temporary measures in times of crisis | Jesus’ Creed
Temporary measures in times of crisis
The first time in my life that I went “live” was on Saturday March 14, announcing that there would be no church in the morning. I’d been a pastor here for nearly eighteen years, but my head was spinning. The number and nature of responses to the post,
it was evident that not only our church, but also our community was watching… closely. I could feel the eyes on me.
No seminary course prepared me to be a pastor during a pandemic. Was I equipped to be the pastor of God’s people through this unprecedented time? The questions start to pile up …
Cancel the church or not?
Masks or not?
Online or not?
Pre-record or go live?
Vaccines or not?
Host groups or not?
Two services or not?
To zoom or not to zoom?
How do we take care of our people physically, emotionally, spiritually?
How to make disciples?
How to preach?
And a hundred others.
1 Corinthians 7:26 has made its way into the foreground of my mind:
I think in view
from distress present
it’s good for one person
to stay as it is. (RSV, like all others, unless otherwise noted)
The Corinthians had written to Paul asking him questions about how to live the Christian life in this particular place and on these particular days (7: 1). This is Paul’s response. While we cannot know for sure what “the present distress” was, Bruce Winter made the strong point that the distress was famine. If it was a famine or something similar, it affected all of society, not just the church. Gordon Fee understands that Paul is saying, “In light of the problems we are already experiencing, who also needs the added burden of marriage? “ Delaying the wedding – a big decision for an enthusiastic young couple! – was a temporary measure in view of the current distress.
Paul does not pontificate in this passage about what they everything must To do. In fact, this chapter is for “everyone” and demonstrates Paul’s sensitivity to the complexities of life. Thiselton comments,
Paul deals with the good, the possible, the just, the doable, the constructive, the useful and the just “and their opposites” in a way that “takes seriously the contingencies of the recipient’s lives… and emphasizes… Paul’s concern for adaptation. “
Ciampa and Rosner are here premonitory about the pandemic:
Important decisions in life (as well as the most mundane), if taken wisely, will take into account the social context … We need wisdom to discern the times and understand our circumstances in order to know the best way to glorify God and avoid putting ourselves or others under unnecessary duress.
It is Pastor Paul who provides the wisdom to live wisely in a chaotic world.
How should pastors think about taking temporary measures in times of crisis?
Below I suggest a 7 step process for deciding what to do in times of crisis. But first, I want to consider 1) 1 Corinthians 7 in light of the Jewish responsa material, and 2) 1 Corinthians 7 in the context of 1 Corinthians 1-14.
During the Holocaust, a group of Jews were crammed into a bunker to hide from the Nazis. There was a baby with them who started to cry. If they were found they would all be shot, so one of the men covered the infant’s face with a pillow. When the Nazis finally left, the child had suffocated. The traumatized Jews sent a question, a elle’elah, to the rabbi asking what to do in such a circumstance. In such a situation, the rabbi’s response is a Teshuvah, and a material like this is called Responnse. Hundreds of thousands of responsa have been preserved over the centuries, constituting a body of authoritative Jewish legal documents. The eminent Jewish jurist, Menachem Elon, explains why the responsa have such great authority in Jewish law:
The decisions rendered during a responsum in a real case have more force and are closer to the truth than the conclusions drawn as a result of theoretical study.
In addition, one answer is
allowed special force and weight once it has been applied in practice and has been tested in real life crucible.
The rabbis stood beside their suffering people, like shepherds with their sheep, pressed by circumstances to offer answers to unavoidable questions. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is a wise pastor giving answers to the pressing requests of his people, “Now concerning the matters on which you have written” (7.1).
This is the way of biblical wisdom – to be present with these people in this place, to understand their plight so that you can provide a “word of the season” (Proverb 15.23).
We all now know the feeling.
Now the context in 1 Corinthians.
Paul is a pragmatist in principle. He leaves a few questions unanswered because he knows life is messy. But there is a deep principle of wisdom that guides everything. In chapters 1-2, Paul reminds the Corinthians of Jesus’ self-denial on the cross which is the epitome of God’s wisdom. The world cannot understand it, but it is the center of Christian life. This is the fundamental principle at work throughout the book. Hear echoes of the cruciform wisdom that Paul applies in a concrete world …
Why not just accept the injustice and stop there? Why not let yourself be fooled? (6.7, TNL)
On the right to eat meat sacrificed to idols:
If food is the cause of my brother’s fall, I will never eat meat, lest my brother fall. (8:13)
On Paul’s rights as an apostle:
I have not made use of any of these rights. (9:15)
Back to meat and idols:
Let no one seek his good, but the good of his neighbor. (10.24)
On spiritual gifts:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (12: 7)
Paul’s big idea – it’s never about my rights first. To put it in American jargon – the First Amendment is never our first priority.
Temporary measures must pass the test of the timeless measure against which all things are tested, the cross of Jesus.
Not even Faith may be the fundamental consideration: “If I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing… faith, hope and love – and most of all. great of them is love. (1 Corinthians 13: 2, 13). During this pandemic, I have often heard that faith takes precedence over love, but faithfulness is often about love more than faith, and a Corinthian-style demonstration of declining faith (ch. 12, 14) is not a virtue.
Let’s put this together. No two crises are the same, so it’s hard to be too specific, but here is a suggested process for considering temporary measures in times of crisis:
- Pray. It’s obvious, but often overlooked and underestimated. Pray and listen.
- Be as present as possible. They need to know that we are with them. Be present and listen.
- Consult the Prudent. I could not have taken on the burden without the wisdom of my deacons. Listen to the wise.
- Pay attention to the details. I’m in Locust Grove, not New York. Loving our community may seem a little different. Listen to the locals.
- Take precedents into account. Paul was constantly inspired by the First Testament (eg 10.1-10), just like Jesus. Jesus partially justified the gathering of grain on the Sabbath by appealing to David eating the holy bread. Listen to the past.
- Prioritize deeper principles. Crises reveal priorities. Christian faith is pragmatic, and what looks like pragmatism always has underlying principles of precedence. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Despite the typical punctuality of the Law Enforcement Chronicler, he reports that those of the northern tribes “had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover other than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying: “May the good God forgive everyone who puts his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, even if not according to the rules of cleanliness of the sanctuary‘”(2 Chronicles 30.18-19). Didache 7: 1-3 (around the beginning of the second century CE) allows at least four options for baptism, from the best to the acceptable. The deepest principle is always the cross of Jesus.
- Be practical. You have to do something. You were placed there to do something. “He that watches the wind will not sow, and he that looks at the clouds will not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11: 4). There is never a perfect time and a perfect plan, but you cannot afford to be crippled by idealized perfection.
Dr. Jeff Blair is the pastor of the Free Will Baptist Church in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, where he lives with his wife, Jennie, and their three children. Jeff graduated from Northern Seminary in 2018 with a Doctorate in New Testament Ministry.
 Bruce W. Winter, “Secular and Christian Responses to the Corinthian Famines,” Tyndale Bulletin 40.1 (1989), 86-106.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Letter to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 329. Emphasis mine.
 I insist on myself. Anthony C. Thiselton, The first letter to the Corinthians: NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 536-537. Quote Happy, Paul and Philodemus: Adaptability in the Epicurean and Paleochristian Psychagogy, 246 and referring to Charles H. Giblin, “1 Cor 7 — A Negative Theology of Marriage and Celibacy? BT 41 (1969): 239–55.
 Note the date, 2010, on the heels of the Great Recession. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The first letter to the Corinthians, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2010), 337-338. I insist on myself.
 Irving Rosenbaum, The Holocaust and the Halakhah, p. 40.
 The first examples are integrated into the Talmud. Later, the responsa became a separate genre of Jewish legal material.
 Menachem Elon, Jewish law (Philadelphia: JPS, 1994), 1458. Emphasis is placed on me.
 Same. 1457. Emphasis is placed on me.
 What Waltke describes as “a response to a difficult situation and given at the right time”. Bruce Waltke, Proverbs, chapters 1-15, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 633.