What is Church? – Part 3

In the last post we examined the idea of stimulating each other (fellow Christians) on to love and good deeds. Understanding this directive, found in Hebrews 10:24, we examined the idea that if we aren’t walking in this manner, then we are walking in sin.

We Need Each Other

With a matter this critical, how are we to accomplish it? We need only to look to the next verse.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

At the time this was written, only about 40 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, Christians were already forsaking assembling together. One thing this shows us is that it doesn’t take people long to be people. The writer of Hebrews calls this neglect sin. Looking at the idea of assembling together, we must ask ourselves these questions, “What is the purpose of assembling together? What are we trying to accomplish?”

Scripture answers this for us when it tells us to encourage one another with songs and hymns and spiritual songs. It talks about hearing the word of God and believing in God’s promises. It talks about trusting what God tells us. It talks about being encouraged and built up. In all of this, Scripture remains central because it is useful for teaching and training and rebuking. What is the aim of Scripture’s training and rebuking? To stimulate one another on towards love and good deeds.

What is the purpose of assembling together as the Church? Can we accomplish this purpose online? #church Click To Tweet

What is Assembling Together?

Here we arrive at the “we” tool in our “Theology of Tools” tool belt. As we begin to look at Church assembly and how it relates to sanctification, we see why forsaking assembly is sin. Assembly is vital for this tool—the “we” tool—to work. And even if all we can do is meet online right now, it’s still an assembly. We are still using our “we” tool.

This leads us to, “can we ‘assemble’ online?” If this answer is yes then further questions arise, “is physically congregating in a building necessary? How do we know that our Sunday morning tradition of gathering together in a building is correct? If it’s not correct, why do we do it?”

And, most importantly, “if it doesn’t matter how, or where, we meet, then how do we accomplish our commanded goal of stimulating one another on towards love and good deeds? If online assembly is possible, how do we leverage this technology/ability better?”

Let’s dive deeper into our “Theology of Tools” for these answers because the tool we use should be determined by whether or not it can accomplish the task we are using it for. And the task, the mission, is to spur one another on.

How do we know that Sunday morning congregation is the right way of doing Church? If it's not, why do we do it? #church Click To Tweet

Early Church Model

Let’s examine the practices of the early church. These were the practices that the writer of Hebrews is referring to when he warns about, “…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…”

Some people ask a fun question, “How frequently should we meet?” Then they misuse the idea that Church is a “we,” to skip out on Sunday morning assembling. This is definitely not in keeping with the New Testament. If we really want to go with the New Testament, we’ll be hanging out every day. Who’s in?

What I’m really saying is that, clearly recorded in Church history and Scripture, we see day-to-day fellowship and interaction. They (Christians) went to the temple at the times of prayer and rejoiced. Of course there’s context there, but these are important matters to consider as we discuss how often we should meet.

Where did they meet? This answer is undeniable. According to Scripture, they met at a house. And, of course, that house wasn’t “building-less.” It was a physical structure. The fact that it was a house doesn’t make it more or less sacred. They also met at the temple. Why? Because, Christianity is/was an extension of an ancient faith, not the creation of a new one.

Buildings vs. Virtual Meetings

Back to our “Theology of Tools” and the question of assembling together vs. online. Here is where my opinion lands (and I’d love to hear your thoughts below): I don’t think either option is always the correct option. Meeting in a physical location and meeting online are two separate tools, which each accomplish certain ends. This is why we’re framing our thinking within the context of “tools.”

With that said, I do believe physically assembling together is an imperative and we will never be free from assembling face-to-face with one another. However, we are living in an unusual reality at the moment and utilizing technology to “meet” online will work to accomplish our mission.

But even in this reality, we see an incontrovertible truth. The Church—and the world—is grieving the loss of physical connection. Even with the advantages of technology and the ability to be more connected than ever before, we are seeing depression and anxiety rates skyrocket. We need each other. We need face-to-face physical connection.

The Church—and the world—is grieving physical connection. #biblestudy #covid19 Click To Tweet

Mission Accomplishment & Personal Accountability

The remaining question is, “how can we, in an online setting, continue to spur one another on to love and good deeds?” We’ve concluded that we can temporarily do this in an online setting. We can use phones, computers, and letters to encourage one another. The danger lies in thinking we can transition to this model forever. We must realize that even though online can encourage in the same way a book can, if we make a permanent move away from physical meeting then we are shortchanging ourselves.

There’s another piece to this and it will challenge some. Technology is an inefficient tool for accountability. Whether we know and believe this or not, we cannot hold each other accountable via technology only. Why? Because we aren’t living life together. And if we aren’t living life together then we aren’t speaking informed truth into each other’s lives.

The problem with only ever seeing someone on a screen is that we can hide things from each other that wouldn’t be possible to hide face-to-face. It’s possible to miss cues that we wouldn’t miss face-to-face. We can be tempted to present our best selves online when the reality is we wouldn’t be able to hide the damaged, hurt, and sinful parts at the dinner table. The other reality is that we can simply unfriend people who hold us accountable online. In real life, we don’t cut ties so easily. Online relationship is simply not a good tool for confessing sins and holding each other accountable.

Technology is an inefficient tool for Christian accountability. #church #biblestudy Click To Tweet

Humans were created for interaction with other humans, not interactions with a phone or screen. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

If we haven’t been living life with each other before Covid-19, it’s unlikely that we will be bearing each other’s burdens now. We need to be practicing the act of living life with each other. We need to be sharing hearts and homes and tables.

When we are finally handed back the privilege of meeting together, it would be tragic to forget what we’ve learned in this time. It hurts to have contact taken away. Though we may be using different tools right now, we can’t take for granted the better tool of physical assembly.

I think what we’re seeing is that “assembling together” means carrying out the Biblical principles that are established for us, and if the tool we are using won’t allow us to do that then we need to throw it down and use another.

Sanctification

In closing, let’s look at how “assembling together” connects with sanctification. If we take seriously what Jesus did to cleanse us, bring us into the meeting place, and to the Mercy Seat to receive God’s mercy, then we will also take seriously the responsibility to encourage one another, love one another, and stimulate one another on to love and good deeds. In fulfilling these things, we are being sanctified. When we are honest with ourselves, we understand that we cannot accomplish this sanctification in an online environment.

So, why zero in on this reality now when we are unable to meet with each other? Am I saying that we are in sin right now? Not at all. I believe that God has grace and mercy for us during unique times. I believe he’s given us examples to learn from:

We can faithfully use the tools we have at our disposal during the times in which we are living. But, when we come back together, we can’t use the excuse of having the online “tool” simply to neglect face-to-face interaction.

We have amazing tools at our disposal which are, in some ways, the wealth of God. #onlinechurch #bible #Christianity Click To Tweet

God has given us so many blessings and it’s amazing. Let’s use these tools wisely. The internet is valuable, it’s useful. So is physical assembly. We must be able to competently use both to experience everything God has for us.

Let’s talk

Do you have questions about this or thoughts about the “Theology of Tools?” Comment below or contact me at nathan@nathanfranckhauser.com.

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