What should (and shouldn’t) the gathered church be like?

Last week I wrote about Sundays and gathered worship. I argued that the whole of life is worship and that means that yes, Sundays are part of our worship, not because the church gathers to worship in a way cut off from our daily lives but exactly because the whole of life is worship and so what we do on Sundays is not just part of the whole of life but at the centre and the pinnacle of it.

For me, this links to my view that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath.  Therefore, the meeting of the church is primarily about God’s people coming together as his family to rest from our work and to enjoy the fruits of our labours with each other in God’s presence.  This includes being fed and nourished. So, in a sense, Sunday is part Sabbath but it is also part festival.  God’s people assemble, as in the Old Testament, first to hear him speak and to witness his deeds.  Their natural response will be praise and honour in the presence of the King of Kings.

I was asked following the first article whether Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth would inform or challenge my thoughts on this.  So, I thought I’d make a few comments here. I think that what we see in 1 Corinthians fits with this.

First, there was an expectation in Corinth that people would use their spiritual gifts when they came together. This rings out throughout the letter despite Paul’s criticism of their abuses of gifts.  They are “enriched” by God and that includes in speaking gifts (1:5) and they are reminded in ch 12 that the same Holy Spirit gives diverse gits to the body.  Of course, because gathering together is about one another, horizontal direction ministry as well as vertical praise/hearing, this means that the gift of tongues must be interpreted when used in the church meeting (14:6-18). 

This bringing of gifts reflects three things. First, the gifts, especially prophecy, words of knowledge and words of wisdom were intended to enable the church hear God speak.  Secondly, gifts function as signs so that the people assemble to witness God working signs and wonders among them, just as they did in the Old Testament.  Thirdly, gifts are about edification, encouraging and building one another up.

Second, gathering together was about a meal together, a time as family.  This was also when they witnessed (the memory) of God’s mighty hand at work in Salvation (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).  This was why the culture at the meal was so important. It had to be about discernment of the body, concern for one another and not selfishness.  If they were meant to take their experience of the gathered church out into the world, they were not meant to bring that world in.

Thirdly, there is that sense of what happening in the meeting shaping their daily life and being shaped too by what was meant to be godly daily life.  This means that if their attitude Monday to Saturday was shaped by competitiveness, rivalry and pride, then, that’s what their meetings would look like (11:17-18).  That is an example of their experience of life moulding them as a body.  Their life together as God’s people as the pinnacle and centre of their life through the week was of course meant to shape their relationships to each other so that sinful relationships were to be confronted, disputes settled in a godly way, not through the courts, concern for weaker members shown in hospitality and a concern for partnerships that were God honouring.

How they came together was intrinsically linked to how they separated and went out.  So too, I think ti should be for us (though picking up on the positives of Paul’s instructions not the Corinthian bad habits).  This means in many ways that we gather to be reshaped and renewed by Christ  through his Word and through interaction with the rest of the body.

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