In this ‘behind the screen’ generation, we can do most things online, from banking to dating. For two long years, church services were also behind the screen and offered a version of fellowship that was new to many. Some people loved it as it avoided awkward meet and greets, or the preacher's passionate reprise of “tell your neighbour”, while others like me, hated it.
I think that the years of ‘Covid-Church’ were used to further the argument of those who create their own rules about church attendance. Those people habitually deprecate church fellowship, because apparently, people can have a relationship with God, without physically attending church. That might be true, but should people who are a part of the body of Christ, a community of believers, live their lives without having all the benefits of being part of that community?
The Church, the body of believers in Christ, simply cannot be separated from the fellowship of the saints at church, and anyone who thinks it can be is mistaken. The Bible actually commands us to meet together.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Those who love God but can't commune and fellowship with other believers have not fully embraced the belonging that faith in Christ offers. The book of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 verse 12 says that we are many members of one body.
Jesus's sacrifice restored our connection with God, gave us unity with Him, and made all believers members of one body, the Church. Those who claim to love and know God but don't go to church, are like the arm or neck trying to exist separately from the body. It is not possible; not in the natural and not in the spiritual. That person will be operating with a deformity and so unable to function fully as God intended.
Jesus was with his disciples for most of His earthly ministry. He spent those crucial years in their presence to edify and uplift them and he then requested that they continue in unity even after His ascension (John 17: 22 & 23).
The word fellowship isn't some religious word reserved for 'church people', it simply means "friendly association, especially with people who share one's interests." On three occasions the Bible mentions Jesus's interactions and relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and referred to Lazarus as his friend. The disciple John referred to himself as the one Jesus loved, and Peter cut off a man's ear in defense of his Lord and friend. These friendships were all the products of ongoing fellowship.
Disability or illness may prevent someone from attending church but those who claim to love Jesus and have no physical impediment should show up in person. There isn't a single part of the Bible that encourages aloneness and isolation. God even promises that when everyone else forsakes us that He will be with us.
The enemy loves isolation, he uses it to attack people’s thoughts, deceive them into thinking that they are struggling alone, that no one else has a similar issue, and that no one will understand their situation.
Some people are choosing to be absent from church fellowship while some are risking their lives for just that. Christians in China and North Korea continue to be persecuted and imprisoned for their faith in Jesus and gathering to worship is riskier than ever before. In February 2023 the Christian Post reported that "The Chinese Communist Party intensified persecution of churches and Christians across mainland China leading up to the 20th Party Congress in 2022, with more house church leaders facing "fraud" charges and stricter censorship of online religious content".
Going into the house of God is important in the believer’s life because that’s where we receive comfort, counsel, and edification. It's not enough to love God, to pray, and to live right if there is no community of believers. Corporate worship is an opportunity to praise God and obtain strength and support from in the community. How then can such an important part of our relationship with God and other believers be optional? It simply cannot be.
The walk of faith is a journey that involves like-minded, like-believing brethren to help us up when we fall, and to be a listening ear when we need it.
Let us therefore "Come before His presence with singing ... enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise! (Psalm 100:2,3)
Look out for Part 2 of "It's Not Optional" in the next publication.
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