Growing in Christ Apart from the Public Gathering - Andrew Hollingsworth
The great German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg rightly defined the church as “the fellowship of individual believers.” At its very core, the church’s identity is a community, and communities evolve out of fellowship. If the church is a fellowship, then it necessarily requires more than one person. Without fellowship, the church cannot exist. Sure, we have been able to fellowship with great technologies brought to us by Apple, Microsoft, Google, and the makers of Zoom; but how do we grow as the church if we are unable to physically gather together as a public community?
Believe it or not, this quarantine has provided Christians with an outstanding opportunity, the opportunity to grow in Christ. But how can the church grow if it cannot gather, if it cannot fellowship in the way it was intended? How can my wife and I grow in Christ if we are unable to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the way the New Testament describes? In the rest of this short post, I want to answer this question of isolated Christian growth with two answers: as individuals and as families.
The church is a fellowship of individual believers. Fundamentally, the church is a union of individuals. So, individual Christian growth is essential to church growth (growth in Christ, not numbers). If Christian individuals are not growing, then the church will not grow. So, in this time of quarantine, we should be focusing on our own individual growth.
Personally, I’ve been able to experience a lot of individual growth during this time of shelter in place. How so? I’ve made it a point in this time of quarantine to spend more time in Scripture and prayer than I have before. Let’s be honest for just a second: most of what the world offers us can be reduced to nothing more than distractions. Sure, living in New Orleans we are surrounded by fun things and great restaurants that we love to devote our time to, but in devoting our time to these things we sacrifice our time for other things. Since we have not been able to go out to eat, go to movies, or go out to do fun things, we now have ample time to spend in the Word and prayer (if you don’t have kids!).
We also have had time to read books that are spiritually beneficial for us. Personally, I’ve been able to work through Basil of Caesarea’s important book On the Holy Spirit. This book has helped enrich my understanding of who God is as the Triune God, and it has helped me to better understand the person and work of the Spirit, especially in how the Spirit works in my life. Amidst the additional time to read more Scripture, pray more, and read books for my own personal growth, I’ve been able to experience a lot of individual growth in Christ. I don’t tell you all about what I’ve been doing to impress anyone, but to provide an example of how we can experience individual growth in Christ during this time.
The second way the church can experience growth in this time of quarantine is through familial growth. Throughout Scripture, it is pointed to that the family is the most fundamental unit of society. When families fall apart, societies fall apart. The same is the case with the church. While the church is a fellowship of individual believers, it is also a fellowship of families. With this additional time that we have had at home, we have spent more time around our families than we typically do. With all this time with our families, we have had prime opportunity to focus on family worship time, centering around the reading and study of Scripture and family prayer. While we have not done as well as we could have, Katie and I have taken time to read Scripture together as a family and to pray as a family more than we did prior to the pandemic. More specifically, we have made a fairly regular habit of praying through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It has been a blessing for us to do this as a couple. This is but one way that the church can grow: through familial growth.
This quarantine has been difficult for us as a church, but it does not have the ability to stunt our growth in Christ unless we let it. The church has had the opportunity to grow in both individual and familial avenues, and I have no doubt that it has. If you’re like me, you tend to see the glass half empty, especially the glass that has been this pandemic. However, in his mercy, the Lord has made this pandemic an opportunity for his church, a chance to slow down and focus on its growth, in the individual and the familial. May we continue to pursue ways to grow in Christ as New Orleans slowly begins to open back up. I look forward to physically gathering with my church family again and seeing how much they’ve grown in this time.
Andrew Hollingsworth is a Deacon at Canal Street Church and a volunteer on the Audio/Visual team. He also serves as Online Instructional Design Specialist and Adjunct Professor of Christian Studies at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, GA.