Time to come back to Church
By Gerry Straker, 18 Sep 2020
The book of Hebrews is written to Christians under great pressure, and the writer urges them to persevere and carry on meeting: 'not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.' (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).
These were Christians who were suffering (see 10:32-34; 12:3-4), and the risk of meeting together was surely greater for them than it is for us. Yet, they are urged to meet together: it’s that important, it’s that great a privilege, and it is more dangerous not to meet!
But, surely, in these times we can meet online? Yes, and thank God for the technology during lockdown that meant we could do that... sort of! But it is really not what we were designed for, and if we are satisfied with online Church something has gone wrong.
All of us need to be convinced afresh of the life-giving importance of meeting together and striving - at cost sometimes! - to do the very best we can to obey the expecations of the New Testament to meet (e.g. Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11:18), whether we are:
- In that small handful of people for whom the risks are serious;
- Haven't come back yet;
- Are wondering if coming is worth it, as things are not the same;
- Are wrestling small children on Sunday mornings;
- Or are only coming sometimes.
We need to remember, that the physical gathering of church is not a bonus for some of us who can make it, rather it’s what we were created and saved for:
- We were created physically, in the image of God, for physical relationships with one another. Communicating as disembodied ghosts with electronically reproduced voices is no substitute.
- The story of the Bible is God gathering his people - and we express that physically together.
- Physical separation is a bad thing - this is a big theme in the Bible! On the other hand, gathering is what Church is, what God is doing and why He sent Jesus.
- Jesus took on flesh and blood and was physically among us.
- Jesus suffered physically - so that we could meet physically with one another!
- Jesus rose from the dead phycially, and we look forward to meeting him physically, face-to-face, when we are raised from the dead (1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:21).
- Physical Church now, expresses and anticipates the future gathering; the physicalChurch is God’s design for all eternity!
- Christians have met physically since day one (Acts 2:42).
- Physical meetings were so important for John (2 John 12; 3 John 13-14) and Paul ( Romans 1:11; 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:6, 10; 2 Timothy 1:4; Philippians 1:26, 2:23, 28).
Putting this all together, meeting together physically ought to be the top of our priority list. Even when it is not as we want it to be (masks, no singing, no handshakes), we ought to do the very best we can.
And when we follow God’s design, there are huge blessings to meeting together:
- We can actually see each other. and that is better by far!
- We can actually see each other listening; we are hearing the Word of God together.
- There is interaction between preacher and listener - the preacher can clarify, pause, and shorten because he can see the church family responding (or not).
- We help each other listen: we concentrate better together - we don't nip out the room to do something else. We see others listening and it helps us listen.
- We respond together to the Word in wonder, or repentance or prayer.
- It’s an action that says: 'I love you; and I’ll take a level of risk because I love you.'
- It pictures the eternal gathering.
- It expresses our solidarity, empathy, and unity. Think about the difference between going to a funeral to be with a friend, or watching it online!
Wonderfully, we can meet now. Shielding has ended. Shops are open. Workplaces are open. Children are at school. And Church is open.
Of course, we are doing Church carefully and safely. Indeed, seeing schools, offices and shops, we think our measures are just as, and sometimes more, rigorous. Our Risk Assessment is on our website to download here - do read it and be reassured!
A lot has been said about the physical risks of coming back, but what about the spiritual risks of not coming back, the dangers of staying away? I know my own spiritual flabbyness these past months; we’re in danger of being spiritual couch potatoes. For some, coming back really is a spiritual battle.
We should meet while we can - it may be that we can't for a time again, in the future. And we really mustn't wait till everything is sorted - when will that be? March? And what if it's not even then?
And so, the Church by the Bay elders urge the church family to come back, to stay, and to commit.
If you are in that - very small - handful of people who really can't, please remember that it is not good for you, or your Church. Please long for and work for meeting together - it's what we should be working hardest to do in these times.
If you have returned, you are to love your brothers and sisters, and out of kindness, carefully adhere to all the measures - even if your conscience would allow more relaxation. What can you do to help the rest of the Church come back?
Let's cherish Christ by hearing the gospel together physically.
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