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Sunday, July 21, 2019

The reasons for the Church gathering

Believers in Jesus have been gathering together since the formation of the Church. The practice pre-dates them to the days of Nehemiah when the people gathered and told Ezra to read them the Law. They built a platform from which he could speak, and several people supplemented the reading to help the people understand and have the sense of what was being read (Nehemiah 8:1-8).

The clearest call in the New Testament to continue this kind of gathering is found in Hebrews: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Many church leaders focus on the “forsake not the assembling of ourselves together” part, and forget the rest. As for what to do when we’re assembled, instead of looking at the context in these two Hebrews verses, they instead go to Acts 2.

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Hence, a lot of churches put emphasis on Bible teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer.

The reality is a lot of Sunday morning church gatherings focus on two things: Bible teaching, and singing—specifically “worship.” Fellowship is encouraged, though not generally as part of the gathering itself (unless you count the brief awkward handshake time). At least once a month there’s communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper. Public corporate prayer is included in the gathering time. The whole gathering is often referred to as “worship.”

Neither of these passages, on the church forming or gathering, makes worship a priority or even mentions it. In fact, mention of worship itself is surprisingly uncommon in the New Testament. The two most well-known passages in the New Testament about worship are John 4 (where it was raised as a non-sequitur) and Revelation 4.

Singing during the gathering of the Church has become more about “worship” than it once was. Worship is something we only do to God, not one another, and if our singing is to be “songs of worship,” then the focus has become exclusively on God. This sounds really holy and righteous until you realize that not even the angels above the Lord’s robe in Isaiah’s vision were that narrow in their proclamations and praise: “one cried to another,” not to the Lord (Isaiah 6:2-3).

Worship is broader than singing. Worship includes “present(ing) your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Singing is broader than worship. To the Ephesians Paul wrote of “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (5:19). To the Colossians he wrote of “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16). It’s both. We sing both to one another and to God. James wrote of singing in contrast to prayer as one for when things are going well, and the other for when things are not (5:13). Singing to God in public can be a witness to others of Him (Acts 16:25).

I like singing, I like singing to God, and I don’t think we need to be limited to singing to Him either, nor does singing need to be limited to the time we’re gathered together. As significant a role as music and song have in our lives, they’re not the main point of our gathering together.

Hebrews specifically talks about the purpose of gathering as being a time we can “stir up love and good works,” “exhort one another,” and “see the Day approaching.” Are those things happening when the Church gathers today?

Do we see the Day of the Lord approaching? Are we looking? Do we see and understand the times? (Romans 13:11). Are we watching for His return and the things He said would first take place? (Matthew 24:42; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Jesus specifically called out the hypocrisy of knowing more about the weather than about the times (Matthew 16:3; Luke 12:56).

Here’s my question: If the purposes of assembling ourselves together do not happen when we’re assembled together, is one actually honoring the exhortation to assemble together if he joins those gatherings? I’m not sure that he is.

Put another way, if the purposes of assembling ourselves together do not happen when we’re assembled together then is one who does not participate in those gatherings forsaking our purpose in gathering together? Perhaps, but not because they do not join these off-purpose gatherings.

This is not a search for an excuse to abandon or leave the church. A thriving Body of Christ is a compelling witness to the world, and can provide great support for accomplishing our mission.

This is a call to re-examine our mission and purpose in gathering.

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