Is It Essential To Gather At Church
In March and April of 2020, almost the entire United States of America shut down due to Covid-19. This shutdown caused many people to question whether or not the church was an essential or non-essential entity in our communities.
Almost every church, including my own, was willing to shut down for a season in light of the scientific predictions that Covid-19 would have a death rate of close to 5%.
However, when it became apparent that those predictions were way off, and the government was labeling the church as non-essential, and continuing to demand that the church remain closed, that worship be regulated, then a serious biblical study on whether the church is essential was desperately needed.
This article is a result of my study and comes from a message I shared at my church, Mesquite Worship Center, in April of 2020.
Is the Church Essential Or Non-Essential?
In order for us to talk about whether the church is essential or not we first must have a definition of what is the church. Many people assume the church is a building because they have not thought through the question. It is not. The church may gather at a building but the church is not a building.
The church is not a business either. They may have to engage in business, but the church is not a business. It is a gathering of people. Let me show you.
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16:17-19 New King James Version (NKJV)
The word “church” in the Greek language that Jesus was speaking in is “ekklesia.”
a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly
The Gathering Was Jesus’ Idea
Jesus is the one who said He was going to build His church. He was going to build an assembly of people who have been called out of their homes into a public place. That is the definition of the church. A public assembly of citizens of the Kingdom of God.
It doesn’t matter if they meet in a building, a park, a field, or as in the case with the Roman church during a time of persecution, in caves and catacombs. It was a public gathering of people.
This declaration by Jesus causes us to ask the question. Did Jesus consider the church, the public gathering essential? I believe the answer is yes and here is the reasons why.
The Gathering Has Greater Power
Binding and loosing
Notice the last part of the verse I shared above. It talks about this gathering having the ability to bind and loose. To bind something means to restrain it or stop it from its ability to move. To loose something means to set something that has been bound or restrained free.
Jesus said that the church would restrain some things and set some things free. Now I want you to think about something here for a second. Since the church stopped gathering due to Covid-19 what has happened? Have you notices an increase in evil in our nation? Have people cast off restrain and engaged in evil behavior like rioting more brazenly? I think you know the answer to that question. Could it be that they did so because the church stopped gathering and its spiritual influence for good was removed and evil was given free rein to flourish?
What about loosing? Are people being set free from the bondage’s, mental illnesses, in our communities or are they suffering a greater amount of slavery to sin and sickness? Again I think you know the answer to this.
A recent study has shown that suicides have caused more deaths during this crisis than Covid-19.
Jesus in the midst
19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”Matthew 18:19-21 New King James Version (NKJV)
Jesus gave us a promise that when 2 or 3 “gather in His name” He would be in the midst of us. When we gather together, the presence of Jesus comes and where His presence is, His power is.
There is an exponential increase in the presence and power of Jesus with the increase of people who are gathering in His name. Since each of us is filled with the Spirit of Christ, His presence manifests to a greater degree when we gather.
The Gathering Is The Entire Expression Of Jesus To Our Communities
The church is the body of Jesus here on this earth. He is the head and we are the body. Now there are a lot of people who will say that all believers make up the body of Christ. This is true. But not all believers make up a local expression of the body of Christ. Furthermore, a body cannot be called a body if it is not gathered together. Individuals are only a piece or part of the body of Christ. They need other people gathered together to be a whole body.
3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.Romans 12:3-8
12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.1 Corinthians 12:12-27
When people do not gather or assemble together in His name, then there is not an expression of the body of Christ in the community. There are just hands, feet, tongues, legs, and some buttocks that are just flapping around. The church, the gathering, is the body of Christ.
The Gathering Is An Appointment With God
19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.Matthew 18:19
The gathering is an appointment with God himself.
- When we gather Jesus is there.
- God’s Spirit is there when we assemble.
We all know that God never leaves us or forsakes us. We know that we carry His presence wherever we go. However, that does not negate the fact that when the church gathers, God is present. Who wants to miss an opportunity to meet with God? Meeting with God is an essential part of the believer’s life and in all honesty, the life of any community.
Gathering together and having an encounter with the Spirit of God brings boldness to your life.
One of the biggest things that the people of Mesquite Worship Center noticed during the month we voluntarily shut down was that they encountered a lethargy after a couple of weeks. Their faith weakened, their zeal waned, and they became less interested in the things of God. This happened even though I provided a live stream service from my home during this time.
Why Do People Think The Church Is Non-Essential?
So how did we ever get to the point where people would consider the church non-essential? Here are a few bullet points and then I will explain each one below.
- They have taken on a secular world view.
- The church has made the gathering something other than what I talked about.
RC Sproul gives a pretty good definition of secularism. He states…
“Secularism, however, elevates the secular to the point where it is believed that nothing exists beyond that which we can see. Accordingly, secularism says there is nothing beyond this life. It denies the church a voice in society, and even if God is not denied explicitly, the secularized culture operates as if He does not exist. There is nothing transcendent to which the secular is accountable.”
Our society, including many Christians, has allowed their worldview to be shaped by this. It believes the church is relegated to “spiritual matters” and that any natural or governing matters should be left to non-religious points of view. The church should not have a voice in general society and we should not live as though God exists. Is it any wonder that this worldview would look at the church as non-essential?
I have heard this worldview expressed in various forms.
- “People do not have to go to church to pray.”
- “Maybe if the church paid taxes then they would be considered essential.”
- I can worship God in nature. I don’t need to go to a building.”
There are many more examples of this mindset.
Improper Focus Of Some Churches
It would be dishonest for me to not point out that the church has some of the blame for this. The church has been focused on the wrong things. They have focused on things that are not essential. Jesus did not say that I will build my events, pastoral superstars, programs, music, etc. and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The church that Jesus is building is the one where His citizens come out from their homes to gather together to meet Him. They will worship Him, they will pray to Him, they will learn about Him, and they will remember His sacrifice for them. This is the church, the gathering, Jesus started.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The first thing all of us, myself included, is to realize we have missed the mark. That is what the word “sin” means. We have sinned. We allowed a secular worldview to creep into our own thinking. We have twisted the desire Jesus had for the church into something that was molded by that worldview and by the natural way of thinking about the church.
Once we understand that we have sinned we need to understand how that happened. The book of James gives us a great example of how that process works.
14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.James 1:14-15
The way to repent from sin is to start with changing the way we think about things. We need to start thinking of the church as absolutely essential to us, our families, our community, and our nation. We need to replace the way we have previously thought with what lines up with the word of God.
Once we change our thinking, it will automatically start changing what we desire. We will no longer want to be entertained at church, we will no longer want to just put in our time at church, we will want to start being the church in our community.
Once our desire has changed, then our actions will change. We will start gathering to give rather than receive. We will start giving our communities what Jesus gave us at the gathering. We will start living out that which we allowed others to live out for us.
And what is that called? That change of direction is called repentance. No bawling and squalling. No great shows of remorse. Just a huge change from how we viewed and did church prior to Covid-19. We live out the essentiality of the church.