Christianity is a public faith. Biblically, from God’s national covenant with Israel, to Jesus’s twelve disciples and his seventy mentionable followers, to the first church gathering after Jesus’s resurrection, believing relationships with God have existed in assembly. When Luke records the church’s birth, he’s intent that his readers grasp how the faith gestates in community. Within the four chapters of the book of Acts, Luke includes two explicit passages about the earliest Christians communal life:
- And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:44)
- Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)
Occasions for gathering surpassed Sundays in the early church. The first Christians met daily. They seized every community to meet, to search the scriptures together, to pray together, to converse together. We can’t, as modern Christians, lose sight of the cooperate nature of biblical faith. Together, we the members of the Christian church comprise what Paul calls the body of Christ. Together, in collection, we find our fullest expression of belief.
In his classic work on Christian community, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—WWII theologian, pastor, and martyr—says,
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”
We the followers of Christ find in community the gift of God to us. We find in every occasion for assembly the work of the Spirit maturing us into the actual body of Christ. We, in gathering, become some greater than the sum of our individual parts. We form the fellowship of the faithful, the tangible presence of the invisible God, the physical constellation of Christ’s presence and power in the world. As John writes in his first epistle,
“and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)
Our fellowship with one another is fellowship with the God within each of us; fellowship with God must take on the flesh of our fellowship with one another. The assembly of the faithful is the manifestation of message of the gospel. And occasions for this kind of assembly are gifts to God’s people, gracious ways in which we see faith in the collected lives of the faithful.
I see the Downline Summit as this kind of spiritual occasion. Over a thousand souls, each with intricately unique life experiences, gathered to worship, learn, and hear the Word of God spoken by and to the body of Christ. At the Summit, I’ll hear from those whose lives have been shaped by the gospel. I’ll pray with them. I’ll learn from them. In my gathering with them, I’ll share in the Spirit of God alongside them. In being with my fellow believers, I’ll open the gift of the sanctifying assembly of God’s people. I’ll share more deeply in the gospel because I’m sharing the gospel with them. I’ll be, in the midst of the believing community, at the height of God’s will for me in my public expression of faith. Gathered in one heart and soul, in fellowship with Christ and his gospel, I’ll put myself in the path of the increase of God’s power in the world.