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Top Stories of 2020

Top Stories of 2020 from a Spiritual Perspective

These stories are not in any particular order, but I think these are the most impactful stories of 2020.  

10. The Fracturing of American Society. America broke into groups and bits over differing issues. No longer could someone be a part of a sewing group where people from all over the country and all walks of life could simply chat on social media about sewing. No, the groups demanded verbal allegiance to BLM or other political issues and proceeded to kick people out who just wanted to talk about sewing (or whatever the group). I witnessed several of these types of blow ups, and I’m sure it happened elsewhere. This was continued with anger over companies’ support (or lack thereof) of certain political positions. This year was a good one for Parler and MeWe as the divide resulted in many conservatives leaving Facebook and Twitter for these alternatives. How will this affect the church moving forward? How will it impact individual Christians? Is the church becoming more isolated? How will the church speak truth into the world, if we are all not speaking to each other? This impact will be big in the years to come.

9. Black Lives Matter. A seemingly simple phrase turned into a powerful organization, which turned into a large group of rioters, and the church had difficulty sorting through it. Several police-involved deaths were widely publicized (often without a hearing of both sides as Proverbs directs), and organized riots broke out all over the country. Seemingly separate and disperse towns all experienced destruction in the wake of these riots. Public pressure was increased for companies to respond and for the church to respond. Many churches responded poorly, joining protests and linking the gospel with Social Justice, releasing statements in support, and seldom giving any critical feedback. Many churches turned the gospel into a left-leaning political tool and even characterized the actual gospel as lacking and unhelpful. This happened not just in broadly evangelical churches like those in the Southern Baptist Convention, but also in reformed churches such as the PCA. As we come to 2021 and these denominations begin to have their annual meetings, will these Social Justice movements increase their sway over more reformed denominations?

8. Performative Righteousness. This is not exactly new, but 2020 did see it ratcheted up to 11. Humble brags and other such look-at-my-righteousness speech have been around since the beginning of social media. But this year, people took to social media to broadcast their righteousness by showing their outrage (look at ESPN’s reaction to players caught without masks like Justin Turner of the Dodgers), their fear (all the people who thought they were going to die because others didn’t wear a mask), their anti-racism (just spend some time on Twitter), or their victimhood (remember when Lebron James claimed he was hunted all the days of his life). Over-the-top sensationalism is now commonplace. When this happens, what often gets lost is a sense of what real fear, real racism, and real outrage ought to be. Everything is done for the benefit of the crowd. People are becoming like the Pharisee who prayed out loud so everyone could hear. Such people have received their reward: the praise of men.

7. Mental Unhealthiness. Studies have shown the COVID-19 lockdowns have done great damage to people’s mental health. Depression is up. Drunkenness is up. Suicides are up. Anxiety is up. This is true for people of all ages, including children. One statistic showed that more people in Japan committed suicide in one month than have died from COVID-19 all year. These problems may extend for the young well into adulthood. How are they going to learn to deal with these problems? When are we going to be able to gather together again to meet and help each other bear these burdens? With the promise of more masks and more lockdowns in 2021, relief does not appear to be in sight.

6. Hong Kong Crackdown. China took over Hong Kong’s court system and rolled back many freedoms. 12% of the citizens of Hong Kong are Christians, and their freedom to assemble and worship has now been severely compromised. Many expect an increase in persecution in China on Christians next year (India too, by the way). China appears to be setting the stage for a government crackdown across the country, with the elimination of freedom in Hong Kong merely the first step.

5. Acceptance of Violence. The riots that took place off and on all year were almost universally praised. It didn’t matter if they sought to burn down Minneapolis, take over portions of Seattle, or simply assault people on trains for not wearing masks. Violence is now an acceptable way to get what you want. At least for certain classes of people. Even when riots ended in arrests, usually the charges were all dropped and the rioters released (this happened in Lincoln, NE where I live). We even saw the soon-to-be Vice President raising money to post bail for rioters, many of whom returned to rioting. This lesson has not be missed by young people, who are increasingly likely to think violence is a culturally acceptable way of getting what you want.

4. Science as Religious Cult. There is no longer any doubt that science is simply a religion. The old definition of science being hypothesis-> test-> repeat-> theory-> test-> repeat-> law is now unknown in the world. Science is simply a word people use as a weapon. “I believe in science” is a sentence oft uttered. What does that mean, other than science is now a religion? Those people aren’t proclaiming trust in the scientific method. They are not willing to hear evidence that might disprove their pet theories. No, science is now about consensus rather than evidence. It is about authority rather than a search for understanding. Likewise, science also has its own priesthood that is not to be questioned. Remember when those two ER docs dared to disagree with Dr. Fauci and were shouted down and censored for their questioning of the reigning scientific orthodoxy?

3. Loss of Inalienable Rights. It is hard not to think of 2020 as the year we finally ditched the Declaration of Independence. Sure, it has probably been in the hypothetical trash can for years, but we emptied the trash this year. Those rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that are given by God are now viewed as things the government can take back at any time. Many of them are listed in the Bill of Rights. Ask yourself about them. Just go through the first amendment. Was your right to freely worship maintained this year? No. Was your right to peacefully assemble maintained? No. Was your right to print and publish maintained? No. (See #9 below). Was your right to free speech maintained? Probably not (Again, see #9 below). What about the right to petition the government? Okay, probably, but one out of five is pretty bad. What future does our country, and the Christians living in it, have when our rights now firmly rest in the whims of our political leaders?

2. Big Tech Censorship. Twitter and Facebook stand as the biggest offenders here. They censored a media outlet as large and mainstream as the New York Post, even though, after the election, it turned out everything they had censored as unverifiable has now been verified. The Big Tech Giants had a huge impact when they censored the President 583 times in 2020 and his political opponent not once. And this censorship was not limited to the political arena. Facebook has removed posts about original sin from Reformed discussion groups. Does anyone doubt that they will freeze accounts and “shadow ban” posts by people calling homosexuality a sin? This behavior is not limited to FB and Twitter. WordPress shut down a very popular conservative site for being “incompatible” with their world view. Instagram removed a post that proclaimed only men should be pastors. The world has become very dependent on Big Tech, using it everyday. Now they are clearly going to shape our speech and ban those who don’t conform.

1. Government Against Worship. Is there really anything more noteworthy than almost every state and many cities forbidding (or limiting) churches to gather in worship? This has never really happened in America before this year. Some churches have not met since before Easter! Often, churches were closed while strip clubs were allowed to operate (this happened here in Lincoln). The church’s response to this has been varied and disturbing. There were debates about on-line worship vs. in person worship. Is it truly worship if we are not physically gathered? Shouldn’t we obey the government according to Romans 13? Isn’t it better to love your neighbor rather than insist on gathering together? Should we love God and worship Him even if it means endangering others? Who gets to decide these things? The American church is now surrounded by a culture that does not value worship and could soon try to stamp it out. How will we prepare the next generation for living in a world where the government is against worship?

What are your thoughts? Any I missed. Let me know in the comments.


One interesting thing that I think we can learn from our response to this pandemic is the power of groupthink.  There are several examples of this in the Bible.  Remember the triumphal entry.  There the people gathered and shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” among other things (see Matthew 21:1-11).  The Bible author notes that there were others who joined the crowds asking, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10).  People, apparently, flocked to the noise of the crowd with no real knowledge.  What drew them was not Jesus, but the masses.  People like to be a part of the crowd.  From what happens next in Jesus’s life, we can know that the throng was not being entirely honest about the confession it was making with its mouth and actions.  After all, Jesus cries over them at that very moment (Luke 19:41-44).

And that leads to consideration of another crowd: the people asking Pilate for Jesus’s death.  Pilate gave the people a choice: release Jesus, the man who healed the sick and cured the lame, or release Barabbas, the man who stole and rioted.  The chief priests and elders persuaded the masses to ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus (Matthew 27:20).  And the crowd chanted, “Let him be crucified,” regarding Jesus (Matthew 27:23). They even went so far as to say the responsibility for his death could be put on their own and their children’s heads despite Pilate declaring, “I find no fault in him” (Matthew 27:25, John 18:38).  The multitude then asserted, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  Such a statement is remarkable when one considers that these were Jews who, in general, rejected gentile rule.  They shunned tax collectors because they were considered traitors for working with the Roman government. Professing Caesar as their king was completely out-of-character and reveals the danger of groupthink.

Acts 19 gives us another example of a crowd, and this one turns into a bloodthirsty mob.  We know how it began: some silversmiths started to riot because a rise in Christianity had resulted in less demand for the silver idols they forged of Artemis.  We read, “the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed together” (Acts 19:29).  There was turmoil, and what did the people do?  They rushed together and simply followed along.  It was the easy response.  How could so many be wrong?  There was confidence in numbers.  No one abandoned course when the rabble turned violent, dragging two Christian men before them, probably with evil intent.  The people allowed it because a crowd can’t reason; it simply acts.  We are told, “most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32).  The mob rejected Alexander’s urging to disperse because he was a Jew and then spent two hours chanting about Artemis (Acts 19:34).  So, this was no here-a-minute and gone-the-next group of people.  Despite the confusion and unawareness, the tumult continued for two hours, chanting and making professions of faith/nationalistic pride.  In the end, the crowd did not disperse until the town official threatened to charge them with rioting (Acts 19:35-41).  It was not reason that dispersed the crowd; it was self-preservation.

You might be thinking, “What about those times that the crowds followed Jesus?  Wasn’t that a good thing?”  The vast majority of the time, it wasn’t.  For example, in John 6, the masses followed him briefly, but they eventually turned away when Jesus’s teaching was too difficult (John 6:1-66).  Sometimes a crowd is mentioned in scripture to contrast with how few people actually believe, such as Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-47) or the woman who touched Christ’s garment (Mark 5:24-34).  Many followed, but few showed signs of faith.  Such is almost always indicative of those who separated themselves from the crowd.  The word “church” even means “called out.”

So, what ought to be the response of the Christian to the crowd?  It is pity.  We pity, and therefore we show mercy, especially by proclaiming the gospel.  Jesus demonstrated this when he fed the multitude (Matthew 15:32) and when he healed the sick (Matthew 14:14).  He taught the crowds (Matthew 5-7) when they would listen, and he prayed for their salvation (Luke 23:34).

I think we often overlook the use of crowds for groupthink in the Bible, but there is an important lesson in them.  As Christians, we must always ask, “Am I following Jesus or am I following the crowd?”

Virtual Worship and the Picture of a Broken Body

The COVID 19 virus has shaken up the world, and its effects can be seen and felt in many ways.  And frankly will be for sometime.
One of those effects is on the worship.  Many people were not allowed to gather for worship thanks to government orders, and many more thought it unsafe because of the danger of the virus.  And so the church “virtually” worshiped. With the aid of the internet families watched and sang along as the sermons and services were broadcast.  Tim Challies documented this through photos from his many friends and contacts around the world.  His images show largely the same thing around the world, families watching a television or computer, participating as best they can, but doing so in isolation.
Tim doesn’t make much comment upon this other than it was extraordinary, but the post has a ring of interest or hope to it.  It fails to mention that this will be ordinary for the next several weeks at least.  He seems to post the pictures with interest or delight, but when I see them, I want to cry.
What these pictures show us is a church fragmented, perhaps even severed, or at least separated. The church is not worshiping together. Can we even really call it worship if we don’t gather together physically? I’ll leave that for another post on another day. Yet, it is clear that one of the main pictures of the church is destroyed. The church is called the body of Christ. Paul has a whole discussion on how the body is many members, many parts, but one whole in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. It is pointed out how bad it is if the eye is disconnected from the ear, and the ear from the nose. By themselves the parts are lacking. In fact, Paul makes sure we understand we have ‘need’ of one another (v.21). But each in our own homes how can we be one body? How can we bestow honor on other members (v.23)? Yes, we are still the body of Christ when we are not all together, but right now the hand is in front his computer and the nose is in front of her TV, and the feet are alone in their rooms on their phones, and it is not good, not good at all. What can we really say about all of this? What does this show us?
What we can say is that with some sitting or standing at home and others appearing on a screen that the church has been exiled from one another, and that should give us pause. Exile is a very serious picture in the Scriptures.
I am not arguing that people should violate a shelter in place order in this post. I am arguing that we must stop and think about the fact that a virus, clearly under the control of God, came and stopped the public worship of Jesus Christ around the globe. Read Psalm 42. The Psalmist is separated from the gathering of the saints to worship, which is so important it is compared to drinking water (v.1), by the oppression of enemies (verse 9). Worship that is equated with “appearing before God” (v.2). The Psalmist is not denying God is with us all the time, but is affirming that worship is something special he went and did, like appearing before a King. We are separated from worship because of an act of God too. When the Lord does this we ought to cry out “Have mercy on us O God!” and “How long, O Lord?” and even “Why?” The entire church ought to stop and search its soul. Time on our knees, on our face, in prayer and repentance is a must. For God does not stop His worship for no reason.
This is a day for mourning and sadness. It is not a day of interest or excitement. It is not doing something different. It is a day for our tears to be our food night and day just like it was for the Psalmist. The pictures do not show us a fascinating retrospective on a really interesting time. They do not show us how the church just adapted to its new circumstance. It shows a church in exile around the world. Exiled and its body parts severed and dispersed to their own living rooms.
Tim Challies has a follow up post about not being worried that the church will turn into a Face-time Church, and he strongly supports and sees the importance of physical gathering together of the saints. But the enormity of the church stopping public worship world wide because of the providence of God still does not seem to have permeated his writing. When the Lord did this in the Exile, the people of Israel did not take photos or think it was interesting to be in Babylon, but rather they mourned. Days of mourning were set up to remember the day they were taken and the day the temple was destroyed. The importance of what God had done was not lost on them. Then he used the Babylonians to accomplish the Exile, today he uses a virus. But it is still God at work.
Like Habakkuk, we must live by faith during this time. But perhaps we ought to see this a little more like God Exiling Israel during Habakkuk’s time and a little less like a unique event that makes a good photo essay.