Is it essential that an assembly should convene a weekly gospel meeting?
Throughout the United Kingdom, and probably in many other countries, it has been the custom for assemblies to hold a weekly gospel meeting. This practice has continued for decades and, generally, the meeting has been scheduled for a Sunday evening, although in more recent times that is no longer the case in many places. There is no doubt that, through the years, significant numbers of people, of every age group, have come to know the Lord through this meeting and I am sure that it would be the prayer of all readers that further blessing will derive from this service.
Holding a weekly gospel meeting does have benefits. It provides the assembly with a focal point to which they can invite contacts they have made to come and hear the good news of God’s salvation. It affords an opportunity for people living in the locality to know that at a specific day and time they will be able to get in touch with the assembly members or attend a Christian service. Although it is not an inevitable outcome, there is the possibility that the regularity of the weekly meeting may also help focus the saints on the need to reach out to the lost.
Whilst there are these, and other possible benefits, there are also potential drawbacks to this well-established and time-honoured custom. Due to its frequency, there is the possibility that our familiarity with the meeting has resulted in it becoming a routine. Without wishing to appear critical, we can attend the meeting ‘on autopilot’ because it has become such an ingrained habit, although this attitude is not limited to the gospel meeting but can apply to other aspects of assembly life.
It is also true that an assembly can develop the mindset that by having a fixed weekly gospel service it has fulfilled its obligation to conduct some form of evangelical effort. Where that attitude prevails, it is likely that there will be no other gospel activity, and, in such instances, it should come as no surprise to see the gradual numerical decline and ultimate cessation of that company.
With the spiritual indifference and increasing lack of any regard for God that now prevails, for example, in the United Kingdom, it is not uncommon in many areas for no unbelievers to be present at the gospel meeting. In other instances, there may be the usual handful attending who have done so for years and who seem to have become totally acclimatized to the message, such that it has no apparent impact upon them. Frequently, preachers are heralding a message of repentance and salvation to people who were converted long before the preacher was born.
However, the question focused on whether it is essential for an assembly to convene a weekly gospel meeting to which the direct answer has to be an unequivocal ‘no’. This response is not likely to meet with widespread agreement and one reason for that dissent is that we have bestowed upon the weekly gospel meeting a status it is not given in the New Testament. Our response to the general situation should not be the fear of discontinuing ‘the Sunday night meeting’ but of a principled re-examination of the word of God.
As I examine the scriptures, I cannot think of any precept, practice or principle in the New Testament that mandates we must have a weekly gospel meeting. In many places, it might be prudent to do so, but we should not make this binding everywhere because the word of God does not. Good practice or personal preference might be laudable and often the right thing to do but that is very different from being ‘thus saith the Lord’. Where we have no mandate within the word of God, we must not allow our practices to become principles, but be willing to review and, where necessary, change or discontinue them.
An assembly can have a strong gospel testimony without a weekly gospel meeting. Each one will need to assess their local circumstances and evangelize in the light of that. In some instances, this may mean they have more than one gospel meeting per week, in others it may mean they convene a gospel meeting at intervals that vary.
One of the spiritual gifts still extant is that of the evangelist, Eph. 4. 11. Whilst this gift is limited to certain people so that we are not all evangelists, there is a responsibility for all believers to be evangelical; thus, Paul exhorts Timothy ‘do the work of an evangelist’, 2 Tim. 4. 5. Maybe, if more of us responded to this exhortation we might find that the weekly gospel meeting, should we have one, would be far more effective than it currently is.