By Rev John Agagwa
Following the temporary ban on large gatherings in our country to aid in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches have moved to online platforms. It has been a little over three months now and church online is beginning to feel quite normal for many of us. My suspicion though is that we all miss the physical gathering of the saints. We long for it. Much like the apostles and saints of old, while we are apart, we “endeavour the more eagerly and with great desire, to see each other face to face” (1 Thess. 2:17). The following are five reasons why I long for the regathering of the saints, and why I think you do too.
Longing to obey fully the Lord’s command
Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some…
The Lord cautions us against abandoning the gathering of saints as was becoming the habit of some in their day. This is immediately instructive. By no fault of ours however, we have been unable to walk in step with this verse for a while now. In the process, many of us have discovered the convenience of church online. Indeed, sitting in the comfort and safety of our homes to watch a sermon on our television or computer will definitely be convenient. My conviction though is that this season however should be seen as a temporary compromise rather than an ongoing norm. I like convenience, but I love God’s commands more! He commands us not to forsake the gathering of saints.
Longing for Christian fellowship
Another key reason I long for the re-gathering of the saints, is the inherent difference between mere communication and wholesome fellowship. The biblical model of fellowship is one that goes way beyond mere communication.
Acts 2:42, 44
42 They devoted themselves …to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread… 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common…
Online platforms have thankfully allowed us to communicate but not necessarily to fellowship with one another in the biblical sense of the word. Communication entails passing messages between each other but fellowship entails sharing all of life together. For example, a family separated from each other, will share a longing to be physically reconnected, however well they utilize online platforms. This is because we desire not just communication, but also fellowship. In the same way, a church scattered will experience within its congregants a desire to gather again in order not simply to communicate, but also to fellowship. Indeed, I long to fellowship with the saints once again.
Longing for increased participation
The ministry of the pastors and teachers as described in the scriptures to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. This means the ministry in God’s house is to be carried out by all the saints, not just the clergy.
Ephesians 4:7, 11-12
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…So Christ himself gave the …pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service…
Having church online has greatly reduced the number of congregants that may exercise their gifts in the service. Only the preachers, teachers, communicators and singers are able to participate, aided by those with artistic gifts and media. Ushering, Sunday school, encouraging one another after the service over tea, sharing life as well as laughing or weeping together has had little or no expression in this season. As one article puts it, ‘Church is not meant to be the passive dislocated experience of a spectator’. Church should not be reduced to an online sermon consumed at home. This is yet another reason I long for the re-gathering of the saints.
Longing for mutual impartation
The scriptures help us realize the importance of being with each other face to face.
2 John 12
“Though I have many things to write to you, I don’t want to do so with paper and ink. Instead, I hope to be with you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete”
“I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine”
Both Paul and John, writing by the inspiration of the Spirit, the very words of God, recognize that a letter (the cutting edge technology of their day) was not enough. The scriptures themselves acknowledge that there is still more that God has chosen to accomplish only in face to face gatherings of his saints that may not be otherwise achieved. This is another reason why saints long to gather again, that we may impart each other in ways technology cannot allow us to.
Longing for a foretaste of heaven
This is perhaps the single greatest reason I desire the physical re-gathering of the saints. God had in His omniscience, access to all human technology (past, present, and future), heavenly technology as well as other supernatural means. In all this, he chose physical presence as the way to be with us. (Matthew 1:23) God became man and continues to bear the human body today and forever. His ultimate plan is to gather all saints from all history of all tribes, nations, and tongues with glorified physical bodies like his around his throne to be with him forever.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…
This is the joy that was set before our Lord, for which he endured an infinite cost, (Hebrews 12:2). I too can therefore look forward to the resumption of the regular gathering of the saints, for in this troubled world, it is the closest foretaste of heaven we may have.
In conclusion, we must recognize as perhaps we already do, that the benefits of church online are many. Many people who would never have attended church, perplexed by the effects of the pandemic, watched church online in hope of some answers, and in the process got to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed. Also, many churches which had no prior online presence were forced to establish one, helping them better engage the culture, as well as become accessible to Christians who for reasons such as dire sickness, disability or even persecutions are unable to physically attend. The church online is a strong reminder of the true nature of the church, which is the people, not the buildings they gather in. We are united with Christ by his Spirit and it’s that same Spirit who unites us with one another (1 Cor 12:12–14). This spiritual bond transcends time and space uniting believers across all history. And so, whether we participate physically or digitally, we are still and always the church—the blood-bought bride of Christ—a spiritual family before a physical gathering. And yet, while our unity as the Church is fundamentally spiritual, it is not only spiritual. We must keep praying and trusting God for the lifting of this pandemic so we might gather physically yet again.