By Brian Winslade, Senior Pastor of Hamilton Central Baptist Church This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine and has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
I write from outside of the United States, but looking in with great interest. I pastor a church in my home country of New Zealand, but having also pastored in Northern California and obtained a doctoral degree from Bethel University in Minnesota, I am not unfamiliar with American life.
From an outsider’s perspective, the heightened partisan divide in America is disturbing. Some will dismiss this as an American issue and not the business of those beyond its borders. However, we live in a global village; when Americans sneeze, the rest of the world catches a cold!
Media reporting on U.S. evangelicalism has an impact on the perception of evangelical movements and ministries around the world. Undiscerning commentators assume we’re part of the same monolithic whole.
The word “evangelical” stands for belief in the authority and relevance of the Bible, unabashed proclamation of the gospel, the centrality and efficacy of the cross, and a clarion call to radical conversion. Lazy journalism may be to blame for ill-defining evangelicals as a political bloc, but it’s not hard to grasp how they’ve formed such a view with the partisan alignment of some high-profile leaders of evangelical ministries. In my home country, an invitation to a well-known evangelist is now questioned due to his reported political endorsements. Bible-believing Christians are increasingly regarded with suspicion in local media as having an assumed political bias.
As fellow evangelicals, we applaud the engagement of American Christians in the public square. For too long, evangelicals misunderstood separation of church and state to mean non-involvement in national governance. We have a valid voice, and a divine mandate to speak prophetically.
However, many of us around the world struggle to understand the lack of civility and Christian grace that currently manifests in the cauldron of American politics, especially toward those of different shades on the political spectrum. The culture of vilification, name-calling and conspiratorial presumptions of those with different political views is disconcerting. That many who profess to love Jesus, and hold a high view of the Bible, also engage in such banter is incongruous with the values we evangelicals hold dear.
Isaiah warned of misguided accreditation of current affairs: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness ….” (Isaiah 5:20).
Evangelicals refer to the Bible as the “word of God.” It shapes our worldview and how we live. It also encourages us to speak up when we see a brother or sister caught in inappropriate behaviour; for to say or do nothing is tantamount to complicity. What advice, therefore, might a fellow evangelical offer his U.S. brothers and sisters amidst a divisive election cycle? Here are 10 ideas:
Speak to, and about, those of different political perspectives with grace and respect — as befitting of Christ-followers. It is possible to believe passionately and to disagree with others in a manner that is honouring. Name-calling and vilification of those who don’t share our view weaken our distinctiveness as ambassadors of God’s kingdom (Philippians 2:3–4).
Love and uphold the truth. Be wary of those who bend or distort the truth. Fact check what politicians and media commentators tell us — including those we support. Maintain an open mind until all facts are laid bare (John 8:32).
Get your news and political commentary from a variety of sources, rather than just one. Evangelicals think biblically and are cautious of deception. Filter all we hear through the lens of Scripture and think for ourselves (Colossians 2:8).
Be cautious of believing and retelling unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Christians have suffered much over the centuries from false conspiracies; we ought not to perpetuate disinformation. Truth sets us free, Jesus said, not speculation and innuendo (Isaiah 8:12–13).
Work for reconciliation wherever there is discord. Blind and belligerent party politics destroys a nation. Followers of Jesus are more committed than most to finding negotiated resolutions amid conflict (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Accept that equally sincere Christ-followers may have different political ideologies, coming to different conclusions from reading the same Bible as you do. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” The kingdom of God supersedes party politics (Romans 12:2).
If you have influence in a Christian organization, encourage it to remain nonpartisan in its public policy engagement. Be cautious of those that appear to have “hitched their wagon” to one political ideology lest they damage their credibility (Acts 5:38–39).
Take seriously what the Bible says about justice, care of the poor and marginalized, and those without a home and/or nation. The Bible is replete with God’s displeasure upon those who mistreat the poor and homeless (Proverbs 14:31, 17:5, 21:13, 28:27).
Recognize that Christian faith flourishes even under ungodly political regimes. It was born in conflict, matured amidst waves of persecution, and does its best work in low-profile love and service — rather than on the coattails of political power (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Remember, it is righteousness that exalts a nation, not the state of its economy or the security of its borders. God’s blessing falls on those who treat others well, especially those less fortunate (Proverbs 14:34).
At the end of the 19th century, Charles Sheldon penned a famous little book (“In His Steps”) based on a series of sermons delivered to his church in Topeka, Kansas. Parishioners were asked to pledge for one year to make no major decisions without first stopping to ask the question: “What would Jesus do?” Maybe in a political context, it might just be a good question for evangelicals to ask again in the year 2020!
“In a time of disorientation and seeming chaos, Brian shows us that discipleship and the radical way of Jesus is the plumb line from which all else is measured. This book is needed and the author’s ability to root it in life makes it all the more invaluable.”
GARY V. NELSON, Tyndale University, Toronto, Canada
Brian Winslade is senior pastor of Hamilton Central Baptist Church in New Zealand and a member of the International Council of the World Evangelical Alliance. He has pastored five churches over 40 years, and has been a missionary in Bangladesh, CEO of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, national director for the Baptist Union of Australia, and lead pastor of Hillside Church of Marin in Northern California. Winslade holds a D.Min. from Bethel University and is a graduate of Carey Baptist College in New Zealand.
The teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is unparalleled and acclaimed in the history of our world.
Born into obscurity and poverty, no one has impacted the world to the same extent as Jesus.
If a person grasped nothing else of the teaching of Jesus, apart from that contained in the Sermon on the Mount, he or she catches The Essence of his message.
This book takes a fresh look at TheEssence of Jesus’ teaching and its remarkable application in our current age—a resource for individual Christ-followers, preachers, and a discussion-starter for small groups.
Amidst all he said and did, one of his close friends, Matthew (a former social outcast), captured his teaching given on a hillside just above the town where he lived, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthews’s Gospel, commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, have been described as The Essence of all that Jesus taught about God and how we relate with him. It has been called the “Core of the Christian Apple,” the “Compendium of Christ’s Doctrine,” the “Magna Charta of the Kingdom.”
Across Aotearoa, many churches will be delighted they can now freely begin to gather again in person. This is a great and welcome start, and we thank God for it (and also for God’s hand in keeping New Zealand relatively safe).
The Spirit of Christ unites all believers, even when we are physically isolated from one another, but believers coming together is a key aspect of what it means to be the church of Jesus. During this Covid crisis on-line church has worked well for quite a lot of New Zealand churches, if not for all, and many churches are likely to retain live streaming as a way of reaching out and of connecting with people who can’t get to church. But nothing beats actually gathering together.
Sure, there are still many challenges. A large number of bigger churches will not yet be able to meet fully. For those churches which do meet, the ongoing need for physical distancing and contact tracing registers may feel a bit awkward, in a fellowship context. On health grounds, some people may feel cautious about returning to church at least until Alert Level One. Some may feel that sitting on the couch and watching an on-line church service requires less time and effort than actually going to church. While many have experienced some spiritual refreshment in this time, others may have drifted.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). It is very special that the churches in New Zealand will be starting to come back together on the day of Pentecost, the day when we remember the birth of the worldwide church, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers, to empower us to live for Jesus and to proclaim him in word and action.
As we celebrate Pentecost this year, regardless of whether we are at home or in church buildings, let us all pray for a fresh and powerful outpouring upon the churches of Aotearoa, bringing us into a place of repentance and humility before God, deepening our faith in Christ and our love for God, filling us with his Spirit, and overflowing into a great spiritual transformation in New Zealand society.
There is a sense of relief and gratitude around New Zealand that the situation with the Covid 19 virus has now much improved, and the move to Alert Level 2 is widely welcomed. It will be great to meet again with family and friends. The present restriction to gatherings of 10 means however that churches cannot yet gather together, and this has caused some anxiety and frustration for some. Against that backdrop, the NZCN team proposes these reflections…
We support the desire of the Government to protect human lives by managing and reducing the risks of infection wherever groups are gathered. Keeping people safe is part of any government’s God-given responsibilities.
We accept (with some misgivings) that because of the potential irresponsibility of a few, the Government felt that police needed some temporary extra powers at this time so that they can swiftly intervene when some people act in ways that put everyone else at risk.
We do not see any clear evidence of some underlying Government agenda to actively single out and discriminate against Christians and churches at this time.
We do look for greater consistency in how many people are allowed to gather in different contexts, and for the Government to weigh more fairly the relative risk of various settings.
We eagerly look forward to when churches are permitted to gather again, physically. We recognise that this will probably happen incrementally, and over some time, and that larger churches may be affected for longer.
We urge all churches to be very cautious, to respect the restrictions, and to scrupulously follow all safety procedures. Society is still facing a highly dangerous contagion, which could very easily kick back and re-establish itself. Church gatherings are not without significant risk. Just one person could infect many others in a congregation, and as a result some could die. We have a responsibility of care both to our own people (including those most vulnerable), and to society around us.
We continue to embrace the many opportunities of this time for Gospel proclamation, for greater reach on-line, for innovations, for small house gatherings, for small groups, for pastoral care, and for loving our neighbours.
We remain in prayer for the Government, for the health of New Zealanders, for those who mourn, for the spiritual renewal of our society, for the recovery of the economy, for those who have lost jobs and businesses, and for those many less-privileged and less-resourced societies around the world which are much more vulnerable than our own.
As New Zealand slowly begins to re-open, a question many churches will be asking is, “How do we approach ministry in Level 2 and beyond?”
It’s easy to be scared of change. But in reality, the NZ church has already proven that it is more than ready to adapt to changing circumstances. Think about how the NZ church has innovated over the last 60 days, we’ve gone from:
FROM meeting in-person, TO meeting online
FROM leading our ministry teams in-person, TO leading our teams remotely
FROM having a stable financial plan, TO our finances now all up in the air
FROM having predictable staff roles, TO redeploying staff in new areas for which they were not trained
FROM having no previous idea how to do what we needed to do, TO now succeeding in making it all work
With that in mind, I suggest there are three realities to now help the NZ church continue on the path of innovation, for the sake of more effectively reaching New Zealand with the Gospel.
1. Online ministry is here to stay
Most of the people we want to reach are now online. The younger the demographic, the more true that is. Furthermore, it appears that many churches are actually growing at the moment. The reasons for this are multi-faceted, but one key reason is that online church has a much lower barrier to entry then in-person church.
This is not only true for guests. Think about families with young children getting ready for church, or seniors who are more vulnerable, or people who are sick. Online ministry provides a way for people to be involved when in the past they wouldn’t have been able to.
At the same time, it should not be treated lightly. Are you having a serious conversation about investing in new digital equipment? When adults join an online group, do you have a plan to help reduce the awkwardness and make them feel welcome? How might online group leaders take advantage of Zoom features like ‘Breakout Rooms’? How will people respond to the gospel if they are not at the church’s worship service?
2. While online ministry is here to stay, physical gatherings are the church’s calling
With all that said, it’s important to remember that physical in-person gathering is key to the church’s calling. In the New Testament the word for church (ekklesia) refers to how it is a gathering, a calling together. Moreover, God created an actual world, not a virtual world. God in Genesis declared that the actual world of creation is very good. God wants us to live in his good world, not just watch it on a screen. Resurrection, one of the central beliefs of Christianity, means the restoration of all things, not an escape to a non-temporal, non-corporal spiritual (virtual?) afterlife.
With that in mind, what are some questions that you should be asking before starting up your physical ministry? For starters, what adjustments will you make to the Lord’s Supper, baptisms, offering plate, meet and greet time, door greeting, or children’s ministry? How will you sanitize your building, before, after, and during church service? For example, should all doors be kept open to prevent spread of disease? How will you create a safe environment for those who are most vulnerable in your community? What about those who can’t meet physically but also don’t have the capability to meet online?
3. Churches need to help people make the transition from the online to in-person
Given that online ministry is here to stay, and yet we are called to physical in-person gathering, we need to carefully consider how we will move people from the relative comfort of the online experience to in-person encounters and fellowship.
Homegroups have always been a good stepping-stone to involvement in church life. It’s a smaller setting, and (at their best) are much less intimidating and much more welcoming. Here in New Zealand we will probably be limited to small gatherings for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, is it possible to encourage people to move homegroup from online to actual homes? Is it possible to have Sunday morning watch parties at different people’s homes?
There have been many times in the past where Christians could not gather in large groups, particularly in the early stages of the church. The outcome was a church body that exploded across the globe. This happened as a result of the intentional, meaningful fellowship and discipleship centred around the Risen Christ. There will be a strong desire to get back to normal. The danger is that we will re-embrace a model of ministry designed to reach a world that no longer exists. Let’s continue innovating and moving forward.
Some useful resources on this subject!
NZCN doesn’t necessarily endorse everything in them, but did pick up some good points from some of them
Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK’
An example of using technology and the internet to do mission.
The World Evangelical Alliance has put together a site with resources to help families, church leaders, national alliances, business leaders and health professionals. Check it out here >
The Opportune Time Ps David Dishroon
Romans 13:11-14 encourages us, as it did the the Jews and Christians in Rome in the late 55 AD – early 57 AD, to consider the drastic changes to the world we live in as an opportune time to do something.
This message was shared as a devotional thought during one of our weekly Pray As One NZ online prayer gatherings taking place 8-9pm on MONDAYS.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has created a global health crisis that has had a significant impact on the way we perceive our world and our everyday lives. This crisis has rapidly pushed us into the unknown and left many facing an uncertain future. However, it has been proven throughout history that New Zealand is no stranger to adversity. Time after time, New Zealanders have shown the ability to come together, with the desire to help one another demonstrating the resilience of the nation and this situation is no different.
This handbook aims to help with issues that have arisen during the Covid-19 crisis.
‘Unprecedented’. ‘Social distancing’. ‘Self-isolation’. ‘Community outbreak’. ‘Lockdown.’ These and other words have come to dominate our news feeds and conversations. A few weeks ago, the world was ordinary; now, it is different, unusual, unfamiliar. COVID-19 has turned into a global pandemic affecting every aspect of our lives. We have been turned upside down and inside out, and, understandably, are left feeling dazed and confused. People have died, more deaths will follow, travel is drastically restricted, and society is being changed. Life is different.
Typically, at Easter, Christians across the globe gather in churches to worship and celebrate the death of Jesus Christ on Friday and his glorious resurrection on Sunday. Despite the popular image of empty churches and dusty pews, churches in New Zealand are thriving and many have thousands of people turn up each week to worship God. But not this Easter. Not in Aotearoa in 2020. We are in the middle of a lock-down. But, while traditional church services are cancelled, this does not mean Easter is cancelled. Since the pandemic began to take hold, creative and compassionate responses to COVID-19 have come from across all strata of society, not least from church leaders. Easter is being celebrated in family bubbles around dinner tables, and, of course, en masse online. And the message of Easter is being lived out in all walks of life in acts of service, compassion, and care.
What is the meaning of Easter? What are Christians celebrating in the death of Jesus Christ and in his miraculous resurrection? And what does that have to do with COVID-19 and the problems we face in our real lives? Easter is about the ways in which God breaks down every barrier that exists in order to enter into the closest of relationships with us and make it possible for us to find our fulfilment, purpose, peace, and joy in him. In a world of fear and dislocation caused by isolation, sickness, and anxiety, we need to hear the words of joy again, and of peace, and of love. Easter speaks just these words over us.
In the Bible, we are told that Jesus, on several occasions, “tore open” the barriers that separate humanity from God. The language is deliberately active because the action is so forceful. Jesus died on a Roman cross and, as he did, the large curtain that divided the inner rooms of the Jewish temple was torn apart. This curtain was around 15 metres high and 9 metres wide and embroidered to represent the panorama of the heavens. In other words, it symbolised the sky, and the sky was understood by the people of the time as a barrier between this world and God. Jesus died, the curtain was torn apart and God’s presence flooded the earth. Seeing this, the Roman soldier guarding the cross of Jesus declared, “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Jesus broke down the barriers between humanity and God. This is the Easter message.
Easter is part of a bigger story that began with Christmas. At Christmas, we remember Jesus’ birth, by the blessed virgin Mary. Mary is said to have found favour in God’s sight and was told that she would bear a child, who would be the Son of God. And, as it was in the sky-rending scenes at the cross, the pattern was the same: a physical barrier—in this case, Mary’s human form—was passed through by God, who filled the womb with his love and favour.
A further barrier-breaking is seen in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Here, the barrier is a massive stone that seals his tomb. The kind of tomb in which Jesus was buried was shaped like a house. At the entrance to the ‘house’ was a door—this time, a sealing stone. The difference between the tomb and a house is that a house and its door are designed to open while the sealing stone on the tomb is meant to be permanently closed.
The sealing stone at the tomb was a symbolic barrier between this world and the next. The women who first came to Jesus’ tomb witnessed this barrier removed—the stone had been rolled away—Christ had risen! He had left the tomb, departed from this world and, in doing so, tore the heavens apart and, once more, opened up human access to God.
And, finally, the upper room. We read that, after the resurrection, Jesus’ followers were all together in one room, with the doors locked. This signifies the impenetrability of another barrier. Jesus moved down from his heavenly state; he appeared mysteriously and reassured his terrified audience. In the absence of angels or a Roman centurion, it was the once-doubting disciple Thomas who exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”
Easter Cross photo by Susanna Burton
COVID-19 is the latest in a long list of barriers in life. Fear, loneliness, panic, anxiety, and a host of other emotions lurk close to the surface for many people, and the Easter message is that God is not unaware of how we feel, nor is he passive in the face of such challenges. Christians are those who seek to follow God and to be barrier-breakers as well.
In the early centuries of the Church, Christians stood out amongst their contemporaries for their response to the epidemics that swept through the Roman world. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman Emperor, wrote during the mid-fourth century that “the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well.” This social response led to Christians sacrificially serving their neighbours. We have many accounts of Christians entering plague-ridden cities to care for the sick and, in doing so, helping to contain fear and the spread of disease. The response to COVID-19 has been no different as people from all walks of life have stepped in and stepped up to help.
Many are asking the questions: What will life look like after COVID-19 has passed? How will social interactions change? What will the new world look like? Will we simply return to our old ways or will we re-think the ways we live and interact with each other? This Easter, Christians are actively looking for ways to follow God through what, previously, were barriers but are now open doors, to find ways to serve, to love and to care for one another. What God has done for us in Christ, we want to do for others.
In a context of ‘social distancing’, Christians, like others, practise physical distancing while maintaining social proximity via streamed worship services, virtual communion, care packages for those in isolation, online socials for youth and young adults, and numerous zoom calls. A myriad of other examples could be given for ways in which the Easter message is being lived out in a COVID-19 world.
What will the life look like after the pandemic? Crises like COVID-19 tend to shake the assumptions of societies, and it is here where Easter speaks to us, telling us to care for one another, to check in on our neighbours, to call those at risk, and not to let barriers—self-imposed or other—prevent us from living lives of meaning and purpose. Easter tells us that God loves us, cares for us, and will stop at nothing, not even the death of his Son, to break through any barrier that separates us from him. Easter reminds us that, in the future—after the pandemic—love, goodness, peace, and hope will remain.
Covid-19 has put up barriers between us: We are homebound. Most of us can no longer be in our usual work, educational or leisure spaces. Outside of our bubble, we ensure there is at least a 2-metre distance from others. But God has no limits and offers us a new perspective. He can be with each of us exactly where we are, even as we are locked down into the boundaries of our homes and local environments. God can break down barriers and he can be with us both now, wherever we are confined, and into the future, with whatever the future will bring. This is the hope of Easter.
As Auckland Church Leaders, we welcome you to join us this Easter season. We have online services happening all over Auckland.
Paul Allen-Baines Congregational Union of N.Z.
Rev. Ross Bay Anglican Bishop of Auckland
Pastor Tak Bhana Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited
Pastor Paul de Jong Senior Pastor, LIFE
Pastors Jonathan and Robyn Dove Senior Pastors, Greenlane Christian Centre
Most Rev. Patrick Dunn Catholic Bishop of Auckland
Majors Ian & Liz Gainsford Divisional Leaders, The Salvation Army
Jaron Graham on behalf of the Church of the Nazarene
Brett Jones Interim National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
Pastor Sanjai Kandregula Executive member, Assemblies of God NZ
Pastor Brian Kelly Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel
Pastor Nich Kitchen Mountainside Lutheran Church
Dr Stuart Lange National Director, NZ Christian Network
Kok Soon Lee Auckland Chinese Churches Association
Pastor David MacGregor National Director, Vineyard Churches
Andrew Marshall National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
Very Rev. Anne Mills Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Steve Millward Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church
Pastor Bruce Monk International Overseer for Acts Churches & Equippers
Pastor Sam Monk Senior Pastor, Equippers Church & Acts National Leader
Pastor Peter Mortlock Senior Pastor, City Impact Church
Rev. Te Kitohi Pikaahu Anglican Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau
Pastor Lui Ponifasio on behalf of the Christian Community Churches of N.Z.
Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja National Leader, Elim Churches
Pastors Dean Rush Senior Leaders, C3 Church Auckland
Pastor Jim Shaw New Life Churches Executive team
Bishop Brian Tamaki Senior Minister of Destiny Churches International
Pastor Allan Taylor Northern Baptist Association
Pastor Ben Timothy President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
Rev. Graeme R. White Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church of N.Z.
The New Zealand Christian Network, the alliance of evangelical churches, organisations and individuals in Aotearoa New Zealand, commends the New Zealand Government for its leadership in our time of COVID-19 crisis. We agree that all New Zealanders must do what is necessary at this time to unite against the virus and slow its spread.
We also commend the many churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, marae, clubs and societies who have sacrificially agreed to abide by the Government’s temporary restrictions to keep us all as safe as possible during this period of moderate risk. We pray that the risk does not increase further.
We are thankful for technology that can help keep us connected at times when we need to be physically distant. Physical proximity is an important part of our communal Christian faith, but we also believe in a God who is not limited to our material world and is present everywhere at all times. For thousands of years this belief has been a comfort to those who find themselves isolated from their faith communities. Billions of people around the world today who follow Jesus continue to find in Him tangible peace in times of terrifying trial.
We implore leaders of churches who plan to continue gathering in larger groups to urgently reconsider. We cite Singapore and Korea as cases where community transmission of COVID-19 was greatly amplified by attendance at large church services. Churchgoers are not immune to illness, let alone a virus as dangerous as this one.
Christ-followers need to be socially responsible, to love God by loving our neighbours. There is nothing to fear in love. We encourage all Christian leaders to consider carefully the way the Apostle Paul’s pleaded with the believers in Philippi (Philippians 2:3-5): “Do not proceed out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but concern others better than yourselves… look not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” For this is the way of Christ.
We urge all New Zealanders, including Christians, to turn towards God and to be much in prayer about our situation.