I desperately desire to be in church! But what does that mean? I know it seems like a simple statement that can easily be fulfilled at any of many local meeting places. But, what is church? And, how does it compare with all of those local meetings that are considered to be church?
In nearly every “church meeting” I have gone to there is a very similar pattern that is followed. First there is a “worship time”, where a single person or very small group of people decide what everyone will sing and then lead singing of their preferred genre of “worship songs”. This is not a time for discussing what songs are better. It is simply what I have seen. This is usually followed by an offering to support “The Lord’s Work” which is also determined by another small group of “leaders”. In some groups the communion service is included here, though it varies from group to group.” Then there is a “message” given by someone whose primary employment is to bring a message each week or even 3 times a week that will keep people coming back and satisfied that they are participating in “The Lord’s work.” The message will also include a strong encouragement to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior so you can go to Heaven and avoid going to Hell.
Singing songs, giving offerings, receiving communion and hearing a message of encouragement are all good things that God’s Word encourages us to be doing. But is this the pattern that is described in the New Testament for the Church to be following? I must allow that there are many similarities. However there seems to be a large disparity between how this is currently accomplished and how the Word of God describes the development of the meeting of believers.
In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 we have a large portion of the description of how the local assemblies are to function. It is surely no accident that those 2 important chapters are surrounding the incomparable glory that is 1 Corinthians 13. Anyone who would set about to correct the majority of Christendom must absolutely recognize the gravity and necessity of charity as described in this passage or else simply slam about wounding and doing damage to the Church of God.
A large difference that I see between the modern American church and the instructions I read in the New Testament is what might be called full participation. As I have mentioned, in the popular church meeting the messages are primarily brought by a paid minister who was selected by either a small group of leaders or by a popular vote of the congregation. This person is chosen because of the college that they attended, because they are a gifted speaker, or because they have shown leadership abilities in another assembly. 1 Corinthians 14 begins with the encouragement to follow after charity and desire spiritual abilities but especially that you may prophesy. Then from verse 24 to verse 33 there are clear directions for the conduct of a meeting. I am especially aware that participation is encouraged for all. Verse 31 says “all may prophesy”. Here you may understand that by prophesy I am considering this the same as bringing the message of encouragement. I think the context supports this.
There are other aspects of the Biblical pattern for the church which could be considered at a later time if there is interest, but just now this is a good place to stop. I am sure there are some who would protest that this could not work because the general congregation lacks training to be able to express themselves. There would be error and confusion in what was shared. The problems go on and on, and they are justified. But they are not problems that the current system avoids. Yet the pattern set down in scripture is just that; The Scriptural pattern. I and many others have seen the Scriptural pattern for meetings yield very good fruit in the lives of many. Some of the strongest admonitions for my life have come from simple testimonies of what might be called unlearned men, women, and even children who sincerely shared what they heard the Spirit telling them.