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Coronavirus and the Early Church’s Response to Plague

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Plagues in the 2nd and 3rd century wiped out around 5 million people in the Roman Empire. (It was likely some form of smallpox.) Christians were among the few who cared for the sick. Nobles and others fled the cities while the Christians remained; they loved people at great risk to themselves. Many Christians perished, some survived and built up immunities and were able to do even greater works. Nevertheless, this great act of love captivated those who were being cared for. Reflecting on the Christian response to those in need, the pagan emperor Julian wrote these words a century later in criticism toward Christians, “The impious Galileans (Christians) support not only their poor, but ours as well, every one can see that our people lack aid from us.” He could not deny how Christianity grew as a result of its great demonstration of love. When Rome was in peril, its own leaders fled while the Christians stood in the gaps. Yet the early church’s response causes me to ask a question: What caused them to act in such a way? I think there can be a slew of answers, but if I were to take one educated stab at the question, I think it was because abiding in Christ creates a heart of love and compassion. Galatians 5 speaks of this. I believe the early church was faithful in staying connected to the heart of God and the natural outflowing of their love for God created a love for others. Just as Jesus demonstrated his love for perishing people; the early church demonstrated their love for perishing people. I do not want to downplay the church today, but I’m not certain we would show the same level of moral character. The early church response convicts me in light of all that is going on in our country with the development of COVID-19. Specifically, what lengths would I go to in loving my neighbor? I do not think there is anything wrong with taking precautions, yet I know there is a part of me that goes into survival mode and pushes aside my faith just a little bit and prioritizes my health or needs above my duty as a follower of Christ. Jesus never modeled this kind of behavior. He always modeled compassion. So while I’m not trying to advocate recklessness, I do think we must remain conscious of our duty as Christians to take our thoughts captive, focus on what matters, live with compassion, and serve God’s kingdom–whatever the cost may be.

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