On the Local Church, and What We’ve Done to it

I think in a few years – maybe a couple decades down the road – the Church as a whole will look back at these years and collectively shake our heads. I am sure that is the case for every generation in a sense, as we look back at what our parents’ generation focused on and it does not seem to compute. But I think by 2030 we will look back at this time and be genuinely bewildered at what we “did” to the local church.
How, we will wonder, did we think that the local church – local because it’s a group of people who live near each other coming together in a physical, tangible way to live out the gospel – could function with a message from a preacher piped in over a video feed? Didn’t we realize that would cause serious injury to the present-ness of the gospel? Since we as the Church proclaim that God is not in fact far away, not in fact only in our imaginations, and not in fact disinterested in the struggles of this world – but is HERE – how did we think we could effectively communicate that to a gathered group of people in another location? “God is here, but I who speak to you am not”??
And how, we will wonder, did we actually think that there could be such a thing as an “online church”? While we will acknowledge at that later date that that internet thing was cool, we will wonder how we got it all tangled up with the most important movement in history – the last and only hope to save the world. We will wonder why we catered so earnestly to those people who were afraid to come to a physical gathering. It will seem so obvious then: the sick need to go and physically be with a doctor to receive healing, and those in need of Christ need to go and physically be with his body, the Church, to receive healing and hope and salvation. It’s the way he set it up, and we will wonder how we missed it. It will become clear that in our rush to be sensitive we ended up offering a watered down version of the church, as the local church cannot be what it was intended to be if not even 2 or 3 are gathered in his name…
We will decide that during this “technological revolution” we must have gotten so enamored with our own technological capabilities that we forgot what the local church is, and that one of the most powerful aspects of the Church Jesus instituted is that we are physically together – we sit together, we cry together, we repent together, we forgive together, we eat together, we hear the word together, we worship together, we witness together, and we follow Jesus in remaking the world together.
Our faith is not a spiritual one only, some mystical thing up in the clouds. Our faith starts and ends with the actions of our hands, in the dirt and muck of daily life, as we stand next to our brothers and sisters and do our best to live out the Kingdom of God in the presence of each other and our neighbors. If the local church is not physically together, it is only an ephemeral, make-believe local church. It is in fact not the local church.
I could be wrong, but I feel like we will look back and say these words: “Never again will we become so excited about our own abilities that we forget what this thing is all about. And never again will be so interested in finding new ways to grow our number that we miss the transformation that happens in the everyday of the local church – as we follow Jesus, living out the gospel shoulder to shoulder with our brother and sister in Christ.”
Hey, at least I hope we say that…

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