COVID-19 and reopening of worship centres

COVID-19 and reopening of worship centres

 Idowu Akinlotan

LAST week’s proposed reopening of worship centres in some states, particularly Lagos, has been once again abandoned. This time, religious leaders in the affected states reportedly acquiesced to the decision.

With the notable exception of a few well-known religious leaders, the acquiescence has been almost total. A debate has, however, ensued in churches in particular as to the reasonableness or doctrinal basis of acquiescing to keep the doors of churches shut against congregational worship.


Opinions are divided, but skewed in favour of postponing the reopening. On the one hand, some have wondered whether the church was not hiding under the injunction to obey all authorities in order to excuse the observable absence of power in the church, power being their distinguishing hallmark.

Everything about the church speaks to power over the elements, including plagues symbolised by viruses.

On the other hand, church leaders have sought to play safe. They point at a South Korean church, Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which kept its doors open during the early weeks of the pandemic and inadvertently served as a conduit for spreading the coronavirus disease.

At a point, some 60 percent of the about  4,000 infected nationally attended the church. Church leaders in Nigeria had also heard about Gerald Glenn, the pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Virginia, USA, who boasted that God was bigger than the virus but soon succumbed to the dreaded plague.

Rather than be blamed for helping to spread the virus, the church have been of double mind about reopening their doors.

But what if infection rate of the virus does not sufficiently reduce to a level considered safe in the next few months? Would they still keep their doors shut when every other sector has reopened?

By Friday night, Nigeria had tested (still a paltry figure) 108,548 people for coronavirus. Some 18,480 people tested positive, an ungainly 17.02 percent infection rate or a frightening 2 out of every 10 people tested.

When added to the fact that the testing rate is still very low in Nigeria, what would happen if testing is ramped up? The death rate is also high, and too many high-profile Nigerians are succumbing to the plague.

In the midst of all this, it may appear a sound decision for churches to keep their doors shut rather than be blamed for being a careless and tithe-hungry vector of the disease.

But this precisely is where the problem lies. The church is all about power: power over death, power over disease, including plagues, power over failure, and power over poverty, among other things.

They have an illustrious history of those they celebrate as God’s generals who bravely withstood plagues and all kinds of negative forces and triumphed.

Indeed the torch passed on by the early church illuminated the dark crevices of sin, chaos, hopelessness and helplessness, and the consequent victory they achieved over those elements form a significant part of their hagiography.

Those who grumble against the eager acquiescence of church leaders to keep church doors shut ask where the power has gone, and why modern church leaders could not produce one Elijah to declare over the virus and defeat it in the face of angry howls of pessimism and scaremongering; one Daniel and his brethren to ask to be given the chance to defeat the virus though the virus be as numerous as the sand by the seashore and as vicious as the atom bomb; and one Moses to do the unthinkable by parting the Red Sea of the virus as churchgoers pass through their open doors, etc.

The church has done the safest, most blameless and most secular thing by agreeing to keep their doors shut. But they cannot have their cake and eat it.

Without signs and wonders, few will believe them. In the virus, they had the most blatant challenge in this modern era to demonstrate that they do not just hold a form of godliness but deny its power.

They have instead chosen to play safe. Good. It has probably kept millions alive and the reputation of the church generally unaffected.

But after the demise of the virus, they must have the humility to re-examine their systematic theology and ask themselves whether their bible colleges have not replaced the fiery school of the Spirit.

The virus is already weakening in most countries. It will soon disappear, if not completely, at least sufficiently enough to make humanity resume their normal existence.

However, many more plagues will still come; and the church must ask themselves the soul-searching question of how many more plague moments they will humble themselves before, taking their gaze away from the essence of their faith, and cowering behind shut doors and windows to repudiate the history that saw them withstanding the mouths of lions, pots of boiling oil, fiery furnaces, and the ponderous persecuting frenzy of the Roman Empire. Perhaps they have turned those inspiring stories into cunningly devised fables and persuasive words of human wisdom.

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