From the Early Church, there has been a natural gathering of saints. Directly after Pentecost, the three thousand "devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). And as the Apostles proclaimed the Good News, people were saved and churches were formed. Believers assembled together as the gospel spread, forming local churches across the terrain. It is apparent why the church would be called ekklesia (Gk. gathering), for assembling is the essence of a church. Because Christ baptizes people into one body (1 Cor. 12:13), Christians organically gather as the community of God’s redeemed people.
COVID has brought a new challenge that has severed the genuine gathering of local churches on Sundays. Since March 2020, many local churches have opted for Livestream services with reasonable conviction to safeguard the physical health of their church members. Over the course of many weeks, people have adapted to "the virtual church life" and have familiarized themselves with Livestream and online gatherings. Though these virtual avenues have served us in separation, they are not able to sustain us, for they are merely artificial. With much debate on whether, and how, churches should gather today, the hope of this blog is that Christians would treasure corporate worship with the backdrop of separation.
The Value of the Gathering:
Just as God's wrath serves as a backdrop to see the depth of the gospel, the many weeks of separation should, too, serve as the backdrop to bring the true value of corporate worship. Since the departure of corporate worship, many members have probably enjoyed their non-attendance because they saw no value in it. But for those who have consistently attended, there is also a danger of discounting corporate worship. This undervaluing may come from making Sundays merely a routine activity which, thus, slowly loses its value. Our time of separation can be used to focus our attention on the value of corporate worship. Just as the earth longs for redemption (Rom. 8:19) and Christians long for the return of Christ (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:20), I hope that our separation breeds forth an eager longing to the return of the local body, the ekklesia.
So, what is so valuable about corporate worship? The worth of its value might come in two-fold.
The Object of Worship. First, its value comes from the object of our worship, God. In the epistles, we can assume that the believer had specific times by which they gathered for the purpose of worship. The Apostle Paul often used phrases that imply the regular gatherings of the saints such as, "when you come together" and "when the whole church comes together" (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23). These text help us to see that there are commands and an order of gathering and, therefore, a purpose in gathering. The general purpose of why Christians gather on Sunday is to worship God. This is a time set apart for believers with the intention to corporately worship God through the singing of songs and the hearing of the Word. Even though singing and listening to sermons can be channeled through Zoom and Livestream, there is a genuine experience when the listener interacts with the preacher; only the physical presence can produce this. Likewise, in congregational singing, only when you are present in the same room can you turn and look at the body of believers singing in one voice to worship God. And it is especially encouraging when you see that one church couple that has longed for a baby sing "Bless the Lord!" And when you turn the other way to find that one church member with terminal cancer sing, "it is well." Only the physical gathering in corporate worship can produce such a drama of the Gospel.
Means of Grace. Second, by God's will, he has provided the local church for his children as a "means of grace" to care, encourage, bless, strengthen, and sanctify the believer. Using Pastor/Elders, Deacons, and Members, God cares for the well-being of his children. Using words, God encourages His children through others. Through church finances and fellowship God blesses His children. Through the pastoral preaching and teaching of the Word of God, He strengthens and sanctifies. In its leaders and members, the local church is the instrument of God to strengthen faith and conform believers to the image of the Son. Though these things can happen outside of Sunday, corporate worship is its beginning and source.
The Gathering of the Saints:
So as you anticipate the return to corporate worship, or if you already have, may we see its value as eternal treasure. May we see that the gathering of the saints does not merely impart physical implications for the cause of "looking good", but rather a partaking of the true and spiritual food fermented in the corporate gathering of His people for the growth and vitality of His covenant members. It is the redeemed people gathering to worship their Creator and Savior while at the same time it is a proclamation to a broken and depraved world that the hope for restoration and reconciliation can only be rendered through the triune God of the universe. When we gather God is with us!
Paul Vang (BS, Crown College) is a husband to Gaonouchy Vang and a father to their son, Evan. He is currently the Associate Pastor at Calvary Alliance Church in St. Paul, MN and has served faithfully for over five years. Paul is passionate about shepherding the flock of Christ, heralding the Gospel, and discipling the saints toward conformity to Christ.