God’s church must be gathering regularly or it is not a proper expression of God’s church. It is quite popular today to view the church as some mystical union among people who never see, hear or experience one another outside of online social media, or virtual worship. The so called “church” of Facebook is a real thing and is but one iteration of a growing error in our understanding of God’s plan for his holy assembly. Whereas being a good church member once was defined as going to a specific place (building) for church worship with other Christians at least once and usually twice a week, an average church member today sees nothing strange with gathering to worship with God’s people once or twice a month. This lack of serious and routine gathering of the whole church is spiritually unhealthy and clearly not as God intended as revealed in the New Testament. The church must faithfully and regularly gather in worship so that the church can faithfully and correctly scatter in service.
Since worship is devoting full attention, honor, and love to One greater than ourselves, by first gathering in worship or “going to church” as it has been called, is the first step in being a truly worshiping church. The truth is that one cannot claim devotion to God himself while maintaining that the corporate gathering of God’s church is relatively unnecessary. If we love God, we will love to gather with God’s people. But only gathering in corporate worship is not enough. What the church does when it gathers to worship is most important. Acts 2:41-42 is helpful by laying out plainly what Christ’s disciples believed to be essential elements of worship when the church gathered corporately. This Scripture tells us that the first church devoted themselves to the “Apostle’s Doctrine” (Biblical teaching), “fellowship” (partnership in giving, singing, loving), “breaking of bread” (memorial of communion), “prayers” (public pleading with God). Reading further in the book of Acts, we find that the first pastors (Elders/Apostles) viewed their ultimate service to the church center around studying and teaching the Word of God and prayer (Acts 6:4). In fact, the ministry of the Word is prominent in the ministry of the church’s leaders, because it is from the Word that everything else about ministry, even prayer is understood. Thus, the gathered worship is always to be Word-based, Word-infused, and Word-heavy.
The idea that all the aspects of gathered worship of the church should be directed by what the Word of God commands or exemplifies is called the regulative principle. That is, God who has revealed himself in the Bible is the only one who has the right to regulate how we worship since he is the one we are honoring and loving in our church meetings. Therefore, where the Scripture is not clear about forms and practices of worship, we must be very careful not to allow our creativity to rule. Personally, I think it is dangerous for us to stray from “Word, fellowship, ordinance, and prayers” (Acts 2:41-42) in our gathered worship, and strongly hold to simplicity in gathered worship with these four elements being the basis of all that we do.
Though worship in serving God is ultimate in the church’s gathering, in his kindness, God has ordained that our gathered worship also serve us with an important benefit as well. This benefit toward us in our gathered worship; however, is not mainly an emotional benefit, a social benefit, or an economic one. God has ordained that gathered worship of God’s church benefit his people by equipping them to serve their world with the Gospel of his Kingdom. How is this accomplished? We gather being led in that worship by gifted men who with the ministry of the Word, fellowship, communion, prayer; spiritually, theologically and practically train and equip the church to do Gospel ministry in our families and communities, as the church scatters throughout the week.
Ephesians 4:11-16 is the most significant text of Scripture teaching us about this benefit of spiritual training and equipping flowing from our gathered worship. God has given pastors/teachers to the church as gifted leaders whose primary role is to equip the saints (the church) during gathered worship to enable the church to do the work of the ministry (advancement of Gospel truth) as the church scatters during the week. The text also makes it clear that this equipping of the saints who then will do the work, is the chief means for God to grow his church both numerically and spiritually. Conversely, failure for the leaders to diligently and accurately equip the saints with God’s Word, and failure of the church to receive this spiritual training either through absence, inattention, pride or some other sinfulness results in the breaking down of the body of Christ. The text continues that this equipping is a life-long responsibility for the pastors and a lifelong process for the church, “Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Further examination helps us see that ultimately it is “the faith”- whole Biblical doctrine of Christ, and the “knowledge of Jesus” that ought to be the main aspect of Biblical instruction in equipping the saints. Yet as we think back to a failure to equip by gifted leaders or failure to be equipped by the church, we notice that the breaking down of the church body and lack of maturity will be easily evidenced in those church members who rather than increasing in their spiritual stability and Godly maturity are easily deceived and carried away into heresies. But this spiritual equipping, which is marked by devotion from pastors to faithfully instruct in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus, is cultivated and successful only in the soil of the church through gathered worship. In other words, though internet preachers and theological books can serve a purpose in the church’s growth and maturity, the text makes it clear that this equipping is most effective for God’s purpose to build his kingdom when the whole body is joined and knit together by what every joint (member) supplies. This produces effective working by which every part does its share and this causes growth of the body for edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:16). God intends the equipping of the saints by gifted teachers to be primarily effective within the confines of a covenanted body of people with varying gifts, abilities, temperaments, and qualities who regularly gather together visibly, audibly and publicly to learn “the faith” and the “knowledge of Jesus” with one another.
Do not be deceived, failure to make gathering as the church a priority produces lifeless, discorded, un-prepared, easily deceived, immature, and untrained servants of the Gospel to this world. Furthermore, personal worship, though perhaps emotionally satisfying for a time, will become spiritually anemic and as is most often the case, eventually forsaken as well. In my experience, which I believe lines up with the Scripture in this case, those who make little of public gathered worship while maintaining that they don’t need “to go to church” because they “are the church” eventually cease to act as the church. Beloved, make gathered worship the priority of your week. First for the sake of honoring, loving, and glorying in God; second, because it is the first means God has intended to equip you to do his ministry throughout the rest of your week in your family and community.