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Why The Gathered Church Is So Important
I have now been preaching to an iPhone camera with basically only my family and a few others in the room for weeks.
COVID19 has changed everything, and that includes how we observe the Lord's Day.
For weeks, churches across the country have tried all manner of things to get some connection among their people. Although this is a difficult time, this circumstance gives us a good opportunity to think through what a Lord's Day gathering is actually for, and what it is.
Reading through the Scriptures, we get the clear picture that the church assembled on Sunday is:
primarily for believers;
is a physical gathering;
is a command which should drive our longings in these days;
the primary occurrence where Christ is known with His people;
and the primary place where God nourishes His saints.
Let's think briefly about these. Gathered worship of the Christians is patterned in the Scriptures as occurring on the Lord's Day, or Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10). This is the gathering that the Scriptures speak of when the assembling of believers is commanded (Hebrews 10:25), and is the primary focus in view when the Scriptures say that Christ stands among His churches (Revelation 1:13).
Small groups, virtual Bible studies, FaceTime and Zoom meetings are helpful additions to this, but they are not the assembling of believers. The assembling of believers is patterned after a sanctioned day, with sanctioned leaders, physically gathering with particular practices in view. This gathering is a physical gathering where physical things occur such as Baptism and the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7), and this gathering is given a particular leadership, which is to be present when these physical things occur (1 Corinthians 4:1). The sacraments, along with preaching and prayer, are the chief means the Lord ordinarily uses to nourish his sheep (cf: LBCF 14.1).
This gathering is one where Christ is pictured in the Scriptures as THE worship leader, leading converted Saints in the worship of the Triune God (Hebrews 2:10-12). While we should have gospel proclamation to unbelievers, the Lord's Day gathering is primarily for believers and Christ specially meets with them and leads them. These realities ought to cause us to see that what we have in the meantime, at best, is incomplete and thus we ought to long for our churches to come together soon. You ought not observe Lord's Supper on your own, for the very instructions require a coming together of the people, as a church (which must have leaders present). Your small group, while a precious meeting, is not THE meeting of which the Scriptures place primacy upon. The sermons you hear through the computer during these COVID19 days are nourishing, but they are not the full reality of what the Scriptures envisioned as the people gather.
We are like those in exile then (Psalm 137). We are those who are being taught increasingly in this time to long for the worship of God in His courts with His people (Psalm 42; Psalm 122:1). And, we are those who, if we embrace this season of being away from all that the Scriptures envision as gathered worship, will have a glorious reunion on our first gathering back among God's people (Psalm 126). And when we do, we will look unto the greater reunion to come (1 Corinthians 11:26). What if among all the challenges, sacrifice, and suffering, COVID19 is actually being used to cause God's people to long for God's gathered worship...?
Article by J. Ryan Davidson, Pastor/Elder of Grace Baptist Chapel, Hampton, VA
J. Ryan Davidson (Ph.D. cand., Free University of Amsterdam) is the pastor of Grace Baptist Chapel, a Reformed Baptist Congregation in Hampton, VA. He holds degrees from Samford University (B.A.), The College of William & Mary (M.Ed.) and Southern Seminary (Th.M.) in Louisville, KY. He is married to Christie, and they share four wonderful children.