Blog - Supporting Believers

Why Do We Meet as Believers?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

1543: The sun orbits the earth. Really? 

2009: The church meets to worship. Really?

Some things just aren't what they're said to be. For centuries, people have said the sun rises and sets. Such words led most to believe the sun circled the earth. When Copernicus tried to say otherwise, his message met resistance. But he was right.

The words we use still shape the way we Christians think. We call church buildings “worship centers.” We sing “worship choruses” selected by “worship leaders” who head “worship teams.” We can choose between “worship styles” (traditional, contemporary, and progressive). And we describe the entire event of our gathering as a “worship service.” No wonder, then, that most assume we meet mainly to worship.

Really? Should we Christians gather primarily to worship? Is that why we should not give up getting together? Our religious traditions may pull us in that direction. But why does God want us to meet regularly with other believers? What does he say in the New Testament?

Jesus upset religious traditions that connected worship with times and places. The Jews gathered at set times to worship in their temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans saw Mt. Gerizim as the true place of worship. While speaking with a Samaritan woman at the foot of Mt. Gerizim, Jesus disconnected worship from set times and places: “. . . a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Rather, Jesus said, “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth . . .” (Jn. 4:21, 23). These words, along with the rest of the New Testament teaching, make it clear God wants us to worship him at all times and in all places.

Two Damaging Results. When we use the word “worship” only in connection with what happens in a church service on Sunday (or some other day), at least two damaging results follow.

First, we condition believers to think like Old Testament Jews and Samaritans. In doing so, we shrink-wrap worship inside specific times and places. God receives worship only now and then instead of constantly. And God receives worship only here and there instead of everywhere.

Second, the “worship-center/worship-service” language hides what we really ought to do when we gather. When New Testament writers instruct churches what to focus on when we meet, they emphasize building up and encouraging each other. For example, Paul told the Corinthian church, “When you come together,” everything that happens “must be done for the strengthening of the church” (I Cor. 14:26). Five verses later, he explains that in our gatherings “everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (v. 31).

The author of Hebrews urges that we “not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another. . .” (Heb. 10:25). One verse earlier, he urges us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

We can and should worship God at all times (including when we gather). But we cannot encourage, build up and spur one another on at all times. We can do so only in those times when we meet. Why, then, does God call us to get together with other believers? Mainly to strengthen each other for those roles we fill when we're scattered into our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplaces.

Focus for a moment just on believers in their workplaces. How can we—when we gather—strengthen, encourage, build up and spur on other Christians to serve Christ in the world of work? What habits, traditions and words might we need to change for this to happen?

Comments (3)

Christian Overman (11/1/2009 4:26:08 PM)

As I read your post, I couldn't help but think about the small-group "method" that John and Charles Wesley put in place for the strengthening of believers in 18th Century England and America. They met for the very purpose you describe. In England, the Church of England was apostate, in part due to the fact that they had removed the Puritan pastors from the pulpits in 1661. If the English believers did not meet together in small groups to encourage each other, I don't know where it would have happened. I think they were on to something!

I know that William Wilberforce met with a small group of about 10 fellow followers of Christ who were businessmen, and politiciansm for mutual encouragement in their walk of faith. They strengthened each other in their task of applying their Christian faith to their work. I'm thinking that this is a vital element in the renewal of the "faith-at-work" movement. Think so?
Laura Springer (11/17/2009 11:25:52 AM)
Funny how obvious things can hide. I've "understood" Heb 10:19-25 for years, including the call to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" and yet, somehow our Sunday gatherings remain about worship.

Now I'm wondering about the logistics of stirring up one another when we're sitting in linear pews, all facing the same direction. Oops, is that a paradigm shift I hear?
Larry Peabody (11/17/2009 3:20:23 PM)
Yes--an immense paradigm shift! Christians grow better in circles than in rows.

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