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Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25
I want to start this article with a disclaimer: The subject of this article is a sensitive issue for many. I am known to write the truth in a simple and forthright way. That in itself is cause enough for many to be offended. My intentions, like in every article I write, are to bring the truth to a truth starved world and to sound the watchman's trumpet (Ezekiel 3:16-21) about the approaching day. If you are offended by this or any article I write, all I ask is that you be a Berean (Acts 17:11) by checking out what I have to say compared to the Bible. In doing so you will, like the Bereans before you, be more honorable and you will have gained vastly more understanding then if you had sought out the understanding of man. The following article is far from exhaustive on the subject. My intentions are to prepare true believers for what is ahead, so that they may attain the resurrection.
The first part of the scripture verse that precedes this article, (Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing), is arguably the most often quoted verse when church-going Christians attempt to convince others of their need to attend church. Interestingly, few ever finish quoting the verse when asked to give a good reason why. The second part of the verse, (but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching), sums up the exact reason why we should gather together as Christians and, embarrassingly, is what we find least in most churches in the West.
First, let us look at the fact that the term 'church,' in the New Testament, is never used to describe a place of worship or a standard of conducting a service (or Mass for my Catholic readers). The Greek word for the English term 'church' is the word 'ekklesia.' This is the Greek word used almost exclusively (one exception) in the New Testament when the word 'church' appears in the text. Ekklesia is translated: congregation, assembly or a group of people gathered together. It usually refers to the gathering of believers, but on one occasion it was used to refer to a riotous mob (Acts 19:32) and on other occasions the reference is to the Israelites in the desert with Moses.
Second, we need to look at the term historically. It is a fact that the body of Christ, that is, the sum total of all true believers, did not own its own building for the first 150 years of its existence. The early 'body of Christ' gathered together in private homes or in the countryside. In modern times there has been a resurgence by believers in referring to the believers everywhere as the 'body of Christ' as opposed to calling them the church.
What are we supposed to do with the word 'church?' If the Greek word for church means to gather together and the Bible says to do such then we ought to do such - wouldn't you agree? I never met a person claiming to be of Christ who disagreed with that, 'church goer' or not. Disagreement comes when we discuss where, when and why. Please remember my disclaimer above. If we put aside every man-made tradition that we call church for one moment we would find ourselves with far less to argue over. Let us tackle the where, when and why of this issue, according to scripture.
Where: We must always look to the Scriptures for the answers. I suggest that we look at the example that Jesus set for us. Upon careful examination of the four gospel books we find that Jesus did not always attend synagogue. Surprised? Now before you start ringing your hands, please bear with me for a moment. Is there a law given through Moses, by God, that says in any way shape or form that the Jews were to attend synagogue? The answer is no. Does the Bible state anywhere that Christians are to attend an assembly every time it is scheduled? The answer is no. So what is our obligation in this matter? Are we exempt from attending Sunday service, synagogue or mass? Not exactly.
Jesus did make it a point to attend synagogue, but not regularly. Was this wrong? We are in no position to tell Jesus He was wrong to not attend the assembly. If we cannot stand and accuse Him of wrong doing then what recourse do we have? We follow the example he set for us, even if it flies in the face of all we were brought up believing, even if it disrupts our traditional form of comfort. What did Jesus do when not at synagogue on the Sabbath? Did he catch a football game? Go shopping? Sleep in? The answer to this is important. Jesus did not give up meeting together with other believers. Instead he did the opposite, he spent time gathered with all who wanted to gather with him. Sometimes this was in a private home, sometimes on a hillside, sometimes in a crowded street and sometimes in a boat. Wherever he assembled with others he fed them God's word and together they humbled themselves before the Father. If you do not attend a local assembly of believers it should be because you are gathered together with others, ministering to each other and humbled before the Father. No exceptions!
When: Although my points above will surely raise contention with some, the next point is perhaps the touchiest of them all. I receive email constantly about when is the right day to worship God. The answer: Is there a wrong day to worship God? My point is that Jesus did what the Father has said all along, observe the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17) . This may seem like a no-brainer for some, but not for all. The issue is understanding. We are told by God to observe the Sabbath and make it Holy because it is Holy. The Jews observe the Sabbath as a day of rest and reflection. They may attend synagogue or spend time with family and loved ones with understanding that God is almighty and yet merciful, they reflect on this in many ways and even on their feast days. Their focus is not worship. All must observe the same Sabbath in order to maintain order and reduce distraction. In Israel the Sabbath day sees the shops and businesses close. Even the newspapers on the Internet stop reporting for the Sabbath!
Jesus observed Saturday as the Sabbath, he rested like others and yet he also ministered if compassion compelled him to. Did you catch that? He wasn't idle, he gathered with others and even healed on the Sabbath, and as we know, this caught the eye of the Pharisees who condemned such actions.
My question for you is this: Why, if it is good enough for Jesus, is it not good enough for us who are called by his name? If the LORD requires it of his chosen people, why should we, who are grafted in as wild olive shoots into the cultured olive tree, think ourselves separate (Romans 11:17-24)?
I say these things not to oppose assembling on Sunday, but for the body of Christ to find rest on the Sabbath day.
Why: This is probably the most important of the three questions. It is also the most explored in the Western church and the most neglected in proper application. While Western churches (in general) search for different ways to compose their services to win new candidates for empty pews, the real purpose of gathering and of the body of Christ is dying on the vine (read John 15:1-18). If I were to ask the body of Christ what is the main purpose for gathering together in our buildings, the answer would be a resounding, "To worship together!" This answer is at the heart of the problem. The answer is wrong. Not one place in the entire Bible are we told to gather together for the express purpose of worship. It has become our catch-all phrase for something most vaguely understand at best. Yes, we see examples in scripture where people gathered and worshiped God, but their purpose in gathering was not to worship. This is something they were moved to do in their hearts after they had been already assembled. God is looking for true worshipers who worship in spirit and truth. This is something that is on the personal level, not something we schedule for Sunday mornings and evenings! I know that many of you are grumbling, but please finish the article before you unsubscribe.
' These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are
far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but
rules taught by men.'
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Mark 7:6-9
So why and how do we gather together? The answer was given at the beginning of this article. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Did you catch that? We gather together to encourage one another. Why? That DAY is approaching! What day? The day of the LORD! The day when He comes riding a white steed and takes His wife to be His own. If there ever was a knight in shining armor astride a white horse story, this is the one! Before that time comes and even now brothers and sisters we need to encourage each other, remind each other and minister to each other the hope of the resurrection of the dead! That is why we come together. The desolation will be tough, but when the going gets tough God's true believers strain towards what lies ahead, the resurrection of the dead!
How we gather is given
in a very simple way by Jesus, "For where two or three
come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew
Did you catch that? Jesus is there also. When just two of you gather together you have ekklesia, an assembly. You are the body of Christ and His temple. The gifts are yours to encourage each other and build each other up as we see that Day approaching.
When Jesus attended synagogue it differed little from gathering on a hillside. Unlike our Roman-Greco style of service where we prefer to have the assembly face forward while a single orator expounds on a view, the Jews allowed all males 12 years old and up to have a voice, the younger deferring to the elderly, but all were entitled to expound for a short time. You may remember the story of Jesus in the temple when He was 12, teaching the teachers! And they did not rebuke him for it, He was having ekklesia with them. The focus in the synagogues was interactive discourse among fellow believers, not the gifts of one focused on the many, but the gifts of many focused on each other. Just as in the early days of the church, many house churches today use some form of this model. Many house church attenders will attest to the closeness of the fellowship and the deeper level of understanding to be gained. The cell church movement has gained such ground for these very same and biblically sound reasons.
Conclusion: The true body of Christ will have no choice in the desolation (tribulation). They will meet in the way of the true church, whenever and wherever. All the while the apostate church will steam ahead in its present form until judgment day. For a while true believers will still attend the assemblies in those buildings, but a day is coming when they will be handed over to the synagogues (read churches) and will be persecuted. Do we understand that one of the greatest persecutors of the true body of Christ will be the apostate church? Brothers and sisters, reach those who will listen inside those white washed tombs. Go there and have assembly with those who receive and give encouragement in light of what's coming in the days ahead, prepare each other, so that together you may stand firm until the end and be saved.
"You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to local councils and flogged in synagogues . . . Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." Mark 13:9-13