The recent COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown has resulted in one of the most difficult times for the church in North America. Experts are warning that there is a possibility that 20% of the churches many not even make it.
Churches and believers in California face severe fines, and even jail, if they resume services during the lock down. READ: ‘We Are Not Closing,’ Pastor Declares after County Fines Church $52,750 for Worship Services
Though many consider these to be dark days for the church, Frances Chan says these difficult times may in fact be a good thing for the North American church.
Chan was the former lead pastor and founder of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. He has since left the church and is ministering in the slums of Hong Kong, where his mother once ministered.
At Q Sessions, that featured several Christian leaders discussing the current pandemic crisis including attacks on religious liberties, Chan had this to say about what churches are facing today:
“When you look at the places where there is religious freedom and you compare those places to where there is not religious freedom, what have we done with the freedom? It’s just weakened the Church.”
“I’m not saying don’t fight for it, especially if that’s something God has called you to. I’m grateful for the people who fight for religious freedom. I’m grateful to have it. At the same time, I’m not really afraid of losing it because I look at how the church is flourishing and how it actually looks like the Church of Scripture where there is persecution. And again, I’m not saying I’m wanting that or desiring that. But what I am wanting is to see a pure Church where people are devoted, they’re serious and they understand what it means to really follow Jesus. Then we can really be a light to the world.”
It is interesting how Chan talks of a pure church. Because the Apostle Peter used a similar analogy when he wrote that we should rejoice when we encounter trials because it serves as a purifier for our faith:
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which [e]is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;(1 Peter 1:6-7 NASV)
In this passage, Peter compares our faith to gold and trials to a testing by fire.
Similar to today, gold was a valuable commodity in ancient times, but there was always concerns about how pure it was as it was often mixed with other metals, sometimes fraudulently.
We have similar issues today and use chemicals or acids to test gold’s purity.
But it wasn’t so simple in ancient times to determine gold’s purity, and they resorted to a method called “fire assaying”, that Peter alluded to when he described testing by fire.
To test the gold, they would take a sample and weigh it. Then they would put the gold along with a piece of lead into a crucible made of bone ash. After it was heated, the gold would melt, and the impurities including the lead would be absorbed into the bone ash.
This would leave a mixture of gold and silver. They then applied nitric acid to dissolve the silver leaving pure gold. The pure gold sample was weighed and then compared to its original weight to determine its overall level of purity.
When Peter said that the “proof of your faith” is more precious than gold, he was not saying that our faith is more valuable than gold, though it is, what he was saying is that the “testing of our faith” is more valuable than the “testing of gold.”
As believers our faith in God can sometimes be mixed with impurities. Some have produced a version of faith that promises prosperity if we believe. It is also easy to believe God when everything is going fine.
But what happens to our faith when trials hit. Do we start disbelieving God?
Trials will assay our faith and determine how pure it is. It is not fun going through the fire, but what is left is pure unadulterated faith and the result is often a stronger church.
Chan also referred to how churches facing persecution are doing better than churches that weren’t. Along those lines, many believe one of the fastest growing churches in the world today is in Iran where people face serious fines and even imprisonment for attending house churches.