Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Unity, not Uniformity

It's good to remember that despite what seems to be the message coming from many pulpits, unity does not mean uniformity. The first form of the first-century church was exclusively Jewish, with Torah-obedience demanded. The next form, beginning within just a couple of decades, was a mixture of Torah-obedient Jews and non-Torah-obedient Gentiles: two groups having vastly different styles and practices, but united in spirit as a single group. Paul makes it clear in Romans 14 that we can have differences, even on issues which one side may believe very strongly about as being "core".

At Least Three "Gospel"s

  • 1 Cor 15:1-8 : it is the death, burial, resurrection, appearance of Christ
  • Gal 3:8 : it is that all nations, not just Israel, would be blessed through Abraham
  • Matt 4:17,23 : it is that the kingdom of God has arrived

If You're Going to Church to Worship, You're Going for the Wrong Reason

I often hear it proclaimed from the pulpit that we gather "at church" to worship God. And that sounds so God-honoring that we never bother to question whether it's Biblical.

But looking at the New Testament, I see that worship is a life which is "set apart" (sanctified is the big word), not an hour or three which are "set apart".

Although we refer to our assemblies as worship, or service, or worship service, the New Testament never does so. Instead, what it calls service is presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice, being not conformed to this world but being transformed by the remaking of your mindset (Rom 12:1-2). The New Testament defines pure religion as tending to those in need, such as orphans and widows (James 1:27; cf Matt 25:31ff).

You might think this is fine, as individual worship, but that our assemblies are for the purpose of worshiping God as a group ("corporate worship"), and that the New Testament demands that we assemble on the first day of the week for this corporate worship.

Except, that's not what the New Testament teaches.

As mentioned above, you never find the New Testament referring to Christian assemblies as worship. Nor do you find it stated anywhere that the assemblies are for the purpose of worship. The closest you get to that is one implication that the assemblies are for taking the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20).

But even in this instance, Paul berates the assemblers because they are neglecting each other. The context demands that the Lord's Supper is more about one another than about Jesus.

Shocking, yes, I know. But read the text (remember that in those days, the Lord's Supper was in the context of a big communal meal, a "love feast" as Jude puts it (Jude 1:12)):

verse 20 - You're coming together to eat the Lord's Supper, but you're failing in this.

v. 21 - because you're feeding yourselves rather than looking after the hungry person

v. 22 - can't you fill your bellies at home?! you despise the church of God because you shame those who don't have the ability to fill their bellies at home. I'll not praise you for this!

v. 26 - when you take the Lord's Supper, you honor his death

v. 28 - but you need to examine yourself; if you're not paying attention to the Lord's body (those who are going hungry because of your selfishness), you're not worthy,

v. 29 - and thus you're bringing condemnation upon yourself

v. 33 - therefore, when you come together to eat, wait for one another, so no one goes hungry

v. 34 - if you're not getting enough food for your own stomach at the Lord's Supper gathering, then go home to eat, rather than coming together for condemnation.

Also, we see in 1 Cor 14:15ff that it's fine to pray and to sing, to worship, in tongues. Such is perfectly acceptable worship. Just don't do it in church! (At least, without an interpreter.) Why? Because the purpose of assembling is not to worship, but to build up one another. If you pray in tongues, you "verily givest thanks well" (v. 17), but the other assemblers get nothing out of it; "the other is not edified" (v. 17).

The purpose of the assembly here in 1 Cor 14 is not to worship; rather, "When ye come together ... Let all things be done unto edifying" (v. 26). Notice that the scripture does not say "let all things be done to worship God".

And again, in Hebrews 10:24-25, we find the writer warning us against forsaking the assembling. But note that the purpose of this assembling is not to "worship God", but rather to "provoke one another unto love and to good works..., exhorting one another".

Even in Acts 20:7ff, which is usually used as a proof-text for assembling and taking the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, we see that the emphasis was not on worship, but on Paul speaking to and with the disciples, a focus, not on God, but on "one another". (It might be noted that after he lectured (v. 9) one kid to death (v. 9), he changed his style to discussion (v. 11). Maybe we should pay attention to this. It might also be noted that the only mention of "breaking the bread" in this passage takes place after midnight, which means they started meeting on Saturday night if they were using the Jewish reckoning of time, or they didn't actually eat the Lord's Supper, if that's indeed what is meant here, until Monday, if they were using the non-Jewish reckoning of time. Either way, there are issues in this passage which make it unsuitable as a proof-text for taking the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. Evidence, yes; proof, no.)

Traditionally, our assemblies have had the core purpose of focusing on God. But in the New Testament, the explicit core purpose of our assemblies is to focus on building up one other. Therefore, that should be the explicit core focus of our assemblies.

You might respond that we should do both (worship God, and edify one another), and I agree; we see that happening in the New Testament. But unless someone can provide a Biblical reference showing that our purpose for assembling is to worship God, we speak unBiblically when we claim that as our purpose.


1) Stop proclaiming that our purpose in assembling is to worship God, unless you can back it up with Scripture.

2) Stop designing our assemblies with a focus on worshiping God instead of a focus on building up one another. Include worship, absolutely; that's who we are to be as a people. But stop neglecting the weightier matter of focusing on each other. Ignoring the ones around us for an hour in order to "worship God" does not fulfill the task of each of us edifying others, no matter how well we sing in worship to God. Nor does one man's generically-impersonal sermon fulfill the task of edifying one another. Edifying one another means speaking to one another, in music, in a teaching, in a revelation, in a tongue, in an interpretation, in discussion of what has been said (1 Cor 14:26, 29), not facing the back of someone's head for an hour.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lay By In Store...

Stephen Lord writes to the Church_Of_Christ group in Yahoo! Groups:
One [way to "cross the line" with regard to tradition in my view] I glean from Mk. 7--when a custom becomes sacrosanct, untouchable, confused with God-given doctrine and made a test of "soundness" and "fellowship". Example: we often hear how "God commanded that we lay by in store as we have prospered every first day of the week." No he didn't. The proof-text for that non-doctrine is 1 Cor. 16, wherein Paul is not speaking of a regular offering to support the work of the local church, but rather a "special contribution" for the poverty stricken church in Jerusalem (cf. Rom. 15; 2 Cor. 8-9). Once Paul arrived, that collection would cease, and he plainly said in 2 Cor. 8:8 that this collection was not a command. There is nothing wrong with providing the opportunity for assembled believers to share their material blessings on a regular basis, but it is not a command of God that we do so every Lord's Day assembly. Therefore, those who insist that taking up an offering is a required component of the assembly, one of the "authorized five acts of worship" that allegedly validate an assembly and make it pleasing in the eyes of God, have crossed the line from harmless custom to harmful "vain worship".