By Mike Hess

As I write, it’s the evening of Easter Sunday 2020. Our world and nation are trying to get a grip on the coronavirus outbreak. It reminds me of Charles Dickens’s famous words in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Only for me tonight, it feels like the worst of times and the best of times.

It’s the worst of times in that to slow the spread of the coronavirus, local churches are temporarily unable to gather. It’s the worst of times because nearly all travel has been halted and unemployment is soaring due to mandatory quarantines, travel restrictions, social distancing mandates, and an apparent shortage of masks. No one could have predicted this a few months ago. Yet here we are in a unique time—one that’s not outside the control of our sovereign God. Even amid confusion and uncertainty about the future, we’re absolutely certain that our God is working “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11, ESV).

Yet I believe we’re also in the best of times. We’ve seen firsthand the fruition of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 that the “gates of hell” will not prevail against the church. It’s amazing to think that even though local churches cannot physically gather around the world, the work of the gospel still marches on, although restraints on assembling do hinder the work of making disciples.

Easter Sunday reminded me of this in a powerful way. Like many of you, I enjoyed hearing the Word through online streaming. I commend the many churches that have had to make sudden and unexpected transitions to online formats. These changes weren’t exactly part of the strategic plan your church leadership shared with you back in January. Yet your flexibility in a time of crisis has demonstrated your heart for the Lord and His people. Let me point out five encouragements I walked away with while observing your online ministries:

  1. Pastors are proclaiming the Word. Nearly every pastor I have spoken to about transitioning to the online format has expressed how awkward and challenging it is to preach to a camera instead of to people. Yet your commitment to preaching the Word and feeding God’s sheep has prompted you to make this uncomfortable transition. Never underestimate how blessed and encouraged your people are by receiving a steady diet of the Word, even if it is online. The foundation of our fellowship is our unwavering commitment to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. This commitment will never waver—even amid a global pandemic.
  2. Churches are loving their neighbors. It has been incredible to see the innovative and creative ways GARBC local churches have gone about loving their communities in the name of Christ: giving away toilet paper, holding blood drives, taking food to the elderly and shut-ins, making face masks, providing food for first responders and medical professionals, meeting financial needs for recently unemployed workers. . . . The list could go on and on. I have seen firsthand that a heartfelt doctrinal commitment is manifested in heartfelt love for others.
  3. Churches are utilizing social media. Gone are the days when churches can afford to say, “We’re just not into social media and we won’t get into it. We don’t like it.” Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay and is the language of our day. Refusing to utilize this free communication tool is to miss out on opportunities to share the gospel. I was blessed to see that scores of fellowshipping churches utilized social media well in order to proclaim the message of Easter.
  4. Christians are respecting civil authorities. According to Romans 13:1–7, to obey civil authority is to understand God’s rule and sovereign design. At this point, the church is still not being asked to violate Biblical commands. Granted, down the line we may need to start asking serious questions about government-enforced limitations on churches. But in the meantime, our submission to civil, God-ordained authority speaks volumes about Christ and our faith in His Word.
  5. Churches are reaching the lost. I consistently pray on Sundays that people at home in their boredom would be prompted by God to watch an online service and hear the good news of Jesus Christ—that somehow God would use this time of boredom to spark curiosity and draw people to faith in Christ. It’s amazing to think that even more people now are listening to Biblically solid messages online and hearing the glorious news of God’s love for us in Christ. I’m confident that souls will be coming to faith in the Savior during this unique time.

When those of us who proclaim God’s Word have felt like we’ve given subpar sermons or lessons, we have clung to the truth that God’s Word will never return to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). Rest assured, as you faithfully minister the Word online, God is using you. Be encouraged that the church “scattered” remains strong until we can finally become the church “gathered” after this virus subsides. Let’s choose to meditate on the fact that God is at work, using His Word, working in His people, changing hearts and lives, and drawing sinners to faith in His Son. These truly are the best of times.

Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.