“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“News may come that truth is sick, but never that it is dead.”
As the world, in its increasing and willful self-distancing from God, turned from modernism to postmodernism, perhaps the most visible feature of its new Weltanschauung (world view) is in its collective consideration of absolute truth. Postmodernism produced a massive cultural shift regarding the legitimacy of truth claims and, like unreasoning beasts, masses of people consented to the popular consensus that it was chic, cool, and altogether good to doubt, deny, and/or disregard objective truth. The postmodern pendulum of popular consensus thus swung with fervent and unreasoned velocity into the truthless orbit of utter subjectivity. Adhering to relative truth put one at the hallowed pinnacle of cultural relevance.
So, in postmodernism, absolute truth was shunned. In fact, absolute truth wasn’t merely shunned, it was denied. Truth became determined solely on the lunatic basis of personal preference, and personal preference (i.e., selfishness … think, “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life” 1 John 2:16 sort of thing) was liberally lubricated with the undefiled fluid of pure pragmatism. Your truth is your truth. My truth is my truth. Whatever works for you, whatever works for me, works.
The obligatory cultural control mechanism for the inevitable occasion when your truth meets my truth and the twain don’t agree came in the form of the thoroughly ignoble, but absolutely-necessary-to-get-along, presumed virtue of tolerance. Objectively noxious, illogically presumed, and arbitrarily applied, unbridled tolerance presumably would produce a cultural kum-ba-yah spirit of complicit, happy, universal, “let’s just all get along” sort of conviction-less coexistence. This produced, of course, bumper stickers, but very little of actual global harmony or personal peace. Nevertheless, “Coexist.”
So the culture of postmodernism, in which we find ourselves – or at least found ourselves merely a week or so ago – is defined by subjective “truth” fueled by selfish pragmatism and perpetuated by the conviction-free embrace of apparently limitless interpersonal liberality. In other words, everything goes because everyone has his or her own personal “truth” and nobody has any business telling anybody else that their truth might actually – [Insert offended snowflake gasp here] – be wrong.
Or, in even other words – such as the words from Romans 1:18-31- God’s judgment came to be vividly and readily portrayed within the postmodern world. Turn to any available media platform and frolicking in sin is willingly, boisterously, and applaudingly broadcast with gleeful, tolerant abandon. However, what the world couldn’t know in its truth-void, spiritually darkened pursuit of personal preference (i.e., sin) was that it was being “given over.” In fact, being “given over” has been as staple a feature for the postmodern era as has been, for example, the ever-escalating, rainbow colored fabrication of yet more genders or sexual orientations coming from the LGBTQ-ee-ii-ee-ii-oh movement.
Yet postmodernism, and the culture which so covetously embraced its tenets, was, or so it thought, continuing nobly down the “self” driven path to happiness, fulfillment, and satiated satisfaction. New DNA-denying genders were popping up everywhere with their corollary sexual expressions. Victims were being lauded for the sake of, well, being victims. Systemic oppression, though often elusive to define with concrete examples, was motivating marches for rights and restitution, at least when the streets weren’t filled with other postmodernists bemoaning the death of mother earth or pursuing the inalienable right to kill their babies. Notions like “critical theory” and words like “intersectionality” bounded into the popular vernacular as if they had been thunderously uttered from Sinai.
Still others, too distraught by the notion of anything crossing their visual or auditory senses that was unpleasant, insensitive, or [Insert another snowflake gasp here] contradictory to their cloistered, uninformed, and entitled “self truth,” sheltered in safe spaces, coddled by “educators” who, above all else, must reinforce the importance of these apt-to-be-victimized-if-not-protected “selves” in whatever form those “selves” sought to express, define, or satisfy themselves. The future of the human race depends on them, you see. The offensive must be eradicated for the safety of the self, else our demise is certain.
In other words, the world was under the grips of a God whose restraining mercy seemed to be getting less restrained, though the world didn’t – doesn’t – know it. But the world was oblivious to it all. It was complacent with compromise, content with its own inherent world view contradictions, and overwhelmingly driven by the idolatry of “me.” It was accelerating on its highway to hell with the theme song “We Are The World,” occasionally and privately paraphrased to “I am the world,” blaring enthusiastically in the background.
But then … P-A-N-D-E-M-I-C.
Suddenly – within a week, it seems – computers, televisions, and smartphones are bleeding with the red alert concentric circles of global and local sick maps. Breaking news updates are reporting the latest statistics on the newly infected, the newly recovered, and the newly dead. Governments are issuing edicts of mandated crowd controls, perhaps as much to responsibly promote public health as to “flatten the curve” so that the system – medical, governmental, commercial, or otherwise – won’t be overwhelmed. People will, it seems, scuffle over toilet paper as a necessity in case they get a respiratory disease, but, should food become an issue, more than mere fisticuffs over Charmin will likely erupt. And if that starts, a word like anarchy comes, no doubt, into elected minds.
Images of the most popular destinations on the planet show only the occasional presence of a pedestrian who will be, more likely than not, head clad with the garments of biologic isolation. The surgical mask has become the surprise fashion of the day. Polycarbonate goggles add to the pandemic look, if not to the sense of personal protection. From the ensuing panic – read that as FEAR – business closures, school closures, even entire state closures have become the expected norm. The impromptu sport of this new pandemic era of panic has become social distancing.
Virus test forms and statistical reports on the pandemic ignore the 57 (or however many there are now) genders. Only men and women are being infected, it seems. People are now less likely to be maligned for presumed infractions of postmodern social justice mores, but they may well be excoriated for the contempt of getting too close. Quarantine shaming, a term not in our collective cultural vernacular only a week ago, has given evidence of a greater social sin than that of employing the wrong gender pronoun.
But behind whatever panic-for-panic’s sake the public response to this pandemic has been, uncertain as it seems both the public and the experts may be as to what this virus can, will, and might do, is another interesting feature. Suddenly there is a sense, an individual sense, in which absolute truth … albeit in the form of a microscopic and novel virus … may have just come back into vogue.
This virus isn’t subjective. This virus isn’t susceptible to my selfish preferences. This virus is objective. It is verifiable. And, it may very well bring an end to my “self.” Said another way, the objective, absolute truth of the certainty of death has invaded the subjective, irrational, unreasonable, and death-disregarding mind of postmodernists. The virus just made truth real.
Life, as in “I don’t wanna die,” has become a bit more important, a bit more precious, a bit more of something to objectively protect, and death, well, death has knocked on the door of postmodernism to say “don’t forget about me.” In every hand-sanitizing, mask-wearing, toilet paper hoarding, social distancing, self-quarantining story we see, the door knock of death has been heard.
The Postmodern Pandemic and The Persevering Christian
But for the pandemic-era Christian attempting to be a man of Issachar, one of those who “knew the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Kings 12:32), there are three categories that ought be considered: the public, the pulpit, and the pew.
We’ve briefly surveyed the God-denying impact of postmodernism on the world view of the public. Its abandonment of absolute truth in preference for selfish ambitions, fueled by pragmatism and slathered with tolerance, has come to a sequestered, screeching, and sovereign halt. The public seems to be now less concerned with arbitrary personal rights, and other’s infringements upon them or restitutions for them, than with the far more important reality that the ultimate “right” we all have is death. Subjective truth must be abandoned in light of objective death. Suddenly death means all those other things quickly tumble down the life priorities list because, well, life has become THE priority.
As Christians we can easily glean from Scripture something of the Lord’s purpose in this current public pandemic panic-demic. In just the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, some sixty times the prophet is told to proclaim to the faithless, idolatrous, disobedient people of Israel that God’s sovereign judgment upon them would be so that “you will know that I am the Lord.”
From as far back as we can historically go, to Eden, God has intended to be known and to be exalted among men. This pandemic, then, is yet another of the Lord’s sovereign acts that will result in just that effect. He WILL be known.
“For as it is written, ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God’.” Romans 14:11
Because of the elevated panic driven by the very real fear of contagion and its possible result of death, the Lord has given to His believers an unparalleled opportunity to proclaim the absolute truth, the gospel. John MacArthur commented about this unique time:
“Any time the culture’s fear level is elevated, this is when Christians want to stand up … and be joyful, full of peace, full of faith, happy, thankful, grateful, anticipating that it would be far better to depart and be with Christ, but He wants us to stay so we can declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all people. I think this is the elevated time for Christians to show their trust in the Lord and take advantage of the opportunity to declare the gospel of salvation.”
For decades now, as modernism morphed into postmodernism, so too has the tendency been for the evangelical pulpit to morph right along with culture. Felt-needs, seeker-sensitive, pulpiteering hooplah has remained a predominant mainstay of more evangelical pulpits than not. The most recent manifestation of the seemingly unrestricted coveting of cultural relevance by popular evangelicalism has been the social justice movement. Scores of hireling-populated pulpits (John 10:12-13), already oriented to elevate “self” through biblically illicit church growth methodologies, seamlessly slithered themselves into social justice sermonizing.
But with this pandemic, how will these pulpits of the popular narrative respond when the public’s underlying fear is driven not by their interpersonal experiences of victimhood but by their unredeemed fear of death? The consistent, shepherding expositor of Scripture, John MacArthur states:
“The fear of death is real and it is legitimate if you have no hope. If you’re just hoping for the best after you die – and you’re not in control of your death – that’s a terrifying reality. So this is a time for us to speak of the gospel and the security we have in Christ and the eternal life He promises those who put their trust in Him. This is a great gospel opportunity.”
Those pulpits, then, that have not already been preaching and teaching the clear and full Word of God and have instead resorted to theatrical pulpiteering antics and active, audience engaged involvement, will find the new restrictions on public gatherings problematic. It’s hard to get the crowd effect of “turn to your neighbor and say …” when the audience is unseen on the other side of a digital device. Though Finneyistic methods will, no doubt, return after the plague has passed, those emotions- and crowd- manipulating maneuvers lose their effectiveness when the crowd is in absentia. Enthusiastic messages of self-esteem and the glory of “you” will, hopefully, fall prey to inconsequence when “you” are sitting alone, quarantined, huddling in fear of the unknown. After all, the unredeemed dying man doesn’t need to hear how great he is; he needs to be told how to stand before God in the garb of the Righteous One, a result only of the “repent and believe” gospel.
Pray one effect of these pandemic times will be not unlike the Lord’s words through Ezekiel:
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the LORD GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.” (Ezek. 34: 1-10).
May the work of the Lord in our time, at this moment, be to silence the hirelings who proclaim false things in His name and prey upon His saints.
But, those pulpits that have consistently proclaimed “Thus saith the Lord” and will continue to do so regardless of the means of its transmission will find that His Word will not return void (Isa. 55:11). The sheep may still be fed (John 21:15-17). The saints may still be taught and encouraged in their work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). The Word is, after all, “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). And, when the world finds itself hopeless and insufficient in the foreboding face of the eternal, it is solely the eternal Word of God, and the gospel of grace revealed within it, that will be found to be sufficient.
Given the mandates regarding pandemic-time gathering, church pews are sadly vacant. But the saints who have necessarily vacated those pews have not vacated the faith. The glorious doctrine of perseverance is grounded in the immutable promises of God. As Curt Daniels has written in The History and Theology of Calvinism, “Scripture frequently states that God preserves, keeps, sustains, protects, and guards His people.”
The Psalms alone contain multitudes of promises of God’s persevering protection. He “does not forsake His saints” (Psalm 37:28). “The Lord will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance” (Psalm 94:14). “He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10). “The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14). “The Lord preserves all who love Him” (Psalm 145:20). Our Lord, of course, boldly affirms this: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Though the church isn’t collectively gathered, the church collectively, and individually, is secure.
Yet there is a likely effect on the pews from the Lord’s sovereign work in this pandemic. When the visible church is again able to resume normalcy, the population of the pews will surely contain the thankful and joyful saints gathering again for corporate worship. However, some who previously shared those pews may not return, and that not because they’ve become victims of a virus. Rather, they have already been victimized by nominal Christianity. As the apostle John helpfully informs us, some will go “out from us, but they were not really of us” (1 John 2:19).
By virtue of a possibly extended ecclesiastical suspension of services, the Christian in name only may find it naturally conducive not to return when gathered worship resumes. They can readily claim the tele-church as an acceptable means to satisfy their inner legalist and accomplish some progress in their check-mark Christianity. Besides, for so many, they’ve repeated the prayer so they’re good, they’ll say. The weeks that may pass during mandated quarantines might produce an egress from the church of those who aren’t genuinely redeemed, but had attended for other, and condemnable, motives. After a few weeks, a new habit has likely formed, one of getting by without getting gathered with the saints.
Just as the saints ought fervently pray that the pulpits of hirelings may be permanently silenced as a pandemic effect, so too must we also pray that the Lord will either save the nominal professors or else purge His church of these false converts. We should recognize what Steve Lawson has observed: “Our first mission field lies within the walls of the church itself.” Let us, from pulpit and pew, proclaim the gospel within the house of the Lord that He may save those whom He will. But let us also rejoice that, as the historical narrative of Scripture shows (i.e, Acts 5:1-11), the Lord will purify His church and will continue to do so until that great day when He shall separate eternally the goats from the sheep (Matt. 25:33).
Worship By The Saints Continues
In the midst of these virus crisis circumstances, delivered to us by the faithful and purposeful hand of our Lord, let us remember that we are to worship Him in all that we do (Col. 3:17). Though we lament the disruption of gathered worship, we yet may, and must, continue to faithfully worship. May our minds be set on things above, where our Lord is seated at the right hand of God, who alone is our sure and certain hope.
Let us pray that, through this sovereign act, the Lord in His mercy and grace may bring many to Himself and that His Word of truth may take greater hold in the post-pandemic world, but especially within the professing church. May it be within the visible church that a pandemic of truth prevails in a greater, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting way.
Above all, may His saints live fearless in the midst of times rightly fearful to the unredeemed. Truth may have been sick during our postmodern era, but news will never come, as William Gurnall has said, that truth is dead, for our Lord is “the truth” (John 14:6). Our “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). He is with us always (Matt. 28:20). Let us then hold fast to our hope (Heb. 10:23), and let us proclaim that hope with fervent faithfulness that others might know that “I am the LORD.”