Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Church... Then and Now

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The Church... Then and Now
Chapter III - Why Christians Assemble Together

The two main reasons most Christians gather together for 'church' today are for corporate worship and to hear a sermon. Yet, neither by word or example does the New Testament ever give either of these as a reason for the church assembly.

Carol Brooks




The Two Main Reasons Modern Christians 'Do Church'
 What is Worship
Is "Worship" The Primary Reason Christians Are Supposed To Meet?

The Sermon

The Reasons for The New Testament Assemblies
Does Evangelism Play Any Part in Church Services?
What Happened to Biblical Fellowship?

The Two Main Reasons Modern Christians 'Do Church'
The two main reasons most Christians gather together for 'church' today are for corporate worship and to hear a sermon.  In fact, Catholics aside, most Christians refer to the Sunday morning church meeting as a "worship service". Yet, neither by word or example does the New Testament ever give worship or listening to a sermon as being the reason for the church assembly.

The word 'worship' raises two questions... 1) What exactly is "worship", and 2) is "worship" the primary reason why Christians are supposed to meet?

What is Worship?
The word 'worship' is often misunderstood and wrongly applied. We usually understand worship to mean to honor or show reverence and devotion to a deity, an idol, or other object of esteem, or the rituals, prayers etc. by which this reverence is expressed. What form 'worship' takes is usually dictated by the particular denominational beliefs. For example, most have Scripture reading, prayer and hymns as part of worship. Some include the use of incense to symbolize prayer rising to heaven like smoke or have an object (ex. the Eucharist) as the focus of worship. However, (Emphasis Added)

    In many churches around the world the concept of "worship" has been redefined and narrowed to mean the time when Christians come together to sing songs, raise their hands, dance around, and get all excited about the Lord together in church.  For most of the younger postmodernist relativistic generation the concept of "worship" has become a thing you do once or twice a week to absolve yourself of guilt.

    The more you can work yourself into a state of bliss in feeling like you are really achieving a state of "worship" by letting yourself go in the music and rhythm of the "worship" time, the more you can justify what you are doing the rest of the week when you are not "worshipping" God. This "worship" then becomes an excuse and justification process whereby Christians can rid themselves of the guilt of not obeying the Lord in their lives.  This is not to say that true worship is not done in the time now called "worship".  It can be a time of worship, but worship without obedience is no worship at all. [01]

There is no question that hymns and songs of praise were known in the New Testament. However, be warned that music, verbal praise, and the many "amens" and "Hallelujahs" all of which may appear as very successful worship to us, may not even be considered worship by the Lord, simply because because He looks much deeper than what might be surface expressions. On more than one occasion He made it very clear that the offerings, the feasts and festivals, solemn assemblies, music, and even prayer had become a burden to Him. In fact, He may consider some of our worship meaningless and even despicable.

Like so many other words in the Christian vocabulary, "worship" can become a meaningless cliché if we do not take the time to consider what exactly the Bible means by worship. In fact, there is a little more to the Hebrew and Greek terms translated "worship" that just someone who is "worthy. 

The English word "worship" has largely been translated from the Hebrew

    âbad, which means to work (in any sense); by implication to serve.

    shâchâh, which means to prostrate, or bow down, or fall flat,

and the Greek

    proskuneo which means to to do homage, or make obeisance...to kneel or prostrate oneself. The physical posture reflecting an attitude of respect and even humility - a high view of the person being bowed to and a lower view of oneself. Proskuneo should always been translated "bow down" or prostrate, which is what the word means.

    latreia which means to serve. It reflects the concept of the Hebrew âbad,

    sebomai, which means to venerate or revere.

Thus, according to Scripture to worship God is to "work" for or "serve" Him with an attitude of deference, humility and reverence. A mental prostration, if you will. This cannot be limited to a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. As is made clear by Jesus' message to the Samaritan woman, worship has absolutely nothing to so with a particular time, or a particular location.

    Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship (proskuneo) the Father.  "You worship (proskuneo) what you do not know; we worship (proskuneo) what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship (proskuneo) the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. "God is spirit, and those who worship (proskuneo) Him must worship (proskuneo) in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24 NASB )

Worship consists of who we are, and what our attitude is towards God at all times. True worship remains with us all through the day, and colors every aspect of our daily lives.

 See The Christian and Worship for more detail including how we ensure that our worship is not rejected by God.

Is "Worship" The Primary Reason Christians Are Supposed To Meet?
When, according to the Bible, real worship is not about getting all emotional in a hyped up "worship" service, but is something we live... the devotion, humility, obedience and thankfulness that is due God at every moment (Romans 12:1), one has to wonder how and when the concept of worship became almost exclusively associated with 10-11 a.m. on Sunday mornings.

An article entitled Does the Bible Require Christians to Attend Church? written by the pastor and assistant pastor (at the time) of a Presbyterian Church says the following (Emphasis Added)

    Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect meeting together (literally, "do not forsake the assembly of yourselves"). The word for "meet together," episynagogen, refers to the formal gathering of God's people for worship, not just friends listening to sermon downloads in the same room. [02]

While it is certainly possible to worship God during the church gathering, it may surprise some to know that the New Testament never once mentions "worship" in the same breath as a gathering of believers. Although Romans 12:1 does speak of a "spiritual service of worship" the verse has nothing to do with church meetings.

    Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1 NASB)

When Paul urged the Roman Christians to present their bodies "a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God", he was referring back to the Old Testament sacrifices made on the altar when the one who offered the sacrifice released all claim, or right, to the offering. Now, under the New Covenant, instead of a dead animal Christians have to choose to actively offer their bodies as living sacrifices. In other words, they themselves are the sacrifice, set apart and wholly devoted to His service - just as much the Lord's property as the burnt offering was. 

Incidentally, although Hebrews 10:25 above definitely refers to the gathering of believers, the Greek word episynagogen simply means a gathering together - an assembly. The purpose of the gathering and whether it is formal or informal is not specified and can only be understood from the context. See examples of related words that all have a common source. See Footnote I Similarly the article also says "We see in 1 Timothy 4:13 that there were regular times for the public reading of Scripture" [03] which is adding words to the verse. Also in Footnote I.

The Sermon
Furthermore, the modern church meeting is literally structured around the sermon, which seems to have become the pinnacle of the service with all else leading up to it. So much so that the very meeting is judged by the quality of the message. Yet this format is without Biblical warrant.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes of believers speaking in tongues, prophesying (two or three prophets could speak in turn), revelation made to someone in the congregation etc. in other words, every member freely exercised his gift, with no one person dominating the proceedings. The meeting were non-liturgical which means they did not follow a prescribed format, but were flexible to allow the Spirit of God to move through the meeting, stirring different members to participate in varied ways.

In fact, what would be thought of as a disruption in the modern church, was par for the course in the first century. The meetings were so governed by the Holy Spirit that if, while one person was speaking, an important truth was revealed to another, he was free to immediately give voice to the revelation. Fascinatingly, the first speaker would stop speaking and give heed to what was being said by the second. (I Corinthians 14:29-30). More about this in the next section "A Spectator Event"

The Reasons for The New Testament Assemblies
Edification or Building Up
So, if not for worship, evangelism, short period of polite socializing (I cannot call it "fellowship"), or the sermon, why do we meet on a regular basis? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 14:26, which clearly states that everything done in a church assembly is done for edification.

    What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)

The English word "edify", which has been translated from the Greek oikodome, means to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement. In other words, it is "building up" of a person, which is exactly how it has been translated in other verses.

    So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up (oikodome) of one another. (Romans 14:19 NASB)

    And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up (oikodome) of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NASB)

In the context of Christianity, building up a person encompasses several concepts. Believers need to be encouraged, taught, and even admonished.

Both Paul and the author of the book of Hebrews tells us not to forsake the assembling together, but to encourage one another, which becomes more and more crucial as the days get darker and more difficult.

    and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NASB)

    Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NASB)

Teaching and Admonishing
This next verse obviously applies to the time believers assemble together.

    Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 NASB)

The Greek word translated admonish, is noutheteo, which means to caution or reprove gently.

Since the Lord does not need any building up, encouraging, teaching, or reproving the primary focus of the gathering of believers is to strengthen His people. While the assembly must definitely remain God-centered, it exists for the benefit of the body of Christ.

The more believers matured in the faith, the more 'trained' they were, the more they were equipped to go out into the world with the message of sin, repentance and salvation. And should any of those they spoke to become believers, the new converts were then taught in the church so that they, in turn, could venture out and evangelize, thus building an ever expanding core of disciples.

Again some will argue that in the traditional church service believers are encouraged, taught, and even admonished one has to ask how exactly can one person or one sermon be a blanket panacea that covers individual needs, doubts, lack of knowledge? And remember what 1 Corinthians 14:26 says,

    What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (NASB)

Does Evangelism Play Any Part in Church Services?
Rick Warren's very popular book, The Purpose Driven Church, has a chapter entitled Developing Your Strategy, in which he says

    "If you look at most church advertising, it's obvious that it was written from a believer's viewpoint -- not from the mind-set of the unchurched. When you see a church ad that announces, "Preaching the inerrant Word of God!" who do you think that ad appeals to? Certainly not to unbelievers! Personally, I consider the inerrancy of Scripture as a non-negotiable belief but the unchurched don't even understand the term. If you're going to advertise your church you must learn to think and speak like unbelievers. The spiritual terminology that Christians are familiar with is just gibberish to the unchurched." [04]

And a few pages later....

    If you scan the church page of your Saturday newspaper, you''ll see that most pastors are not attempting to attract the unchurched with their sermon titles. A sample of intriguing sermon topics from the Los Angeles Times includes: "The Gathering Storm," "On the Road To Jericho," "Peter goes Fishing," "A Mighty Fortress," "Walking Instructions," "Becoming a Titus," "No such Thing as a Rubber Clock," "River of Blood," and "The Ministry of Cracked Pots."

    Do any of these titles make you want to hop out of bed and rush to church? Would any of them appeal to an unchurched person scanning the paper? What are preachers thinking? Why are they wasting money advertising titles like these? [05]

And, partially due to Warren's considerable influence, more and more modern churches seem to be adopting the idea that An important function of the church service is to "attract the unchurched". This concept would have been entirely foreign to the New Testament that has numerous examples of the gospel being preached in places frequented by unbelievers such as synagogues and market places.

    In Iconium Paul and Barnabus entered the synagogue and spoke in such a manner that a large number of Jews and of Greeks believed (Acts 14:1 NASB)

    In Philippi, Paul and Timothy preached to the assembled women in a place of prayer outside the gate near the river. (Acts 16:12-15)

    In Thessalonica, as was Paul's custom, he went to the synagogue and "for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures"(Acts 17:1-2 NASB)

    In Athens Paul reasoned "in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present". (Acts 17:17 NASB)

    In Corinth he "...reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks". (Acts 18:4 NASB)

    In Ephesus, "he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God". (Acts 19:8 NASB)

Although the unregenerate were sometimes present, let's not put the cart before the horse. No New Testament assembly of believers was conducted with the idea enticing non-believers or making them comfortable.

What Happened to Biblical Fellowship?
The English word "fellowship" is defined as a) The condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences, as by reason of profession, religion, or nationality; b) The companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms.

And this is how most of us understand the word. However, an article entitled written by the pastor and assistant pastor (at the time) of a Presbyterian Church endeavors to put an entirely different spin on the concept. 

    "We know from Acts 2:42 that the first Christians met together regularly for teaching, fellowship (possibly the word for taking a collection), the Lord's Supper, and prayer". [06]

"Possibly the word for taking a collection"?

The English fellowship was translated from the Greek koinonia (fellowship) and is used some twenty times in the New Testament. The related words Koinonos (a sharer or partner), koinoneo (to share with others), koinonikos (to be social and communicative) all come from the same root word -  koinos (common, literally shared by all or some). In the New Testament, they were sharers of all things including material goods. Examples include

     Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share (Gr. koinonikos) (1 Timothy 6:18 NASB)

    For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution (Gr. koinonia) for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15:26 NASB)

    And do not neglect doing good and sharing (Gr. koinonia), for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16 NASB)

Sharing with those that need help is a far cry from 'church collections' or tithing also, believe it or not, another of man's inventions. See Tithing

Besides which, passages in the New Testament make it very clear that Biblical "fellowship" was much deeper than a superficial exchange of pleasantries over coffee. In fact, this fellowship was so important to believers in the earliest church that as Luke wrote it was one of the things they were devoted to

    They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship (Gr. koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NASB)

'Fellowship' does not mean that we all get along and enjoy one another's company. It means that through faith in Christ we are all born into God's family, adopted as His children. We are related to one another - a community of people bound together by common blessings.

    God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship (Gr. koinonia) with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 NASB)

    what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship (Gr. koinonia) with us; and indeed our fellowship (Gr. koinonia) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 NASB)

In the average traditional church, very little real "fellowship" take place. It is usually limited to a short time after the service when some of the congregation get together over some refreshments. This is supposed to provide people with the opportunity to socialize with each other and greet visitors or new members, which it does to a very small degree. Most members of the congregation never really get to know each other, much less edify and encourage one another, which was the New Testament church's reason to exist.

Not only has the term "worship" been erroneously applied to singing and praising the Lord for an hour or so every week, but we have also wrongly termed this time in 'church' a "worship service".

And as long as we continue to do so, people will assume that the primary reason to get together is to "worship" the Lord. Any edification or encouragement a person may receive is incidental. Yet, according to the New Testament, the primary focus of the gathering of believers is to edify, strengthen, and encourage His people.

Unfortunately, the way the modern church services are structured makes it impossible to do any of the above. In a significant departure from what is described in the New Testament, church meetings have become a spectator event.

Who Should We NOT Meet With?
Certainly we need to meet together with other Christians but this does NOT mean meeting together every Sunday with anyone who happens to call themselves Christians, but who's practices do not conform to Biblical teachings. The 'Day of The Lord' is approaching very very fast and far too many of the people we are supposed to be assembling with are either snoring on the porch or have deviated so far from what the Scriptures teach that they can no longer legitimately call themselves "Christian". See Doctrines of Demons

What most Christians do not realize is that they are commanded to separate themselves from those who teach, and practice, false doctrine. See Fraternizing With the Enemy

Footnote I - Gathering together
   Some examples,

    Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together (Gr. episynagoges) to Him (2 Thessalonians 2:1 NASB)

    "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather (Gr. episynagagein) your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  (Matthew 23:37 NASB)

    And the whole city had gathered (Gr. episynegmene) at the door. (Mark 1:33 NASB)

    "And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather (Gr. episynaxousin) together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.  (Matthew 24:31 NASB)

'Public' Reading of Scripture?
The verse in the original Greek simply has Paul telling Timothy to give attention to reading (Gk. anagnosis). Although the verse does not explicitly say what was to be read we can be quite sure Paul wasn't urging Timothy to dive into a copy of the Iliad but was speaking about reading the Hebrew Scriptures (There wasn't a New Testament as we know it today). 

However, the verse does not include the word 'public'. In order to make this clear the NASB italicizes the words that do not appear in the original text but have been added. The CLV (Concordant Literal Version) and Young's Literal version eliminate them altogether

    Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13 NASB)

    Till I come, give heed to reading, to entreaty, to teaching." (1 Timothy 4:13 CLV)

    till I come, give heed to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching;  (1 Timothy 4:13 YLT)

End Notes
[01] Sandy Simpson. The Biblical Definition Of Worship. http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/biblicalworship.html

02] Does the Bible Require Christians to Attend Church? authored by Kevin DeYoung senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC and Jason Helopoulos, who holds a Masters of Theology degree (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.

[03] ibid

[04] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, Zondervan Hardcover. 1995. Preaching To The Unchurched. Pg 189

[05] ibid. Pg. 299

[06] Does the Bible Require Christians to Attend Church? authored by Kevin DeYoung senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC and Jason Helopoulos, who holds a Masters of Theology degree (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. https://www.equip.org/article/does-the-bible-require-christians-to-attend-church/


The Church... Then and Now. Part I