The Bible knows nothing of the Lone Ranger Christian. For whatever else it can be said to be, the church you gather with tomorrow morning (Lord willing) is a local expression of the New Covenant community. It is critically important to not miss the relevance of that reality when thinking through the necessity of gathering together for worship on the Lord’s Day. Christians are by covenantal nature a communal people.
The New Covenant is indeed the blessed mechanism by which you are saved, but the New Covenant is actually not made with you in a strict sense. The New Covenant is made with a community. This communal nature of the New Covenant is seen in Jeremiah 31:31-33. Notice all the plural pronouns and communal aspects of this promise:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33 ESV)
Also, notice in Matthew 26:28 when Jesus is formally inaugurating the New Covenant he echoes this communal language, saying this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. This was a communal meal symbolizing a communal sacrifice, using communal language, inaugurating a communal covenant. We see this pattern established very clearly in the Old Covenant history of Israel. When Moses led the people out into the wilderness, they assembled as a nation and formally entered into a covenant with their Redeemer Lord. Although the New Covenant differs from the Old in that it is spiritual and eternal rather than national and temporary, the essential communal aspect of the covenant is unchanged.
The impact of this covenantal reality on how we think about church is profound and cannot be underestimated. In fact, this means that a Christian who claims New Covenant blessings but never assembles with the New Covenant community is a complete covenantal contradiction! It would be akin to an ancient Israelite wandering off from Mount Sinai in total disregard for God’s structure of Old Covenant life, thinking he could just worship Yahweh in his heart while playing a round of golf with the Amalekites. Again, much has changed with the historic inauguration of the New Covenant, but the erasure of the communal aspect of the covenant is simply not one of them.
There is simply no good argument for a Christian to be habitually missing from Church. You cannot claim Christ without claiming his people. If we purposefully absent ourselves from the time when the New Covenant community gathers, what right do we have to think we are partakers of that Covenant in any sense at all? A tree is known by its fruit. If such absence suits us fine in this life, what right have we to think our situation will be so different in the next? Let us clear up our covenantal contradictions without delay!
(By: Nicolas Alford)