WORSHIP IN THE GREAT GATHERING OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Throughout its entire existence, the Christian Church has been involved in the discussion of worship services and the purpose and meaning of gatherings in the name of Christ. When we take a serious look at the epistles of the New Testament it becomes increasingly clear that this issue is one that was not unknown to even the apostles. What is worship? Why do we gather together? Where is Godís presence now that the veil of the sanctuary has been torn by His own hand? How is our interaction with God different when we are gathered as a fellowship in contrast to our relationship with Him when we are alone? These and even other questions present themselves unceasingly to the devoted disciple of our Lord Jesus, and they deserve a well-considered response.
Substitutionary atonement is the concept, which is the very foundation upon which our entire faith is built. The fact that oneís sin may be removed due to no merit of his own, based upon the faithfulness and credit of Someone who lived nearly two-thousand years prior; and that his position in Godís sight is established forever, regardless of his present performance is unique to biblical Christianity, to say the least. We can, with this doctrine alone, immediately place ourselves outside of the arena of attempting to placate or satisfy God with our service to Him. Atonement has been forever accomplished on behalf of the converted Christian. God accepts us in the Beloved. This religious anomaly, however, also brings about a unique distinction: what is the purpose of OUR gatherings? If we do not gather as one to fulfill divine requirements, what do we worship together for? We can certainly study the Scriptures, speak to God, possess the Holy Spirit, sing and strive to obey when we are alone. Why do we need to gather at all? The quest for this, as with all questions of theology, drives us to consider - what does God tell us is His purpose for the gathering of the Church?
"Worship" is referenced in the Scriptures in many different settings in both the Old and New Testaments. We observe people worshipping God alone, as families, immediately following Godís blessing, as a nation, outside, in the temple, in private homes and in prison. The purpose of this paper, however, is to discuss the purpose of the gathering of Jesusí disciples as His Church. In the Apostolic Church age, the disciples met weekly in a public place as an entire group and daily as smaller flocks from house to house. Henceforth in this document, the weekly gathering of the Church as a whole shall be referred to as the "great gathering", recognizing that the Church has always employed smaller gatherings as well in its fulfillment of our Lordís charge. Whenever possible, the Christian Church has always met in the great gathering upon the first day of the week. This gathering is a result of the work Jesus has been accomplishing in the hearts of the individuals within the body. It is not compulsory, to fulfill the commandment of men, but an act of love as a result of the love God first showed us by granting us salvation through His perfect Son. Therefore, the Christianís great gathering is already set apart from the forms of worship practiced by the first Apostlesí contemporaries in the pagan or Judaic religious worlds. Also, the concept of Godís sanctuary in the New Testament is in sharp contrast with these same religious groups surrounding Christianity at its earliest stages. God communicates that His presence no longer dwells in a distinct way in the Temple or above the Ark of the Covenant, but His presence (and Spirit) permanently dwells within the hearts of those who comprise His Holy Church. Thus, we no longer gather to come into Godís presence, for whatever we do, we do unto the glory of God, in each aspect of our ordinary days, as long as we do them by faith. This leaves us then with the question: what purpose does God communicate to us is His intention for the great gathering. His word establishes that we gather to spiritually edify (build-up) the Church by declaring and recognizing Godís supreme value and worth to us as His redeemed people.
The love of Christ and the majesty of God so moves us to return love, thanks, praise and glory to Him, as well as edify the Saints, as His servants, Acts 4; 1 Cor. 12-14; Gal. 1:18-24; Heb.10: 24,25. God tells us that communication with Him in the great gathering which is not understandable by the brotherhood is useless to them, 1 Cor. 14:9,19. We gather so that we are ALL spiritually strengthened and encouraged to remain faithful and close to our Lord for the upcoming week. Historically this has always been an advantage to gathering together on the first day of the week, so we are encouraged and reminded to walk in faith, at the very start, for the remainder of the days. Spiritual edification includes: being taught from Godís Word, intercessory dependence upon God through prayer, being reminded of Godís truth in psalms and spiritual songs, Coll. 3:16, (which are easy to remember beyond the gathering, and assert an emotional context), and mutual encouragement by learning about peopleís needs, opportunities to minister and receiving information that impacts people and connects them to the flock (often related in the announcements ñ so people know what is going on with the Church as a whole). It is toward this end that we are given instructions for various people within the brotherhood to be granted orderly opportunities to share the teaching gifts (those which edify, as noted above) with the entire congregation of the saints. This is not a relinquishing of the responsibilities of the Eldership to rightly divide the Word of truth, establish sound doctrine and spiritually pastor Godís flock, but to provide opportunity for others to share what God is teaching them so that all may be encouraged. This is to be only a small part of the gathering (two or three) and to be done in an orderly fashion; there is a distinct sense that the Elders are still in control of establishing the content and parameters of the gathering. There is no reference to "waiting for God to move in oneís heart" or being uncontrollably directed by the Spirit. We need to be concerned with making certain we are providing the opportunities and structure to allow for all of the gifts to be exercised within the gathering that God has communicated is His will. The exercise of the gifts should be meaningful within our own culture, maintaining Godís intended purpose for each, 1 Cor. 14:26-33.
Thus based upon the understanding God has granted us of His Holy Scriptures regarding the matter of the great gathering, we conclude the following:
- We must construct patterns consistent with our culture to solidify the understanding that the Elders are those who have the charge of establishing and communicating sound doctrine to the flock, as well as spiritual oversight, while maintaining the equally important concept that they are equal members of the brotherhood merely fulfilling the role God gifted them to accomplish, and are in no way superior to anyone else within the brotherhood.
- We must construct patterns to allow for any member of the brotherhood to use his or her gifts to edify the brotherhood while not diminishing the Elderís roles of doctrinal establishment, training and spiritual oversight of the Church, both within and without the great gathering.
- The great gathering must be conducted in a way, which promotes decency and order so that all may be edified.
- We must construct patterns to promote love, acceptance and caring towards others while establishing meaningful worship.
It is our sincere hope that this document shall be used as a tool to aid us in teaching the doctrine of the great gathering God has communicated to us in His Word in a clear fashion, to edify the Church by bringing us together into one mind; to glorify God by proclaiming His holy truth; and to fulfill our charge to faithfully feed the Lordís flock by correctly dividing the Word of Truth. This document is in no way inspired or significant except that it reflects Godís teachings in His holy, sacred and inspired Scriptures. As we grow in Christ and in dependence upon the Word of God, we will constantly review this doctrine and adjust this document so that it always communicates the best understanding of Godís Word in the clearest way.
The Calvary Bible Church College of Elders