People are communal beings. Loneliness is a horrible feeling, and it is very disconcerting and uncomfortable to be isolated. This is so universally true that many people hide what they really believe or how they really feel about something just so they will be accepted in a group. There are studies that confirm that people who are connected with others are generally healthier and better adjusted in life than are people who have no close friends or social network to support them.
There are so many wonderful benefits to getting together as a group of Christians that it is easy to see why Christian gatherings and church meetings have been a vital part of Christian life since the time of Christ. Regularly getting together with other Christians is modeled and encouraged over and over again in the New Testament. At Spirit & Truth Fellowship, we encourage Christians to participate in regular gatherings, be they in homes, church buildings, offices and places of work, or wherever.
The cultural flow of the times we live in today is for people to do things alone. We listen to our iPods or MP3 players alone, walking along with little plugs in our ears. We bank at an ATM machine instead of interacting with a teller. We get gas at the pump without going in and paying someone at the sales counter and we can even check out our own groceries at the “self check out” lane. Sadly, many families have even given up dinner time together, often replacing it with “watch TV and eat” time. Over time, many have gotten used to doing things alone, resulting in people often being less socially skilled. Thus, starting and maintaining a conversation is becoming more difficult and conflicts more painful. Today, more than ever, is a time for Christians not to be conformed to the culture but to really work on connecting with one another and to develop social skills that support fulfilling interaction.
In spite of our encouragement to meet, however, we must make sure our meetings are beneficial and good. Paul had to write some very harsh reproof to the church at Corinth, and some of the harshest is in chapter 11.
1 Corinthians 11:17
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.
Wow! After all the encouragement in the Bible about getting together, this verse is like a splash of cold water. When the Corinthians were meeting together, their meetings were actually doing more harm than good. God does not want, and has never wanted, people meeting together for meeting’s sake, as if just going to the meeting won us favor with God. In the times of Isaiah people were gathering at the Temple to worship, but their hearts were not right before God. God rejected their gathering, accusing them of “trampling my courts.” In essence, God was saying, “Get off my grass!”
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
God goes on to say that the “religious” things the people were doing were not helping them.
(13) Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
(14) Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
(15) When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.
Thankfully, later in the chapter, God says that if the people change He will once again accept their worship and the people will prosper. Isaiah’s words to the people of his time, as well as Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, should startle us into the realization that not all meetings are good meetings, whether they were held in the Temple in Jerusalem or a house-church in Corinth. We need to understand what makes a meeting valuable or harmful, and work to be part of meetings that are a blessing to God and the people.
In Isaiah’s day, one of the primary problems was that the people had blended the pure worship of God with pagan superstitions and idolatry. The people’s lives were “full of superstitions,” they “practice divination” (Isa. 2:6), and “their land is full of idols” (Isa. 2:8). Furthermore, people did not take care of each other, but oppressed the poor and weak (Isa. 1:17 and 23). During Paul’s time, the meetings were exaggerating the social divisions that already existed in the Roman culture, and the richer and stronger Christians were not helping the poorer and weaker ones (1 Cor. 11:18-22).
Christians are to love and support each other, and according to Scripture, one of the reasons to get together is to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). Thankfully, God has given us His Word to help us determine what constitutes a good meeting and who is a good leader to follow. Notice that in the Old Testament there is no “list” of character qualities a Levite or Priest should have before the people came to the Temple. That is because the Levites acquired their positions by birth, and people were supposed to worship at the Temple no matter who was priest. Things are different in the New Testament. God tells us specifically that a leader must have certain qualities, including being above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing his own family well, not a recent convert, and he must also have a good reputation with outsiders (list taken from 1 Tim. 3:1-7).
Just as the leaders we follow should be knowledgeable people with godly character, the meetings we attend should help us to be holy and effective in our own ways of serving God. That means our meetings should cause us to be uplifted, live more dedicated and godly lives, challenge the sin in our lives, give us increased vision as to what we can accomplish as Christians, elevate the importance of family and friends, help us reach out to others with the good news, etc.
It is not likely that in any group of Christians everyone will believe exactly the same way, and God has certainly equipped us for different kinds of service. Thus, just because some differences exist inside any particular group, this does not mean that the meeting does more harm than good. However, equipped with Scripture, holy spirit, and wisdom, most Christians can sense when a meeting he or she is attending is doing more harm than good. Some people remain in those meetings anyway, generally because they have been convinced that it is wrong for them to leave. There is no need for Christians to stay in meetings that do more harm than good. Our lives are a great gift to us and to the world, and God created us in Christ to do good works. We need to be aggressive in searching out meetings where we can grow and thrive, and which will help us to fulfill our God-given services and callings. Thankfully, there are usually many opportunities for Christians to meet if we take the time to pray and look around at what is available. Let’s meet together—for the good of God, His Son, ourselves, other Christians, and the world.