Tag: Coronavirus

A Response to R.R. Reno and First Things: i will not sacrifice my congregation.

We are now seeing the full depths of our depravity; the god of Mammon and Moloch have taken over.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Brothers and Sisters, I am angry, not because there is a global pandemic, not because there is worldliness, not because there is sin, but because the past two weeks I have watched as prominent evangelical leaders and major politicians pivot from a message of: “Stay home, shelter in place” to “we need to get the economy back on track and fast” the message has switched from “Protect human life” to ‘protect the financial bottom line. Which brings me to R.R. Reno and First Things, the once proud publications that actually addressed issues in a gracious and Gospel-Centric way, but recently has embraced the nationalism of the Alt-Right, something its own writers and editors, specifically Karl R. Trueman and Bradford Littlejohn (both historians) should know better than to partake of. R.R. Reno though, on March 17th wrote that we as Church Leaders need to keep our churches open:

He writes:

“Closing churches and cancelling services betrays this duty of spiritual care. Many are speaking of death and disaster. Social media whips up fear. Stern faces on TV tell us how many people are infected. Cancellations cascade into our inboxes. In this environment the faithful need spiritual truths from their church leaders, not recapitulations of public health bulletins and exhortations to wash their hands.”

As a pastor I do understand his point, he is concerned that Churches continue their role as spiritual caretakers of the people. However, as a pastor of an older congregation, I want to make this point, I cannot spiritually care for them if they have all died of COVID-19, the disease caused by this Novel Coronavirus of which they are mostly among the most vulnerable. Reno wants us to not worry about death because Christ as set us free from death and theologically he is correct, Christ has set us free from death, but unless it is for the sake of the Gospel, as in, dying as a martyr, we should be wantonly throw away the lives of our congregations. Part of spiritual care is physical protection, creating a sense of underlying safety so that they can worship as freely as possible. That may not be possible in every location, but it is possible in the United States of America for now, and I take my responsibility to care for my flock in all capacities very seriously. I get to stand before God one day and be asked if I was faithful with all He had given me. As a pastor I should be the first fed to the wolves, not the last, and I should not actively turn my congregation over to the wolves. I am a Shepherd and a Shepherd who lets the lion devour his flock is not a very good shepherd. Even though I am not the chief shepherd, the care of the chief shepherd has been entrusted to me and too many of my colleagues have taken that responsibility too lightly. Yes, we are free from death, but we should not actively seek suffering from disease and famine, that runs counter to everything we see within the Early Church. They did all they could to mitigate death, even, at times, suspending large gatherings and meeting in small groups in secret locations. Yes, they still worshiped, but they it was the pastors and priests who were among the many martyrs. That does not mean lay persons were not martyred, indeed, thousands were, but the pastor did not actively turn their congregations over to the Romans. Instead they had the same mind of Christ and gave themselves up for their congregations. During the Plague in Carthage, it was pastors and lay persons alike who aided in the care and health of those who the Romans had left to die. If anything, Christians should be signing up to help our medical experts and personnel, not debating whether we should be meeting in our buildings.

By the way, many of them are doing just this. Our little community here in Buffalo Center has been making masks for Mercy One in Mason City and other hospitals around the region as we anticipate the eastward spread of the virus and increased infections rates in our beautiful state of Iowa. I have members who call asking how they can help, I have a website, coordinated with another church in town, where they can go to find people who need help. The Church here is mobilized to do what Christians should be doing, caring for one another, but doing it sensibly. The Christian couple who runs our market are making sure people have the supplies they need; our food pantry is still operating. Christians are working together, across denominational lines, and when we attend church, we do so online and next week, my church will observe the Eucharist with instructions on how to receive it remotely. We will still carry out the ministry and ordinance of the Church by utilizing the technology that God has given us the ability to utilize, and we will do so while we love one another. I will not sacrifice my congregation on the altar of Moloch (the Babylonian god who demanded human sacrifice) by putting them at risk for this virus because the “Ministry of the Church must go on.” Especially when I can carry on that ministry from afar, through phone calls, text messages and service streams. Is it harder? Would I prefer the human to human contact, yes, but I love my congregation too much to chance them getting a virus that could kill them painfully.

The conundrum is often produced as a dichotomy, black and white, either we sacrifice people to the virus to save the economy, or sacrifice people because we let the economy falter. This kind of dichotomized thinking is rampant, it gives us two options and say: “pick between the lesser of two evils.” However, one sacrifices people to Moloch for the sake of Money (Mammon) and the other sacrifices people to Moloch because Moloch demands a sacrifice. Both prioritize something over human life, human life that gains its inherent dignity and value because it is attached to the very image of God. We are the only part of creation that gets stamped with “the image of God” and the part of creation that God says He cares most about. In God’s economy, humanity is greater than other created things because it bears His image. All creation points us to the glory and Holiness of God, but the Imago Dei points us to His image. As Eugene Peterson writes in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” “If you want to know what God looks like, look in the mirror.” Now, I agree with J.W. Nevin that sin has separated us from God and requires us to have a renewed relationship with God through Christ so that the image can be fully actualized through Christ. But that does not change the underlying assumption that pervades all of scripture, humanity has value because it is created in the image of God. To prioritize anything over human life, anything, and then disconnect human life from God and His Holiness is evil, it is blaspheming, it says that money is greater than your grandfather and it grieves the Holy Spirit. By making the false dichotomy above we ignore the fact that there are third and fourth and maybe even fifth options to mitigate the suffering of both the virus and the coming economic collapse. In the richest country, with the richest church ever known in the history of humanity, there has to be.

Now, I reject the notion that the government should be the catalyst that forces us to act. That is, I do not believe in forced redistribution on any level. I believe that this is the time when the Church can and should stand up and do what it was always called to do, love our neighbors. In a crisis like this we do not have the false luxury (false because we never really had it to begin with) to ignore anyone’s suffering, especially those right next door or down the street from us or in the next town. We are in the same boat, you care for someone else’s needs, someone else cares for yours. That is how this works, that is how it worked in Acts and they fulfilled a part of the Old Testament Levitical Code (Duet 14:15) because: “There were no needy among them” (Acts 4:34).

The Spiritual Care of the church continues as we guard its physical health as well. I just got a call from the daughter of one of my nursing home residents thanking me for all the cards and calls from the congregation. One of which was sent from the entire church. We are meeting her spiritual needs even though we cannot physically visit her right now. No one is abdicating their responsibility to spiritually care for our congregations as R.R. Reno is suggesting, instead we are finding new and innovative ways to do this while we do what is responsible and guard the health of our most vulnerable. What is more loving? To put our congregation at needless risk so we can fulfill a role we can still do using modern technology. Or to take the proper precautions and listen to health professionals and the CDC for the sake of guarding not just the spiritual health of our congregations, but the physical health as well. We are the Church, we contain a faith so powerful it can move mountains from a God so powerful He created ExNihlo through Christ who has reconnected us to God by His death and Resurrection and sent to us the Holy Spirit to remake us into new creatures and allows us to fully actualize the image of God through being transformed into the image of Christ. if we cannot mitigate the effects of this virus, spiritually, emotionally, economically etc. based on whose we are alone, then we do not fully understand the power contained in having a relationship with the Triune God of the universe. (By the way, if the Church did what it is called to do there would be no need for forced Government redistribution).

I will not sacrifice my church on the alter of Moloch or Mammon, they are too precious to God and because they are precious to Him they are precious to me. Yes, I will tell them not to be afraid, but I will not, I refuse to, expose them unnecessarily to something that could kill them. That would be the highest form of evil and the greatest violation of my pastoral office I could ever commit.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

We Need More Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

There are just some articles you think you will never have to write. As the Coronavirus continues to put pressure on everyone from world leaders to the kid who has not been able to get his online schoolwork resources, we start to see what we are really made of. That of course is a common theme in history, whenever there is a disaster human’s have largely stepped up to walk with each other and care for one another. I can remember when Katrina hit and our little community in Albany Ohio took on several families and their kids came to our school. I think of the member of my church in an assisted living facility who was a riveter during World War II, who helped build the B29 Bombers. History is full of times when a crisis either national or international has rallied us to one another. We laid aside all those things that divided us and accepted that we are in fact one race, the human race, with one blood as Tony Evans and John Perkins have said over and over again.

But for some reason, this pandemic feels different, am I wrong? Usually you hear about all the good people are doing, It was not until a day ago that I saw businesses and individuals stepping up to aid those who are in need. Yes, there has occasionally been a story about a person delivering groceries to the elderly or whatnot, but those seem significantly less than what former news cycles have covered. Maybe it is just because I stopped watching Cable news in 2014 and went to print media only (magazines and newspapers). But even The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and the Bulwark (one left, one right and one centrist source) have been significantly void of stories of the helpers. Instead I have seen story after story about empty shelves and greed, post after post of people asking for something to help them feel better and now a group of Gen-Z engaging in hedonism on Florida Beaches while telling reporters they do not care if they contract the virus or not. One viral meme, though somewhat humorous, encourages us to complain about our kids and pets as “Coworkers we are reporting to HR.”

Meanwhile, In the Bulwark I read this piece by Tim Miller: COVID-19 and the Missing Call to Sacrifice in which he notes: “In America, it used to be common for us to be “called” to a higher purpose by our leaders. It was part of the mythos of our country, one of the reasons we believed in American exceptionalism. Our nation had a purpose—a calling—where other nations had mere interests.” Think Roosevelt calling for Rationing during World War II or President Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you.” I think of Lynn Austin’s character Julia in the second book of her Civil War Trilogy who gives up her posh, upper class life as a Philadelphia Socialite for the glory-less life of a battlefield nurse. Instead, even my local grocery store is completely emptied of Toilet Paper and I lost sleep on Wednesday Night because we found out that the panic has been causing places like Wal-Mart to sell out of Baby Formula meaning that there has been none for mothers of Preemies to buy the formula they need for their children and I wanted to find a way to help make sure these children, who are lucky to be alive in the first place, can get the formula they need.

 

Instead of giving up, we have decided to hoard. But, you say, we have given up a lot, we are not going to restaurants, church, school, work etc. Yes, we have given up social institutions, but have we given up our thoughts about ourselves? Sacrifice is not just giving up material comforts the government tells us to give up, sacrifice means giving of our very selves. Sacrifice is what our doctors and nurses are doing right now as they treat COVID-19 patents. Putting their own health at risk for the sake of helping those who are sick. Sacrifice is the Christians in Carthage in the 3rd century, who, when the Romans would abandon a plague victim on the side of the road to die, would go out and care for them. Sacrifice is laying down your political opinion, practicing proper discernment and doing what is necessary to care for and calm the fear of your neighbor, grandparent or immune compromised/disabled/pregnant/susceptible to the virus friends. Sacrifice is buying only what you need and Trusting God to take care of you regardless of what happens. And Love your neighbor enough to think about them when you shop or go out or decide to laugh at the latest restrictions. Sacrifice requires you to think of others and be a helper.

Friends, we need more helpers, not doomsayers, not down players, not panic makers, not disinformation and speculation. We need sacrifice and through sacrifice, to become helpers. Mothers need baby formula; older people need their needs met. Stop selfishly hoarding and be a helper wherever you can. Call one another, text, video chat and do not extort or destroy one another. Love one another for the sake of the Gospel.

Please, for everyone’s sake.

Because this will end eventually, and when it does, we will really need to help one another as we rebuild and restructure and reconnect from the isolation that drags at all of us right now. We need each other, so let’s be for each other, just as Christ was for us.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Your Pastor in the Age of the Coronavirus

I am saddened by the often-vitriolic responses to pastors who have moved their churches to Livestreams or canceled altogether. Would you consider something with me?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

To the Church Universal in an age of uncertainty.

Church, in an age of irresponsibility, let me start by reminding you that your pastor has been placed as an under shepherd to care for you. We are will stand before God one day and be asked how we carried out that mission and call on our lives, we will be held accountable for how we honored and cared for you. There are not enough pastors who take this reality seriously, but I assure you, this is not one of them. You are precious to God and because of the love God has for you, we love you as well.

It is for this reason that we are or should be taking the Coronavirus seriously. It is for this reason and for theological reasons that we listen to what the government, state and federal, it is for this reason I am home today trying to make and develop plans for my congregation, many of whom are within the age range listed as “Vulnerable Persons” according to the CDC. These are not plans we are making lightly or because we want time off. We are not looking at this as an out from our responsibility, if anything, situations like this are reminders of our responsibility to you as our congregants. The problem with this virus is not that it does not kill the same amount of people as the Flu, the problem with this virus is how easily it is to spread and that it is killing the most vulnerable members of our society. People, made in the image of God, whom we are responsible for caring for and considering. Roman’s 13:1-5 also means we have to listen to what the government is telling us to do and take it seriously when making decisions.

Yet, I have seen too many of my fellow pastors raked over the coals for either canceling and going to a live stream, or not canceling. I myself had two fake Facebook profiles shame me because our congregation met even though our state had not yet dropped the level of restrictions on meetings below 100. The fact is, these have been difficult decisions to make and for the sake of your pastor I want to encourage you to come along side them, remember that, like you, they are only human. We are thinking through and processing a lot of information, as are our elected officials and your public leaders in general all in the name of what is best for our health and well-being and added to that for us Pastors is the Spiritual health and well-being of our congregations.

Please, please, please, work with us, walk with us, talk with us. We love you and are charged with doing what is best for you and we are called to be vigilant and discerning in all cases. We also need you to help us care for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that we are members one to another and that the body functioning properly depends on everyone. Now is not a time to panic, but a time to turn and seek the Lord and to intercede on behalf of one another and our communities. We should be voices of peace, but we should also be voices of wisdom and discernment in these tumultuous days. Christ left the Church here for times such as these and we need to work together for the Shalom of our communities.

Please be patient with us and ask how you can help, we need each other more than ever.

In Christ

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

A Letter On Viruses, Extremes and Social Media.

Christians are not to be a people of fear, when we go to extremes, we only perpetuate fears and divisions. Yet that is not the path God has laid out for us to follow, even on Social Media.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Dear….Everyone.

I must admit, as a pastor, my heart is troubled. Not because there is a virus spreading through the nation as we speak but because of how I have seen Christians old and young taking extreme positions and politicized positions on Social Media and in the public square. Yes, the COVID – 19 is a major concern and it should be taken seriously, but that is all we really need to say about it, beyond that we begin to grant Credence to extremes and that is exactly what is happening all over my social media. In fact, after posting this article this afternoon Facebook may be deleted from my phone altogether. It has been a frustrated two or three weeks as we watch people destroy each other with opinions. We are all tired and were already, as a culture, more stressed and anxious than we ever have been in the history of our nation (except for the time leading up to the Civil War). This virus is not helping and is not making things better. Yet neither is the media, by catering to extremes. On one hand you have those who want to downplay what is happening and on the other you have those who are overhyping and overeating. I do agree with one commentator who purportedly said that “The media should be held responsible for the current state of our understanding (or lack thereof) of this virus and the situation.” The media has been taking extreme sides and even politicizing this issue well beyond the limits of what the media should be, on principle, doing.

That being said, we should hold them accountable by refusing to consume what they are feeding us, by ratings dropping, not by the government. We have to remember that we have contributed to this, our mentality as a culture has been: “entertain us” and applied to media we end up with news outlets as entertainment outlets, not as news outlets. We asked for sensationalization and we participated in the politicization of everything. The media in its present state is not so much an enemy of the people as it is a creation of the people. That includes us as Christians who have been playing the sensationalization game since the 1980’s. As with most things in the West, as Tom Holland points out in his book “Dominion” it was Christians who did it first.

Our extremes are also reflections of our own internal fears and anxieties. We are in a time of unprecedent quantities of both of those positions and they have only been bred by the increasing isolation and alienation caused by the internet age and the current state of our politics. These are things that Christians should have been speaking into when they began, instead, we ourselves have adopted a posture of fear and antipathy towards one another fueled by the anonymity of the Social Media Sphere. The beauty of Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. The problem with Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. Christians have never really addressed Social Media, some of us have tried to use it as a means of outreach and some have used it as a gathering place for the exchange of ideas. But I am part of groups where we have extreme guidelines about what we can and cannot say and how we can and cannot respond to our siblings in Christ. They seem like an unnecessary burden, just apply biblical ethics and morality to social media posting, but what seems obvious is not always obvious. The result has been that I have seen a lot of Christians either downplaying the virus or overreacting to it. Both extremes are born out of the very fear that we as Christians should be in full throat rejection of. These are the very times in History when the Church was at its best, but if you survey social media, we are far from at our best. We have to remember that this virus is affecting men and women made in the image of God, and though it has a low kill rate compared to other viruses that have affected us in the past, it is still a serious threat to the most vulnerable members of our society and we should do what we can to stop its spread so that those we love are not directly affected. If we, as a people, confess a pro-life ethic, we need to live that pro-life ethic by working to end something that threatens any life of any kind regardless of the effect it has on us. For that we need to act on biblical wisdom rather than on the worlds fear and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern between which is which.

Christians, how are we not tired of this? How do we not see the toll our capitulation to fear of the world is having on both our own mental health and on our witness as Christians. As Christians in times of high anxiety we are called to do one thing, trust in God. Think of Paul in Prison as he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was not worried about his chains; he was not concerned about the consequences of his actions. Disgraced, beaten and isolated he wrote these words: “ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:4-9). In the age of the Coronavirus it seems Christians in the general population have largely done the opposite. Even though many of the current teachers of the faith have warned us again and again against a fearful reaction because we are the people of the Word.

No, now is not the time to be afraid, now is the time to be a blessing to our communities and neighborhoods. Just like Abraham’s descendants were to “Bless the earth” (Gen 12:3). Now is our time to work for the shalom of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). Now is the time for us to, out of love for God, love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 26:34-40). Now is not the time to break off our relationship with God, but to lean further and deeper into it because we have the hope of the promised resurrection. Now is not the time for partisan politics within the church, but for us to work to “maintain the spirit of peace and the bond of love” (Phil 3:1-5). I am tired of seeing Christians, most of whom have been in Christ longer than I have been alive, acting out of fear instead of standing on the Holy and never changing Word of God. We need to stand firm on and lean into the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ our Lord and remember His words in Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Enough for the day is its own trouble.”

As someone at the Gospel Coalition said: “Fear is not our way and Panic is not our friend.” This has been completely blown out of proportion, but it has also been extremely underestimated and downplayed. A middle way is preferred, take it seriously, but do not believe everything you hear and do not resort to or spread fear and division over this and please, please, please stop politicizing this. Human lives are not politics, they are human lives, created in the image of God meant for the purposes of God.

Sincerely,

A sad and tired pastor.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.