068. “The Divine Privilege of Christian Assembly”
Message 68 of 138 in the series BuildingUp
In this episode, we consider why in-person gatherings with other believers are a gift that we should not take for granted.
Hi everyone and welcome in to episode #068 of the BuildingUp podcast. I’m David McConnell, the lead pastor at Agape Church in Pinson. Thank you guys for being with us, as always. And on today’s episode, I want to talk about the divine privilege that it is, to gather together in person as the people of God for the purpose of worship.
We’ve talked about this topic a couple of other times on the podcast, and the reason that I’m motivated to talk about this again today is an article that I read this week from The Associated Press, and since June of 2021, as I’m recording this podcast, the title of the article that I came across was this, Millions Skipped Church During COVID Pandemic. Will they return?
Now the article goes on to talk about this AP poll, which presented the results that 3/4 of Americans who were attending religious services in person at least once a month prior to the pandemic say that they are likely to do so again once they’re comfortable that the pandemic is over. Now, let me say a couple of things about polls. They are not infallible. There’s a lot of error that is introduced into polls, or they can easily get skewed based simply on what portion of the country that they’re taken in. Or you know what people they happen to be speaking to on the subject. And also say about this poll is that this is not a particularly Christian poll because they did ask religious observant observers from different walks, from different faiths.
But what stood out to me is that a quarter of Americans who were participating in religious services prior to the pandemic are saying now they’re not likely to participate in services after the pandemic is over. As a matter of fact, 7% of people in this AP poll said they had already made the decision. They were not going to return to in-person gatherings and this included those who claim to be Christians.
One of the religious leaders that they interviewed for the polls said this. There were people who went home during the pandemic and may never come back to the sanctuary. They may just pray from their couch and it is up to us to make sure that they have the opportunity to do so. That line in particular really stood out to me. Because that is not how I view or what I view the responsibility of a leader in the Christian faith. I don’t think our responsibility is to simply make sure that people who have decided to pray from their couch or worship individualistically at home have the opportunity to do so.
That doesn’t mean I’m against live stream of services. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there’s perhaps times where it is best to stay home and engage in those types of opportunities if your church provides them, I would point you back to two other episodes we’ve done on this topic.
One of them is Episode #010 of the BuildingUp podcast and that is called Longing for corporate worship. I actually recorded that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, where we were in our state of Alabama not allowed to or being asked to not gather in person for several weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
I would also point you to Episode #022 which I recorded in the summer of 2020 after we had began to meet again, but where many people were still trying to decide whether or not they wanted to go back to an in-person gathering or do live stream and Episode 22, we asked the question “Should I attend church gatherings during a pandemic?”, so both of those episodes I would point you back. I would say go and listen to those if you haven’t heard them just to kind of get a, uh, more robust view on the topic but when I say I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of a church leader, nor is it the responsibility of Christians when you consider how the Bible calls us to help teach and train and encourage one another, I don’t think it’s our responsibility just to make sure that if people have decided to worship individualistically that they have the opportunity to do.
I think rather we are to encourage and exhort one another to keep gathering together in person. For the purpose of worship over and over again, and I I want to talk through that a little bit today and ultimately make the case to you that I think that it is a divine privilege that we have been given to be able to gather as believers.
Certainly, I think that is true in the United States where we are free to do that. In comparison to other places in the world where believers are not free to publicly gather. But I also mean that in a greater sense than just political freedom. I mean, it is a divine privilege to be a part of the people of God who have been called by God to gather together for the purpose of worship.
It was interesting to me when I was thinking about this podcast because I believe there was a pastoral challenge for many years of convincing worshippers in the Christian faith that church was more than just a gathering. So I’m thinking of when I was growing up in the 80s and the 90s and how often time it seemed like church was the thing that you did once a week. It was the building that you went to. You would listen to a sermon and sing a few songs and go home and the pastoral challenge was to help people understand that the church is far more than that.
far more than just this one day and a couple of hours where you spend receiving doctrinal instruction and singing songs that it’s much more than that. But today I think the greater pastoral challenge may be to convince worshippers that church is no less than a gathering. In other words, that it is essential that we come together on a regular basis in person to worship the Lord.
I think that the reason this is a challenge first of all has to do with technology. If our mindset is that the gathering of believers is where we come and we listen to a sermon and we sing a few songs, then certainly if our church is offering that over live stream, we could easily convince ourselves that well, I can listen to the sermon and sing the songs from home, so why not just do it from there?
And that was made even more, well that became more prevalent to us during the pandemic where it seemed unsafe to gather during the during COVID-19. And by the way, I understand that the pandemic is not over I don’t mean it in that way as we’re recording this again in June 2021, but during the heart of the pandemic it really was a question of whether or not it was safe to gather and then in many places the churches were being told to not do that.
And so I think it is a challenge today to convince our own hearts and for leaders to convince those that are under their care. That it is important to gather in person whether the challenge is overcoming the desire to, you know, have the simplicity of just being at home and worshiping. Or whether it is overcoming some of the questions of whether or not it is really necessary in light of potential health dangers.
So the case that I would make to you from the New Testament begins with just the very word that God led the inspired the Gospel writers to use when it comes to church, the word church throughout the New Testament is actually the Greek word ekklesia, and it literally means an assembly.
The sense of the word in the New Testament is, first of all, the assembled people of God. Those called by God universally to faith in Jesus. They’re called the ekklesia, the assembly, those that God has assembled together, if you will. But the sense of the word in the New Testament Is also those local expressions of that Universal Church. Small gatherings of Christians in homes observing ordinances of the faith, or Christians in cities forming larger congregation and participating together in Koinonia or fellowship that is also how the New Testament uses the word church or the ekklesia an assembling together the assembled people of God that he calls to assemble together in person for a variety of reasons.
And So what I what I think our heart needs, and I’m under no illusion that you know this can just happen in a podcast. But my hope is those of us who listen to this on a regular basis or God leads even to this one episode would just be exhorted and encouraged to think through these things, especially as part of our spiritual growth and development because that’s what this podcast is really about.
What I think our hearts need what I want us to be exhorted to. Is this core inherent belief in our hearts that is steadfast, unwavering, this conviction that we have that it is a privilege to be a part of God’s assembly. The assembled people that he is called together in Christ and the assembled people that he calls as an expression of who they are to routinely come together in person for spiritual purposes, it is a privilege to get to do this. It is a privilege to be apart of this gathering of people.
I want us to look at a passage of Scripture, Ephesians Chapter 2 and we want to look at the 1st 10 verses of Ephesians 2. If you have a Bible. If you would go there.
And let’s read this together and by the way, let me say that if you happen to listen to this podcast and you do not have a copy of God’s word, I would love for us as our church Agape Church to gift you with one so you can email us at email@example.com and we will make arrangements to get you a copy of.
Ephesians chapter two. I just want you to listen to this and maybe use the exercises we walked through in the last two episodes of meditating on Scripture, and I really would encourage you to dive into these 10 verses because we’re not gonna be able to do them justice. I just want to read them to us today and just listen for the privilege of what God has done for us and who we are in Christ. If we’re a believer.
I hope that when you hear that and when you read that you see the divine privilege, that it is to be in Christ. I think the reason it is so important to uphold what the Bible teaches us in the New Testament, that we can only love God because he first loved us, that we can only come to faith in Christ because of grace that we answer God’s call that he calls us first and we respond to that call and the reason it’s so important is because otherwise, we might—we might think that we have boast before God that we chose to come to him, and therefore we could come anytime we wanted.
Yet the Bible shows it is a divine privilege to be called by God and to be part of this assembly, this church, this ekklesia. And I think that if you and I really see the privilege that it is of who we are to be a part of this Assembly then we will see an equal privilege in being able to get together to come together in person and express who we are as the people of God.
When you know who you are in Christ, you know what to do in Christ and so when we get to a command like Hebrews chapter 10 that tells us don’t neglect to meet together but encourage one another all the more as you see the day drawing near.
When we really understand the privilege that it is to be a part of the Assembly of God people. Then we don’t find that passage to be a burden. Then we say in our hearts you know what I don’t want to neglect meeting with other Christians. I don’t want to neglect getting together. I want to come together and I want to encourage other believers in their own walk. I want to sing with other believers and hear them singing. I want to engage with my spiritual gifts. I want to see the faces and hear the voices of those that God has put me with.
It’s a divine privilege and I think it’s the responsibility that we have to one another as believers, not to make a way to encourage people who want to practice individualistic Christianity to do so, but rather to always be reminding ourselves, God has called us we’ll assembly. We come together before him, in him to worship him. I think that’s the responsibility we have to him and to one another.
So I hope this podcast will just get you thinking in that direction. I hope it will be an exhortation to you in the spirit. To make it a core belief of your family and of your very walk with Jesus to always gather as much as you can with other believers for the purpose of worship.
I love you. I thank you for joining with us and I hope to hear from you soon. Grace and peace to your family.
Thank you for listening to the building up podcast, A Ministry of Agape Church in Pinson, Alabama. If you have a question about today’s podcasts or would like to suggest a topic for the future, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org. to subscribe to this podcast, simply search for building up from Agape Church In your favorite podcast app.