The Modern-Day Church And The Covid-19 Virus: My Subjective Analysis
Let me state my thesis clearly from the onset, that, ‘the Church’ of Jesus Christ can never be vanquished, but many churches (denominations) throughout history have disappeared into thin air and many others will continue to disappear. That is not to say that the Body of Christ will ever become weaker. No, Christ stated in no uncertain terms in Matthew 16:18 that, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Established on the right foundation, the Church of Jesus Christ will grow from strength to strength. However, for any denomination to contribute to the strength and evangelization mission of Jesus Christ and His Church, certain deliberate, pragmatic and time sensitive principles must be continuously observed. It is important to also observe from the onset, that the church was founded on the revelation of Jesus the Christ and on doctrine. However, for any system or organism to continuously live on and endure against a dynamic and constantly modernizing environment, it must consistently go through mutation, evolution and constant adaptation to current and trending changes and technology without departing from the foundational doctrines that have held the system together. It is unfortunate to observe that the Church has not effectively navigated this process very successfully, especially the African Church. The current global crisis of COVID-19 has exposed this underlying weakness in the Church.
I must admit that it took a lot of courage to release this article. I have received a lot of bashing from friends, family and colleagues in the last few weeks for my previous observations. I am quick to also state that a few well-meaning people have understood my position and encouraged me to carry on. So before I go on to discuss the substantive issue, let me explain myself a little. Years ago, the Holy Spirit threw light on my eyes as I read Psalm 45:1, which reads, “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” I did not fully understand what it all meant. All that kept pounding on my heart was that I had the pen of a ready writer. I had a strong impression that I was being prepared for a purpose and that in due time, my pen will be louder than many voices. Since then, I have given myself to reading, researching and building my critical thinking and writing skills. The kind of writing I do is the kind that will touch and actually scratch sentiments, punch egos and deflate pride, most often beginning with myself. I have come to understand that I will not be understood by many, but truth is, I do not seek company or public applause in this endeavor.
I feel compelled and impelled to pass on information. Also, let me reiterate that my observations are personal, subjective and not representative of any official position or group. Where they are, I don’t hesitate to state so. I wish to state again that concerning the matter I am addressing today I am by no means outside the system I critique. I am an integral part of the system and have contributed significantly both to its growth and also accept 100% responsibility for its flaws. Practically I am a Church person. For twenty-two years now, excluding those years we were considered ‘church goers,’ I have stayed faithful and true to the course of Christ. I am one of those “fanatics” of the charismatic breed, who still walk and pray in tongues and sing aloud at the least chance. Always glued to my Bible, I have observed the highest standards of morality and devotion as espoused in the scriptures. I believe every single scripture in the Bible, but I do not hesitate to question every single interpretation of the scripture by the established ecclesia. I believe that all scripture is inspired, but its interpretation is sometimes subject to personal idiosyncrasies and the eccentricities of the interpreter. I have traveled across the country and stayed in very deprived communities for days to embark on evangelistic missions sometimes with no portable water or good food. I have been tried and tested, and I believe now than ever before, that there is no other way of living than living for Christ and His course. Therefore, I cannot be seen as one who will possibly do anything to hurt the gospel. As the most undeserving of all, I have served and continue to serve Him for over twenty-two years and He has done me no wrong but good, so how can I deny my Lord and Saviour?
However, I am encouraging a new culture, where we as players and practitioners in the field will know that there are observers and commentators in the touchline following and making notes. Hebrews 12:1-2 resounds here: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (NIV). Our job is to focus and run, someone else’s job is to keep tract of our performance and ensure we are on track. They will praise where they should and critique where necessary. I hold the opinion that every system or organisation grows stronger by evaluating and questioning itself so as to streamline its excesses and build on its strengths. That is why I write the way I do. I am not negative, a pessimist, nor a naysayer. I am an objective observer of social reality, and that includes the Church and the State.
Now to the substantive issue, that is the issue of the Church and the Corona virus pandemic. If my memory serves me right, Corona virus started making news in the last quarter of 2019. All the while, it was defined as a Chinese problem. The world started waking up to the threat of this issue only when students from all over the world shut up in Chinese universities started crying out for help. At this point, that is the beginning of this year, 2020, governments began to pay some bit of attention to the issue even though most of it was but lip service. All this while, the Church of Jesus Christ was still shut up within our walls, surrounded by Holy Ghost fire and swimming in the anointing, either oblivious of the impending doom or as usual unconcerned in worldly affairs. The noise from the established, digital, electronic and social media was too loud for us to assume the Church did not hear that something with pandemic proportions was imminent. Yet, with our characteristic “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” posturing, we were unanimously mute as though we do not know the power we carry as gate-keepers and breach-builders. Prophetic instincts, which in latter times has been highly political, intercessory prayer, which has largely been reactive instead of proactive, and speaking truth to power, which has literally lost its bite because of the political undertones it has assumed in recent times all had not been deployed until buuum, the sudden happened.
Our usual hypocritical and unscientific demeanor was only activated when we had news that some African countries had started recording positive cases. As usual, we started securing our respective national borders in the blood of Jesus and strengthening the four corners of our respective countries with walls of fire. I don’t even understand what that means, but believe you me, I joined in praying vehemently in that regards. That is all good, but should we have ended there? Couldn’t we have promoted the prescriptions for safety, the personal hygiene measures for minimized transmission? How proactive it would have been that the Church in Ghana would have convened a meeting with the State to outline measures it had taken independently to curb a possible spread in the event we recorded a positive case. How about if led by the Christian Council, Catholic Bishops Council and Ghana Pentecostals and Charismatic Council, we had raised some good money from our respective local churches and presented it to the government to arm itself against the unforeseen? Meanwhile, all this while, the government was not so decisive on border controls, travel restrictions and movements of people. While the media was apt in calling on the government to be more stringent, the Church was silent. The Church in Ghana was only alarmed by the fact that our neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso and Togo had recorded positive cases. Even then, it did not appear as threatening enough. The Church only woke up from its daze and slumber and became incensed only when the President of Ghana made the announcement banning all public gatherings and religious meetings. This single announcement has come as a shock, and it is only now that I have heard and read several apprehensions by well-meaning Christians and clergy. This makes me question our true prophetic role and whether we truly appreciate the fact that we are an indispensable institution and partner in national development.
On the premise of the current lacuna in the proactivity of the Church as evident in its unresponsiveness not only in this current COVID-19 issue but in its general lack of interest in national issues when it has mattered most, I proceed on my critical discussion, beginning with what the term ‘Church’ actually means. I proceed to discuss why the Church is such an important institution recounting our strengths and then narrow down to the dispensational misappropriation and misapplication of the concept ‘Church’ in modern-day Ghana and how that translates to our vulnerability in the wake of this current crisis.
What is Church?
A proper, Christ-centered and biblical founded and scripturally derived explanation and appreciation of the term church is necessary for us to appreciate the fact that no human factor, political decision, economic recession, natural disaster or geographical destabilization holds enough power to annihilate Christ’ Church. I believe based on evidence, that, the Church as Christ designed it and as it has evolved throughout the New Testament into modern times has not always been confined to congregational worship or a group of people in an enclosed place. The New Ungers Bible Dictionary defines the term CHURCH (Greek ekklēsia, “called out,” ek “out,” kaleo “to call”) and explains it variously as (1) The entire body of those who are saved by their relation to Christ. (2) A particular Christian denomination. (3) The aggregate of all the ecclesiastical communions professing faith in Christ. (4) A single organized Christian group. (5) A building designated for Christian worship (p. 339). It raises a caveat that some of these explanations are scriptural, others not.
Historically, however, the Church has undergone different stages of evolution and hostilities yet it has emerged as an enduring institution too strong to be ignored or undermined by any government, economic system or polity. Church government and structuring have established the Church of God today as an institution that is simply indestructible. Notwithstanding, the increasing denominationalization, mutations, partisanship, and other specific factors identified and discussed in this write up reveal deep cracks that can seriously undermine our ability to stand together as a Body against emerging challenges of global proportions. These crevasses become exposed during moments of crisis like the current Coronavirus, which if not checked can be exploited by inimical powers to break our front and vex our continuous existence. The church, and here am referring to the church in Ghana does not seem to learn from recurring signals of imminent threats to its existence in the nature and form it has comfortably established itself. We seem not to have picked up lessons from Ebola, threats of terrorism all around us, increasing forced Islamization all around us, anti-church policies by successive governments, the numerous economic and financial sector crisis, just to mention a few, which are all pointing to an apocalyptic cessation of our current model. If we did learn anything from these pointers, it would have reflected in our organization, emphasis, engagements with the state and modus operandi generally. Maybe we believe in the power of our God to deliver so much so that we don’t think proactive steps are necessary. Truth is, history has not always supported this belief. A recollection of the Seven Churches in Asia Minor, largely in modern day Turkey, and even Egypt arouses both a sense of nostalgia and fear that God may not always do what He has given us enough resources, personnel, wisdom, technology, influence and everything necessary to do. He will not come down and save us when He has more than equipped us to save ourselves. The thing about the Christian faith is that it is so fluid such that distinguishing between true faith founded on the Word and godless stupidity is sometimes very difficult.
Strengths of the Church
The last census conducted in Ghana in 2010 revealed that Christians were over 70% of the total population. Coupled with that, we have many Christian bodies in Ghana: Catholic Bishops Conference, Christian Council of Ghana, Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Ghana Charismatic Bishops Council, and many other identifiable episcopal bodies. It means that the church in Ghana if well positioned is actually the state. Also, the Church in Ghana’s contribution to all spheres of the economy cannot be overemphasized. In education, its role is pioneering and still bears the mark of excellence. In healthcare delivery, its role is more than just complementary, it is novel. In security, social order and institutional stability, its teachings and standards promote and foster more peace than several state security powers put together. The church is into transportation, social welfare, rehabilitation, financial services, job creation, entrepreneurial development, and others. The churches social intervention programmes such as those by the established NGOs such as World Vision, Christian Aid, CRS, AGRES, ADDRO, ADDRA and the many interventions by churches such as the Church of Pentecost, Charismatic Evangelistic Ministry, Fountain Gate Chapel/EAM, Action Chapel, Light House Chapel, International Central Gospel Church, Royal House, Christo Asafo, etc. to rural areas, prisons, to the physically challenged, drug addicts, street children, homeless people, in agriculture, trade, finance, scholarships, etc. is immeasurable, but should not be measureless. It ought to be deliberately documented and properly communicated to the state and the media periodically and consistently. Remove the contribution of the Church, and successive governments performance becomes abysmal. Yet some high-minded politician can sit somewhere and say, “all they do is to make noise in the name of prayer.” Really?
History reveals how the church became so powerful to the extent that the state could not ignore it. At various times, the church was actually the state and in certain times, it governed in tandem with state or civil power. Yet at other times, the state saw the church as a great threat and so did all it could to completely annihilate the church. I consistently recount the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (please Google it if you don’t know what it means) as a great exemplification of the church’s role in the industrial revolution that swept across the world. John Calvin’s teaching promoted a savings and investment culture and that historically has been identified as intrinsically linked to the great industrial revolution. The same can be said in modern day Ghana and across Africa. Again, democracy is a game of numbers, so how can the largest group identified by the same or similar creed be so pathetic in the hands of the ruling class despite not just its numerical strength but also its social structural functions? The rest of this write-up is an attempt to answer those questions.