By now, most of us are weary of discussing the realities and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has created so many inconveniences and obstacles to our normal fellowship that any conversation in which it doesn’t come up seems remarkable and refreshing. But while we have all been frustrated in various ways with the effects of this virus, we also know that the Lord promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). So what might be a benefit of this pandemic for God’s people?
It was recently mentioned at our elders’ meeting that this negative situation has created a positive teachable moment regarding ecclesiology–the doctrine of the church. What does it mean to be church? Why is it so important that we remain in the biblical practices of being church? Many aspects of this doctrinal area that we may regularly take for granted have been brought to the forefront recently, specifically because of their absence. We would all do well to take hold of this moment and remind ourselves of what the church really is, and why it’s so critical that we remain active participants in it.
What is “church”?
The Greek word most often translated as “church” in our New Testament is the word “ekklésia.” Literally, this word is a compound meaning “the called out ones.” The church is the group of people that have been “called out” from the world and called to follow Jesus Christ. For this reason, members of the church in the New Testament are referred to as saints (“hágios” in Greek), which simply means “different ones” or “set apart ones.” The Apostle Peter emphasizes this when he writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
So immediately we recognize that the church is not a place, nor is it a set of particular programs, but rather the church is a people. And what’s more, it’s a people that is precious in the sight of God, having been purchased by the blood of Christ. The pictures that the New Testament uses to describe the church highlight this. In Ephesians 5 and 2 Corinthians 11, the church is described as the bride of Jesus Christ, while in many other places the church is described as Christ’s own body, with He Himself being the head.
What is the church supposed to do?
Most people think of church as the event that they attend on Sunday mornings. And there is good biblical precedent for gathering in that way! In Acts 20:7, we see that the early church was gathering for fellowship on the first day of the week. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us not to neglect the assembling together. So gathering regularly on Sunday is a good practice, but to what end does it take place?
1 Peter 2:9, quoted above, is one passage of several that notes one of the most important purposes of church–to “…proclaim the excellencies of him who called out of darkness into his marvelous light.” When we sing truth, pray truth, teach truth, hear truth, and enjoy fellowship, it is with the intention of worship. We are proclaiming the glorious realities of the God who has redeemed us from the wrath and slavery that we deserved. Worshipfully bringing glory to the Lord is one of the most important aspects of gathering as His people.
Furthermore, in Ephesians 4:11ff, the Apostle Paul explains that the leaders of the church have been given in order to equip the saints, so that we all might engage in the work of the ministry–the building up of the body of Christ (i.e. the church). Thus when the author of Hebrews gives the command that we ought to “obey your leaders and submit to them,” he is giving us a command for our own benefit.
When we come together as church, we make way for this to happen–for our elders and teachers to hold us accountable and equip us with the knowledge of the Lord and His word, so that we all can be engaged in the ministry of Christ. This is why the teaching ministry is so central at Grace Bible Church! If we want to know how to be disciples, and be equipped to go out and make disciples, we must be trained in the word.
What is my role in church?
If receiving teaching was the only purpose of gathering as church, then it would stand to reason that “church” on the couch can be every bit as effective as “church” in the pew. However, that’s not the only purpose of gathering, as the Bible makes clear with the abundance of “one another” commands written specifically to believers. Dozens of times, the Scriptures give instructions to Christians to relate to *one another* in specific and often intimate ways. For example…
- James 5:16 instructs believers to pray for and confess their sins to one another.
- Romans 12:10 tells us to love one another to the point that we attempt to outdo each other in showing honor.
- Ephesians 5:19 says that we ought to address one another in songs to the Lord.
- Galatians 6:2 states that we are to bear one another’s burdens.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 indicates that believers ought to encourage one another.
- Finally, Hebrews 10:24, immediately preceding the well known v. 25 mentioned above, commands that we stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
Nearly all of these commands can be obeyed (and should be!) outside of the doors of the Grace Bible Church building. However, being consistent and intentional about all (or any) of them would be next to impossible if we were not coming together for the purpose of worship. Covid-19 has made this more difficult, but thankfully not impossible. And as we prayerfully look towards the end of this difficult situation, it is our hope that a return to normal will come with a greater understanding of and appreciation for what God has called us to be as church.