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Editors’ note: 

This episode of Gospelbound is brought to you by Crossway, publisher of The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility by Ray Ortlund. In this book, Ray aims to inspire men to come together in new ways to fight the injustice of porn and build a world of nobility for every man and woman. More information at crossway.org.

We’re long past the time when we could assume even that dedicated believers in Jesus Christ understood why they should bother with church. The number who identify as Christians is far larger than the number who attend a weekly meeting. Even then, the bulk of the serving and giving in our churches tends to be done by only a few. So it’s not as if COVID-19 suddenly convinced Christians they didn’t need church. Millions had already made that decision even before gathering involved online registration, social distancing, and masks. Last year church membership fell to less than 50 percent for the first time since Gallup started recording the data 80 years ago. 

COVID-19 accelerated a long-trending separation between personal faith and organized religion. The shutdowns caught all of us by surprise in their sudden onset and ongoing duration. And it’s hard to get back in the habit once it’s been broken for months—now, even years—without a clear end in sight. 

Even so, the body of Christ is essential to our faith. A Christian without a church is a Christian in trouble. That’s why Jonathan Leeman and I wrote Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential, published by Crossway in partnership with 9Marks and The Gospel Coalition [20 quotes]. Leeman serves as editorial director of 9Marks and joined me on Gospelbound to discuss virtual churches, biblical authority after Mars Hill, and fellowship across difference, among other topics. Questions for Jonathan include:

  • How do you counsel leaders struggling to hold their churches together during the current upheaval?
  • Last year you warned against churches gathering under certain conditions. Now you’ve written a book saying that the gathered church is essential. Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?
  • You argue that church authority is biblical, necessary, and even for our good. Haven’t you been listening to the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast?
  • Would you say the need to physically assemble as a church is explicitly commanded, implicitly commended, or just good practical wisdom?
  • If virtual church makes it possible for many more people to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, then what’s the problem?
  • Why should a church strive for fellowship across difference? Shouldn’t we want churches where everyone agrees on truth when it comes to politics and racial unrest and vaccines and masks?
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