The Church Gathers Together

The Church Gathers Together
I was driving to the office one morning earlier in the week deep in thought but sort of listening to a Christian radio station. I wasn’t listening in a focused way because my mind was full. However, as the station hosts began inviting people to call in and give their opinions about whether they would continue worshipping at home via livestreaming or return to gathering as a church in person once it was reasonably safe for them, my focus suddenly shifted to what was being said on the radio station. In response, I thought to myself, our opinion and preferences may be important on some things but why is gathering as a church in person up for debate? The Bible must take precedence over our opinions, right? So then, let’s look to the Bible. What does it say? HE 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
At that point, I was trying to remember the number to call in to the radio station but I couldn’t so I just continued to drive but listening with a heaviness in my heart. I wasn’t angry, just sad and stunned. I just wanted to call in and share scripture and encourage people to love God and obey His word. Although, I must say, most of the people that called in were reported to have said that they will go back to gathering with the church in person once they feel safe. I was relieved to hear the host report that. However, then she said, we are interested in hearing from those who have a different “opinion.” She went on to explain that she wanted to hear from those that prefer to worship at home via television or livestreaming. Again, I thought to myself, this is a great opportunity to direct people to scripture that explains “gathering as a church” but instead the station hosts were intent on discussing opinions. WOW. Really? It’s kind of like the modern news. It’s no longer about the truth (who, what, when, where, why and how) but a more subjective style of reporting often steeped in a sample of opinions.
Again, opinions are acceptable if we’re talking about paint and carpet colors but not on par or in place of the truth of scripture. So let’s get to the scripture. Why does the writer of Hebrews admonish us not to “neglect to meet together?” Actually, he answers this for us. We are commanded to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” and “encourage one another.” I realize we can text, call, message, email, Facetime, ZOOM or use a variety of other modes but the essence of this scripture cries out for the necessity of being personally responsible to one another. Even the word “consider” means to concentrate your attention. You’ve probably heard this before from many sources but allow me to say it here. We can’t go to a destination for an event and accurately call it church. Why? We are the church. It may seem like a subtle, insignificant difference to some but hear me out. If you are more like a so-called “fan in the stands” when you gather as the church, then you might not notice a big difference in worship via livestreaming and gathering together. If that is the case, I encourage you to engage in living out the scripture. God has more for us than relegating ourselves as a bystander or a spectator. If you serve and worship the one true God when we gather as the church, and we all rightfully should, you know the difference down deep in your bones. You know the impact of personal and intimate relationships formed as we gather together whether in small group or corporate worship.
Going deeper in the scripture, how do you “stir one another to love and good works?” First, it is done together through relationship. That is why the scripture text says, “not neglecting to meet together.” Second, love means to take action to unconditionally meet the need of another person. The word used in the Greek manuscripts is AGAPE which is translated as LOVE in the English translations. The use of the English word love is often watered down immensely as we use it in our culture. For example, we love, love, love our new car but we also say we love our family. We know the use of the word love means something different in these examples but many would not be able to explain the difference. Why do I say that? Well, we often use the English word love to explain how we feel about something or someone. Therein lies the problem. Agape is not a feeling or emotion. Instead, it is an act of our will. Therefore, we “stir one another to love” in relationship as we unconditionally serve the needs of one another independent of how we feel. For that matter, studying and worshipping together, centered in the transforming power of God’s word, goes a long way in “stirring one another to love” and “encouraging one another.”
Please notice the writer of Hebrews uses the action verbs “stirring” and “encouraging.” When I served in the military, early in my career when they were still alive, I would occasionally call my grandparents to talk and update them. This was always an encouragement to them, and me for that matter, with some level of impact. But when I showed up at their house in my uniform, we hugged and cried and laughed and ate together and shared stories. The impact was off the charts. We were all encouraged to say the least. Similarly, I talk to people on the phone, text, and send letters and emails but that pales to face-to-face gatherings. If that is hard to believe for you, just ask some of our COVID19 shut-ins. On the one hand, they are thankful to join us in worship via livestreaming, but on the other hand, they have relayed to me that they can’t wait to be back in person with us as soon as it’s reasonably safe for them.
As I said, the Bible, the truth, must take precedence over our opinions and even our preferences. After all, it is breathed out by God (ref. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). You may be comfortable on Sunday morning sipping your latte and sitting on your couch in your pajamas as you worship via livestream. You may even prefer it as a matter of comfort and convenience. But, the truth is, the church gathers together. We gather together for worship, study, fellowship and service. It is a matter of effectiveness and obedience to the word of God. It is part and parcel to our responsibility to one another in “considering how to stir one another to love” and “encouraging one another.” With that said, let’s gather together and be the church.

A Work in Progress,

Pastor Gene