As we approach the end of the pandemic era of doing church online, one of the trending topics is that many people are choosing not to return in-person, even when it is deemed safe (and legal) to do so. Churches are sounding alarm bells that they are losing their flock, even though many churches with online services have the kind of giving that they had before the pandemic.
Many have offered theories as to why. These include people loving the convenience of consuming their religious fare in comfort, being with people we know and love, and to be able to skip over items we don’t like. Alternatively, people like to point out that the word “church” is only used twice by Jesus in the Gospels, and not in the context of gathering for worship. So why should we go to church when it’s back open again?
I want to be sympathetic, but I would suggest that one of the biggest misunderstandings we Christians have about church is that everything is primarily about ‘my experience’. It’s about what “I” get out of church. We are so conditioned to the consumer ways of our culture that we have unknowingly developed a ‘me first’ understanding of church, and that isn’t how the Scriptures talk about the gathering of the saints.
In fact, the New Testament speaks very differently about the way we are to look at gathering. As early in the life of the church as Acts 2:42, we are told that the believers met together to do four key things: teaching the scriptures, praying, breaking bread, and most importantly (for our discussion) fellowship – a word derived from the Greek koinonia, which implies deep caring for one another. That’s hard to do on our own, isn’t it? In fact, the phrase ‘one another’ occurs as a directive for believers more than twenty times in the New Testament.
New Testament writers frequently speak of the church as a family, a people, and even a kingdom of priests. Martin Luther, one of the great voices of the Reformation, coined the phrase ‘priesthood of all believers’ to describe the role of each believer – which is to worship God and care for the other saints. When we see church through this lens, it gives a greater understanding of why we should make every effort to be in the company of other believers when we worship. Why?
… And Gifts For All!
When we look at the lists of Spiritual Gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4), all of them are given that we might build up the others in the body. Of course, we can do some of that over a Zoom meeting, but there is also nothing that invigorates the soul of a believer like hearing a chorus of voices alongside one’s own, singing out the joyous praises of our God! We minister to God AND to one another! Moreover, those of us who have spent far too long in discussions via online formats know that we listen and react better in person – without the awkward time delays.
Let’s Be Countercultural
Church is really an oddity in today’s culture. It’s a place where we gather with people from different social, ethnic, economic or other backgrounds - perhaps people we might never choose to spend time with. BUT… Scripture calls us a family, and family understands the need to be together in our joys and in our sorrows. And deep down, we know we need each other. Of all of the things I hear Christians yearning for, it’s a return to the togetherness of God-centered fellowship!
Jesus said the world would know we are Christians by our love for one another. Let’s not lose the opportunity to be alongside our brothers and sisters in worship - for their sake, not just our own. Gathering for worship, as we see in Scripture, is not just beneficial; it is a divine appointment – one that we need to keep in order to display to the world our love for God, and for one another!
Johnny Markin - June 2021