How have you or your congregation been letting your light shine during the pandemic? Let us know. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or upload it to forwardinchrist.net/submit. We’ll feature more stories next month.
In his book The Rise of Christianity, Dr. Rodney Stark estimates that Christianity grew an average of 40 percent per decade for the first few centuries of its existence. To put that in perspective, if WELS grew at that rate, in two generations we would have over two million members.
How did that happen? Christianity was started by misfits from the armpit of the Roman Empire. Christians didn’t worship in opulent temples. Early believers worshiped in homes. Christianity had no sociological advantages. Becoming a Christian made it likely you would experience ridicule or even persecution. How does Christianity explode in those circumstances?
The gospel. The gospel was entirely unique. Plenty of religions talked about powerful gods who demanded you offer sacrifices to them. The gospel told of an all-powerful God who became weak and sacrificed himself for you. Other religions offered some version of life after death, but it was always conditional. Do a good work; get a good eternity. The gospel offered physical resurrection and eternity in paradise entirely on the basis of Christ’s work, not your own.
Paul wrote to the Colossians, “The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” (1:6). The supernatural power and beauty of the gospel—that is what caused the early church to explode.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. It wasn’t simply that the early Christians proclaimed the gospel. They gained an audience for the gospel by the way they lived their lives.
A good example of this occurred during a pandemic. In the early fourth century, the historian Eusebius wrote about a plague that was rolling over the eastern half of the empire. Healthy people fled the cities for the safety of the countryside. But one group largely stayed behind—Christians. “All day long, [Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them.” Eusebius states that as people witnessed this compassion, “[the Christians’] deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians.” There are dozens of examples of history noting how Christians took care of the sick.
Christians were known to care for the poor too. The Roman Emperor Julian wanted to wipe out Christianity and re-institute emperor worship. After a few years of trying, Julian wrote a letter to a pagan priest in which he explained why he now believed Christianity would take over the empire. “[Christians] support not only their poor, but ours as well. All men see that our people lack aid from us.” Christians showed levels of mercy and benevolence that won them an audience. When people would ask Christians, “Why do you do what you do?” they could share the gospel.
COVID-19 is undeniably awful. Many thousands have died. The economies of the world are in shambles. However, COVID-19 is also an amazing opportunity. It is, first and foremost, an opportunity to serve Christ by serving others in whatever way they need.
As we seize those God-given opportunities to serve our neighbor, perhaps Christ will give us another opportunity—to share why we do what we do . . . to share the hope we have.
If Americans are caught in a nexus of needs and fears, fine. Let us be the ones who step up first to meet those needs. Let us be the ones to explain why we need not fear anything. Let us do this simply because we are the body of Christ. We do what he would do. And we want him glorified.
Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services
HERE ARE A FEW EXAMPLES OF HOW WELS CONGREGATIONS AND MISSIONS ARE SERVING OTHERS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC:
Eternal Love, Appleton, Wis., gathered food donations and turned its community book lending library into a community food pantry.
Sunday school leaders in South Asia made masks for themselves, their families, and for the Sunday school children to prepare for COVID-19. They also shared the masks with their Muslim neighbors. Currently the Sunday schools and the churches are no longer meeting. Pastors of the house churches are delivering food and catechisms to families in isolation.
GEORGIA | NEW YORK
Four congregations in Georgia—Abiding Grace, Covington; Faith, Sharpsburg; Beautiful Savior, Marietta; and Sola Fide, Lawrenceville—sent a 16-foot truck to Sure Foundation, Queens, N.Y., filled with supplies to help those in need.
Pierce Burton, a 25-year-old member at Abiding Grace, came up with the idea to gather supplies after seeing a news story on Elmhurst Hospital, a Queens hospital in the front line of fighting the coronavirus. He also discovered that they were shutting down food pantries around the city.
“My original plan was to gather a group of people to work at food pantries,” says Burton. But after calling several organizations, he discovered they wouldn’t be reopened at this time. He says he started googling WELS churches in the area to see what else could be done and discovered that Sure Foundation was located just blocks away from Elmhurst.
“It’s so encouraging,” says Tim Bourman, pastor at Sure Foundation. “I got a call from a member at Abiding Grace, and he just had it on his heart. He said, ‘I want to help New York.’ And I was like, wow, what an answer to prayer.”
Many of Bourman’s members work in the gig industry, driving taxis or Ubers or working in people’s homes as nannies or cleaners. They are now unable to work and don’t fall under unemployment—making it difficult for many to afford even staple supplies.
After discovering the need, Burton called his pastor, Jon Scharf, to tell him his plan of gathering food and taking it to Queens. In just four days, members from the four Georgia congregations and some local food pantries donated money and 2,500 lbs. of food. “People want to do something to help,” says Scharf. “It’s wonderful to give people the opportunity, and they have jumped on it.”
Burton then drove the truck to Queens to deliver the supplies. The 19-hour trip (one way) wasn’t without complications. A tire blew out in South Carolina, and someone punched his rear-view mirror in Brooklyn. But Burton arrived safely to Sure Foundation where the pastor and a few members helped unload the supplies.
Bourman is taking the donated supplies and delivering them to the doorsteps of those who need them. “I know the Lord will bring us together as a church,” says Bourman. “I’m hopeful that we will be able to provide the resources people need as well as the spiritual connection.”
Back in Georgia, Burton is now under self-quarantine at home, but he says he definitely wants to do more to help others during this time. “For me, I saw a need that I could fill, and I went and filled it. It’s easy to identify needs right now,” he says. “If I can do that in four days, what else can I do?”
Author: Jonathan Hein
Volume 107, Number 05
Issue: May 2020