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Where Should You "Worship"?

Are you happy with your church? Many people are not. For many, "church" is a place for theological arguments, second-rate entertainment, or knife-in-the-back gossip. But in spite of all this ungodliness, they still attend their church, because they believe the Bible requires them to "worship." But according to the Bible, does "worship" have anything whatsoever to do with "attending church?"

I do not "attend church." I haven't been in a church-building for over ten years (with the exception of special events to which others have invited me, like baptisms, weddings, becoming a godfather, etc.). In my opinion, "attending church" has nothing to do with "worship."

I would like to explain why I do not believe the Bible commands Christians to "attend church," and in the course of doing so, explain what I understand "worship" to mean.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives a straightforward command:

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; not forsaking the gathering together of ourselves, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much more as ye see the day approaching.

It would seem, then, that the question, "Is it our moral obligation to attend church?" receives a fairly straightforward answer: of course.

How, then, can I assert that a Christian should not "attend church"?

The command in Hebrews 10 (namely, to "exhort one another") is also found in Hebrews 3:13:

But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

If we claim to obey Hebrews 10:24-25 by "attending church" on Sunday morning, do we also fulfill the command to exhort one another daily when we see other Christians only once a week?

Moreover, do we even obey the basic command to exhort one another when we simply listen to the polished oratory of a philosopher? Are we really obeying the Biblical commands concerning exhortation, community, and mutual accountability by once a week watching the performance of a seminary-trained entertainer?

Millions of "Christians" "attend church" every Sunday in America, and yet literacy and morality are in sharp decline. More sermons are preached and broadcast than in any previous century, yet the 20th century is the most violent in human history. To churches we ask, "What have you done for us lately?"

What started out as an apparently obvious issue seems now to be at least a little less clear. What we see on TV and in thousands of churches across the land tells me we need some clarity on this issue. "Must a Christian Attend Church?"

On February 2, 1986, the Covenant Community Church session [of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church] published a Position Paper entitled, "Is it our Moral Obligation to Attend Church?" I think this paper exhibits a very dogmatic tone on a question which deserves more flexible analysis. Everybody who reads Hebrews 10:24-25 realizes that atomism or isolationism is contrary to the Christian Spirit. A Family which locks its doors to the saints, withdraws from the world, and neglects the poor, which spends its time alone in reclusive introspection, is violating the clear commands of the Bible concerning hospitality and the communion of saints.

And anyone who refuses to "attend church" because he feels that he is a gifted teacher with all the answers and nobody in his church listens to him, probably has some lessons in humility to learn.

But the real question (and the question which generated the CCC Position Paper) was not whether Christians should exhort one another daily, and "be subject one to another (1 Peter 5:5), but whether it is required of Christians to engage in a certain kind of meeting, with certain credentialed officers present, to expose themselves to a specified ritual of acts which are widely called "attending church."

By examining the CCC Position Paper we can clarify the Biblical requirements concerning worship, mutual exhortation and community, as well as the distinctive Vine & Fig Tree perspective.

Here are the main points:

  1. "Worship" is obedient service, not ritual.
  2. Exhortation is conversational, not sermonic.
  3. Fellowship is best accomplished in homes, not in pews.
  4. The New Covenant priesthood is decentralized and universalized, not restricted to the "ordained."

These four points are very plainly at odds with most every church in the country. They are especially contrary to the emerging "ecclesiocentrist" wing of the "Christian Reconstruction" movement. But my purpose is not simply to be different, nor to insult all other churches. My purpose is to analyze even apparently "obvious" traditions in the light of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

I began attending Covenant Community Church because they claimed to be a part of a growing movement of Christians who worked for the "Christian Reconstruction" of every area of life according to God's Law in the Bible. They claimed that God's Word gave us a blueprint which would in fact be implemented on earth in this present age by the power of the Holy Spirit. I took these basic principles and came to a position which at one point I called Creationist Anarcho-Socialism In Vine & Fig Tree Studyletters and Working Papers we attempt to exposit the implications of an important passage of Scripture,

Micah 4:1-7. It reads,

And it will come about in the last days
That the mountain of the House of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains
And it will be raised above the hills
And the peoples will stream to it.
And many nations will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the House of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths."
For from Zion will go forth the Law
Even the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation
And never again will they train for war.
And each of them will sit under his
Vine and under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid.
For the LORD of hosts has spoken.
Though all the peoples walk
Each in the name of his god,
As for us, we will walk
In the Name of the LORD our God
forever and ever.
In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth,
and I will gather her that is driven out,
and her that I have afflicted;
And I will make her that halted a remnant,
and her that was cast far off a strong nation:
and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion
from henceforth, even for ever.

This passage, and the many allusions to it throughout Scripture, have led us to a position described in one of our Studyletters as "Patriarchy." In many respects it resembles the Libertarian position of "free-market" political economy. Yet it also sympathizes with the contrary position, socialism, in its criticisms of "free market" individualism. It is "anarchistic," in that it denies the legitimacy of the State and other "archists"; it is "communistic" in that it strives to be faithful to the Biblical emphasis on community and society, not just individual "rights" and "freedoms." In this examination of the CCC Position Paper we shall return again and again to this "postmillennial" vision of decentralized peace and cultural wholeness.

What is "WORSHIP"?

The basic meaning of the word "worship" is service. To "worship" God is to put every area of one's life under His Law. As The New Bible Dictionary puts it, "[T]he essential concept in both the Old and New Testaments is 'service.'" John Murray writes,

[Worship in the] generic sense is the devotion we owe to God in the whole of life. God is sovereign, He is Lord, having sovereignty over us and propriety in us, and therefore in all that we do we owe subjection to him, devotion to His revealed will, obedience to His commandments. There is no area of life where the injunction does not apply (I Cor. 10:31). In view of the lordship of Christ as Mediator all of life comes under His dominion (Col. 3:23,24).

Worship in the generic sense is thus service to God in every area of life; total slavery to Him Who is Lord of all.

In the Old Testament there was also a more specific usage for "worship," namely, the observance of the ceremonial rituals given to a Spiritually juvenile pre-Pentecost people. These ritual observances typified worship in every area of life. Animal sacrifice, the burning of incense, attendance at temple, and other rigors were imposed on the slave-like people of Egyptized Israel (Galatians 3:24 - 4:9), and were but shadows of the worship of the New Covenant.

Jesus spoke of the New Covenant form of worship in John 4. The woman at the well, having been confronted with the ethical demands of the Lord Jesus (regarding her adulterous life), attempts a "doctrinal" diversion: she asks Jesus about "worship." Putting words in Jesus' mouth, she claims that worship occurs in a certain place (Jerusalem). (4:20). Jesus denies it:

Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

Here is the "Mountain" of Micah 4, the New Zion which covers the entire globe (Daniel 2:35).

In the common, specific sense, "worship" means attending to the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant, going to a certain place (cf. Acts 8:27). But these acts only symbolized true "worship," and were necessary to prod a Spiritless people to that Christian worship which is obedience to God in every area of life.

Thus, the phrase "worship service" is quite redundant! Can you find one occurrence in the New Testament of "worship" in the ceremonial/specific sense being required of Christians? Or are the occurrences of "worship" speaking of obedience in every area of life? Do any of the Greek words used for "worship" occur in any sense requiring Christians to go to Jerusalem, or a specific "mountain" to "worship" God? Would we expect centralized ceremonial "worship" to be required in light of Micah's prophecy? (If you "attend church," have you been trained to search the Scriptures to find the answers to such questions as these [Acts 17:11], or do you need to ask your "pastor"?)

The New Testament is clear: the "worship" required of believers does not consist in ceremonial ritual. Colossians 2:18 says,

Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship . . . .

The Greek word translated "worship" is "religion" in James 1, where we are told,

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. {27} Pure and undefiled religion [worship] before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 1:26-27; cf. Matthew 25:36

Of course, "worship" is not limited to visiting orphans and widows, but involves obedience outside the temple, outside the synagogue, outside the cathedral, in every area of life.

The Enduring Old Testament Law

Vine & Fig Tree has been greatly influenced by the so-called "Theonomic" perspective, which sees the details of the Old Testament as binding unless the New Testament (or the Law itself) specifically indicates that the former observance is to take a new form in the New Covenant. The CCC Position Paper would lead us to believe that it too has been influenced by the "Theonomic" perspective.

But a Biblical Theonomist must admit that there have been changes in the significance of assembling in Jerusalem. The Position Paper speaks of "outward circumstances (e.g., seventh-day sabbath, a localized central tabernacle)" And rightly so; the circumstances have indeed changed. David Chilton, following Meredith Kline, has pointed out that in the New Covenant, God is transforming the entire world into His Garden-Temple. The whole cosmos is to be the House of God. The Church is a Holy Priesthood and a Spiritual Temple, filled with His Presence.

"Hearing God's Word"

In the first paragraph, we are told that "The Mosaic law commanded God's people to gather for corporate worship and the hearing of God's Word (e.g., Deut. 12:5-12; 31:11-12)" (our emphasis: what do these phrases mean?). The Old Testament required travel to a centralized location to hear a special priesthood. Do we still have to get God's Word from a special priesthood? Compare these commands with Micah's prophecy of the Holy Mountain, and with Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well. Do we still go to Jerusalem? Must we listen to Moses or the priests to hear God's Word? How does a "free-market" distribution of God's Word (Bible publication) seem evident in our day? Is the distribution of God's Word dependent upon an ecclesiastical organization? Are the commentaries and theology books which are used by churchmen published and overseen by ecclesiastical institutions, or by the "free market"? How about the books we find valuable in our Christian walk? Did we have to "go to Jerusalem" to get them? Have you ever been blessed by a book your "pastor" hasn't even heard of?

Deuteronomy 12:10 is an interesting verse. A parallel can be found in Leviticus 25:28, and we are reminded of Micah 4:4. Every so often in Old Testament history God gives His People a taste of the Edenic restoration and decentralized peace which is promised to those who are obedient to His Word. One such example is in Judges 18:7, where the KJV word "careless" is the word "safety" in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and the same concept as in Micah 4:4. Had the Israelites obeyed Moses they would have "dwelt in safety," for Moses desired decentralized competence and spontaneous Spirit-empowered obedience to God's Law (Deut 5:29-31; Numbers 11:29; cf. Proverbs 6:9-11; 30:24,27). These promises are being fulfilled in the New Covenant.

In paragraph two, I Chronicles 16:29 is quoted. Obviously we do not "bring an offering" or "come before Him" in the same way we did in the Old Covenant. Nor do we "hear God's Word" (CCC's phrase) by going to the typological temple and hearing a priest. We are all priests now, and God's Word has gone out through all the world (Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:23).

Old Covenant believers would be astonished at the scope of publication of God's Word in our day. They would also be amazed at the method in which Micah's prophecy is being fulfilled ("From Zion shall go forth the Law, even the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem"). Believer-priests, in voluntary associations, publish God's Word and assure its accurate transmission and continued exposition. This is guided not by the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith's "free market," of course, but by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit Himself. Thus, publishers should labor as priests under God, and see their work as having great and special Spiritual significance.

This massive outpouring of Truth works to enable every believer-priest to know and study God's Word and to proclaim it to his neighbors. And it all takes place outside the walls of institutional ecclesiocracies. In fact, the "church" has historically opposed the free dissemination of Scripture and its exposition (cf. WLC Q. 156 for a recognition of this fact, and yet, discouragingly, a remnant of this thinking).

All of this should be understood as the true Spiritual meaning of the Old Testament prophecies. Calvin cites Joel 2:28 ("In the last days I will pour my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions") as an example of how the world-wide decentralized spread of the Gospel was spoken of by the Prophets:

[V]isions were not given commonly at the commencement of the Gospel, nor dreams; they were indeed rare things. What then does Paul mean, for he speaks of the whole body of the Church, as though he had said that all, from the least to the greatest, would be Prophets. Did those whom God illuminated by the doctrine of the Gospel become Prophets by visions and dreams? By no means. But Joel, as I have said, accommodated what he said to the time of the law.

Similarly did Moses speak, when he prayed that God would make all of His people Prophets (Numbers 11:29; cf. Acts 2:17f.) In this sense we are all prophets, priests, and kings (I Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; Isaiah 61:6; 66:21).

Thus, no building can be said to be the place to worship simply because of the presence of the special "ordained" priests. Every Believer is a Priest. We need not "go to Jerusalem." This is why New Testament believers break bread and worship "from house to house" (Acts 2:46).

"Come Before His Presence"

Psalm 22:22 is also quoted, and it is cited in Hebrews 2:12, as referring to Christ. How does Christ stand in the midst of the assembly (Church) and declare His Name? Only in certain buildings at certain times? Matthew 18:20 spells doom for those who would so assert: "For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them." His Presence with us is through the Comforter, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17), who fulfills Moses' wish that we could all be prophets and not have to be dependent upon special priests (I John 2:20-27). God's Presence is not localized; we are His temple (Paper, p. 2; Ephesians 2:20-22), and as Christians exercise dominion over the entire globe, Christ is correspondingly present (Matthew 28:18,20).

"Worship in Every Place"

The Position Paper will not deny that worship is to take place "everywhere," but requires a certain special place for "worship." Does Scripture require this "special" place in addition to "everywhere"?

There is something quite suspicious about the Position Paper's habit of quoting Old Testament verses which were clearly expressing typological truths concerning a future day:

Similar analysis must be made on passages mentioning God's "courts," and His "gates."

In Paragraph four, mention is made of Prophecy, and of predicted "congregational worship" in "God's House of Prayer." Shall we, with the Dispensationalists, expect a rebuilt temple? Of course not. As Jesus might have told the woman at the well, "One of the burdens of Malachi's prophecy was that the corrupt worship among the Jews of his day would, in the future age of God's advent, be replaced with pure worship among the Gentiles in every place (Mal. 1:11; 3:3-4)." Worship would no longer be limited or tied to Jerusalem, or to the outward shadows of the Old Covenant, as Calvin comments:

Whenever (the Prophets) intend to show that the whole world would come to the faith and true religion, "An altar," they say, "shall be built to God;" and by "altar" they no doubt meant Spiritual worship, and not that after Christ's coming sacrifices ought to be offered. For now there is no altar for us; and whosoever builds an altar for himself subverts the cross of Christ, on which he offered the only true and perpetual sacrifice.

It then follows that this mode of speaking ought to be so taken, that we may understand the analogy between the legal rites, and the Spiritual manner of worshiping God now prescribed in the Gospel. Though then the words of the Prophet are metaphorical, yet their meaning is plain enough -- that God will be worshipped and adored everywhere. But what are the sacrifices of the New Testament? They are prayers and thanksgivings, according to what the Apostle says in the last chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. There was also under the law the Spiritual worship of God, as it is especially stated in the fiftieth psalm; but there were then shadows connected with it, as it is intimated in these words of Christ: "Now is come the hour when the Father shall be worshipped in Spirit and Truth" (John iv.13). He does not indeed deny that God was worshipped in Spirit by the Fathers; but as that worship was concealed under outward rites, he says that now under the Gospel the simple, and, so to speak, the naked truth is taught. What then the Prophet says of offering and incense availed under the law; but we must now see what God commands in His Gospel, and how he would have us to worship Him. We do not find there any incense or sacrifices.

This passage contains nothing else than that the time would come when the pure and Spiritual worship of God would prevail in all places.

How do we worship God in the New Covenant? Do we need an institutional priesthood? Must we journey to a certain centralized location? Must we "attend church"?

Judaistic Theonomy

Throughout the Position Paper, it is virtually implied that those who do not "worship" in a certain place (subordinate to a priestly caste) do not believe in "assembling" together, in living corporately or with any appreciation of the Community we have in Christ. This is false. The question is not "Are we to 'gather together'"?, but rather "How are we to 'gather together'"? Says the Position Paper:

"But that was the Old Testament, with its Jerusalem temple and seventh-day Sabbath," someone might complain. In so doing, the full authority of God's inspired word is diminished.

This is an ugly authoritarianism. The "oldness" of the Older Testament is a legitimate issue, even for Theonomists. To accuse one of diminishing the authority of God's Law is deceptive.

It would be just as fair to accuse the Position Paper of "Judaism." The Judaizers told the Christians that unless they observed the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant they weren't being faithful. Their purpose was not to make spontaneously obedient Patriarchs out of the new converts, but to gain power over them (Galatians 2:4). We certainly believe in fulfilling the Spiritual intent of the Old Covenant ceremonies. To say we do not obey the Word because we do not literally "bring an offering" and "come before Him" in some rebuilt temple is misleading. As the Paper goes on to say, "Of course, changes from the covenantal administration and foreshadows of the Old Testament to the redemptive realities of the new Testament must be recognized.:.:." (pp. 1-2).

Nor does it help us to answer the question of how we are to worship simply to say that "Jesus obliges us to submit to the continuing validity of 'every jot and tittle' of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-19), and Paul teaches that 'whatever was written previously' in the Old Testament was written 'for our instruction' (Rom. 15:4)." The CCC Position Paper is quite insensitive to the many possible ways we may observe the temple requirements of the Old Covenant. Greg Bahnsen, in his book By This Standard, more accurately observes,

[T]hose who agree with the foundational conclusion of [Theonomy] -- that God's Law is binding today unless Scripture reveals otherwise -- may very well disagree among themselves over particular matters in interpreting what God's Law demands at this or that point, or . . . may disagree over how these demands should be followed today (p. 9).

Failing to observe this perceptive caveat, the Paper makes this dangerous statement: "In that light, we would naturally expect that the moral obligation of corporate worship which is taught in the Old Testament will continue into the New." Of course it does! The question is, how? We may be "naturally" led to assume that the ceremonial requirements of the Old Age are to be observed now, but our expectations ought to be Spiritual. The Judaizers certainly reasoned in a "natural" way, but we must not (I Cor. 2:14-16).

The Paper concludes the section on the Old Testament with this statement: "God continues to call a people for Himself in the New Testament, and God surely continues to be worthy of their praise." Why say this? Who denies this? Are those who question the traditional "worship service" possibly-reprobate spiritual slackers? It is hoped that unwary readers will not be misled by this statement, inferring that those who deny CCC-type "worship" deny thereby that God is worthy of praise.

The New Testament Normative Example

In this section the Paper claims that the pattern of the New Testament Church is normative, that is, that whatever they did, we should do. Generally this is true. But more analysis is needed than this.

The Apostles and Elders instructed the early Christians to attend synagogue (Acts 15:21). Should we do the same? Paul forbad any prohibition on speaking in tongues (I Corinthians 14:39). Is tongue-speaking for today? The early churches had unbelievers sit in a room separate from the believers (I Corinthians 14:16). I think this is a good idea; is it binding on us today? Even after the Resurrection, Paul purified himself in the temple (Acts 21:26). Is this "normative" for us today? There are many similar examples of things which took place in "the last days" of the Old Covenant, which should not, at least without some serious thought, be urged on us after the destruction of the Jewish system. In fact, the entire nature of the Apostolic government of the early Church needs to be re-examined: we no longer have Apostles, yet many in our day claim Apostolic powers for themselves.

The Sabbath/Lord's Day Controversy

The Fourth Commandment says we are to work six days and rest on the seventh. Where has this command been altered? The Paper answers, "Regarding the Old Testament sabbath, New Testament believers confess that Jesus Christ is 'the Lord of the Sabbath' (Mark 2:28)." Of course He is, but did Jesus tell us to observe the Old Covenant Sabbath on a different day than the seventh? "In the New Testament age, [the Sabbath] is thus appropriately called 'the Lord's Day' (Rev. 1:10). Scripture shows that since the Lord's Resurrection, this day has been changed from the last to the first day of the week." I have no objection to calling the first day of the week (the day upon which our Lord rose from the dead) "the Lord's Day." But what does that have to do with sabbaths, with seventh day observances? Does Rev. 1:10 say anything at all about the sabbath, the seventh day? Many expositors are convinced John is saying he was seeing an eschatological vision concerning the coming "Day of the Lord," not anything concerning sabbaths or "church attendance."

I do not believe it can be proven from Scripture that the seventh-day observances have been changed to the first day. Sabbatarians look to Acts 20:7 and I Corinthians 16:2 for support, but it is not there. The sabbath or the seventh day is not mentioned at all. Nothing pertaining to the sabbath is considered. There is the breaking of bread before Paul's departure (which just happened to be on the first day), and there is the collection of gifts for Jerusalem, which seems to be simply a matter of convenience ("that there be no gatherings when I come"). The Sabbath is not at all the issue.

Perhaps there is more significance here than that these two events "just happened" to occur at the first of the week, but it is not necessarily related to the sabbath. In fact, the Paper theorizes in a footnote,

"The Old Testament festivals of firstfruits and pentecost (looking forward to Christ's resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit) were celebrated on the first day of the week (Lev. 23:11, 16, 35, 39). Likewise, the new creation began on the first day of the week, having been brought about by Christ's resurrection from the dead (I Cor. 15:20-28; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:13-19)."

What we see, then, is simply the New Testament (Spiritual) observance of the Old Covenant first-day requirements, not seventh-day resting. Where is the seventh-day sabbath ever mentioned?

The Paper then applies this unproven sabbatical assumption to the practice of the early church, with confusing results: "The early church of Jesus Christ regularly gathered together as 'God's temple' for corporate worship [unBiblical terminology], daily at first (Acts 2:46 [apparently not a normative verse, diluted with the unsupported assertion "at first"]) [but] eventually [only] weekly on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2)." Here we see the problems with first-day sabbatarianism. Why is it that just because the Bible mentions them breaking bread (in a home) on the first day of the week we conclude they did so only on that day, especially when we are elsewhere told they did it every day?

This phraseology ("corporate worship," "congregational worship," "worship assemblies," and variations on this theme) is unScriptural. The Bible does not speak in terms like this because "worship" means service in every area of life. The New Testament does not require us to go to Jerusalem to hear the Word; the Word is being spread from shore to shore, and we may attribute this to the "miracle" of the "free market" (not the Roman Catholic Church, nor any other ecclesiastical organization, but voluntary, decentralized publishers and laborers in the Word [cf. 1 Timothy 5:17]).

The failure to see the "anarchistic" character of New Covenant worship is seen in the list of "what constitutes the congregational worship of the New Covenant people of God." As we examine the list, keep in mind that the real question we seek to ask is not whether we are to do these things, but how we are to do them. Perhaps the question is also where we are to do them. Are we able to do these things only in a building whose mortgage payments are being paid by a State-incorporated ecclesiastical institution, or may we obey them in our homes, or in a context of decentralized, informal, voluntary Patriarchal associations?

1. Praise to God (Heb. 13:15; I Peter 2:9 (Isa 43:21)

I see nothing in the texts to prove the need for me to "attend church." I continually praise God, as the verses require.

2. Corporate prayer (I Tim. 2:8; cf. Phil. 4:6) with congregational amens (I Cor. 14:16).

The texts do not speak of "corporate" prayer, and if they do they thereby prove that it should be done "everywhere," not just in "church." I Cor. 14:16 seems to refer to the rituals of synagogues, which need not apply now, for the same reasons that the Old Testament verses quoted in the first section of the Paper (on the Old Testament) are not fulfilled literally in our age (cf. e.g., Acts 21:26) (although I am open to the concept of a "room for the unlearned").

3. Hymns (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19)

Certainly this is easily accomplished in private homes. It was not difficult for me to fulfill this command before I began attending a "church."

4. Scripture reading (Col. 4:16; I Thess. 5:27; I Tim. 4:13).

The verses here are most interesting. I cannot recall, in all the years I have attended a "church," the book of Colossians being read as commanded in that verse, nor of I Thess. 5:27 being obeyed. Of course, if we obeyed these verses and read large chunks of the Bible with only minimal translational remarks, and then opened the floor to the exhortation by and of every believer-priest (as commanded in Scripture (e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25; 3:13; I Tim 5:1; and especially I Thess. 5:11 and 4:18)), there would be little time for Greek oratory. Which brings us to

5. Preaching (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 20:7-9; I Tim 4:6-16)

Also mentioned is "exhortation" and "teaching." But as we saw in the Vine & Fig Tree workbook, "The Elder's Checklist," all believers are to teach and comfort/ exhort, and nowhere are these duties restricted to an ecclesiastical elite.

Far more significant, however, is the entire notion of "preaching." We have dealt with this issue in a paper entitled "Pulpits and Peripatetics." We saw that there were no one-man lectures (monologue) in the early Church until Greek philosophy was imported into the Church. The traveling philosophers (peripatetics) were popular in the Greco-Roman world, and were too easily imitated among Christians. What passes for "preaching" in our day has absolutely no Biblical warrant. Nowhere in the New Testament is there an example of a "sermon" in the Christian assemblies.

We need to emphasize this point. If the Apostle Paul were invited into one of our meetings and saw only one man give an oration patterned after the Greek philosophers of his day, with absolutely no interaction with the "laymen," Paul would demand to know "What's going on here?" This modern pattern bears no resemblance to the New Testament pattern, although it is unwittingly patterned after ancient Greek itinerant moralists. The "sermon" is an unScriptural tradition, imported from Greco-Roman paganism.

Some preachers, of course, fail to meet even the standards of the Greek philosophers. Their "preaching" is pure entertainment. Others attempt to copy the Greeks in their emphasis on "reason," the "intellect," and "philosophy." This is more common among "Reformed" preachers, who are seldom very entertaining.

Acts 20 is used to establish many modern practices of the churchmen, and yet it supports none of them. Consider "preaching." The verb in the passage cited by the Position Paper (Acts 20:7-9) is "dialogue," not "monologue." F.F. Bruce calls it "conversation." J.A. Alexander must admit the same, but as he comes from the seminary, and wants to approve the oratory of the "preachers," he attempts to read the concepts of special priesthood into the passage:

Preached, the word translated reasoned and disputed elsewhere (see above, on 17:2,17; 18:4,19; 19:8,9). As it primarily signifies colloquial discourse or conversation (being the root both of dialogue and dialect), some understand it to have that sense here, as agreeing better with the extraordinary length referred to in the next clause. It is probable, however, both from the usage of the word in this book (see the places above cited), and from the circumstances of the present case, that it was not a desultory talk, but an act of official or professional instruction, however informal and unshackled by rhetorical or other rules. The length of the discourse depends upon the time when it began, which is not specified; but that it was unusual, seems to be implied in the suggestion that it was his last opportunity of meeting with them. . . . Some infer from this verse, that the meetings of the Christians were already held at night, as they were afterwards in times of persecution. . . . It is possible, however, that he spent the whole day in the manner here described, as he seems to have done afterwards at least on one occasion (see below, on 22:23 [where he says, "The whole day was thus occupied, of course not in formal or continuous discourse, but partly in familiar and colloquial discussion"]), not in continuous discourse, but in animated conversation, with occasional intervals of rest or silence.

One of those occasions was to have dinner ("break bread"), about which we shall see more later. For now, note the inescapable fact that there simply was no "preaching" or "sermon" as we popularly conceive it. Alexander, churchman that he is, says it is not "desultory." Who said it was? ("Desultory" is a derogatory term apparently used by ecclesiastics to refer to house-to-house "conversation" or "exhortation" (Hebrews 10:24). It is defined as "lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, as in performing a series of actions, giving one's attention to some subject, etc.; disconnected; fitful; digressing from the main subject; random.") No doubt Paul had many things he wanted to say, yet he did not digress from Spiritual matters to talk about Greek philosophy, the slaying-averages of the gladiators, or the New-Year's predictions by the oracles in the Athenian Enquirer. But to say that his conversation with the believers was "an act of official or professional instruction" may mislead many into thinking that it was not "animated conversation," "colloquial discussion," or "informal (speech) unshackled by rhetorical or other rules." It was official only by virtue of who Paul was: an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. But our conversation is not less "official" by virtue of our office: we are priests and kings! When we proclaim the Gospel to our neighbor over herbal tea and cinnamon rolls, we engage in "official and professional instruction" as priest-kings of Christ!! The gates of hell are assaulted and overcome by our "informal discussion." A special and Spiritual act indeed!

Jamison, Fausset, Brown, comment on the Greek: "dialegeto (implying dialectical style, dialogue, and discussion, Acts xvii.2,7; xviii.4,19) is applied to discourses in the Christian church." We do not have "dialogue and discussion" in most "churches," and therefore do not obey Acts 20:7. Do the churchmen really believe that Paul gave an uninterrupted lecture -- for twelve hours?!?

Modern churches have replaced the discussion and animated conversation of the New Testament with "sermons," an invention of the Greeks.

As a result, I cannot obey the Scriptural commands as cited in the second half of point 5 (above) when I "attend church"; I cannot exhort, and can only "teach" through hymns (but not of my choosing). Only one person exhorts in a "church"; the whole congregation violates Hebrews 10:24-25, etc., at least on Sunday mornings when they are "attending church." Perhaps they obey these commands later in the afternoon, when in colloquial discussion they bring all thoughts captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Another unScriptural phrase emerges on this page: "authoritative preaching." Admittedly the Apostles had "authoritative preaching." Do the churchmen claim the same for themselves? All discourse which all Christians engage in, if it is true to God's Word, is "authoritative." On the other hand, nobody's discourse, if it does not conform to Scripture, is "authoritative" (Acts 5:29).

In our workbook entitled "The Elder's Checklist," we examined the duties of the "Pastor" as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith's "Form of Presbyterial Church-Government" (1645). We found that every duty which the Confession claims is a duty of the "Pastor" is actually a duty of all Christians (if it is a legitimate duty at all!).

One of the duties of the "Pastor" listed in the "Form of Government" is

"To dispense other divine mysteries."

While the Apostle could claim to be a "steward of the mysteries of God" (I Corinthians 4:1), we wonder what the theologians mean when they claim the same thing for themselves, after the age of the Apostles, and denying the duty to all other ("non-ordained") Christians. Perhaps they dispense mysteries only when speaking ex cathedra. No, surely whenever any Christian shares the Word of God with another, he dispenses mysteries in the same sense as the churchmen might legitimately claim for themselves (unless Protestant Sacerdotalists claim Apostolic powers).

The first edition of "The Elder's Checklist" was criticized by one theologian for its light use of the reference to "mysteries," as though I was making fun of the Gospel, or of the Apostles. I was making fun, but of the sacerdotal attitude of the Confession; it seemed to me that "Presbyterians" then and now are sometimes not as interested in exalting the Apostles or the Gospel as much as their own ecclesiastical power.

Upon further reflection, however, what began as a light-hearted suggestion of the Confession's "duty" to "be mysterious" seems now to be a fairly significant issue, one that underlies the issue of preaching and this entire paper: The ecclesiocrat works to "mystify" his "office." He wants a "mystique" to surround his position. He seeks not to exalt the Word of God so much as to intimidate and impress the "laity," thus nurturing the destructive "clergy-laity gap." Many are unable to think of the work of the elder as attainable, practical, or understandable, because it is invested with an aura of mystery. The every-day function of nurturing younger believers and watching over them, concerned for their Spiritual growth, is converted into an high and lofty ecclesiastical "office" resembling an inscrutable, supramundane, occultic link between god and man. Rather than rooted in Biblical Law and practical competence therein, this ecclesiocentric authority is esoteric, shrouded in mystery.

In the Priesthood of All Believers, all Christians can strive to be mature, wise, and Godly. In Sacerdotal Protestantism the "uninitiated" can never be "mysterious." They are qualitatively (not just quantitatively) inferior. "Religion" is thus removed to the realm of incense and vestments, and the rest of us must read Ann Landers for "practical" guidance Monday through Saturday.

In sharp contrast to this mentality, the Bible wants us to think of every Christian as one who must dispense divine mysteries (Isaiah 61:6; 66:20-23; I Peter 2:9). In fact, the "mystery" which was hidden in the Old Covenant is the fact that all men shall be a part of God's Kingdom of priests, and they shall function fully, obediently, and spontaneously (Ephesians 2; Revelation 1:6; I Peter 2:5,9; Hebrews 8:8-12) without the rigors of the Old Covenant ceremonial priesthood (Colossians 1:26-27; Ephesians 1:9-10; 3:5-6; Galatians 3:19 - 4:11) and without fear of the principalities and powers which held sway over the nations during the Old Covenant (Revelation 20:1-3; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 3:9-10). When Mrs. Jones tells Mrs. Smith that she needn't go into debt for a new RV, and needn't have an abortion to further her career, the seductive sway of the principalities and powers is assaulted head-on; the mystique of the state-sanctioned abortion clinics and fractional-reserve banks is destroyed. The New Testament tells us that this conversation has cosmic significance; the very gates of hell itself are pulled down and Christ's Kingship extended (2 Corinthians 10:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25). Mrs. Jones engages in an extremely significant and special act when she brings the Word of God to bear on a neighbor's problems. By virtue of her priestly and kingly office, it is an act of "official and professional instruction" (J.A. Alexander), and yet this shepherding of another believer or this preaching to an unsaved neighbor should be an "ordinary," every-day occurrence. The hocus-pocus of a clerical religionist is not demanded.

The Godly father does not dangle fatherhood over his son's head as an unattainable "mystery." He seeks to display and explain fatherhood, helping his son to become a Godly father.
The Godly "Pastor" does not mystify himself or an ecclesiastical position of power. He models a life of service and obedience to Biblical Law in a practical way, demystifying competence and Godliness so that it might be imitated by all (I Peter 5:1-3).

The question before us is, Need we "attend church"? Need we hear the "sermons" of special priests in order to obey the Biblical commands to exhort one another and discuss the Scriptures? Can we obey these commands if we only "attend church"?

6. The Lord's Supper (Acts 2:42; 20:7; cf. I Cor. 11:20).

We have examined the Lord's Supper in other papers. Acts 2:42 is cited, but not verse 46, which says that the Lord's Supper was observed "from house to house," or as the New English Bible has it, "in private homes." Gary North's observations destroy any notion that we must "attend church":

We now come to that passage which, perhaps more than any other passage in the Bible, sends shivers of foreboding down the spines of sacerdotal authorities: "For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). Here was the basis of the early Church's so-called agape feasts, meaning the original form of holy communion. This doctrine of Christ's presence is intimately related to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. It affirms that when members of the priesthood get together, God is with them in a direct way, just as He was with the priests of the Old Testament. Members of the early Church could celebrate the Lord's Supper, breaking bread in fellowship, from house to house, precisely because Christ was present with them.

There is absolutely no evidence in the Scriptures that a church officer was present at every such meeting. In fact, it would be surprising if there had been enough church officers to accompany every feast, since 3,000 converts were added to the assembly on one day alone, a fact revealed to us in the verse immediately preceding the first reference in Acts to the breaking of bread (Acts 2: 40). (One thing is certain: with that rate of growth, the early Church was not able to wait around for ministers of the Word to graduate from an accredited university and attend at least three semesters of seminary.) What the message of the Acts seems to be is that the Lord's Supper was universally celebrated on a decentralized basis, with families visiting families and sharing the meal together. And why not? Christ had promised to be among such groups, and He had not said that an ordained elder had to be present with the group in order to obtain His special presence.

The passage which allegedly supports "sermons" (Acts 20:7) is also supposed to support our obligation to "attend church" to Sup with Christ. Does it? If we read the passage we find it describes a communal meal, not a symbol of a meal. Do you have a meal when you "attend church," or just a symbol of one? Compare the modern "church" "communion" with the fellowship Paul experienced in Acts 20. William Barclay describes the scene:

So vivid is this story that it reads like what it is -- an eyewitness account. Here we have one of the first accounts of what a Christian service was like. It talks twice about breaking of bread. In the early Church there were two closely related things. There was what was called the Love Feast. To it all contributed, and it was a real meal. Often it must have been the only real meal that poor slaves got all week. It was a meal when the Christian sat down and ate in loving fellowship and in sharing with each other. During it or at the end of it the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was observed. It may well be that we have lost something of very great value when we lost the happy fellowship and togetherness of the common meal of the Christian fellowship. It marked as nothing else could the real homeliness, the real family spirit of the Church. We see that all this happened at night. That is probably so because it was only at night, when the day's work was done, that slaves could come to the Christian fellowship. And that also explains the case of Eutychus. It was dark. In the low upper room it was hot. The many lamps and many torches made the air stuffy and oppressive. Eutychus, no doubt, had done a hard day's work before ever he came and his body was tired. He was sitting by a window to get the cool night air. Now the windows were not glass windows. They were either lattice or solid wood and opened like doors. They came right down almost to the floor and projected over the courtyard below. We must not take it that Paul spoke, as it were, even on. There would be talk and discussion but Eutychus was exhausted. Down the outside stair the crowd would pour. When they found the lad senseless they would begin to shriek and scream in the uncontrolled eastern way; that is why Paul did not go with the main company; no doubt he stayed behind to make sure that Eutychus was completely recovered from his fall. There is something very lovely about this simple picture. The whole impression is rather that of a family meeting together than of a modern congregation met in a church. Is it possible that we may have gained in what we call dignity in our Church services but that we may have lost the sense of the congregation as a real family in God?

We may simply note that there is no real communion in a hard pew or folding chair in a drab auditorium looking at the back of someone's neck. Again, were Paul to see our "worship services" he would ask, "Why are you doing this?"

Worship Assemblies are Not Just Any Gathering of Believers This is the most dangerous part of the Position Paper. It marks a retreat from the world-wide spread of the Gospel and cosmic sanctification achieved by Christ, back to the limited holiness of the Old Covenant. In the pre-Christian world concentric circles of holiness radiated from the temple in Israel, with life getting "less holy" as we move away from God's Presence in the center: the Holiest of holies, the tabernacle, the camp, outside the camp. In the New Covenant, King Jesus has definitively cleansed the world, and all is in principle sanctified and consecrated to the service (worship) of His Kingdom. The Position Paper denies this. It says there is a "holier-than-there" place outside of which acts of obedience do not count (as much). The formal is the holy; the informal is the unclean. The credentialed is the sanctified; the voluntary and decentralized are still defiled. Such regression is the unintentional effect of the traditional church-concepts of "worship" and "ordination."

In the New Testament, those assemblies which constituted the corporate worship of God were understood as something clearly distinct from informal household fellowship and eating, even though the worship assembly may have been in an actual home (p. 4).

This is clearly an attack on the "house church" movement, both now and (unwittingly) in the New Testament; a bias against home-churches in favor of "official" meetings conducted by "ordained" priests. Even though CCC started out in a home (and the Session would be quick to point out that there is nothing wrong with an "official" church having "formal" worship in someone's house [should circumstances require]), nevertheless, the concept of "official church" and "ordained" priests moves us inexorably out of the home. It must be admitted that in I Cor 11 they were probably meeting in a home. But the CCC Paper claims that

Paul distinguishes between "the Lord's Supper" at the assembly and the ordinary meals in one's house (I Cor. 11:20,22).

No, the contrast here is between those who recognize the Spiritual importance of "Body-life" and Word-centered fellowship (on the one hand) and those who selfishly and atomistically pig-out (on the other). The point of the agape feast is to honor God's Word and the bread (the "called-out assembly of saints" [Church] [I Cor. 10:17]), not just to fill our stomachs (Matthew 4:4). Paul says that those who will not sanctify their assembling together might as well stay at home and "pig out." If you're not going to worship (by serving, rightly judging (discerning) the needs of the Body (I Cor. 10:17; 11:29)), then you might as well be "neutral" somewhere else. Nevertheless, this was an occasion of "informal household fellowship and eating," albeit with great Spiritual significance. It is possible to come to not a question of physical presence and geographical setting alone, it is a question of the heart (Romans 2:28-19). Modern "communion" has no more sharing than was present among the Corinthians rebuked by Paul.


The Position Paper seems to say that to "attend church" is something qualitatively superior to any non-"church" gathering with other believers -- even if all of the elements of "congregational worship" (as found on page 3 of the Paper) are present. Thus, if we got together in a home and Praised the Lord, prayed together, sang, read the Scriptures, exhorted and taught one another (as we are all commanded), and remembered Christ's death in the "Agape Feast" commanded in the New Testament, we are still violating Scripture unless we also "attend church" in the building of an ecclesiastical corporation with a credentialed seminary graduate in the spotlight. I submit that this is simply preposterous, a remnant of Roman Catholic sacerdotalism. There is not a shred of evidence to support such an ecclesiastical requirement, and the whole of Scripture seems to go against it. The movement in the Bible is away from ceremony and limited special priesthood and toward decentralization, an every-believer priesthood, and a return to Patriarchal social organization.

A Radical Idea?

Our failure as Christians to implement the patriarchal ideal comes from our friendship with the world, and conformity thereto (Romans 12:1-2; James 4:4). It seems strange to us to think of a household communion. In our culture Grandparents live in their own house, Aunts and Uncles are likewise separated from their Nieces and Nephews, and it is "trendy" for children to move out of their parents' house as soon as they possibly can. In our day "the Family" has been described as one or two working parents and (maybe) 2.2 children (recently down to 1.8).

If we were to take a first-century Christian (or even a modern-day member of a number of non-western cultures) up into an airplane over Southern California, and showed them city after city of single-family dwellings, all packed in like sardines, row after row, with parents in one house, children in another, grandparents in another, aunts and uncles in still another, and the poor and homeless wasting away in the abandoned section of industrial parks and urban ghettoes (where the suburban dwellers have coercively zoned them) our passenger would cry. Then he might become enraged: "This is sick! This is an abomination! I could never have imagined such atomism and selfish isolationism!" Little does he know that even among those houses where parents and children dwell together, it is little more than a motel, with students and commuters simply dropping in to sleep at night. In this land there is no property -- genuine property -- over which fruitful, honest dominion can be exercised unhindered by banks or landlords. It is a nation of slaves. Where in our land is an Abraham, with hundreds of adopted children, hundreds of domestic apprentices, hundreds of the poor and needy receiving shelter, hundreds of illiterate orphans being educated and brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and several generations of Family in blessed contact and harmonious community? Well, if we believe the churchmen, that ideal is clearly unattainable: we live in the New Covenant, and we do not have the Spiritual resources which Abraham had under the Old Covenant. Right?

The idea of Family communion is in our (atomistic, self-centered) day rightly ridiculed. We are not Patriarchs; we are children. How we cherish the churchmen, who only require us to "worship" on Sunday, and then dismiss us to watch our TV's in isolated silence.

No Neutrality; No Compartmentalization

Should things just stay the way they are? The Position Paper implicitly says they should; amillennial pessimism runs deep, and instead of addressing the impotence and atomism of the modern "family," the Paper demands that Christians continue to believe that only the Greek lectures in the Sunday "worship service" are "special" or "official" and the rest of our lives are only "informal" and "ordinary": "neutral" in other words. The command to imitate the Patriarchs (e.g., Abraham) is replaced with the command to imitate the generation that perished in the wilderness. Rather than exhort believers to hospitality and community, the Paper distinguishes "official" churches from (second-class) house-churches. But the concept of an "official" or "special" place for "ordained worship" in contrast to an "informal household fellowship" or a "normal gathering" is nothing else but the concept of a "Christian" gathering vs. a neutral gathering. But this kind of "neutral" gathering should never occur. We should never have gatherings which are not sanctified and made "special" through the work of Christ. We should always be conscious of Christ's Presence "where two or three are gathered in My Name." And yet, whenever we obey the command to assemble together for praising God, prayer, singing, Scripture reading and study, exhortation and comfort, and remembering the Lord's death in the communal "Love Feast" meal, we are clearly engaging in a very special activity.

The Paper says that "worship assemblies for Christians are to be characterized by good order, not confusion (I Cor. 14:26,33,40)." The implication is that house-churches are disorderly. Modern churchmen would surely find the situation approved by Paul to be "disorderly," even if the prophesying was done in turn (I Cor. 14:27,31) because it was not characterized by monologue, but my multi-logue (vv. 26, 31).

Adding to Scripture?

Here is how the Paper concludes:

We conclude by seeing, therefore, that congregational worship is not a matter of . . . informal get-togethers with other Christian friends where religious activities take place (e.g., "we met at their house, sang together and prayed"). God's holy and authoritative word says more.


When we miss attending the church's worship service or do not participate in its activities, we are not living up to the Scriptural command for us to stand together in worship: "that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:6; cf. Eph. 5:19-21).

Where is the phrase "stand together in worship" in Scripture? Is this "adding to the Word" (Deut. 4:2)? Does Ephesians 5:19 - 6:24 command anything that cannot be fulfilled in "informal" Family-gatherings? Has the CCC Position Paper proven that "we are not living up to the Scriptural command" if we exercise hospitality, conversationally exhort the saints, and obey "informally" in our homes the Scriptural commands to worship as seen in the 6 points on page 3 of the Paper?? Is this "Scriptural command" really in Scripture, or just church traditions?

Here again are our four main points. They are stated rather forcefully and dogmatically. The reader may not agree with them, but after reading them may be closer to our position than when he started.

1. The Old Testament looks forward to that New Age in which all men (not just Israel) would worship God everywhere (not just in that "place which the LORD your God shall choose" (Jerusalem) Deuteronomy 12:11) as a holy priesthood in a Spiritual and decentralized society (not under a special priesthood in the midst of an unclean world).

2. Those who "attend church" and imitate Old Testament worship patterns generally neglect the New Testament commands to exhort one another daily in Christian community (Hebrews 10:24-25; 3:13).

3. Rather than being equipped by New Testament-style exhortation and service, church-goers can become impotent and dependent upon a credentialed "professional" who unwittingly engages in Greek oratory and statist patterns of government.

4. In "church" the "dignity" of sacerdotal pomp and "worship" is substituted for the personal, house-to-house communion pictured in the Scriptures. A military-style symbol of a meal and a view of the back of someone's head is substituted for a genuine meal and a time of face-to-face fellowship.

Let us re-examine the Christian life with a prayerful dependence upon Scripture, not the ecclesiastical traditions of men.

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