My Hopes for Our Assemblies (Image Vol 10, No 2 – March/April 1994)

By Matt Dabbs

By Calvin Warpula

The New Testament does not give a detailed, uniform description of a worship service. Actually, the New Testament does not distinguish between “worship services” and other Christian assemblies. Our talk about “five acts of worship” is not New Testament language. It is in adequate to describe New Testament assemblies thusly. There are only a few assemblies described in the New Testament church that were strictly for the purpose of “worshiping God” Specific adoration acts of direct praise to God (worship) were probably a part of almost all the assemblies, but since many other things of an edification-fellowship nature were conducted, the vertical dimension seems not to have been the only focus of the assemblies.

Why did early Christians gather together?

Meetings of Christians are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5, 11, 14; Acts 2, 4, 12, 13, 20; Hebrews 10:25; James 2; and other places. Since the epistles were to be read in the churches, then what is written in the epistles for all Christians to do refers to what they could do individually or in concert with one another (in the assembly).

When believers gather together, the following actions were sometimes performed:

  1. Teaching the word of God and instructing in the Scriptures (Acts 2:42; 20:7-8)
  2. Convincing, rebuking, and encouraging, with the utmost patience in teaching (2 Tim. 4:2)
  3. Equipping the saints in works of ministry (Eph. 4:12)
  4. Reading the Scriptures (1 Thess. 5:27)
  5. Building up and edifying one another (1 Cor. 14:1-5)
  6. Encouraging one another in the faith (Heb. 10:25)
  7. Reading the names of those who were infecting the rest of the body with evil and warning the remainder of the church of them (1 Cor. 5:4-5)
  8. Partaking of the bread and the wine in remembrance of Jesus (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
  9. Practicing the “one another” passages (which are relational, mutual, reciprocal, or responsive), like “love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9), “confess your sins one to another” (James 5:16), “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16), “serve one another” (Gal. 5:13), “rejoice and weep with one another” (Rom. 12:15), “pray for one another” (James 5:16), “speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), “and “be kind to one another and forgive one another” (Eph. 4:32).
  10. Giving to help one another and others in physical and spiritual things (Gal. 6:10, 2 Cor. 8-9)
  11. Worshiping and praising God (Acts 2:46-47; 13:1-3; Heb. 12:28)
  12. Eating together (Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 2:46; 2 Pet. 2:13)

Anything that Jesus taught or that the early church did with one another is something that can be done in any assembly of Christians There are no principles given for all individual Christians that do no likewise guide and direct groups of Christians or congregations. There are no principles given to groups of Christians that are not applicable to the individuals in those congregations.

Our assemblies should model New Testament assemblies in three ways:

1 – In Their Focus

The focus of everything a believer does individually and corporately is always for the praise and glory of God. The praise and glory of God is the overriding motivation and purpose behind everything we do or say or eat or drink (Col. 3:17; 1 Cor. 10:31). When believers love one another more ad more, this is for the praise and glory of God. The “abounding love” of Philippians 1:9, certainly a horizontal dimension, is designed to ring praise to God as mentioned two verses later. Therefore, when we come together to do anything we are to praise and honor God by everything we are and say and do – our words, actions, examples, expressions, body language, priorities, and values.

The
vertical
dimension
seems not
to have
been the
only focus
of the
assemblies.

2 – In Their Forms

The New Testament is very short on form. What forms are required universally and permanently?

The only uniquely Christian forms that are permanent and universal are the ones attached to the core message of salvation: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They are as follows:

  1. Immersion of a penitent believer into fellowship with the crucified and risen Christ (Rom. 6:1-7).
  2. The eating together of bread and fruit of the vine in remembrance of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
  3. The significance of the first day of the week as a day to assemble to praise Jesus Christ and to participate in the communion in his honor (Acts 20:7). This day became known as the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10). According to the early church fathers, this was the day of Christian assembly of the churches in the early and middle second century (Didache 14:1; Epistle of Barnabas15; Justin Martyr, Apology 1. 65-67).

All the emphasis on pattern in the New Testament is on following the pattern or model lifestyle of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:21; Col. 3:15-17; Phil. 2:5). What kind of life did he live among us? He was kind, loving, forgiving, truthful, obedient, trustworthy, reliable, evangelistic, prayerful, merciful, and serving. That’s what we are to be.

3 – In their Functions

How did the early Christians conduct their assemblies? What were they trying to accomplish?

  • The assembly should be conducted in a manner that is conducive to learning.

First Corinthians 14:6-12 teaches that assemblies should be designed so that those who attend my understand what is happening and so that everyone might be built up. If our assemblies are not building us up, then our function is wrong, though externally our practices may be biblical. Merely attending an assembly or doing the right acts does not guarantee that we are worshiping God or edifying one another.

Our assemblies should be celebrative family reunions with lots of joy, singing, and participation. Church should be “fun” – spiritually refreshing and encouraging. Joy in all its forms, is mentioned 125 times in the New Testament. Of all people, we have the greatest message in the world.

Joy is not always a part of our assemblies. A photographer went to church and took pictures of people as they came in. He took pictures of the same people as they left church, ad he compared the pictures of before and after. He then wondered, “What is it that happens in church that makes people so sad?”

  • The assembly could allow the participation of the congregation.

Assemblies do not have to be conducted by a limited few. The picture of the Corinthian assembly is an example of a church body that had the freedom and joy of participation and sharing .”When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (1 Cor. 14:26). Paul did not condemn this practice of each member contributing to the assembly but encouraged that everything be conducted for the building up of the body.

This allows freedom, flexibility, and participation in some of our assemblies. We could have testimonies or faith talks about what GOd is doing in our lives. We could have more confessions of sins, prayers for help, and openness with needs and concerns. This meeting would be a support group, like the Alcoholics Anonymous, with everyone participating. Our adult Bible classes or small group meetings, which emphasize discussion, lesson application, interaction, prayer concerns, confession of needs and struggles, and male and female participation, probably resemble the Corinthian assembly more than our usual tightly structured and time-conscious “worship services.”

There
are no
principles
given for
all individual
Christians
that do
not likewise
guide and
direct
groups of
Christians.

One are that we need to critically and considerably study is the role of women in our churches. In most of our adult Bible classes, a woman can make coffee, serve as a greeter, make an announcement, ask a question, make a comment, and read Bible verses. However, in the worship assembly, women are not permitted to say or do anything except join in congregational singning.

The only limitation the Scriptures places on women in relationship to men in any Christian gathering is that they are “not to teach or in any other way have authority over men” (1 Tim. 2:8-15). Other than that women are as free to participate and serve Christ as men are.

Everywhere today people are asking of a woman may do the following things in an assembly: serve communion, confess sins, sing a solo, distribute the worship programs, be an usher, read Scripture, say a prayer be a deacon, lead singing, preach the Word, serve as an elder, teach a class with me present.

The Bible gives no specific answer except the general directive of the apostle, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” In all these questions we should ask, “Is this a position or ministry where a woman teaches over a man or has authority over men?” If it is, then women should not do it. If it is not, then it is permitted.

  • The assembly could encourage all types of vocal music.

The Bible says we should sing praises to the Lord (Heb. 13:15) and “speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). The Christians psalmody was, as far as we can ascertain, modeled after the Jewish manner of singing. Everett Ferguson in his Early Christians Speak (Austin: Sweet, 1971, p. 161) and his article on music in the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (1990, p.630) shows several varieties of solo, antiphonal, and responsorial signing among the Jews and early Christians.

Concluding Statements

We not only deal with Scripture, but also with tradition and perception. Something may be scripturally right but, because of tradition, lack of teaching, or culture or subculture, perceived to be wrong.

Traditional practices are difficult to change. Nothing mores slower than a church Even though changes are scriptural, not everything should be changed at once. Change is more evolutionary than revolutionary.

We are free to practice our methods, styles, and ways of doing what God approves in cases where what we are doing does not violate any principles of Scripture.

In the Christian assembly, God evidently does not care about many things that often concern us. The Scriptures tell us God cares about such issues as: Do we love one another? Are we growing in the faith? Are we maintaining our hope? Are we looking forward to Christ’s coming? Are w living pure and holy lives? Are we working for peace and unity among all believers? Are we letting the Holy Spirit control us? Are we praising God and glorifying him in all things? Are we growing spiritually? Are we teaching the word to sinners and baptizing them into Christ? Are we maturing the converts? Are we seeking the lost sheep? Are we encouraging one another? Are we healing broken relationships?

Let’s focus on God. Let’s emphasize New Testament forms. Let’s remember the functions of the assembly. If we do, we know we will please God. We will probably also have a lot more joy, peace, and results from our assemblies.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataFebruary 15th, 2017
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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1594 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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