This past year and a bit, Christians discovered a new way of interacting and socializing at the spiritual level, thanks to GoToMeeting, Webex, Zoom, Skype, YouTube Live, and yes you may add the one your church has been using to stream your church services. When the pandemic forced us to stay home, we were thankful that though there was disruption there was no interruption in our services.
However, now it appears that these and many other technologies that have sprung up are no different from the thorns in the Parable of the Sower that could potentially choke the tender plant of biblical fellowship.
So how do we handle this challenge?
WE ARE NOT DIGITAL BEINGS
If online church services, company meetings, family get-togethers, and social gatherings have taught us something over the past year it is this — we are not designed to be digital beings. We are social beings. We can do short bursts on the Super Information Highway but have to quickly get off, to ride along roads that cut across idyllic farmlands and rich meadows filled with face-to-face human interactions.
Sure, the introverts among us may object — “No, don’t count on us to get off the highway, we are quite okay. We are not starving for human company or fellowship.” And it may be true for a good handful, but the rest are in denial of the rising statistics that they have inadvertently become part of. Increased isolation is driving an increase in mental health concerns. Decreased human interaction has been damaging. The initial euphoria of non-commute mornings, meetings in pajama bottoms, and home-cooked lunches have given way to sore arms and achy backs due to limited mobility and longer hours at the desk. Even the time saved on commuting has been quietly stolen by additional work meetings. Work has squeezed itself into our homes. Inadvertently it has lengthened our non-physical, non-social time. We are discovering we are not designed to be digital workers, at least not exclusively.
What about church? Or more accurately, what about being the church? How would that look for us going forward?
Is the comfort of the online church to be preferred over the angst of getting the family ready to go to church? Add to it the threat of fleshly displays when the family runs late for church.
Is the joy of lazing around the television for the feed to start better than physically gathering around the Lord’s Table to feed together at the Supper?
Will gathering as a family unit replace the gathering of the family of families, the household of God?
GOD COULD HAVE ADDED THIS IN DESIGN
On one hand, we are thankful that God allowed technology that enabled us to have online services. However, on the other hand, it must be considered that if this was to be the norm, God would have worked it into His design. We could have been less of a social being and more of a self-dependent individual. We could have had children who were self-sufficient from the time they were born. If baby sea turtles can, why not us? God could have designed our Christian faith to be less communal. He could have brought us to Himself as individuals and left us there without bringing us into the family of God. However, the Bible from the beginning to the end is filled with relational language. Relationships are intentional.
In addition to the idea that “what technology has made possible this past year, God could have designed,” there are multiple verses that bear witness to the beauty of gathering as the body of Christ. Gathering is not just physical and temporal but it points to an eternal reality. For isn’t it true that our periodic earthly gathering is but a memory jogger of that future gathering of the saints around God’s throne?
Matthew 18:20: For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
Hebrews 10:25: . . . not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
1 Corinthians 14:26: What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Also, the phrase “when you come together” appears five times in 1 Corinthians 11. Unfortunately for the Corinthian church, these references about their coming together aren’t complimentary. Would it have been better for them if they had met online instead? Sorry, bad idea!
WHY IS THE GATHERING OF THE SAINTS IMPORTANT?
The truth of the Ephesians 2:11-22 passage was visibly evident in that local assembly to whom the epistle is addressed. The gospel of Jesus Christ had made it possible that the Jew and the Gentile now sit on the same pew. They eat at the same table and even share their food. They are found under the same roof gathered together in the name of the Lord. This was unheard of.
Each time the church gathered it was breaking social norms by glorifying God through its unity. The broken wall of hostility that previously divided them but now removed was starkly visible at each gathering.
SEE WHAT HAS THE LORD DONE?
Read from the beginning of chapter two. For it tells us what Jesus did and why our gathering together is so precious and how it transcends the physical. In summary, this is what it tells us, speaking to us directly as it were:
We were dead in our sins, in which we walked, doing what the world did, having the prince of the power of the air as our leader, like the rest of the sons of disobedience. To top that we did what we wanted with our bodies and our minds, as children of wrath (2:1-3). To us, God showed rich mercy (v.4) and made us alive in Christ, and us He saved by His grace (v.5).
As if such rich mercy was not enough, God raised us up from the dead with Christ and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ (v.6), so that in the coming ages, God will show us immeasurable riches of His grace (v.7). It goes on to then say we are “His poetry” — We are His poem in Christ Jesus (v.10).
WHAT ARE WE TO DO?
Having been reminded of what Jesus has done, we are now asked to walk in the good works for which we were saved. Now here’s the kicker. This being saved for good works and walking in them is in the context of the local church (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Paul explains that since the vertical reconciliation with God has been made possible in Christ Jesus, the horizontal reconciliation is now made possible (vv.13-15).
It is because of what Christ has done that the dividing wall of hostility has been broken (v.14).
Jews and Gentiles have been made one. There is now peace between them (v.15).
We are all fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (v.19).
Paul writing to the Galatians reiterates this emphasis:
Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are uall one in Christ Jesus.
OUR GATHERING IS UNIQUE
Our gathering in the Lord’s name is not a religious rite, as much as it is a family gathering — the coming together of the household of God.
It is a unique gathering, for nothing in this world compares to this gathering.
Oil and water have become one.
The gathering of the saints is the answer to Jesus’ prayer:
John 17:2:. “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
We have been made one in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
What you see in the gathering is the evidence of the impossible.
A piece of heaven because of the peace of heaven shared among those gathered.
An implausible family gathered as one because there is both the peace with God and the peace of God (Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:7).
OUR GATHERING IS AN ECCLESIA
The irony is that our gathering is a coming out. We gather as people who have been called out from the world to be a people of God. And each time we gather, we demonstrate just this: that we are a called-out people. As we leave the comfort of our homes to gather around the Table, we signify that we are those who have left the world behind.
OUR GATHERING IS A FOOT ON THE DEVIL’S NECK
Each time we gather we remind ourselves that the devil is a defeated foe, for we gather in the name of the Victorious One. When we gather and greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16), we are reiterating that our celebration will soon be full when the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20).
THE COMMUNION IS IN COMMUNITY
As individuals, we do not sneak off into the kitchen to grab a piece of bread and find a cup of wine in remembrance of our Lord. The elements are participated as a family — as a church family.
The bread and the wine together are called the Communion. Communion means sharing or exchanging in a group. One person does not make a communion.
Further, the uniqueness is that this communion of the saints is with our risen Lord in our midst.
WE ARE THANKFUL FOR TECHNOLOGY, BUT…
We are thankful that God allowed us to meet online last year in spite of adverse circumstances.
However, we also acknowledge in our gathering together today as we “remember the Lord and to show forth His death” that this gathering is both irreplaceable and unmissable until we are gathered around the throne.
Viji Roberts serves with New Life Bible Chapel, Mississauga, Canada, where he was part of the church plant team and now as one of the teaching elders. Before entering the Lord’s work, he was employed for over 20 years as a corporate trainer in many countries and across industries. He has authored two books, ‘My Son: Wisdom of Solomon, Inspiration of God‘, and ‘In His Steps: Walk Where Jesus Walked’. Viji lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife, Joyce, and his son, Daniel.
Viji also serves with www.BiblicalEldership.com. BER provides teaching, resources, training, and mentoring for current and future church leaders.