I’ve always wanted to write a post about how some churches have a fount of holy water at the entrance and others have a bottle of hand sanitizer. Today seems like that day.
The former says the world is God’s – God made the material world for us to experience and enjoy and the raw material of water reminds us of his goodness to us (the dab of water on our forehead reminds us of our baptism). For more on this I commend Schmemann’s “Of Water and the Spirit” chapter from his book “For the Life of the World.” The fact that water is placed at the entrance to churches is in part to remind us of the ecclesiological (or, communal) significance of our baptism. It is an entrance into community – the body of Christ, and not solely an individual act.
The latter says the world is dirty – that we need to protect ourselves and get rid of the germs of the outside world. It is practical, pragmatic, and on the surface theologically neutral – how is using hand sanitizer related to how I enter worship?
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. It matters. Everything we do shapes what we believe. The phrase speaks to the fact that all our actions shape our beliefs, and it’s a two way street. If we kneel in worship, our hearts kneel. If we check our bank account balance every morning, our hearts worry about money. If our hearts worry about money, we’ll check our bank account balance every morning.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against hand sanitizer and use it frequently when traveling. Obviously things are a bit different these days and I’m using it more often. But I’m actually really struggling with what the church’s response should be toward Coronavirus fears. During flu season, it’s often suggested that we refrain from handshakes during church, and with Coronavirus fears (and actual cases in the US) rising, we’re considering how to modify our communion practices to be more sanitary. Fortunately, for us Evangelicals, we are already well on our way to individual sanitary practices. We have those tiny plastic cups which are better than all drinking out of the same cup (though I learned that using a fortified wine such as port for its germ killing properties served in a single chalice is actually more sanitary and less of a risk than contamination from hands reaching into the same plate or loaf of bread. The mouth is cleaner than the hands.)
While I am concerned with how to best guide the church’s practices safely, responsibly, and taking advice from medical professionals, I’m also thinking about long-term affects on our practices and therefore our theology. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. I read of one church who changed from handshakes to waves and nods during the H1N1 outbreak in the 2000s, and the practice has by popular choice remained.
Shouldn’t we as Christians be the first ones to remain ‘in the world’ because we know that we are ultimately not of it, but belong to God? This is not to say we don’t exercise caution and common sense, listening to the recommendations from doctors and modifying our practices to be more hygienic, but if the world is living in a state of fear (and it seems like it is), perhaps we should open our doors to welcome the weary, not close them. We’ll also live-stream our worship service too :-).
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…
One of our own missionaries remained in Liberia to care for people during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago. Many non-Christians would see this as irresponsible – the recommendation surely would have been to get out of the dangerous area, but he was celebrated here. In the early years of the church, during one such plague outbreak in AD252 Christians were known to be the ones that stuck around to care for the dying. While others fled, Pope Dionysus of Alexandria commended those Christians who remained, writing,
“The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.” (Source)
So I’m not sure what direction this current pandemic is going to go. Certainly let’s pray. Pray that doctors find a cure or vaccine quickly. Pray that Christians would know how to respond to this as disciples of Jesus. Pray that we would not fear. I will use hand sanitizer. I will also remember my baptism.