Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
- Grocery store–Place where we buy food to sustain our physical bodies
- Restaurant–Place where we pay someone else to provide food for our physical bodies
- School–Place where our children receive an education to prepare them to live on earth as adults
- Hospitals and Doctor’s office–Place where we go to address issues with our physical health
- Workplace–Place where we go to earn money to take care of our physical needs
There are other places that have remained open or reopened whether to provide what we’d deem essential or places that are more diversionary but which various experts call essential to economic or social survival (malls, bookstores, ballfields and arenas, etc.). In fact, “essential” can be put into a lot of categories–academic, economic, social, emotional, medical, physical, and spiritual.
Pandemic restrictions have impacted and altered public behavior for almost a year. It’s more than mask mandates, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and the severe reduction of handshakes and hugs. It has been the reduction of personal interaction at the assemblies. Many congregations have devised virtual means of meeting for Bible class and worship. Just like virtual doctor visits, online instruction, and telecommuting lack the desired qualities of the in-person alternative, so it is with the virtual gathering.
The first-century church labored under restrictions, too. The threat was not a virus, but often a virulent government hostile to their faith. Christians in various places faced severe persecution and even the death penalty if this identity was known (Mat. 24:9; Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). The assemblies were an easy way for Rome to know a Christian’s identity. Despite the potential cost of discipleship, what do we find the early Christians doing and being commanded to do? As a good preacher friend, Terrence Brownlow-Dindy, recently said, Acts 20:7 not only told the saints when to take the Lord’s Supper (the first day of the week) but also how (come together). Despite governmental interference and opposition to them, Christians were still commanded to assemble (Heb. 10:25). It was essential to be present to stimulate each other to love and good deeds (10:24). It was essential to be present to encourage one another (10:25). It was essential to be present to prepare for Christ’s second coming (10:25).
What’s the difference between the risks incurred in Cracker Barrel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby walking aisles, touching items, and standing in line with strangers and coming together and running any risks we might incur by assembling together for worship and Bible class? The commodities and services provided at places like those at the beginning of this article serve us only in this life. The wisdom of God, who designed the church including the importance of coming together, commands assembling to address our most essential need. It is absolutely true that Christianity is not confined to the church building, a great lesson we discovered or remembered at the start of this crisis. Perhaps, though, we inferred from this that actually coming together was less essential than shopping, going to school, and going to work.
I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ at stores, restaurants, weddings, and funerals who have not come into the church building to give and receive the fellowship and encouragement God made essential both for our own spiritual health and that of our spiritual family. Scripture repeatedly tells us the earth and all its works will be burned up some day (2 Pet. 3:10). Our souls will never die. As we prioritize the essentials, what is more essential than that? The dictionary defines essential as “absolutely necessary; extremely important.” If anything qualifies, our assemblies do.