Monday, July 30, 2007

We Gather Together

OK, here’s what I see:

1) The average congregation spends a significant part of its budget on the things necessary to “do church,” to have an assembly on Sunday morning.

2) The average congregation defines itself by what happens on Sunday morning: “We average 250 in attendance”; “We are a contemporary church”; etc.

3) Most of the arguments that rage within our brotherhood concern what goes on during the Sunday assembly.

4) The average Christian believes that there is a special time called “the assembly” within our time together. This time has special rules, which do not apply to Bible class, for example.

5) The faithfulness of the average Christian is judged by their participation in this Sunday assembly.

6) The average Christian judges his own faithfulness by the same measure.

Problem is, I don’t see these things in the New Testament. I don’t see this special time, set off by an opening song and a closing prayer (or by an opening prayer, as was once explained to me; announcements, before the prayer, were not part). I even have trouble transforming Acts 20 and 1 Corinthians 16 into a prescription for worship every Sunday/only on Sunday/only in the assembly.

From what I see in the Bible, worship in the first 39 books of the Bible did not center around one day a week. If that was changed when Jesus came, why isn’t that stated somewhere? Why is so little said about the assembly in the New Testament, especially compared with the weight given to it today.

So what do I suggest? For now… more study. Let’s discuss this a bit this week and see where we get to.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Assembly & My Druthers

All right, let me take a pause in this series to talk about “my druthers” in this matter. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend about how at times my preferences and my theology don’t line up.

I tend to be a bit introverted. Shy. There are situations that I hate, like having to make a phone call to a person I don’t know. But I am, at the same time, a bit of a showman. I grew up performing in musical groups; I love it. While I fear the phone, I love the microphone. I may have trouble meeting people at a party, but give me the chance to get up and speak to 10,000 people, and I’ll jump at it.

The showman in me loves assemblies, especially if I get a chance to be up in front. The bigger, the better.

I’m also one of those people who is cursed with an overblown view of himself. I’d rather go to church and listen to myself than to someone else. I know more than the Bible class teacher and preach better than the preacher. My song leading would wow them all, and I would have come up with more appropriate communion thoughts. One prayer was too long, the other too short. I would love the assembly to be about me.

So what are my preferences? Daily assemblies, where I get to preach every day, like I’ve heard the Puritans did. Barring that, weekly assemblies, centered around my preaching. Put the spotlight on the preacher, and let the preacher be me.

Theologically, I don’t think the sermon should be the center of the service. Not even close. There shouldn’t be a spotlight, and it certainly shouldn’t be on me. And should the assembly be the center of our Christian life? Did Jesus die on the cross so that His people would meet together once a week? I’m obviously having my doubts.

But I’ll continue with those in another post.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Assembly in the New Testament

Someone asked me to continue this study, not putting on the brakes when I hit the end of Malachi. I’ll do my best, as long as everyone continues to contribute. I’ll be in Cuba for a week or so, so you’ll have time to comment.

Jesus and his early followers were Jews. They attended the synagogue; they participated in daily temple activities; they participated in feasts. The early church was very Jewish. They continued following Jewish behavior for many years (Acts 21:20).

It’s amazing how little is said about the assembly in the New Testament. To be fair, some have suggested that since the letters were intended to be read to the assembled church, much of what is said can be assumed to be directed toward assembly behavior. I’m not convinced, but I’ll mention that argument out of fairness (or an attempt at the same).

1 Corinthians discusses the assembly. Hebrews 10 talks about “assembling” (sorry folks... the term “forsaking the assembly” isn’t in there). We have Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 20:7-12. And that’s about it (let’s throw in Matthew 18:17 for good measure).

Fill in the gaps for me. What am I missing?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Assembly and Synagogues

This series of posts is attempting to see what the Bible has to say about assemblies in the worship of God. That’s being done in an attempt to answer the question of whether or not God intended Christianity to be built around a series of weekly assemblies or not. I was encouraged to re-examine what the Old Testament says about assembly, which is what I’ve been trying to do. Thanks to all who’ve been helping.

This week I want to look at the synagogue system. “But that’s not Old Testament,” you wisely observe. That’s true. The synagogue system was not established in Scripture, but grew up out of necessity. When the Israelites found themselves in captivity, with their temple in ruins, they developed a series of assemblies which continue through the present time; that’s the synagogue system.

According to Jewish sources, the synagogue is primarily a place of prayer. It is also a place for the reading and exposition of Scripture. It required the presence of ten males and followed a set pattern of activities. It is built around three times of daily prayer, although special services take place on feast days and sabbaths.

Jesus attended synagogues, as did the apostles and early Christians. Does that mean that God approved of this “innovation”? Did the synagogue become the pattern for early Christian worship? Should it be a pattern for what Christians do?