Image credit: Ian Greig

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7 NIV

TODAY’S news leads with alarming increases in coronavirus cases where regions — and individuals — have disregarded the call for isolation. Rallies, protests and rave parties have shown people who look like “fools despising wisdom”, and reported surges in hospital admissions give evidence to the connection.

Independence is part of the human condition and it is not all bad. We were created in the beginning to be thinking people with free will and the ability to exercise judgment – either well, or badly, in the case of Adam and his legacy to us.

We have been created to exercise good judgment in this world, administering it well under God. This goes back to the earliest of all the covenants when God spoke:

God created mankind in His own image… male and female… blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase… rule over every living creature…” Genesis 1:27-28.

This is freewill combined with responsibility in covenant with God whose creation it is. Everything we have, we have and hold for God and His glory.

Fast forward to the here and now, and church buildings have been closed for three months. A limited opening of buildings is beginning, but restrictions on gathering and worship (no singing!) remain. What is the Lord saying about this?

For people whose church experience is centred on a building, part of a historic institution, presided over by a minister sometimes called a ‘priest’,  whose identity is very much about having reserved functions and even access in that building — the restrictions have been a severe blow.

Set-back or wake-up?

But is this a set-back or a wake-up? In the NT, the priesthood of Aaron’s family ended at the Cross — the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom during the crucifixion, a rather big hint. A generation later, the temple itself had gone, completely destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem. Now there were no priests, no ritual, no buildings — and the teaching in the early church went a quite different direction, emphasising how every believer was a specially shaped “living stone” of a new kind of spiritual ‘temple’.

Now with Jesus ascended and enthroned as the great and permanent and — dare we say — only High Priest, the ‘priesthood’ has now been shared out, not among those of a particular priestly tribe or privileged order, but involving every single committed Spirit-filled Christian believer who looks to serve Jesus and represent Him to the wider world. This is not about a ‘holy person in a holy building’ and it is not about the performance of an elaborate ritual — there is no hint of either of these things in the NT record. Where there were attempts to institutionalise the church and put existing Jewish traditions on to new believers, Paul writes in forthright terms saying: “It is for freedom you have been set free!” Don’t go back into [religious] slavery!1

That makes lockdown restrictions a God-given opportunity to recalibrate and reassess. He didn’t send the pandemic, but He is adept at turning what is intended for evil, to His own good – and using times of difficulty and, one hopes, increased prayer – to help His people rediscover, re-imagine and re-align with His purpose.

Genesis 50:20

See also Max Lucado article on this verse

Book of Esther

Perhaps God wants His church back! With buildings closed and the usual routine of activities curtailed, it is our opportunity to exercise some “fear of the Lord” as Proverbs puts it. That for us is intentionally putting Him first, giving Him what is His, willingly deferring and setting aside our own preferences and priorities. Not simply wanting the imagined security of the old routine.

Some churches have been forward in finding creative ways to connect and share worship without physical contact. Church by livestream compels something more engaging, more relevant, more participative. There’s no room for anything lengthy or boring on a small screen, and no one has to stay on the link! 

Set-back or wake-up?

As one church leader told me, “We realised almost immediately that there was no point in trying to replicate what we used to do week by week — we had to be different.”

Others trying (I think misguidedly) to recreate a formal Sunday service in formal clergy attire and mannerisms over Zoom from a kitchen have given a mixed, and strangely discordant message!

It would be tragic if there were a return to the old ways of church being building-centred and clergy-dominated when it has just been pushed out into the community. People have been encouraged to learn to celebrate their Lord by hearing and sharing the word for themselves, express their own prayers of adoration and intercession, and remember His sacrifice with their own bread roll and wine glass. 

This is the true fear of the Lord, awe of Him, which is the beginning of walking in the knowledge of Him. This is the seedbed of revival. 

Let’s not trample this new growth, these small green shoots of revival,  with a return to dull and wordy religiosity.

  1. Galatians 5:1 []
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