WHAT DOES “CHURCH” LOOK LIKE?
“…consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another…” Hebrews 10:25 NIV
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.
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.
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)
TO ACCOMPLISH THOSE PURPOSES we must have structure. So what are the Biblical job descriptions? Eph. 4:11-12 “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;” We know the pastor; he’s the guy who holds this thing together. He is also the only teacher most church attendees have. Some denominations address certain personnel as apostles and/or prophets; often they serve as administrators. A few evangelists still evangelize. Remember revival days! And camp-meetings! A lot of evangelists were camp-meeting preachers. They said what needed to be said! Lukewarm Christians liked to watch others have their toes stomped. And if their own toes were bruised it wasn’t too bad if it was done by someone who went on his way instead of staying around to demand accountability! Toe tromping sometimes reached the heart, and a broken and contrite heart is loved by the Lord so there were some positive results! Not much soul searching and heart rending takes place without a Jeremiah. Wow, what a man. Delivering the word of the Lord even though he was told upfront that he and his message would be rejected!
THE WORK OF DEACONS is also instituted in Acts 6. The office of elders is referred to in I Timothy 5:17. Elders preach, teach, and pray for the sick (James 5:14); deacons are to take care of responsibilities other than prayer and preaching (Acts 6:4). Deacons may be qualified to teach and preach also as was the evangelist, Phillip, in Acts 8.
AND IN THE CHURCH GOD has appointed…apostles…prophets…teachers…workers of miracles…those having gifts of healing…helpers…administrators…those speaking in different kinds of tongues (I Cor 12:27-28).
HELPERS! Ushers, janitors, counselors, givers, nursery workers, cooks, hostesses, trip organizers, seamstresses, carpenters, parking lot attendants, coffee makers, clerks, A/V personnel! Those, along with a host of other busy and important people, find themselves in Romans 12:6-8: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, and showing mercy. I guess it was pretty smart in the first century AD for Paul to throw in that word, helpers. If he had said chauffeurs and light bulb changers, somebody would have thought he was talking through his turban. Then again, Paul probably didn’t wear a turban, hat, beanie, or kippah. See I Cor. 11:4 & 7.
ISN’T IT STRANGE that none of these categories include the artsy, talented kinds of ministries?
Artists, singers, writers, dancers, tambourine players? Maybe they are helps. I like them. They inspire me. They stir up the “spirit” in me. They help me meditate on the Lord. That often leads to worship. Nothing said in the NT about leading people to worship. That is such a private thing to do. Maybe it is not intended that people be led to worship. Maybe preachers/evangelists/prophets/apostles/teachers just lead to repentance. Repentance leads to thankfulness. Thankfulness leads to worship. Here I am theorizing again! I got this way when worship leaders used to tell me to worship in my prayer language; I knew what I needed to a good dose of repentance! Most often I still have to go the repentance route! Anybody understand what I mean?
EZEKIEL MUST HAVE BEEN an “artsy, talented” kind of man. What effect did it have? God said in Ezek. 33:31-32 NIV, My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” So much for beauty, talent, and excellence affecting change! Wonderful bait, but it doesn’t catch much. Sometimes I wonder if only a broken heart can break a heart. Like a visual image of Jesus’ bloody wounded back and the cry of his broken heart, “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How oft I would have drawn you as a hen draws her chicks.” That breaks mine.
OFFERINGS FIT FOR THE KING are more apt to be honed out on a jailhouse floor like the songs from suffering Paul and Silas than from the grandest arias of the best symphonies’ finest operas. But, Lord, forgive me, I still want the best from the most beautiful, the most talented. I’ll pretend those offerings are fit for the King. Let’s go hear Ezekiel sing his pretty love songs with the instrument he plays so well. We won’t have to change our ways – just listen and enjoy.
A CONGREGATION OF UNIFIED believers can accomplish much more together than those same individuals can accomplish separately. If you are a teacher, you must have students; if you are a preacher, you must have an audience; if you are an evangelist, you must have a someone to evangelize; if you are a prophet, you must have people to listen; if you are an apostle, you must have protégés. Each of these offices can operate individually, and sometimes are one on one; however, the implication is that they generally perform best in groups of people.
HOWEVER IT IS NOT TRUE THAT BIGGER is always better. Many people can be lost in the crowd, and being lonely in a crowd is painful. Sometimes one wants to be in a crowd so he will not be accountable to anyone. Sometimes the mechanics of crowd control, supervision, organization, sight and sound are just too burdensome to get the job done well. Having a large church for the sake of pride and ambition will never accomplish what personal witnessing will accomplish. The devil loves to pounce on isolated people – whether they are alone or in a crowd.
IN CHAPTER 34 (NIV), EZEKIEL DESCRIBES bad shepherds who let the sheep become isolated. “Woe to the shepherds (who care for themselves) … but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.” Taking care of sheep is a one-on-one job! They must be strengthened, healed, bound up, searched for, brought back, and treated kindly. The bigger the church body, the more “shepherds” it takes to care for the sheep. Leadership can utilize laymen with pastor’s hearts to see that all sheep receive care. But having more sheep in the fold than the shepherd can care for might require a new fold and a new shepherd. How do you feel about sharing people with a weaker church or sending some out to begin a new church? I sure got ugly about it one time. It is one of my forgiven sins.
MY BIASES ARE AGAINST those who claim to have churches of five, seven, ten thousands in their churches. Part of that is caused by my experience as a public school teacher. I know that having many students was not the answer to good learning, academically or behaviorally. How about just calling big churches “Pastor So-n-So’s denomination”? Then the “pastor” can be an “apostle” or something like that. Beyond my comprehension! But they have to be organized in some small group fashion in order to teach as Jesus did and to care as Jesus cared for his twelve disciples. Remember John 15:15 in which Jesus called them friends. Would you call someone a friend if you don’t even know their names, or recognize them in the grocery store?
CAN YOU IMAGINE? Jesus had many followers but He kept his students to twelve? He fed five thousand but didn’t claim to be their leader. Give him 12 men, a mountainside, and a boat. What power! What humility! What a teacher! Creator of language using two syllable words! Designer of the forests using seeds for an object lesson! Watcher of the sparrow ordering the storm to be still! Holder of the universe making room on his knee for a little child!
ALTHOUGH I VIEW soul winning and teaching done best as an individual or small group activity, I’ll admit it can be accomplished in a large fashion. How else were five thousand converts added in one day (Acts 4:4). Peter’s colossal failure on crucifixion day must have been the antidote needed to balance his perspective when he saw the headline in the Jerusalem Journal for Soul-Winners!
DO YOU SUPPOSE PETER led them in a sinner’s prayer? I doubt it. It must have been like Jesus when he said, “Follow Me.” People followed. However a lot of them didn’t convert – they followed for the loaves and fishes. Jesus taught not to yank out the tares, but they left anyway. He did indicate that a lot of them would not survive his walk. And they didn’t. John 6:66 “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”
OH, THE EXCITEMENT of following Jesus! Stilling storms, healing lepers, multiplying food, raising dead, giving the Pharisees their due! “Hold up a bit, buddy, did you hear what he said then.” “Sounded like we can’t go back – something like, ‘No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” “See you later. I’ve got to go home. The guys will be coming round soon.”
BUT BACK TO PETER’S CATCH of five thousand men. The Bible says these men believed. They were definitely not following for the good life; they had heard a tough sermon. Let’s join in some bits from his sermon – “you denied the Holy One and chose a murderer instead – repent, and be converted – turn away every one from your sins.” In other words, you are sinners, you must change, you must quit sinning. They accepted the cost of a holy life. And they did not think they were choosing an easy life; they had just witnessed their preacher being taken to jail. Many of these people must have started banding together for support and safety, giving rise to the home assemblies spoken of in Acts. That seems to be different than what happened among many of Jesus’ followers. I’m glad he instituted the church.
HOW MANY WHO PRAY A “SINNER’S PRAYER” have a real concept of making Jesus their Lord? Where are the thousands who are said to have been saved via large crusades, television ministries, and mega-churches? What is the impact of all these converts in homes, churches, schools, politics? Why isn’t there some evidence of a more “holy” church? Too many statistics say that church people don’t live all that differently from people who do not go to church. Pastors preach a social message for people to have better lives—basically the same message for sinners and Christians. Skeptics continue to poke fun at the number of divorces and teen pregnancies in the Bible Belt. Churches continue to grow via the church hoppers. Most folks can count on their ten fingers the number of people they know who have become “born-again” Christians in the last two or three years – people whose life styles changed when they were converted. Wow, I’m being judgmental now, aren’t I? In the classroom I tested to see if my students got it; if they didn’t we went over it again. Was I being judgmental? It is time to check the product!
A WARNING ABOUT DEFECTIVE PRODUCTS: Mark 7:6b-7 NIV “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Rules taught by man can be new and in vogue, as well as old and traditional.
A LOT OF SENIORS CAN TESTIFY to remembering when people who got saved also changed life styles. Their language changed, they quit their vices, they attended church, and showed other visible evidences that they took on some of Jesus’ character. Some even changed the way they dressed and wore their hair! Those were people who counted the cost. When they decided to follow Jesus, they believed they would have to change and they were willing to do so. They were not playing games. They were not “giving it a try.” They were not going along for the ride. They heard sermons based on scriptures like Luke 14:26-28, “ If any man come to me and hate not…even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?”
AND THEY WERE ACCOUNTABLE! There was generally no crowd to get lost in. Christian family and friends knew their habits. Someone noticed if they were not in church. They went home with someone for Sunday dinner. Most often attending Sunday morning service meant both Sunday School class and preaching service. They were marked absent for SS, so they had to give account of themselves!
BUT OUR CHURCH IS HIGH-TECH; we can reach the masses! We have drive-in service, big-screen, one hour max. We can involve 400 people in one sitting who can join in praise and worship, hear a sermon, give their offering and they never have to leave their cars! We can do this at 8, 10, 12, and 2 o’clock, so it will fit any schedule!
I TRY TO BE OPEN-MINDED so I browsed the web and saw “Video for Worship.” Thinking to update myself to new technology, I decided to watch it. OOPs! No video. Instead it is 3-4,000 word article about A/V equipment in churches – “16 monitors, 28 speakers – technology has revolutionized our ministry – especially important in seeking all generations – changing face of religious services – involved in every facet of worship today – connects audience with pastor and worship leader – … changing traditional stereotypes by embracing all the new technology – needs to be praise-ful of God.” (http//digitalcontentproducer.com/mag/video_video_worship/) I am glad about that last phrase – needs to be praise-ful of God. But once you are out the hundred thousand dollars, you will find it is still people who are called to be “praise-ful of God.” (I have been told that a heathen can be saved by an investment of only 25 cents. If I believed that, I would be hard-pressed to spend that hundred thousand on video equipment for my million dollar church.) No wonder that I’m not on a church board!
TECHNOLOGY IS DRAWING YOUTH BY THE THOUSANDS. MY CHALLENGE: Turn all magnifying equipment off during a “praise and worship” and see how much “spirit” remains. A good test of the spirit.
I’VE RECENTLY COME to the conclusion that I am mute in some churches. My mouth moves but nothing comes out. In fact, everybody behind me must also be mute! No sound except from the stage! I get sidetracked with feeling movement in my throat and no sound coming out. Novel!
SERIOUSLY DOES IT MATTER? I pray silently quite a bit. I even sing silently often at night. Eph. 5:19, “Sing, and make music in your heart…” I’m not a great singer. The people I hear are much better. So why do I want to hear myself when I sing to the Lord. I’m sure he can hear me in the midst of the din. We used to have a neighbor who couldn’t stand coming to our church where everyone prayed out loud at the same time. But then, of course, we could hear ourselves and each other. I think God could too. I thought the neighbor’s reasoning was all wrong. Many, many churches had church at 10:00 am. It almost had to be that someone was praying at the same time in a few of those churches. If God could handle prayers from New York to LA simultaneously, he could probably hear me and my seatmate together – even I could do that.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO WHAT MOST CALL WORSHIP STYLE. Audio/visual or human participation? Piano and organ or keyboard and band? Loud or quiet? Formal or informal? Hymns or choruses? Does your preacher thump his Bible or read his lectures? Warm-water baptisteries or dunked in the cold pond? Black coffee, cappuccino, or latte? Baskin-Robbins, 27 flavors, or plain vanilla?
I WENT TO A CHURCH ONE TIME that was out of this world wild. Somewhat arrogantly I made critical mental notes – and God humbled me by letting me know that He can be what He needs to be to any group of people and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t need to go there – in other words, butt out! Basically all I had left to say was Yes, Lord! In past years it seemed to be easier to find variety in church styles. Today it does seem that there is a lot of carbon copying going on! But I can’t buy it when someone tells me they don’t go to church because they can’t find one they like! That person sure has a small degree of tolerance! But if you find a gap unfilled, go for it and start a new one! I challenge you to build one which fulfills the 12 purposes listed in this chapter!
I THINK ONE WOULD BE very limited in being able to prove scripturally that one kind of worship style is more favorable to God than another style (excepting “vain repetitions” – he doesn’t like that, at least not in prayer, maybe singing is different). I do sort of wonder if he would like to hear some Fanny Crosby again! I think the gift he gave that woman should be “without repentance!” Personally I get bored easily. I prefer six verses one time each to one chorus six times! I must admit, however, I can’t prove that God does! I have an idea though that he is delighted when he finds a man/woman who will throw caution to the wind and follow his lead rather than following the fad of the year or the fad of the century.
I HAVE USED THE TERM “WORSHIP SERVICE” in this document to refer to a meeting of local members at a set time – generally Sunday morning or Sunday evening. Some groups list “service times;” a recent change is to call these meetings “experience” times.” Perhaps this is a bit of “correction” to the over emphasis on praise-n-worship. I have heard sermons recently cautioning against thinking worship is an experience or event which can be “performed” at a set time once a week! Good thinking.
“EACH MOMENT OF EVERY DAY belongs to God and is to be lived before His presence, in submission to His lordship, and to His honor and glory. It is also necessary that a due proportion of time be set apart for offering to God that worship which He has commanded all people to give. Such worship is to be given individually, in families, and in corporate gatherings of public worship.” (www.arpsnod.org)
ISN’T THIS INTERESTING? “The Scots Confession of 1560 had this to say about public worship: ‘It becomes all things to be done decently and in order. Not that we think any policy and an order of ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places; for as ceremonies which men have devised are but temporal,…’” (www.arpsnod.org)
HEY, MY PENTECOSTAL FRIEND, those last two paragraphs are from the Reformed Presbyterians. How about that? The longer I live, the more I learn! And I probably would never had known, if I hadn’t tried out the new technology. It was via laptop, however, instead of IPod – so even now I’m still old-fashioned!
I GUESS THIS IS A GOOD PLACE to recoup this chapter. It is not that I think “any policy or order of ceremonies” that covers all the purposes of a church can be accomplished during an assembly of saints on a Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, even including revivals and camp-meetings, even if we could handle two hours rather than one; it is that I think these purposes should be accomplished as a combination of some structured church programs led by God-anointed leaders. Our churches should judge themselves on the fulfillment of the purposes of the church not just on the number of people who assemble on Sunday morning – even including those in the drive-in theater at 10, 2, 4, or more!
I BELIEVE THAT TASK IS IMPOSSIBLE when about two thirds of the church membership only attend one hour on Sunday morning – or Saturday night – or two o’clock – or at any other hour that happens to fit their schedule! Particularly when that hour only includes “praise-n-worship,” announcements, offering, and a sermon that is too often more psychology than scripture! Even including the worship leader’s address to God, prayer time and Bible reading can probably be counted in seconds rather than minutes! (I probably exaggerated a bit there.) According to Barna Research 67% of AG/Pentecostal membership attends worship services, 35% attend Sunday School, which is the strongest educational arm of most churches.
ANOTHER CHALLENGE: What percentage of your church can you count on to come to 6:00 a.m. prayer meeting? Make it easy, schedule it for 15 minutes after/before church. How many?
FORTUNATELY THERE ARE SOME CHURCHES – especially large churches – which are providing ministry in other ways and reaching some who are not in worship services and/or Sunday School. Some have fantastic outreach ministries; however, these ministries do not fulfill a purpose of the church assembly. Rather they are a product of the church assembly – a result of “spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.”
I KNOW I HAVE DOWNPLAYED “WORSHIP” as a function of the church. I am over-reacting because I feel that most people think that is the reason for church. Most certainly when Christians get together, there will, and should, be praise and worship. How could we do less than rejoice together in his goodness! He deserves all glory, honor, and power (Rev. 4:11). (They are alphabetized in case you forget how they go when you’re singing – I just can’t help myself sometimes, can I?) He also deserves power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing (Rev. 5:12), but that is hard to put into choruses! Just wait a little longer. Judging from the trickiness of new courses, all those things might get there! At least, we could write a chorus like “power to the almighty magnificent God” sing it three times, then change to “riches to the almighty magnificent God” sing it three times, then change to …. By the time we get through all seven attributes – 21 sing-throughs – we will have forgotten what we gave him first, so I guess that wouldn’t be so good!
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE, HOWEVER, most people would not know the “glory, honor, and power” if it weren’t for choruses, so they teach something! Not many are going to know the Rev. 5:12 lineup! Seriously, how can we give God his due? Only by a 24/7 holy life. And he is certainly due more than that – but that is what he asks for. One hour to fit our schedule will not fool God, no matter how exuberantly we dance and shout.
REGARDING ANOTHER ISSUE I have basically accused the church of ignoring – prayer. Since Jesus called his house a house of prayer, we cannot forget its importance. In my upbringing, we fit prayer requests and prayer – kneeling down at the altar or at our seats, into the song service—just before the last song. That was pretty good, except it left the poor sinner, sitting alone while he waited – there was seldom more than one present. (Again, I am full of mischief.) Truthfully, although there were some news items—occasionally even gossip, but not nearly as often as has been charged—that were given in the form of prayer requests, they served a legitimate place in the church. I was in a church recently where the pastor allowed a lady to come to the microphone to make a request. She was a “mature” mother of eleven grown children who were unsaved. Her burden touched the hearts of those present in a much greater way than if the “moderator” of the service had said, “Let us remember to pray for Sister Zee’s children who need the Lord.” Or, even worse, “Let’s pray for our grown children who need to be saved.” I’ve never heard it, but it might get through if someone said, “Let’s pray for Sister Zee’s children, who are all scoundrels who are breaking her heart!”
OF COURSE, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to have prayer requests from the audience in large churches. Couldn’t be heard even if someone were to be so forward as to try! Makes “bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) a bit difficult. Some large churches have prayer teams in the altar area or in a particular alcove or corner, where people can go to have a caring anointed leader pray for their needs during worship time. This is handled very effectively some churches, where the worship leader allows prayer time to influence the length of worship. I will also share another prayer method: People are invited to step into the aisle and people standing nearby pray for them. I read of a church that keeps its front pews open for people who want to have someone to pray with them. Sunday night services generally allow for extended altar prayer times. Other means of facilitating prayer for each other: prayer needs printed on church bulletins, small interaction groups, e-mail, phone trees, prayer partners or triplets, backstage groups who pray during service times, specific prayer time often before the service starts.
THUS FAR IN THIS CHAPTER I have discussed the purposes of the church as it relates to what goes on inside its walls. But we cannot ignore the “Great Commission.”“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
AT ONE OF THE EXITS FROM a parking lot of a local church, there is a sign which says, “You are entering the mission field,” a motivator and reminder that the work of the church takes place outside the church building. Our job is to “harvest the fields that are ripe unto harvest” Giving to world missions is a major slice of the yearly budget for some churches. Men and women routinely pay their own way and use their vacation times to work in both construction and evangelism in needy areas. Work with prisoners is a major function of some evangelistic efforts.
A CHALLENGE: GIVE A GRADE to your church—A,B,C,D, or F.
_____1. A place to praise God – with integrity
_____2. A place to fellowship
_____3. A place to prophesy leading to Holy Spirit conviction to sinners
_____4. A place of prayer
_____5. A place to nurture people for Christian ministries and Christian witnessing
_____6. A place to receive offerings for financing its enterprises.
_____7. A place to settle disputes among members.
_____8. A place to preach the gospel leading to repentance & remission of sins
_____9. A place to edify oneself & each other by manifestation of spiritual gifts
____10. A place to instruct in holy living to prepare a universal glorious church
____11. A place to partake of the Lord’s Supper
____12. A place to facilitate baptism in water
____13. A place to generate local and world mission efforts
ENDING WITH A LOOK AT THE ROMAN CHURCH, Chapter 16 NIV. Check these phrases:
risked their lives, grateful to them, meets at their house, worked very hard, been in prison, they were outstanding, whom I love, our fellow worker, my dear friend, tested and approved, belong to the household, my relative, who are in the Lord, has been a mother to me, brothers, all the saints, a holy kiss, send greetings, hospitality. Nice things go on in church!
A SALUTE TO GOD’S ASSEMBLIES EVERYWHERE!