As I write this, our city, state, nation and world are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Already over 10,000 deaths are attributed to it, and projections are that those numbers will go much higher. In this nation our national and local leaders have instituted numerous laws and requirements to try and slow the spread in our population.
I am not writing this either to stir up further hysteria or to make light of this very serious threat to us all. Instead I have been thinking for several days about the lessons we can draw from our own Christian history and what our response as followers of the King of Kings should be. As both a teacher and student of church history, other times in our history when the church faced similar circumstances easily come to mind.
Historically the Christian faith has passed through a number of massive pandemics. The more significant include the Antonine Plague (AD 165-180), Plague of Cyprian (AD 249-262), Plague of Justinian (AD 541-542), Black Death (AD 1347 into the 18th Century, Spanish Flu (AD 1918-19), and Swine Flu (AD 1931). I am especially sensitive to the last two, since in the same small country cemetery where my wife’s parents and our oldest son are buried, there are a number of small graves of children who died during those two pandemics just a century ago.
Below I have listed a number of articles available on the internet about these pandemics, and in some cases the Christian responses to them. Some of the sources are not written from a Christian perspective but provide valuable historical information. Many of these articles were written before the current crisis, a few because of it. My intention is to allow those of us who teach or lead God’s church to get more perspective and insight both into what our world and faith have faced many times, and what has been the response by the church.
“Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years – Practical theology says care, sacrifice, and community are as vital as ever.”
“How 5 of History’s Worst Pandemics Finally Ended”
“Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History”
“Antonine Plague” (AD 165-180 in Roman Empire) – Wikipedia
“The Antonine Plague and the Spread of Christianity” – BiblicalArcheology.org
“Plague of Cyprian” (AD 249-262 in Roman Empire) – Wikipedia
“How an Apocalyptic Plague Helped Spread Christianity” (Plague of Cyprian) – CNN Religion Blogs
“Solving the Mystery of an Ancient Roman Plague” (Plague of Cyprian) – TheAtlantic.com
“Plague of Justinian” (AD 541-542, 750) – Wikipedia
“Justinian Plague Linked to the Black Death” – BiblicalArcheology.org
“The Justinian Plague” (Podcast)
“Black Death” – www.history.com
“Black Death” – Wikipedia
“When a Third of the World Died” (AD 1347- 18th Century: Black Death) – Christian History Magazine
“Martin Luther and His Incredible Response to the Black Plague” – www.patheos.com
“What the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Meant for American Churches” – www.patheos.com
“How Churches of Christ responded when the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ killed millions” – Christian Chronicle
The Christian Response:
“Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church” – Christian History Magazine, Issue #101
“A Christian Response to the Coronavirus” – www.biblemesh.com
“What Now When We Can’t Meet? Putting the Mission into Missional” – Christian History Magazine
“Human Frailty and Divine Power” – NIV Bible Blog
“The Witness of Christian Compassion” – Stand to Reason website
“The plague, coronavirus and Martin Luther – why they all matter now” – www.TheHill.com
The witness of history (when available) is that those of the Christian faith responded to these tragic and deadly events with courage, bravery, faith, compassion and self-sacrifice. They took care not only of their own, but even those who had been their persecutors or harshest opponents.
Now, providing this historical reminder does not in any way lessen the seriousness of the current pandemic. It does let us know that believers like us have experienced this before; perhaps we can feel a little empathy for them. Meanwhile, we and believers around the world are enduring through this current crisis. Remember to pray for each other every day!
Our artwork pictures victims of the Black Plague being buried, and comes from Wikipedia.org.