Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ekklesia - Congregations

A friend of ours that we've known for well over a decade came by to help us out after we moved back to Irmo, South Carolina in 2002. It was fall, and he'd been our HVAC man, installing our Gas Pack some years before. He had attended Columbia Bible College, where I went to Seminary, and we'd always looked to him when the unit needed servicing. Well, it was Fall that year, and there were some problems with the furnace, so he came by.

After fixing our unit, he stayed and chatted with Tammy and I for some time. It had been over four years since we'd talked to him, since in those years we'd moved to Nashville, Tennessee. As we talked, I asked him where he and his wife and children attended church now.

"We actually just meet in our homes with a group of our friends and families."

I was a bit surprised at that, but he went on to explain that "church" had become such a hassle, with its internal politics, and the sometimes plastic worship, that this group just began doing "church" in their homes. He said that they avoided all the "money issues," they were comfortable with people they knew and trusted, and they didn't have to put on a show for anyone.

The traditionalist side of me found this a hard pill to swallow. After all, if you didn't "go to church," how could you be a Christian, right? But the Biblical student within soon answered that question. The Word of God never tells us to "go to church." The scriptures DO say not to "forsake the assembling of yourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25). But what does that mean?

At its most basic level, its fundamental core, the organism of the "Church" may be "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I Am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). That is all that is "required" of a group to constitute itself as "a church" biblically. Consider this issue from another perspective...

Is it necessary, according the Hebrews 10:25, to "go to church" everytime the doors are open to fulfill God's command? Is that what this verse teaches? Sunday School, 10AM; Morning Worship, 11AM; Sunday Evening Service, 7PM; Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting and Bible Study, 7PM? Not to mention youth meetings, choir practice, supper before prayer meeting, etc... Please understand, I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with these activities in a "local church." But they aren't necessary for a group of believers to be considered "Church."

Some would insist, particularly among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, that these meetings are necessary, yea, that the abandonment of such meetings is a compromise of the Gospel, and that any group of "so-called Christians" that do so need "revival bless Gawd!" Sorry...You get the idea. Many Catholics would insist the same, even to the point of attending Mass everyday - for the same reasons.

But nowhere does the Bible EVER detail or demand we MUST meet this amount of times, in this way, according to this tradition! The Bible prescribes meetings "on the Lord's Day" (Revelation 10:1) more commonly referred to in Scripture as "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2). The Bible also commands meetings "from house to house" (Acts 2:46). Incidentally, Church History records that no formal meeting houses were ever built for the Christian Church until the late third century -- mostly because the religion was illegal and meetings were held in homes or secret locations. Church buildings only became prominent afterConstantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome. Then, he gave them former pagan temples and converted them into "churches."

The concept of "going to church" was foreign to the Early Church. They didn't "go to church," nor did they "do church," ratherm the Apostles taught that they were to "BE the Church!"
The Biblical Church has Elders, and Deacons. They are "called" by God and confirmed in their call by "The Church." And yes, Scripture does give some outlines and guidelines of these offices and of how a local assembly should govern itself. The problem I've tried to point out is that, too often, we've ignored the teachings of Scripture, and adopted the traditions of men with regard to who and what "The Church" really is. We've surrendered the substance for the shadow. We've jettisoned the truth to swallow a lie. We've taken the Spiritual, living organism, the Body of Christ -- The Church -- and turned it into something more befitting us, our nature, our achievements -- made with hands. Depravity corrupts, tarnishing all it touches.

Was my friend wrong in assembling together with a small group of believers in homes for studying God's Word and worship? Shouldn't he have his wife and kids down at the church house? Maybe so, according to those in the made with hands churches of our day -- but NOT according to the Word of God.

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