We are Grace Church - Part 2 - The Table
THREE ESSENTIAL SPHERES OF THE CHURCH - "THE TABLE"
In my last post, I outlined the need to clearly articulate what is essential for the church and what is not essential for the church, especially in seasons like the one we are in right now. In that post, I outlined the most essential sphere of the church as the ecclesia. The ecclesia is the gathered church for Word and Sacrament. We outlined the need to do what it takes to preserve this observance but also be flexible if we are providentially hindered from either gathering at all as the local church or gathering under irregularly means. As you have heard me say many times, we will do our best to make sure we meet in person in some form each Sunday.
In this post, I want to talk about the second sphere. “The Table.”
In one sense, we must understand that we cannot entirely bifurcate these three spheres because they naturally overlap. Nonetheless, when we speak of the “Table” we are talking about those spaces where we begin to meaningfully connect with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, there are natural spaces beyond the Corporate Worship Gathering that help us become family. In my home, there is no place that is more used by my family than the kitchen table. Whether it is after school reconnecting with Amanda and the boys or around the dinner table in meaningful conversation during dinner, conducting family worship or playing a rousing game of Rook, the table is a common space for connection with one another in our home. I bet the same is true for you. The Table is a simply a representation of what it means to be a family.
In many ways, the local church is a family gathered around a dinner table. In Acts 2:42-46, we see this shared life experienced in meals, generosity, service, study of God’s Word and praying together. This text is a helpful description of the rhythms of the church.
But even though the Bible may “describe” how the early church pursued these ends, it does not “prescribe” specifically how we must carry out this shared life. This is an important category distinction. Where the Bible does "prescribe" how we are to worship God when we gather, it does not “prescribe” how we are to pursue the natural family life of the church.
At Grace Church, we have aspired to leave a lot of room for flexibility over the years as we engage in life together as the Spirit leads. As we have grown and matured, Grace Church now employs Small Groups (DNA Groups), age-graded Sunday Morning Bible Study, Fellowships gatherings & other activities. It’s beautiful! Nonetheless, the forms we utilize are permitted to change as times and seasons dictate. Forms of family life may change from season to season based on a lot of differing factors. Think about how a family adapts to growing children or teenagers leaving for university. The family relationship may change as seasons change but if the family is healthy, it will mature as these seasons pass.
In the case of the sphere of the “Table”, we are free to pursue varied mediums of pursuing biblical life together as life continues to change. We must keep our minds, hearts and hands open to how God is at work in our specific time and space. As seasons come and go, how we embrace change with either show our maturity as Christ followers or immaturity.
As we think about the “Table”, we need to be careful that we do not define the faithfulness of the church by specific mediations of how we do life together beyond Sunday. That is clearly immaturity. I love all the ways our young church has grown up to be but as our church grows, it changes and as it changes it matures. We must remember that the church is not defined by “fellowships”, Sunday Schools, small groups or other kinds of mediums of life and ministry together. The church is simply defined by “loving God, loving neighbor and making disciples.” Relationship is the key to all of this. Yet, we are left with a lot of liberty in how we go about accomplishing this end except where God expressly commands his people to obedience.
As we press through this chaotic season, there is one thing has not changed. Our Call! We are called to zealously pursue being a family that Loves God, loves neighbor and makes disciples beyond Sunday. That's it! It may mean doing so in smaller less structured gatherings or utilizing other means to enrich our church family and make disciples. Additionally, utilizing online environments to stay connected if necessary, may not be ideal but it can be meaningful. My brother Patrick and I are best friends. We usually talk several times a week but since he lives in Virginia, our communication is limited to phone calls and video chat. It's not ideal but meaningful. But it sure does make my trips home to Virginia and to the beach that much more sweet each year.
Here is a truth I am learning slowly. Social distance does not equate to isolation. Isolation is a concerning reality that the church needs embrace as a fertile disciple making opportunity. Our goal at Grace Church is to do our best to maintain an in-person Corporate gathering each Sunday with a complement Live Stream. But in all other areas, we will work hard to encourage our church to be as creative and zealous as we can to stay connected to one another as we fulfill our work and witness whether that is in-person or otherwise. What would happen if the church was seen as less concerned about our views regarding social distancing and masks but rather as zealous to use this moment as a means to love our lonely church family and neighbors well.
Employing varying degrees of Social distancing while pursuing and remaining committed to what God has clearly commanded may not be ideal but with God’s help, it can still be Spirit-filled and purposeful nonetheless.