Guided by Faith, Not Driven by Fear ©

With firm conviction, Bishop Gerald O. Glenn of The New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Chesterfield, Virginia, held in-person worship on March 22 despite warnings about the need for social distancing. In the service Bishop Glenn declared, “I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus.” It was a stirring example of faith triumphing over fear. Or was it? Bishop Glenn passed away on April 17 of COVID-19.
Bishop Gerald Glenn
In fairness to Bishop Glenn, precautions were taken. His daughter Marcietia reported, “When he decided to have services, he was very clear in posting signs and having hand sanitizer, and wearing gloves and not congregating with people after service, during service. … People were asked to sit six feet apart. Family members sat together. That's it. After service, there was no talking and hanging around. Everyone left."
How are we to faithfully respond to the issues confronting us in our response to the COVID-19 Pandemic?
To be sure, as I have repeatedly stated, prayer is to be our first response and not our last resort. But practically, should we open up for in-person worship or should we steadfastly resist the pressure of a possible premature opening?
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have steadily shared a conviction that we as people of faith should come to this time of crisis with prayer and trust in God. My summary “tag-line” has been, and still is, let us be guided by faith, not driven by fear. As the debate over re-opening has heated up, a pastor challenged me arguing that my caution and counsel with regard to reopening the church for in-person worship was just the opposite. He said that I was being driven by fear and not guided by faith. If we had real faith, according to this individual, we would open-up for in-person worship immediately. (To view Bishop Lowry's latest video on if and when churches in the CTC should return to in-person worship visit the conference's Facebook page.)
I deeply beg to disagree. Faith in God is not about ignoring science and reasonable precautions. Biblically speaking, the term faith is not so much about belief but rather about allegiance in the form of trusting obedience. Matthew Bates, in his powerful book Salvation by Allegiance Alone, perceptively writes:
The gospel, salvation, and the Christian life have little to do with “faith” or “belief” as generally defined or understood. … The Greek word pistis, generally rendered “faith or “belief,” as it pertains to Christian salvation, quite simply has little correlation with “faith” and “belief” as these words are generally understood and used in contemporary Christian culture, and much to do with allegiance. At the center of Christianity properly understood, is not the human response of faith or belief but rather the old-fashioned term fidelity.”  (Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthews W. Bates, page 15)
To be guided by faith is follow in the steps of Christ. It is to let Jesus, not fear or foolishness, govern the way a Christian responds to issues of life. It is not anti-science because Christians understand that the created order of the universe, and the science which helps us understand creation, are themselves gifts from a gracious and loving God.
In my previous writing Sacrifice and Service: The Christian Witness During the COVID-19 Pandemic, I noted that our basic response should not be defined by demanding our rights but by sacrifice and service. We should not blaze forth with false bravado nor should we cower behind locked doors. Rather, in thoughtful and measured steps, we should move forward following Jesus as Lord. Such is the lesson of the earliest Christians and such is Christ’s claim upon us today. There is a sense in this COVID-19 pandemic crisis that all of us are overwhelmed people seeking to help other overwhelmed people. Patience and grace for both ourselves and each other are appropriate virtues for such a time as this.
I offer two quotes in support of a faith which transcends recklessness and rejects craven timidity. The first is by Pope Francis. He writes:
The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. . . . We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.” (Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Lumen fidei On Faith (June 29, 2013, no. 4; taken from The Day is Now Far Spent by Robert Cardinal Sarah, Loc 252 of 5725)
The second quote comes from a sermon delivered by C. S. Lewis at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England on October 22, 1939 approximately six weeks after England declared war on Nazi Germany. Lewis entitled his message “Learning in a Time of War.”  Substitute “virus” for “war” and we can easily grasp the implications of the witness of this great Christian being guided by faith and not driven by fear.
"[The virus] makes death real to us: and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right." (C. S. Lewis “Learning in a Time of War,” The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, England, October 22, 1939)
The Bible tells us, “The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light. This way they could travel during the day and at night. The column of cloud during the day and the column of lightning at night never left its place in front of the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22)
So it was then and so it is today if we have eyes to see and faith – trusting obedience allegiance – to follow.