SO WHEN AND WHERE ARE WE TO MEET and what are we to do when we get there? How do we spur to love and good deeds and encourage one another? What else are we to do, and how do we do it? And when? And where? What all is involved in a New Testament church as an assembly of Christians who meet together? What is their purpose? Is a group of 50 Christians who meet together any more effective than 50 Christians who work as individuals? How about a thousand people, or 50,000? Christ is making for himself a “glorious church without spot or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:25). How is He going to use our spotted and wrinkled churches to do that? Or does He have one perfect church congregation somewhere that is his church? I have more questions than answers! But let’s check for some answers.
Yesterday I said I would look for the essay I had written that listed functions of a church. Here they are. I am listing my summary first for the “hurry-ers.” 😀 If you want to do more than dabble in this area, I have added a more lengthy explanation of each item after this summary.
TO SUMMARIZE THE PURPOSES for a local church body:
A place to praise God (Acts 2:46-47, Heb. 2:12)
A place to fellowship (Acts 2:46-47)
A place to prophesy leading to Holy Spirit conviction to sinners (I Cor. 14:24,25)
A place of prayer (Mat. 21:13)
A place to nurture people for Christian ministries and Christian witnessing (Acts 1:8)
A place to receive offerings for financing its enterprises. (I Cor. 16:1,2)
A place to settle disputes among members. (I Cor. 6:4-6; Mat. 18:15-17)
A place to preach the gospel leading to repentance & remission of sins (Mat 28:19,20)
A place to edify oneself & each other by manifestation of spiritual gifts (I Cor 14:26)
A place to instruct in holy living to prepare a universal glorious church (Eph. 5:25-27)
A place to partake of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:23-30)
A place to facilitate baptism in water (time and place not specified in scripture
LET’S START HERE. Act 2:46-47 says, “And they (believers) continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” So I see that followers of Jesus were getting together in unity and joy meeting in certain locations (the temple and homes) to enjoy each other and praise God. They must have been doing some good deeds, or at least setting a good example since they were pleasing all the people. Also they were winning souls who were being added to the church.
JESUS SAID, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (Hebrews 2:12 NIV) This indicated a fulfillment of a prophesy in Psalm 22. I would like to apply it to the times that I have sat in the congregation, perhaps singing, perhaps praying, perhaps meditating quietly – those holy moments when his presence moves about the congregation and you can sense a change in the atmosphere. Sometimes someone begins to sing with such an anointing that it does seem as if it is Jesus singing. And he does seem to join in on the exuberant loud fun-filled songs, too. I think he likes the joy of Look What the Lord Has Done, as well as the peace of Under His Wings. Join me: Under his wings, I am safely abiding, Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild, Still I can trust Him: I know He will keep me; He has redeemed me, and I am His child. Under his wings, under his wings, Who from His love can sever? Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever. And the elders cry as they remember.
(Heb. 13:15-16 NIV) “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Many church services have started with a chorus that says we are bringing a sacrifice of praise. But does this scripture refer to worship services? Don’t think so; if so, how are we going to do good and share with others in worship services? This must be referring to a life style – day by day living. That might include a worship service but I don’t think it means that is the reason for the service.
PAUL WENT UP TO JERUSALEM to worship (Acts 24:11). Paul had gone to Jerusalem to purify himself in accordance with the law (Acts 21:26). This was an example of his “being made all things to all men” that he might save some (I Cor 9:19-23).
HOUSE OF PRAYER. Jesus said his house would be called a house of prayer (Matt. 21:13). Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:46 record the same thing. Seems that the writers took special note of that since three of the four gospels record it. Some people say that God really means it when He says something more than once. I think He means it if he says it once; however, I can conceive that it might be more easily misinterpreted if it is said only once. So back to the three confirming one another – you know “in the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (II Cor. 13:1). Question: Is “house of prayer” what you think of when someone says church. If I say I went to church last night, is your first thought that I went to pray? Just asking. There was once a church near me named “House of Prayer”. I wonder if they meant it. I like the name.
AMONG JESUS’S LAST WORDS to his disciples were these instructions commonly known as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
Teach to obey his commands
Baptize (in water)
Preach the gospel, repentance and remission of sins
These instructions were given to individuals who would be the leaders of the local churches everywhere. Isn’t that the mission of the church? Teach, baptize, preach, and witness. Surely our church services should include those activities within the church walls, as well as support activities and individuals who will be going outside the church walls. Paul’s writings would confirm laying on hands to anoint for ministry; taking offerings to support ministers; providing an administrative structure for deciding theological questions; providing programs for studying the scriptures; praying for needs; settling disputes; giving testimonies of confessions, needs, and restitution; and singing songs of admonition, teaching, and thankfulness.
“NOW CONCERNING THE COLLECTION for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye…” (I Cor. 16:1,2) Although this collection was given for a particular cause, the method seems to establish a pattern for giving in order to finance the ministries of the local churches.
Matthew 28:19-20 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Who is to teach? You. What are you to teach? To obey. To obey what? Jesus’ commands. Resulting in what? Baptism (with a confession of a salvation experience evidenced by a changed life brought about by the knowledge of and obedience to Jesus’ commands).
Mark 16:15-18 “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” You do what? Preach. To whom? Everyone. Why? So that they may be saved! What evidence? Signs. What signs? Now I’m getting squeamish. But this passage says signs are speaking in tongues, healing the sick, taking up serpents, and drinking poison. I believe it means “if they take up serpents, and if they drink a deadly thing, it shall not hurt them,” as evidenced by Paul taking up a viper (Acts 28:3). This is where I need the mouths of four or five witnesses to convince me to take up a snake or drink poison on purpose!
Luke 24: 47 “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” What is the purpose of preaching? Repentance and remission of sins. In other words – saved souls.
Acts 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” To whom shall we witness? Everyone, home and abroad.
THERE WAS INDIVIDUAL PARTICIPATION (at least among the men) I Cor. 14:26 “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”
THE CHURCH IS a proper place for the gifts/manifestations of the Spirit. Many of them are for the benefit of the church body. They also affect sinners inside the church. When the members of the church prophesy, the anointing should be so powerful that it shakes the sinner (I Cor. 14:24, 25), “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.” He will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” Paul says “while everybody is prophesying.” Everyone prophesying? When would “everyone” prophesy? Possibly, by singing songs? If so, some songs must have a message that would affect the sinner. It used to be quite common for sinners to be under conviction of the Holy Ghost and go to the altar for prayer during the singing of songs.
THE GIFTS ARE ALSO operated outside the church body, evidenced by Paul casting the devil out of the fortune-telling girl (Acts 16:18). Sadly I have little personal experiences to share. Except probably the gift of discernment.that has resulted in charitable types of ventures.
ACCORDING TO PAUL we should partake of the Lord’s Supper during our assemblies (I Cor. 11:23-30. It seems the Corinthians were using this occasion as a time to eat and drink. That was not the purpose. The purpose was to remember the Lord Jesus. Thinking of His broken body and blood is a solemn occasion in which a person is to examine himself lest he eat unworthily. Surely that would mean there should be a time of repentance for those who judge themselves to need it. Am I alone in finding myself almost always needing to repent before taking of his body and blood? Aren’t sinners and sinning Christians warned against participating without repenting? Is this a part of your church’s “Lord Supper” routine? How routine is your routine? I was impressed with a church recently in which the communion elements were set on tables at the side of the altar area, and people went to the tables and partook individually during the worship time. There were no instructions given so this must have been a normal practice. I asked my seat partner if I could participate. She graciously went down with me. It was an unrushed, free time to share with the Lord. Perhaps about ten percent of the church body participated – not many, but meaningful.
THERE WAS “DISCIPLEING” taking place, a lot of doctrine, and study of the scriptures to instruct in holy living. Ephesians 5:25-27 “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Imagine all the teaching that had to be done to turn those hardcore sinners into a spotless, blameless, radiant church! Surely, we can expect no less from our present day church. Live holy. Lift up holy hands. Be holy. Turning to the Christian walk was not a compromising path!
PROVISIONS SHOULD BE MADE for the study of scriptures together. Acts 17:11 speaks positively about the Bereans who studied the scriptures every day to see if Paul was preaching the truth.