Recapturing the purpose for coming together
In assemblies today a group (the congregation) gathers to observe and lightly participate in a set of rituals (Lord’s Supper, singing, preaching, collection, etc.) and, upon completion, leave for lunch. This is often referred to as “going to church,” as in, “Sorry, I can’t play golf with you today, I have to go to church.” This (often legalistic) routine has become the major weekly exercise of the Christian religion. Great effort and expense is applied to making this production attractive and satisfying to members and visitors. We want the best preacher and musicians money can buy. We work hard to script and stage the presentation to please the audience. We hope that what we do on Sunday will be so well done that the members will keep coming back and visitors will be positively impressed enough to become part of the church.
Interestingly and unfortunately it is also the major evangelistic effort (usually the only one) for most churches. In this regard it has a terrible track record. Almost no one is converted as a result of the most splendid “worship services.”
But what would happen if we decided to fulfill the original purpose of assembly? In The Urgent Revolution I wrote:
…assembling provides time for encouragement to faithfulness and provocation to love and good deeds. When our time together is over, I should be filled with a burning desire to bring the love of Jesus into my family and world. Our sharing together supplies a means (encouraging, edifying, stimulating) to an end (love and good deeds)…In our concern to be scriptural in the form of corporate worship [I have since worked to drop that terminology], we have lost our concern to be scriptural in purpose. Designed for a time of rallying, assembly equips us and fills us with motivation to become good soldiers in God’s army. Here we inflame each other with zeal! We mutually stoke fires of commitment. We kindle each other’s love and spotlight opportunities for good deeds. Never designed as a place where people passively observe worship rituals and listen to sermons, scriptural assembly renews our sense of mission and our passion to fulfill it. (pp. 35-37)
I have a suggestion (I obviously lack the apostolic authority to make it a command!): let’s restore the original, God-given purpose of assembly (Hebrews 10:23-25; I Corinthians 14:26). Let’s make it a priority that no one comes into our assembly discouraged and leaves the same way. Let’s make it our goal that when someone attends our assembly with a flat faith battery, they leave with their battery recharged. Let’s provoke the passive, stimulate the sluggish and build-up the beaten-down.
Then the people of God, renewed and invigorated, will march out of our assemblies under the banner of the Lamb to confront the world forces of this darkness assured of ultimate victory.
Then, when Christians say, “I have to go to church,” it will mean, “I can’t wait to assemble with my brothers and sisters!”