by Danny E. Olinger
On the Lord’s Day of March 8, I was standing before a combined adult and young people’s Sunday school class at New Covenant Community Church in Joliet, Illinois. In my update to them about the work of the Committee on Christian Education, I singled out two young men in their midst, Hans Mininger and David Robison. Hans and David, I declared, would soon be traveling to Philadelphia for the OPC Timothy Conference scheduled to start ten days later on March 18. Little did I know that before the next Lord’s Day the conference would be canceled. Even further removed from my mind was the possibility that many OP congregations across the United States and Canada would not be gathering for public worship that day. By that time, civil magistrates in both countries had begun to prohibit more than ten people gathering together in public settings due to the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019, commonly known as COVID-19 or just coronavirus. In many areas, these prohibitions soon became even more severe.
In the eighty-plus years since the birth of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, there have been many periods when congregations have encountered hardship. But there has never been a time when members of the OPC have not been able to gather together corporately for public worship as has been the case for the overwhelming majority of congregations since March. Read more
by Joel D. Fick
On March 17, in response to the global outbreak of COVID-19, Alachua County, Florida—where our church, Redemption OPC, is located—issued an emergency order including the injunction that “public gatherings of more than ten individuals are discouraged and may be ordered to disperse.”
This injunction simply mirrored what other local governments all across our country were doing and therefore what other sessions across the OPC were facing. What is the church to do when, in the providence of God, it is prevented from assembling? Should the church ignore the injunction of the state? Should the church assemble virtually? Is such a thing even possible? Is preaching actually preaching if no one is present? And what about the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—how are they to be administered and received? Read more
by Judith M. Dinsmore
OP pastors responded to this spring’s global coronavirus crisis by articulating age-old insights from the Word of God. Like the church through the centuries, from the weight of an all-consuming trial, they pressed spiritual truth.
The health and finances of congregants and communities were the foremost concerns for Benji Swinburnson, pastor of Lynnwood OPC in Lynnwood, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. That area saw the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the United States, in early March. By the middle of the month, the city was a ghost town. Physical needs can be met diaconally, Swinburnson clarified. Read more
by J. V. Fesko
When the Westminster divines say that believers may have the assurance of their salvation shaken, diminished, and intermitted in many ways, there is a strong likelihood that the harsh times in which they lived gripped their minds. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) famously described the life of man during that era as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The world was in the midst of a little ice age, which made for bad harvests. Ten out of sixteen years (1646–51 and 1657–61) had bad yields, which meant less food. A 30 percent reduction in a harvest could double the price of bread, whereas a 50 percent decline quintupled its price. The Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) raged and resulted in eight million dead. One Lutheran minister wrote in 1639 that of his one-thousand-member church, only a third remained a decade later. The English Civil War (1642–51) killed 7 percent of the population of England, Scotland, and Wales—some two hundred and fifty thousand. (If the United States lost 7 percent of its population today, nearly twenty-three million would die.)
In 1666, the Great Fire of London consumed eighty-four churches and thirteen thousand homes, leaving eighty thousand homeless. It basically destroyed London in the span of three days. As if this were not enough, the Black Plague wreaked havoc throughout Europe. In 1663–64, fifty thousand people in Amsterdam died, and it then spread to London where more than one hundred thousand people perished. Fifteen thousand people died in just one week (September 12–19, 1664). One to two thousand bodies were thrown into plague pits and buried every night. Read more
by Alan D. Strange
Plagues have bothered us less as general health conditions have improved worldwide. Such threats as COVID-19 poses, however, are no surprise to those who’ve paid attention to other health crises of recent years. Bill Gates, among others, has warned that a pandemic was likely and that preventative measures needed to be taken to forestall it. Such measures, however, are expensive, and present life, for politicians of all parties, generally takes precedence over preparing for future contingencies. As a result of such unpreparedness, much of the nation is, as of this writing, in lockdown to “flatten the curve” and prevent the healthcare system from overload. Most of our churches cannot meet for public worship and are limited to livestreaming and personal ministry.