Stronger Together in Jesus
In the last book of The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, a wicked ape named Shift persuaded a naïve donkey called Puzzle to wear a lion's skin and impersonate Aslan (a figure of Jesus). Shift used Puzzle, and even collaborated with soldiers from a foreign hostile nation, in his schemes to gain power and control over the other creatures of Narnia. But when the real Aslan appeared and defeated Shift, a band of dwarves who were deceived by Shift's false Aslan refused to believe in the genuine one and decided to go their own way. They had become so jaded that even when taken into Aslan's country (a symbol of heaven), they could only perceive themselves as being locked in a dark, smelly stable.
There are many who have reacted to being misled by a professing "Christian" or other religious organization preaching a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-9) in much the same way as most of the dwarves did in C.S. Lewis' story. Not wishing to be deceived again, they reject most churches as false and avoid association with any of them. They decide to worship and read God's word alone, foregoing fellowship with other believers.
These are challenging times for Christians to gather and worship together in person. In Communist, Islamic, or other authoritarian countries, believers gathering together often bring severe persecution, imprisonment or death. Increasingly in Western countries, government sanctions of various kinds are imposed for doing so.
Nonetheless, the importance and necessity of assembling with fellow believers remains. It is essential and cannot be neglected or adequately reproduced by video conferencing technology, something that cannot fully mitigate the isolation from others and the loneliness it brings. Living separate from a strong local assembly of believers can spiritually weaken and leave one more vulnerable to the deceptive schemes of the enemy. God created us to give and receive the benefits of friendship and community. This point is illustrated in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which says:
Friends can help you accomplish more than you could achieve on your own; companions can help in times of need; partners can bring comfort; and friends can provide protection in difficult situations.
The following are several key characteristics of a strong local assembly of believers.
Being part of a church fellowship with these qualities will help believers "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18), protect against being drawn away into false teaching, help build up the body of Christ through shared talents and service, and provide comfort and encouragement in difficult times such as these.
In the 2019 film, Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, the Resistance leader General Poe Dameron gathered his pilots for a few last words before the final battle against Palpatine's great armada of star battle cruisers. He sensed their fear regarding their chances for success. It was as though a mouse was going up against an elephant. The effort to be free of Palpatine's tyranny appeared headed to a hopeless and terrible end.
But General Dameron sought to encourage his pilots by telling them that help from the rest of the galaxy would come to their aid. There were far more against Palpatine's rule than for it. He said their adversary wanted to convince them that they were all alone and powerless to resist. But this was a lie. They were not alone as long as they who loved freedom gathered and worked together. Their power was far greater than Palpatine's and that is what he feared and hated. With these words of exhortation, they went off to battle.
Though initially few in number against the enormous fleet of enemy ships and taking heavy losses, General Dameron continued to encourage his pilots not to give up because help would come. Suddenly, a multitude of starships from all over the galaxy appeared looking almost like grains of sand in space. Palpatine's commanding general exclaimed, "Where did they get all these fighter craft? They have no navy." His lieutenant told him, "This is not a navy, sir. It's just … people." The motley fleet of "just people" utterly defeated Palpatine's armada, which led to a general revolt against his rule across the galaxy that resulted in the restoration of freedom.
By holding fast to faith in their cause for freedom, realizing that they were not alone, and coming together to encourage one another for the final fight, they had a power that could not be turned back or overcome. This is reminiscent of what the writer of Hebrews said to Jewish believers in Jesus in the 1st century A.D., where many of them were being isolated and ostracized by family, friends, and associates for their faith. Hebrews 10:23-25 says,
Do not listen to the devil when he says you do not need fellowship and that you can go it alone, or that you are all alone and it is useless to resist the darkness he brings. Those who trust in Jesus alone for salvation are never truly alone because He promises to always be with us (Matthew 28:20). But we need each other, too. And He has given the gift of fellowship to encourage and strengthen us in our sojourn on earth. Several logs burn brightly together; but put one aside on the cold hearth and the fire goes out. Together in Jesus Christ believers are stronger, even if the world at times is daunting and appears about to overcome and destroy.
"You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)