Cherishing the Ordinary in Extraordinary Times
Rarely have we passed through a more extraordinary time than we are now experiencing. The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to the church. These times have forced many of us to think outside the box when it comes to doing ministry, and in many cases to great effect and with surprising results.
But it's not like the church hasn't found itself in unique situations before. The people of God have always found a way to navigate through the choppiest waters the kingdoms of this world could stir up. What strikes you about many of the great world-changing epochs in the life of God's people was that they met their extraordinary challenges in remarkably ordinary ways.
In The Church
Take, for example, the early church. What's remarkable is that even with the amazing manifestations of God's power as seen in the speaking in tongues, miracles, signs and the extraordinary growth in numbers, Acts tells us that they devoted themselves to things which seem to us today very ordinary! So ordinary in fact that increasingly many find little attraction in them at all! Yet these are the very means God has appointed for us to come to and grow in our faith.
There have always been those voices in the church that assert that we cannot hold to the old forms in a modern context, that if the church is to survive it must jettison the standard ways of doing church. How should we respond?
In Acts, we read of the disciples committing themselves to four things they believed were essential to their relationship with God and the success of the church. "…They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42)
The 'apostles teaching' simply means the teaching given by and about Jesus. Why were they so devoted to this teaching? Because before their very eyes the whole of the Old Testament was fulfilled. Scores of prophecies given over hundreds of years concerning the Messiah came true within a remarkably short period of time. The birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus which had been abundantly foretold in their Scriptures was now a reality. The more they heard, the stronger was their faith, joy and confidence.
Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus chose the exposition of Scripture as the highest and clearest means of opening blinded eyes. We are told that, "… beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk. 24:27). He saw no need for new forms! Is it any wonder the disciples followed suit?
Secondly, they devoted themselves to 'fellowship' with one another. They knew that their enjoyment of God was more satisfying as they participated in these things together. They knew that each one possessed a gift that the other could benefit from. They knew they would be safer, more productive and blessed as they lived out their faith with each other.
With the advent of Zoom, we can be tempted to embrace technology as a substitute for in-person gatherings on the Lord's Day. However, we ought to make every effort to resist such temptations and imitate the early church in this respect. We are not to neglect "to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:25).
Thirdly, they regularly observed the Lord's Supper. As with the commission to teach, Jesus also gave the command to take bread and wine, symbolizing all that he accomplished in his death, as a reminder to them that their forgiveness is free and full (Matt. 26:27-28). Once more, we meet the challenges of extraordinary times in that ancient institution which Jesus thought so important and effective that he imparted it to us on the very night before he died.
Finally, they prayed together. This was their lifeline to God. They prayed for everything! They gave thanks; sought wisdom, protection, conversions, and church plants; ordained elders and sought generally to build God's kingdom in their midst, drawing upon the grace and power of the King himself.
In The Home
We find a similar, somewhat anti-climactic pattern following the first half of Ephesians. There Paul points out unspeakably glorious new realities fulfilled and mysteries revealed regarding God's eternal plan in Christ for the Jews, Gentiles and the Church. Paul outlines, among many other glorious truths, "…the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…" (Eph. 1:18-19). One would expect completely new forms through which these astonishing truths were to be expressed.
Yet, they are lived out in very commonplace areas of life: the Church, home and work. Paul shows that the beauty of the gospel life can be best seen in Jews and Gentiles worshipping side by side, comprehending "…what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (3:18-19). It's in a husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church (5:25), a wife submitting to her husband as to the Lord (5:22), children obeying their parents in the Lord (6:1-3), slaves obeying their earthly masters as they would Christ (6:8) or masters doing the same out of reverence for the One who died for them (6:9).
The beauty of the gospel life is seen in the church meeting extraordinary cultural moments with the power of the Gospel in otherwise ordinary ways and forms.
In The World
Likewise, our attitude to the society around us also ought to be measured by the love of Christ to us. It's a time to realize the solidarity that we have with our fellow human beings and to continue to be salt and light while seeking always the absolute best for the world around us.
Consider the catastrophic reorientation for the people of God during the Babylonian Captivity. Yet, how were they to constitute themselves in a foreign land with all the familiar landmarks of home gone? God tells them simply to, "…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7).
Extraordinary times call not for less but for more cultural engagement by God's people - letting our light shine before men that they may see our good works that they may glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
So much of what is the norm for the people of God is now regarded as ‘countercultural’. But these forms have always been the modus operandi for God's people. We must resist the temptation to seek to reinvent ourselves to accommodate our present crisis. As strong as the temptations are to see our calling in the world as ordinary, it is the extraordinary working of Gospel power in our ‘ordinary’ lives that will always see us through.