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What I’ve missed while not gathering with my local church (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series

"What's missing in virtual church"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

We’ve all been caged up for a while now. Because of the concerns of governments the world-wide, churches have not been able to gather. In one respect, this ought to seriously concern all of us, for whenever we fail to gather as believers, we disobey Christ. That is, we had better have sufficient and significant reason for not gathering.

This post continues my post from last week, where I gave reasons why I missed church over the weeks we had to stay at home.

I believe churches have been right to suspend their gatherings out of respect to the government’s authority. I also believe that churches have been wise to offer guidance for private and family worship while the gathering has been suspended. As I said last week, these times of private worship should be enriching and spiritually fruitful, just as they were in the life of Christ (Luke 6:12; 9:28; John 17; cf. Luke 4:16).

Last week I gave three reasons why I’ve missed church: (1) Life is better in person; (2) church gatherings best facilitate interaction with the body of Christ quantitatively; and (3) church gatherings best facilitate interaction with the body of Christ qualitatively.

Here are some more.

4. A fourth thing I’ve missed is physically greeting the brothers. The Scriptures command us multiple times (maybe as often as nearly all other commands) to greet each other with a holy kiss. We don’t practice the holy kiss at First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, but we do greet each other. I try to greet the men (and any women who offer it) with a handshake each Lord’s Day. You can’t do this virtually. I miss this for all its warmth. Alas, in the post-pandemic America, will believers abandon physical greetings altogether? I hope not.

Alas, in the post-pandemic America, will believers abandon physical greetings altogether?

5. My local church encourages me when we’re gathered. Many things about my local church encourage me, and I’ve missed them all over the recent weeks. I’ve missed singing together, eating together, and greeting each other. I’ve missed hearing them pray, or even reading Scripture. I’ve missed Sunday School and midweek Bible studies. These things comfort and support me. Just as rising water lifts everything with it, so the Holy Spirit has used my churches over the years to encourage me. They have fulfilled 1 Thess 5:11: Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Church gatherings are like sunlight after a week of cloudy days. When I worship at home with my family, as valuable as that is, I miss this encouragement.

When a bunch of believers get together, the faith is contagious. As we see a group of people confessing Christ, it strengthens our own confession. Provided our faith is saving faith in Christ, which is a gift from God, this is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a good thing. 1 Cor 14:26: Let all things be done for building up. It is the design of Christ to use the weekly local gathering as a way of building up our faith. This building up is done, in large part, through the blessing of the Spirit in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. But the fellowship itself also helps us in our faith. This is exactly what is diminished in private worship.

I miss that encouragement and edification of the gathering. A local church of thriving believers, strong in God’s grace, is like a gathering of many ministers, all proclaiming to one another the glories of Christ.

A local church of thriving believers, strong in God’s grace, is like a gathering of many ministers, all proclaiming to one another the glories of Christ.

6. I find it more difficult to take seriously our Sunday family (or private or virtual) worship than it is to take seriously worshiping with my local church on the Lord’s Day. Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve been worshiping with my family over these last weeks, my wife and I have been working to take the worship seriously. We’ve tried to “dress up” a little bit (though still much less than a typical Sunday), even though it’s only our family in the living room. We’ve sought the Lord’s blessing upon our worship in prayer. We were working to take the worship seriously. But that’s just the point. It’s much easier to take something seriously when a lot of people are in attendance and giving their attention to the worship. God made us social creatures. This can be a detriment, but it also can be an asset.

Think about the domino effect when Paul was in Ephesus. As the name of Jesus was extolled (Acts 19:17), many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices (v 18). Then those who had “practiced magic arts” burned their occult books, even though those books were very valuable (v 19). And as a result of this, v 20 tells us: So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. As believers in Ephesus took Christ seriously, others took it seriously as well.

So it is with worship. The nature of Christian fellowship is such that we tend to take our gatherings more seriously than we do family worship or virtual worship. Part of it has to do with liturgy. Part of this has to do with what we’re wearing. Part of it has to do with whether there is a set time for worship or not. Part of it has to do with the energy it takes to attend and be on time.

Some of you may think taking worship seriously in this manner is unnecessary or even unhelpful. Perhaps you think that this is simply a characteristic of Western culture and values. So be it. I know in many respects, I’m old fashioned. I still dress up for church. I still try to show respect for the things of God with my posture, decorum, and language. But I also know that Paul regards order as important, at least to some degree. His words are pretty clear and universal: All things should be done decently and in order (1 Cor 14:40). (In case you missed the first two words of that verse, you might want to go back and review them.) At any rate, I think my larger point stands: I’ve missed corporate worship because it’s more difficult to take its replacement as seriously as the local gathering.

So there are three more reasons why I missed my local church though worshiping at home. I’ll add to this list again in a subsequent week.

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About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).