Saturday, May 2, 2009

Let's Find Balance

"Who needs a church building to worship God?  I can worship God anywhere without having to meet in a fancy box. "  "We left the organized church and became a New Testament church that just meets in homes."  "God never meant for us to have ordained clergy.  All the gifts are equal so anyone can teach or preach if the Spirit moves them"


Have you ever heard those kinds of statements?  Is it necessary to meet in a fancy cathedral or building to worship God?  The simple answer is, Of course.  You can worship God anywhere. After all, if Christ is in you and he is everywhere, you can worship.  St. Paul said that you couldn't escape his love no matter where you go in Romans 8.  But does that answer the question?  I'll not have space to answer all those questions, so I'll address only a few.


Jesus said in Matt. 18.20 that where two or three meet together in his name (to worship), he is there also. 


"See, house churches are the Jesus way." 



W-e-e-e-l-l-l, let us reason together, to coin a phrase I've heard somewhere.  Let's travel through a wormhole in time and space to a land far, far, away.  Let's walk into a synagogue and see what we find when Jesus walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem. 

There's Jesus, over in the corner.  He's twelve years old.  What is he doing?  Read Luke 2:39-52.  He's listening to the teachers (rabbi's) and asking questions.  And the rabbi's are amazed at his understanding of their answers. 


So what's so special about this?  Take in the scene.  Here's the place of worship.  His parents had days before celebrated the feast of the Passover.  After they had left, Jesus remained in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to them, and is finally found in the one place that was the central place of worship.  (I won't get into the discussion here of his purpose)

This isn't the last time Jesus visited the temple.  Throughout the Gospels, you'll find him worshipping in the temples and synagogues, teaching, singing the Psalms (Psalter), and generally dialoging with people there.


Step back into the wormhole and fast-forward to a few years.  Look at Acts 2:46.  Daily they met in the temple.  How?  Together.  Doing what?  Worshipping of course.  And they met in the homes to eat around the table and share their possessions.  ( we do that in our churches)


Fast-forward a few short years. Several thousand have been added to the community of believers that became known as the church.  A murder kicks things off.  The brutal murder of Stephen occurs in Acts 7.  And guess who is in on it?  Saul, the man who later became Paul.  But then what happened.  Persecution! 


The "church" was scattered through persecution.  Where they had been meeting regularly in synagogues and homes for worship, singing the Psalms and studying the law and prophets, now they were driven out of the synagogues and temples into the surrounding nations.  God began his church, ecclesia, the called out ones.  They were no longer welcome in the synagogues, although they met there when they could.  After all, that was where the scriptures were read and sung and taught.  But they were also forced into hiding.


Their homes became church.  Not because the home was the new pattern for church.  They met because it was the safest place to worship.  At first, it was in twos and threes or small groups of family and friends.  If they were fortunate, a wealthy person would be converted and they'd meet in larger facilities to accommodate larger groups.   If they could find a safe meeting place that could accommodate large groups, they would meet there.


It was not safe for a person to be a Christian.  As they were scattered into more distant regions they were continually forced into small groups, homes, caves, catacombs.  But, records indicate, where they could, they'd still worship in the synagogues because that was where scripture was taught.


So the small group fellowship we are excited about, was actually a place of survival.  The benefit was providential in that individual needs were more easily met and it was relatively safe.  What was worship like?  If you go back into the history books, you discover it was not at all unlike temple and synagogue worship.  There was liturgy.  Scripture was read and sung.  Psalms were most often sung or chanted. So the Psalter has come down through the centuries and is still sung and chanted today in the liturgical churches.  And they celebrated around the meal of Thanksgiving.  This later became a dinner separated from the Eucharist (thanksgiving communion celebration) was celebrated on Sunday.


Until the letters of the apostles were written and dispersed, the scriptures that were read, sung, and taught, were the Torah, writings of the Prophets and the history books of what we know as the Old Testament.  


I'll wrap this long story up.  So what does this mean for today?  First, church is a body of believers, not a building.  But buildings large or small enable the church to worship and minister to each other.  There is a reason the church is called a body.  We are part of each other and corporate worship is important.  Whether it's done in an organized church or not, is not the issue.  What is the issue is, are we ministering the love of God and one another and carrying our ministry to help the world.


The strongest churches, large or small, will have small groups at their core.  Not as a program but as the life of the church.  We all need closeness and fellowship.  That can only be done in a small group.  I believe ideally a large church benefits the community at large, giving strength, extending our "reach" and helps build an identity.


Small groups help provide the depth and close friendships of people who become our support system, both in good times and bad.


So there is a place for both large and small.  There are no lone rangers in the body of Christ.  So let's rejoice where the church reflects Christ and always strive to Love God, Love Each Other and Serve the World.



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