Q Is there any merit in discontinuing handshakes in church to prevent infections?
A Usually there is not much point in forgoing handshakes to avoid respiratory or gastrointestinal infections. On any given day we all have similar kinds and numbers of germs (viruses or bacteria) on our hands and in our bodies. These germs are also found on door handles, pews, hymnals, coffee cups, and any other places humans touch. To avoid them is impossible and unnecessary—usually.
Certain contagious illnesses, such as the flu, can be easily spread. Minimizing physical contact during times of community infections may be a sensible thing to do (this is especially important for people on chemotherapy or those in fragile health). When there is an outbreak of the flu or another contagious illness, not shaking hands may reduce your chances of getting ill (keeping in mind the door handles, coffee cups, etc.).
Of course, people who are actively ill should stay away from crowds and stay home from work or school, but some viral illnesses can be transmitted before a person develops symptoms.
The downside of not shaking hands, or giving a hug, is that we further withdraw from each other emotionally. It is hard for me to imagine a church foyer with everyone keeping their distance from each other so as not to touch. Or wearing latex gloves to handle a Bible, a Psalter Hymnal, or the communion plate. Or declining coffee after church.
“Germ phobia” can be contagious, even when it’s not warranted. I would hate to see people fear normal human contact to the point of becoming sterile in their relationships.
Dr. Herman Borkent practices medicine at Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta.
Q Why doesn’t the Christian Reformed Church teach that we must be born again? In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus says, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3, TNIV).
A Someone once asked me, “Are you a born again Christian?” I sensed immediately that I needed to know what he meant by the term “born again.” It didn’t take long to discover that, in his view, “born again Christians” were legalistic, graceless, judgmental people who pronounced endless rules—don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t do this, don’t do that—and who assigned people to heaven or hell based on how they measured up to those rules.
During the course of our conversation I asked if he was a believer. He was. I responded, referring to John 3, “Then you’re a born again Christian, because there’s no other Christian except a born again Christian.”
It was a new thought for him because he had avoided the “born again” label like the plague. Unfortunately, the beautiful “born again” terminology has been redefined by some in a way that Jesus himself wouldn’t recognize.
That’s why many pastors in the CRC avoid that misleading terminology. More commonly, they will say something like, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38), or “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
Every time you hear a pastor calling people to repentance and to faith in the Savior, you’re hearing a pastor affirm the words of Jesus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” It’s a message that’s repeatedly taught and proclaimed in the CRC.
—George Vander Weit
George Vander Weit recently retired as pastor of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Q I’m a stay-at-home mom, so the expense of being environmentally conscious is a concern to me. What can I do to care for creation while making ends meet?
A As a stay-at-home parent you have a wonderful opportunity to be creative and practical when it comes to conservation. If you spend your time making things from scratch, researching what products to purchase (see www.greenerchoices.org), walking your kids to school, and using a little extra elbow grease instead of toxic chemicals, you’re well on your way.
Here are a few other practical ideas: Try drying your laundry outside, composting, trading plants with friends, organizing a clothes swap, turning off your lights when not in use, turning down your thermostat in the winter, and opening the windows for cool air in the summer. Brainstorm a list of things that don’t cost anything, and you’ll find that you will save money.
One fun activity to do with your kids is to make your own toys. Plastic milk jugs can be cut into shovels, superhero masks, skeletons, butterflies, swords, and shields. Get creative and have fun. Your kids will learn art and creativity as well as stewardship.