There is an old hymn that is usually dusted off around Thanksgiving time, titled We Gather Together. The first line is, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” The setting appears to be a church meeting, picturing the larger body of Christ. Now that the tune is inescapably running through your head, let’s talk about why we gather together.
The umbrella question is, “Why do we ‘do’ church?” The handle of that umbrella is, “What is church?” This answer may be taken as evident by some, but it is grossly misunderstood by many. This results in some leaky church practices and attitudes, and often forms a moat around the church that keeps people out.
The word translated church in the Bible is the Greek word ekklesia, which means “a called out assembly.” It is the source of the word ecclesiastical. It means any called out assembly but, in Scripture, specifically refers to a group of believers. The church is called out of the world to assemble for a purpose, just like a convention is planned to call out people of like mind for a purpose. What is that purpose? If you don’t know, then that destroys the effectiveness of the assembly. If The United Candle Display Sniffers Society calls a convention in Waxdrip City and doesn’t have a purpose, the conventioneers will not benefit from the meeting so as to become better Candle Sniffers. There must be a purpose to the meeting.
There is confusion about the purpose of the church these days, and it’s causing the weakening of the body of Christ. When the umbrella leaks, the message of the church gets watered down.
Some see the church in terms of shorts, sandals, cell phones, and Starbucks; others, as suits, Scriptures, and songbooks. We might think of it as a social organization, while others see the church as primarily a social agency. I had a view as a child that many still share: the church is a boring place to go, with torturous rituals that are the spinach on the path to heavenly dessert. Somehow we earn God’s favor by going to a place of kneeling, bowing, reciting, sniffing incense, and dodging costumed women yielding yardsticks. No wonder people get confused or even scared away.
Since God invented church, let’s see what He has to say about it.
God always works with individuals, but mostly in the context of groups. He ordained the family at creation, because “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18, NKJV). He then formed a nation from one family that became Israel: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2). When the temple was destroyed, the Jews formed synagogues (meaning “meetings”). Jesus then formed the churches: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). It’s obvious that God intends people to gather together under His leadership.
What is the purpose of the gathering we call “church”? Is it to win God’s favor, impress the neighbors, kill some time, meet our friends, satisfy our religious obligations? Will God strike us with lightning if we miss a service?
The answer, in a biblical nutshell, is that we go to church for our own benefit. Does that sound unspiritual or what? This is what the Bible says: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The primary purpose of the assembly is to “encourage one another.” This is why we are called out and gather together. This is why the church is for believers—unbelievers cannot encourage believers (2 Corinthians 6:14–16).
But one might say, “Don’t we get together to worship God?” Of course—that’s part of the encouragement. When we sing, listen to preaching, pray, give our offering, etc., we acknowledge His worth and find encouragement in His Word. Through this, we encourage one another, especially as we see “the Day” approaching. Ironically, as things get worse, many churches have less meetings and opportunities to gather together.
“The Day” speaks of the Lord’s return. We know that as it approaches, life for the believer will get more hazardous. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (1 Timothy 3:12–14, NKJV). We need to gather with trustworthy teachers, preachers, and examples, so we can be equipped to stand in perilous times (Ephesians 4:11–13). This is also why the church must remain pure and united.
So, when you’re getting ready to “go to church” Sunday, think about why you are going, and what part you can play in encouraging others. Know what it is to “do” church!
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