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Assembling Together 5 and 6 – The Lord’s Day and Hymn Singing

Posted by on Mar 16, 2007 in books, edification, gathering | 20 comments

The fifth and sixth chapters of Watchman Nee’s book Assembling Together (chapters 18 and 19 of the Basic Lessons series) are called “Various Meetings” and “Hymn Singing” respectively. I decided to review these two chapters together, because, to be honest, I have very little to say about each topic.

The Lord’s Day
In the chapter called “The Lord’s Day”, Nee explains that believers no longer have to keep the Sabbath, but that they should still have a day of rest, and that they should meet on the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week). Consider these quotes:

Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God ordered the Lord’s day to be substituted for the Sabbath. No, God simply made the change seen in the facts. [73]

We desire that new believers would remember this principle in the Bible, that one day out of each seven days is set apart for spiritual purposes. On that day, no secular work should be done so that one may devote the time to spiritual affairs. [74]

God does not forbid the doing of certain things on the Lord’s day as He formerly had done for the Sabbath. [74]

Man has entered into rest through the gospel. He is now able to serve God. This is the reality of the Sabbath. [74]

So, Nee seems to instruct new believers to stop secular work one day a week, but he does not specify which day that should be. He says that God does not specify a certain day for believers to rest from secular work. This seems like a fairly balanced approach, as long as the day of rest from secular work is not legalistically enforced.

As far as the Lord’s day, Nee recognizes a difference between the first day of the week and the Sabbath. He says that the Sabbath commands were filled with prohibitions, while the Lord’s day was positive, not prohibiting anything. [76] He does make the following statement:

So let all the children of God gather in the name of God’s Son on that day [i.e. the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week] and be glad. [78]

I do not see a problem with this, as long as he is not issuing a command. I do not see a command in Scripture for believers to gather on a certain day. Yes, I know that the church in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7), I do not see this as a command, or even normative at this point. (By the way, I wonder why so many believers use this verse to prove that church should gather on Sunday, but they don’t recognize that the same verse teaches that the believers ate a meal together weekly. Why is one part important, but not the other?)

Also, I know that Paul instructed the Corinthians to set aside something on the first day of the week to add to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-2). However, Paul does not indicate that this is to be done in a meeting, or that they were to pool their money together before he came for the collection.

Similarly, John says that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when he received the revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:10). Again, there is no mention of a meeting on that day.

Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I think it is wonderful if believers gather together on Sunday. (And, to be correct, the Lord’s Day would have probably run from sundown Saturday until sundown on Sunday.) I also think it is wonderful when believers gather on other days of the week. I think it would be wrong for us to set aside one day as more important than other days. Consider what Paul said:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5 ESV)

Similarly, we see several places in Scripture where believers gathered daily, not just weekly. Here are a few examples:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47 ESV)

But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:9 ESV)

Now, I’m not calling for daily meetings. However, there are at least as many passages that indicate the believers met daily as there are passages that indicate the believers met on a certain day. Let’s not worry about a specific day. Instead, let’s gather together with other believers whenever we can.

Hymn Singing
In the chapter called “Hymn Singing”, Nee spends most of the time explaining what makes a good hymn. He says there are three basic requirements for hymns: 1) soundness of truth, 2) with spiritual sentiment, and 3) dependable in feeling. He also says that there are three different types of hymns: 1) hymns toward God, 2) hymns toward men, and 3) hymns toward self.

I honestly don’t have much to say about this chapter. Scripture mentions the noun “hymn” in two places. We do not learn much about the content of the hymns from these passages:

…addressing [speaking to] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart… (Ephesians 5:19 ESV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

In each passage above, “hymns” are included with “psalms and spiritual songs”. It also seems that in each case the hymns are to be spoken or sung to one another – that is, to people. However, we do not learn anything about the content of hymns from those passages.

The verb form of the noun “hymn” is variously translated as “sing the praise of” or “sing a hymn”. The verb form is used four times in Scripture:

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30 ESV)

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26 ESV)

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26 ESV)

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (Hebrews 2:11-12 ESV)

Again, we don’t learn much about hymns in these passages. So, while Nee suggests that we sing hymns that have a “lack of dispensational clarity” [91], I’m not sure that we can claim this as scriptural teaching.

So, what can we say about hymns? Well, it seems the early believers sang or spoke (or both) hymns to one another. The hymns were a response of the Holy Spirit filling them (Eph. 5:19) and a response to the word of the Lord (Col. 3:16). The hymns were presented as a way to admonish or teach other believers (Col. 3:16). Hymns were used to express thankfulness and praise (Col. 3:16).

Finally, this chapter raised a question for me, perhaps a question that we need to ask about the church today? Why would Nee spend an entire chapter discussing the day to meet, and another chapter discussing hymns, which are rarely mentioned in Scripture, and yet barely discuss (if at all) other topics such as prophecy or teaching, which are often mentioned in Scripture? Do we simliarly emphasize certain activities that Scripture does not emphasize, and de-emphasize other things that Scripture does emphasize?

The next two chapters are called “Praise” and “The Breaking of Bread”. I will review these two chapters together as well.

Review of Watchman Nee’s Assembling Together Series:
1: Chapter 1 – Joining the Church
2: Chapter 2 – Laying on of Hands
3: Chapter 3 – Assembling Together
4: Chapter 4 – Various Meetings
5: Chapters 5 & 6 – The Lord’s Day and Hymn Singing
6: Chapters 7 & 8 – Praise and The Breaking of Bread


20 Comments

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  1. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    That’s an interesting post and commentary on Nee’s material. I’d like to share a few of my thoughts.

    I pretty much agree with Nee about The Lord’s Day, but I agree with you that we should encourage believers to gather together whenever they can. I know, for me, personally, so far as my schedule is concerned, it looks something like this:

    Sunday: AM and PM services.
    Monday: Evening prayer meeting, usually held at church or my pastor’s house.
    Wednesday: Mid-week service.
    Thursday: Young adult church group.
    Saturday: Men’s Breakfast (once a month); Church leadership (when called).

    Tuesdays are usually off, but if we have a special guest speaker, we often have services on Monday and Tuesday nights.

    Fridays are usually off, but if I was in youth group, I’d have my accountability group every other week this night.

    Saturday evenings are basically free.

    But, this IS almost a daily schedule. :)

    As regards to “hymn singing,” I have a bit more to say.

    As a member of my church’s worship team, I believe Nee is accurate with his comments on hymns. I would like to add, as perhaps an answer to your question, Alan, that Nee was somewhat militant and authoritative in his beliefs and more importantly his practice. So, he probably wanted everyone on the same page, and thus emphasizes this stuff as “Basic Lessons.” Make sense???

    I look forward to your discussion of the next chapter.

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  2. 3-16-2007

    Personally, Nee convinced me in what he wrote here that there does indeed seem to be a concept of the “the Lord’s Day” inferred in the New Testament. I think the treatment he gives of it here is fairly balanced. At the same time, I agree with you, I believe, that Rom. 14.5 trumps any dogmatism we might be tempted to have on this question. For this reason, I think the revision of the statement on “The Lord’s Day” in the BFM 2000 is an improvement over the previous versions.

    Interestingly enough, there are some groups, such as the Gypsy “Filadelfia Church” in Spain, that place a strong emphasis on meeting every day of the week, to the point of finding fault with those who meet less often.

    Regarding spending so much comparative time on issues such as the Lord’s Day and Hymn-singing, I think it is helpful to understand a bit more of Nee’s purpose in writing the “Basic Lessons” series. It was originally written, as I understand it, more as an “in-house” document, just for the leaders of his particular movement in China. Thus, he comes across sometimes as not being careful to distinguish between universal biblical principles and local guidelines and suggestions. I think that Jonathan is probably correct in suggesting (if I can read into what he is saying) that this very tendency may be the Achilles heel of Nee’s teaching and movement, as his followers have tended to universalize and dogmatize some of these suggestions, which, for the particular historical and cultural context in which they were written, may not have been bad ideas, but should not be set up as legalistic demands.

    Also, if you were to read Nee more extensively, I think you would find that he does indeed deal with topics as prophecy and teaching quite thoroughly in other places.

  3. 3-16-2007

    With regard to the Troas reference, allow me to offer my own off-the-wall possibility of interpretation.

    Acts 20:6-7 – “We…came to them at Troas…and there we stayed seven days. On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread….” (emphasis mine)

    Is it necessary grammatically that this is even referring to Sunday? Luke says that they stayed there “seven days”, which is a week. Then, he immediately says “on the first day of the week“.

    What week? Perhaps the week that they stayed in Troas.

    Your thoughts?

  4. 3-16-2007

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I’ll stick with Paul on this one. I’m not going to condemn anyone for meeting on Sunday or for meeting on any other day of the week.

    Jonathan,

    That looks like a busy schedule. Since you asked me about meetings of the church earlier, I’ll ask you one. Do meetings of the church have to be sponsored by the organization?

    Hymns are important, as are psalms and spiritual songs. I don’t disagree with that at all.

    David,

    It’s good to know that Nee probably covered some of the other material that I mentioned in other writings, perhaps even within the “Basic Lessons” series. Unfortunately, this is all that I have to go on at the moment. Also, I probably won’t be able to read more of Nee for some time.

    Steve,

    That’s a possible translation. It’s probably a stretch since there seems to be an almost technical sense to the phrase “first of the week”. By the way, “seven days” and “week” are different terms as well.

    But, again, this is the only indication in the NT that a church met on Sunday.

    -Alan

  5. 3-16-2007

    Alan, why “an almost technical sense”? I have heard that, but on what basis.

    I guess I was thinking of how we might use “seven days” and “week” interchangeably in our culture.

    If someone said to me, “I went to see Alan for seven days, and on the first day of the week, we had dinner together”, I would not automatically assume that they meant Sunday, especially if their visit started on, say, a Wednesday.

    The reason I bring all this up is because, as you mentioned, it is the only reference to meeting “on the first day of the week”, and I fear that we read our tradition back into it.

    Even if it were Sunday, I fear that we read too much into it on the basis that oftentimes a church will get together if someone is traveling in from out of town.

    Certainly someone of the significance of Paul would have prompted the church to want to get together the first day of his week-long visit, no?

    I’m with you on not wanting to judge people either way. But I have seen this verse used so often for a justification of why we should (or must) meet on Sundays, and it bothers me.

    So, my original question in this comment is the one most important to me. In what sense is there a “technical sense” to Luke’s usage of this phrase?

  6. 3-16-2007

    Steve,

    First of all, I agreed with everything that you said in your last comment. I also think that the church has legalistically attached itself to Sunday. I think this has helped create a sacred/secular distinction that is not good.

    Now, as to your question. First, as you quoted, I called the phrase “almost technical”. It is difficult to call any phrase in Greek technical. So, I added the “almost”. There are two Greek phrases that are translated “the first day of the week” (μίαν σαββάτου and μια των σαββάτων). They both literally mean “one of the Sabbath”. I call the phrases “almost technical” because of the way the phrases are used in Scripture: Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2. Like I said, I’m not going to be dogmatic about this though. Could it be the first day of the seven days that Paul was there? Possibly.

    -Alan

  7. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    In answer to your question, I’ll say two things. It depends on how you define “meetings of the church.” If you mean by this phrase, here, meetings of the local congregation, then YES, the organization must sponsor such meetings. If you mean meetings of believers, more generally, then probably not. However, all of the meetings I listed in my first post for this thread ARE, in fact, sponsored by my local church.

    Does that help answer your question?

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  8. 3-17-2007

    Jonathan,

    So what is the “local congregation” (from Scripture) and how does that differ from “the church” (from Scripture)? Where do you find the organization in Scripture? Is the organization always the church? Is the church always an organization?

    -Alan

  9. 3-17-2007

    Alan,

    Let me try to answer your questions for you, in the order you listed them. I think there is a difference between a congregation and being the church. In the English language, we have made the phrase and concept “local church” something it really is not. In the Bible, the word for “church” is “ecclesia,” which means called out ones. We are called out from the world to be the people of God. However, we have made “church” to be a local assembly, a local building, a local congregation, etc. So, when I think of a “meeting of the church,” I define that to be whenever the people of God organize themselves for a biblical purpose, to gather together and accomplish that biblical purpose. So, an evangelistic meeting would be a “meeting of the church” because believers are gathering together and organizing themselves to promote the Kingdom of God. In such a meeting, there IS edification to the body of Christ, because souls are ADDED and THE church (the body of Christ) is added to and strengthened.

    To me, the “local congregation” is a functional expression of THE “church,” which is the body of Christ. I do not believe in the visible/invisible distinction, and because that really is another topic, its not necessarily relevant here. So that is the distinction. The “local congregation” is simply a body of believers who gather together in a corporate sense locally, and are that key, local expression of the body of Christ.

    As for the organization, I see apostolic teams appointing elders, e.g. Timothy and Titus in different congregations in different cities. I believe that the anointing of these elders is what draws believers together around a common vision and purpose that God gives each local congregation. The very biblical role of eldership implies the local congregation is an organized body of believers. The organization is always the local congregation, and thus a local expression of the “church,” but the “church” is not always the organization.

    So, when is the “church” not the organization? That’s a good question, and I hope to provide a good answer, as well. I believe that when two or more believers gather together for discussion in a coffee shop, or at Starbucks, that’s not the “church” being the organization of the “local congregation” or “assembly,” if you will. A lot of people argue to the contrary, and say that is BEING the “church,” but its totally not organized, and what is really KEY is such a meeting lacks the common vision and purpose, which is essential to the organization of the “local congregation.”

    Do these concepts help answer your questions, or is there something else you’d like me to address here?

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  10. 3-17-2007

    Jonathan,

    “Called out ones” makes for great preaching, but it really doesn’t help us understand what ekklesia means. Yes, etymologically, ekklesia comes from Greek words that mean “called” and “out of”, but eytmology doesn’t always help, just ask the butterfly.

    You gave definitions of “local congregation” and “the church”, but I notice that you didn’t get the definitions or explain the difference from Scripture. This is something that I have been studying and will continue to study for some time, God willing.

    -Alan

  11. 3-17-2007

    Alan,

    I’m not a Bible school student (like you are). So, I thought I was coming from the Bible. I guess you really want Scriptures to explain why I was saying what I said.

    As regards to being “called out,” I can cite you several Bible verses that show how we as the people of God are called out of the world.

    Is there something else you would like me to discuss or respond?

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  12. 3-17-2007

    Jonathan,

    I hope you don’t think that I believe you have to be a Bible School or seminary student to be a student of the Bible. I do not think that at all.

    Believers are called out of the world and called into the kingdom of God. I am not arguing that. Look back at my comment. I’m suggesting that “ekklesia” does not mean “called out ones”.

    When I have studied the use of the term ekklesia in Scripture, I’ve noticed that I can’t find a distinction between “local congegation” and “church”. Plus, I don’t see an organization. Were there leaders? Yes. But that is not the same thing as an organization or institution.

    The church does not exist within an organization, neither does an organization constitute the church. There may be some overlap, but they are not the same.

    -Alan

  13. 3-17-2007

    Alan,

    Here are some additional thoughts. And its not necessarily from Scriptures, just the way I see some of these things…

    No, I just think going to seminary causes you to study the Bible in a different manner than a non-seminarian. For better or worse, and please take this as a compliment, I think that you personally have a much more refined approach to studying the Bible than I do, and that is a good thing.

    I’ve been taught that “ekklesia” DOES mean “called out ones,” because PEOPLE (those who are believers) really constitute the universal church (Christ’s body).

    I think maybe we have a different definition of what it means to be an organization. Perhaps this is true because you’re a Baptist, which is a denomination, and I’m NOT a Baptist, and come from a non-denominational background. Maybe it is true for a different reason, maybe not. Those are just possibilities that I am suggesting. When I think of an organization, I do not necessarily think of an institution. I simply think of a like-minded group of people who have designated some people to be leaders over them, and who have a common purpose and vision, and who meet together on a somewhat regular basis. This is how I define an “organization.” Did this desscribe the “early Church” – ??? I think so. I certainly agree with you that there was no INSTITUTION, like you see the SBC is today, or anything like that — but I do believe there was organization.

    You’re also correct to say that the church is not an organization, and vice versa. That’s very true. I probably agree with you that the church has become over-institutionalized in recent years, BUT — that does not mean there should not be organization, with leadership, corporate meetings, and a common vision/purpose.

    Make sense? What are your thoughts?

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  14. 3-18-2007

    Jonathan,

    While I do bring certain presuppositions to the Bible because of my Baptist background, I do not think that is what is driving my definition and understanding of the church. Actually, I think most Baptists would agree with your definitions.

    There is a problem with defining ekklesia as “called out ones” with the idea that believers are called out of the world by God. “ekklesia” is not a Christian word. It was used often of different groups of people. It is primarily a civic word. It is used in this way in Acts 19 about the people of Ephesus.

    -Alan

  15. 3-18-2007

    Alan,

    What do you mean by a “civic word” – ???

  16. 3-18-2007

    Jonathan,

    The Greek word “ekklesia” did not originally have a religious connotation. Instead, it was used in a civic context. This wikipedia article explains what I mean: “Ecclesia (Ancient Athens)“.

    -Alan

  17. 3-18-2007

    Alan,

    Thanks for the link to the Wiki article. That is a VERY interesting article, in light of who the body of Christ are called to be as the people of God. Let me draw several parallels that I believe contribute to the definition of “ecclesia.”

    First, the article identifies Athens as a “principal assembly.” Well, the church (universal, the body of Christ) is the “general assembly” unto God according to Heb. 12:23, I believe. Further, the Athens assembly was open to all “citizens.” Well, all believers are citizens of heaven.

    As someone who believes in the concept of spiritual warfare, I also found this interesting: “The assembly was responsible for declaring war, military strategy…” This is a responsibility of believers, corporately, as well, to declare war on sin and the devil, and to hear from the Lord in developing strategies to bind the enemy.

    So, those are a few parallels I see, and demonstrate why the church is called to be a similar “ecclesia” like Athens was. But I think the concept came from the Lord, and the Greek society made it a “civic term,” and NOT the other way around as you suggest.

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  18. 3-18-2007

    Jonathan,

    The Greek term ekklesia was used as a civic term long before it was used in a religious sense. The wikipedia article mentions the use in 594 BC. This is at least 300 years before the same term was used in the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint). Ekklesia was a civic term with Jesus used it for his people in Matthew 16 and 18, and when Paul used it a few years later.

    I’m not sure that we can argue that the Greeks changed the meaning of the word. I think it would be more helpful to understand how the Greeks used the word and why the LXX translators, Jesus, Paul, and the other authors of the NT chose ekklesia over other Greek words that were in use at that time. Some of those words did have religious connotation. But, ekklesia did not.

    -Alan

  19. 3-19-2007

    Alan,

    That’s very interesting, and I think brings up a lot of questions to which I really do not have answers.

    Do you have any answers to your own questions, or are we ending our discussion???

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  20. 3-19-2007

    Jonathan,

    I’m still studying. At this point, I have more questions than answers. But, I am learning. Discussions like this help.

    -Alan