The outcome of COVID-19 remains to be seen. We do not yet know when the world will get back to normal, whatever that is. I have no interest in adding to the many hypotheses and analyses. There are more competent and qualified people than me to address the subject. I want to speak about something more important and more dangerous. I want to talk about the church.
Churches still have not returned fully after months of quarantine. More troublesome is one-third of people have not returned and may never come back. What happened? There are different theories. Some pastors I have spoken to see it as a salvation issue, while others see it as pseudo committed people getting out of the rhythm of church attendance.
Church attendance is a salvation issue and it is also not a salvation issue. The pastors I have spoken do not believe going to church makes one saved. Their argument is as stated: The gathering of the local body is an issue of obedience to Scripture, to reject the biblical command to gather together is a sign up an unrepentant heart. Because repentance is a sign of a believer, those who willfully reject gathering together are in unrepentant sin and not truly converted.
I am sympathetic to their line of reasoning. Everyone I have spoken to understands those who, for medical reasons, do not feel comfortable attending. We are not talking about those in that type of situation. Those who find other things to do, created new routines, or found out they liked having an extra weekend morning are the ones causing the concern.
Hebrews 10:24-25 gives clear direction to believers to gather together, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I do not think this is a time to pile on people who have enjoyed time away from church. Rather, these verses teach us that the struggle to gather together for believers is not new.
Believers then and believers now need encouragement to gather together. The writer of Hebrews tells us to consider how to encourage others. The idea of consider in the text carries with it the idea of careful, thoughtful, contemplation for the sake of others. We are supposed to use our minds to think of ways to encourage others to love, do good works, and gather together. This encouragement comes as believers gather together.
When believers gather together there are numerous benefits. They are strengthened as they worship together. The work of God is magnified through their prayers. They are comforted as they minister to one another, especially those who are suffering. They grow in holiness as they listen to the Word preached. They help send gospel missionaries and care for the poor as gather offerings. Their witness is benefited as a socially and economically diverse group of people fellowship in unity. More could be said for the benefits of gathering for mental health as it pertains to loneliness, depression, and other results to staying away from fellowship. At the very least, many people have long-standing deep friendships that are cultivated through in-person gatherings over Bible study and prayer.
Consider then, how you might encourage others to gather this Sunday. Find that friend that you haven’t seen at church in a while, check on them, invite them back. If they are concerned about health reasons, reassure them and encourage them that they are not in sin. We are living in crazy times. We need another. We need you there.