Last week, I heard bad news: During the COVID pandemic, thousands of churches around our country have closed their doors — for good.
As millions of Christians have stopped attending, many churches lost a majority of their attenders and saw offerings plummet by more than 50%. They couldn’t sustain their ministries. According to the Barna Research Group, one in five churches is at risk of closing within the next 18 months. That number breaks my heart. But there is always hope in Christ. Just see what God has for us in Daniel 3.
In Babylon, around 600 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar commanded his kingdom to bow down and worship a huge golden statue he erected. Disobedience came with a hefty penalty: “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (v.6). But three of the king’s servants who worshipped the Lord — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — stood firm in their faith. When the king’s herald commanded everyone to bow down, they stood tall in the crowd.
Nebuchadnezzar told them, furiously, “If you do not worship (this statue), you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace” (v. 15). But the trio responded with one of the most courageous statements of faith in the Bible: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
The king ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. When soldiers dropped them into the furnace, the soldiers were killed by the intense heat and flames. But from a safe distance, Nebuchadnezzar peeked through the furnace’s stoke-hole and saw four men walking around in the fire, and the fourth one looked like “a son of the gods” (I think it was Jesus. at the very least, it was an angel sent by Jesus). The king opened the furnace doors. The three walked out, unharmed. Nebuchadnezzar praised the one true God.
The fiery furnace was a huge test of faith for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But it’s important to see that it wasn’t their first test. God prepared them by giving them smaller tests of faith — pop quizzes — along the way.
First, they were torn from their comfortable homes in Jerusalem. Then, against their will, they were hauled 800 miles across the desert to Babylon. When a court official ordered them to eat forbidden foods, it became yet another important test of faith. As we know, they passed all with flying colors.
But what about you and I? 2020 has been a strange and difficult year. Our faith as Christians has been tested. But has this year been a pop quiz, or has it been your final exam?
I believe that, for most of us, this year has been merely a pop quiz. In all likelihood, it hasn’t been your final test of faith. God has been preparing you for something bigger and more difficult than you would have been prepared for had you not endured this glorious year.
With every passing day, we draw closer to the Great Tribulation — that seven-year period when our world will experience the greatest turmoil since the days of Noah. I don’t say this to depress you. I say this so that you can be prepared to stand firm in your faith when the harder times come. So, let me ask you: How are your faith and obedience holding up during this pop quiz? More importantly, how will your faith and obedience hold up during the tougher tests that come down the road?
COVID-19 is child’s play compared to what’s coming. If we can’t figure out how to open businesses, schools and churches during this pandemic, we’re going to be toast when a worse pandemic comes our way.
I believe our lockdown approach to COVID is unsustainable. At some point the government must say, “We have to get our communities back to work, to school and to church. The consequences of not doing so are much greater than the consequences of COVID.”
As millions of Christians have stopped attending church, and as thousands of churches are closing their doors, I ask you to ensure your church isn’t one of them.
Online services — for those who can’t physically make it to a live service, or those at high risk — are the best option. But online church is not the best option for most of us. We need to be in weekly fellowship with other Christians — serving and being served.
If you’re physically able to be at church and you choose not to come, I feel led to tell you: Doing what you’re doing long-term is unsustainable. You cannot consistently grow in your faith in isolation. You need the church, and the church needs you. I hope and pray that you and I will come back to church and lead many others to join us. Let’s ace this pop quiz together, so we’ll be ready for tougher tests coming down the road.
Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join Impact’s live outdoor worship service at 9 a.m. Sunday at 17746 George Boulevard in Victorville, or tune in online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page.