By Ross Gilbert
The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers not to forsake the gathering of the brethren. He was not making a suggestion, but rather sharing vital, important, lifesaving truth! But we don’t tend to see it this way, do we? I wonder if the reason for this is because we have misunderstood the function and purpose of church.
For me, growing up in a Christian home, going to church was something that I knew I was supposed to do. It’s not something that I have always done, but it is something that I was always taught was important. But notice how I phrased that - “going to church.” I’m guessing you understood that I was referring to visiting a building on a Sunday morning for a couple of hours, but I’m pretty sure the Christians in the first century would be very confused by that statement.
Acts 2 shows us what life in the very first church was like. For those new believers, church was not just about an event they attended, rather, church became the community that they belonged to and lived life with.
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus turned to His disciples and left them with one final command. To teach others to observe, and hold on to all that Jesus had commanded and taught them. (Matthew 28:20)
The early church didn’t have a New Testament, but they did have the apostles. The early church gathered together to sit under the apostles’ teaching, which was the teaching of Jesus. There, they were taught about the New Covenant and how to live their new life in Jesus, instead of continuing to live from the Old Covenant as they were accustomed to.
When the early converts to Christianity began to follow Jesus it came with great cost. So, they needed the support and care of one another just to survive. This is just as true for us today. At times, that may include financial care for one another as was the case for the early church. But more importantly, it will mean encouraging and standing by one another when we are struggling within our souls.
Christian community is built around the eternal person of Jesus Christ and thus, we can draw power from Him as we connect with one another as a community of grace.
What is a community of grace? I believe it’s a place where you are safe to trust others with your most authentic self, knowing that you will be loved and accepted in return. That love is not a weak kind of love. Instead, it is a strong love that promises to stand beside you when you are struggling, encourage you when you are hurting, accept you when you are doubting and give you permission to be a work in progress.
May we never forsake the gathering of the brethren, but create a church known for how we love Jesus and how we love others. For when this happens, no one will ever feel that they have to go to church, but instead, it will become the place they long to be.