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bible culture ethics science

truth, grace and covid-19

Covid-19 royally sucks, but it can teach us many things if we have ears to hear.

We have been reminded of the benefits of slowing down, cooking food at home and going for walks. We’ve realised that good hygiene is good not only for slowing the spread of Covid-19, but also many other things we don’t want to spread.

A more recent lesson I’ve noticed has to do with how we speak to one another.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where I live, we’ve negotiated a lockdown after some guidelines were not adhered to. Naturally, there has been disappointment and people (including the Prime Minister) have encouraged everyone to “call out” those who are breaking rules. Her words were:

I’m asking everyone now more than ever to continue to back and support one another, and if that means calling a family member or colleague out for not following the rules then we should do that. Do it with kindness, but do it.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

This advice is not only wise, appropriately-framed and practical, but also reminds me of another leader communicating similar advice to a group of people. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the value of “speaking the truth in love”.

Both advice-givers are concerned with health. Just as Jacinda is empowering people to keep one another accountable for the good of the community, even when it means saying something less than welcome, so too Paul is signifying the value of loving truth-speaking for the maturity and discipleship of the Church. We can argue if we want about the science (Covid) or the ethics (Christian maturity); but both communicators are talking about the kind of balanced communication needed to encourage what they both understand to be good for health and growth.

In both cases, there is a goal (or to use Jacinda’s term, there are “the rules”) and there are those who fall short of the goal (or breaking the rules). The goals of health and maturity require that we do two things.

We have to maintain the goal… and not shame those who fall short of it. We have to stick to the rules… and be kind to rule-breakers.

It has to be OK to admit you’ve done something not OK.

Consequences will always be necessary. Breaking different kinds of rules will incur different kinds of consequences. Losing a job, a role, a position, freedom to go out in public, etc.

Consequences for rule-breaking will be necessary, but we must be kind. Paul says elsewhere “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them in a spirit of gentleness.” If we let shame, disgust and rejection to be the only things that characterise our response to rule-breakers, then we will only encourage people to hide their rule breaking. They’ll be even slower to admit it. And in the context of a disease that you could be passing on before you even know you have it, we need people to admit their mistakes as soon as possible.

Be kind, and call one another out.

Categories
bible christianity culture ethics theology

holistic christianity

From my understanding of Scripture, I can discern at least the following seven levels of Christian life. They signal – and invite us into – a rich, holistic way of life. A way of life that seems to apply at all times and in all places. After seven short statements sketching these seven levels, I offer some brief reflections on why an appreciation of this holistic mix is crucial as we negotiate our current covid-19 crisis.


Private Devotion. Individual. The focus is on the relationship between me as an individual and God. Simultaneously, I practice relating to myself and to God. The more healthy, honest and helpful this relationship is, the more I am prepared to relate to others. Jesus’ prayerful relationship with his Father is a model.

Vulnerable Companionship. Two or Three Persons. This level is about journeying with those you are closest to and vulnerable with in a special way. It is incredibly difficult. It is less threatening to function as an isolated individual, or to operate in large groups while keeping everyone at arms length. Our discipleship and growth happens at this level like no other, provided we are willing to open ourselves to being the process of being sharpened by others “as iron sharpens iron”. One core practice here is the terrifying and transforming discipline of Confession.

Collaborative Community. Households, Gatherings or Entire Cities. This widens the focus to others not like us. Here we can practice the excruciatingly challenging task of loving, welcoming, sharing and serving with people who are not in our close group of favourites. We learn to partner with others: giving and receiving, influencing and being influenced by one another. This is dangerous and risk of pain, church splits (Paul and Barnabas style) and more along the way, but there is no other path forward. This is the level where the practice of Communion (or the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist) gathers up as much local diversity as possible into one local Body.

Global Movement. All Believers Everywhere. This extends our horizon past those we have met to include other believers who we are separated from either by distance or time. The differences in culture and expression of faith get more interesting and more challenging. the same opportunities to grow in partnership extend here as well. Again this is dangerous business – and far less challenging to stick to your house, your church, your neighbourhood. But God wants us to link up. Think of the way Paul advocated for churches to support, encourage, greet and pray for one another.

Human Solidarity. Every Human Life. This is a consistent trajectory in Scripture, where God’s people are called, as much as we are able, and in whatever ways that will be helpful, to channel God’s transforming love to the nations, the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, the elderly, the unborn, the eunuch, the queer, the heretic, the unbeliever, the terrorist, and the enemy. Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus not only makes a Samaritan the hero instead of a Jew, but also does not name the ethnic or religious identity of the victim. He was simply a human worthy of urgent and thorough care.

Global Stewardship. Our Environment. The care and concern doesn’t stop at humans. We tend and keep the garden of the Earth. We look after the “rocks and trees and skies and seas” of our Father’s World, as the grand hymn reminds us. We study and serve clouds and climates, tides and tectonics, flora and fauna, birds and beasts, sky and soil, oil and organisms, migration and minerals.

Cosmic Wonder. All Creation. Through the surface scratching, curious and scientific exploration of this mysterious universe, we function as God intended. With the author of Genesis (and the best of the skepticism of atheists), we dethrone the sun, moon and stars from the idol thrones. With King David (and contra those same atheists), we declare them as “the work of Your hands”. Here the line between science and worship blurs.


Brief Reflection on our Current Covid-19 Situation

We are in a season of change, no doubt. When change comes, there can be a tendency to do a few things, such as a) turn inward to the things you can control, b) turn to the past and resist change, or c) turn to the new new and innovative assuming them to be improvements.

The holistic framework of living outlined above helps us to navigate various aspects of our way forward. Any one (or more) of the levels can be easily forgotten at any time, but certainly amidst change like that we are navigating at present. For example, we can be so excited about online creativity, intimate bubble fellowship, or connecting in new ways globally that we forget the simple and historic value of gathering as local communities for hugs, handshakes, confession, teaching, blending our voices, taking communion, confessing the faith and being sent.

Whatever creative and innovative places God may well be taking us forward into, they need to involve structures and relationships that see individuals relating to God, confessing their sins to one another, sharing the Bread and the Cup in body gatherings that are as diverse as possible, reaching out to and uniting sacrificially across denominational and geographical lines, serving all kinds of human needs and injustices in Jesus’ name regardless of demographic difference, caring for and preserving creation, and daring to explore the heavens with reverent curiosity.

May God give us creativity, wisdom and patience to grow into the diverse kind of life invites us into.