For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part, I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:18)
When The Church Comes Together
The church at Corinth was in turmoil. A pandemic of division had swept through the congregation on winds of personal allegiance, carnality, immorality, and disrespect for the authority of Christ. The apostle Paul had a long list of challenges that had to be addressed in the church of God at Corinth. His first letter outlined the problems with solutions given that seemed to strike a responsive chord as evident by the apostle’s second letter to Corinth. In the course of Paul’s rebuking of the manner the saints were abusing the Lord’s Supper, he established a pattern of truth that defined the New Testament church. Worship was a personal act of devotion to the Lord but it was also a collective action of the church coming together as one. Seven times in his letter Paul uses the idea of coming together to address two separate needs of the church.
The first time Paul uses the phrase “come together” is when he admonishes the married couples who were having troubles to not deprive one another of sexual relations unless they agreed to abstain from sexual intimacy for a short time; giving themselves to prayer. He then admonishes the man and woman to come together again so they will not fall to the wiles of the devil and be tempted to commit sexual immorality. The married couple cannot fulfill the design of marriage apart from one another. When God created the woman, He brought her to the man so they could be one together. The union of the man and woman as complete when they were together. Jesus said the Father joined them as one.
Addressing the problem of the Lord’s Supper, five times Paul reminds the Corinthian church that coming together was a requirement of the church. At first, they were coming together not for the better but the worst and there were divisions among them when they came together. By abusing the Supper, they were not coming together for the divine purpose of God. Paul instructs the brethren when they come together to wait for one another lest they come together for judgment. Later, as the problem of the spiritual gifts is addressed, Paul refers to the church coming together with a psalm and teaching showing that worship is a collective action of people coming together in one place for edification.
Corinth did not have the internet. The church would have been in worse shape if they did. One of the challenges of the present distress is the action and reaction to the health concerns facing the world. These concerns are real and viable. The virus that has swept the world is not a political plan to disrupt the governments of the world. Many groups have used the pandemic to further their agendas but the virus is real and people are dying. The reality is clear but the interpretations are anything but. Regardless of how a person views the present distress the challenge of the church is how to address the pattern of New Testament authority and the will of the Father regarding His church. Responsible shepherds of God’s people have addressed this pandemic in the best way they know as well as leaders of the churches who do not have that oversight. The message that must remain at the forefront of any discussion is the matter of the church coming together as directed by the Lord in His word.
A pandemic cannot change the will of God. It may rearrange the normal patterns of a local congregation but it must always be viewed as temporary. Living in Florida there are times that hurricanes close communities because of concerns for safety and well-being. Churches will not meet because of a hurricane bearing down on the area. That is understandable and needful for the church not to come together. There would be danger of demanding people get out in the storm to risk their lives. The COVID virus has become a real threat and churches have taken appropriate actions to deal with the problem. But like a hurricane, these measures must be temporary with a view of coming back together again as a church to fulfill the divine pattern of the New Testament church. God wants his people to come together to worship Him. While stopgaps were put in place at the beginning of the crisis that was necessary, leadership must find ways to bring God’s people back together again.
There are many measures now in place that can create a safe environment for saints to worship together again. All of these decisions are made on a personal level by the needs of a local community and how that can best be served. No group has the right to judge another group in how they are responding to the virus as every situation is different. What is common among all the saints is the admonition to come together as God’s people. This must be done with the greatest care and wisdom for all those concerned. There have been many lessons on how to bring this about but bring this about it must be done. Worship by the proxy of the internet is not the purpose of the Lord. Too many families have become too at ease with this means of televising the services. Leaders must look for the means to return the local family of God to its rightful place of assembling together. Members must respect and honor the leadership in submitting to the role given those who shepherd the flock of God. Paul exhorts all Christians to esteem others better than themselves and be like-minded with the same love, being of one accord, and looking out for the interest of others. Like it says on many packages: assembly required.