The Meeting of the Church

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 He said that it is outdated, that its time of usefulness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?




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 come.*

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.

Acts 20:7

*This and all subsequent verses are taken from the New American

Standard Bible.

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

Saturday night.


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

church meeting.

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...

v. 26

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




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.

Phil. 1:1

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.



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.




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

is good.

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.




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

the service.

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

verses demonstrate.

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.

v. 11

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.

v. 12

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.

v. 13

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.

v. 14

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

the Psalm.

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.



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

of Me."

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

the Gospel.

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.

Acts 14:27

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

and evangelism.

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

for meeting.

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."



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

spiritual lives.

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.



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.

Eph. 2:8-9