We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What is “Church” For?

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]


Paul Pavao said...

For the most part, modern Christians have missed the point of church before they ever arrive at the meeting. The early church was the family of God in a much more literal sense, taking care of one another and enjoying the sort of daily fellowship and interaction in each others' lives that is normal for families. (The Didache and Letter of Barnabas command seeking out the faces of the saints every day - Heb. 3:13)

As soon as a Christian meeting becomes a meeting of mostly strangers and acquaintances, rather than family and dear friends, we've lost everything before the meeting starts, no matter what we do in the meeting.

I don't mean to take away from anything you've said here because you did a great job assembling Scriptures and summing them up.

Some of those things would come naturally, though, if those assembled really lived and treated each other like family. Family is always comfortable enough to use their gifts and speak up in meetings.

Anonymous said...

I take both Watchman's Bagpipes (love the woman reader's line to you, Mr. Chatfield) and Mr. Pavao and see a strong solid clarity of understanding outlined simply for all us chil'en.

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn,

Been reading this post a lot lately. This is my #1 irritation with the church, and the likely root of pretty much every ill that besets the family of God. When the worship gathering (of believers, aka, church) is turned into an "evangelistic" outreach for the unredeemed, it all goes the wrong way from there.

The worst part - most pastors no longer understand the purpose and nature of the church.

God help us all.