This is the conclusion of a week-long series examining what Scripture says about the purpose of believers gathering together. In short, I believe that Scripture shows through example, principle, and command that Jesus’ disciples should seek to build up (“edify”) one another (“mutual”) whenever they get together (“church”).
I began with an “introduction” to this series. Next I showed several “examples” from the Book of Acts of believers getting together in which several people took part in encouraging or strengthening the church. These examples are primarily in narrative form. In the next post in the series, I looked for “principles” in Scripture that would help us understand our mutual responsibility of building up one another. These principles were usually given in command form (not narrative), but they are not specifically given in the context of believers gathering together. In the fourth post, I discussed two “commands” in Scripture related to mutual edification that are specifically given in the context of believers gathering together.
These examples, principles, and commands cover almost the entire time period of the New Testament, from not long after Jesus’ ascension until the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. They either describe or are written to different groups of believers in different places at different times with different backgrounds. While most of the passages I examined come from Luke or Paul, there are similar passages by other authors.
For a quick example, consider the teaching about spiritual gifts from Peter. He writes:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)
While Peter does not say specifically when, where, and how these gifts are to be used, it is in a context of caring for other believers (“keep loving one another” in 1 Peter 4:8 and “show hospitality to one another” in 1 Peter 4:9). If Peter agrees with Paul (which seems likely), the he would also conclude that God gives spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
When Christians talk about the church meeting – “worship service” if you prefer – the assumption is usually that believers should gather together to worship. Recognizing that Christians are to worship God always in all aspects of life, the reason for coming together is sometimes termed “corporate worship.”
Unfortunately, I think this leads to misunderstandings and confusion. Yes, believers are to worship when the meet with other believers, simply because every aspect of their life is to be lived as worship to God.
Instead of asking “should we worship?” when we gather together, we should be asking “how do we worship when we gather together?” We demonstrate our worship to God when we obey him and give ourselves to him. According to Scripture, when the church meets together (that is, whenever two or more disciples of Jesus are together), we worship (that is, we obey God) when they mutually edify one another.
Both parts of the term “mutual edification” are important. The whole church should be involved in the meeting, and whatever happens should serve to “build up” the church.
Unfortunately, the meaning and extent of the term “edify” or “build up” is too big for the final part of this blog post. Suffice it to say (for now) that edification (at least) means helping our brothers and sisters live in way that honors God or helping our brothers and sisters live more like Jesus Christ. While this might include teaching or singing, it goes far beyond teaching or singing.
There are many “commands” accepted by Christians today that are only found in examples, principles, or commands. However, the concept of meeting together for the purpose of mutual edification is found in all three: examples, principles, and commands. What else do we need before we start following these examples, principles, and commands when we meet together?