The Church Unmasked by Aaron Ames

The Church Unmasked

Aaron Ames on the Church's Failure in the Pandemic as Symptomatic

When once we are finally unmasked, what will be revealed about us? The year 2020 was almost certainly the first time in history that the global Christian Church collectively shut its doors for any significant length of time. While the Covid pandemic has sparked an abundance of discussion about what it means to love one's neighbor, there has been little discussion about what it means to love God.

In a.d. 251, St. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the devastating plague of his time, which "nearly killed" off the Roman Empire, "so far from being a time of distress, [was] a time of unimaginable joy."

This is the spirit in which the early Christians weathered two devastating pandemics, in the second and third centuries, that resulted in massive depopulation. As historian Edward Watts has detailed, "abandoned farms and depopulated towns dotted the countryside from Egypt to Germany." Yet beyond the nasty symptoms, Watts noted, "most of all . . . the disease spread fear." Hans Zinsser elaborates in Rats, Lice, and History:

[T]he forward march of Roman power and world organization was interrupted by the only force against which political genius and military valor were utterly helpless—epidemic disease . . . and when it came . . . all other things gave way, and men crouched in terror, abandoning all their quarrels, undertakings and ambitions.

Christians, however, rejected fear of death for love of God, neighbor, and enemy, and became the caretakers of the cities. According to Dionysius, while "the heathen . . . pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead," Christians "showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy."

What resulted was a massive surge of Christianity from the fringes of society to the center of society in a matter of a century. Indeed, this Christian vision was so formidable during these two pandemics that sociologist of religion Rodney Stark argues that, "had classical society not been disrupted and demoralized by these catastrophes, Christianity might never have become so dominant a faith."

The Right Question

In contrast to the early Church's embrace of the pandemic of its day, our contemporary Church has fled from the Covid pandemic, shutting its doors for fear of death and devastation. Whereas Jesus reached out and touched the leper, we have declared everyone a leper, and invited no touching. And when we did reopen our church doors, it was not without the aesthetic decorations of a multitude of otherwise out-of-place liturgies. With the sight of churchgoers, separated by a minimum of six feet, dotting the room in small, isolated pods, and standing with mouths and noses fully covered to sing "Thine Be the Glory" in muffled tones, one would be hard-pressed to believe that their element of ultimate concern was the crucified and risen Lord.

If our spiritual nourishment as Christians is predicated on regularly receiving the grace of God through communal fellowship, participating in the sacraments, and hearing the Word, then it is objectively true that our teachers and administrators have voluntarily overseen the single greatest withholding of spiritual nourishment in the history of Christianity. But placing blame squarely on church leaders would be unfair, considering how many churchgoers themselves welcomed the strictures, even sometimes demanded them. While some might blame their state governments for the mandated lockdowns, this, too, would be unfair, since so few churches dared even to protest, much less resist, such mandates.

What, after all, informs the Church's vision of the good life? For all the talk about the possible ineffectiveness of masks, their potentially harmful side effects, and their use as a tool of oppression, it is troubling how rarely the Christian subculture has entertained the more important spiritual question.


Aaron Ames has published articles for The Federalist, The Imaginative Conservative, and American Thinker, among others. He teaches rhetoric and logic at a classical school in Kentucky.


more on Christianity from the online archives

31.1—January/February 2018

Beggars Before Christ

on Taking the Measure of the Deserving & the Undeserving Poor by Martin Bordelon

8.4—Fall 1995

The Demise of Biblical Preaching

Distortions of the Gospel and its Recovery by Donald G. Bloesch

30.6—Nov/Dec 2017

The Messiah's Beauty

on Benedict XVI on the Fairest of the Sons of Men by Michael Martin De Sapio

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

30.5—Sept/Oct 2017

Passions' Republic

The Christian Cure for What Ails Modern Politics by David Bradshaw

22.8—November/December 2009

The Origin of Aesthetics

Looking for Beauty & Justice 150 Years After Darwin’s Classic by Charles Taliaferro

31.2—March/April 2018

Millennial Mission

The Transmission of Christianity Is Not a New Task by Nathanael Devlin

00