Why we Gather?
The following are just a sampling of the many objections I’ve heard from people to attending or joining a local church.
“I don’t need a church to meet with God, I can meet with God anywhere!”
“I don’t need a pastor to tell me what God says, I can study the Bible for myself.”
“I used to attend a church, but the pastor offended me and I’ve never gone back.”
These all reveal a misunderstanding of the purpose for which Jesus instituted the local church. In the later case, they are making their obedience to God’s word contingent upon their feelings and comfort.
So…I will make a statement here at the beginning which I will later qualify by scripture –
Make NO mistake, it is the solid teaching of scripture that church is not only beneficial for all Christians, but it is a command of our Lord which makes it a matter of obedience as well as one of necessity.
In our day and age, people often second guess things which in previous generations were simply taken for granted. Questions regarding the necessity and benefits of church attendance are not only no exception – for many, it is towards the top of their list.
I have been confronted with this question several times, albeit many times the question appeared less than sincere and more like an accusation of sorts.
From my view however, these questions in many cases are warranted and even beneficial, though if they are genuine they will be accompanied by a willingness to hear AND consider a solid reply.
There are many traditions in various churches which are not mentioned in scripture. Some of these came about out of necessity and are not, in themselves, bad nor contrary to scriptures. They often only appear odd to younger generations because the reasons WHY they started being practiced have been lost to time. Of course there are others practices which ARE contrary to scripture and actually get in the way of the scriptural stated purposes and benefits of attending a local assembly.
Now, at this point, I believe it is necessary to define what I mean by “Church”.
I am NOT referring to the world-wide church which is made up of all believers, in all locations, of all genuine Christian denominations throughout all time. THAT church is the one you become part of automatically -once you come into relationship with God the Father through faith in His Son Jesus and surrender to His lordship.
What I am writing about is belonging to a local assembly of believers.
Also, I am NOT talking about becoming a “member” of a church, since that terminology is FAR too flexible in the way different denominations use it.
I am simply talking about joining yourself to a local assembly – becoming committed to it and placing yourself in submission to it’s leadership.
This is a relationship of knowing and trusting which is NOT something you simply “add onto” our life, like mashed potatoes on a plate in a buffet line. No, joining a local assembly of believers becomes such a central part of your life that the rest of your life is largely peripheral to it.
What does the Bible say about the local church?
Well, actually while the scriptures do offer us a rich window into the beginnings of the life of believers under the New Covenant including information about their gatherings – only a few things are outright dogmatic in terms of structure, days to assemble, what an assembly looks like or even how or where to assemble.
The things the scriptures DO reveal though, offer us a framework for local assemblies to measure themselves by to make sure they fit within the confines which scriptures do supply.
The local assembly of believers is often referred to as a “sheepfold” even though that word does not actually appear in the New Testament in any translation I’ve used so far. Nevertheless, this word is a good one and is justified by the fact that the ones who are called to watch over it and teach in it are called “shepherds”. Many do not know that “shepherd” is the literal meaning of the word “pastor”.
The premium God places on the local church is seen in what He says about the role of its leaders and their required qualifications.
Since the definition of the local assembly finds it cue in the name and role of it’s leaders I believe that is where we will start. Before I explain the role and qualifications of a Pastor, however, let me simply state here that “pastors” are referred to by several names in the Bible.
The following offers a list, and a link which addresses that subject in some depth.
- Pastor-teacher (a hyphenated word used only in Ephesians 4:11)
(Article on Elders – ‘Why Elders?’)
The Role of Pastors
Let’s read three scriptures which reveals some of the purpose and importance of the church and it’s elders. I will offer a brief summary following each verse, though I encourage you to actually read the verse yourself as well.
Acts 20:17-38, “(17) Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. (18) And when they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time– (19) serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews– (20) and that I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable, or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house. (21) I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus. (22) “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, (23) except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. (24) But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. (25) “And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see my face again. (26) Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, (27) for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God. (28) Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. (29) I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. (31) Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. (32) “And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. (33) I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. (34) You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my needs, and for those who were with me. (35) In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (36) After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. (37) There was a great deal of weeping by everyone. And embracing Paul, they kissed him, (38) grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.”
- Paul was addressing Elders who he later called Overseers and Shepherds.
- Elders are given the oversight of local assemblies of believers BY the Holy Spirit.
- They were to watch out for the flock in regard to false teachers, false doctrines.
- The word of God was committed to them in order to “feed the flock” and build them up as well as themselves.
The apostle Peter adds to this in his 1st letter:
1 Peter 5:1-4, “(1) Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah, and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: (2) shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; (3) not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (4) And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
- He calls Elders “Shepherds”
- Their job is the “shepherd the flock”. The word “shepherd” here is a verb and essentially means to care for, watch out for and feed.
- The diligence of an Elders to do their work should NOT be motivated by money.
- They are to lead by example – NOT by coercion or strong-arming the sheep.
- The sheep have been ENTRUSTED to the shepherd and he will receive a reward for how he conducts his work of shepherding.
So these two passages alone clearly state that God created the position. He is the One Who appoints men to this calling. That the sheep are GIVEN TO the shepherd BY THE LORD for the purposes of leading, feeding and keeping them safe!
There is one further place where the stated purpose for pastors is given and that is in Ephesians 4:10-16.
“(10) The One who descended is the same as the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. (11) And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, (12) for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, (13) until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. (14) Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. (15) But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head–Christ. (16) From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”
This passage is more universal in that the goal of the Pastor is the same as that for the apostle, prophet and evangelist. However, the stated purpose is quite simple…
- Maturing the saints into the image of Christ Jesus
- Equipping them for the work of ministry
So there you have it… THAT is the purpose for the local assembly…but what are the qualifications for it’s leaders?
The Qualifications of a Pastor
Many do not know this but, the Bible has MORE to say about the qualifications of a pastor than any one single recognized position of leadership mentioned in the New Testament.
There are actually 2 lists and they agree on nearly every point. Here is what the scriptures say:
Titus 1:5-9, “(5) The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: (6) someone who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. (7) For an overseer, as God’s manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, (8) but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, (9) holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.”
1 Timothy 3:1-7, “(2) An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, (3) not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy– (4) one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (5) (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) (6) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. (7) Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.”
So a Pastor must:
- Be the kind of person that one cannot make an accusation stick against.
- Husband of one wife just means – dedicated to his wife.
- If he has children they are to be well behaved due to loving and firm oversight in the home.
- He must be faithful to speak God’s words not his own opinions
- Must be a seasoned and mature Christian – NOT a new convert.
- Not arrogant
- Not quick-tempered
- Not addicted to alcohol
- Not a bully
- Not motivated by money
- A lover of what is good
- Faithful in his study, teaching and application of God’s word
- Able to teach
- Able to encourage away from error
- Able to refute false doctrine
I believe the most interesting thing about these lists is that NOTHING is said about formal training and NOTHING is said about “gifting”. Able to teach is NOT the same thing as being a “gifted teacher”.
Church and the non-believer
The scriptures are ABUNDANTLY clear that the local assembly is for BELIEVERS, as I believe any fair minded person would conclude from all that has been stated above! So with that said, I believe there is not only NO benefit to an unbeliever joining themselves to a local assembly of BELIEVERS – I believe it works against the sanctity and purpose of their gatherings! This is because, a local assembly is supposed to be a safe place for sheep – NOT a place to invite wolves!
Paul the incompatible nature of believers and unbelievers like this:
2 Corinthians 6:14-18, “(14) Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (15) And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? (16) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM. I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (17) Therefore “COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM AND BE SEPARATE, SAYS THE LORD. DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU.” (18) “I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS, SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY.”
The difficulty MOST Christians have with this is that they “believe” the local assembly is the place God ordained for non-believers to be evangelized. This is not only false – it is teaching something which destroys one of the intended purposes of the local assembly and that is – to train the sheep in the work of the ministry.
MANY Christians who have attended church for decades still find it difficult, if not impossible, to lead someone to the Lord on their own. They always default to inviting them to the church rather than inviting them to Jesus! They actually believe it is the job of the Pastor to preach to gospel – not theirs!
One major problem with this is that those churches which believe and encourage this, seems to never grow up spiritually. Nearly every message is centered around becoming born again – rather than growing up into the image of Christ.
THAT is a problem!
No church is for believers!