How can we improve our church building assemblies?

First of all, this is just a discussion with a lot of opinion, so don’t think that I am saying that I have the exact correct formula for doing church. What would “doing church” even mean? We Christians are the church, so I guess it should be about “being church”. But “doing church” must mean how we run the church business that it has become, how we do assemblies, how we are organized, etc.

First, the church is those saved by grace through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In Acts 2, Peter preached the first full gospel sermon (Jesus had just died and been raised 50 days before). 3,000 repented and were baptized that day and received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). They thus became the church that Jesus promised to build in Matthew 16 18 I also say to you that you are [l]Peter, and upon this [m]rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter had indeed used those “keys” and opened the door for them to enter the church kingdom of God. So what did they do as a church after that. Acts 2 44 And all those who had believed [ar]were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread [as]from house to house, they were taking their [at]meals together with gladness and [au]sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding [av]to their number day by day those who were being saved. The temple was still Jewish and they were not having church services in the temple. No doubt they were just sharing their new faith among themselves and those who would listen in the temple courts when they could, but probably not very openly. But notice they shared their possessions and they shared their meals. No doubt, sharing meals was in the homes where they would probably meet for house churches. So, in gneral what did they do? Acts 2:42 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and [ao]to prayer.That is such a simple formula of 4 things. The apostles’ inspired teachings, which would be new additions to the OT, became their main study. Fellowship is koinonia, a sharing, and they now shared a common salvation and Father. The breaking of bread would probably include both common meals and the Lord’s Supper. 1 Cor 11 indicates that they took the Lord’s Supper during a meal called a “love feast”. Probably they took the Lord’s Supper often when they gathered in a home.

The Lord’s Supper as described in the Didache (about 100 AD) is summarized in H J DeJonge, The Early History of the Lord’s Supper. He says that the early church met on Sunday evening (Roman time and our time) to take the agape love feast meal and Lord’s Supper jointly, as in 1 Cor 11. After all, until Constantine made Sunday a holy day, most Christians would have worked on Sunday and would have met for assemblies in homes on Sunday night in honor of Jesus being raised on the first day of the week. In the period from AD 30-70, the early mainly Jewish church would have meet on Saturday evening because their first day of the week would begin at dark on Saturday evening. As time went on and after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the church tried to separate itself from Judaism and moved services to Sunday evening, Roman time (and our time). Then later Sunday became a more holy day and they could meet on Sunday mornings as we do today. No doubt they took the Lord’s Supper when they met on Sunday mornings every week. But did they take the Supper more often than that? From DeJonge: “The introduction of the eucharist in the morning Services occurred not later than the end of the Second Century. Obviously, many Christians felt that one eucharist a week was not enough. Out of sheer desire for the community with the Lord and fellow Christians, they began to celebrate it twice or more times a week early in the mornmg. Hippolytus’ Traditio Apostolica records eucharistic services on all days of the week (including Sundays), before working hours.” By the 3rd century, the agape love feast is separated from the Lord’s Supper and taken at different times. I read where one of the church councils forbade taking the agape feast because it was causing problems as in 1 Cor 11.

I would prefer to take the Supper, or Eucharist, every Sunday morning since that’s when our church assembles. But I would not be opposed if our home study groups took the Supper when they met in homes, such as my group does on Wednesday night. Did Jesus not say, “as oft as you do this”? It appears that the early church took the Supper when they met on the first day of the week, but why would that example bind us to do it that way and no other way? We must be very careful when we make apostolic example the only way to do something. A lot of “inference” gets into the discussion. So, the early church probably met in homes as often as they could and took the Supper often when they met in homes, and of course, on Sunday when they could all come together in some central location of probably a wealthier member in town. In Caraccas, Venezuela, for a time the church did that. The various house churches that met in different parts of the city would come together once a month to a central rented hall location for a joint fellowship of all the Christians in the city. I guess we kinda do that when we have small groups meeting in homes during the week but then we come together on Sunday for our big assemblies.

It is interesting to observe the difference between the “big assemblies” at the “church building” and the assemblies in the homes. The key to both should be edification of the church. 1 Corinthians 14 26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” Of course, those were all “miraculous” gifts given to different members for edifying one another, which was especially important back then since they did not have the completed NT. In our house group, it is pretty simple. We practice Acts 2:42: study of the word, fellowship, a meal (we don’t do the Supper but we could), and prayer. We don’t have “miraculous” gifts, but we do have different members with different gifts and talents and we use those gifts to edify one another. I “moderate” Bible study, the ladies cook and serve a meal, and we encourage and edify one another. No one gift dominates. I do not preach a 30 minute sermon. We don’t have a praise team. The women can talk, share, and even teach truths to us although they respect the role of male leadership in the group. I can’t imagine our house group deciding to hire a preacher for the group or having a praise team. Everyone is a participant, some more than others.

Now look at the difference when we move that house church group to a church building and add other groups. It is much harder to do what we do on Wed night with a much bigger group on Sunday morning. We can’t expect it to have the same simplicity. But notice: we pay a preacher to give us a 30 minute sermon with no discussion of the points (and he is not inspired like the miraculous teachers in the first century so he is just giving us his opinions and philosophy). He might be very good (or not) but we no longer have the mutual edification using many gifts. 1 Cor 14 even comments on this: 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets”. Why would the Spirit tell one of his Spirit inspired prophets to quit speaking, sit down, and give his time to the next prophet? Apparently, the first prophet had gone past the Spirit message he had been given, and it was time to let the 2nd prophet give his Spirit message. Again, the idea was mutual edification using many gifts, and not one gift dominating the time and importance. But that’s what happens in most church building assemblies. The church comes to rely on the preacher instead of using its many gifted individuals.

How could we do the church building assembly for better mutual edification? It’s hard. Some suggestions. 1) Maybe you do need a praise team to help the bigger group learn and sing songs and parts. 2)Some really talented singers could even do a solo, quartet, etc. that would really edify the group. Of course, if you aren’t opposed to using musical instruments, you could use gifted musicians also. 3) You could have a time set aside for prayers. Even bring up those who need special prayer to the front and let the big group know what to pray for. Those who choose to could come up front and join that person in praying for them. 4) You could have 5-10 minutes of “meet and greet” time. That would be totally unnecessary in our Wed night group as we have already been meeting and greeting for an hour while we eat before we start our formal Bible study, but it might be very appropriate for a big church building group with visitors and members that you don’t know very well, a chance to fellowship outside of your small group. 5) You could have a regular schedule of reading through the Bible with the passages on the screen. 1 Timothy 4 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Some churches have a brief Bible reading before the sermon, and that is good. But we probably should make the reading a lot longer and the sermon a lot shorter. 6) A really good teacher could give a brief teaching from some passage in the reading (that’s what the Jews did in their synagogue worship), explaining the text (correctly, I hope) and suggesting ways to apply the text to our lives. But keep it brief. Save the long Bible study for the Bible classes we usual do before or after the assembly. 7) One of the shepherds could share things from his particular shepherding group or ministry that would exhort others and help members to know what is going on in other groups and ministries. 8) You can bring the children up to the front and do a little something with them. That makes them feel like part of the assembly because usually they are told to just sit quietly and they don’t get anything out of most of what we do in the assembly. 9) You can, of course, do the Lord’s Supper. It would be great to do it as part of a love feast, but that is difficult for a big church. I know we have a meal after the assembly every week, and we could do the Supper as part of that meal, but we haven’t come to that practice yet. So we do the cracker and juice thing like the Catholic mass without the transubstantiation (i.e. the bread becomes the body of Jesus and the wine becomes the blood of Jesus). We try to say a few comments before the Supper to get us in the right state of mind, but the whole process is flawed. 1 Corinthians 10 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the [e]bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one [f]bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one [g]bread. The Supper should give us the same feeling of sharing a common love that a happy family meal does at home, but too often it becomes just a ritual with emphasis on what it does for me only. 10) Lastly, someone pointed out to me that edification should involve emotion! Emotion on the part of those leading or using their gifts, and emotion of the part of those being edified. The mutual edification should stir us up, move us to empathize and sympathize, excite us, encourage us, rebuke us, correct us, make us happy, make us cry, stimulate our thinking, stimulate us to good works, etc. Hebrews 10 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Admittedly, it is difficult to do all these suggestions if you have a church of 800 members! But we must try. A lot of churches are losing members to the more “exciting” churches, which tells us that our traditional assemblies might not be as edifying as in the past. That doesn’t mean they are bad. It just means that we maybe need to get more in touch with what edifies our members since the main goal of assemblies is edification.

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