“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
The Church Must Gather, but When?
The truth is, I miss my church! I go there, that is to the building, multiple times a week including to record our worship services which stream online here and here. But that isn't the church as many have pointed out. It isn't a building, that seems blatantly obvious as the early church met wherever it could in all kinds of buildings like homes and synagogues and today churches meet in schools, movie theaters, and other places. However, these statements while true are often misguided. Much of the time when someone says, "the church isn't a building" they are not questioning what kind of building should be used for gathering, but whether the church needs to gather at all. In light of the recent lock downs due to Covid-19 many have begun to suggest that the church doesn't really need to gather physically, especially since we have technological options for delivering music and sermons, but is that all that is really necessary? Scripture doesn't support such an approach.
We should first recognize that before the church God's chosen people, the nation of Israel, was a gathering people. They gathered regularly for festivals, sabbaths, and worship. Gathering isn't something that showed up in the New Testament, but instead we find it throughout the Old Testament as well. As a nation, Israel would mourn when they were exiled. Gathering isn't a New Testament thing or a church thing.
The gathering we find in the Old Testament carries forward to the New Testament. We certainly see this in the gospels as Jesus taught in the synagogue, celebrated passover, and so on. But even at the very conception of the church we see a massive gathering in Acts 2 where the disciples spoke in tongues and saw thousands respond to the gospel message. After that they continued to gather and were devoted to, among other things, fellowship. In fact in verse 46 it says, "Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts." If anything, we gather too little. They weren't gathering in their own building, but that isn't the issue, they were gathering. Presumably these were pretty sizable groups since thousands had responded to the gospel and they weren't only meeting in homes, but the temple courts. Of course, we have gathering modeled throughout Acts.
In the epistles gathering is assumed in a variety of ways. From 1 Corinthians 11 all the wayward through chapter 14 we have instructions about how to conduct ourselves in such gatherings. What those instructions are isn't important for the purposes of this post, only that the gathering of the church is assumed and instructions are given.
We also find the gathering of the saints for the purpose of worship in Revelation with the four living creatures and the 24 elders not to mention the nations. Gathering is consistent throughout redemptive history from beginning to never ending. The christian faith is a gathering faith and cannot rightly be practiced without gathering. Not to mention the laying on of hands, baptism, and the Lord's supper all require some sort of gathering. It may be possible to do this virtually in some less significant manner, but those things are meant for the gathering. The Lord's Supper has its beginning in a gathering for the purpose of celebrating passover.
In recent days some have said the church should not abdicate to the state authority regarding such gatherings. Indeed, I agree! However, it is not abdicating authority to cooperate for a short time. In contrast many have begun to question whether we need to ever gather. That must be rejected as well, the Christian faith is a gathering faith and the church is a gathering people. The church must gather, the question is when? There isn't a magic date, but I will offer some thoughts:
For me and my church, none of these things are true at the moment. Although I have had frustration recently with a lack of communication regarding church gatherings from my governor, finally some guidance, even if limited, has been given. The church isn't being singled out at this time. There does seem to be an end in sight, at least for the moment.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.