Greetings, I’d like to share with you Blair Allen’s thoughts after my open letter. Blair and I have corresponded, and I believe his insights and theological reflections are pertinent and timely. I too want to emphasize the importance of our gathering together. I had no intention of minimizing that in my open letter. y desire was simply for us to reflect on the fact that our government is trying to accommodate our perspective and that we are able to carry on our work through technology temporarily, for a season. I’m thankful for Blair’s clear and respectful communication.
Rick Schellenberg, Chair, Faith & Life Team
“Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Anabaptist concept of church was the fact that it was a gathering of the faithful, a covenantal community of saints, a fellowship (Gemeinschaft), a community of the regenerated in Christ or a brotherhood (Bruderschaft).” The Anabaptist Paradigm of Church (Gunther, 1999).
Importance of Gathering
COVID-19 has certainly been a challenging time for churches on many different fronts. Within every church there is a plethora of opinions on how the church ought to respond to COVID-19. Across our nation due to provincial restrictions some churches gather in-person each week and others haven’t been able to gather for many months. Navigating COVID-19 for the church has not been easy and as a pastor I can relate wholeheartedly.
As we navigate these challenging realities, we may diminish the importance of the gathered church. If we do, we compromise one of the very natures of the church – its gathering. We must be wise about the implications of communicating consistently that the church not gathering in-person is okay. It’s not okay.
It becomes very easy for people to think that the church gathering online is the “new normal”. Theologically, if the church cannot gather corporately (in-person), an element or part of the essence of the church is lost. Meeting isn’t just something churches do. A gathering or assembly is, in part, what a church is. God has saved us as individuals to be a corporate assembly – the family of God. Family comes together.
Individualistic cultures, such as ours, pull against the very nature of the church as a community that gathers and scatters as missionaries. A robust ecclesiology combats individualistic worship and consumer-oriented worship.
The Christian life is undeniably diminished when we are apart. When we look at the “one- anothers” in the pages of scripture (nearly sixty of them permeating the pages of the New Testament) there is no doubt we can carry out many of these in isolation. However, obeying these commands from a distance is like texting my wife at home rather than talking to her. It may have to do for a while during the day, but it is no substitute for the real thing.
A digital connection is not the same as the corporate gathering. The “ekklesia”—the assembly of the people of God—is a mark of a biblical church and we should want it, long for it, and work toward it. According to Donald Whitney, long before there was a pandemic. “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers.” It can be easy for many to settle for a pixelated version of the church. Matt Smethurst wrote, “We do not worship a pixelated Savior, nor did he redeem us to be a pixelated people. Technology in the life of the church is often a gift. God just never intended it to be a replacement.”
A Fearless Church Needs to Gather
Covid has presented many challenges for the church with restrictions on gathering. To be clear, I am not arguing that churches should never postpone in-person gatherings for a short time due to COVID-19 (key is short time and the question to ask is when does “temporary” cease to be “temporary”). I am however arguing that churches should open as soon as possible because gathering is part of the nature of the church.
Historically, there have been times when churches could not meet due to persecution, natural disaster, or disease. Today, in many places, we are in such a situation. However, the church must never cower to fear, but be ever vigilant to carry out its mission of advancing the Gospel. Consider the wise counsel of A.W. Tozer:
“A fear-stricken church cannot help a scared world. We who are in the secret place of safety must begin to talk and act like it. We, above all who dwell upon the earth, should be calm, hopeful, buoyant and cheerful. We’ll never convince the scared world that there is peace at the Cross if we continue to exhibit the same fears as those who make no profession of Christianity.”
A fearful world needs a fearless church. A fearless church needs to gather.
Blair Allen, Pastor/Planter
The Compass Church (Regina)