There seems to be many different ideas of how and why the New Testament church meets. In our day the prevailing idea is that the church meets to worship God. We do this, we are told, by singing, preaching, praying, and giving. There is no end to the books, magazines, websites, and seminars which “shows” the church how to meet and worship. The main question is never WHERE the church meets, or even HOW does the church meets, but WHY does the church meet? How is the NT church instructed by Scripture to meet? What is done in these meetings? The basic answers can be found in 1 Corinthians 14:26 –
“How is it then brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
If we were to ellipse the components of the meetings, singing, teaching, etc., the passage would read like this: “Whenever you come together…let all things be done for edification.” The purpose of the NT meeting is for the edification, or building up, of the believer. Edification is the reason we (should) come together as a church. From this guideline for NT church meetings we can extract the following biblical truths:
Believers are to meet together (“Whenever you come together…”). Meeting together is not an option. The writer of Hebrews exhorted the church to not forsake the assembling of themselves (Heb. 10:25). The Greek word ekklesia, which we translate church, literally means “an assembly” or “those called out.” The idea is of calling together a group of people for a specific purpose.When and where the church meets is never commanded in Scripture. But we are definitely commanded to meet.
At first, the early church met every day (Acts 2:46). Later, we are told that the church came together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Some scholars believe the first day of the week was called “the Lord’s Day” by early believers (Rev. 1:10). As New Covenant Christians we recognize that when we come together is not bound by any day of the week (Rom. 14:5, cf. Col. 2:16-20). It seems from the Scriptures that the early church held their corporate meetings on the first day of the week. This does not, however, prevent us from meeting as conveniently as we can. The main idea is that Christians meet together; the day, place, and time is not important. Meeting on Tuesday evenings with other believers is just as “correct” as meeting on Sunday mornings.
In addition, the early church met in various locations. The early church often met corporately at the temple in Jerusalem and homes (Acts 2:46). Often they met in the homes of fellow Christians (Acts 2:46b, 8:3, 20:20; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philm. 2). Persecution by the Jews appeared to drive the church more into private homes as the church grew. The early Christians did not erect costly religious shrines because they understood that the church was not a material building they had built, but a spiritual building built by God (1 Pet. 2:5).
The meetings were participatory, not spectatorial (“… each of you …”). Christianity today is by and large a spectator Christianity. In today’s church there is little or no mutual participation in the church meetings. For the most part, the Body of Christ is instructed, at least by implication, to sit there in the pews and watch the “professionals” do all the ministry.
This type of uninvolved spectator meeting is foreign to the church of the New Testament! Paul specifically said that when the church comes together everyone has something to share. From the least to the greatest, the church meeting was open to all who were led to participate. This doesn’t mean everyone had to share at every meeting (logistically impossible), but there appeared to be a time of “open floor” sharing of spiritual gifts. Each could pray, prophesy, teach, or sing as God had gifted them, and under the authority of elders. If someone felt God had a word of encouragement or correction for someone else or for all, they were allowed to share it. If God had done a wonderful deed in the past week which needed to be told for the edification of all, it was allowed to be told. If someone simply wanted to praise God they were allowed to do so. There was no fear of embarrassment or being told to “shush” by the pastor or deacons (or the little old lady on the pew next to you)!
Each Christian had the opportunity to share. This is called the priesthood of the believer. Each believer is a priest unto God (1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 5:10). Unfortunately, in our day the priesthood of the believer, though verbally affirmed by most churches, is never really practiced. Many churches have the slogan “Every Member a Minister.” However good it looks on the church sign or the church letterhead, if its not really being practiced it means nothing. Countless believers are growing cold and apathetic to spiritual things because they are not allowed, or are too fearful, to participate in the church meetings. They are suppressed by the idea that unless they have a “calling,” a degree, or ordination papers, then they are unworthy to contribute meaningfully in the corporate assembly.
In stark contrast to today’s spectator “worship service” stands the NT meeting. Here each believer is encouraged to use his/her gifts for the edification of one another. Here each believer is important and needful for the Body to be a healthy organism (1 Cor. 12:20-27).
Each believer is gifted and should use his/her gifts (“… a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation…”). Everyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit living in them (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit gifts (lit. graces) each and every believer for service (Rom. 12:4-6a; 1 Cor. 12:4-11). The Scriptures mention several different gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some examples are: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, leading, mercy, miracles, healing, helps, service, tongues (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28). And there are undoubtedly many other gifts that the Spirit graces believers with (1 Cor. 12:4). The previous citations should not be viewed as exhaustive. The point is, is your church allowing and encouraging Christians to develop and use his/her spiritual gifts in the meetings and in everyday life? Remember: all believers have either a gift or several gifts (“each of you,” v. 26). The point is we should be faithful to use whatever gifts he’s given us to build up the Body of Christ.
The purpose of NT church meetings (“Let all things be done for edification”). The reason that the church meets is for the edification of each believer, for their discipleship on a corporate level. I know this statement flies in the face of almost all we have been taught over the years. We are told that the church meets to worship God. While the idea of meeting primarily to worship sounds scriptural and pious, the truth is Christians do not meet primarily to have a “worship service.” This is not to say that worship doesn’t happen when Christians meet. It does and it should. Worship should occur at all times, in all places, and in all things, whether Sunday morning in a church building or Thursday afternoon at the dinner table. A Christian’s whole life is an act of worship (Rom. 12:1-2)! So, yes, when Christians meet on Sunday mornings or at any other time/place, they are in a sense worshiping God. But it is in no way different from the worship we should be living and giving the rest of the week. We must concede that the primary objective in Christian meetings is not to have a “worship service” since worship is a way of life.
The primary reason Christians meet is to edify one another. The reason that God gave us the gifts of the Spirit is so we might edify one another (Eph. 4:12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). The term edify is from the Greek oikodome. This word is an architectural term. It means “to build, confirm, or strengthen.” It is used in reference to the church’s position as God’s building (1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 2:21). Elsewhere it is used to describe the ministry of believers to one another (Rom. 14:9,15:2; 1 Thess. 5:11). The purpose of this edification, this building up and strengthening, is to spur each other onto maturity in Christ (Heb. 24-25) that we might worship him in every area of our lives.
As believers we stand in the need of constant and regular strengthening. Living a life of worship among those who revile and reject us will take its toll and begin to “crack the foundation” of the strongest building. Therefore we need to come together and repair the breaches that we might stand firm. This is done by the mutual ministry of the Body of Christ to one another.
Closing remarks. There is no “set” way that the NT church is commanded to meet. We CAN observe these facts about NT church meetings:
1. The church never defined itself by where or when it met.
2. Believers met as often as they could, sometimes daily sometimes weekly. The point is they met. None of the “I don’t hafta go to church to be a Christian” we too often hear from professing Christians today.
3. The church met for the purpose of discipleship, mutual edification, and maturity towards Christ.
4. Each believer contributed, with scriptural bounds, as he/she had been gifted because each believer understood his/her position as a priest unto God.
5. The early church met and they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, or Love Feast (which, by the way, was a full meal not a thimble of grape juice and a broken cracker – 1 Cor. 11:17; Jude 12).