And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume 17, Number
In this issue:
When You Come Together
Joe R. Price
The Christians who composed local churches in the New Testament came together regularly (Acts 2:42, 46; 5:12; 20:7). Their first day of the week assemblies were marked by prayers, songs, eating the Lord’s supper, giving of their means and teaching the word of God (1 Cor. 14:15-19, 26; 16:2; Acts 20:7). They worshiped God in their assemblies and by doing so bore the fruit of edification, unity and peace (1 Cor.14:26, 33; Acts 5:12; Col. 3:15-16). They were taught to exhort each other not to forsake their assembling together (Heb. 10:24-25).
There has arisen an inclination among some brethren to reduce the frequency of the church coming together in favor of small group meetings. We have no complaint against brethren meeting “from house to house”, for such arrangements provide good opportunities to study, pray and sing together (Acts 20:20). What we speak of here is an “either, or” mentality that chooses the value of small group meetings over and in place of the church coming together. Some are opting for what F. LaGard Smith terms the “spontaneous informality” he wishes to advance via house churches (Radical Restoration, 151-152). They see the local church assembled in one place as traditional, formal and lacking the participatory spontaneity they attribute to New Testament churches. Wishing to contrast and emphasize “small versus large”, participant versus spectator”, “active versus passive” and “personal versus impersonal”, these iconoclasts extol the virtue of small groups and house churches while casting doubt and skepticism on the worship assemblies of the saints (Smith, 153). We are not presenting a case for Christians to be inactive spectators of worship when we uphold the church assembling together to worship. These contrasts that F. LaGard Smith uses to advance his premise are harsh indictments of the hearts of Christians who come together to worship. We shall not blindly and emotionally accept his denunciations because some abuses of worship occur when a church comes together.
The local church in the New Testament came together – something that is not accomplished by breaking off into small groups scattered around a city. It will be helpful for us to consider the purposes and benefits of the church coming together, instead of concluding the church is somehow enhanced by reducing the times that it comes together “in one place” (1 Cor. 11:20).
If we are interested in being first-century Christians in this twenty-first century world, then what the apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth gives us a working model (pattern) to apply when we come together.
When the church comes together, what it does should be worthy of praise. “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better, but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). The Corinthian church was not following Christ’s teaching concerning the Lord’s supper. They had corrupted both its purpose and the unity their assembly ought to have advanced (1 Cor. 11:18-22). Our assemblies must follow the pattern of truth for worship that has been revealed to us in the New Testament. Otherwise, we will “come together for judgment” and be rejected, not praised (1 Cor. 11:34).
There should be unity when the church comes together. “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it” (1 Cor. 11:18). Note please that the apostle spoke here of the brethren coming together “as a church” (as a congregation, the whole group of saints, not scattered groups of saints throughout Corinth). Our assemblies should be marked by unity of spirit, purpose and action as we gather to worship “in spirit and truth” (Jno. 4:24). Our spirits should unite in praise and adoration of God Almighty. We should have the mutual purpose of giving honor to God, never turning the attention of the moment to ourselves. The worship assembly of the church is not a time for entertainment and boisterous conduct. It is a time to conduct ourselves with reverent obeisance to God (cf. Neh. 8:5). We do not read of “spontaneous informality” in the Scriptures to describe Christians worshiping together. Frankly, there is often too much informality and casualness in our assemblies, including attire and conduct. We are not at a sporting event or an entertainment venue when we come together; we are before Almighty God. The decorum of worship, not the distractions of casual spontaneity, should characterize our assemblies: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40, 27-31).
Scriptural worship must occur when the church comes together. “When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord's supper” (1 Cor. 11:20, ASV). The brethren were corrupting the nature and purpose of the Lord’s supper when they came together “in one place” (NKJV). The supper is not a meal that satisfies hunger, so “eat at home” if you are hungry (1 Cor. 11:34, 22). The Lord’s supper is not a so-called “fellowship meal” or “table fellowship” where an actual meal is eaten during which Lord's supper is eaten (Smith, 132-133). Some brethren already follow F. LaGard Smith’s “table fellowship” pattern for the Lord's supper, forsaking the Bible pattern (1 Cor. 11:21-22).
Edification is to occur when the church comes together. “Whenever you come together...Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). Edification is not a warm feeling of fulfillment, it is the spiritual building up of the soul through learning and obeying God’s word (Acts 20:32; Eph. 4:11-12). As saints worship God their faith is strengthened. “When you come together” be sure to follow God’s word so that edification results.
Small groups of Christians gathering to study, to sing and to pray fill an important place in advancing spiritual growth and service. But, from this study we have seen they cannot satisfy the Biblical pattern of the church coming together to worship God on the first day of the week.
Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:9-12
1. How is your spiritual growth? We either grow weaker and away from Christ
or stronger and closer to Him.
I. SPIRITUAL GROWTH DEPENDS ON:
Nutrition (partake of Christ, the bread of Life), Jno. 6:35, 48-51, 63, 68;
1 Pet. 2:2.
II. I AM GROWING WEAKER AND AWAY FROM CHRIST IF:
A. My Heart
is Dull to God’s Word, Matt. 13:15 (Acts 28:27).
III. I AM GROWING STRONGER AND CLOSER TO CHRIST IF:
A. I Speak
and Live the Truth in Love, Eph. 4:13-15 (Matt. 12:34); 25, 29.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:23-27
1. To preach Christ is to preach the gospel of Christ, Acts 8:4-5.
I. THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST DEMANDS OUR ATTENTION AND OUR UNDIVIDED ALLEGIANCE. Luke 6:46
Authority has been given to Jesus Christ, Matt. 28:18; Rom. 9:5; Jno.
5:26-27; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18; Acts 4:10-12.
II. CHRIST’S AUTHORITY IS EXPRESSED IN HIS WORD, Heb. 1:2-3.
A. The Lord
Began to Speak Salvation, Heb. 2:3-4 (Jno. 6:63, 68; 8:31-32; 12:48-50).
III. CHRIST USES HIS AUTHORITY, Psa. 115:3.
A. As God’s
Prophet, Acts 3:22-23; Heb. 1:2.
(Current events in the light of Scripture)
The Pulpit and the IRS
In July the IRS reached an agreement with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to "investigate churches that violate a federal law that activist groups often cite in an attempt to silence them by threatening their tax-exempt status. 'This is a victory, and we're pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,' FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement last week..." (IRS Promises Atheist Group to Investigate 'Pulpit Freedom' Churches, Anugrah Kumar, christianpost.com).
The Scriptures are clear that Christians are to preach the gospel (Mk. 16:15; 2 Tim. 4:2). When any government restricts our God-given responsibility we are bound "to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). If the government withdraws and restricts benefits it grants an individual (or a church) due to the expression of faith, then so be it. For Christians, this is not primarily a first amendment issue (although under our constitution these rights are protected), it is a matter of faith above finances and of Christ above convenience.
Restricting religious speech is a mark of tyranny. The apostles faced this threat from the Jewish council: "'But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.' So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:17-18). Peter replied, "...for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 5:19-20). They were later beaten for doing so (Acts 5:40).
We will continue to speak out using God's word on subjects that affect souls in this nation; abortion, LGBT issues, same-sex marriage and other subjects of morality and decency. We will commend those who uphold godly principles and we will rebuke sin (Phil. 3:17-19). Some of our readers will not like this. Our government may not like this. But, according to the Scriptures, God will. That's enough.
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 08/10/2014
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA