I recently had the great honor of officiating at my youngest daughter, Jasmine’s wedding (her twin sister, Jessie, would want to make sure I point out that she is a full five minutes older than her “little sister”). We were blessed with an absolutely picture perfect day here in south central Kansas, and we were even more blessed by the tangible presence of our good and beautiful God and the loving support of so many dear friends and family members. It was a wonderful celebration of the good Lord’s infinite mercy and everlasting love for each and every one of us.
Jasmine and her new husband, Troy, had a somewhat unconventional courtship, at least in comparison to her older siblings. Once an avowed atheist, Troy came to a personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ through his friendship with Jasmine and the contagious love and compassion of the congregation at Derby Friends Church. Troy told me recently that he never really had a good reason to reject the gospel, but that he also never had a clear and compelling reason to accept it based on what he perceived to be a lack of credible and convincing evidence. That all changed when he became personally engaged in the life of the local church, however, where he was able experience firsthand, for the first time in his life, the redemptive and transformational power of an authentic Christian community.
This reminds me of a similar testimony that we heard from Evan, who was introduced to us by Dan Kimball, our guest speaker at this year’s Ministry Conference. During a live interview with Evan, a young adult from southern California who is openly agnostic about the Christian faith, he offered this startling observation:
“I feel like churches, and religious institutions as a whole, are one of the last strongholds of community in this generation. My generation, and every generation going forward, will be a generation of shut-ins. My generation are people who will stay home all the time. They will never go out. They will never find community. This is one of the last communities that actually exists, where people actually gather in person … I am greatly inspired by Christianity, and I want to figure out a way for people in my generation to gather and form community.”
Troy and Evan’s stories offer a graphic illustration of the tremendous power of Christian community. I am convinced that a genuine and irrefutable miracle takes place every time an obviously imperfect, deeply broken and wildly diverse group of people gather together in unity at the foot of the cross to confess their utter dependence upon the saving and sustaining grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the process, these same people are encouraged and equipped by the Holy Spirit with a fresh portion of faith, hope, love and power to follow Jesus as his flawed yet faithful ambassadors, people who are on mission with God to do whatever they possibly can to speed the coming of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth, even as it is in heaven.
This is why we as Evangelical Friends join with true believers from around the world and across the ages in affirming our unwavering commitment to the communio sanctorum (“the communion of the saints”) as one of our non-negotiable core beliefs. It is why we gather together on a regular basis to worship, pray, study, sing, eat and play as a body of believers. And it’s why we set aside extra time and space during our public worship gatherings for special services such as weddings, funerals, baby dedications or various expressions of baptism and communion. Every one of these activities can be done in private, of course, but faithful friends of Jesus have been doing them in public for nearly 2,000 years now based on the fact that Jesus did so (cf. Jn 2:1-12), the early church did so (cf. Ac 2:41-47), and the Scriptures admonish the rest of us to do so as well (cf. Heb 10:24-25). As Augustine of Hippo once declared, “He cannot have God for his Father who will not have the Church for his mother.”
In addition to this biblical and historical testimony, we all know through personal experience, somewhere deep in our hearts and souls, that there is something more and something greater that happens when we gather together in corporate worship as a community of faith. At the very least, we can say with confidence that the presence of our omnipresent God becomes exponentially more tangible and the power of our omnipotent God becomes exponentially more accessible. And this, in turn, empowers us to bear even more faithful and fearless witness to the life-changing gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we give thanks for the gift of modern technology that allows us to stay at least somewhat connected to the wider body of Christ during our current global pandemic, let us also take heed of the following words of wisdom from our dear brother, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his very life for the sake of Christ and his Church:
“Let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”