The Importance of Gathering
To the CBC Family:
At the advent of COVID-19 in March, we would have never thought that a day would come when our church would be asked to stop in-person gatherings. But we were. Government officials encouraged all large gatherings to stop. President Trump asked all groups over 50 persons not to gather. There was a new virus that was estimated to kill 2-3 million Americans if we did nothing. So we complied. Our Elders took this seriously, not out of fear or politic, but out of love and concern for the safety of our people and in obedience to our government officials which Romans 13 commands us. We closed our doors and began online services.
I began my pastorate in the middle of the lockdown, and as I reflect on what has happened over the past months and how we should go forward as a church, I want us to consider two key, biblical questions:
Who Holds the Keys to the Kingdom?
In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks his disciples who they thought He was. Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16:16). Moments later Jesus says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (16:19).
So what are the keys of the kingdom? Keys symbolize power and authority. This imagery is applied to the risen Christ who has “the keys of Death and Hell” (Rev 1:18). Scripture teaches that government has been given civic and social authority to govern by the laws of men, and we ought to obey. It also teaches that the church of Jesus has been given spiritual authority to govern by the law of God. Through the faithful proclamation of the gospel, God opens the door of the kingdom to those who respond in faith, while also keeping it shut from those who disobey the Gospel. So, the keys of the kingdom are God’s deputized authority to his church to preach the Gospel. God’s Kingdom matters, and preaching the gospel is essential to sustaining and growing His Kingdom. No earthly authority has the right to stop the church from this task.
What Makes a Church a Church?
A local church is an assembly. If a church never meets, it’s not a biblical church. Meeting, however, isn’t just something churches do. A meeting is who we are. God has saved us as individuals but called us to be a part of Christ’s body, a gathered assembly. The word in the New Testament used for the gathered church is ekklesia, it means an assembly or gathering.
A church is a devoted, blood-bought people called to worship the Living God. We gather to listen to Scripture, fellowship, break bread, and pray. We do this by assembling together in a specific time and space.
What does the New Testament teach us about the local church gathering?
- Churches gather regularly. Paul uses phrases like “when you come together as a church” and “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23).
- A church assembly is a distinct event. This is evident because Paul provides specific instructions on what believers should do “in church”—that is, in the church meeting. “In church, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19).
- Even large churches met as one body in the New Testament era. Thousands of believers belonged to the congregation at Jerusalem, yet they met “all together in Solomon’s Portico” (Acts 5:12).
- New Testament writers instruct churches to do activities that mark a church as unique. In Acts 2:42 says…they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer!” These things happen in community, they cannot happen without gathering together.
What picture do we see here? A church is a devoted, blood-bought people called to worship the Living God. We gather to listen to Scripture, fellowship, break bread, and pray. The church is set apart and committed to the service of others, using spiritual gifts, and loving their neighbors. They do all this by assembling together in a specific time and space.
But the church is more than a gathering. It also scatters. Jesus said we are salt and light. True believers continue to be the church throughout the week—representing Christ in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods. But a church is never less than a gathering.
The Importance of Gathering
As I look across our gatherings, I see believers helping one another follow Christ through hardships, cancer, miscarriage, addiction, depression. And they are doing that by assembling together. We sing the same songs, pray together, hear the same scriptures read and preached, and share in fellowship. All kinds of people of various ages and backgrounds come together in this gathering. It may feel like a pretty normal Sunday to us, but it leaves the outside world speechless. Where else can you find such diversity of people in unity? This bright witness for the gospel is possible because Kingdom Citizens gather.
We hold the keys to the Kingdom as we gathering often for worship, fellowship, instruction and prayer. God delights to pour out his presence on his people as they gather for worship. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, meets us in a special way when we assemble.
As we consider how we will respond to COVID-19 going forward (or to any other civil or social situation), we must hold fast to these biblical, theological truths. CBC will continue to follow Romans 13 and submit to our government. We will follow health guidelines in our gatherings as set out by our government officials. But if we are asked to stop being the church—from assembling together or proclaiming the gospel, we cannot comply. Our authority and mandate comes from God, and as the early apostles stated: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b).