I don’t think it’s “proof-texting.” You know, that practice where you find Scriptures that say what you want to say? But I do think it’s a text that gives further proof of what has been on my mind over recent months. The church is meant to come together.
This morning, my plan has me reading 1Corinthians 11. And it’s a thrice repeated phrase penned by Paul that grabs my attention.
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.
(1Corinthians 11:17-20 ESV)
Paul addresses the problem of the gong show these Corinthians believers were making of the Lord’s supper. What had been instituted of the Lord to remember Him (11:23-25) had become about them. What had been intended to be a regular reminder of their unity as the body of Christ (11:29), had become a means to distinguish the haves from the have nots (11:21-22).
But what hits me this morning is that how they treated each other when they came together could only be a problem because they came together. That missing the mark of doing what the church should do was only possible because they were trying to do what the church ought to do when you come together.
I know I’ve been sensitized to making this observation because of the fact that as a church leadership we’ve been reading and discussing a book about the church. Rediscover Church, a book written for a church coming out of a pandemic, encourages us to be the church coming out of the pandemic. And at the core of being the church, is coming together.
“Sometimes people like to say that ‘a church is a people, not a place.’ It’s slightly more accurate to say that a church is a people assembled in a place. Regularly assembling or gathering makes a church a church. This doesn’t mean a church stops being a church when the people aren’t gathered, any more than a soccer ‘team’ stops being a team when the members are not playing. The point is, regularly gathering together is necessary for a church to be a church, just like a team has to gather to play in order to be a team.” (Rediscover Church, p. 48. Emphasis added)
When “shelter in place” hit two years ago, we encouraged our church family to remember that the church wasn’t a place, it wasn’t a program, it was a people. True enough. And we continued to behave like the church from our homes as we virtually tethered ourselves together each Sunday morning. And to be sure, the church is a people. But, when it can, it is meant to be people who come together.
When you come together, says Paul, not if you come together.
Sure, that’s when problems in the church can surface. That’s when friction can occur as a diverse group of sandpaper-y people rub shoulders with one another. But it’s also the place where those things can be addressed. Where rough edges can be smoothed out as the Spirit works in the body to work out its salvation as a body. It’s by coming together that those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1Cor. 1:2) can be sanctified in Christ. Where what we are positionally gets a chance to work itself out practically. Where a letter like Paul’s can be read because Paul knew that it could be read when you come together.
Don’t want to be proof-texting. But I do think this morning’s text is further “proof” that the church, the ekklesia — literally an assembly, allows God to do His best work in His people when His people gather regularly together in a place.
By His grace. For His glory.