Acts 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
When I first became acquainted with the Church of Christ and began to investigate and question what the members believed, I was impressed with two things. Now first let me tell you that the first thing that the members of the Church of Christ said was that they followed the Bible. But, frankly, every religious group makes the same claim. But the two things that set like concrete in my mind as proof of their conviction and faith was first, that they used one cup and one loaf in the communion and second, they believed strongly in the commandment and requirement to attend Lord’s Day morning worship services at a faithful congregation no matter what.
I saw members of the Church of Christ alter their plans when they traveled so that they would be able to worship with a faithful congregation. I saw people drive for hours to assure that they would not miss this important appointment that every faithful and obedient Christian has. I saw people avoiding situation after situation and foregoing opportunity after opportunity because if they had gone through with it, they would have missed Lord’s Day worship services – they would have forsaken the assembly.
I have known those who have taken a stand and refused to work when it would cause them to miss the Lord’s Day morning worship service. Even in the threat of losing their livelihood and ability to support and provide for their families, men have taken a stand to meet and keep this sacred appointment.
Indelible in my mind is listening to Lynwood Smith talking about a time and place where there were no bridges over rivers and streams. And if a hard rain came and flooded everything, it became impossible to cross these streams. He was adamant that if this happened on the Lord’s Day, that the faithful shouldn’t just sit at home assuming the worst, but that they should still try to get to worship services. And, if necessary, they should wait by the swollen stream, hoping it would go down, and waiting until the time when worship services were over before returning home. His example was clear to indicate that only when it is beyond our control and we’ve made every effort to get to worship services are we excused from this sacred appointment. Our own sickness or the sickness of a loved one that we must wait upon, are also excused. Sickness prevents us from being there. It is not our choice and it is beyond our control. Only when we are prevented from being here are we excused.
Members of the Church of Christ believed it and backed it up with actions.
I am sad to say that today, that there is a disturbing and alarming trend that has started with a small yet growing number of the members of the Church of Christ. Some are finding themselves in situations in which they justify forsaking the assembly. Some forsake the assembly because of work, whether local or an extended business trip overseas. Some forsake the assembly because of a vacation or a leisure activity. Perhaps they justify their actions because of the circumstances or the opportunity is just too much to pass up. Now, mind you, while there are some that forsake the assembly and make no attempt to worship God, others worship in their hotel room and make provisions to have communion with one or more that are traveling with them. Is this scriptural? Does the Bible offer any provision or example that would support worship of two or more members of the Church of Christ for a single occasion away from the worship services of an established congregation?
What is acceptable to God regarding Lord’s Day worship? We need to be grounded in this and reconfirm it in our minds. We need to know why we believe what we believe and then live it and keep it.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, she spoke to him about worship in John 4:20-24 states: Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
While Jesus words clearly state that that the place where true worshippers meet is no longer defined, but allows the faithful to meet anywhere, did it allow worship outside of an established congregation? The larger question is this: Is worship congregational or universal?
It is appropriate to begin our look at acceptable worship by first looking at the Sabbath under the old covenant. It is appropriate to learn from this because, as Colossians 2:16-17 says of the Sabbath, it is a shadow of things to come. Those things in the Old Testament were often a type and foreshadow of the things that would be established under the New Covenant. Indeed, the Sabbath is a type of the First Day of the Week. If we can understand how God regarded the Sabbath, then perhaps we can understand how he regards the First Day of the Week.
The Sabbath is first established with the ten commandments. In Exodus 20:8-11, the Bible says: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
God had made His commandment clear. Keep the Sabbath holy. One specific way to keep it holy was the commandment to do no work. The commandment was reiterated in Exodus 31:13-17. In verse 14 we find: Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
This same warning is repeated in the very next verse. Then in verse 16, the children of Israel are told to keep the Sabbath and observe the Sabbath throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant. How do you defile the Sabbath? By doing work.
Isaiah takes up the charge regarding the Sabbath in Isaiah 56:2: Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
How do you pollute the Sabbath? By doing evil.
Isaiah then writes commending words for those that do God’s will on the Sabbath. In Isaiah 58:13-14 we read: If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath (another translations says If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath), from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, not finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Regarding this Sabbath day of worship, God was looking for those who would call this day a delight. He was looking for those who would forego their own pleasure and desire in order to honor God in worship. They would not do what they wanted and they would not do what pleased them. Keeping the Sabbath the way God wanted it was to forego anything they wanted in order do what God wanted.
Finally, to settle the question about whether or not every Sabbath had to be kept, Isaiah 66:23 says: And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.
From one to the next – no interruption – no breaks.
Now we are not under the Old Covenant. We are not required to keep the Sabbath. Nine of the ten commandments are brought forward into the New Testament but not the one regarding the Sabbath. It was replaced with the First Day of the Week.
Many in the religious world still mistakenly refer to the First Day of the Week as the Sabbath. I saw an article in the newspaper recently where the author in the article in the religious section made this error. The Bible itself, in Matthew 28:1, clearly distinguishes between the two: In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepluchre.
The First Day of the Week is when Jesus arose from the grave. John, in Revelation 1:10, referred to the First Day of the Week as the Lord’s Day, when he wrote: I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet…
We have the familiar example in Acts 20:7 which states: And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. The disciples came together to partake of communion. Bible scholars agree that the early disciples partook of communion every week. It is clear that the disciples met in a predetermined place at a predetermined time.
The fact that they came together for worship in a specified location is confirmed in I Corinthians 16:19: The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Pricilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. Another translation says: with the church that meets at their house.
New Testament worship is congregational in nature. The observance of communion is a function of the congregation as spoken of in I Corinthians 11:20-30. We are commanded in I Corinthians 11:33: Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
To come together acknowledges the assembly of the congregation. The structure of the local congregation is detailed for us in the Bible. Elders, deacons, and all members working together for the cause of Christ and worshipping together on the Lord’s day in spirit and in truth as Jesus spoke of in John 4:20-24.
In I Corinthians 16:1-2 we find a command regarding giving: Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. In one translation, and supported by the Greek, I Corinthians 16:2 says: Upon the first day of every week. The shadow of the Sabbath is carried forward. Every first day of the week is to be kept.
Finally, the familiar and often used passage in Hebrews 10:24-25 says: And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
The writer of Hebrews then ties things back to the Sabbath, since he is speaking to the Hebrews or Jews. In verse 28 he writes: he that despised Moses law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Numbers 15:32-36 confirm that there were those that were stoned to death for working on the Sabbath and failing to keep it holy. A man was gathering sticks, which was work, and God commanded that he be stoned. By doing work this man defiled the Sabbath and showed that he despised the law. When Christians choose to assemble somewhere other than with the church in a local congregation and worship, they despise God’s commandment.
Doing God’s will and keeping the day appointed for worship holy is clearly important to God and a requirement for obedient Christians.
The New Testament is full of examples of the faithful assembling. In Acts 11:26 we find: 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. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Coming together for the purpose of worship is a phrase repeated six times in the eleventh chapter of First Corinthians (17, 18, 20, 33, and 34). And it is mentioned twice later on in the fourteenth chapter (23, 26).
Well, the question is, regarding worshiping in a hotel room once on a business or pleasure trip, far from the nearest faithful congregation, can you assemble with the church as in Acts 11:26? If worship at an established congregation is not a prerequisite, why was it so important to Paul to try to join himself with the disciples? Of all the times that it would seem to be acceptable to go worship on your own somewhere, this would have been the time. The disciples at Jerusalem were afraid of Paul. Paul could have said: Oh well, Ananias and I will just go over yonder and worship by ourselves.
The fact is, there is no Biblical example of anyone having a worship service anywhere but an established congregation. Well, you might say, what about evangelists going somewhere in order to establish a brand new congregation? Well, what about it? They still meet the criteria. They may meet in a hotel room or an office building. But they advertise their worship time and place. And from the first worship service they have established a congregation. It’s not a one time event. It’s the beginning of a permanent work and a congregation has been established. The most recent example of this that I am aware of is the work in Russia where two evangelists did exactly that. Also, faithful evangelists who have gone on so called fact finding trips have assured that they worshipped with faithful congregations on the Lord’s Day. They do not compromise this requirement in any way.
There may be those who, in error, have confused the church universal with the church congregational. The fundamental question is: Is a faithful congregation of the Church of Christ necessary for true worship?
Now let’s break down some of the elements of the situation. Is it wrong to use a motel room for a worship service? No. The place is not the issue. We’ve established that with Jesus words in John 4:20-24. While no location is more sacred than any other, Jesus’ words do not condone worship anywhere under any circumstances, that is, outside of an established congregation. When we lived in Chicago, the congregation normally worshipped in a classroom at a junior college. However, when holidays came around, the school was closed and we had to rent a meeting room at the Holiday Inn. That was where the established congregation met on that occasion. It was announced and any visitors were advised to call ahead of services so that we could direct them to the correct location.
Is it wrong for just two people to worship. No. We know of a congregation in Northern Wisconsin that just consists of a man and his wife. The congregation is listed in our book with the time and location of worship on the Lord’s Day. Now don’t misunderstand. A congregation with just two people is a tough situation. But, it’s not unscriptural.
The scripture that is often applied to justify such worship anywhere is misapplied. Matthew 18:20 says: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. The subject of the passage of scripture is discipline, binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven, and answered prayer and unity in prayer. It has nothing to do with worship services.
Another possible argument is the one that has become popular in the last few years. And that is, that everything is worship. The advocates of this error cite the NIV translation of Romans 12:1, which states: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
The KJV says, instead of spiritual act of worship, your reasonable service which is the correct translation as borne out by the Greek. Only by accepting the mistranslation by the NIV can some authorize universal worship anywhere, anytime with no regard for the need for an established congregation.
There is no authority for church universal worship. That is, when two or more Christians agree to meet somewhere far from the nearest faithful congregation for Lord’s Day worship. There is no support for at large membership in the Church of Christ. The scriptures are silent regarding worshipping once where no faithful congregation exists.
Every member must join him or herself to an established faithful congregation.
We’ve already noted that Paul tried to join himself to the brethren at Jerusalem in Acts 11:26
Paul, in the letter to the Romans commended a member to a local congregation. Her name was Phebe and she is mentioned in Romans 16:1-2: I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Phebe went from one faithful congregation to another faithful congregation.
Church discipline must be before a local congregation according to Matthew 18:15-17. There is no authority for church universal discipline. If we have an issue with another congregation, we have no authority as elders to go discipline them. Their congregation is autonomous. Therefore members must join themselves to a particular congregation and be under the rule of the elders of that congregation.
Oversight of the church is at the local or congregational level and there are no universal elders over more than one congregation (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2-3). Hebrews 13:17 commands the members to obey their elders. How can this happen if some worship outside of an established congregation?
A collection is taken up b a local congregation and distributed to needy saints or to gospel preachers for their support in the spread of the gospel (I Corinthians 16:1-3 and Acts 11:27-30). How could two or more individual Christians meet this requirement when they meet in a hotel room once and then return to their respective faithful congregations a week later? What do they do with the collection? Stick it back in their pockets?
The local congregation is charged to support the truth (I Timothy 3:15). The book of Revelation speaks of the candlestick and the golden candlestick of the local congregation. Can individual Christians meeting once in a hotel room have a candlestick? I think not.
The bottom line is that there is no scriptural authority for worshipping at large, wherever you want, in order to fit your preferences and needs. Worship is to please and obey God. Just like the scripture in Isaiah 56:13-14, God is pleased when we don’t do our own ways and we don’t find our own pleasure, and we don’t speak our own words.
The assembly is forsaken when we fail to worship with an established congregation. Anyone who decides to go someplace, whether for business or pleasure, where there is no faithful congregation, and attempts to worship, is just wasting their time. No job, no vacation and no distance can justify such a practice. And anyone who condones and supports such behavior, as being acceptable, is guilty of the same sin.
Always make your plans where God is placed first and that you are certain that you can worship God in spirit and in truth and that must be where a faithful congregation worships. We cannot forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner (or habit) of some is.
Adapted from a sermon delivered at Fossil Creek by the author.
Written by Keith Minter, October 2002