I pray for you, as I pray for myself, for patience whilst we wait for the return to normal (whatever it is that “normal” means!). It is sometimes said that patience is the gift that is most needed when it is exhausted. It is a gift from God, too, so let’s ask Him for it: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).
God has made us a part of His body, and put us among the people of God, so we may grow in Christ likeness and wait expectantly for Jesus to return for His Bride. “…we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2.13-14)
This Sunday, 31st May, is the Birthday of the Church – Pentecost Sunday.
On this day, we remember that God poured out his Spirit, and constituted the living Church – which has spread out throughout the world, all through the ages.
As we continue to live with lockdown, and expect that Church – as we once knew it – will not return any time soon, I have been reflecting on the hallmarks of true Church, from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 2.42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
i. What is the Hallmark of a True Church?
The teaching and learning function of Church works quite well via YouTube and Zoom. Obviously, we miss the relational side of learning, but generally, evangelical churches (with a higher priority on preaching and Bible Study) have adapted well to newly acquired pedagogy!
Telephones, letters, acts of kindness, and, again, zoom, have meant that we can still connect well with each other. But it’s not just grannie who longs to be hugged, and lockdown can still be very isolating for many. I have been impressed with the care many of you have shown to each other.
Worshipping v46 (private and public)
Oh, we miss singing don’t we?!
And, there is something about the communal, gathered nature of Church which is so important
There have been some opportunities to reach out to people (Akeel’s recent talk, Christianity Explored Courses), but guest events, such as Gerald Osbourne reading Mark, and the Jonathan Veira concert, are on hold for now.
However, we should not forget the role we each play in being salt and light in this dark world: As John Stott wrote, “Come to Christ for worship; go for Christ in mission” (John Stott, the Living Church).
ii. What are today’s challenges to being a True Church?
We expect some kind of return to gathered Church worship soon, but:
– Initially only small groups so socially distancing can happen.
– Initially, no Sunday school; No refreshments.
– Many Seniors will choose not to come for now.
The reality is that, even when we are allowed to meet together again (from July), there will be some core parts of worship which are missing.
iii. Can we continue to be Church online forever?
Well, we do the best we can within the constraints we have. But let us be mindful of some of these implications of being a True Church:
– We are called to be worshippers not consumers.
– Belonging to Christ and one another – so, not just for my upbuilding but to build others up too.
– We need to find ways to reach out and make mature disciples.
– Sharing the Sacraments are inevitably public and communal acts.
(I found this article on the topic quite helpful https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/whats-special-church/ )
Please pray for those of us seeking to navigate the future, and trying to faithfully serve God and His Church.