Jesus built His church on a Rock
How does the church of Christ worship?
"When you come together as a church" (1 Cor. 11:18).
I. Christians have regular assemblies: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:24,25).
A. Followers of Christ belong to a gathering, to an assembly, to a congregation, to a church. They are an association. In mathematical terms, we could say they form a set.
1. They help, care for, encourage and edify one another.
2. Together, they worship and serve God.
3. For these purposes they come together regularly.
4. Christians who neglect the assemblies are not fulfilling their responsibility to their fellow believers and are lacking in love (Heb. 10:24,25).
B. In many sectarian groups, where a distinction is made between what they call clergy and laymen, the presence of a priest or a clergyman is required.
C. Christians, however, are a royal priesthood.
1. Each one has a personal responsibility to worship and serve God.
2. In the church the presence of one certain functionary is not required.
D. Jesus promised: "where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Mat. 18:19,20).
1. This also shows how important the assemblies are, even if only a handful are present, because Christ is there.
2. We come together to edify one another, but also to be with Christ as a living part of His body, the church.
E. When Christians are travelling, or for other reasons are unable to meet with a larger assembly, they still assemble, even if there are only two or three, to call on the name of the Lord and to edify one another.
II. The central purpose of the regular assembly is to eat the Lord's supper.
A. We learn this from 1 Corinthians 11:20-34.
20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper.
21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.
22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
B. The church at Corinth made serious mistakes in their observance of the supper of the Lord, so much so that Paul says in verses 20 through 22: "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you."
1. They had degraded the Lord's supper to a common meal.
2. Common meals should be taken at home and not in the assembly.
C. The expression "when you come together" indicates that they were accustomed to partake of the Lord's supper on a regular basis and not just now and then.
D. The purpose of their assembly was, according to verses 33 and 34, to eat the supper of the Lord: "Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come."
E. Just here it might be good to clarify the difference between the Lord's supper and the 'love feast' of Jude, verse 12.
1. Now and then the false doctrine resurfaces that the Lord's supper may, or even should, be associated with a common meal.
2. What does Jude mean by 'love feasts'? Referring to certain base persons, he states: "These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves."
The actual word used is the plural form of "love" (agape). The context in Jude 12 provides little help in understanding the meaning. To speak of "blemishes" (as in some manuscripts) or "reefs" (as in others) in love feasts is something of a mixed metaphor. That this word has the meaning of "love feast" in this context is concluded by most scholars because the word is used with that meaning in early secular church history.
Some believe the expression originally was just another designation for the Lord's supper. Some think the word referred to meals which Christians ate together in their own homes as in Acts 2:46. Others feel that it referred to the type feast which Christ recommends in Luke 14:12,13 to which the poor are to be invited, rather than wealthy friends. On the basis of the information we have in the New Testament, the above suggestions may be considered as possible, but we cannot know for sure.
Many commentators, however, make the definitely erroneous statement that the love feast in N.T. times was a meal in the assembly either before, or after, the Lord's supper. No doubt influenced by them, some brethren have suggested that we should or may do this.
That this is not the meaning of "love feast" in Jude 12 is clear from 1 Corinthians 11:22 & 34 where Paul expressly forbids such: "If any one is hungry, let him eat at home!" and "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?"
Some have misused this passage to object to eating a meal "in the building" or "on the grounds" at any time. But Paul is clearly referring to a meal which was an actual part of the assembly. Acts 20:11 is probably an example of Paul himself eating "in the building" after he had preached until midnight.
Strangely enough 1 Corinthians 11 is the very passage often used by commentators to support their claim that the Lord Supper was eaten in connection with a regular meal in the assembly. In this passage, however, there is no mention of them having the Lord's Supper BEFORE or AFTER a meal. They were having a meal INSTEAD of the Lord's Supper! Among the Greeks it was customary to have drunken parties to honor their gods. This might explain their behavior.
When this passage is cited in support of the theory something like this is generally claimed: "Paul doesn't condemn their having a meal in the assembly. It is just the excess and the lack of sharing which he condemns." Such is contrary to the clear statement of Paul, however: "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?" He does not say: "Do you not have houses to eat too much and to drink too much in." The Lord's Supper is not a meal for nourishment. If one is hungry he is to eat at home. Paul explains exactly how the Lord's Supper is to be eaten.
Paul said what the Corinthians were doing was not even the Lord's Supper (verse 20). Neither could it be called a 'love feast.' Their actions were condemned by Paul in no uncertain terms, not only the selfishness, but the very idea of having a meal for nourishment as a part of the assembly.
Commentators who state that in early secular church history the love feast was a meal connected with the Lord's supper have no basis for that claim either.
In early descriptions of the Lord's supper, no mention is made of a love feast (for example Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 65-67).
Ignatius (30-107 A.D.) in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. 8, mentions the two, but separately. Little information is provided by the context. The love feast he mentions could be another name for the Lord's supper or it could be something different.
Clement of Alexandria (153 - c. 200) in the "Instructor" Book I, Ch. 1 opposes calling a sumptuous feast an 'agape'. He makes reference to Luke 14:12,13 as the proper way to have an agape.
According to Tertullian (145-220) the agape was a supper to benefit the needy (Apology, Ch. 39). He mentions that the meal was begun and ended by prayer and that hymns were sung. But it is not stated when or where the meal was eaten.
In the "Constitutions of the H. Apostles" Book II, Sec. IV, Ch. 28 the love feast is something which an individual Christian might hold in his own home for the benefit of poor widows.
These references tend to indicate that the love feast in early secular church history was a meal provided by an individual Christian in his own home for poor people in application of Luke 14:12-13.
It is possible that this practice dated back to N.T. times and that this is also what "love feast" in Jude refers to, but it might be a development of a later date.
How then may the expression "love feast" be used by Christians? First, we should be very careful about using the word, since in the only passage in the Bible where the word is used, its meaning is not at all clear.
The only completely safe way to use it is in the SAME WAY it is used in Jude 12. We could refer to hypocrites in the church as blemishes in our love feasts. Such usage would definitely be in accordance with the scriptures.
If someone wishes to use the expression to describe a meal which a Christian provides in his own home for the needy, that would be in agreement with the use in early secular church history. But there is some question as to whether that is the meaning in Jude 12.
To use the expression as a description of the Lord's supper or to describe a meal which Christians eat together, might be justified on the basis of the argument that such meals are meals at which love is demonstrated. But it must be kept in mind that there is no proven connection with the biblical use of the word in Jude 12.
And we certainly may NEVER include a meal for physical nourishment as a part of our assembly, since that is forbidden by Paul.
G. Christians assemble to partake of the Lord's supper. This is a spiritual, not a carnal, experience. After criticizing what the Corinthians did, Paul describes the simple and stately way the Supper should be eaten: ''For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes'' (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
H. The Lord's supper is also referred to in Scripture as 'breaking bread'. "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).
III. Christians come together to break bread on the first day of the week.
A. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7).
1. Notice that the purpose of their gathering was 'to break bread.'
2. This cannot refer to a common meal since Paul told the Corinthians they should eat at home rather than when they "come together as a church" (1 Cor. 11:18,22,34).
B. Christians also give as they are prospered on the first day of the week: "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (1 Cor. 16:1,2).
1. The expression 'on the first day of the week' has the inherant meaning 'on the first day of every week'.
2. This was not just a local arrangement. The same instructions were given to other churches.
IV. The first day of the week is a very special day for Christians.
A. On that day Jesus rose from the grave: "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" (Mark 16:9).
B. That same day, He revealed Himself to two disciples when "He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24:30,31). "Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19).
C. A week later He appeared to them again, while they were assembled (John 20:26).
D. In Revelation 1:10 John says: "I was in the spirit on the Lord's Day." The only other place in the New Testament where the possive form of 'Lord' is used is in 1 Cor. 11:20 in connection with 'the Lord's supper.' This distinctive expression 'The Lord's day' is found in early secular church history as a designation for the first day of the week and is presently the common name for Sunday in Greece.
E. Although the first day of the week has special meaning for Christians, and they assemble to break bread on that day, it is not a special 'holy day' or a 'sabbath' (Rom. 14:5,6; Col. 2:16,17). Christians serve God every day.
F. The teaching of Scripture that Christians assemble on the first day of the week to eat the Lord's supper is reflected in early secular church history.
1. Barnabas (+/- 100 A.D.), Epistle, Chapter 15
"Wherefore, also, we keep the 8th day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead."
2. Justin Martyr (110-165 A.D.)
a. Apology, Chapter 67
"And on that day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place. ... Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead."
b. In the dialogue of Justin Martyr with Trypho the Jew, Trypho writes: "But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision" (Chapter 10).
c. To this Justin replies: "The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you" (Chapter 12).
3. Tertullian (145-220 A.D.)
Against Marcian, Book 5, Chapter 19, verses 16,17. Comments on Col. 2:17.
"Now tell me, Marcian, what is your opinion of the apostle's language, when he says, 'Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath, which is a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.' We do not now treat the law, further than (to remark) that the apostle here teaches clearly how it has been abolished, even by passing from shadow to substance -- that is, from figurative types to the reality, which is Christ."
4. Bardesanes (154-227 A.D.)
"And what shall we say of the new race of us Christians, whom Christ at His advent planted in every country and in every region? for, lo! wherever we are, we are all called after the one name of Christ -- Christians. On one day, the first of the week, we assemble ourselves together."
V. Christians can also assemble at other times and for other purposes.
A. They can assemble for prayer: "Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church" (Acts 12:5). Their prayers were answered. An angel freed Peter: "So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12:5,12).
B. They can assemble to hear a missionary: "From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. And when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:26,27).
C. They can assemble for instruction and exhortation, even to hear a letter: "And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people" (Acts 11:26). "So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them" (Acts 15:30-32).
D. They can assemble to discipline a brother who persists in sin:
a. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:4,5).
b. Jesus said the following regarding a brother who refuses to repent: "But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector" (Mat. 18:16,17).
E. Whenever the church comes together, all activities should be upbuilding: "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (1 Cor. 14:26).
1. Paul said: "I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding" 1 Cor. 14:15).
2. Prayer and song are to be directed to God in the spirit, but in the assembly others must be edified as well.
3. Paul concludes: "I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue" (1 Cor. 14:19).
a. Mechanical music, for example, accomplishes neither.
b. Nor do rhythmic sounds made with the voice such as 'Boom-de-de-boom' or 'Do-wah, do-wah'.
c. Instruments and boom-de-de-booms may at best tickle the itching ears, or at worst burst the ear drums, but they do not edify.
VI. It is shameful for women to speak in the assemblies. "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:34-37).
VII. The church worships and serves God in spirit and in truth.
A. Jesus told the woman at the well: "the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23,24).
B. Jesus said: "You shall worship the Lord you God, and Him only you shall serve" (Mat. 4:10, a quotation from Deut. 6:13).
C. Certain false teachings have arisen because many modern per-versions of the Scriptures do not make a correct distinction between 'worship' and 'serve' as used in these two passages.
D. Worship (PROSKUNEO) is a specific, conscious glorification of God flowing from an inner attitude of lowly submission to His authority and awe at His majesty.
1. Worship is always expressed in specific actions such as praying, singing or fasting.
2. But it is also possible to pray, sing or fast WITHOUT worshiping, if the inner worshipful attitude is lacking.
3. The acceptable forms of worship are different under the Old and New Covenants.
4. Christian worship is not limited to the assemblies.
a. Prayer can be in private (Mat. 6:6) or in assembly (Mat. 18:19,20).
b. Songs of praise can be in private (James 5:13) or in assembly (1 Cor. 14:15).
c. Fasting can be in private (Mat. 6:16) or in assembly (Acts 13:2,3; 14:23).
E. Examples in Revelation help us understand the nature of worship. Not only do they indicate that worship is done at certain times, but mention is also made of praying, singing and speaking as worship.
1. ''The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created"'' (Rev. 4:10,11).
2. "And all the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen" (Rev. 7:11,12).
3. "And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God. saying: "We give thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned" (Rev. 11:16,17).
4. ''And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: 'Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for your judgments have been manifested'" (Rev. 15:3,4).
5. ''And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, 'Amen! Alleluia!' Then a voice came from the throne, saying, 'Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!'" (Rev. 19:4,5).
6. The gospel of Christ commands all people on earth to worship God: ''Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth -- to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people -- saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water'" (Rev. 14:6,7). An evangelist teaches people to worship God!
7. At the close of the Revelation, John was commanded twice: "Worship God!" (PROSKUNEO) (Rev. 19:10; 22:8,9). This is the theme of the book.
F. Religious service (LATREUO) has a broader meaning and -- although it can refer to specific actions -- our whole life is also to be lived in service to God.
1. Worship (PROSKUNEO) is vain if it is not accompanied by a life of service to God (LATREIA).
a. Paul says: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present you bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (LATREIA)" (Rom. 12:1).
b. This was also true under the Old Covenant. "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12). The word here for 'serve' in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament is LATREUO. See also Deut. 11:13 "to serve him with all your heart and all your soul."
G. Confusing these terms, some have taught falsely that everything a Christian does is worship.
They argue: "We are to do everything in the name of the Lord! So everything we do is worship!"
Is this what the passage teaches? "And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:15b-17).
Paul is discussing thankfulness. We should speak and act, not in our own name, but in the name of the Lord. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7 -- "What do you have that you did not receive?" All we accomplish is by the grace of God.
This passage does not state that everything a Christian does is worship. Such a statement ignores the use and meaning of the word 'worship' in the Scriptures. It only says that everything we do is to be done IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.
Christians do not give dead animals to God, but the living sacrifice of their bodies in holiness. Paul calls this our 'reasonable service' (Rom. 12:1).
The word translated here as 'service' is not the Greek word for worship (PROSKUNEO) and should not be translated as worship, but neither is it the most common word for 'service'. The basic meaning is 'religious service.' A Christians's whole life should indeed be 'religious service.' But worship is something we do consciously at certain times.
One error leads to another. Some use this same argument to justify worshipping God as they please!
Here is their argumentation: "Since my body is a living sacrifice, everything I do is worship. So when I play Old Susanne on the harmonica I am worshipping God! Surely no one would say it is wrong for a Christian to play a harmonica. And if I am worshipping God as I play Old Susanne, why can't I play the Old Rugged Cross and sing along?"
Several things are wrong with this. First, the Scriptures do NOT teach that everything a Christian does is worship.
A Christian may play a musical instrument. But that is not worship any more than playing golf is worship! Will God be pleased if we start a Golf Course Church of Christ? We could have a prayer at the first hole, a song at the second, and the Lord's supper at the third! Some would like that, I am sure! Golf is not worship. But certainly it would be acceptable for two men who were playing golf to pause in their game and spend some time together worshipping God in prayer.
When I was a boy we lived near a Catholic church building with only one sign: "BINGO EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT." We called it the bingo church.
Shall we have a game of bingo between the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup? Why not, if everything a Christian does is worship? Playing games is not worship. But when Christian young people are playing wholesome games, they certainly may close their evening together with a period of worship to God in song.
When a Christian plays an instrument or a game of golf he should do so in the name of the Lord: in a proper way for one whose body is a living sacrifice to God. But it is not worship.
As priests, Nadab and Abihu's whole lives were dedicated to God (Lev. 8:10-13). Could they worship as they pleased?
First they worshipped as God commanded (see chapters 8 and 9). But then what happened? "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1,2).
These men are dedicated to God. We see them offering incense. They are worshipping! Surely that is all right. No, they were dead wrong. They were worshipping God as they pleased rather than as God had commanded. Notice the words: "which He had not commanded them."
If the Lord had given them more time, they might have used the argument heard so often today: "But Lord, You didn't say NOT to do it!"
No, and He did not need to. He had told them what to do. When they offered something He had NOT commanded, that offer was strange and unholy. It was something God had NOT commanded.
A Christian should do all things in the name of the Lord. When he truly presents his body as a living sacrifice he will be careful not to offer strange fire by worshipping in ways which God has not commanded. He will offer worship which is well-pleasing to God.
"Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water" (Rev. 14:6,7).
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive