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The Dress Rehearsal for Jesus’ Return

The Dress Rehearsal for Jesus’ Return

The world witnessed a momentous event in 2020 in the form of a global pandemic as governments around the world enacted strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Here in America, citizens found themselves grappling with the delicate balance between personal liberty and public safety. California was the first state to declare a statewide shelter-in-place order, yet as time passed doubts emerged regarding the government’s handling of the crisis. Questions arose about the intentions behind such unprecedented restrictions. Was it wise for people to voluntarily give up their rights and freedoms? Whispers of possible manipulation began to circulate.

At Influence Church in Anaheim, California, we faced a pivotal decision when confronted with the prospect of closing our church and offices during the pandemic. We recognized that such measures were not in the best interests of our congregation and seemed to contradict our First Amendment rights under the US Constitution. Nevertheless, like many others, we attempted to comply with the newly imposed reality during those initial weeks, believing the government would act in our best interest and provide accurate information to protect us.

As time went on, our initial trust in the government’s handling of the pandemic wavered. The daily barrage of reports predicting catastrophic death tolls from this relentless virus, along with the repeated mantra to “trust the science,” left us uneasy. We felt an underlying suspicion that this phrase might be concealing something, raising concerns about potential manipulation and propaganda.

It is essential to evaluate the actions of those in power, discerning whether they align with principles of transparency, accountability, and respect for individual liberties. In doing so, we can strive to safeguard our freedom and resist undue coercion. During the pandemic, everyone seemed to be debating where to draw the line between the need to minimize risk and the right to personal freedom.

In their willingness to comply with government mandates, some churches seemed to forget the principles enshrined in the First Amendment. By allowing Caesar to reign over matters that should be within the domain of individual liberties, they inadvertently played into the hands of the government’s increasing control. This paralleled the actions of the German church during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, which chose to align itself with the government rather than uphold its moral and spiritual authority.

History reminds us that when the church surrenders its core principles and authority, it risks becoming a passive instrument of control, perpetuating the very actions it should be opposing. Such historical events serve as a sobering reminder of the responsibility of religious institutions to remain vigilant in protecting fundamental freedoms and standing firm in their faith.

Seeing how many pastors in California chose to comply with government mandates and close their church doors was disheartening. Simultaneously, they criticized those who decided to remain open, labeling them as potential “super-spreaders” who neglected their neighbors’ well-being. Based on my observation, out of the more than thirty thousand churches in California, fewer than 10 percent chose to open their doors during the lockdown.

A few churches were quick to abandon public gatherings altogether in pursuit of a different model for church that didn’t include group singing, worship, or interpersonal fellowship. Others sought a middle-ground solution. One near us created large outdoor circles for their services. Attendees were required to remain within their designated circles and not engage in “fellowship” with others outside their circle. They even went to the extent of setting up COVID vaccine stations on the church premises and mandated masks for all.

Influence Church was in the minority. We determined to stand strong in our decision to remain open. As a result, our church faced adversity and was even labeled “Influenza” Church by a neighboring megachurch that had chosen to close. We faced harassment and were reported to OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for allegedly violating requirements. Nevertheless, we stood firm, witnessing the emergence of a new caliber of Christian—battle-hardened and prepared to face the trials of persecution. I could sense in my spirit that this was merely a dress rehearsal for what the church will face in the last days.

As coming trials loom on the horizon, it is likely that many churches will falter. Only the believing church, deeply rooted in faith, will be able to stand firm. The conforming churches, reminiscent of the Lutheran Church’s stance under the Nazi regime, are likely to falter and fold.

It’s disheartening to see that some conforming church pastors have chosen to ignore their failure to take a stand when it was most needed. Instead, they continue with business as usual, justifying their lack of courage under the guise of protecting their congregation. However, the people have not forgotten those choices and the consequences they may bear. The COVID pandemic appears to be just the beginning of what may befall our planet.

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