Friday, February 01, 2013

Requirements for Church Assemblies?

It is often taught that we have certain requirements to perform in our Christian assemblies. I recently responded to someone who suggested that among these requirements are these:

* Lord's Supper
* Pray
* Sing
* Study Bible
* Preaching
* Giving

He went on to say that "While an assembly might be for one purpose only we have certain responsibilities to perform at the 'first day of the week' assembly."

But I'm having trouble even finding a command to assemble on the first day of the week. I find the early disciples doing so in Acts 20 (but is it our Saturday night, the Jewish first day, or our Sunday, the Gentile first day?) I find a number of the core group of disciples doing so on Resurrection Sunday, and on the next Sunday, but it seems to be less a God-commanded assembly than a spontaneous assembly of commiserating losers the first time, and a convenient follow-up assembly the second. I see a reference in Revelation to "the Lord's Day". But I also see the early disciples meeting daily to break bread, not just on the first day (Acts 2:46).

Is the phrase "to break bread" in Acts 20 a reference to the Lord's Supper? To a going-away party for Paul (since "he was about to depart the next day")? To the second Passover, for those who missed the first (the timing is pretty close)? A normal regular meal assembly that perhaps they did every day, but with this day's break-bread-assembly deserving special mention because of the events surrounding it? Should we intend our break-bread-assembly to be on Saturday night, as seems apparent from the text if they were following Jewish time-keeping, or should we intend our break-bread-assembly to be on Sunday if they were following Gentile time-keeping, in which case we should not actually eat until after the second day of the week starts, after midnight, following Paul's example?

There are too many questions that are unanswered to dogmatically claim that this is a command/example for us to observe the Lord's Supper every first day of the week.

We find a weekly Sunday observance to be the habit in at least one early assembly when we look to the most ancient materials outside of the Bible (and more broadly the later in time we go), but since when do we take extra-Biblical sources as our guide in religious matters? If we do that, we're also going to have to honor the instructions in the Didache, which most likely dates from the end of the first century or early second, which means prescribed prayers for the Lord's Supper (among other issues, such as first confessing your transgressions prior to observing the Lord's Supper); are we really going to go that route?

Now don't get me wrong; I think that very early on, the disciples dropped their daily assemblies in favor of weekly first-day assemblies, in which the Lord's Supper was observed. I think we see hints of that in the New Testament. But I don't see a command from God to do this. Nor do I see an example that is indisputably binding.

I'm reminded of Jesus scolding the Pharisees (Matt 15:1ff) because they had used examples and human logic to find "binding" commands. He said that in so doing, they were "teaching as doctrines the commands of men" (v. 9). Jesus had no qualms with their traditions (Matt 23:2-3) (as long as they weren't used to set aside actual commands from God - 15:3); he had severe qualms with binding those traditions as commands, and teaching them as doctrines.

In following this example of Jesus, I'm on-guard against binding examples as commands, and then teaching them as doctrine. In light of this, let me say with emphasis: There is no command from God to observe the Lord's Supper every first day of the week. Hints? Clues? Possible, and even probable, examples? Yes, absolutely. But no command. Therefore I'm not going to make it a doctrine that it is a command, because then I would be teaching as doctrine a commandment of men.

The truth is that what is often put forward as "requirements" in our "required" assemblies, simply aren't. They are commands derived by human logic, applied to good, Biblical examples and inferences, backed up by extra-Biblical material. But such human-derived commands, taught as doctrine, are vain worship (Matt 15:9).

Originally posted at: