This has been the adjustment that the Church made during the COVID pandemic which began in March 2020. As I write this, many governments have lifted the bans on public gatherings. In Kenya, the ban was initially lifted in July and people began gathering – though within the social distancing protocols and age limits – those above 6 years and those below 65 years.
A Low View of Church
By now, many churches have reopened. But in some churches, people have been returning rather hesitantly. The interesting thing is that people are going to malls, to the market, to get-togethers but not to church. Clearly then, it is not an issue of safety, especially for those within the legal age bracket, but an issue of comfort.
Underneath this comfort, is the reality of a low view of church.
We have conceived of the church to be less than a mall, a market and a party. To many, the church is not just an option among many, but a low-ranking option among many. This is something that has been there for a long time, but COVID has exposed it. Some do not go for Sunday worship service based on the fact that God is everywhere, and thus worship is the stuff we do Monday to Saturday. Rightly so. But then this is only one side of the coin.
In this article, I wish to highlight a few reasons why we gather for Sunday worship:
1. We gather because this is the pattern of the people of God
In the Old Testament, the people of God gathered together in a physical space (tabernacles and temples) to worship God – through reading of the Word, offering of sacrifices, singing songs and prayers. In the New Testament, although the temple system has been rendered obsolete, as Christ is now the new temple, the great High Priest and the Sacrificial Lamb, then when we gather we are gathering in the name of Christ (Heb 6:19-20, Heb 7:23-28). The early churches gathered together to do similar things – to hear the Word read and preached, to sing, to pray, to receive the Sacraments of the Supper and Baptism as well as church discipline (Acts 2:4247, 1 Cor 11:33, 1 Cor 14:26, 1 Timothy 2). Gathering together has been the pattern of the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the ages.
2. We gather because we are commanded by God in his Word
The second reason is that we gather in order to honor God’s command. Words like “commanded” may rub us the wrong way especially because we have an excessive view of “grace”. The grace of God is always to lead us to obedience:
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!
Grace is not just undeserved favor but it is God’s power to live upright lives. Therefore, in the Word we are called to receive God’s grace but also to keep his commands (John 15:10). And God never commands something he does not give us the grace to do.
We gather because we are commanded:
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.
3. We gather in order to edify one another
Thirdly, when we gather we build each other up. But you may object that we do so during the week. And yes, we do. But God has designed fellowship with the body to be a means of growing in grace. That is why the underlying reason in the command of Hebrews 10:24 is “to stir up one another” (ESV) or “to motivate one another” (NLT) or “to spur one another” (NIV). The purpose of gathering is to encourage one another.
The wider context of the book of Hebrews is important. Written to suffering Christians in order to encourage them on the need for persevering in the faith, the gathering was a central element for this to happen. The various warning passages in Hebrews (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29) are written to encourage the Christian on. And one of the means of going on the Christian life is gathering together.
Since the gifts of the Spirit have been given for the building up of the body, they have their effect when each of us uses their gift in an orderly manner in the gathered congregation (1 Cor 14:26-26). Building up is the main aim of the gathering of the body of Christ in a local church (Eph 4:7-14). When we gather, we are edified.
4. We gather ultimately to worship God
While the previous point looks at the horizontal reason for gathering, this fourth point looks at the vertical reason. Worship is never just about “the worship music”. Worship is never about “what I prefer”. The starting and ending point of worship is God. That is why John Frame defines worship as follows:
Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant LordJohn Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Study of Biblical Worship, 1
The words that are rendered as “worship” in the Bible cover two aspects: work / service and bowing / reverence. Because the chief object of our worship is God, we gather to ultimately worship God. Worship as work was the service rendered by the Old Testament priests in their temple worship. Worship is also honor given to a supreme person. In the Ten Commandments that are the rule of how God’s people are called to live, the preface begins by “I am the LORD your God” (Ex 20:2) showing that ultimately, God is unique (Ex 20:3) “you shall have no other gods before me”. That is why the concept of worship in the New Testament carries over these ideas of service and reverence. And therefore the elements of worship are about God:
- When we pray, we speak to God.
- When we sing, we express our relationship to our covenant God.
- When we read the Bible and hear it preached, we listen to God.
- When we give offerings, we are responding with our gifts to God.
- When we take oaths of membership or service, we are making covenant with God and his people.
Our gathering on Sunday is something special
Yes, God is ominpresent and we are called to worship him everywhere (John 4:21). But whereas this is the broader sense of worship, the narrower sense of worship is within a local body.
When we gather every Sunday, God meets us in a special way so that in essence “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:26).
We gather together as this is the pattern of all the people of God in history. And as we gather, we gather with all the saints and angels of God through Jesus Christ, our mediator (Heb 12:22-24)
We gather in response to God’s Word that commands us for our good.
We gather in order to edify one another, through expressing our Spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:26-27)
We gather in order to worship God through singing, praying, reading, listening, admonition, offering, covenanting and receiving God’s tangible grace through the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
We gather because our Christian life is centrally to be lived out in the context of a local community of believers. When you are tempted to add a new tab to join your online worship gathering, do the even better thing of gathering physically.
Your growth in grace is dependent on it.