AI Don't Have to Come All The Time!"
Glen Burnie, Maryland
Almost every church is faced with the problem of dwindling numbers each Sunday night and Wednesday evening. Brethren like to think of their congregation being as "strong" as the Sunday morning assembly. The real church in any given community might better be numbered on Wednesday night rather than Sunday morning.
Usually the reason for this drop in numbers is attributable to plain old, garden variety indifference. But recently, I came across a novel idea expressed by an unfaithful brother, that the Christian has no responsibility nor authority to meet an any other day than the first day of the week, and then only to take the Lord's Supper. "You people are all the time talking about coming to every service. The only time we read about Christians meeting in the Bible is on the first day of the week. I don't have to come all the time!" Is this true? Where does it say anything about coming together for any other purpose than to take the Lord's supper? Are we correct in assembling at other times for other purposes? Let the Word of God speak to us.
There are several passages in scripture which record the church coming together for purposes other than the Lord's supper, which by approved example, give us our authority for other meetings. In Acts 11:26 we find that Barnabas sought Paul in Tarsus, 'And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people . . . ." While in Antioch, these men gathered together with the saints, and for what purpose? "And taught . . . . " Teaching was the responsibility given Barnabas by the Apostles when he was sent to Antioch (Acts 11:22). The Gospel had been preached in Antioch (11:19), great numbers of gentiles had been converted (11a;20), the Lord approved of their conversion by the signs that he sent among them (11:21), and when Barnabas saw "the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all . . . then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul" (11:23, 25). Teaching and establishing the church in Antioch was the purpose of Barnabas and Paul in assembling with the saints. That teaching was a primary goal in "coming together" is further illustrated by the coming of Prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch (11:27). The results of their teaching, or "forth telling" was that a common collection was made to cover the responsibility of the church in helping the needy saints in Judea. "Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren who dwelt in Judea'' (11:29). In another instance, each man purposed in his own heart (2 Cor. 9:7), the collection was made weekly (1 Cor. 16:2), and was done as a church, or a collectivity, "As I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye" (1 Cor. 16:1).
These passages do not state a time other than that which is inferred in 1 Cor. 16:1, "the first day of the week . . . . " But these passages do establish that there was more than one purpose for gathering, i.e., edification, and weekly group contributing for benevolence. The saints met collectively to do more than keep the Lord's supper on the first day of the week.
Another example of the saints gathering is found in Acts 4. Peter and John were arrested for teaching the resurrection (4:1, 2). The day following their arrest they were arraigned before the Jewish power structure (4:5, 6). After Peter and John had testified of the things they had witnessed, and the Jewish leaders perceived that neither of the two apostles was to be cowed, and they admitted that a miracle had been performed, "They could say nothing against it " (4:13-14). They let the apostles go, `and being let go. they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests had said unto them"(4:23). The response of the church was to pray to God (4:24) "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness" (4:31). They assembled for mutual encouragement, praise from the word of God, and prayer. God approved of their collective action by a sign, i.e., "the place was shaken . . . they were filled with the Holy Ghost."
But there is an interesting thing that is connected to this event that bears with our discussion. In Acts 2:42 we find that the church "continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking bread and in prayers. " Verses 46 and 47 continue, "and they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. " What did they go to the temple "in common consent" for? For what did the church give "daily attendance with one intent" in the courtyard of the temple? In chapter three Luke tells us that they went to the temple "at the hour of prayer. " Their intent in going to the temple at that hour was to worship God with the saints. If we look again in Acts 2:46, 47 and remove the phrase which records what the brethren did apart from the place of worship, the passage reads, "and they continuing daily in the temple (were) . . . praising God, and having favor with all the people. "
It was while Peter ana John were on their way to the temple to worship with the saints, as was their daily custom that they were arrested. But, in Acts 4:3 we find that the two were arrested at eventide and held until the next day. After their trial they met again with the saints in worship. The question is this: Which day was the first day of the week? Obviously, the scriptures do not specify the day of gathering, merely the fact of their gathering: daily (Acts 2:46).
There are many other examples we might refer to. Paul's 14th chapter in the first Corinthian letter discusses the manner of the Corinthian public assembly. Paul saw the gathering of the brethren as a place for edification (1 Cor. 14:26) in which every man was to take part. Women were excepted from public participation in teaching (14:34, 35). The assembly was not "closed" but open to outsiders for the purpose of evangelism (1 Cor. 14:23-25). These passages should prove to any right thinking Christian that we have authority to meet any day of the week, and are specifically commanded to meet on the first day of the week. Our gatherings are not solely centered about the Lord's supper, but in acceptable worship and edification.
Hebrews 10 relates to us what our responsibility is to these gatherings. The theme of the Hebrew letter is the supremacy of the life in Christ to the life under the Law of Moses. We understand the great sacrifice that was made on our behalf (Heb. 10:10). Under the Law of Moses the people only kept a shadow of that which we now enjoy in the church (10:1-4). In Jesus we have "a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say his flesh" (10:20). Recognizing this, Christians are to draw near to God acknowledging that they are free from sin by Christ's sacrifice (10:22). We are to hold close the promise of our hope which is contained in God's word (10:23). We are to take thought for our brethren continually exhorting one another to live worthy of the calling by which we have been called (10:24). We accomplish these ends by "not forsaking (neglecting, staying away from, holding apart) the assembling of ourselves together . . ." (10:25). The one who neglects God's will in this can expect no different treatment from God than the way he treated those who neglected his will under the old law (10:28; cf. Num. 15:32-36). "Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy of who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, path counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was .sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the ,spirit of grace" (Heb. 10:29)?
Indeed, when one wilfully neglects to assemble with the brethren each time they meet, he has poured scorn upon and spurned the One who died for him. He has treated the blood which was shed on his account as if it were of no account - common. He has affronted the Holy Spirit - given grave insult to the One who has delivered God's unmerited favor to man. Certainly for such an one there remains only a terrifying prospect of judgment from the one he has spurned; a fury of fire which will consume all those who set themselves to oppose God's will. There is no higher court that one may appeal to after one has rejected God (10:26-29).
The real problem does not lie in understanding the scriptures, but in doing them. In 2 Pet. 2:20, 22 Peter compares those who have fallen back into the world through neglect of service with dogs and pigs. "The dog is turned to his own vomit again: and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." It is not that the dog or the pig are untrained, or weak. The point of the proverb is that the dog enjoys its own vomit, and the newly cleansed sow prefers her mire. Solomon said, "The righteous man falleth seven times, and will arise again: But the wicked man will fall and come to mischief" (Prov. 24:16). We can encourage the weak, and teach the ignorant, but we must use the rod of discipline upon the one who prefers to spurn God and God's people.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:27, p. 11-12