Updated: Jul 4, 2021
Staunch defenders of churchanity are quick to point to Paul’s exhortation to “Forsake not the gathering of ourselves together” when defending their claim that believers must go to a church, faithfully attend a church or belong to a church. They see this verse as a divine imperative and habitually refer to it as an infallible proof-text in support of their position. But their habitual use of this “go to” verse emphasizing the importance they place upon church commitment conveniently overlooks several serious errors.
1. First on all, it does not specify where this gathering together is supposed to take place. Since the early church for the first 300 years didn’t meet in church buildings or in temples made with hands, just where were the saints supposed to gather together? We know that they met in houses and in the open-air colonnade called “Solomon’s Porch” surrounding the outer walls of the temple complex for teaching but nothing is said or implied that it was to be a meeting in a temple, synagogue, cathedral or officially designated church structure. So, trying to defend the mandatory necessity to gather in a church building is little more than a house of cards. Our “gathering” could be in a home, the marketplace, an inn or on the seashore for that matter.
2. Secondly, this verse says nothing about what we should be doing when we gather together. Those who staunchly defend the building-oriented model of the church would have you believe that our gathering together would generally include an opening prayer, a staged worship service, church announcements, taking up a tithe offering, a lecture style sermon to a passive audience and occasionally an altar call or communion service. But none of this is found in the N.T. as church service requirements. I won’t even get into all the manmade liturgies and religious rituals we have added on over the centuries. In fact, if early Christians were to attend one of our typical services, they would be dumbfounded about what we called church.
Acts 2:42 & 46 is the seminal verse describing the nature of that gathering together; “And they continued steadfastly together in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in breaking of bread (eating meals together), and in prayers….So they continued in the temple (“Solomon’s Porch” - not the temple building itself because it was strictly off limits to anyone but the Levitical Priesthood), and breaking bread from house to house…” Their meeting seemed to be organic and fluid and not restricted to a set place at a set time on a set day. Rather than being a weekly, staged spectator event, the early church was largely spontaneous, interactive and participatory. (See I Cor. 14:26)
As I have said before, nowhere in the Bible does God describe the New Testament church as: “God’s holy people going to a holy building for a holy length of time on a holy day at a holy hour to act holy by participating in holy rituals during a holy service with a holy schedule and give a holy amount of money to pay a holy salary to a holy man to perform holy duties and God is orchestrating it all from His holy headquarters every Sunday.”
3. The third major flaw with this verse concerns the actual number of those who are gathering together. Just how many people have to gather together to constitute a true, authentic, bona fide church gathering? Those who try to use this verse as a proof-text to establish our need to attend a church building packed with people are in error. Are we to gather in the 1,000’s, 100’s, or 20’s to constitute a legitimate gathering together? Would 250 be enough? How about 100? Would 50 make the cut? How about 37, 23, 14, 0r 7? The only place I can find where a number is used in conjunction with our gathering together is when Jesus stated, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” - (Matt. 13:20) Our gathering together doesn’t get any better than that whether it includes only 2 or 3 or 34.
4. Scripturally speaking, the church is a “state of being” not a place where we go. The word “church” (Gr. ekklésia) in the New Testament never refers to a building or physical location. It fundamentally means “assembly, gathering, meeting or congregation”. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church referred to as a building we go to or an address we look for. Early Christians knew no such thing as a designated place being “church.” This would have been a completely foreign concept to early Christians.
Church was never meant to be a building we go to on a set day in order to be “in” church. I don’t have to go to a specific location to be “in church” any more than I go to a specific place at a specific time to be, Bill Kimball. I am Bill Kimball 24/7, not just for a few artificial hours during the week when I cloister myself in a holy room removed from society. We were meant to be the church each day, every day, everywhere we went because “WE ARE THE CHURCH!”.