Churches have been gathering since the ascension of Christ. Many have done so openly and freely and others have hidden for fear of persecution. But why gather? This is an especially relevant question for each Christian to consider in light of the availability of what is known as the “virtual church.” Why gather with a physical congregation when it’s much easier to stream a message online, sing songs of your own choosing, and partake of personal communion?
Gathering in God’s Presence
God is present in all places at all times. But he also chooses to make his presence known among his people when we gather. Jesus made this very plain. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). The Spirit of Christ is present as we gather. Now think about this for just a moment. What an amazing truth! The God of the Universe who was incarnate as a man, who suffered, died and rose from the dead—this Jesus promises to be present when two or three of his called out ones are gathered in his name. Paul was so convinced of this that he told the church in Corinth that when they were assembled in the name of Jesus, the very power of Jesus was present (1 Cor. 5:4). Failing to gather robs us of the presence and power of Jesus for our Christian lives.
Gathering to Spur On
Gathering is based on an assumption about our fallen nature: we need one another. This means that you and I need more than a message or songs, we need people in our lives and people need us in theirs. Here’s the encouragement from Hebrews, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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” (Heb. 10:24-25). Some being addressed in these verses were already making habits of not meeting together. The writer urges them (and us) not to let this habit go unchallenged. Meeting leads to encouraging. Gathering leads to spurring one another on to love and good works.
Gathering with God’s Gifts
The question, “Why gather?” is typically asked in terms of what we get out of gathering with the church. Have you ever thought about attending a Sunday service or small group only to think that you aren’t going to get much out of it. Many plans to go to the beach start here. But here’s the what the call to gather is really about: I don’t just gather to get, I gather to give. This is clear when Paul says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). The whole context of spiritual gifts has to do with the good and upbuilding of others. The Christian who says, “I don’t think I’m going to get much out of that gathering so I’m not going” is missing the point.
Gathering is not just what we do because we’ve always done it. Instead it is a profound privilege as God manifests his presence and power. God gathers us to receive as well as to give, to spur one another on as well as to be spurred on. On any given Sunday, on this Sunday, let’s gather.
This post is the first in the series On Any Given Sunday, which highlights the significance and value of each part of our Sunday service.