Churches Gather, That’s Part of What They Do: Thoughts on Ecclesiology in a Pandemic

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It’s essential to understand the biblical call to gather if we are to rightly think through the challenges of church in the COVID-19 crisis.

Around the world, churches have begun to “reopen” for in-person gatherings (though some have already shut down again due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases). Likely, over the past months you have seen or read countless tweets and posts around the following ideas: “The church has never been closed” or “The church isn’t a building; it is a people.”

Fair enough.

Yes, the church is a people—the “called out” ones, which was more a political descriptive in antiquity. But I only half-agree with the premise “the church has never been closed” with regards to the shutting down of in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 crisis.

The church’s gathering has been closed in many cases, and seeing that as a bad thing and a necessary thing are not contradictory.

We need to think through more about how gathering really matters.

The church

The church, like God’s mission, has a centripetal force and a centrifugal force—it has both a gathered and a scattered function. And when people espouse that the church has never been closed, in my mind they are saying this “new normal” of not being able to gather is acceptable.

That’s not the best way to think of it, I believe.

Theologically, if the church cannot gather corporately (in-person), an element or part of the essence of the church has been closed. And, in line with being closed, we need to prioritize it being open—and see it being closed as a deficient practice to be remedied at some point.

To be clear, I am not arguing that churches should have never postponed in-person gatherings due to COVID-19. And I’m not arguing that churches should reopen as soon as possible.

Here I want to simply …

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