Church Assembly And Worship

It is written:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

One of the most important functions of the church is to assemble. We read numerous examples of the church assembling together in the New Testament.

Acts 2:42-And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Acts 2:46-47-So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

The church is introduced to us in Acts 2 as a group that assembled together regularly-even daily! This, of course, is not altogether surprising since the very word “church” actually implied the idea of “assembly!”

“From the Greek ekklesia comes our English words “church” and “assembly.” It is a compound word from ek, meaning “out of,” and klesis, “a calling.” The church is a called out body of people who belong to the Lord. He has called them out of one realm and into another. A common classical use of ekklesia “was as a political term, meaning an assembly of citizens. In the Greek city-state the citizens were called forth by the trumpet of the kerux (herald) summoning them to the ekklesia (assembly).” 1 The book of Acts uses ekklesia about a group of devotees to Artemis who had been assembled and incited to riot by some makers of silver shrines to the goddess. Luke says, “Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was confused” (Acts 19: 32). This “assembly” had been gathered from among the local Ephesian citizenry by these craftsmen who were in opposition to the preaching of the gospel as a potential threat to the sale of their idols. The “assembly” in this instance was used about a group of persons called out of one realm into another–out of their activities in the marketplace into a riotous mob. In the same instance, ekklesia was used about an assembled body politic. To calm the mob’s uproar the city clerk at Ephesus warned, If Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar (Acts 19: 38-40). This “lawful assembly” is obviously distinct from the riotous “assembly” of Acts 19: 32. Finally, the city clerk “dismissed the assembly” (v. 41), that is, the riotous mob.” (Edward Wharton, The Church Of Christ, 480-495 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Gospel Advocate Company)

In Acts 2:42-26, we see some of the things which the church did when they assembled:

They prayed;

They broke bread (ie, partook of the Lord’s Supper; there are several good reasons for believing that Acts 2:42 and 46 both refer to the Lord’s Supper);

They continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship (they studied and learned God’s Word);

They practiced acts of charity and devotion.

Later in Acts, we see another example of the church activities when they gathered together:

Acts 20:7-Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

Again, we see clear reference to the church assembling together and breaking bread (Ike, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). There is also clear evidence of preaching and studying the Word of God, and of fellowship together (Cf. Acts 20:10-11).

As such, there is no doubt that worship was a fundamental aspect of the assembly of the church. That is no doubt one reason why Paul commands Christians not to forsake the assembly (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Let’s also remember that the idea of forsaking the assembly was different then missing an assembly. Sometimes people are not able to attend (due to health or occupational reasons that may be out of their control for example).

However, God expected His people to assemble together when they had opportunity; and one reason for this was due to the imperative to worship God.

Another powerful set of passages which discuss the importance of the church assembly is found in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. There he uses a particular Greek phrase, en humin (“among you”), to describe the assembly of the church:

1Corinthians 1:10  Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you (en humin), but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

1 Corinthians 1:11  For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.

1Corinthians 2:2  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

1Corinthians 3:3  for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

1Corinthians 3:18  Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

1Corinthians 5:1  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!

1Corinthians 5:2  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

1Corinthians 6:5  I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?

1Corinthians 11:18  For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

1Corinthians11:19  For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.

1Corinthians 11:30  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.

1Corinthians14:25  And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

1Corinthians 15:12  Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Speaking of the importance of this phrase, Gardner has well noted:

“In the appositional clauses the plural draws attention to the many members who make up this singular community known as the “church.” In Paul’s writings, “church” generally refers to the gathering of the people of God in a particular house or meeting place. In this epistle this may be seen in expressions such as “when you gather together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you” (11: 18), or in clauses such as “the one who prophesies builds up the church,” “when you come together,” and “let him [or her] keep silent in the church” (14: 4, 26, 28). In the light of the reference to the “whole church” gathering at the house of Gaius in Corinth (Rom 16: 23), it is likely that the normal practice was to gather in smaller house “churches.” Though it is probably anachronistic to talk of Paul referring to the “universal” church in 1 Corinthians, 3 he certainly has a deep commitment to seeing the various churches, with which he has had dealings, following the same standards in polity and worship and recognising their interdependence. He thus refers to what he teaches “everywhere in every church” in 4: 17 and of how he orders “things in all the churches” (7: 17). In 11: 16 he writes of “the churches of God” and of “all the churches of the saints” in 14: 33–34.” (Paul D. Gardner, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 764 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

In 1 Corinthians 10-16, Paul addressed several matters of worship within the assembly of the churches of God in Corinth.

We see the same usage of Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians:

Colossians 3:16-17-Let the word of Christ dwell in you (en humin) richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Speaking of the church assembly reference here, Dunn had well said:

“In this context the v vµiv may also signify “among you,” indicating an element of preaching/teaching in the communal gatherings of the Colossian Christians tians for worship and instruction (e.g., Masson 147 n. 5; Bruce, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians 157; Pokorny 173 n. 80; Fee 649). H2 ov(5io)q (“richly”) picks up the same theme of divine richness already announced in 1:27 and 2:2. There is a richness in “the word of Christ” which makes it an inexhaustible source of spiritual resource, intellectual stimulus, and personal sonal and corporate challenge; but without the participants’ positive response its “indwelling” might be feeble rather than rich (Schweizer, Colossians 209). That a corporate context is envisaged, a sharing of the word of Christ within the gathered assembly, is confirmed by the next clause, where the “indwelling” of the word is further described or the complementary activity indicated: “in all wisdom [see n. 14] teaching and warning each other.”” (James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), 3315-3319 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Writing of other indicators of the assembly in the New Testament, Ferguson has well noted:

“Some mistakenly conclude that understanding worship as including all of the Christian life minimizes the importance of the assemblies of the church. Not so. The New Testament has a rich doctrine of the Christian assembly and shows that the coming together of believers is important.31 Faith may be private or individual in the sense that someone cannot believe for another, but faith has a community expression and involves a group. If one can sustain one’s faith without the support of common worship, then it is not the Christian faith that is held. The sheer number of passages in the New Testament about Christians coming together is impressive. The frequency of these statements shows the importance of the assembly to early Christians. We group the passages according to the Greek terms “come together” (suner-chomai), “gather together” (synaga), “assemble” (synathroizo), and “the same place” (epi to auto). “Come together” is used in Acts of the crowd gathered on Pentecost cost (Acts 2:6), of the gathering at Cornelius’s house (Acts 10:27), and of the women gathered for prayer outside Philippi (Acts 16:13). It is the word used in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 for the assemblies of the church (1 Cor. 11:17, 33-34; 14:26). The coming together is specified as “in church” (“in assembly”) in 1 Corinthians 11:18, as “in the same place” in 1 Corinthians 11:20; and all three expressions are combined in 1 Corinthians 14:23: “if the whole church comes together in one place.” “Gather together” (“to congregate,” verb form of synagogue) is used of the gatherings of Christians to pray (Acts 4:31), to teach (“gathered together in church”-Acts 11:26), to hear a missionary report port (Acts 14:27), to decide a disputed issue (Acts 15:6, 30), to eat the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7-8), and to decide a case of discipline (1 Cor. 5:4; cf. its use in Matt. 18:20). The equivalent compound form of the verb and noun (episynaga, episynagoge) is used in the admonition against deserting church meetings in Hebrews 10:25 and in the description of the gathering together of the elect at the end of the age (2 Thess. 2:1; Matt. 24:31; and Mark 13:27). “To assemble” or “gather into a group,” fairly common in classical Greek, is rare in the New Testament, but it is used in Acts 12:12 for a prayer meeting. The phrase epi to auto can mean “together,” but it can also mean “in the same place,” and when it occurs in connection with the verbs “to come together” or “gather together” must mean the latter (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23). It seems to have acquired on occasion in early Christian literature almost a technical sense of “in the assembly,” “in the church meeting.” This may be the sense of Acts 2:44 (cf. 2:1, where the phrase must mean “in one place,” since “together” is redundant) and consequently also in Acts 2:47.32 The cumulative impression of these passages is to demonstrate how often the early Christians were together in meetings and consequently sequently the importance of these meetings for them. Christianity was not a private religious experience.” (Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, 231-233 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

In further commenting on the connection between the importance of the church assembly and worship, Ferguson writes:

“The comprehensive use of the language of worship in the New Testament developed above certainly includes (indeed especially so) the meetings together of Christians for religious purposes. In the light of this broader understanding of worship, the assembly is part of ministering to others. In community there is strength. Individual weaknesses are overcome through the encouragement of others. People need one another. And the meetings of the church provide the opportunity for learning of needs, planning to meet them, and acting together. Forsaking ing the assembly is not a sin against an institution, but against the brothers and sisters to whom we owe mutual edification and fellowship (Heb. 10:25).33 The assembly of Christians is part of their total service to God. More than that, as the remainder of the chapter will unfold, it holds a central place in that service. Even if one puts emphasis on those passages sages noted above where worship is defined in terms of service to others, the assembly as the time of meeting together for mutual encouragement is worship. Yet this would be a minimal view, for such service to others is in the context of worship to God; and there must be times when attention is focused primarily on God and divine things. The church in assembly not only provides encouragement to its members but also approaches God (Heb. 10:19-25). Only in relation to the transcendent do temporal things appear in the right perspective. In the Psalms, the assembly of God’s people was the place for praise to him and the place where his awesome presence was felt. Hebrews 2:12 quotes from Psalm 22:22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” The next verse continues, “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!” (Ps. 22:23). Hebrews 12:23-28 similarly connects the “assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” with offering “to God an acceptable able worship with reverence and awe.” As discussed on pages 211-212, “to call upon the name of the Lord” was the general phrase in the Old Testament for worship to God, a worship that acknowledged him in confession and prayer. This phrase is used to characterize Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul by these words reminds the “ekklesia of God” at Corinth that they are not alone.34 The phrase “in every place” (in Christian usage based on Mal. 1:11) seems to have had a special reference “to every place of meeting,” and not the general adverbial sense of “everywhere” (cf. 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Tim. 2:8; less obviously 2 Cor. 2:14).35 In the Christian meetings, Christ is worshipped by calling on his name. Moreover, proclamation and worship have a common content-God’s acts of grace. The proclamation and confession of God’s wonderful deeds (1 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 10:23; 13:15) looks back to his historical acts of grace in Christ and forward to the accomplishment of his will when Christ comes again. This recital both praises God for his salvation and declares to human beings that salvation. The assembly, therefore, is related to the work of the church that will be discussed in the next chapter-proclaiming God’s word, strengthening believers, and ministering to their needs. The assembly exemplifies worship as the whole Christian life. It epitomizes the church’s worship and service to God.” (Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today,233-234 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

When we combine these facts together, we can see the following acts of worship which the church participated in when they assembled together:

Singing (Colossians 3:16-17);

Preaching/Teaching (1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 4:1-4);

Partaking Of The Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:46; 20:7);

Praying (1 Timothy 2:8-9);

Giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

Of course, the church also worshiped God by their daily lives in an attempt to bring glory to Him through the way that they lived:

“There are a number of words in the Greek New Testament that can be translated “worship.” We will confine this study to two words. • Proskuneo. This verb form, meaning “to make obeisance, do reverence to (from pros, towards, and kuneo, to kiss), is the most frequent word rendered to worship. It is used of an act of homage or reverence.” 1 It should be emphasized that proskuneo is a distinct act of worship that is to be distinguished from a life of worshipful service to Christ that generally characterizes Christians (for this definition see latreuo below). The worship (proskuneo) that is performed as a special act of reverence is illustrated in Abraham’s statement to the young men that accompanied him to the sacrifice of Isaac: “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you” (Genesis 22: 5). The Septuagint2 uses a form of proskuneo. It is clear that Abraham and Isaac went to a particular place to perform a special act of worship as God had directed. They worshiped, and after completing their worship they returned. Hence, all of life is not proskuneo worship….Latreuo. This is a verb that means “to serve, to render religious service or homage.”…Thus latreuo is the worshipful lifestyle that characterizes the Christian’s daily walk….Both the acts of worship as commanded and authorized in God’s Word and the life of daily service to God according to His Word are distinctive means of worship.” (Edward C. Wharton, The Church Of Christ: The Distinctive Nature Of The New Testament Church, 1944-1973 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Gospel Advocate Company)

May God’s people always remember the need to worship Him in spirit in truth (John 4:23-24), both in the assembly and in our daily lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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