I feel like everyone spent last year thinking, well, if we can just get to the summer, if we can just get to the fall, if we can just get to the vaccine in the winter, if we can just get past the election… Well that’s how I have thought at any rate. And here we are, past all of the above. To be brief, we have lost over 270 concerts since shutdown and have only been able to do 31. At the time of this writing I have a total of four churches booked. Most congregations are still running well below pre-Covid numbers and leadership is understandably not willing to schedule things until their numbers get more steady. From my conversations over the course of hundreds of phone calls these last few weeks I regret to say that for the most part churches are going to be very slow coming back and many may never be what they were. There has been a great sifting and many people who were able to do without church for a year without a sigh are perfectly content to continue that way.
Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together is a command just like #4 of the “Big Ten.” Failure to do so is not mitigated by the technological advances of live streaming. God is not taken by surprise that this is now possible. That’s why the word “together” is there. You can technically “assemble” your digital selves online, but you cannot be physically together. God made us physical beings and God made us social beings. It is not good for us to be alone and when we are, everything from bad habits, to loneliness, suicidal thoughts, feelings of meaninglessness, and worse naturally occur. But the child of God who has been uniquely and intricately placed into a part of the local body and the universal Body of Christ is especially dependent on this social experience.
I wait patiently for the “y’all” version of the Bible to come out. There are so many “y’all’s” in Scripture that we can’t see because translators use the plural “you” for a smoother reading experience. But the real word behind that “you” many times is “y’all.” Go read an epistle on yallversion.com for an eye-opening experience. Prime example:
1 Corinthians 3:16
“Do y’all not know that y’all are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in y’all? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what y’all are.
Show of hands — how many thought that verse was saying that you, singular, are the temple of God?
Why does the “y’all” aspect of the Bible matter? Because it is in the common grace observances of the Lord’s table, the witnessing of baptisms, the singing of the saints, and hearing the proclamation of God’s word that the church finds its sustenance. Private Bible study is needful. Family prayer time is a must. Taking advantage of the wealth of podcasts from multiple preachers online is an amazing blessing. However, you are an unrepeatable gear in this machine. No one else can do what you do. Your church is a incomparable and priceless part of Christ’s body. If you judge an item by the price paid, the collective Body of Christ is infinitely, immeasurably, undeniably the most valuable entity in all of creation because it was appraised by God as being worth the life of his perfect eternal and glorious Son.
Being able to go without church for a year and not be greatly distressed is a disturbing diagnostic for anyone who has claimed Christianity. For a professing Christian to be apart from the church with no regrets or longing is at best an indicator that you are in an extremely shallow church that is not feeding you properly or at worst, you are a false convert.
There is a “you” aspect to Christianity. But it exists alongside the “y’all” aspect. Certainly it is right to think of your personal walk with Christ, but that awareness needs to come with the parallel awareness of your church’s walk with Christ... and your walk with your church... and how your walk with your church affects your personal walk with Christ.
Culture today skews heavily toward the individual experience, and that is true of the church as of the culture: it’s my personal walk with Christ, my interpretation of Scripture, my worship experience, my personal sins, my individual temptations, my strengths, my weaknesses, my joy, my grief. Like the other paradoxical truths of Scripture, these things are wrong only in the absence of the opposite and parallel truth. Christ was truly man. But if you stop there and fail to complete the catechism, you’ve fallen into error. Christ was truly man … and truly God. And so, it is my personal spiritual life. But if I can’t see that I exist within the church… that my personal spiritual life is mine, but also not mine, then I’ve fallen into error.
It’s my personal walk with Christ,
but it’s also the church’s walk with Christ, myself forming a small, but necessary part.
It’s my interpretation of Scripture,
but it’s learning from and submitting to the leadership within the church as they interpret the same Scripture.
It’s my worship experience,
but it’s the church together worshipping while observing the sacraments of communion and baptism, and singing to one another with psalms and hymns, and hearing together the Scripture read and expounded upon.
It’s my personal sin,
but it’s in the context of the church that we can bear each other’s burdens and confess our sins to one another. And it’s my sin that potentially taints and weakens the whole church, my sin that my leadership is in some sense accountable for.
It’s my individual temptation,
but it’s the church that encourages me and exhorts me to see the eternal weight of glory and not settle for Esau’s porridge.
It’s my strength,
but it’s for the purpose of building up the church.
It’s my weakness,
but it’s for the purpose of being built up within the church.
It’s my joy,
but it’s also for the joy of the church.
It’s my grief,
but it is shared and comforted by the church.
In a world that prizes individualism above all else, let’s grow deep roots within the churches in which we’ve been placed. Let’s prize the joy of community, the joy of being one with people that are sometimes utterly foreign to us otherwise. Let’s embrace the truth that we are living stones, carefully placed into the living structure that is being built into a holy temple for the Lord.
Grace be with y’all.
Miles & Martha