COVER STORY – RETURN TO CHURCH
During the past year of pandemic isolation, we all have been very thankful to God that He has provided us with the means to share His Word through live streaming and other venues. Thanks be to God that He has spared the large majority of our members from severe health problems due to the virus! Now that restrictions have been eased and the danger has subsided somewhat, it’s a good time to remind each other of the blessings of in-person fellowship.
The word fellowship has to do with sharing. Church fellowship can be described as “whatever Christians do together as spiritual partners.” Examples include worship, prayer, singing hymns and spiritual songs, sharing the Lord’s Supper, Christian education, mutual encouragement in God’s Word, and mission work.
God wants to bless His believers through the interactive exercise of their faith with others who share the same beliefs in Jesus, founded on the truth of His Word. This fellowship that we share was never meant to be purely passive. Yes, it’s possible to do these things in a limited way from a distance, but the best blessings come when you give as well as receive:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
Is there a problem with hearing God’s Word and practicing one’s Christian faith at home? No—we should all be doing that! But when we have the opportunity, God’s encouragement is to be with each other regularly,
“. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25 ESV)
It may often seem like attending a church service is only a passive thing anyway. But the fact that you make a point of being there is very important to all the others, since it gives you the opportunity for mutual sharing of the Gospel, for greeting your fellow Christians in Jesus’ Name, and for offering your personal support to them.
Consider a similar example of the importance of “being there.” If a close relative or dear friend were getting married and you were able to attend, how would it benefit others if you said, “Thanks for the invitation—I’ll be watching it at home”? Isn’t it an even more special occasion when the Lord Himself invites us to spend time, actually together, with our fellow church members to hear His Word, sing His praises, pray in His Name, and receive Jesus’ true body and blood in Communion? The fact that we are present says to everyone, “Because of what God has done for us in Christ, I want to take advantage of every opportunity to gather with others who believe this Good News—not only for my benefit, but for theirs as well!”
Of course, there are always those who, because of their circumstances, have little opportunity to share in-person fellowship. Those who are shut-ins or who live at a far distance from church are isolated by necessity. Our congregations strive to bridge this gap by bringing church TO them, through pastoral and member visits, through the mail, and by electronic means. We also understand that some of our members are still exercising caution in order to avoid becoming ill, and that this is a personal health decision.
“Welcome Back to Church!” Worshiping together is a positive way to strengthen your own faith, and to share that faith with others, through Word and Sacrament. Our focus should always be on the great gifts that God has given to us in His Son as our Redeemer, and the Lord’s promise to provide us with the great blessings that personal, interactive fellowship will bring. With a Savior like ours, we can all have the cheerful attitude that David expressed in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”
Bruce Naumann is senior pastor of Messiah
Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.