Our View of the Gathered Church is Far Too Small

Do we know what a privilege it is to gather in this life with other believers week after week?  I propose that our view of Sunday worship is way too shallow because we view God’s work and God’s people from a wrong perspective.

We have been promised in this life to be sown among unbelievers.  Zechariah 10:9 reads,“Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return”  (See also Matthew 28:19-2-).  It is our task . . . to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5).  We are not here to be served by the pleasures of this life and to bask in the temporary and futile things of this world.  We are not here to insulate ourselves or our families.  We are a people who have a promised home that will last for all of eternity, but as for now, we are sojourners and pilgrims whom God has placed here to bring His hope to a dying world.  Yet we are coddled by our wants and desires.  We are satisfied easily with our comforts.  Martin Luther wrote, “The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.  And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!  If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?”

Therefore, church often becomes for us a playground for friendship and fun.  We come late (because the sermon is all that really matters).  We leave early (heaven forbid I meet someone new or risk a difficult conversation that I should but don’t want to have).  We look for comfortable people who will accept us into their conversation.  We talk about our hobbies and interests more than we do our struggles and hopes of reconciliation.   Rather than our gathering being with a people to whom we confess our sins, seek equipping, find solace, and receive encouragement in the battle of our own hearts and the hearts of the world, we come together to get what we desire from people who are like us.

Please don’t get me wrong.  The gathering of the church ought to be a respite from the war, but are we really at war?  Are we not going from playground to playground . . . from the playground of the world to the playground of our church?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s friend, Bethge, writes, “The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility.”  Bonhoeffer, who desired to be a pacifist in Nazi Germany, saw this sin falling on himself, took his stand, and was eventually executed for it.  Yet on his way from this temporary affliction of sojourning to the gallows, Bonhoeffer turned to a fellow prison camp inmate and said, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.”  We have a greater responsibility than we like to admit.  We are so self-consumed that the bigger picture of God-at-work-in-and-through-us for His kingdom is shrunk down to my personal little world of ease.

What if we were at war?  Not with sinner’s out there, but for the hearts and minds of people just like us who have no hope because they do not have Christ?  What if we were really about having our sin exposed, hating it, seeing it put to death by the gospel of grace, taking others with the same struggle by the hand to show them our Savior for life?  What would Sunday church service be to us then?  It would be nothing less than worship of the God that draws us together to draw on Him.  Church would become a necessity like a pool of water in a vast desert.  The people gathered would be brothers and sisters of the same struggles exhorting, encouraging, praying toward the One hope we have in Jesus.  What ambassadors we would become!

” . . . It is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians.  It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.  Not all Christians receive such blessing.  The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone.  They know the visible fellowship is a blessing” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together).

Do we know what a privilege it is to gather in this life with other believers week after week?