Is the way we gather the most important issue in our Christian life?
This is not an easy question to answer for it is almost certain that whatever response is given I will be in a ‘no win’ situation. If I answer, ‘Yes’, there will be many who will believe that I have overlooked the practical exhortations contained throughout the scriptures as to how we should live day by day. If I answer, ‘No’, there will be those who will take issue, believing that I have failed to give sufficient priority to the clear teaching in the Epistles as to how God’s people should meet together.
The children of Israel were never left to their own opinions as to where they kept the Passover, ‘But at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even’ Deut. 16. 6. In addition, throughout their meandering in the wilderness, there was only one gathering centre ordained by God where He would meet with His people, and that was the tabernacle. Once the nation was settled in the land the same principle applied, although for obvious reasons the tabernacle had been replaced by the temple.
As a consequence of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus at Calvary, the ritualism and ceremonial apparatus of the Old Testament has been superseded by a completely new order of things. God’s pattern of gathering for His people in this age is detailed for us in the Epistles, particularly those written by the apostle Paul, and we have no more right to decide how and where we meet than Israel did in the Old Testament.
When people were saved in the years that immediately followed the Day of Pentecost, they left the heathen temple or the Jewish synagogue, and met together in churches. These churches were founded on the teaching of the apostles, and, in any one locality, all the believers would be united in their doctrines and practices. Sadly, error began to infiltrate, and eventually Christians fragmented into different groups. No longer were all of one accord in one place, but in each place there would be several groups, so that today we are divided into numerous denominations and fellowships.
This lack of unity is completely contrary to what God desires; it has robbed believers of much blessing, and it must be very confusing to the world. We ought to have a conviction about where and how we gather, and, whilst we will never find a perfect church, it is our responsibility to examine the scriptures, and, wherever possible, meet with those who comply with the principles enshrined within the word of God. The importance of these matters should not be underestimated, and one of the principal objectives of this magazine is to help promote an adherence to scriptural doctrines concerning church practice.
However, we need to guard against elevating ‘church’ doctrine above other vital aspects of our Christian behaviour and beliefs. In reading Revelation chapter 2 verses 1–7, it would seem that the church at Ephesus complied very vigorously with matters of sound doctrine but that was not sufficient. The words communicated to them by the Lord are very solemn, ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love’, Rev. 2. 4.
To be doctrinally sound but deficient in love for Christ, so that He no longer holds the primary place of affection in our lives, is wrong. Our observance of assembly truth should be the product of love for the Lord, and we ought not to relegate that to a lesser level of importance. Neither should we consider that faithfulness to church principles is more essential than love for one another, or that it is of greater significance than our belief in the deity of Christ, or of salvation by grace through faith, or of the doctrine of God.
Where we gather and how we function as churches are important, vitally important, but are these the most important aspects of our Christian lives? Some may believe they are, but based on the foregoing paragraph I do not think so.