The insights of children are often far beyond their years. Their
honesty sometimes staggers me. I heard of a young lad who once accompanied
his father to their Sunday night church service. It was a warm summer
evening. The service seemed boring and dull. The message was addressed
more to those who were absent than to those present. The order of
the service was rigidly routine - it never changed, and somehow
he never got involved. Finally, the benediction startled him into
consciousness. He sighed in relief and moved toward the back of
the church with his father. There on the wall hung a beautifully
embossed bronze plaque. He had often wondered what is was for, and
this time he asked his father. Proudly, his daddy told him it was
in memory of those who died in the service. A moment later, the
boy innocently inquired: "Which one? The morning or the evening
Recently a young man stood up in a large meeting in the music hall
in Houston to ask Hal Lindsey, "I've tried the church, but did not
find what I needed. What shall I do?"
A few years ago a prominent speaker with a nation-wide Christian
youth organization predicted that in 10 years the local church would
no longer exist. He said that it is outdated, that its time of usefulness
is past, and that it no longer is meeting the pressing needs of
twentieth century people.
Such disgust, disillusionment and despair with the traditional
church and its meetings fill the air in most circles today. Yet
I cannot imagine anything that could be more dynamic or exciting,
more meaningful, relevant or edifying for me as a Christian, and
more glorifying to the Lord than a church meeting - New Testament
What are the features of such a meeting? From the profile etched
on the pages of your Bible, there are several that are so clearly
presented that you will wonder how you could ever have missed them.
But what are they?
I. IT WAS A MEETING ON THE EVENING OF THE FIRST
DAY OF EVERY WEEK.
This is well substantiated, not only by the New Testament writers,
but by extra-biblical sources as well.
A. It was on the first day of the week.
There is great significance to the setting aside of this day. It
was the day of our Lord's glorious resurrection. The observance
of this day was a silent resurrection. The observance of this day
was a silent symbol of the passing of the old covenant with its
Sabbath observance, and the establishment of the new covenant. The
earliest indication of this change of days comes from the pen of
Paul, who writes:
On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside
and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when
I Cor. 16:2
A further indication comes from the practice of the Christians
in Troas, of whom we read:
And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together
to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart
the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.
*This and all subsequent verses are taken from the New American
According to the Didache and Justin Martyr. it was customary for
the early church to meet on the first day of the week. Because of
the significance of the day and the apostolic practice of observing
the day, we conclude that it is still the appropriate day for the
church to gather for its meeting.
B. It was on the first day of every week.
Initially there appears to have been a daily gathering of the believers
(Acts 2:46), but gradually the pattern of a weekly meeting emerged.
Although this is only implied in Acts 20:7, it is explicit in the
Greek text of I Cor. 16:2, and is expressed in the revision which
reads: "On the first day of every week."
It may be startling to many of us to learn that this was commonly
acknowledged by many of our revered leaders of the past. They argued
for a weekly observance of the Lord's Supper. John Calvin, the great
Presbyterian, wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion
that the Lord's Supper should be observed "very frequently and at
least one in a week." The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, led
his followers every Sunday in observing the Lord's Supper. From
the pen of the Baptist Church's greatest preacher, C. H. Spurgeon,
came these words: "Shame of the Christian church that she should
put it off to once a month. They who once knew the sweetness of
each Lord's day celebrating the Lord's Supper will not be content
to put it off to less frequent seasons."
Apostolic practice is apostolic precept (I Cor. 14:37). Because
of the significance of the first day of the week, and because it
was the practice of the apostolic church to meet the first day of
every week to remember the Lord, we conclude that it is to be a
continuing practice of the Christian church.
C. It was in the evening of the first day of every week.
Again we turn to the church in Troas for attestation (Acts 20:7).
There Paul preached until midnight. He could hardly have started
at eleven o'clock in the morning! The indication is that the worshippers
met in the evening, and there is broad support for this from extra-biblical
literature. This was a convenient time for members of the Gentile
churches, who were often not their own masters, and thus were not
free during the day. I do not think there is any special significance
to meeting in the evening. It was really a matter of convenience
for the first century church.
By the way, it was probably Sunday night, not Saturday night, when
they met. At least this is true at Troas. Luke in both his Gospel
and the Book of Acts uses Roman time, which marked a day from midnight
to midnight. If the first day of the week began at midnight, the
evening of the first day of the week would be Sunday night--not
D. It was only in the evening of the first day of every week.
After the early days of the Book of Acts, this was the only time
the believers met together. They did not have a large number of
different services. They had a weekly meeting of the church. What
a revolutionary idea!
The traditional weekly church calendar lists a full schedule of
meetings. Remember the last time you heard someone boast, "There
is something going on every night at our church"? This may be its
greatest weakness. We have separated the elements of the New Testament
church meeting. and set up an individual meeting for each component.
As a result, we have a prayer meeting, Bible study meeting, evangelistic
meeting, Lord's Supper meeting, etc.
Some meetings are unbiblical. For believing men and women to gather
together to be taught the Word of God by a Christian woman would
be, I believe, to convene an unbiblical meeting. It would be contrary
to the Scriptures (I Cor. 14:34; I Tim. 2:11-14).
Other meetings are non-biblical. The Sunday School for children,
the Ministry of the Word service, the Gospel Meeting, the Boys'
Brigade, and the Young People's Fellowship are, I believe, non-
biblical. That is, such services have no precedent in the New Testament.
They were not part of the apostles' practice. They just did not
exist in the early church. However, they are in no way contradictory
to the Scriptures and they do not oppose any principles of the New
Testament for the church. Surely we are at perfect liberty to hold
any such meetings that will contribute toward the saving of souls
and the edifying of the people of God.
However, there is one service that is biblical. It is the meeting
of the church as it was practiced by the apostles and described
in the epistles. In Believers Chapel this service is held in the
evening of the first day of every week. This service is the meeting
of the church, which will surprise some of you who have been attending
the Sunday morning Ministry of the Word services for months. You
thought you were attending our church meeting, but that is not so.
This Sunday morning service is part of our outreach. Here we teach
the Word of God and preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to
our friends in the community.
Our Sunday evening service at Believers Chapel is the meeting of
the church. It is a service like the meeting of the early Christian.
In it we attempt to follow the New Testament practices, precepts
and principles laid out for the church meeting by the apostles.
"What kind of service do you have here on Sunday night?" "Why?"
These are among the most frequent questions I am asked. In response
I wish to explain our service and demonstrate the biblical basis
for our practice. Some have been attending the chapel for months
or years, and are very interested in becoming a part of the body.
Our prayerful objective here is to encourage participation in our
But what exactly are the characteristics of such a church meeting?
There is no more intimate glimpse into what the first century church
was like when it gathered together than the picture in I Cor. 14:26-34.
Here the apostle begins:
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble...
This phrase "when you assemble" anticipates the coming together
of the church for its meeting. This same verb occurs five times
in Chapter 11 in the context of their coming together as a church
to observe the Lord's Supper (vs. 17, 18, 20, 33, 34).
From the critically central passage, I Cor. 14:26-34, a careful
student will derive several more features of the New Testament church
II. IT WAS A MEETING WITHOUT ANY PROFESSIONAL MINISTRY.
When you assemble, each one has a psalm has a teaching, has
a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation...
The inspired writer says "each one has..." He does not say the
pastor has a hymn. He does not say the elders or the deacons have
a doctrine. He addresses neither the clergymen nor the ordained.
He says: "each one."
Paul is surely not suggesting that every individual always contributed
something to the church meeting. But he is telling us that each
one was free to contribute a doctrine, a hymn, a revelation or any
other of the features of the church meeting.
In the early church there was no professional ministry. It arose
in the second century with the monarchial bishop. In the New Testament
church there was no such thing because every believer was in the
ministry (Eph. 4:12).
Read your New Testament carefully. You will discover there are
only four offices in a local church:
1) There is the office Headship. This is occupied by Christ who
alone is the Head of each local church (Eph. 1:22, Col. 1:18).
2) There is also the office of elder or bishop (I Tim. 3:1). These
terms refer to the same person as is clear from Acts 20:17 and 28.
The Scriptures indicate there was a plurality of elders in each
local church (Acts 20:17, 14:23, 11:30, Phil. 1:1). and that they
were appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) and then recognized
by the church (I Thess. 5:12), to shepherd (Acts 20:28) and to protect
the flock (Acts 20:29-31).
3) The third office is that of deacon (I Tim. 3:8, Phil. 1:1).
These were the men who assisted the elders.
4) the only other office in a local church is that of priest. Remarkably,
every believer in a local church occupies this office (I Peter 2:4).
There is no office of pastor, nor is any single person in the position
of being head of a local church.
In writing to the Philippians the apostle indicates the organization
of the church in his salutation, where he writes:
Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus, to all the
saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi including the overseers
(elders or bishops) and deacons.
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. has diagramed the structure
of a New Testament local church as follows:
When the local church gathered together to worship, it gathered
as a "royal priesthood." There was no officialdom. Every believer
was a priest, all on the same level, free to contribute to the meeting.
Following the pattern and example of the New Testament church,
we at Believers Chapel recognize no professional ministry in the
church meeting. Every worshipper is on exactly the same level. Since
we are all priests, each one, individually, may approach God directly
and worship. Every man (because of the limitation of v. 34) is free
to contribute a hymn, a prayer, a reading of Scripture, a word of
teaching or exhortation. He is free to give thanks for the bread
or the cup in the observance of the Lord's Supper. This is the privilege
and responsibility of the priesthood composed of all believers.
Look at our verse again. Here we can deduce a third feature.
III. IT WAS A MEETING WITHOUT ANY SETTLED FORMAT.
Isn't that the impression you receive from verse 26? Nowhere is
there given any order of service for this meeting. Barclay, in his
commentary on the verse notes: "There was clearly no settled order
at all", and Calvin acknowledges that in the meeting of the New
Testament church there was spontaneity. There is no biblical structure
or liturgy for this service.
It must have been exciting to attend this type of meeting. You
never knew what was going to happen next. A person may have begun
the service by requesting a psalm to be sung. Then you would wonder
what would be next. Will it be another psalm? Will someone pray?
Perhaps five or six will pray one after the other. One of the brethren
could give a word of exhortation from the Scriptures. Or will it
be the exposition of a passage? It may be a word of testimony or
a prayer request. Perhaps someone will give thanks for the bread.
There was no possibility of boredom because everyone was involved.
Any similarity between this and the traditional church service
today is purely coincidental!
Following the pattern of the New Testament, we at Believers Chapel,
however, wish to have this type of service when we gather for the
church meeting. In our Sunday evening service there is absolutely
no settled format.
One of the remarkable tendencies in the church today is to put
itself back under the legal system of the Old Testament. This is
evidence by the existence of a professional ministry, the dedicated
sanctuaries, and the religious calendar. To this list add the liturgy,
the order of service or the format. All such features are carried
over from the Judaism of the Old Testament.
One of the simplest orders of service is the meeting in which the
saints focus only upon the person and death of Christ before the
bread and cup are passed. After the emblems, believers are permitted
to minister regarding the resurrection or present ministry of our
Lord or to exhort the other believers.
In a recent issue of a Christian magazine this order of service
was strongly advocated. The writer said:
In such a meeting the ministry, fellowship, and worship are centered
on the Lord Jesus Christ and are under the leadership of the Holy
Spirit The introduction of evangelism or intercession is out of
place. Personal testimony or experience, however soul-stirring it
might be to the speaker, should be avoided unless it contributes
to the contemplation of Christ.
When the Lord's Supper has been observed and the worship and ministry
portion has been concluded, a suitable prayer could close the meeting.
At this time all necessary announcements, business reports, correspondence
and other assembly affairs may be presented. While this detail is
not spelled out in Scripture, it seems only fitting that we don't
allow the temporal affairs of the assembly to intrude on the contemplation
of our blessed Lord whom we gather together to worship. "This do
in remembrance of Me."
This statement shows a remarkable misunderstanding of New Testament
principles. How right he is that no such detail is given in Scripture!
His system is all humanly devised. I find it almost unbelievable
that one would speak of "the leadership of the Holy Spirit" in a
meeting where me have spelled out what can be done, and when it
can be done. Could there be a better illustration of quenching the
Spirit than this? The writer quotes our Lord's words: "This do "
and applies them to the meeting. This careless bit of exegesis has
led to great confusion. Isn't the Lord here speaking of the bread
and cup and not of the entire meeting? In the meeting of the church
the believers did remember Him in this fashion, but that is not
all they did. Note carefully that it was not exclusively a worship
Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that such a meeting is
wrong. Surely there is liberty for such a worship service if it
is so desired. But a purely worship service is not the New Testament
meeting of the church. In the New Testament meeting of the church
there was no settled format whatsoever.
From this simple order of service there is a ascending scale up
to the most sophisticated liturgies. Behold the legalism of the
Old Testament economy in the New Testament church! It is spiritual
immaturity which finds security in such structures, whether they
be in the meeting of the church or in our daily Christian lives.
In the apostolic churches there was no format. There was freedom-no
structure, no set routine at all. But how did one know when to participate?
Who was to take part next? What was he to do? This leads us to the
fourth feature of the meeting of the church.
IV. IT WAS A MEETING SUPERINTENDED BY GOD THE HOLY
What could be more appropriate? You will remember that our Lord,
before His return to heaven, promised to send "another Comforter,"
the Holy Spirit, to represent Him here on earth. While Christ is
the Head of the church, the Holy Spirit is the vicar of Christ.
When the early church met together for its meeting, who was better
able to superintend the service than the Holy Spirit-the representative
of the church's Head?
There are several indications of this ministry of the Holy Spirit
in our New Testament. For example:
But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let
the first keep silent.
I Cor. 14:30
Since a revelation is that which is given by the Holy Spirit to
believers, this verse clearly implies the sovereign superintendency
of the Holy Spirit in this meeting. While one is speaking, the Holy
Spirit may give a revelation to another. Furthermore:
Do not quench the spirit; Do not despise prophetic utterances.
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which
I Thess. 5:19-21
The context of verse 19 surely indicates that the interpretation
of the verse applies, not to the individual life of a Christian,
but to the meeting of the church. That was where prophetic utterances
were being despised; that was where doctrine was to be carefully
examined and that was where the Spirit was not to be quenched. He
was to have freedom.
I remember hearing of a man who once shared a wonderful word of
testimony at such a meeting as this, only to be reprimanded because
he did it before the bread and cup had been taken! That is quenching
the Spirit. It is denying Him His prerogatives as vicar of Christ.
If the meeting is to be Spirit-led, then it is not to be bound by
our rituals, traditions and preferences.
In the meeting of the church there was a liberty, a freedom. The
Holy Spirit was leading. For us to establish a settled order of
service, to set fixed limitations upon the length of the service
or to restrict participation to the elders or to an approved man
would be to quench the Spirit. To reject a particular type of Spirit-led
ministry or participation is still another way a church may quench
the Spirit. This is sinful rebellion against the vicar of Christ.
It is an overt denial of His Headship.
While this verse has its direct application to the church, undoubtedly
there is a word of instruction here for individuals as well. To
refuse to participate in prayer or sharing or teaching when the
Spirit of God is urging one to do so is just as surely to quench
the Spirit. This is sinful. It is a denial of the Lordship of Christ
in one's personal life. It deprives the body of Christ, the believer
himself, and the glorified Lord of the certain blessing that invariably
accompanies Spirit-led participation.
We all pay token allegiance to the doctrine of the Headship of
Christ. But how shall we confess it? How is it to be practically
demonstrated in the local church? By permitting His representative
to preside at the church meeting!
This will be made manifest by another principle which is demonstrated
in this passage.
V. IT IS A MEETING FOR THE SPIRIT-LED EXERCISE OF
This is what these verses are all about. Let me take you through
the paragraph to demonstrate the point.
In verse 26 Paul gives us a general direction concerning the exercise
of spiritual gifts in the meeting. He says,
When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching,
has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let
all things be done for edification.
I Cor. 14:26
The basic principle, then, is that gifts should be exercised for
the edification of the body. All that is to be done is for the purpose
of building up the saints in their faith and love. Only what is
edifying is to be permitted in the meeting.
In verses 27-33 the apostle gives us specific directions concerning
the exercise of these gifts. First, in verses 27-28 he speaks of
THE GIFT OF TONGUES and establishes four rules for regulating the
a) Only two or at most three with this gift should speak during
b) They were to speak in succession – not together.c) Another should
interpret for the one who spoke in a tongue. Only then is it edifying.
d) If no one with the gift of interpretation was present, the one
with the gift of tongues was to keep silent. It is obvious from
this that the one with the gift of tongues did not speak with an
irresistible impulse. If he chose to speak, he could.
Then in verses 29-33 Paul speaks of THE GIFT OF PROPHECY and gives
three rules for controlling its use. a) The number of prophets to
speak at a service was also limited to two or at the most three.
b) The others, probably those with the gift of discerning of spirits
(cf. 12:10) were to judge if this was indeed a revelation from God.
c) If, when a prophet is speaking, something is revealed to another
prophet sitting in the meeting, the first prophet is to be quiet
and sit down permitting the second to speak. Obviously he was not
under some irresistible force catapulting him forward. He had his
spirit under control (v. 32), and thus could either speak or not
Incidentally, we at Believers Chapel believe the Bible teaches
that the "sign gifts" such as tongues, prophecy and healing were
temporary and are not now in existence. However, the principles
for the regulation of gifts are still valid.
Finally, in verses 34-36, he deals with THE ROLE OF WOMEN in the
church meeting. Simply stated she is to be silent and is not to
exercise her gift publicly.
a) This is established in v. 34 by a clear statement of the apostle:
"Let your women keep silent in the churches." To suggest as some
do, that the verb "speak" here means "to chatter" is untenable.
Although occasionally it did have this meaning in classical Greek,
there is no support for this use in the New Testament. The verb
is used eighteen times in this chapter alone (e.g. vs. 3, 19, 21,
29). The uniform use of the word is "to speak" and the context is
in relation to the exercise of gifts. Paul is not speaking here,
as others suggest, of disorders arising out of interruptions by
women during the service. He is talking about the exercise of the
gifts mentioned in the preceding verses. Ruth Schmidt says Paul
is "very likely conditioned by the society around him and expresses
only a personal wish here." This is a remarkable statement, in view
of our text. Paul's reasons are much different, as the following
b) The silence of women in the Church meeting is enforced in verses
34-37 by three arguments. First, there is the custom of the churches.
Leon Morris, Charles Hodge and others maintain that the last phrase
of verse 33 actually ought to be the beginning phrase of verse 34.
If so it would read: "As in all the churches of the saints, let
the women keep silent…" The fact that in no Christian church was
public speaking permitted by women was in itself a strong proof
that it was contrary to the spirit of Christianity. Paul calls upon
the Corinthians to conform to accepted Christian practice.
Second, there is the weight of apostolic authority. Paul says,
"It is not permitted to them to speak." This was not merely
a personal or prejudicial wish, but the commandment of God (v. 37).
Third, there is the Scripture of the Old Testament. The apostle
writes, "as also saith the Law." Perhaps he is referring to Genesis
3:16 where Eve is told that her husband will rule over her. The
whole law of the Old Testament made clear the subordinate rank of
c) The silence of women is extended in verse 35, to a specific
case. If a woman has a question she is not to ask it in the church
meeting but rather she is to ask her husband at home. There is great
wisdom in such counsel. Such an act on the part of a wife is an
acknowledgment of her husband's headship and will gently encourage
him into that role. She also shows respect for her husband and eliminates
possible conflicts between her husband and a preacher.
d) The silence of women is expanded in I Timothy 2:11-14.
Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.
This is developed in two specific areas in the following verse.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority
over a man, but to remain quiet.
In the church meeting she is not to teach, exercising her spiritual
gift, nor is she to take any public leadership role exercising authority
over men. These are the two ways in which a woman is to be submissive
in the church.
Why? I recently read a liberal theologian who rejected Paul's teaching
here on the grounds that he was an arrogant bachelor with a bias
against women. This is completely unsound. The apostle's reasons
are theological and historical. His first reason is that the man's
priority in creation implies his priority in the chain of command
in the church.
For it was Adam who was first created and then Eve.
Paul also reasons that the woman's priority in the transgression
lead to her subordinate role of ministry in the church.
And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being
quite deceived, fell into transgression.
Thus the woman who usurped authority over her husband and took
the leadership in Genesis 3 is forbidden to do so in the church.
Of course this negative command must be always counterbalanced
by the many positive aspects of a woman's ministry. In her home
she is to be a godly mother (I Tim. 2:15) and a gracious hostess
(Heb. 13:2, I Peter 4:9, Rom. 12:13). Outside her home she is to
be a teacher of younger women (Titus 2: 3-5) and also is able to
labor side by side with the men, helping them (Phil. 4:2-3).
In summary, regarding the exercise of spiritual gifts, the general
rule is edification; the accompanying rules are orderliness and
silence of woman. Within these guidelines there is the freedom of
the Holy Spirit to exercise gifts in this meeting.
Following the pattern of the New Testament church, in our Sunday
evening meeting at Believers Chapel there is just such freedom.
There is always opportunity for the discovery and continuing development
of spiritual gifts. Just a few weeks ago, one of the highlights
of our Sunday evening meeting was when a high school lad read the
first three verses of Psalm 1 and shared with us some thoughts from
We must be very careful about our perspective. Sometimes we can
become just a little resentful when we look at a young person speaking
and think of him as practicing on us. Our attitude toward that situation
should be like the track coach who is used to seeing men speed down
the lOO-yard track in nine seconds flat, and then sits in his own
living room and watches his first son take his first two or three
toddling steps. Which is more thrilling to him? It depends on his
perspective. If he is looking as a track coach only, the living
room scene is kid stuff. But if he is looking as a father and sees
that young lad starting to grow and mature, taking his first couple
of steps, he is the most elated man on the face of the earth! Sometimes
I leave the Sunday evening service almost that elated. I see a man
who has become a Christian and then he stands up and he gives out
a hymn or he prays. It thrills my heart because here I see a man
who is growing. He has taken his first public step and it is a sign
of spiritual growth. Men talk to men about wanting to discover their
spiritual gift, wondering how to discover it and how to develop
it. My response is: in the meeting of the church. One major purpose
of it is for the Spirit led exercise of spiritual gifts.
VI. IT WAS A MEETING WITH A THREE-FOLD PURPOSE.
This is obvious from the various ingredients that made up the meeting
of the early church.
As we have noted previously, there was the Spirit-led EXERCISE
OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS for the edification of the saints. This was the
time and place for teaching, exhortation and praise.
When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching,
has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let
all things be done for edification.
I Cor. 14: 26
There was the celebration of the LORD'S SUPPER in commemoration
of His death, and as a proclamation of this death to the world.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered
to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed
took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and
said, "This is my body, which is for you: do this in remembrance
In the same way the cup also, after supper, saying, "This
cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you
drink it, in remembrance of Me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you
proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
I Cor. 11:23-26
The meeting also included an OFFERING taken at the church meeting
which was used to help the poor, the widows and the ministers of
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed
the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day
of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he
may prosper, that no collection be made when I come.
I Cor. 16;1-2
To our surprise the church meeting was the time when PRAYERS were
offered to God for the salvation of the unbelievers, for the government
leaders and for the country.
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions
and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings
and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a
tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
I Tim. 2:1-2
This injunction obviously was to be carried out at the church meeting
- the weekly meeting of the believers. The phrase "in every place"
(I Tim. 2:8) is characteristic of Pauline literature (I Cor. 1:2,
II Cor. 2:14, I Thess. 1:8) and implies every place of public worship.
A second evidence that this exhortation applies to the church meeting
is seen in I Tim. 3:15, when Paul states his purpose for writing
the letter. It was "so that you may know how one ought to conduct
himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living
God…" Thus at their meeting they prayed for Nero and his salvation!
This meeting was also the occasion for MISSIONARY REPORTS and words
of TESTIMONY, sharing what God was doing in them and through them.
And when they had arrived and gathered the church together,
they began to report all things that God had done with them
and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
All these elements made up the meeting of the early church. Since
several ingredients were always present, there was no such thing
as a worship service or a meeting devoted exclusively to the remembrance
of the Lord in the New Testament.
What, then is the purpose of the meeting? There seems to be a three-fold
It certainly is a worship service, since through hymns, ministry,
prayers, testimonies and the Lord's Supper, we worship the Lord.
But it is more than that. The meeting is also for the edification
of the church. Through teaching, exhortation and exercising of gifts
the believers are built up. But again this is not all. It is also
for the evangelism of the unsaved. Those present are evangelized
by the proclamation of the gospel in the celebration of the Lord's
Supper, and those absent, even governors and presidents are the
object of intercessory prayer for their salvation.
So you see there is a three-fold purpose of the church meeting:
worship of the Lord, edification of the saints, and evangelism.
Do you see what we have done to this service in Christendom today?
We have segmented it. On Sunday morning we worship; Sunday night
we evangelize; and Wednesday night we pray. We have taken all the
ingredients of the New Testament meeting and made an individual
meeting for each element, whereas in the early church meeting they
were all together in one glorious expression of worship, ministry
Recently friend asked me, "Why do you have that kind of service
on Sunday evenings at the Chapel, anyway?" Simply stated, it is
because the New Testament apostolic church met this way. They met
weekly on the evening of the first day of the week without any professional
ministry, without any settled format, exercising their gifts as
led by the Holy Spirit and keeping in mind their three-fold purpose
I seriously doubt that many would argue with this. I suspect that
most Bible teachers and ministers would concur with what has been
said to this point. Now for "the great divide."
IS IT NECESSARY?
Admittedly, this is the way the early church did it, but is it
necessary for us to do that today? Consider these points.
The practices of the apostles were their precepts for the Christian
church. To emphasize this, the apostle says,
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual let him recognize
that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandments.
I Cor. 14:37
These are not Paul's preferences; Paul is giving us commandments
of the Lord.
Also, the original manner of meeting is the best way to demonstrate
some of the basic principles of the church. What better way to give
expression to the Headship of Christ (Col. 1:18, Eph. 1:22) than
to meet with His representative on earth, the Holy Spirit, presiding?
What better way to demonstrate the priesthood of all believers (I
Peter 2:9) than to meet with no officialdom, with all on the same
level, as priests to offer our sacrifices? What better way to implement
the doctrine of spiritual gifts than to have a meeting where there
is the freedom to discover and develop gifts?
A minister, just this week, was horrified at the prospects of such
a meeting in his church. He said, "I would be afraid of what
would be said." A friend once said to me; "But it is too different.
I couldn't get used to that." Someone has objected: "The silences
really get to me." A student who likes to watch the performance
of old pros once described such a meeting as "Amateur Night" at
the church. We will admit that there are problems, but before we
jettison the New Testament church meeting, consider these further
The New Testament meeting is the type of service that allows for
a great deal that is not edifying. There can be confusion, disorder
and low quality teaching.
I know that this has been a problem to many people, but we need
to remember that the problem undoubtedly existed in the New Testament
times also. Women must have stood up; heretics certainly spoke out;
and people without gifts surely took part. The very structure of
the service allows for occurrences which are not edifying. Now what
shall we do about it? Well, of course, we could establish a professional
ministry that would guard against it. Only men who are qualified
and approved by the elders and gifted men could take part. Strange
that the apostles did not do that! They refused because the price
would have been too great. They would have denied an expression
of the Headship of Christ and an opportunity for expressing the
body life of Christ and the priesthood of believers. Too much would
have been sacrificed.
Thus we are not intending to change the Sunday evening service
by structuring it or by bringing in gifted men and organizing them
to minister to the service. I suspect that if we did that our crowds
would double or triple and many people would be very happy. But,
first of all, it would mean leaving the practice of the early church.
Secondly, we would lose too much and contradict by our practice
many principles which we hold very dear. The answer, of course,
is that those of us who are spiritual, those of us who see that
some unedifying things occur, ought to come prepared to participate
so that what does occur in the service will be edifying. May I exhort
you, may God stir your heart to contribute in the church meeting
in such a way that it will always be a blessed time of edification
of all who attend.
The second observation I want to make is that it is the type of
service which may contain some very distressing periods of silence.
I know that silence is a great irritation to some, but silences
ought to be expected because of the nature of the service. If the
Spirit of God is leading without any structure or format, we would
expect silences. In fact, these silences can be times of great blessing.
How can we transform that irritating silence into a blessing? First,
we can use it as a time of meditation on a hymn or scripture or
message just given. Thank God for silences when we can apply a truth
or reflect upon its implications. Secondly, we can use it as a time
of prayer. Worship, praise, petition, confession and dedication
are often appropriate responses after a message or hymn. What a
blessing to have a few moments to respond. Finally, we can use it
as a time of exercise: "Lord is this the time you want me to speak
or take part publicly?"
The problem with many of us is that we just do not like silences.
When we sit down to study we turn on the radio. We are a generation
that is frightened of, and made insecure by, silence. But, properly
used, these times of silence can be times of great blessing in our
However, silences are not necessary. Often they are a thermometer
of the true spiritual temperature of our church, indicating a coldness
of heart, a fear of men, a quenching of the Holy Spirit or an unprepared
heart. When we get up and walk out we are inclined to point the
finger at others and blame them for the poor meeting, when the fact
is that the finger of God is actually being pointed at us. Our true
spiritual temperature has just been taken!
One of the ways that we can eliminate such times of silence brings
me to my third observation: participation in the meeting demands
preparation of heart. That is what makes it so different from every
other service. You could come to the Sunday morning service with
no preparation of heart, but the effectiveness of the Sunday evening
service, humanly speaking, depends upon your preparation. I generally
spend many hours preparing for my Sunday morning message. If it
is delivered in the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is a blessing
to God's people. But in the Sunday evening service, when we gather
together for the meeting of the church, the effectiveness depends
upon the preparation of every 'Priest' that attends. When Paul said,
"When you come together you have a song, a doctrine...," he implied
preparations. It is obvious they came to the meeting of the church
to give, not to get. That is the great distinction. You come Sunday
morning to get; you come to Sunday School to get; you come on Tuesday
and Wednesday nights to get; but you come to the meeting of the
church to give. If you can readjust the perspective in your life,
it will revolutionize your whole point of view in relation to the
meeting of the church. It is a meeting where we come to give. May
God help us to be prepared as we come to this service.
But how? We will want to come in full fellowship with our Lord.
That means with our sins confessed and cleansed (I John 1:9). We
may come with a hymn on our mind for meditation or for giving out.
We may have a particular portion of scripture on our heart to teach
or to meditate upon. We may come with an experience that God has
brought in our lives this past week and be ready to share it in
the service. Can you imagine what would happen at the service if
we all came ready to give? Just imagine the delight to the heart
of man and every man from their heart giving something to God. That
is what the meeting of the church should be. It comes only by preparation
of the heart.
In the final phase of our preparation should be those five quite
minutes just before the service begins. To say then: "I am available
to You Lord, I have something to give to You and to Your people.
Lead me to give it if it is Your will."
Finally, it requires the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is a Spirit-led,
Spirit-controlled meeting. We are dependent upon Him to lead, and
we can be sure He will not fail us. "But," you ask, "how can I know
He is leading me?" Let me ask you: "How do you walk in the Spirit?"
This is how the Christian is to live his life day by day. The person
who does not know how to walk in the Spirit during the week will
not know how to be led by the Spirit during the church meeting.
Some simple suggestions may help. First and foremost, come prepared.
Then make yourself available to the Holy Spirit at the beginning
of the meeting. A strong desire in your heart may indicate the Lord
is leading you to take part. I have often prayed, "Lord, if this
desire is from you, intensify it just now." The direction or mood
of the meeting may confirm your desire to participate. Often I have
come prepared with a verse or a hymn and found it fits perfectly
with what someone else says before me. That is a great encouragement
to take part.
A GREAT MISTAKE
Do not mistake the traditional church service held in churches
across America with the New Testament church meeting. They are as
different as day is from night. Let us maintain the New Testament
church meeting, and contribute to make it the highlight of the Lord's
day, the epitome of our worship, the finest in our teaching, and
the center of our program.
Again I say I find it hard to imagine anything that could be more
dynamic and exciting, more meaningful, relevant and edifying for
me as a Christian, and more glorifying to the Lord than this kind
of a church meeting.
But beware. A greater error than mistaking the traditional church
service for the New Testament church meeting is the error of mistaking
man's way of salvation for God's way.
Since the beginning of time, man has sought to improve by self-effort,
self-mortification and self-imposed tortures. Martin Luther fasted,
scourged himself and underwent great privation. He became emaciated
in body and broken in health. Then the light broke upon his darkened
soul, and he exclaimed "He that made the heavens must do this,
or it will remain forever undone." God revealed to him the
soul-liberating truth that "the just shall live by his faith" (Hab.
2:4) and be justified before God.
A humble Moravian workman asked John Wesley before his conversion
the searching question, "Do you hope to be saved?" "Yes, I
do," replied Wesley. "On what ground do you hope for salvation?"
asked the Moravian. "Because of my endeavors to serve God,"
said Wesley. The Moravian made no reply. He only shook his head
and walked silently away. Wesley, in speaking of the incident later
said, "I thought him very uncharitable. saying in my heart,
'Would he rob me of my endeavors?'" Later, Wesley saw the light
- that salvation is solely of grace, "not of works or righteousness
which we have done," or can do. He saw what his brother Charles
saw and expressed in these words:
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone;
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
To mistake man's way for God's way is the greatest error you shall
ever make. Will you just now confess to God your sinful state? Thank
Jesus Christ for dying for your sin. Receive Him as your personal
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that
not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result
of works, that no one should boast.