Cooper Atkeson, Texas Normal Singing School
Why do we come together as the church? The first answers that come to mind may be “To worship God,” or “To take communion,” or even “Because we’re commanded to do so.” The two former answers are more about what we do than why we do it. And the latter still begs the question, Why? Why is it God’s plan that we gather together to eat the Lord’s Supper, worship, and study? More specifically, why is it that we are called together to do such things? Surely the acts are not the end in and of themselves. If they were, then God would not have called us together to do them. I am perfectly capable of studying, worshiping, and eating the Lord’s Supper on my own. Surely God has a reason(s) for the gathering of the saints.
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24f, NIV) This passage is often quoted, citing the importance of church attendance. But I wonder how many have seen the contrast of “forsaking the assembling together” and the alternative. The alternative to forsaking the assembly is “encouraging one another.” To forsake the assembly is to withhold encouragement from the body. And encouragement is difficult – if not in some ways impossible – without assembling together.
So why do we come together? The primary reason is for the edification of the body. Everything else is secondary. Not that God is secondary. But I believe it is God’s concern and direction that Christians support the church – that the members support the body. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). To say that our assemblies are for encouraging the body is not selfish, it is Kingdom-focused. It is not that we are omitting God, or are being self-serving, but we should remember that it is a priority for God that His church is being nurtured and stimulated to love and good deeds. To place a priority there is not to ignore God, but to more fully follow His plan.
I now ask a different question: What are we doing to ensure encouragement happens in our assemblies? What are we doing to stimulate love and good works in our assemblies? If we have found ourselves in an impersonal, vertical, just-me-and-God worship service, we need to consider how to cultivate a more communal, one-another environment. How should we sing together? How can we commune together? How will we pray together? We are, after all, here to be together. Let’s reevaluate our priorities and see what we can do in our own congregations to make our assemblies more edifying.