The Lord’s apostles called the Christians to the assembly to worship every first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). From the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection until today, his people have joined together for worship on Sunday. Christians assembled even during the terrifying days of the Black Death in the middle ages, although the numbers suffered due to death, illness, and fear.
In 2019 churches shuttered because of an illness vastly inferior to the Black Death. Now, 2 and 1/2 years later, some still have not returned. The persistent pandemic practice is to remain at home and watch worship services via streaming apps. We began experimenting with streaming several months before anyone heard of COVID. We did so for outreach but also to provide a means of worship for those who could not attend. I’m glad we did.
Those positive for COVID or with COVID in their homes should stay home. Likewise, fevers, flu-like symptoms, and many other illnesses should be treated in isolation. The stream is designed for you. Also, those who find themselves away from an assembly of believers might use the stream.
But I grow concerned when I hear of those who remain at home because they are more comfortable in their own house. Why bother with rising early, bathing, and dressing for worship services when your couch is so close and so much more inviting than a pew? Someone else may prefer the isolation of their living room because they are introverted and non-social. And, let’s face it, sometimes we’re just lazy.
So then, how do our assembly habits look to Jesus? Would he be honored by our Persistent Pandemic Practice?
1. The Assembly is From Christ
Jesus knew the frailty of humanity (Mark 9:19; 14:32-42). He knew that a man left alone in the world would soon collapse under the weight of worldly pressures. Just as animals travel together for strength and safety, we also need the support of our comrades.
No one knows us better than our Creator (John 1:3; Psalm 139:13; Isaiah 44:2, 24). His vast knowledge of humanity and his unequaled wisdom gave us the assembly. He knows we need one another.
Jesus never said, “go to church!” But inspiration did. The well-known passage, Hebrews 10:25, warns us not to skip the assembly. The church was expected to come together (1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33, 34; 14:23, 26). The very idea of communion implies an assembly of the brethren. Much as an old-style family reunion highlights relationships, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of our union with Christ and our brethren.
The assembly was not a good idea that an ancient man dreamed up. It is a divine blessing from our Lord.
2. Others Need You
The Christian faith looks inward and outward. We probe deeply into our hearts to expunge the evil and replace it with God’s holiness. But we are always looking outside of ourselves for that is where we find the objects of Jesus’ love and our service.
To be sure, there are plenty of people outside of the assembly who need our love. After all, Jesus came to call the sick, not the healthy (Mark 2:17). But our decision is not binary. We can, and should, do both. We must serve those inside, and outside, the assembly.
Christians were told by Paul,
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”Colossians 3:16
Our singing, so uplifting and joyous, is not just for us. We can be uplifted and joyous alone in our car while waiting to pick up the children after school. We are to teach and admonish “one another” and we cannot to that in the car-rider line at school.
3. You Need Others
Monday through Saturday can be a lonely time for devout Christians. We are alone in a culture where Jesus is a joke and Christians are constantly criticized. What a joy to be together with like-minded, Jesus-loving people!
Paul looked forward to his time with Christians. He wrote to the Christians in Rome, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). Each Christian I see encourages me. When we reunite, we also assemble around the Lord’s table. I know we have the “portable chalices,” but Communion (1 Corinthians 10:16) implies being together.
We need these smaller reunions at Eastern Shore to prepare for the big reunion on the Golden Shore!
4. The Assembly is a Filling Station for the Saints
Of course, the Assembly is far more than back-slapping, handshaking, and hugs. We assemble to renew our spiritual energies, to recharge our batteries. I need to be reminded of the hope that is in Jesus. I want to hear of heaven and its glories. I want my heart filled to overflowing with the love of Christ. I also need to be reminded of God’s grace and mercies that keep me from condemnation.
You can hear these things over the internet. But we know that it is not the same, especially the singing. The New Testament never talks about choirs or performers in worship. We come together to worship, and we all sing together. Participating in the lyrical sacrifice of praise fills one with comfort, joy, and peace.
5. The Assembly is a Training Class for the Saints
In the secular world, training never stops. Accountants, doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, and others must constantly sharpen their skills and be reminded of the fundamentals of their work. Christians are no different.
Eight times inspired writers spoke of reminding Christians of their duty. These reminders often came as letters intended to be read aloud to the local church. Even though many Christians had a face-to-face relationship with the apostles, they needed repeated teaching and training. We can never get enough of the teaching that comes formally from the pulpit but also from the assembled members.
6. The Assembly is a Hospital for the Saints.
Isolation is not good. It may be needful, but it is never a good thing, especially for long periods. The world will often dink us and sometimes cut us deeply because of our faith. Bear Bryant once said that “principles have consequences.” A principled Christian life is fraught with consequences. Beyond the spiritual assaults are the troubles of living in the world. Death, illness, finances, and myriad other problems beset the believer daily. God’s people can restore and rebuild one another.
Telemedicine has become popular. But tell me, would you prefer to see your doctor in person or over the internet? Saints struggle often, and we need one another to restore our spiritual health. Jesus said the hungry and thirsty would be filled (Matthew 5:6), so come and be filled!
Previously we noted that the assembly of Christians together is both a training class and a hospital for the weary believer, but there’s more.
A Closing Thought
You need to be in the assembly. If you’re back at work, grocery shopping, enjoying ballgames, going to school, or a hundred other public activities, why aren’t you in the worship assembly? The value of the worship assembly is far greater than that of a loaf of bread.
Your Lord gave us the assembly and our ancient brothers practiced assembling under much harsher conditions than we face. Please, come home. We need you.