What is the Purpose of Church Gatherings?

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isaachunter
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What is the Purpose of Church Gatherings?

Post #1

Post by isaachunter »

1. I ask from an evangelical perspective, but other expressions and traditions are welcome to provide answers.

2. As for myself, I became a believer outside of any organized Church, but was subsequently (a year later) discipled at a missionary Baptist Church in Germany during a military enlistment (2 years). My faith, though, has never been founded on or sustained by any particular preacher, pastor, or teacher, nor was it elicited from any kind of evangelistic ministry. Since that 2 year period, I have not been formally involved or regularly attended (or was a member of) an organized Church. I have served at a few Churches for short periods of time, but always under some level of hostility or suspicion from the leadership, and I’ve started or participated in several formal and informal Bible Studies and/or House Churches (but to no avail). For the last 10+ years I have sought out no Church affiliation, membership, or participated in any gatherings.

3. As for myself, I am not disgruntled, I’m not avoiding “sound teaching,” I’m not a church hopper seeking the newest, best, or most popular, and I’m not avoiding submission to an eldership (in fact, I think part of me craves that kind of acceptance from the larger group).

4. I thrived in the church community the first 2 years of my faith while overseas. But, church attendance was only a small part of my faith. I would attend other meetings at other churches, bible studies, and prayer groups during the week, and would invite pastors of all denominations to my barracks for discussions.

5. By the time I returned to the US, I found no benefit to attending Sunday services on a regular basis. My spiritual disciplines had by then become daily, and I sought teaching from the growing catalog of tapes, and internet resources (local preachers simply could not compare).

6. Lately, though, I’ve been questioning if I should return to church gatherings or (as I’m finishing up my doctorate) if I should take on the role of pastor or teacher in an organized Church. As I explore this question, I wonder: is this really all there is?

7. As I perceive it, the purpose of Church meetings are these:
  • A means of teaching members (especially new converts)
  • A means of extracting money from members
  • A means of creating or perpetuating employment for professional clergy
  • A means of entertaining members
  • A means of entrancing members via emotional tactics
8. For the longest time, I’ve been a proponent of online and especially asynchronous Church participation. This predominately derives from a natural inclination within me toward an introverted disposition. I do not (necessarily) hate people, but I’m just not really that into keeping their company. I have no friends to speak of, no relationships (I really should have been a monk), though I am cordial and affable with my co-workers (i.e. I’m not an awkward weirdo - at least, I don't think so). But, I do much better at a distance, alone, in solitude, and have found through education that I thrive in online environments such as forums or interacting with email (rather than f2f in person or online such as zoom calls, etc). This approach to communication, though, has always been viewed by church leaders as illegitimate and does not constitute the “gathering of the assembly” (that is, until COVID).

9. But I’m still struggling to understand the point of it all. What is it that the Church Meeting does exactly? What is its purpose? What is its goal? What is its essential nature? Is it really just about teaching people? If so, this can be done (much more effectively) online. Is it about sharing our lives together as believers (this happens rarely in most f2f church meetings already). Is the meeting really just about protecting the clergy profession, in that sense the clergy class becoming no different than Demetrius and the other silversmithers (Acts 19:23–27)?

10. I’m thinking there is something greater, something more fundamental, more important to the Christian faith than just these programs, these organized shows on Sundays - beyond evangelistic fervor (I’m certainly no evangelist, nor do I have the call to be one). Is there nothing else? No deeper substance? No other revelation beyond the superficial minutia? What am I missing here? Am I simply deluded and shipwrecked? Possessor of a malformed faith? A heretic?

What really is the purpose of Church gatherings in the first place?

isaachunter
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Re: What is the Purpose of Church Gatherings?

Post #31

Post by isaachunter »

nobspeople wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:18 am I've seen many a church become nothing but a club. I was in a Mormon church once when the lady a few rows up came back to the row in front of us and badmouthed another person in the church. She continued even while the speaker was speaking. I found that in bad taste to say the least.
So while some go to church for God, I think many go for nothing more than a social gathering.
Surely there are other reasons - people are so very complex and, at the same time, simple. Humans are truly a strange lot.
Hey Nobspeople,

I actually have nothing against this. People do have a multitude of reasons for attending f2f meetings and they also have their reward, too. God searches the heart. My issue (and the motivation for the original post) is when they elevate the f2f meetings of today with what occurred in the first century AND when they use a select (1 or 2) cherry picked verses and demand that everyone must attend. These are modern expressions of old ideas and really have very scanty connections if any connections at all to one another. The closest example I've seen of biblical gatherings has been in the small group setting, but not organized or formalized. It was a haphazard group of people who all lived in a barracks and were all believers. We ate meals together, we spent hours in theological discussions together, went to the library together to study the Bible and have access to dictionaries and other tools (before the internet); we even vacationed together! I've seen that rarely since then.

But, the overall reasons for my lack of attendance has been multiple:
1. I get nothing from the f2f meeting except for frustration.
2. The leadership and other parishioners have no interest in the Bible, but typically are more interested in the dogma of their particular denomination or their personal doctrines.
3. I'm able to accomplish the same things online that are accomplished in f2f (doesn't mean everyone should do online, just speaking for myself).

Humans are, indeed, a strange lot. God called them a "stiff-necked people" (Deuteronomy 9:3).

IH

isaachunter
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Re: What is the Purpose of Church Gatherings?

Post #32

Post by isaachunter »

Hey Overcomer. Thanks for the responses.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am Here's the thing about churches: There are all kinds of imperfect people in them, people who are all at different stages of their spiritual development. They are all works in progress....Some will be there for the social aspect....They are not born-again or Spirit-filled. And these things are true, not just of the members of the congregation, but its leaders.
This is certainly true and I'm convinced it is because we have no persecution in the Western Church. In first-world countries where there is (or was) religious freedom, anyone could believe anything they liked. Likewise, the Church in the modern era has turned into a corporate machine, more interested in propogating it's revenue generation than in spiritual formation (not all but I think it's safe to say the majority). When there is a cost again to becoming a Christian in the US, then the "church" will be purged of all those who are not really a part of the body of Christ. But, when that happens, these organizations we call "church" today will be a thing of the past, as it will be unlawful to assemble in the name of Christ and the true Church will go underground (again). This legalization of Christianity and the inpouring of the pagan populous is the main reason the Christians in the 3rd and 4th centuries fled to the desert. There was no more persecution and the Church was being overrun by everybody and their brother for every kind of reason other than Christ crucified. As Tertullian said, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am Wherever people gather, there are going to be differences of opinion, differences in personality, differences in their commitment to the Lord. The purpose of the church is not to provide a place for perfect followers of Christ. Its purpose is to provide a place where the imperfect followers of Christ can learn and grow together, helping each other.
Yes, but my argument is there is such a stark disparity between the picture in the Bible and what we see today. There was no corporate structure, no organization. There were apostles who appointed elders and servants. There were teachers and evangelists and prophets, but all of these served the purpose of Ephesians 4:11-16. Most have little desire to follow even the first principles let alone "the edifying of the body of Christ until we all come to the unity of the faith." Any service I can walk into on any given Sunday is assurity for putting on a show, not building up the body of Christ. My argument has been in this threat that our sanctification occurs regardless of the F2f meeting. It is certainly not essential, given the many different and new means of communication interaction available to us today. I don't have a problem with modern Churches having meetings. I don't even care what kind of meetings they have. The Eagles Club and the Masons have meetings regularly in my town, too. But none of them are demanding I attend. It is only the modern Church that says, for me to be a Christian I must attend their modern f2f meeting.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am But it shouldn't be that way. I have never belonged to a church that didn't have small groups and Bible studies. That is were you connect with others and build each other up. A church should not consist of merely a pastor/minister as leader with everybody else merely pew potatoes....The pastor is the conductor.
I agree! Unfortunately, those in authority do not care. They serve a different god (mammon). But, I would have to ask, then, if a proper church has small groups, what is the purpose of the Church organization that the small group is a part of? It returns us then back to my original question. If the "real" church is in the small group, and the small group is the essential component to the genuine "church" which is really the model we have in the first century, then what is the point and purpose of the f2f meeting on Sunday?

In Acts the picture painted is one of a communal living arrangement. I've lived in one of these before and (certainly not perfect) it is much closer to "the body of Christ" than any Sunday service I've ever experienced. Likewise, the monastic order (aghast cry the evangelicals), with their communal living, singular purpose in ceaseless pray to God, vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and stability - these serve more purpose in their daily denial of the world than does any Sunday 2 hour meeting, where many are late to show, quick to leave, and are typically scrolling on their phones during the lot of it without a second thought.

My point is, the f2f meeting typically exhibits none of the characteristics found in the NT church.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am I really think that, for the mature Christian, it isn't a matter of looking for a church where they can be fed...[but]...where they themselves can contribute.
If only it were so easy as this. Unfortunately, most members in the modern congregation fulfill 2 Timothy 4:3. They heap up for themselves teachers that say what they want to hear, they turn from the truth. I would like nothing better than to find a group of believers who genuinely seek fellowship. I've experienced it before. Maybe that's why I cannot settle for the counterfeit. Unfortunately, at least in the area I live in, it is difficult just keeping a modern church open with people that read their Bibles occassionally. Forget a genuine fellowship (Acts 2:46).
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am I've seen it happen time and time again -- and they often end up on forums like this trying to promote a warped idea of who God is, what Christ did and what the Bible says. I agree that the Internet is a wonderful source of material from really fine scholars and teachers who love the Lord and are following him rightly. I, too, have been blessed mightily by having access to all of it.
There are indeed many who twist the Scriptures and follow after all sorts of doctrines. But there are just as many if not more doing the same thing within the f2f. A quick review today online of prominate modern Churches and I come away with the realization that most are islands unto themselves. Someone had a particular idea they came up with, and started a Church around it. Then a bunch of people go chasing after them until a scandal errupts and they split and start another Church on another "warped idea of." The internet is not responsible for this. Neither is the solitary vocation. There are, frankly, wackadodles everywhere, in and out of the modern f2f organizations. There always have been unstable people who claim Christ (2 Peter 3:16).

But my issue again is not that the f2f exists or conducts itself. By no means am I demanding we tear the buildings down and people stop meeting f2f. You assess you have been blessed by the access to the cummulative knowledge of the historical church through the internet. But I say, I have not been similarly blessed by the f2f. The conflict boils down to - not whether the f2f should exist or my insistance that the f2f should be abandoned for the internet, but that the f2f insists I must submit to f2f attendane as a requirement of Christian fidelity. That's like Baptists who claim that John the Baptist was a Southern Baptist! The modern f2f has no claim to the biblical Church. They are not one and the same. James White has commented several times, though he is a Protestant and a Reformer, in all likelihood, if he were to travel back to the Reformation, Calvin would probably have James White burned at the stake. Christianity, especially our Western version of it, is MUCH different than at any other time in Church History. Strikingly different. So for the f2f to say to the solitary they must cease hiding from the world and join the f2f, that is insanity. The solitary has much more connection to Church History than the f2f ever could. The insistance by the f2f is the issue here. I'm not saying this is your position, but it is the position of most evangelicals.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am It sounds like you have been to bad churches! I'm sorry to hear that. Not enjoying a service doesn't make you an inauthentic Christian. Some services are terrible...Different churches have different cultures.....If you don't like the culture in one church, try another one if possible.
Yes, but I've experienced a few authentic, genuine f2f meetings as well. I think this is why I cannot tolerate the abundant amount of inauthentic ones. Those that are obviously serving a different purpose altogether. Most of us are trapped by our region/location. In the place I live there are three specific types of Churches to pick from. There are progressive, modern Churches who exchange sound, biblical theology for the whims of secular culture. They chase after whatever teaching or entertainment will get butts in the seats and keep them long enough to stoke the coffers. Then there are modern Churches who, typically in response to the first type of Church, cling to the secular culture of the 1950s, who are fundamental about everything but what is actually in the Bible (ie. men can't wear shorts). You have to dress a certain way and speak a certain way. Then there are Churches who chase after doctrines of demons, who's cogregants end up deragned individuals flopping on the ground, in estatic, entranced frencies.

That's it. The sum total.

I'm not particularly reformed, but, to my surprise, there is not a reformed Church within 100 miles of where I live.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am I did not say that solitude and isolation were wrong. In fact, I ended my post by saying that they are an integral part of the Christian walk. It's important to spend time alone with the Lord in whatever setting is best...So by all means, keep meeting him in those solitary and isolated places.
Agreed. You did not. But it is the predominate view (that solitaries are in error) in most evangelical churches in the US. The concept is shunned, often considered "Catholic" and akin to heresy. Not saying you in particular are saying this, but, in Protestant circles it is certainly being said. Loudly.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am Again, I'm sorry if I didn't make myself clear in my post. I am NOT saying that you can't find the Holy Spirit on a mountain top or anywhere else for that matter. If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, he's with you always and everywhere. I grew up on a farm and am an introvert. For me, the best place to go was to the woods at the back of the farm or the haymow in the barn - As an individual, in many cases, I cannot accomplish as much as I can with others.
No, I know you are not saying it. I appologize if I'm coming across as if you were. I'm asserting that Evangelicals as a group are quite vocally saying it. They say God is not to be found on the mountain top (alone). But, if at all, it must be in conjunction with f2f meetings. I grew up (not in the city, but) in town and my whole childhood I longed to get away from people and get out to the still places. When my family went on vacations to our cabin on the lake, it was always a dream come true for me. I could awake earlier than everyone else and sneak off in the canoe or blaze a trail up the mountain. I had the very best times, my dog in tow, crossing streams and running from skunks and watching porcupines eating the new blackberry leaves while they were still soft (apparently those taste better). Naturally drawn to solitude, the artificiality of the f2f simply had no hold on me. I would say I cannot accomplish nearly as much with others as I can when out alone with God. But that is the beauty of the diversity of the members of the body. None two are alike. It's just too bad "some" in the f2f seem insistant that the solitary body part must undergo plastic surgery so they can better fit in.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am It sounds like my church experiences have been far more positive. But I admit that I am not familiar with American churches. My experiences have all been here in Canada in denominations that don't even exist in the U.S.
Okay, now you really have my curiosity peaked. What kinds of Christian denominations do you have in Canada that do not exist in the US? Maybe I'm the ignorant American, but I assumed by now denominations were pretty much ubiquitious. They might go by different names from town to town but, digging into their doctrine, they pretty much all fall one way or the other into established camps. Please elaborate.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am Once again, I am not saying that there is no place for the solitary within the body of Christ. In fact, I am saying that there is....So no, do not fight against the solitary. It's not an aberration. Nor is it heretical....


Yes, you and I are in agreement. But the vast majority of protestants are not. This was the purpose of asking the original question. Try to understand the underlining reasons behind why the evangelical do not accept the solitary calling.

Being an abberation. Being heretical. These are the exact words used by evangelicals to describe me in the past. Mostly, though it is the knee-jerk Hebrew 10:25 and "you must be mentally ill" response. Then the shunning begins. Protestantism or what I've discovered it called lately "Big Evo" is a club and they utilize cultish tactics to keep people in line. I guarantee if I went to all the churches in my town every last one of them would say I needed to repent of my desire/preceived call to the solitary vocation.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am Does the modern Church prohibit solitaries? I have not seen that, but again, I'm not an American. As for churches not talking about the hermits and monastics, etc., churches here in Canada spend very little time talking about church history at all. So I don't think anybody here is leaving them out of the conversation because they think these people were wrong to live solitary lives.They are busy expounding the Word of God, helping people get closer to the Lord...Lastly, we all have different personalities, different needs, different responses to what goes on around us....You shouldn't be made to feel there is something wrong with your love of spending solitary time with the Lord.
What church are you a part of that accepts solitaries?

That is a shame and an epidemic issue in the US as well, in reference to no Church History. No discussion or mention of the Church Fathers let alone the Desert Fathers. No discussion of Monasticism, and most pastors I've listened to for any length of time skip right over Matthw 19:10-12. They don't want to even touch it. Plus, there is little actual expounding happening from most pulpits today in the US. Mostly what you get today is a reguritated cultural mind virus that is eating the US and the modern church within it alive.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am In fact, you should be commended for it. Some people haven't got a clue how to be alone and how to be silent and how to listen for God. Perhaps that could be your role in a church -- helping people to learn how to get closer to the Lord through solitude and aloneness -- especially during a pandemic when we are all isolated in one way or another.
I don't know if I can be commended for what comes naturally. Solitude and being comfortable in isolation is very much like breathing to me. It just fits. It makes sense. Much more so than any kind of relational or interaction with another person ever has. I've been married. I've raised step children. I had grandparents and still have parents. I even have a sibling. I have coworkers and at one time in my younger life I had friendships that I actively attempted to maintain. None of it, though, could hold sway over me like sitting in my own home, emptied of any other living thing, just me and God and my own thoughts and peace and stillness. Sometimes I will come home from work (though now work is very isolated with COVID, which is great), walk in, and as I lock the door behind me, I just stand there for a long moment and listen to the....silence. It is a beautiful life. Most claim I'm running from intimacy or conflict (why would you run toward conflict), but the last ten years of my life have truly been the happiest, most spiritually fulfilling years I've had on this earth. All because I'm finally walking as I should, in the stillness of the solitary life.
Overcomer wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:41 am Perhaps that could be your role in a church -- helping people to learn how to get closer to the Lord through solitude and aloneness -- especially during a pandemic when we are all isolated in one way or another.
Ahh, if only that could be an option. Unfortunately, if I somehow managed to make it into the Church "membership" and then managed somehow to gain some position as a "teacher," as soon as I started talking about the Church Fathers (or the Desert Fathers) or even started talking about there being a call beyond the "lets get married and have kids" paradigm, I'm afraid they would run me out of there quicker than I could gather my books.

I've debated this over the years. Teaching is one of the few positions in the Church, and sought after by the multitude, even though James warned us against it (James 3:1). For a long time I thought I should become a professor or teach high school. But, to be honest, I'm not certain I'm really gifted as such. Once I finish my ThD I have a particular seminary picked out that I hope to apply to teach at, but it is online, and uniquely designed on a mentor/student format rather than lectures and assigments. But, even if I actually get the job (and that's a big if), I may not like it at all.

It's definitely a topic in great need in evangelical Churches, even if most don't want to admit it. But, I do think it would be a hurder too high for most to clear. The hostility toward solitary vocations goes back hundreds of years, back to Calvin, Luther, and the others who thought, when they busted open the monastery doors, they were "setting the captives free."

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Re: What is the Purpose of Church Gatherings?

Post #33

Post by nobspeople »

isaachunter wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 11:18 pm
nobspeople wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:18 am I've seen many a church become nothing but a club. I was in a Mormon church once when the lady a few rows up came back to the row in front of us and badmouthed another person in the church. She continued even while the speaker was speaking. I found that in bad taste to say the least.
So while some go to church for God, I think many go for nothing more than a social gathering.
Surely there are other reasons - people are so very complex and, at the same time, simple. Humans are truly a strange lot.
Hey Nobspeople,

I actually have nothing against this. People do have a multitude of reasons for attending f2f meetings and they also have their reward, too. God searches the heart. My issue (and the motivation for the original post) is when they elevate the f2f meetings of today with what occurred in the first century AND when they use a select (1 or 2) cherry picked verses and demand that everyone must attend. These are modern expressions of old ideas and really have very scanty connections if any connections at all to one another. The closest example I've seen of biblical gatherings has been in the small group setting, but not organized or formalized. It was a haphazard group of people who all lived in a barracks and were all believers. We ate meals together, we spent hours in theological discussions together, went to the library together to study the Bible and have access to dictionaries and other tools (before the internet); we even vacationed together! I've seen that rarely since then.

But, the overall reasons for my lack of attendance has been multiple:
1. I get nothing from the f2f meeting except for frustration.
2. The leadership and other parishioners have no interest in the Bible, but typically are more interested in the dogma of their particular denomination or their personal doctrines.
3. I'm able to accomplish the same things online that are accomplished in f2f (doesn't mean everyone should do online, just speaking for myself).

Humans are, indeed, a strange lot. God called them a "stiff-necked people" (Deuteronomy 9:3).

IH
Greetings IH
Thanks for your response. I see where your POV. I think there's a formality, in some countries, in which people like to adhere when it comes to church services. Many religions have such steps or methods to their madness, as they say.

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