Why continue meeting together?
By Pastor-Elder Stuart Morgan
This letter was first published in March 2020, early in the pandemic but the core principles (italicised) remain very much applicable. It has been slightly edited since original publication to avoid confusion about the current practical measures.
Dear brothers and sisters,
In light of the pandemic and new government measures, for the moment as a leadership we have decided to act to try to keep gathering on Sundays. As the situation evolves, we may need to change this approach; we understand why other churches have cancelled services and moved everything online, but we have taken these steps given the general demographics of our congregations and because of the high value God places on us meeting together as His people.God’s great plan for the creation is to rescue a people for Himself from every nation (Rev 7:9). When the LORD saved us by the precious blood of His Son, He did not only save us as individuals for a relationship with Him alone, but, more than that, He saved us into His people. When we believed the gospel, spiritually we came to ‘Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven’ (Heb 12:22-23a). Like Israel in Exodus 19, we are gathered around the speaking God in the heavenly church. Because we are members of this heavenly church (or assembly) we gather in local churches, which, to use Peter O’Brien’s good phrase, are ‘earthly manifestations’ of the heavenly church. When we gather together as believers, the glorious spiritual reality that we are now gathered in heaven and that we will be gathered as a people around God physically in the New Creation for all eternity is made visible; God’s glorious plan for humanity is made tangible. This is reality; this is where we are going. This is why it is so important, as far as is possible, that we ‘consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near’ (Heb 10:24-25). We meet not simply given this glorious reality, but also to love one another, to spur one another on, to encourage one another, and to help one another to reach the great and final Day. God has given us one another that we might persevere faithfully to the end. When we make a habit of neglecting this good gift from God, we do so at our own peril.
The writer to the Hebrews wrote this to a church facing persecution and so to people for whom it was a dangerous thing to meet together. Similarly down through the ages, even when it was dangerous to meet, Christians have done so. So the French Confession of 1559, written for churches which had a real fear of being attacked when they gathered, says, ‘we believe that no one ought to seclude himself and be contented to be alone; but that all jointly should keep and maintain the union of the church.’ Obviously we should not be socially irresponsible, so when we have mild symptoms, or when we have travelled to countries where the spread of the virus is high, we should stay at home rather than take actions which might potentially harm others. But we should not ‘be contented to be alone’, and so when we can meet together, we should. This is why we hope church services can continue. It is also why we are asking a few different CGs each week to meet together, rather than for individuals to livestream on their own. If we can’t be there in person, it would be good to make remote involvement a priority. If we have to participate alone at home, while we can thank God technology allows us to do this, and so to have some measure of participation, it is a far cry from the reality God desires.
Especially when we have been unable to meet with a larger group, it will be good for us to arrange smaller meetups or 121s to continue to encourage one another, discuss the sermon and pray together. As CGs we want to think and care for those who can’t be with us when we gather, to make sure people are looked after if they are vulnerable or when they are sick. If you are self-isolating, please let people in your CG know, so they can pray for you and find ways to specifically support you, in a potentially lonely time.
While we as a church continue to gather at Aperia and in CGs the reality will be that there will be a divergence of views amongst us about whether to meet or not. This will vary given each of our specific circumstances and may change from week to week. We will need to be patient and understanding if some are physically absent more frequently than others. When considering whether to absent yourself, do remember PM Lee mentioned the virus might be with us for ‘a year, and maybe longer’. It would be a great loss to you and to us as a family if we hardly see you during that whole period. We will continue to take precautions at Sunday services. With all these steps we will update those actions as things develop.
As a family in Christ, let’s continue to look in faith to our sovereign and loving Heavenly Father, to set our hope on the New Creation and to love; to love one another, and to love non-Christian neighbours both practically and with gospel words. As we have seen in Matthew, when Jesus came into the world, the words of Isaiah were fulfilled, ‘the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned’ (Matt 4:16). In the darkness of a Covid-19 world where the fear of death is high, we have the message of Jesus the light of the world, who banishes this darkness.