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 (Manna 94: Time to Reflect: Our Beliefs)
Lessons for the Post-Pandemic Church
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Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK


People do not like change. In the formative years of adulthood, we adopt certain habits and a way of life that we are most comfortable with. Once a status quo becomes established, it takes much convincing to extricate ourselves from it. A status-quo bias develops because we avoid any change that would be perceived as a loss or inconvenience. 

The tumultuous years of the pandemic have shaken the foundation of our lives and reset the status quo. How we live, travel, learn, work, and worship have changed significantly. The physical separation imposed by lockdowns, fear of illness or death, conflicting information, and disinformation has isolated us from friends, family, colleagues, and brothers- and sisters-in-Christ. Yet, technology has created new possibilities in living and worship. We can work and worship remotely, participate in worship hosted in faraway lands, and interact with brethren in every corner of the world. Although we are far away, we can be so close. Conversely, we could be in close proximity yet feel so distant. Now that the pandemic has subsided, or at least its impact on public health has been minimized, families can meet, while workplaces and churches have reopened. We are now confronting the choice of reverting to the pre-pandemic way of life or settling for the new normal. 

The scars of the pandemic on our spiritual life are gradually emerging. Some churches have many empty seats during services, a hangover from the days of government-imposed social distancing, even after all restrictions have been lifted. Some members do not want to physically attend church due to a habit of self-imposed isolation or social anxiety developed during the pandemic. Such habits may be crystallized by pre-existing desires, previously suppressed, but allowed to reign freely during an era of lockdown and social distancing. Any positive peer pressure to come to church was removed during the pandemic, with online worship becoming a license to exempt or liberate us from in-person attendance. When asked to return to the pre-pandemic style of worship, we may say we are doing very well, why must we change?

I Did Not Come to Call the Righteous

The phrase “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mk 2:17; Mt 9:13; Lk 5:32) is often associated with the Pharisees and scribes. We rarely group ourselves with these. The parable of the lost sheep was a response to the Pharisees’ perception of superiority over sinners (Lk 15:2–7). Hence the ninety-nine sheep who did not need saving represent those who believe they need no repentance and resist responding to God’s word. They fail to acknowledge their shortcomings and the need to respond, repent, and change for the better. 

The Pharisees and scribes rejected Jesus’ message because they believed their way of living was sufficient, or as Paul terms it, “blameless” (Phil 3:6). They sought their form of righteousness as opposed to God’s righteousness (Rom 10:3). Today, we could be in the same situation with the same attitude. We think we are good enough before God, so we do not need to change. We attend church services on-site or remotely, are baptized, and have the Holy Spirit. We may participate in church work, offer tithes, and by doing so, we think we have fulfilled our role.

It is the same reason that the religious elite at Jesus’ time did not see the need to change their way of life. They made various excuses to discredit Jesus: “By the ruler of demons He casts out demons” (Mk 3:22b). “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (Jn 9:16b). “ ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ” (Lk 7:34b). It is human nature to selectively justify our behavior. In Jeremiah’s time, the people of God attributed their calamity to turning away from idols (Jer 44:18). We simply do not have the will to attend to a problem and feel anxious at the prospect of a change that is taking place. 


It has been said that history repeats itself. Of course, history rarely repeats itself exactly, but profound changes happen regularly. New world orders affect the entire fabric of society. The catastrophic demise of the Judean Kingdom and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple wreaked havoc on the survivors. Most, particularly the upper-class and educated, were taken captive to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:14). Worship at the temple was no longer possible (2 Chr 36:19; cf. Ezra 3:2ff). The exiled were forced to adopt a new life in a new environment, and the mode of worship had to change. Some have postulated that synagogues were instituted because temple worship was inaccessible to the diaspora in faraway countries, and priests could not exercise their functions.[1]  Those who remained in Judea were plagued by economic crisis in the aftermath of the war.

Eventually, the major components of the Jewish nation and faith were all restored one after another—the exiles returned (Ezra 1:1–4), the temple was rebuilt (Ezra 6:15), the city wall restored (Neh 6:15ff), temple worship resumed (Ezra 6:18), the law reaffirmed (Neh 8), and the covenant renewed (Neh 10:28f). 

However, on an individual level, many issues were bubbling in the background. People were busy pursuing their own livelihood and lifestyle instead of rebuilding the temple (Hag 1:6–8). The contributions to support the priests and Levites were insufficient (Neh 13:10). God’s people intermarried with Gentiles (Ezra 10). Many neglected their faith and did not participate in worship. Such issues that plagued God’s people nearly 2,500 years ago have resurfaced in this technologically advanced and post-pandemic world.

So, what can we learn from the past? Most people continued to live a life they thought was fine but, in fact, was not. A few leaders knew God’s will and word well. They identified these issues and urged and motivated the people to change. Some people responded and made an effort to adjust their behavior to become pleasing to God, while others remained in their waywardness. How can we be like the former group and become more responsive to God’s calling?

Come Together As a Church

When teaching the members in Corinth about the Lord’s Supper, Paul raised a pertinent point on the essence of a church—that members must come together. The church is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him (Eph 1:23). We, individual members, are fitted and built together for a dwelling place, a holy temple in the Lord (Eph 2:21–22). Individual members are called in one body, and the church—the members collectively—is presented to Jesus (Col 3:15; Eph 5:27). Hence, Jesus reminds us that an individual branch cannot thrive independently of the vine, which is Jesus and His body (Jn 15:1, 5–6). A solitary member or family unit cannot sustain their spiritual well-being and growth on their own. It is an illusion to believe that an individualistic faith is sustainable in the long run. The communal faith is not just a symbol or organizational identity, but God’s will that the oneness of the members manifests the glory of God, to make known Jesus to this world (Jn 17:20ff). There is only one body (Eph 4:4); we are given different gifts for the purpose of edifying this body (Eph 4:12), to ensure each part joins, knits together, and grows into perfection (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:16; 5:27).

We cannot say we belong to Jesus only and have nothing to do with the church. To belong to Christ is to also belong to the body. The church is the means by which Jesus imparts salvation. Christ is the head and Savior of the church (Eph 5:23). If Christ is the Savior of the church, all believers together receive salvation from Christ—not as individuals, but as His collective body.

Each individual and the collective church can only grow by serving, loving, empathizing and helping one other (Rom 12:5–13). Without such interactions, how can one learn to show mercy, kindness, humility, forbearance, and forgiveness? Without serving others, how can one learn to sacrifice and bear the weaknesses of others patiently? Faith devoid of practice is only theoretical—untried and untested. Only when we assemble can we stir up love and good works, exhort and support one another (Heb 10:23–24), and guard against stagnation and backsliding.


Paul exhorts believers to forget the things behind and reach forward to the things ahead, as spiritual stagnation is never an option when we have neither attained nor are perfect (Phil 3:12–13). We should never be satisfied that we have some form of godliness (2 Tim 3:5), complacently thinking we have already achieved salvation. The end goal is to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), putting on a new man created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:24). However, this transformation is not a one-off event but a process. We are told to be sanctified by truth (Jn 17:17, 19), by the Spirit (Rom 15:16), and by faith (Acts 26:18). The change needs time and effort, which requires obedience, patience, and longsuffering. Peter describes this transformation as building blocks of divine qualities, gradually adding to and complementing each other (2 Pet 1:5–7). Without these, we would be unfruitful and idle (2 Pet 1:8). Only when we diligently pursue such transformation can we be assured that our call and election are sure (2 Pet 1:10). Similarly, Paul reminds believers to “work out” their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

With such insight, we realize that a half-hearted faith and response to God’s calling is insufficient. The church is filled with wheat and tares (Mt 13:30). Our choices determine whether we are good or bad seeds. Jesus asked a pertinent rhetorical question: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Lk 6:46). It would be tragic and ironic if we have already received salvation, yet choose to proceed alone, and have nothing to do with our fellow members in Christ. Why do we find it so difficult to be more involved in the community of faith, knowing how vital it is for us to be part of the church?

Burden versus Pleasure

Many believers find it hard to balance work, life, and church. Work pressures are so intense that people hardly have time to spend with their families. Additionally, the ambition for children to thrive and excel in academic and extracurricular activities consume the mind and spare time of parents. These competing priorities have eroded and encroached into our time for God. Life has become a series of trade-offs, with time for God a diminishing part of that equation for many. It is not uncommon to see members arriving late for service and leaving immediately afterward, with no time for fellowship and interaction with other members. They may only attend one worship service but skip the remaining sessions. Observing the Sabbath has become only a sliver of time on Saturdays, with worship just another activity within a packed itinerary. The pandemic lockdown has created a seemingly new way to save time by shaving off the commute to and from church. It makes it easier to squeeze in services from different locations to fit into our busy schedules. We can even pause and restart an online sermon later if we so wish. With such a mindset, worship services are no different from any other daily task or responsibility we have to handle. 

The question is, do we see our relationship with God as a duty or a contractual requirement we have to fulfill? It is true that we have a covenantal relationship with God, and we must fulfill our responsibilities (Deut 28:2, 15). There are steps to take and things to do to inherit eternal life. But are we doing it willingly and joyfully or reluctantly because we are compelled to do it? There is a range of perspectives on our relationship with God. On the one hand, He could be seen as the best employer in town, offering eternal glory and riches. On the other, we have a personal and intimate relationship with God; we love Him because He loved us first (1 Jn 4:19). If rewards, blessings, and eternal life are our sole focus, then our relationship with God becomes task-based, and transactional. We should be inspired by the love of Christ so that we no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us (2 Cor 5:14–15). Our heart is filled with God’s love through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). We see Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as not just for humankind but more importantly, for us personally (Gal 2:20). Only with such a mindset would we willingly and joyfully sacrifice for Jesus. We would delightfully repay His love because He touched us so much and promised us our heavenly reward. The old paradigm of “doing your pleasure” and “doing your own ways” on Sabbath will give way to the new paradigm of calling “the Sabbath a delight,” as we naturally exult in the Lord (Isa 58:13–14). 


In every aspect of our life, we are constantly challenged to make adjustments, be it the movement for a healthier lifestyle, ethical eating habits, or environmental conservation. How does our attitude towards these differ from how we see our religious habits? We procrastinate, consoling our conscience that we are fine or inwardly telling ourselves that we still have adequate time to change before it is too late.

We need to remind ourselves that each part of the body does its share and causes the body to grow (Eph 4:16). With the unity of the faith and the knowledge of God, each member helps the church mature to become a perfect man (Eph 4:11). Before we can play our part, we need first to change our mindset, then our actions, to love and edify each other (1 Pet 1:22; Eph 4:11,16). Our newfound liberty in this post-pandemic world should not become an invitation to indulge the flesh (Gal 5:13). We are free to exercise our willpower to be obedient to the truth and overcome akrasia (lack of self-control). Only through loving sacrifice can the church truly join together and grow. Jesus is coming again; we do not know when, but Jesus warns us to be alert: “I say to all. Watch!” (Mk 13:37b).

[1] The oldest Graeco-Jewish documents mentioning synagogues date to the time of Ptolemy III (Euergetes), 247–221 B.C.E; Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ Volume II (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1979), 425; J Bright, A History of Israel (London: SCM Press, 1981), 437.

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Author: Vincent Yeung
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 05/01/2023