“… our own assembling together … encouraging one another” Hebrews x.25
For Christians of the first century, ‘church’ wasn’t a place or a weekly show. They considered Church – ekklesia – as a group of sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and called out from the sinful world. They assembled together day after day, in small groups, in any convenient place such as the homes of Christians. Their meeting place was of no special significance; what happened during those meetings was of great significance.
A shared meal was a common feature of their meetings; the New Testament refers to these meals as ‘breaking of bread.’ The main purpose of their meeting was to learn God’s Word, to pray and worship, to share their resources, and to encourage each other. (Acts ii.42-47) The public reading of Scripture, exhortation, the study of doctrine and intercessory prayer were vital to their assembly (1 Timothy ii.1; iv.13). The exercise of spiritual gifts ensured that the Holy Spirit was in total control over the ministry of the church. The Spirit’s distribution of charismatic gifts to every Christian and the freedom to operate these gifts prevented the centralization of ‘ministry’ in the hands of a few ‘ordained’ elite.
Mutual encouragement was especially important because many Christians faced persecution. Besides, there was the ever present danger of sin, bitterness or disunity. The writer of Hebrews wanted every Christian to watch over his fellow believer: “Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau.” (Hebrews xii.15-16) To ‘look after each other,’ they had to know each other well. Each one had to keep his fingers on the spiritual pulse of his spiritual friend.
Do our assemblies serve these spiritual purposes? To most Christians of today, Church is a place where Christians flock together on Sundays for their well-rehearsed worship shows within a stipulated time slot. Churches advertise their ‘services’ by highlighting their location, ample parking space, great music, technical and architectural wizardry. More often than not, people who need spiritual servicing, encouragement and restoration sit through a music show and a talk show. They do not get what they really need; they have no opportunity to exercise their spiritual ministry and give others what they need.
There certainly has to be a better way of ‘doing church.’ Let’s do ‘simple’ church like the early Christians – meeting in small groups in any convenient place to build each other up and to win more disciples.