Now that we are officially creeping out of 2020, people are thinking about going back to church. 2020 was a blitzkrieg on the local church: decimating its ranks, demolishing its influence, demoralizing its leaders. (Yeah, it really was that bad.) But now we have more talk about (and actual participation in) vaccines and so there seems to be some “light” up ahead in that area. That’s got people thinking again about assembling with others on Sunday mornings. Or, at least it should. Let’s assume you or someone you know is starting to warm up to actually associating with others on Sunday, where should you go?
I suppose the first stop should be the place you’ve stayed away from: your own local church. It might be hard but try not to have a bad attitude about that place. Maybe the leaders decided not meeting was best or recorded sermons were best or some kind of hybrid meeting+non-meeting (i.e., ZOOM) was best. There was no script for how this was supposed to work out. Sure, the principles are clear: church should be our Sunday morning destination: period. “Trust the Lord.” “Do not forsake the assembly.” And so on. But, if it was really so clear, then why were churches and their decisions all over the map in 2020 and still? Give your leaders the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were right; maybe they weren’t.
So what if your place isn’t meeting and yet you are ready to get back to worship? Find another place. Look, you might think your soul is not in any real danger or that, all things considered, you weathered things in 2020 pretty well, “So, I don’t really need to meet; I can wait until my place opens.” Are you correct? Is it true that your soul escaped the Battle of Wuhan? That you really can make it: just you and Jesus?
Let me tell you a story. There was once a people whose named rhymes with “News.” They lived in a place given to them by God: a place flowing with milk and honey. God didn’t just give them the place, He gave them Himself as well. He made a covenant with them, to be God to them and to keep them as His people. He had already made that promise to Father Abraham and, in the nation of Israel, He was bringing fulfillment much closer. In Exodus 19-24, on three occasions the people said to the Lord, “All the LORD commands us, we will do; we will be obedient” (Ex. 24:7). God was faithful on His end: He drove out the nations, raised up godly leaders, installed Himself centrally in the Temple in Jerusalem and regularly made it rain.
Concerning Israel’s vows to obey? As it turns out, these were rash, childish commitments; they were the vows of a Bride unprepared for faithfulness (Jer. 31:32). Over the course of several hundred years, the people showed time and again they were more interested in chasing other gods than following the One true God. Eventually, they “destroyed” the covenant God made with them (Jer. 31:32). At that moment, with the bulk of the nation in exile, God pledged a “new” covenant. What is relevant for my point is this new covenant’s power isn’t in a person’s individual relationship with the Savior, but in the gathering of the whole community. At the beginning (Jer. 3:18), middle (Jer. 31:31) and end (Jer. 50:8), God promises to regather the people together as one as the context for this “new” covenant. The anchor point of the gift of God in the new covenant, its rebar, is the corporate church. A “oneness” the apostle Paul picks up on in Ephesians 4:
There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through and in all.
Here’s the terribly abbreviated point: God didn’t save you from your sins so you could make it a go on your own. Just “Me and Jesus” isn’t enough; it was never the design. In fact, a disdain for being one nation under God was part and parcel of Israel’s downfall. The refrain, “Every man was doing right in his own eyes” applied to Israel all the way to their exile. God didn’t give the children of Abraham’s faith a new covenant so we could be “OK” with so-called worship at home. That was the situation that led to the downfall of God’s people and it will lead to the downfall of the modern church.
So, do your part, get to church on Sunday. Hey, we’re open.