Churches Are Gathering Again: Here’s Why It Matters So Much

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. . . so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now
be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

— Ephesians 3:10–11 —

This Sunday our church plans to regather again . . . outside . . . with appropriate spacing.

Approaching this Sunday, it is worth recalling that it has been more than two months since our congregation assembled to worship Christ, sing praises to God, and hear his Word. This means, it has been more than two months, that our church has fulfilled its calling to be a public witness to the resurrected Christ. Maybe your church has been closed for just as long?

As we prepare for service on Sunday, we are excited to meet again, to take the Lord’s Supper, and declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and brought us into his light. We have been grieved by the loss of fellowship and the chance to see our family of faith. But even more, we have—or, at least, I have—been even more grieved that our non-assembly means that God’s life-size billboard of grace, the church, has not been seen in our region for nearly a quarter of the year. With that reflection in mind, I preached the last two sermons on Joel.

While Joel addressed a people whose physical temple had been closed by God, there is an analogy to the church. The local church is the living temple of God, where Spirit-born, Spirit-filled living stones gather to testify to the Lord’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9–10). The church, as Paul says in Ephesians 3, is the means by which God glorifies his grace on the earth, before the watching eyes of angels and men.

Keeping this in mind recalls why not gathering is such a big deal, and why it is something that cannot go on indefinitely. Christian discipleship means more than getting our weekly sermon fix via Zoom, it means gathering with the saints, testifying to the resurrection of Christ, and being the light of the world which invites others to come out of the darkness. This is perhaps the greatest loss during the days of COVID-19, and one that we may have missed along the way.

In our church, we have prayed much for church to open again. And we rejoice that we will, by God’s grace, gather this Sunday. Joel’s message to a closed temple has been a help to see the need we have to gather. If you are still uncertain about gathering, take time consider Ephesians 3:10–11, 1 Peter 2:9–10, and the book of Joel. I am persuaded that they give us strong medicine to combat the complacency of non-gathering brought about in these days.

May these sermons encourage you and challenge you to consider the essential place of gathering with the saints. For indeed, the church (the assembly of God) can’t be the church when it doesn’t church (=assemble). To that end, let us continue to pray and pursue every opportunity to assemble, until the church is once again meeting with regularity with all the saints.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan: A Few Resources on Joel

IMG_0712This month our Bible reading plan takes us to the Minor Prophets. To help us assemble these books and understand their message, here are a number of resources to Joel, the first book of The Twelve. You can find more information about the Minor Prophets here.

The Historical Context of Joel

While no definitive date can be assigned to Joel, the ESV Study Bible provides a helpful explanation for dating Joel after the exile.

Estimates for dating the book of Joel range from the ninth to the fourth centuries B.C. While no consensus has been reached, most scholars hold to a date after the exile (586 B.C.) for the following reasons: (1) the exile is treated as a past event (3:2–3); (2) the conquest of Jerusalem is mentioned (3:17); (3) no king is mentioned; (4) the temple plays a positive role, while there is no prophetic denunciation against the idolatry and syncretism mentioned in Hosea and Amos; and (5) the anger expressed toward Edom is best explained by its treatment of Judeans during the Babylonian conquest (Joel 3:19Obad. 1–21). (p. 1643)

The Message of the Twelve (pp. 17–18, 51) dates Joel to 500 BC on the basis of the locust plague described in Joel 1:4 and the historical locust plague that occurred in 500 BC. Continue reading