International (MNN) — E3 Partners believes Christians today can show the same fearlessness as ancient believers during two plagues that devastated the Roman Empire.
How can Christians, who have the hope of Christ’s kingdom, respond during the COVID-19 pandemic and the suffering it has caused around the world?
Jim Shannon of e3 Partners says, “I think it’s important for us as believers to look at this from a kingdom perspective. We have to realize this is not unprecedented at all. That’s good, because some of the greatest leaps forward the Church has ever [made] have come on the heels of really similar circumstances.”
Shannon recalls two ancient plagues, the Antonine Plague (likely smallpox), and the Cyprian plague, both of which ravaged the Roman Empire. The Antonine plague lasted from 165 to 180 AD, and the Cyprian Plague lasted from 250-270 AD.
Shannon says, “Between those two plagues, it’s been estimated that between a quarter and a third of the entire population of the empire died, including three Roman emperors. Imagine that; as the wealthy were rushing out of the cities to ride it out in their country estates, who was it that stayed and tended the sick, fed the homeless, and took in the orphans? It was the persecuted Church.” After both plagues, Christianity received mass conversions seeking the hope that allowed them to brave death.
Not only that, but the actions of these Christians altered the political landscape as well. Shannon says, “By the fourth century, Christianity was declared the sole official religion of the empire. All of the former pagan religious practices, any support that they had from the state ceased at that time. That would have been unimaginable even 100 years earlier.”
Increased receptivity to the Gospel
Shannons says God always uses huge global disruptions to build the church and advance His kingdom. He relates two stories to illustrate how open people have been to the Gospel.
One network of churches in South Asia has seen 10,000 new Christians over 3 ½ weeks. Another pastor shared the Gospel with his largely Hindu family; 12 now follow Christ. Shannon says, “His big prayer request was, ‘We’ve got so many people that want to be baptized, and we were not going to be able to work that out until this lockdown is over.’ I mean, what is it what does that tell you?”
Shannon used a World War I metaphor to describe the current state of Christians. “We’re stuck in the trench right now. And there’s this barrage going off all around us. But that barrage [will] end sometime. It’s going to lift, and we need to be prepared to go over the top and take back the enemy ground.” Shannon believes God will do amazing things in the Church and the world over the next few years.
How do we get ready? Like the Christians during the ancient plagues, we can help others in wisdom and fearlessness, pointing people to the coming kingdom that cannot be destroyed by any plague or disaster.
COVID-19 hospital in Sweden. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)