The popularity of the British prime minister was gravely jeopardized by the statement “Christmas is canceled.”1 The persistence of the COVID-19 virus was strengthened by the presence of a new variant. But would Christmas really be canceled? Or could it be that the heart of Christmas—to share with someone you love and help someone in need—might actually be given a chance to shine?
The popularity of any pastor or church administrator would be severely jeopardized if he or she declared, “Evangelism is canceled.” But what if what is often called evangelism—augmenting numbers rather than addressing needs—was canceled? Could it be that the real heart of Jesus might get a chance to shine? Perhaps our current crises afford us the opportunity to restore God’s original intent for evangelism—to love our neighbor as ourselves.
How do we want history to remember the church’s response to COVID-19? Some say nothing must distract us from the gospel—yet pandemic viruses, economic crises, and racial injustices are opportunities for the gospel. Some are victims of oppression, and others are victims of abuse. Some have fallen on hard times, and others have fallen ill. But fallen people are our mission.
Fallen people and fallen systems are nothing new to God. Centuries ago, Jeremiah declared, “Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed” (Jer. 51:8, NKJV). Somebody said that the Old Testament speaks, and the New Testament says amen. So, John echoes, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. 14:8, NKJV). Look at the false teachings and oppressive practices of church and state throughout the centuries, and you will recognize Babylon. People have fallen down in religious and secular systems that are destructive, but before they can get out, they must be helped up.
In Isaiah, God had a message for an ancient, despairing world. He asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” A young Isaiah replied, “Here am I! Send me” (Isa. 6:8, NKJV). Isaiah told church people that while fasting down on their knees was beneficial, helping people up onto their feet was essential. While keeping Sabbath was biblical, ending oppression was critical (Isa. 58:6, 13).
In Revelation, God has a message for a contemporary, despairing world. It parallels Isaiah’s message and is called the eternal gospel—because the Old Testament speaks, and the New Testament says amen. Hans LaRondelle states, “The basic motive of the threefold message of Revelation 14 is that of restoration! It serves the same purpose as Isaiah’s call to a backsliding Israel [in] Isaiah 58:1.”2 This everlasting gospel is both spiritual and practical.
My wife, Pattiejean, sent her hairdresser, Arelis, a gift of fifty dollars. Arelis was very appreciative because her business was hit hard by COVID-19. Pattiejean followed up by informing her that our church offered free COVID testing on Sunday mornings, as well as a grocery giveaway. If, through such helping, people embrace the Christ we worship, praise God. But our helping, as George Webber says, “will not be for the sake of getting new members or winning converts or taking scalps for Christ. Simply, we live in the style of our Lord: where there is hunger—seeking to feed, where there is sickness—seeking to heal, where there is loneliness—offering our love without any ulterior motive.”3
Evangelism shouldn’t be canceled—it should be restored.
- BBC News Staff, “Newspaper Headlines: ‘Christmas Cancelled’ and ‘Surging Mutant Virus,’ ” BBC News, December 20, 2020, bbc.com/news/blogs-the-papers-55382075.
- Hans K. LaRondelle, How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies of the Bible: A Biblical-Contextual Approach (Sarasota, FL: First Impressions, 1997), 358.
- George W. Webber, Today’s Church: A Community of Exiles and Pilgrims (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1979), 94.