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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

Healing the Church After COVID

Published Wednesday, May 11, 2022 By Stephen Roberts

Intro: A Season of Repentance

In our last piece, we reflected on how we succumbed to the fears and idols of our age. One of the casualties in the Age of COVID is the need and joy of repentance. There is always need for repentance—sin is that treacherous. Over the past two years, however, our repentance has often been conditioned by the culture. In the face of broad-based, depersonalized accusations, we are tempted to grumble or grovel. Both are sinful. We need to repent of our “righteousness,” even repent of our repentance because both are insufficient apart from Christ. Here’s a few ways we can repent:

Repent to Our Pastor

How many have grumbled about their pastor this past year? If we’re honest, we held our pastors to an impossible standard. Either they caved to our impetuous demands, or we questioned their fidelity. The pastoral calling is a very lonely one. We demand sinlessness of our pastors and castigate them when they err. Your pastor has been charged with shepherding the flock through one of the more trying times in modern American history.

What if Christians apologized to their pastors for undermining the beautiful and painful ministry with which he is charged? Looking to heal covid-induced rifts, what if they expressed their sorrow for criticizing their pastors in thought, word, and deed. Now is the time to commit to praying for him and hold him up when he feels frail and in danger of collapse; to commit to being a friend and ally for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

Repent to Our Fellow Christians

Do you need to repent to your fellow Christians? I know I do. Christians to my left and to my right were criticizing those to their right and to their left. I criticized all of them. In my sense of moral superiority, I was always ready with a rebuke rather than encouragement. If I sense fellow Christians leaning more into their political identity than identity in Christ, I always felt the need to correct them (perhaps to mask my own insecurities?).

It is easy to spot some forms of sin in this regard. Did you end a relationship with a fellow Christian because of political or cultural issues? Almost as obvious: Did you publicly malign someone’s character, either in a group setting or on social media? There are more subtle forms of sin. Were you condescending—belittling your fellow Christians for their views—or contemptuous—treating them as a lost cause and beyond the hope of grace?

If we might go just one step further: Did you proactively work to build up the body of Christ? I was so blessed by fellow believers who started virtual small groups or brought meals to the doorsteps of those afflicted with the virus. They modeled a proactive love for God’s people at a time where people were often turning against one another. If not, what better time than now to love the hurting Bride for whom Christ lived, died, and intercedes?

Repent to Our Neighbors

From almost any angle, it has been a bad look for much of the church in America over the past two years. Too harsh? Think about it this way: What were we most known for? The Gospel? God’s glory? Care for the suffering? Self-sacrificing unity? Perception is reality and many in our society perceived a church more invested in politics and culture than the Gospel, and because the central thing was not the central thing, they also perceived a church at war with itself.

I deleted comments from fellow Christians on Facebook far more often than I did unbelieving friends. We expect a bit of snark and bite from those who find their identity in politics and identify others in the same light, but we should expect more from our fellow Christians. For those who neglected neighbors, now is the time to bring them a bag of cookies and repent. For those who debased themselves in public forums, the apology should likewise be public. Repentance also washes out the bad taste we put in mouths of others because of foolishness.

Repent to Our Families

This is a bit trickier and more treacherous. As with the church, families often split into maskers and anti-maskers, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers. In their incivility, we often saw families split in a way comparable to the northern-southern divide in the Civil War. People grabbed their muskets, dusted off their feet on the way out, and marched to their respective side.

Perhaps this was inevitable. The bonds of family have been loosening for decades. More and more, divorce, infidelity, abuse, neglect, technology, geographic mobility and a host of other factors have weakened family ties. In the past two years, the final strands of polite niceties came asunder under the weight of inflated moral superiority. Tommy couldn’t join his family for Christmas either because they required or didn’t require a mask. COVID gave many the rationale to finally break ties.

Again, some of this disintegration was inevitable. The cry for family loyalty has become less compelling in the face of widespread family trauma. All the same, COVID should not be the rationale—especially for Christians. Too often, we spoke harshly and disparagingly to loved ones under the guise of concern for public safety or civil liberties. Sincere repentance may not heal pre-existing rifts, but it at least provides an opening for possible reconciliation and at minimum, a clear conscience.

Conclusion: With Repentance Comes Delight

David had every reason to repent after his affair with Bathsheba. He had committed adultery and had her husband murdered. Most important, he had besmirched the name of God before a watching world so that he would later confess “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psa. 51:4). This final point is key—however justified we feel in our behavior, our sin is odious to God.

Repentance, however, is a delight to God, for “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psa. 51:17). This is the tonic for the Church, and through the Church, to the surrounding culture. Repentance is not only what God desires, it brings joy to our own hearts. That’s what David could cry to God in his repentance to “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psa. 51:12).

But it is not repentance itself that draws us nigh to God—it is how we remember that God has forever drawn nigh to us in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord uses repentance to break us of the pride that obscures His grace; He uses it to remind us how deep His love and mercy truly extends. We tend to be haunted by the question: “If I truly own this entangling sin, will God still truly own me?” Through the atoning work of His Son and the internal work of His Spirit, He places His hand upon that festering sore and makes us clean. He is worthy.

Repent—first for God’s sake and for your joy in Him. Repent for the sake of those entrusted with your soul this side of glory, for the sake of your fellow believers, for the watching world, and for your family. Repent, because in the grace that comes through repentance, we will find the healing that will bring the Church out of its dark malaise into a renewed hope and joy that will shine before this dark world.

Stephen Roberts is a US Army chaplain and has written for The Washington Times and The Federalist.

  • Stephen Roberts

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