For what reason do Christians meet together every Sunday? What is the purpose of our assemblies? I suppose this is one of those questions that we shouldn't have to ask. Everyone knows that the church assembles for the purpose of worship, right? Even people who don't go to church know that! In reality, that is why almost all churches assemble. They meet together for the primary purpose of worshipping God. But, does the Bible say that worship is the reason God wants Christians to meet together? It surely must because millions of people just couldn't be wrong!
Like all things of a religious nature, we must turn to the Bible to get the answer. But be forewarned, if you go searching for the New Testament passage that tells us to assemble in order to worship God you are going to be looking for a long time. In fact, you'd find a needle in a haystack much easier because there is no such instruction in the New Testament! Stop and think about it. What New Testament scripture says that our meetings are for the purpose of worship? Where are we ever commanded to assemble in order to worship? I suppose that is natural to assume that worship is the main reason that the church assembles. After all, the Bible does say that Christians are to meet together and that Christians are supposed to worship God. I think many people have the notion that Christians can only worship on Sundays at the church building with a bunch of other Christians. The simple fact is, the New Testament no where states that the reason for Christians to assemble is so that they can worship together!
If the church isn't to meet for the purpose of worship, then why are we supposed to assemble?
To be clear, the New Testament does say that Christians are to meet together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,
"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."
But notice why it says we are to assemble; It is to exhort and stir up one another to love and good works! That sounds an awful lot like edification to me. To edify means to build up, so to a Christian this means to be built up spiritually. The Hebrew writer admonished his readers to meet together so that they could help each other to become better Christians. Their reason for meeting together wasn't for the purpose of worship, but for the purpose of edifying one another.
In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul gives instructions that would help the Christians in Corinth to conduct their assemblies in a proper manner. The interesting thing is that Paul not even once instructed them in how they should be worshipping. As a matter of fact, he never says that they should be worshiping during their assemblies at all. The only time the word "worship" appears in this chapter is in verse 25 and it is referring to the actions of an unbeliever!
What Paul does spend a lot of time talking about is edification. In the KJV and NKJV, some form of the word (edify, edification, etc.) appears seven times in the chapter. In fact, in verse 26 Paul says, "Let all things be done for edification." He did not say, "Let all things be done for worship". Can it be made any more clear that the purpose of the assembly was for edification? It is abundantly clear that Paul's main concern is that the Corinthian Christians were to spend the time in their assemblies encouraging, edifying, and admonishing one another. Paul wasn't concerned about the "five acts of worship" and didn't exhort them to make sure they used "commands, examples and necessary inferences" to figure out what they were "authorized" to do. Paul's only concern is that they conduct their meeting in a manner that was edifying. Their sole purpose for meeting together was so that they could help each other go to Heaven!
No worship should take place when Christians assemble?
Actually, worship can't help but happen if Christians meet together for the purpose God intended (i.e. edification). What things did Paul tell the Corinthians to do that would allow them to edify one another? Prayer is mentioned as is teaching and singing. Is it not true that in doing these things for one another, at the same time we are worshipping God? When Christians have gathered to edify one another, they are doing as God instructed. Is it not worship when we do things that God has said for us to do? Is it not worship when we bring honor to Him by doing as He says? Spiritual edification is the purpose for the assembly, but worship is the "by-product" (for lack of a better term). This is what the Bible says but most in the Church of Christ (as well as other denominations) reverse this order.
Many object and say that if we meet for the purpose of edifying one another, we are putting ourselves first and God second. At first this sounds like a reasonable objection but consider that If edification is what God meant for us to give and receive in our assemblies, we are putting God first since we are doing what He said to do. This is true as long as our meetings are spiritually edifying to one another. If our meetings do not have a spiritual focus or if we conduct our meetings in a disorderly way so that people are not encouraged, then it would be true that we are putting our own desires ahead of what God wants.
Others warn that if edification is the only criteria for what takes place during the assembly, then we might deviate from the "five acts of worship". That is possible and if that is what it takes to truly encourage and build up one another spiritually then so be it! The New Testament no where gives an "order of services" nor does it ever spell out precisely what activities we are to engage in when we assemble. It is true that Christians in the New Testament sang songs, gave money when there was a need, prayed, listened to exhortation (preaching) and partook of the Lord's Supper together. However, there is no passage of Scripture which says that we must do all these things every time we meet nor is there any prohibition against doing more than these. In reality, we already add to the "five acts of worship" and never bat an eye. Where in the New Testament are we told to make announcements at the beginning and/or end of "services"? Where do we ever find an "invitation" being extended in the New Testament? Most would say these are not acts of worship. I contend that they are if they are in some way edifying. If they are not edifying, then why do we do them?
What should we be doing in our assemblies to better edify one another?
How would our meetings change if we met together for the purpose of edification? That is a question that the shepherds and congregants of each congregation will have to figure out. What edifies one group the most may not be what is best for another. What edifies best today may not be what we need down the road. One thing is certain; if we are going to get the most from our assemblies, then we must recognize that our meetings must be for the purpose of edification and then act upon that. When that change is made I suspect that,
- Most people would no longer have to make themselves "go to church".
- We wouldn't have to beg those who attend sporadically to be more "faithful".
- We would likely meet more often because our spiritual hunger would be satisfied.
- We would be stronger spiritually and few would be led astray by false doctrines.
- Fewer of our young people would fall away from the Lord when they leave home and go away to college.
- More people would want to become Christians because they want what we have.
We have all heard sermons which stated that our assemblies are meant to worship God. The preacher said that the assemblies were about God and not about us and if we aren't getting something out of it then we have a spiritual problem. If we are honest, I suspect that all of us would have to confess that we have sat through many a church service and felt that we got little or nothing out of it. Personally, I always felt badly about that as it supposedly indicated I wasn't all that I ought to be as a Christian. How ironic it is that the traditional church assembly isn't even what God meant it to be!
Do our meetings really accomplish what God intended? Give this question some honest reflection.