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Worship Assemblies Are Essential

by Bob Russell

     For the past six weeks, American churches have been directed by government officials to suspend weekend worship services. The stated purpose was to prevent the rapid spread of the dangerous Coronavirus. In many states, any type of assembly of more than ten people has been forbidden.  

     Most church leaders have complied with that request out of concern for community health and respect for government authority. Creative preachers have stayed in touch with their congregations through the internet and online services. There are encouraging reports of positive results as Christians attempt to make the most of every opportunity. It’s believed more people watched Easter sermons online this year than had attended church on the previous Resurrection Sunday.

     As we move into the first phase of “Reopening America” it is obvious churches will be limited by social distancing measures for weeks to come. Local governments are now tasked with the timeline for lifting those restrictions.  That concerns me because, in some states, government officials have concluded that drive-in liquor stores are essential, but drive-in church services were not. Abortion clinics remain open while churches remain closed.

     While it may require both creativity and courage to do so, church leaders should take initiative to meet together as soon as possible.  In my opinion, church leaders would make a huge mistake to assume that online services are a satisfactory, long-term substitute for regular worship.

There are numerous Biblical reasons why regular worship services are vital for Christ-followers:   

     Obedience – Corporate worship is a command, not an option.  Hebrews 10:24-25 instructs us, And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

      Sometimes when children don’t understand why their parents have issued a particular directive, they ask, “Why?” There is usually a solid reason for the instruction, but in the end, parents often respond, “Because I said so!” God is the ultimate authority in our lives; the fact that His word commands us to meet together regularly should be enough reason to obey. But there are good reasons why weekend assemblies are crucial for believers.

     Fellowship – The First Century church: “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

     From birth, we need interaction with others to be emotionally healthy. The same is true spiritually. Christians need meaningful relationships with other Christians. The most important lessons we learn are not in a classroom but from seeing faith lived out in the lives of others. Believers are told to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We need to feel the hugs, see the tears, join in the laughter, and hear the verbal responses of others. The Bible likens the church to a body where each part is essential in sustaining the other.

     Encouragement – The Hebrew writer says we’re to meet together regularly to Encourage one another.”  When we’re isolated, it’s easy to yield to the alluring temptations or the infectious despair that surround us. We need the reinforcement that only comes from interaction with others who “have received a faith as precious as ours.” 

     The preaching of the gospel encourages us. The prayers of the saints encourage us.  The reading of Scripture encourages us. Baptisms encourage us. Congregational singing encourages us.  Ephesians 5:19 says one of the ways to be filled with the Spirit is to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”

     In the past few weeks, I’ve participated in several online services with a handful of others. It’s my experience that much is lost in small group singing, partly because very few in my groups are strong singers. It’s inspirational to hear hundreds sing together, and I need to be surrounded by a plethora of others for congregational singing to be encouraging! 

     Accountability “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).  Christians must hold one another accountable for loyalty to Jesus Christ. If we never meet, never interact, never deepen relationships, effective accountability becomes limited to just a handful of believers who are often reluctant or incapable of confronting. 

     Hebrews 13:17tells us to have confidence in our church leaders, “…and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.”  When the congregation doesn’t assemble, there is little to no spiritual oversight.  

     Testimony – The Apostle Paul instructed the church to take communion together.  “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  When believers meet together, they proclaim their belief in Christ Jesus. One older man was asked why he went to his little country church even though the music was awful, and they had no preacher at the time.   He said, “I just want the devil and my neighbors to know whose side I’m on!” 

     Steve Chapman, a popular songwriter and author, relates that neither of his parents were Christian. His mother walked to nursing school two nights a week. One evening she was deeply troubled by her difficult marriage. As she made her way to class, she heard congregational singing from the church she was passing. She was captivated by the joyful music and forgot about her class. The Spirit of God moved within her as she slipped quietly into the back of the church. She heard the gospel preached and came home born again. In the years that followed, thousands have been touched by the inspirational music of her son Steve and his wife, Annie. That generational impact occurred because one small congregation met on a Wednesday night, and a young, troubled mother overheard their testimony.

     Nik Ripken, in his book, The Insanity of God, relates the dramatic conversion of a Muslim woman named Samira. Samira found a Bible and read her way to Christ on her own. Since she lived in a predominately Muslim culture, her life was in danger for having converted. When she went to work for the United Nations in a refugee camp, her supervisors extradited Samira to the United States for her own protection.

     When she arrived in the U.S., Nik and Ruth Ripken, who had previously served as missionaries in a Muslim culture, invited her to visit their home in central Kentucky. On Sunday, they took her to their medium-size church so she could experience an American worship service.

     It just so happened a family of four, a mother, father and two children were baptized that morning. During the baptism, the former Muslim was fidgety and restless…almost as if she was having an anxiety attack. Nik Ripken whispered to her, “Is something wrong?”

Ripken wrote, “Samira tugged on the sleeve of my jacket. She whispered forcefully in my ear, “I cannot believe this! I cannot believe that I have lived long enough to see people being baptized in public. An entire family together! No one is shooting at them, no one is threatening them, no one will go to prison, no one will be tortured, and no one will be killed. And they are openly and freely baptized as a family! I never dreamed that God could do such a thing! I never believed I would live to see a miracle like this.”

     At this point, I don’t know the wisest response to government intrusion on first amendment rights during a health crisis. However, I feel this is, constitutionally, very dangerous territory. Church leaders should seek God’s wisdom as to how to balance physical and spiritual health. I’m admittedly an impatient person, but we need to remember that the freedom of worship is an extraordinary gift that merits protecting and fighting for, lest it progressively slips away.

     Ripken related another story of a minister in the former Soviet Union who had been imprisoned and tortured for his gutsy loyalty to Christ. This courageous servant, who had been repeatedly persecuted by the communist party, gave Nik this challenge, “Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution! That is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!”   

Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY.


One Response to “Worship Assemblies Are Essential”

  1. Patricia says:

    Oh thank YOU!!

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That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10