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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (14) – The Christian Assembly


The Christian Assembly

If Christian worship is the sacrifice of service and the evangelistic preaching of the word (see this post), how does the Christian Assembly, usually called the Worship Assembly, fit into God’s plan for His people? Actually, the assembly also has a sacrificial (liturgical) purpose.

Hebrews addresses this as well.

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a 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. – Hebrews 13:10-16

Three different liturgies are in this passage in the bold-face words. The Temple High Priest ministered by offering the blood of animals. Jesus ministered by offering His own blood. We offer a sacrifice of praise, doing good, and sharing with others. Our “sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” is not offered exclusively in the assembly, but we certainly offer it there as well as in all of our songs, prayers, and proclamation of God’s wonderful works in our homes, at our work, and as we are going about our daily lives.

In fact, if we are not praising God in word and deed outside the assembly, it is doubtful if our worship in the assembly will be acceptable.

If we do not praise God in life outside our assembly together, when we come to the assembly do we become like the Pharisees? Jesus said of them,

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. – Matthew 15:8

If the only time we think of God is when we are assembled together, can we honestly think that our assembly-worship will be as it should be?

The point of this is that worship is a way of life for the Christian. We do not restrict our worship to certain times and certain places. Instead, our entire life is to be a sweet odor offered to God.

THE PURPOSE OF THE ASSEMBLY

When we understand better the purpose of the Christian assembly, we will be in a better position to appreciate what should take place there. If the purpose is to “perform certain acts of worship in prescribed ways” in order to please God, we will look for precise instructions as to what acts we are to perform and exactly how we are to perform them. On the other hand, if we find that the purpose of the assembly is something other than the performance of acts to please God, we will look for how we can accomplish things that contribute to the actual purpose of the assembly.

With no pretense of being complete, here are several purposes that Scripture gives for the Christian assembly.

Encouraging One Another

And let us 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 – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25

This familiar passage is not about encouraging one another to attend the assembly; it is about what we do in the assembly. We encourage one another to love and good works. That is, we encourage each other to worship God in our lives at all times.

Celebration With the Angels

We have referenced the following earlier in this series, but we need to look at it in the context of the purpose of the assembly as well:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. – Hebrews 12:22-24

Never forget that we are in the presence of God, His Son, His Spirit, the angels of heaven, and of all the redeemed of all ages. There is celebration in this glorious assembly. In one sense, we are constantly in this assembly in our entire life of worship. Yet, in an intensified way, our assembly together with our brothers and sisters on earth is to be celebration. There is very seldom a reason for a local church to have a worship that is a lament.

Remembering Jesus

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is in a context of corrective instruction about the assembly of the congregation. We, in the churches of Christ, understand that this is a central part of our assembly together. The purpose of this is to remember Jesus by proclaiming His death.

This remembering of Jesus has many purposes. For one, it encourages us. By remembering Him together, we encourage each other. In addition, remembering Jesus gives us cause for celebration and rejoicing in our deliverance from sin. The angels rejoice over each sinner who repents. How long does their joy continue? Do you think they still rejoice over a congregation of sinners who have repented, even if some members of that group first repented decades before? We need to rejoice and celebrate our salvation with them in our assemblies.

Celebrating the Body of Christ

Closely related to celebrating with the angels is celebrating the body of Christ. Here I mean the body of Christ, which is His church. As Paul continued his corrective instruction to the church in Corinth, he wrote:

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. – 1 Corinthians 11:28-30

This segment of correction begins in verse 17.

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you…. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk…. Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! – 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

The context is division in the church. In 10:17 he had already written, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The very next chapter continues, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (12:12-13).

In 10:17, the body is the church; in 12:12-13, the body is the church. Certainly 11:29 at least includes the body, which is the church.

The specific problem at Corinth was that in the Lord’s Supper people were not having proper regard for each other as members of the one body. That is, they were not recognizing the body of the Lord.

Remembering Christ and proclaiming His death should cause us to forgive each other and to recognize each other as members of the one body. If we do not respect each other, we are not doing that – and are eating and drinking judgment on ourselves. That is why I say that one purpose of our assembly is to celebrate the unity of the church and the importance of each member of the body.

Sharing with Others

One aspect of worship in life is to share what we have with others. This is especially true in the assembly. We share. We share our experiences in the Lord as a means of encouraging one another. We share of our income to help those who are in need. We share our understanding of the gospel with others. We weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In short, we have fellowship together – not because we sit in the same assembly, but because we share, as it were, our very hearts with each other.

Praising God Together

All of worship is bowing before God and serving Him. This includes the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips. In the assembly, this is one major purpose for being there. As we share our hearts, we lift up voices together in praise to God.

Paul’s corrective message to Corinth continued into the 14th chapter as well. There he wrote:

I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? – 1 Corinthians 14:15-16

I understand Paul to mean that praying and singing “with my spirit” was, in the first century, praying and singing in tongues. For us, this would mean we should conduct our worship so all can understand it. This is the only way we will be able to share together in our praise to God. That is why Paul followed the above by saying, “…in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:18).

Sharing the Prophetic Word of God

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:29-33

The purpose of this, as well, is that we receive teaching, encouragement, and strength.

In Corinth, apparently, there was mass confusion as everyone wanted to speak at once. Paul counseled the moderation that comes from love. They were all to be swift to hear and slow to speak. They should respect God’s word, regardless of who was speaking it to the group – but each should weigh the words spoken.

[An Aside: Our modern practice of a designated preacher responsible for all the teaching in the assembly would seem strange to the church in the New Testament. When Paul assembled with the church in Troas on the first day of the week to break bread and he preached to them, the word for preached is the Greek word from which we get our word dialog. His preaching was not a lecture; it was a dialog, more like asking and answering questions while discussing God’s Word. Most assemblies today would likely be more effective in building up the church if we had more dialog and less scripted performance and presentation.]

Building Up the Body of Christ

The one thing that runs throughout 1 Corinthians chapter 14 as Paul continues to correctively instruct that church is edification.

Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. – vv. 3-5

Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? – v. 6

Try to excel in gifts that build up the church. For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. – v. 12-14

You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. – v. 17 [Note: This edification of another man is through prayer, not through preaching.]

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. – v. 26

All of this is consistent with what we have said. If the church is not built up, the assembly has not accomplished its purpose.

We assemble to praise God together joyfully and to receive encouragement that will help us to worship God acceptably and effectively in our daily lives. The church comes together to feed on God’s Word and be strengthened by the songs, prayers, experiences, and victories we share with fellow worshipers.

The assembly is not a performance with God as the audience.  It is interaction with God and with one another in a way that will glorify God and build one another up. That way, our lives will reflect the glory of God as we go into the world to serve, living the life of Jesus, shining as stars in the darkness of this world.

In the final post of this series, I will attempt to bring the thoughts of this series together.

NEXT – (15) Bringing It All Together

PREVIOUS – (13) Serve God Acceptably With Reverence and Awe

Series Index

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