The Role of the Church During Crisis

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Associate Professor of Biblical Studies (New Testament)

Christians have always stood at the forefront of any social, physical, and spiritual warfare. Like David before Goliath, they stand not on their might. But, drawing their strength from God, they fight: William Wilberforce against slavery in England, Florence Nightingale for the wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, William Carey against sati (burning of widows on the pyre of their husbands) in India, and Joni Eareckson Tada for the physically challenged throughout the world. Asian Christians are no exception: they fight against for the migrants; they preserve God’s creation; and they speak for those special needs.[1] Similarly, as Singapore faces the threat of the microscopic enemy, the COVID-19 virus, the role of churches and Christians is clear: stand at the forefront and fight for the fainthearted.
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The Jerusalem apostles’ fight against social oppression and Paul’s fight against poverty give the biblical precedent for us to be socially active. Since Alexander the Great’s time in the Middle East, Jews struggled with their identity. Those in Jerusalem spoke and read the Torah in Hebrew. Those in Egypt and Asia Minor (modern Turkey) spoke Greek and read the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. So, at an early gathering of the Christians, tensions arose between Greek-speaking Jewish women and Hebrew-speaking Jewish women. One group felt they were cheated in the provision of daily food; they felt as if the Hebrew apostles were partial to the Hebrew-speaking Jews (Acts 6:1). The apostles didn’t sweep this complaint under the rug but addressed it (6:2). They instituted the first official ‘division of labor’ between the apostles and other servants: whereas some ministered God’s word, others waited on tables (6:3–4). Since waiting on tables was equally important to preaching God’s word, they chose “men . . . full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3).[2] The apostles laid their hands of approval on them and commissioned them to the ministry of waiting on tables, for the sake of the Hellenistic Jewish widows (6:6; cf. 6:2). The result was astonishing: “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7).
Paul is often known as ‘the greatest theologian.’ But, equally important to him was caring for the poor. When he heard Agabus’s prophecy that there would be “a severe famine . . . over the entire Roman world” (Acts 11:28), he collected the funds that disciples in Antioch had gathered and took them to the Christians in Judea (11:29–30). While he defended the gospel before the Jerusalem apostles, they were speechless, except to make one request: “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10a). Paul didn’t need this request because he “had been eager to do [this] all along” (2:10b). When other Christians joined him in this endeavor, as did those in Philippi (Phil 1:5; 4:18), he couldn’t stop praising them and thanking God for them. He dedicated two chapters in 2 Corinthians to challenge the Christians in Corinth to participate in caring for needs, after challenging them and outlining how to gather funds to give to the poor in 1 Corinthians (16:1–4). Giving to the poor was so important to Paul, in fact, that he used a multitude of terms for it: “fellowship” (2 Cor 8:4; 9:13; Rom 15:26), “service” (2 Cor 9:1; Rom 15:31), “grace” (2 Cor 8:6–7, 19), “blessing” (2 Cor 9:5), and “divine service” (2 Cor 9:12; Rom 15:27).[3]

So, whether in times of racism, prejudice, injustice, poverty, or illness, Christians and churches have always stood at the forefront and fought against evil and preserved good. Even now, when we are faced with an invisible enemy, COVID-19, let’s stand strong as the apostles and the cloud of witnesses ahead of us and fight by offering calmness and care to the troubled and fainthearted.

[1] Calvin Chong, ed., The Servant at the Fringes: Christian Serving Foreign Workers in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Bible College, 2018); Melissa Ong and Prarthini M. Selveindran, ed., God’s Gardners: Creation Care Stories from Singapore and Malaysia (Singapore: GraceWorks, 2020); and Leow Wen Pen and Anne Wong-Png, ed., Call Me by Name: Stories of Faith, Identity, and Special Needs (Singapore: Family Inclusion Network, 2018).

[2] All scripture quotations are from the NIV.

[3] See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1st edition, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 812.

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