Providence has led us into the shadowy lands of a global pandemic. For us as churches, many graces have been denied us in this season, but it is the lack of the grace of assembling that hurts the most. We long for communion around the elements of worship once again: singing, prayer, and breaking bread, witnessing baptism, and hearing God’s Word preached as we gather with our covenant brothers and sisters. We long to corporately affirm those precious gospel truths once again—by allowing them to reverberate in the body through the warmth of fellowship extended to the stranger; through one-another care demonstrated in impromptu prayer instigated by a downcast face; and through the confession of sin one to another or the confrontation of sin as we bend the knee to the Word of the King. In short, we long to meet.

Our longing is justified because we know that our earthly gatherings are a foretaste of the assembly that we have been saved for—the assembly of the firstborn. It is described as a festal gathering—one that has innumerable angels as well as all who have been made righteous in the presence of Jesus. As exiles, we take much comfort in the grace of gathering as churches here on earth; to be denied this is a burden almost too heavy to bear. But God gives grace, and we trust that though the bud may have a bitter taste, the flower will be sweet. As a church family longing to meet again, we have deemed it best to lean heavily on other corporate graces, as we await the good providence of God to restore our meetings.

The temple in the New Testament is Christ. He is our meeting place, our High Priest, and our sacrifice. In Him we enjoy the presence of God. We can draw nigh to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace in the time of need. Lack of access to where our churches meet means neither that we cannot pray for each other nor that we have no access to grace. This is because Jesus has granted us access to the very throne room of God where He also stands as our High Priest. We want to lean heavily on prayer for one another. The New Testament fulfillment of Jesus as the temple also means that every believer is both a priest and a part of the temple. We have access to God and are called to fulfill priestly services in His temple. We also have a biblical mandate to serve and guard the church. In our own church, the gift of technology mingled with the means of a membership roll means we can pray for every member of our church twice a month. Members are assigned a list of members to reach out to and pray for every week. There is grace to be received before the throne of grace. And so, as we consider how to respond in this unusual time, we do not want to neglect or undermine the good that might be ours—by taking this time to strengthen our commitment to pray for each other. 

But God gives grace, and we trust that though the bud may have a bitter taste, the flower will be sweet.

Teaching and admonishing in the church is not a duty of the elders and teachers alone. It is also not to be restricted to the Lord’s Day gathering. Paul paints a lucid picture of his desire for the saints at the church in Colossae by giving them several “one another” instructions. In the third chapter, he adds a one-another instruction that we so often neglect in the church: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). Although instruction from biblically qualified elders is primary in our discipleship, the church is not meant to experience teaching only once a week from only one man. The picture we have is that of a congregation, where members are regularly discipling and admonishing one another. This may be done over coffee, in homes, on the phone, with new believers, among the old, with struggling saints, or with couples trying to grow in their marriage.

Echoes of God’s Word are to resound in His church long after the sun has set on the Lord’s Day, long after we have departed from the place of assembly. And though not every church member will teach and admonish like a George Whitefield or other noted preacher, Romans 15:14 makes it clear that we can expect members to be competent at this task. Great gifts in teaching residing in only one or two members cannot sustain churches as they grow. For the body to remain nourished, teaching must characterize how we relate as members generally to one another. In our assembly, we have decided to allow the providence of not being able to gather to serve as an impetus for members to disciple each other. Even though there are good reasons to supplement the Sunday gathering with an online service (which we did for several weeks), we decided it would be better for husbands to embrace the burden to dive into the Scriptures and prepare lessons for their families and for the unmarried to gather in homes to disciple each other. 

Training is a core part of what every pastor is called to do. Our preaching and teaching is not designed to spoon feed the saints but to train the saints. Therefore, the best preaching and teaching is not only that which helps members get the point of the passage but that which also helps them see how the teacher arrived at the conclusions to which he is calling them to respond. The vision for ministry in Ephesians 4 has pastors equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

It has obviously been very intimidating for many of our members to prepare passages for teaching and discipleship among themselves. However, one of our elders prepared resources that we continue to send to the church to help them with a step-by-step process of how to progress from the text to a lesson. Zoom calls that have served like mini-hermeneutics classes have also greatly helped those looking for more help. We do not by any measure think that the quality or clarity of teaching going on is as clear as what would be received in the Lord’s Day services, where we have those whom God has particularly gifted for teaching opening up His Word for us. But we are convinced that we will be stronger if we have a higher percentage of our people trained to teach one another as we have been commanded. It might be messier, but we pray that it will make us healthier. 

We can be sure that each member of God’s church is well equipped to fulfill their mandate in the church. In a season when providence has denied us a key grace, leaning on the other graces—to which He has called us in His church—is a sure way of modeling trust in Him. We are doing what we can to help each member of God’s church become well equipped to fulfill their mandate in the church. May the Lord allow us to see much fruit from this trying time.

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