Adjusting to Changing Normals
Pastor Ian deliberates on the church's upcoming plan to offer the Lord's Supper.
Toward the end of the 2nd century, the Antonine Plague rendered the most powerful empire on earth helpless. During the height of this pandemic 3,000 Roman soldiers—who lived and fought at close proximity—were dying every single day. Emperor Lucius Verrus, believing his gods to be angry and capricious sought to appease them through an unprecedented temple-building initiative—which lasted only until the pandemic took his life in AD 169. Soon all construction in the empire had ground to a halt. By the year AD 180, at the zenith of the Rome’s influence, no battles could be fought and the Roman economy had completely shut down.
During this time, Christians believed the illness to be evidence of life being lived out in a fallen world and so they chose to live every day with gospel purpose. They built no church buildings, and instead loved and served their neighbours, and shared the good news of the kingdom of God. Many believers died during this pandemic and yet, as Rome’s influence declined, God’s kingdom spread. By the end of 4th century Christianity had become the growing, “new normal” throughout the Roman Empire.
With every plague that followed, a suffering church continued to make adjustments in order to love their neighbours and serve the gospel. This was true during the Cyprian Plague in the 4th and 5th centuries and it was also true of the Justinian Plague of the 6th century. With every new plague, in the midst of the dead and dying, God’s people sought to be faithful to the ways and Word of their living God. They clung to the conviction that, “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Ps 18:30)
However, in the 14th century when the Bubonic Plague (or Black Death) came, Christianity was no longer the new normal. It was an entrenched, traditional normal. In every small village and large town, church buildings marked the focal point of village life, education, culture and authority. People filled church buildings each Sunday to hear God’s Word in a language they could not understand (Latin). They gathered to “receive Christ” through the Eucharist and to have their children “saved” through baptism. But during the years between 1346 and 1353, every gathering place had become a cluster of Black Death as the pandemic went on to claim a higher proportion of the population than any other single event known to humankind.
In response, church buildings emptied and the sick were quarantined in their homes. And the church adjusted. Again. Priests visited the sick and administered the sacraments. Frightened parishioners were willing to pray any prayer, and pay any price for the forgiveness of their sins. They were baptised in their homes, not only for themselves but also vicariously, for dying (and even dead) relatives. And most significantly, they were administered the Eucharist on their death beds. This was the new normal Faith practice, which by the 16th century, had simply become “the way church was done”.
In observing this practice in his own parish, Martin Luther became full of conviction that the church of his day had not only drifted from the essential, original teachings of the Christian Faith, but it had over-adjusted to the fear of pandemic and had simply drifted…away. So his reformation was not just a theological reformation. It was also a call to return to the holy habits of the early church. It was a call to regather to read God’s Word in community, to disciple one another in community and to live out the convictions of the “five solas” together in community. And because of this, one of the hallmarks of Luther’s reformation was to require God’s people to gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Table in community.
This is why—in the tradition of reformers like Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and Conrad Grebel, our elders have affirmed that God’s people ought to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in gathered community and not privately. We have seen this before and it is not in keeping with the New Testament practice.
However, we have also determined that we will not wait 200 years before we call God’s people to regather. We recognise that we are blessed to live in an age of advanced medical technology and in a nation that continues to encourage caution and caring in our response to this pandemic. Because of this we have decided that during phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, we will begin to offer the Lord’s Supper, on site every Sunday for a gathered congregation of up to 50 participants. This will be the process by which we hope to cautiously begin to regather:
• Assuming the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth responds favourably to our request, we hope to begin celebrating the Lord’s Supper together, beginning 16 August. We have also submitted a plan to address those who have expressed a desire to be baptised.
• A registration link will be made available on the Sunday evening prior to the Sunday of your planned attendance.
• It will take less than two minutes for you to register your planned attendance. Once the number of registrants reaches 50, you will not be able to register and will need to wait until the following Sunday (or until we are able to have larger gatherings).
• Though registration will be received on a “first come, first served” basis, we ask that you not register for more than one service per month.
• Since the worship and AV Team will be in the sanctuary, the worship for these gatherings will take place on Level 3.
• Everyone will need to wear masks and will need to register entry through the SafeEntry app.
• We would like to reserve the lifts for our elderly members, so if you are able, we ask that you access Level 3 by the stairs.
• Once you arrive on Level 3, a service leader will meet you with a factory-sealed package of Lord’s Supper elements. He or she will be wearing gloves to avoid skin to skin contact.
• Following the service, an elder or pastor will lead us in a short time of self-examination, we will remove our masks and partake of the elements together.
• At the same time, a pastor will lead the Worship and AV team through the same process on Level 4. There will be no co-mingling between the two groups.
As we anticipate a gradual reopening of our church (of our economy and of our nation) I hope that you will feel encouraged today as we cautiously begin to regather and re-establish the strengthening grace of the Lord’s supper and baptism. I also pray that along with the earliest church, we would respond to this global pandemic, determined as ever to live these days with gospel purpose! May God continue to guide His church and grow His kingdom!
Read also: "Preparing for New Normal"