Covid-19 – a new kairos moment for the church

Easter in a time of Covid19, April 2020
Easter in a time of Covid19, April 2020

Most people, those who acknowledge some or other religious faith as well as those of no faith at all, allow humour to meld with their understandings of life crises.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant national lockdown have not changed our nature in that respect.

Someone sent me a photograph of a sign outside a church announcing that all services have been cancelled during the virus season because God is making house calls.

Joking helps ease the stresses and strains from the impact of Covid-19 and the measures taken to prevent its spread. But what if God is making house calls — and church calls?

A conservative theology, which knows no denominational or socioeconomic boundaries, promotes the idea that Christians are safe from any threat, including a calamitous pandemic, that “normal” life must continue in every respect, that Covid-19 presents a moment of revival for Christians — an impetus towards Christian triumphalism, if we don’t give in to its evil.

Eastern Cape-born pastor Rodney Howard-Brown, who now touts his brand of conservative, conspiracy-packed theology from a mega-church in Florida in the US, is one of many eccentric Christian leaders continuing to promote gatherings in opposition to widespread efforts to stop public interaction in the light of the Covid-19 onslaught.

Howard-Brown has described Covid-19 as a “phantom plague”. And yet the pandemic is radically altering every aspect of life as we know it, presenting a threat to long-established and cherished patterns, but also offering opportunities for significant, life-affirming change.

This chance to change is available also to the Christian church, universal, national and local. And Easter provides an apposite moment to reflect on this need for change.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa had not declared a national lockdown to start on March 27, it is likely that many Christian leaders in SA would happily have continued performing what they believe are the sanctifying rituals of their faith — including gathering in large congregations for worship, communion, preaching, confession — and in the process exposing their congregants to the risk of infection.

Churches would be packed to capacity for Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, among other devotionals. Instead, our churches are as empty as the tomb was on that first resurrection Sunday.

The virus season with all its negative impacts for faith, worship and witness, represents a kairos moment, a time given by God to consider and do the right thing.

Christian theology is a living thing. There are few denominations, barring those that espouse hardline and conservative fundamentalism, which cling to notions of a god who does not continue its engagement with her world throughout history (sic).

Sociologists would take it further in their argument that, since god is a social construct — created by ourselves — it stands to reason that, as society changes, our god(s) will continue to be re-created in our own images.

What faith, what new Christian theology, might emerge in, through and after the novel coronavirus?

An emerging Christian theology is not, itself, new for the church. Emergence has existed throughout the centuries, thriving, as one scholar has noted, “at the margins” of the religious establishment while eschewing institutional appearances and practices.

In the modern era, it has emerged in opposition to patriarchy and the rigidity of the dominant mega- and mainline churches, and in support of progressive ideologies grounded in the women’s movement, social justice, homosexual rights, compassion, hospitality, forgiveness, antimilitarism.

One of the ways in which a new theology might emerge is to use John Caputo’s notion of “the deconstructed church”. Based on the phrase first used in 1896 by Charles Sheldon, a Kansas, US, pastor, “What would Jesus do?”, Caputo asks: “What would Jesus deconstruct” about the church today?

In other words, what would He challenge? What would Jesus discern and interpret about the theology underpinning much of the church’s practices today, about their meaning and value, about the extent to which they go against the founding principles of His kingdom?

Caputo writes that the first thing Jesus would deconstruct is “the church! He would deconstruct a very great deal of what people do in the name of Jesus, the whole ‘industry’, the whole commercial operation of spiritual and very real moneymaking Christian capitalists”.

Through this deconstruction, Caputo suggests we can sketch a portrait of an alternative Christianity, an emerging church, the kingdom of God.

Jesus gives us two visions of this kingdom. The first is in his recitation of the words of Isaiah “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim release for the captive, and recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”.

The second is in His Sermon on the Mount, during which Jesus proclaims who are the blessed in his kingdom — those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness, those who are insulted and falsely accused.

And for each category of person there is a special reward.

These are old but enduring and compelling ideas to consider to reimagine a new theology for the church, which is not focused on institutionalism, structure, roles and rites.

If all the church has learnt during this time of Covid-19 is how to livestream sermons, worship songs, religious rites, and requests for tithes, we have lost the kairos moment.

Covid-19 – a new kairos moment for the church

8 thoughts on “Covid-19 – a new kairos moment for the church

  • 10th April 2020 at 8:58 am

    Wow Ray! As always, food for thought. Thanks for challenging me to re-imagine church post civid 19.

    • 10th April 2020 at 9:27 am

      Thank you Bishop Eddie. Of course, re-imagining is a scary prospect, but no better time for a scattered people of faith than at Easter. Bless you and your loved ones.

    • 10th April 2020 at 12:32 pm

      Enjoy led reading this piece and what an interesting perspective Ray. re-iamgine in a time of Covid19.
      Jesus mostly went out to meet with the people! I always believe that you can practice your faith anywhere and anytime! Blessed Easter to you and your family

  • 10th April 2020 at 12:38 pm

    Firstly wishing you and all your loved ones a most blessed and peaceful Good Friday, a very sad day on the Christian calendar, the day us humans condemned the most truthful human to death, a rather barbaric, callous and heartless death. Good Friday is such named, as we know that the story doesn’t end there, there’s a most beautiful resurrection from the grave and a gift of love through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit some days later. Your article is indeed thought provoking, not only because I had to look up the words apposite and Kairos, the first word I thought may have been a spelling error, glad to say it wasn’t and my vocabulary has now grown by two words! I’ve recently started a study course at home on the book of Daniel, a book which focuses a lot on the end times, very closely linked to Revelations, whereas Daniel was written before Christ walked this earth as man, Revelation was written after Christ’s short travels with us. The main reason I started this course was because a very special young man named Daniel gave me his heart, when his body shut down, so that I could live, I believe he saved a lot of other end stage patients lives, I can think of no better gift than the gift of life, and I try to live my best life today in honour of Daniel with Thanks to my Heavenly Father. Take care my friend seems brother.

  • 10th April 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you Ray, a compelling wake up call for the Church… let those that have ears to hear… listen! And, as long as the church remains a part of the competing empires of this world, it will be increasingly irrelevant and a religious treadmill… the opium of the people as Marx so rightly said. So, we stand, at this kairos moment with the door standing ajar… will we push through into a new (yet old) understanding of our collective role as the Church; the body of Christ, being Christ (Christians) in society or will we stand religiously on one side protecting our tribe?

  • 10th April 2020 at 6:40 pm

    This is much to digest. Suggesting that God is on house call should not refer to lockdown alone, because He is with all of us 24/7 , with and in us always.
    Yes, during the first two weeks of lockdown it was clear people, and life in general, are changing. For a long time the ideology of a “One world” system has been spread through the world. Church, as an entity, has become more of an industy than serving God. More and more people are, fortunately, opting for home churching, because they will not go along with a “united church” consisting of all religions and denominations. For obvious reasons. Furthermore, we read In Genesis that God separates people in the “sheep: and “goats”. In a simplistic way I would like to believe this is a kairos moment for all people. When Jesus died on cross, He paid for our sins. We should, however, not concider God to be blind for our sins / sort of Father Christmas. During this kairos moment each one of us should concider our lives, especially our relationship with God the trinity.

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