Church buildings collect, that's a part of what they do: Ideas on ecclesiology in a pandemic Change

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Churches around the world have started to reopen for personal gatherings (although some have already closed due to an increase in COVID 19 cases). In the past few months you have probably seen or read countless tweets and posts on the following ideas: "The church was never closed" or "The church is not a building; it is a people."

Because of me.

Yes, the church is a people – the "proclaimed", which in ancient times was more of a political description. But I only half agree with the premise that "the church was never closed" regarding the closing of personal gatherings during the COVID 19 crisis.

The church assembly has been closed in many cases, and there is no contradiction in considering this as a bad and a necessary thing.

We need to think more about how important collecting really is.

The church

Like God's mission, the Church has a centripetal force and a centrifugal force – it has both a gathered and a dispersed function. And when people argue that the church was never closed, they say in my opinion that this “new normal” of not being able to assemble is acceptable.

I don't think that's the best way to think about it.

From an theological point of view, an element or part of the nature of the church has been closed if the church cannot gather together (personally). And in line with closing, we need to prioritize opening – and consider closing to be a poor practice that needs to be remedied at some point.

To put it bluntly, I'm not saying that churches should never postpone personal meetings because of COVID-19. And I'm not arguing that churches should be reopened as soon as possible.

Here I would simply like to mention four (broad) theological categories as reasons why gathering with the saints is an integral part of New Testament ecclesiology, and therefore argue that one element of the church was closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

And that we should be longing for reopening when we are currently closed.

First, the church is the Ekklesia.

At a time when culture is rapidly being digitized, the church must not lose its analogous – assembly – nature. The Greek word ekklesia means "exclaimed". In antiquity, especially in Athenian democracy, the Ekklesia (often) gathered to inform its body policy – public policy – as a city-state.

Applied to the church, the church is the assembly of the kingdom of God, united under King Jesus, which assembles for:

  • Sing songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)
  • Pray (Mt 21:13)
  • Preach / Teach the Word (Eph. 4: 11-12; 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4: 2)
  • Observe the ordinances (1 Corinthians 11:26) and thus
  • Worship the king corporate.

I understand that many would respond and say that they do it online. They "gather" to sing, pray, preach / teach songs, and even practice baptism and fellowship (in some form). I know that the local church that I belong to has done these things.

But let me ask you a question: would you really call that a meeting with your family every day? If you received Marco Polos (an app for sending videos) from your wife and children every day, would that really count as a composite? Would that be really sustainable? What if you only saw your siblings as a child via video chat?

When I watch the church on video, I long to be with my family.

I'm just not convinced that the digital connection is the same as the company meeting. This could be the reason why, according to Barna, online participation is falling. However, this does not mean that churches should not continue to use the digital platform as a service and mission tool.

In short, the Ekklesia – the assembly of the king – is a sign of a biblical church, and we should want it, yearn for it, and work towards it.

It cannot be okay to stay away, even if we have to stay for a while for our community and our neighbors.

Second, collecting is part of a federal community.

We have to gather with feet and faces, not just with electrons and avatars. In addition, collecting is of central importance for the identity of the Church as a federal community.

We can be the Church without meeting for a certain time – millions are in such churches right now. Churches do not cease to be churches if they lack a sign of the church. For example, biblical leadership is a sign of a church, but a church that has been without a leader for a period of time does not cease to be a church.

However, what is normative should be followed. Churches without biblical leadership should try to raise such leaders. And churches that don't meet should not only gather for a long time, but also try to meet in some form.

One reason is that we have to be in fellowship with one another to gather for worship (which in our context typically means weekend worship and small groups).

In an article I wrote about membership, I explained:

"We find in Paul's letters to the Church in Corinth that they took people out of the body. So Scripture teaches that we can be part of the body and that we can be separated from the body. It is difficult to bypass Scripture when it comes to being brought into and taken out of the body.

And yet, for most churches, there is no way to take someone out because they are not even in the church. While there appears to be flexibility among different bodies, there is no church in the New Testament without some recognition of belonging – community membership. "

An online community makes such accountability difficult, if not impossible. For many, they don't use their own names on the screen, and we rarely present our true self online.

I know that accountability and church discipline are not popular topics in the church these days. Although they are not popular, they are still biblical. And the Bible describes accountability and discipline within the assembled church.

I don't see responsibility and discipline happening outside of a gathered community of believers. Imagine you want to educate your children virtually. How would that develop? The physical distance between you and them would become a barrier. The same applies to the church.

Third, part of the discipleship happens within the Oikos – the "household of God".

There are so many discipleship tools – books, articles, sermons, online resources, podcasts, and Bible studies to name a few – that can be used in isolation to help someone grow on their path with Jesus.

While believers should take personal responsibility for their discipleship, they must remember that discipleship ultimately does not happen in isolation. True biblical discipleship is a community effort or “group sport”. This understanding is as old as the Trinity.

I know that some will point to technological platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout, and how they offer space for digital connection. I totally understand that. I think churches should use such platforms as tools to facilitate discipleship.

At its core, however, discipleship is about the family (oikos – household) of God gathering to learn what it means to conform to the image of Jesus and to learn what it means to understand the glory of God in to reflect all areas of life.

Discipleship is therefore the convergence of Imago Dei and Missio Dei, which was concretized in Domus Dei.

Can you imagine Jesus disciplining 12 through zoom? I could not. I could see that he was using the digital platform as a tool, but not as a model. Discipleship requires closeness and presence, which is the ultimate reason why it is important to gather with the Saints.

We should see the online community as a tool, but not as a standard for discipleship.

Fourth, the church (gathered) is a place where God meets with his people.

Since the Garden of Eden, God wants to live in the midst of his people. If you skip ahead in the scriptures, you will see God dwelling among the people through the tabernacle and the temple.

And at the very end – the beginning of all eternity – we read: "Look, God's dwelling is with mankind, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God" (Revelation 21: 3).

So if God wants to live among his people, where does God's presence manifest today? Given that Jesus was the incarnation of God's presence and the Church was born of the Kingdom as the Body of Christ, the Church today would be the term for God's manifest presence.

Sure, while each believer is a micro-temple (1 Cor 6: 19-20) that the Spirit of God dwells in while being sent and absent-minded, it is the church (or local churches) that is the name for God's Shekinah Glory lives as they gather as the king's gathering.

Jesus said that he would build his church (Matthew 16:18). We also read in places like Ephesians 2: 19–22 and 1 Peter 2: 5 that the Church is God's temple and spiritual home.

So I would argue that God reveals himself uniquely when believers "gather" at the corporate service – through songs, prayers, teaching, giving, and following ordinances – compared to what he does in private worship.

According to Donald Whitney, there was long before there was a pandemic.

"There is an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by observing worship. There are some graces and blessings that God only gives in" meeting "other believers." (Spiritual Disciplines, 92)

Tim Keller also has something to add about the gathering of saints for worship. Keller believes that "something unique (with believers) happens in corporate worship" that doesn't happen otherwise (in the service of a movement).

Collect things.

In the end, Christians do not get to "watch" the church what they do when they are "together" with the church. Collecting is part of what makes a church a church.

There must be essential reasons for this to be restricted. In the past, there were times when churches could not meet due to persecution, natural disasters, or diseases. Today we are in such a situation in many places.

While one aspect or function of the Church is to be dispersed – to live on a mission by sharing and sharing the gospel – another aspect or function is to gather with the people of God to build and build the body .

And it is this function in its entirety that has been "closed" or prohibited for many in this block.

Collect matters

So what now?

I do not demand that churches open indiscriminately, but we mourn when we cannot meet. Let us know that something is wrong. Something essential is missing. And we can hardly wait for all the risks to be gone until something so essential is taken up again. It is important to acknowledge the loss and longing for recovery. We should tell our people so that they can hear how we value this gathering. Collecting must not be neglected causally. It is part of who and what a church is.

It also means that we should gather when we can. Maybe that's with 25% capacity and masks, or with people in different rooms or in house churches in courtyards or else. Collecting shows what we value and takes steps to restore what is central to church life. Careful collecting shows that we care about our people and our community.

Every congregation is different, and local churches need to be critical and have these conversations with their local authorities. However, it is valuable and appropriate to find ways to meet – whether in scattered house churches or in carefully created worship opportunities. It is not my job to say what everyone should do everywhere, but the place of assembly in the life of the Church is important to writers, and it should be important to us.

In the church

On Easter Sunday, Beth Moore tweeted, "Next year in church."

Of course I would like this assembled church to be realized long before Easter, but the tweet resonated with me and many others because it was expressed. This longing applies not only to Easter, but to the worship itself.

A legitimate understanding of the Church should not result in the Church meeting being rejected casually. It should be central, essential and aligned with it.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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