By Brad Beals
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy.” Ezra 3:12
We’ve been blessed. We have technology that lets us “commune” online. We can livestream our church services, sing, pray, hear a sermon, and even pass the plate virtually. These things are just as much a part of God’s good creation as land and sea and sky and all the life that fills them. No doubt, these are gifts to be thankful for. Thank you, Lord!
But let’s be clear: what we’ve been doing the past two weeks is far from ideal. It’s a good and wise stop-gap measure for unusual circumstances, but it is not good enough. And it must never take the place of the regular, in-person meeting of the body.
The New Testament’s teaching about what a church is assumes an actual gathering together of believers. The writer of Hebrews tells us not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Heb 10:25) In the context of church discipline, Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matt 18:20) Luke tells us that the early church devoted themselves to fellowship, “daily attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” (Acts 2:46) And Paul, throughout his letters, uses the metaphor of a body, made of separate parts but joined together in love and service to one another. None of these things happen remotely. At least not well. Back then and today, the church lives out its purpose as the church together.
In Jason’s sermon yesterday, he said that these times of isolation will reveal our hearts. Some will find that they don’t really miss being together with God’s people while others will long for it “as the deer pants for water.” Let’s be the latter. Like the old men of Judah, who knew the glory of the former temple and longed for it, let us long for the gathered church as God intended it: The people of God sitting together (actually, physically together) under the Word of God.
Thank you, Lord, for the tools that keep us connected. Help us to use them wisely, but help us also to check our hearts. As the deer pants for water, may we long for the real fellowship that the Spirit gives as Christ builds his church.