Shall We Gather?

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On Tuesday evening, our president announced that, with restrictions, places of worship (excluding Ellis Park, FNB Stadium, and Wanderers—sorry, couldn’t resist!) can reopen. As of next week, churches will be able to gather, as long as there are no more than fifty in attendance coupled with following strict protocols. This is good news. And yet this is going to require some serious consideration on the part of the eldership as we address the many decisions related to the question, shall we gather? And if so, how shall we gather?

Now, the first question may seem silly. Of course we should gather! After all, haven’t we all been longing for this? Well, yes, but it’s not that simple.

In emails back and forth, the elders have been tabling numerous questions, concerns, and considerations in preparation for our virtual elders meeting tonight. We need to address matters of biblical principles as well as matters of protocol and practicality. The more we think about this, the murkier becomes the questions, shall we gather? and, how shall we gather? Therefore, we need your prayers and this article is asking for them.

The elders greatly desire your prayers as we discuss, deliberate, defer, and decide on this matter. I can assure you that we feel the weight of both the spiritual and the physical health of the congregation as well as the pastoral concern regarding the unity of the church.

These matters, as many conservative evangelical churches are coming to appreciate, can be minefields for congregations and between congregations. I am less than edified by much of what I have encountered on social media concerning these matters. (And since I have minimal exposure to social media, it’s perhaps uglier than I realise.) The harsh accusations both “pro” and “con” over churches gathering cause me to wonder if the Holy Spirit is not being grieved (Ephesians 4:30). Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be! And a means to avoid such grief is to be praying our way through the decision-making process.

Your elders, as you are well aware, don’t pretend to have a special oracle of God in deciding these matters. Rather, with relevant information and input from those in the know, we will need to make decisions concerning the question(s) of gathering. It is to be expected that not everyone will agree with what is decided, and even among the elders there will be disagreements. I was speaking earlier this week to a brother who serves as an elder of a church that is known around the world. He told me that, after five hours of discussing, shall we gather?, and as the clock struck midnight, they made their decision. Though not all were fully in agreement; nevertheless, for the sake of unity, they supported the decision unanimously. That’s how it has to be sometimes—not only among the elders but, of course, among the congregation as well.

I share all of this to drive home our need for your prayers as we meet tonight, and for your prayers for harmony in the church in the days ahead.

The apostle Paul appealed to the Thessalonian church, “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). As a church, we desire God’s word to bring forth fruit. And since gathering is a regular means for this, we ask for your prayers: for wisdom, for unity, and for mutual corporate understanding. So, shall we gather? And how shall we gather? The answer is linked to your prayers. No pressure!

Praying with you,

Doug