One of the verses that I can remember memorizing early on in my walk with the Lord is from Matthew 5:14 which reads, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” The church is indeed a light in a dark world—like a city on a hillside. However, in certain seasons of confusion, there seems to be tares among the wheat causing the distinction between the church and the world to be less obvious. In some specific occasions, God is pleased to use circumstances to reveal his true church as distinct from those who merely profess faith in Jesus.
How God Is Using COVID-19 to Reveal His Church
Over the last year, we have watched the pandemic impact the entire world. The church has been greatly affected by the politics of the pandemic. In some cases, local churches have suffered through a lack of attendance, giving, and participation of the members. In such cases, this is the result of pastors who have not led well, but in some unique circumstances, the people have not responded well to good leadership. Instead of fearing God—people have been led to fear sickness, death, and the government.
The Pew Research Center survey along with a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute released statistics during the pandemic last year that revealed one-third or more of those who had previously attended church regularly were completely disconnected from church altogether. The churches that moved to “online church” indefinitely or simply stopped public gatherings lost large percentages of people—separating the sheep from the goats. In some cases, false believers fell away altogether such as Beth Daniel (50), of Mounds View, Minnesota who said:
“I wasn’t regularly attending church anyway, so it really hasn’t changed anything. But now I feel less guilty about not going. I thought at first [the pandemic] might encourage me to do more online worship, but it really hasn’t.” 
In other cases, true believers who were starving for spiritual nourishment, community, and the ordinary means of grace found new church homes. Speaking from first-hand experience, we have had more church growth in our church over the last year than at any other time in the last 10 years of my pastoral ministry. Many are seeking a church home where the Bible will be preached and a church life that will not be dictated by government mandates.
Consider the tragedy that is continuing to playout in Alberta, Canada. GraceLife Church led by Pastor James Coates has suffered state sponsored persecution as a result of their unwillingness to cease to gather and worship God. Pastor James has been arrested and their church property has been under siege by the local government. Another pastor, Artur Pawlowski, who leads Calgary’s Street Church in Alberta was arrested and charged with “organizing an illegal in-person gathering” after he broke the COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings by encouraging his local church to gather for worship.
In each of these cases, we are witnessing state sponsored persecution of Christians who merely want to worship God as we are directed to do by holy Scripture (Heb. 10:24-25). The choice to obey God rather than man is a costly decision, but it’s always the right decision no matter what the cost. When Christians stand in the midst of such threats and gather for worship regardless of what it might cost them—the true church of Jesus is revealed and the light of the gospel is able to shine like a city set on a hillside in the dark of night.
We must remember the words of William Cowper as we consider how God guides and governs the affairs of history by his providence—and always for his glory:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
How God Is Using the Social Justice Movement to Reveal His Church
The most divisive agenda to impact God’s people over the last century is the social justice movement. The attack is relentless and continues to gain traction in our present day. The social justicians seem bent upon the idea of tanking evangelical institutions and denominations over the social issues that have been fueled by worldly ideologies that are antithetical to the gospel of King Jesus. One such issue is the idea that women are created equal in value and dignity in the image of God as men (imago Dei), so therefore, we should allow women to preach and pastor in the context of the local church.
Just this past week Rick Warren, who is the pastor of Saddleback Church (a SBC congregation) and author of the bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life, led his church to ordain three women to the office of pastor. Warren praised the move as a “historic night.” As the battle lines continue to be drawn over such matters within evangelical circles, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, we must not lose sight of the reality that this social justice war is far bigger than women preachers. In fact, as the SBC plans their upcoming annual meeting in June, the spotlight on the function and nature of the office of elder is an important issue worthy of attention—but it can also be a means of minimizing the real threat. The real threat centers on the function and nature of God’s word. Will Christians believe the Bible and stand upon biblical truth even if it means becoming a smaller denomination?
In all of the attacks of the social justice agenda upon God’s church—although many people remain confused about the language, details, and the agenda as a whole as they watch once trusted voices and institutions waver on important theological lines—God is at work in the details of human history to reveal his true church. Consider the enormity of issues that have impacted God’s people over the last few years:
- Gay “Marriage”
- Free Exercise of Religion
- Justice v. Social Justice
- Black Lives Matter
- Gender and Human Sexuality
- Woke Church
- Abuse Scandal
- Gay “Christianity”
- Women Serving as Pastors
- Women Functioning as Preachers
- Revolt, Revolution, and US Law
- Defund the Police
- Systemic Racism
This is merely the tip of the iceberg, but it gives you a glimpse at the issues that continue to bombard the church beneath the umbrella of social justice. Yet, as pastors choose various paths and as churches respond—God continues to use circumstances by his providence to reveal his true church in a world of darkness and confusion.
The calling of the true Christian is to stand firm. If your church, your pastoral leadership, and your denomination refuse to stand—leave. Find a church that will refuse to bow to the world’s new religion. Find a new denomination that will refuse to compromise. In the words of Martin Luther to a group of pastors in his day, “This is not the time for sleeping and snoring.”
The church is called to preach the good news, assemble, worship, and serve God faithfully. Stand up, speak up, and become a light in a dark world like a candle on a lamp stand that gives light to all who are in the house (Matt. 5:15-16). Fulfill your calling to stand with God’s church as a city on a hillside in the dark of night. Robert Murray McCheyne in addressing the Christian’s response to suffering states:
[Affliction] shows the power of Christ’s blood, when it gives peace in an hour of trouble, when it can make happy in sickness, poverty, persecution and death. Do not be surprised if you suffer, but glorify God. 
- ‘Things Will Never Be The Same.’ How The Pandemic Has Changed Worship [accessed 5/7/21]
- Robert Murray McCheyne, Comfort in Sorrow, (Ross–shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002), 24-25.