~by Randy Bushey
Matt.18:20 For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.
None of us knows the full impact of permanent cultural change that the current pandemic will cause in the ways that we live.
But all of us are certain that the “new normal” will be different from what normal use to be. The behavioural differences of 2020 resulting from the pandemic will leave deep scars – reminders of the way we once lived, behaved, assembled.
We just don’t know how much. How deeply. Or for how long.
The workplace will likely never be the same – particularly for those working in offices. Many have successfully transitioned to home. What 20 years ago was referred to as telecommuting – working from a residence – has only now become a widely-accepted new norm with recognized cost savings in expensive office real estate.
Education has been conducted in online formats for years – particularly in sparsely populated areas, or for very specific course content. What was once marginal is now mainstream, particularly for many post-secondary fields of study. This fall, classrooms – and the housing in close proximity intended to shelter the students – will remain empty.
Entertainment too has changed. Will sporting events and concerts ever again attract live audiences of tens of thousands? Are those mass gatherings forever a thing of the past?
Will retail shopping events – Black Friday or Boxing Day – ever again encourage the clamour of crowds lining up, elbow-to-elbow at the products display, in the furious hunt for deeply discounted merchandise?
And the economic impact of lost jobs, closed businesses, declining investments and future increased tax burdens is, at this point, incalculable.
For the foreseeable future – and beyond – many components of our lives will be severely effected.
But what about church?
From the 1st century to the 21st, the Lord’s people have gathered together – a collective assembly – for the purposes of devot[ing] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
When the Lord Jesus promised to gather with His saints in Matthew 18:20 (above), the context was for church discipline of one who refused to repent and seek forgiveness. Church discipline was then – and is now – to maintain and promote the moral purity and unity of the Body of Christ. As the passage outlines (v.15-17), it is to be conducted as a progressive process – one in which He participates. (See also 1Corinthians 5:1-5).
But the universal principle is this: when His people gather in His Name for some spiritual purpose, the Lord Jesus will literally join the group. He is there in Spirit, as certain as is anyone there in body.
Don’t miss the symmetry: the faith of the believer expressed by so gathering is assured of the faithfulness of the presence of the Risen Christ.
However, many – for reasons of caution, fear, spiritual immaturity, or apathy – may decide never again to gather with other believers.
Takeaway: Even if for good reason, we know those that stay away permanently will lose out – and cause the local church with whom they previously gathered, to also suffer loss.
A refusal to gather with other believers carries a very heavy price-tag in terms of our own sanctification. The Holy Spirit conducts much of that life-long process “in community” with other Christ-followers.
The writer to the Hebrews – at a time of intense persecution – warned the believing recipients of that epistle to be 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 (Hebrews 10:25).
After all, the Lord Jesus has promised that He will be there.