in this ointment as well. Or, if you grasp how grave the danger is, you may think the analogy should be, “There is death in the pot.” Living as “Christians” during covid is far different from becoming a covid Christian. It is one thing to endure something. It is another thing altogether to allow that trial, problem, or burden to characterize us. We are all enduring (still!) the restrictions of covid. Some have even contracted COVID-19 or known others who have died from it. But we dare not become covid Christians. At this point, I may be thoroughly boring you. Before you hit the delete button, please let me explain.
Covid Christianity presents with a number of symptoms. With apologies to a well-known southern (US) figure: “You might be a covid Christian if” …
- You prefer getting all your religion and “church” over and done by noon – 1 PM at the latest.
- You prefer treating the Lord’s Day (at least after 1 PM) like an extra Saturday in your week.
- You prefer signing in instead of sitting in – that is, attending virtually instead of physically.
- You prefer greeting fellow-believers with “Can you hear me now?” rather than with a holy kiss.
- You prefer the comfort of your family-room more than the commitment to the fellowship.
- You prefer the convenience of multi-tasking instead of the reverence of meeting with the saints. (When accessing online meetings, one can sign in with no video and still check texts and emails, sip coffee and tea, hit “mute” and hold other conversations. I know, of course, that you would never do that).
All of which brings us to Genesis 19 and Lot’s request, which was for just a slight change of plans. The scene was solemn in the extreme. Lot, accompanied by his wife and daughters, was hurried out of Sodom. A fire-storm of judgment was about to burst – at any moment – on the city, and Lot was urgently told to flee to the mountains. But instead of “escaping for his life” he haggled (haggled!) with the angel, anxious for a more comfortable refuge than rugged terrain and rude caves. Zoar was just a little city. After all, he wasn’t asking for palace life. Just a little city. Was it all that much of a difference? Couldn’t that be made to work as well? To Lot, an arduous trek into the mountains was hardly as attractive as a short jog across the plains to another city. Sleeping with a rock for a pillow was far less appealing than a hotel in Zoar – there might even be chocolate candies on the pillows.
Although I am neither wise enough or important enough to speak ex cathedra, I think that this is where we are just now in the history of assembly life: we are in danger of accepting the present set-up as part of “the new normal” in how we serve the Lord; almost as though we don’t need each other and don’t need to gather together. After all, is it really that much of a difference whether I pray into the mic on my computer or in the midst of the congregation? Someone might say that it seems so slight a difference.
An ancient proverb decrees, “Deviate an inch, lose a thousand miles.” We are all strange creatures, partial to our personal comfort and convenience. Admittedly, gathering with the Lord and His people is often inconvenient. It requires time, effort, and spiritual exercise. Numerous excuses spring to our minds: “It’s so cold.” “It’s so hot.” “It’s raining!” “It might snow!” “The traffic is a nightmare.” “I’ve had an awfully long day!” “There is a lion in the streets!” Meeting online in the comfort of my home means I can forget about the weather or traffic. I only need to see that the heat or A/C is working in my “viewing” room. In all of this we can be blind to the trap – covid Christianity makes us think individually rather than congregationally, selfishly rather than sacrificially, carnally rather than Christ-like, and of our selves rather than of the saints.
Convenience has a huge appeal to our hearts. But, please remember, convenience led Israel to use a cart to relocate the ark. Convenience led Jeroboam to erect the golden calves in Dan and Bethel. It led Ahab to covet Naboth’s vineyard. Convenience led Jewish merchants to set up shop in the Temple, turning it into a “house of merchandise” which the Lord Himself had to “cleanse.” And convenience was in the mind of Caiaphas when he counseled that killing the Lord Jesus was “expedient” – advantageous and, well, convenient.
One way of showing the Lord how much we think of Him and how devoted we are to Him is to devote ourselves to the things He cherishes – His people, His truth, His Gospel, His honored place in the midst of His own gathered to His name. Far sooner than any of us likely imagines, we will all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, when we stand before our Redeemer and Lord, to hear Him thank us for the devotion we bore to His sacred name; that instead of becoming covid Christians we were consecrated Christians, committed Christians – Christians marked by compassion, convictions and courage? Can you think of anything better? Is there anything you could want more?
Here are words written by a missionary who spent 55 years serving the Lord Jesus in India – 55 years without a furlough. Her devotion to the Lord embarrasses me and humbles me and rebukes me and shames me. Amy Carmichael described missionary life as simply “a chance to die.” Maybe – just maybe – we could borrow some of the fire of her devotion and escape the deadening effects of covid Christianity.
From prayer that asks that I may be sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire, from faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things, from easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified, not this way went the Crucified;
From all that dims Thy Calvary, O Lamb of God deliver me.
Give me the love that leads the way, the faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire, the passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod, make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.