What is the reason we assemble together as believers? What was the biblical purpose for assembling, and should it still be the purpose?
Whenever the Bible speaks of the Christians assembling together, what do we see taking place? There really isn’t a whole lot in the Bible about their assemblies for worship, but let’s start with a look at Acts.
Chapter 2, verse 42 we find “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.”
Continuing to chapter 20, verses 7-11 we find: “On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on speaking. When he was overcome by sleep he fell down from the third story, and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, threw himself on him, embraced him, and said, ‘Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him!’ After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, he conversed a considerable time until dawn. Then he left.”
1 Corinthians 11:17-26 is a discussion by Paul about their misuse of the Lord’s table, and he gives them appropriate instructions. This tells me that the Lord’s table (or as many call it, Communion) was a common part of their gathering.
In Romans 12:6-8, Paul mentions the various gifts among the members of the church: “According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the standard of faith; if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.”
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul again discusses various gifts among the body of believers. Starting at verse 4 he says, “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:” He then lists various gifts, ministries and activities, but he says they are to “produce what is beneficial,” meaning beneficial to the body of Christ. A few passages later Paul tells of the various types of people and gifts that have been put in the Church by God: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next, miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages.” (vs. 27-28). But the whole discussion is in the context of everyone in the assembly needing everyone else because not everyone is blessed with the same gifts.
Now look at what Paul says at 1 Corinthians 14: “Therefore if the whole church assembles together, and all are speaking in other languages, and people who are uninformed or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all are prophesying, and some unbeliever or uninformed person comes in, he is convicted by all and is judged by all. The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall down on his face and worship God, proclaiming, ‘God is really among you.’ How is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.” (vs. 23-26) He says “ALL” things must be done for edification. And he speaks about unbelievers who might come in, not that unbelievers are invited in or are part of the normal assembly, which is why all things must be done in an orderly fashion.
The last Scripture at which I want to look is Ephesians 4: 11-16: “And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” [my bold emphasis]
So what have we learned about the New Testament assemblies? The assembled saints met to hear the apostles’ teachings, for breaking of bread (including the Lord‘s table), for singing psalms, for fellowship and prayer. They had been given gifts for the building up of the body: encouragement, edification and discipling. Is there anywhere mentioned that the assembled saints were to use their meeting times to evangelize?
I think the Church has become very much misdirected as to the purpose of their assembling together on Sunday mornings. Too often the services are “seeker sensitive,” entertainment-oriented so as to appeal to unbelievers. Too often we are told to bring our unsaved friends and acquaintances to church.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the assembly is where we come to meet for corporate worship and fellowship and discipleship. When this is compromised by making it a time to bring in unbelievers, we do not properly build up the body. Evangelization is not for the church assembled or for the sermon, rather evangelization is what the individual believers should be equipped to be doing outside the assembly.
[All Scripture is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible]