Shall we gather? The case for physical gathering may actually prove the opposite!

Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that I prefer to see local churches physically gather in a specific venue. There are so many reasons as to why I believe this is far better than zoom and Facebook. I long for the day when we can gather without restrictions, singing God’s praise and gathering around the word.

However, I do believe that Zoom is an acceptable method of facilitating gathering and that therefore, churches were meeting during the previous lockdown. This also is why I was happy to endorse sharing communion throughout the lockdown. This puts me at odds with some Christians who have argued that Zoom provision was not merely defective, but it wasn’t church at all.

The basis for the argument is found in a Biblical Theology of gathering.  A few weeks back, I was at a conference about church and coronavirus. One speaker made the case for why physical gathering was essential.  He did so, first on the basis that the church should be treated exceptionally (see my thoughts on this) and secondly he ran through the Biblical picture of gathering.

The theme is that whilst Christians are to spread out and fill the earth, scattering can also be a sign of discipline and that the primary image through the Bible is of God’s people being gathered together. We look forward to the day when all of God’s people are gathered together in the assembly before the throne.  In the meantime, we gather or assemble (the root word ecclesia refers to an assembly of people) as a foretaste of that day.  This is also the argument for Christian exceptionalism, namely that if we were made to worship, then all creation and every human institution is designed to serve that purpose of gathering God’s people towards that day when we will all gather in The New Creation.

Well, as it happens I’d pretty much agree with that as a perspective on Biblical theology.  That should perhaps be a warning sign for those who see it as a conclusive argument against my position.  You see, I don’t think it proves what it wants them to prove. It is perfectly possible to recognise that we are longing for the day when we will enjoy the perfect gathering of God’s people. It is possible too to see our current local gatherings as a foretaste of that day.  However, notice two things.

First, it does not rule out other gatherings as a foretaste of the final gathering.  We may get such a taste of glory from being at the Keswick Convention or some other such conference too. Not only that but it doesn’t rule out a zoom gathering as something that does the same job. On Zoom we see each other, talk to each other, pray and praise together and hear God Word together.

Not only that but we have a further problem. When we get to the New Creation, there are going to be millions of us, if not billions.  So what will it mean to gather? Will it mean that we will need to drop what we are doing every so often and head to a meeting somewhere?  I think not because I would suggest that we will already fill the New Creation. Yet, there will be a sense that even in the act of filling this creation that we are also gathered around Christ. Some how we will not be limited by our current physical constraints.

That being the case, I would suggest that all the different options we have whether it is a small group meeting midweek in a home, a church service in a building, a big celebration in a marquee on holiday or even several believers coming together out of the frustrations of lockdown to break brad and drink wine whilst linking up on zoom, all of these point forward both beautifully and imperfectly to that great day in the future. So let us use whatever means God gives us to show and live the hope that we have.

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