During the shutdowns in Canada in response to the pandemic, a government health official called a pastor friend of mine at his church to check on their compliance with restrictions on meetings. The mandates were so restrictive that my friend explained to the health official that the constraints were forcing his church to decide between obeying God and obeying civil authority.
The health official then asked him genuinely, “Why is it so important that you meet as a church?” And with that invitation, my friend shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her and explained why it’s so vital that we meet together.
Those who don’t yet know Christ may not understand why followers of Jesus are compelled to gather as a church. That’s understandable. But we should be concerned that so many Christians have forgotten why we meet and have opted for a virtual worship service online in the comfort of their living room.
Admittedly, there are Christ followers who are unable to leave their homes for physical or health reasons. But that exception does not negate what the Scripture says about our need to meet face-to-face with other believers.
The persecution of the church is on the rise all over the world. In many countries like China, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Nepal, Nigeria, and Eritrea church buildings are being burned, pastors imprisoned or murdered, and members of those churches are persecuted. Yet, they are willing to risk their lives to gather. Why?
Why take such enormous risks over meeting with other followers of Christ if that need can be met in the quiet of their living room? What compels these dear brothers and sisters to defy their governments and cultures to assemble as a body of believers? Why are persecuted Christians so intent on meeting that they risk losing everything—including their lives? Why do we gather at all? What’s the big deal about meeting together in person as a church?
Let’s look to God’s Word to answer these questions.
First, the Greek word for “church” used in the New Testament is ekklesia. This word means “a gathering” or “assembly.” By its very definition, the church is a local gathering or assembly of Christ followers. The church is a gathering of its people, not a building.
Second, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Jesus is building His church. He continues establishing local assemblies of His followers all over the world. This is His plan, not ours. This has been His plan throughout the ages. Nearly all the letters in the New Testament were directed to churches, local assemblies of believers.
Third, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned His followers (that applies to us too) to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” One of the things He taught us has to do with how we restore a wayward brother or sister to fellowship in the church family (Matthew 18:15-20). The church (gathering of Christ followers) plays a significant role in our relationship with Christ.
Fourth, Jesus explained to His disciples that the world would recognize us as His disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35). We must express and demonstrate our love in the context of real-life relationships, something that we can neither practice or display to the world when we’re hunkered down in our easy chair in front of the TV.
Fifth, all or nearly all the fruit of the Spirit are relational: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These relational character traits can only be learned in the context of relationships. We may not like to admit it, but we need to rub shoulders with that abrasive brother or sister in Christ because that’s the only way we’ll learn forbearance, gentleness and self-control.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24) Relationships with others is necessary for spiritual transformation. Also, we need to hear each other’s stories and see how God is working in all our lives.
Sixth, if everyone is home “doing church” virtually, there is no expression of spiritual gifts, no serving one another, no body life. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) How are we benefiting the church family with the spiritual gifts God has given us if we refuse to meet with them?
Seventh, worship as a church is a collective experience. Paul urged the church at Colossae, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16)
Eighth, the Lord warns us “not to give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) As the return of Christ draws near, we should be even more intent on meeting together!
My intention is not to be heavy-handed or to guilt anyone into gathering with their church family. Instead, consider that Jesus knows what is best for us. He knows what we need most to deepen our relationship with Him and with others. And to that end, He is establishing His church all over the world.
We need to reboot and refresh our view of church and our gathering together more now than ever. We need each other. Meeting together is both a privilege and a responsibility!
“To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)
Pat Schaffer says
Staying connected and meeting is essential. We draw strength in gathering together. I agree, Christ is still calling us to gather. I love the comparison to underground churches in other nations. Also to the “extra grace required” brothers and sisters in Christ (I know I am certainly one of these at times). Are we truly trusting in Christ or on cruise control? Not always clear but a worthy question for each of us to ask.
Russ Yoder says
A lot to think about. Good stuff, Rob!