One of the hardest and strangest things in the current Covid-19 situation is that Christians are unable to physically meet together for worship. Most of us are no doubt taking part in streamed services. We are able to hear the preaching week by week. This is something to be thankful for and I would encourage you to keep up regular attendance at the online activities of your church. Maybe you also have times of fellowship with your church families by Skype or Zoom which is great.
However, as good as Skype and Zoom may be, they do not and cannot fully replace actually meeting together. Human beings in general were created to be sociable and usually crave social contact. More than this though Christians love the company of other Christians.
The Holy Spirit knew this when He inspired the writer to the Hebrews to write the instruction – ‘Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.’ (Hebrews 10:25)
It has always been the custom of Christians, right from the days of the apostles, to meet together regularly to worship God, to hear preaching, to take part in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and for fellowship. Meeting together publicly brings glory to God. It also brings great blessing to God’s people through the means of grace (Bible reading, prayer, preaching, etc.).
To a certain extent we can do all these things via the internet. We can praise and glorify God together (although closed church doors means there is less of a public witness). We can hear sermons and receive teaching from it.
What perhaps we do not appreciate however is how much we benefit from just being together. And what we are finding out through prolonged separation is that even the best of technology cannot fully replicate this.
If we look forward to heaven and eternity all of us who are God’s people will be together with the Lord Jesus our Saviour. We will be gathered around the throne of God praising him forever. Meeting with a local church on earth to worship God is a preview of this. On earth sin will always mar things, but as we meet together we are still part of that one Church redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Separation does not alter this, but it does take away a physical experience that hints at what heaven will be like. There is so much more enjoyment in shared pleasures. We don’t tend to go out for a meal on our own and meeting as a church is meeting to feed spiritually together.
The verse in Hebrews quoted above tells us that we meet to ‘exhort one another’. This is another thing we will miss out on by not meeting together. Talking to one another about the things of God. Encouraging those who are struggling. Warning those who are backsliding. Challenging those who are distracted. Glorifying God by sharing what he has done for us. Rejoicing with those that rejoice and mourning with those that mourn. ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.’ (Proverbs 27:17). These things and especially the one to one conversations do not happen in the same way with streamed services and zoomed group fellowship.
We cannot partake of the Lord’s supper when we are separated. This special service was ordained by the Lord himself to help us to remember him and his suffering. We do this as a church, as a group of members. This time of special focus on the Lord brings great blessings. When we cannot meet around his table, we are very much the poorer.
Baptisms are also not possible during lock down. Whilst we are thankful for the ongoing gracious saving work of God, churches are denied the special time of rejoicing and encouragement they have when someone is able to take the step of being baptised. It is another way the public witness of the church is reduced. We trust that when we can meet together again these special times will take place, but for now we have to wait.
Lastly, being together with God’s people reminds us of one another and reminds us of those that are absent. Seeing people, and seeing who we’re not seeing, should in equal measure be an important input to our own private prayers for our church family. When we tune into a streamed service we do not have this anymore.
I’m not sure I’ve really done this subject justice. However, hopefully I’ve hinted at some important benefits of physically being together.
In his sovereign purposes God has seen fit to withhold these blessings from his church on the earth at this time. Maybe as we reflect on it we find that we did not make the most of the opportunities we had. Maybe going to church or chapel services was often routine. Certainly I’ve realised over the last few weeks that my understanding of, and appreciation for, actually gathering as a local church has not been what it should be. So often it is only when we no longer have something that we realise what it meant to us. We need to remember that whilst we each need a personal spiritual experience, we are not only individuals, but are members in the mystical body of which Christ is the head (Romans 12:5); and that body functions best when its parts are together.
One day, we pray we will be able to meet together again in our churches. If, by God’s grace we do, perhaps this period of separation will make us see ‘being together’ in a new light and help us to appreciate it a lot more. In the meantime, let’s wait patiently for things to change, thank God that we live in the age of the internet, make use (as best we can and as often as we can) of the means of grace via technology, and spend some time reflecting on the physical local church and just how important it is in the spiritual life and health of the believer.[A00135 – 23/05/2020]