When you Gather Together - Why does the Church Gather?
“When you come together…
For over three months we have not ‘gone to church’, but ‘streamed church’ services, experiencing ‘together - apart’. It is counter-intuitive not to gather as church and we know a deep discomfort, an inner longing to be back ‘together again’.
Why does the church gather?
Why? Because we always have.
The church (ekklesia) is at its heart, a gathering of people. We are a connected people, a community - the people of God, the Body of Christ, a holy nation, royal priesthood, the flock, household of God – a together-ed people.
From first creation to the new creation, Scripture is permeated with images of us earthly human creatures gathering in a shared patch of creation to worship the Creator King. From Eden to Sinai, tabernacle to temple; In the Jewish synagogue, private homes and the Greek agora. Across the world and throughout history – the community of God have always gathered to affirm the ancient words: ‘You are our God. We are your people’.
‘Because we always have’ brings a security of together-ness that outweighs social distancing. But, ‘because we always have’ can sidestep the deeper questions that have been echoing during this strange season and prevent us from the fullness intended for gathered church.
What is at our very core that causes us to gather? The question, rather, is ‘who’ is at our core? The Church gathers unto the risen and reigning person of Jesus, to proclaim Him as King and to be formed together into a people who live in the ways of His Kingdom.
We gather together, in the Spirit, to worship the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. Every human person or community worships something. Our human nature is designed to give allegiance to what we value as ultimately good. When we gather, we choose to acknowledge as a community that Jesus is our King, His reign is supreme and His rule is ultimately good. We adopt the ancient words ‘You are our God. We will be Your people’ and pledge our allegiance to Him with sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.
We gather to be formed more fully into the people God desires. The gathering is a place where we submit to Christ and to each other. Committed to living in His ways, we come together to sit under His Word, in the power of His Spirit for personal and corporate transformation. The gathering is the place of formation, not merely information. The Word is not only proclaimed and taught - but enacted and obeyed together through shared prayers of repentance and faith in Jesus, times of confession and forgiveness.
We gather because we are One. We have been gathered up, into ‘One Body’. Salvation is no personal, private, individual affair. The place of salvation is being re-imaged, re-created persons ‘in Christ’ – and so we are saved along with others to form His Body, the new re-imaged humanity. Gathering both expresses and enacts the Oneness of who we are.
The early church gathered to worship through acts of prayer, reading and teaching Scriptures, shared meals, the Lord’s Table, sharing possessions, singing songs, discipline, collecting alms and sharing reports from the wider Church. These components or acts of worship were not the end goal of worship in themselves – but rather acts that both formed and expressed the Church’s true identity as One people.
The Church gathers to enact our new community identity - men, women, boys and girls members of one new Body, that is being conformed together into the way of Christ our Head, and so functioning as the image of God in His world. As we come together in a diversity of age, gender, social class, race, ability, gifts – these identities become secondary to the endowed identity of being a member of God’s family, ‘in Christ’ His Son. There are no divisions in the family of God, the power structures of the community and society around us are overridden in this new community. We have become a new society where ‘all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3.28).
We gather together to enable worship filled lives in our scattered places. Gathered worship does not take place within a subjective, spiritual vacuum but blends the earthly and heavenly realms we inhabit. Our family, work, neighbourhood, issues of the public square are woven into the fabric of our shared, whole life worship. We gather to enact the story of redemption for every aspect of human life. Spiritual, earthy acts of gathered worship, should be ‘rooted in earth but awed by heaven’ – formed by our cries of lament, ‘How long?!’ Gathered as God’s people, we respond in worship to embody the healing hope of heaven in the earthy places we inhabit.
We gather as a people to embody and encounter the presence of God. God’s promised presence among His people permeates Scripture from start to finish – made complete in Jesus Christ and His indwelling Spirit. The Church, God’s own people have become His temple – the meeting place of God’s presence in the world. Although the presence of God’s Spirit expands throughout every space in his world our intentional gathering unto Him, embodies His presence most intensely, according to His promise – there am I in the midst of them.
We gather together to witness to a watching world. Our gathering tells the redemption story of a good God, who is gathering up a people to Himself where heaven and earth become united eternally. We gather with a sense of anticipation – maranatha – and our gathering becomes a signpost to Kingdom come and coming. Gathering as Church is no personal, private experience – but an announcement, an invitation to the world that Jesus is Lord, and He is working out His purposes, right here, right now.
‘When you come together’ is full of promise. But Paul used this phrase with a corrective, instruction – to the church whose gathered choices, behaviours and actions stood in direct contradiction to the essence of Church as a gathered, united, equal and earthy body of God’s people.
When you come together, in your garden, your front room, your church building - after many weeks of being ‘together but apart’… What will you do? How will you worship?
Surely as Church looks ahead, makes plans to return, our planned gathering, what we do – must creatively and intentionally be formed by who we are and make real the prayer of Jesus, the essence of the Church – ‘that they may be One’.
Why else would we gather?
For further conversations and resources on Changing Church, contact Donna Jennings at: [email protected]