Sermon Shorts from Spurgeon — Sermon 28: The Church of Christ

Well, we have examined this rich promise; we as a church are looking at it; we are saying, “Is that ours?” I think most of the members will say, “It is; for God has poured out upon us showers of blessing in their season.” Well, then, if the promise is ours, the precept is ours, as much as the promise. Ought we not to ask God to continue to make us a blessing? Some say I did so-and-so when I was a young man; but supposing you are fifty, you are not an old man now. Is there not something you can do? It is all very well to talk about what you have done; but what are you doing now? I know what it is with some of you; you shined brightly once, but your candle has not been snuffed lately, and so it does not shine so well. May God take away some of the worldly cares, and snuff the candles a little! You know there were snuffers and snuffer-trays provided in the temple for all the candles, but no extinguishers; and if there should be a poor candle here this morning, with a terrific snuff, that has not given a light for a long while, you will have no extinguisher from me, but I hope you will always have a snuffing. I thought the first time when I came to the lamps this morning it would be to snuff them. That has been the intention of my sermon—to snuff you a little—to set you to work for Jesus Christ. O Zion, shake thyself from the dust! O Christian, raise thyself from thy slumbers! Warrior, put on thy armor! Soldier, grasp thy sword! The captain sounds the alarm of war. O sluggard! why sleepest thou? O heir of heaven, has not Jesus done so much for thee, that thou shouldst live to him? O beloved brethren, purchased with redeeming mercies, girt about with loving-kindness and with tenderness, “Now for a shout of sacred joy.” and after that, to the battle!

From the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 1, Sermon 28 by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Church Meetings – Part 4: Where Should Churches Meet?

As I stated in a previous article in this series, our modern view of church is typically associated with meeting in a building. We talk about, “Going to church.” By that we usually mean that we’re going to travel to a building and meet with other Christians for a formal assembly of believers. What do the Scriptures reveal about this?

There is no established place for Christians to assemble in the Bible.  The biblical text is clear.  They met in homes.  There was no “church building” for them to meet in. 

[As an aside, I have heard preachers use 1 Corinthians 11:18 as referring to a church building, “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” (KJV) There are two issues with the phrase “in the church”. First, the Greek preposition en, translated “in” has a broad array of meanings, depending on the context. Nearly every other English translation (NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, HCSB, RSV, et al.) renders it “as” which makes more sense in context. Second, there is no article (“the”) in the Greek text. The absence of the article usually means that it should be translated one of two ways: (1) “as church” indicating the character or quality of the church or (2) “as a church” indicating that the church is indefinite and not a specific one or location. (For you Greek students out there, I’m simplifying this for a general audience. It is understood that there are grammatical constructions which would make the phrase definite and thus require the article in English, but that is not the case here.) Again, context would indicate that it should be “as a church”. The only translation which does not follow this is the KJV. Now I love the KJV, but the Greek text trumps it.]

Again, I’m not saying that having a building is wrong.  I’m just saying that it’s foreign to the Bible.  So, if I meet with Christians at my workplace, even for a few minutes, to share, pray, and maybe even discuss Scripture, is that an assembly of the church?  Think about it before you answer.  We weren’t in a church building, but that’s not a biblical requirement.  We didn’t sing songs, but that’s not a biblical requirement either.  We didn’t take an offering, but since you cannot find even a single reference to a church in the Bible taking an offering for their own use, that’s not an issue either. 

Could it be that Hebrews 10:25 could refer to something other than our traditional concept of a church assembly?  The Greek word for “assembling” (episunagoge) refers to a “gathering together in one place”.  It does not speak to the number of people or a building or a need to have a pastor present or singing or preaching and it certainly does not refer to a denomination.  The context is that we “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works”.  (Heb. 10:24)  And remember, Jesus made a propositional statement in Matthew 18:20 that where 2 or 3 are gathered that He’s there.  It’s something to think about.

In conclusion, an assembly of believers (a church) can occur anywhere. Our concept of “going to church” is shaped by our contemporary view of it. The biblical text requires Christians meeting together and that can occur anywhere Christians are assembled.

Church Meetings – Part 3: When Should Churches Meet?

Sunday has been the traditional day when Christians come together as a church to worship. But what is the standard in the Bible? Contrary to popular belief, there is no established day or time in the Bible for the church to assemble.

Now I know what you’re thinking. The Bible shows that the early church met on Sunday, right? Well, I think we’re stretching the biblical text to get to that conclusion. If you search the Scriptures for any reference to Sunday (as in “the first day of the week”), you will find that it occurs 8 times. Five of those are in reference to the resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Another in John 20:19, references the disciples in the Upper Room on the evening of the resurrection. I would argue that none of these 6 verses have any bearing on a church service. After all, I believe the Church was founded in Acts 2, so it wasn’t in existence yet. Furthermore, there is nothing in the text indicating that Jesus intended for His followers to continue to meet on that day. Please read it for yourself.

Another verse is Acts 20:7, which states that the disciples came together on the first day of the week. There it is! See! That’s when the church normally met, right? However, that same verse states that Paul preached until midnight. I highly doubt that anyone is going to say that a service ending time of midnight is normative for the church. But go ahead if you want to. (One of my pet peeves is people taking one part of a passage and applying it to Christians while completely ignoring the rest of it.) Acts 20:7 simply records what happened at that meeting. It says nothing about what is normal for a church service.

The final passage is 1 Cor. 16:1-2, which states that the Corinthians were to save money to minister to Christians in another locality. Paul advised them to set aside a portion on the 1st day of the week. The Greek text makes it clear that each individual was to keep his portion by him, not at a church building, bank, or other communal storage area. (The Greek phrase is par’ heauto titheto thesaurizon which I would roughly translate as “storing it up, place it beside you”.) The concept was that when Paul showed up, it would be ready and each person could just give him what they had saved. That passage says nothing about a church meeting.

Another phrase, “Lord’s day” occurs in Revelation 1:10. Most agree that this likely means Sunday, but John was by himself on the isle of Patmos, so it cannot possibly refer to a church assembly either.

So meeting on a Sunday can be argued from tradition, but the scriptural evidence is lacking. Even in Acts 2, they met daily (vs. 46), but I don’t think that was a formal meeting. They went from house to house. Of course, I’m not saying that meeting on a Sunday is wrong. It’s just that it’s not prescribed by Scripture. So if a group of Christians form a church and want to meet on Friday night or a Tuesday morning for worship, there’s nothing wrong with that from a biblical perspective.

Church Meetings – Part 2: What Constitutes a Church?

In our culture here in the U.S. and in other places as well, a church is often associated with a building. We talk about going to “church” and what we mean by that is that we’re going to go to the church building and worship with other people who meet in that church building. In addition, you will find multiple “churches” in a given geographical area. Typically there are different denominations, such as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. who meet in different church buildings. Depending on the size of the city or locality, there can be multiple Baptist churches, Methodist churches, etc. However, you will not find that type of occurrence in the Bible.

The concept of having many local churches in a given geographical area is foreign to the Bible. In the Bible, a church isn’t a building. Rather, it is Christians who assemble together. A local church in the Bible includes all the Christians in a given geographical area. Furthermore, there are no denominations in the Bible. I’m not saying that it’s wrong, I’m just saying that there was no “First Baptist Church of Corinth”, “First Presbyterian Church of Corinth”, “Corinthian Methodist Fellowship”, etc.  There was one “church” in Corinth, which was actually a sizable city for its time.  Churches at that time met in homes, in synagogues, in the open air, or wherever they could.

What you have in the Bible is one “church” per locality.  Even when Paul wrote to Galatia, which was actually a larger region, he wrote to the “churches” in that geographical area.  And here’s the point: Those churches must have had some interaction or Paul couldn’t have been confident that the epistle would have made it to them all. 

The Bible shows one “church” at Rome, one at Ephesus, etc.  Given this, why isn’t there more cooperation of Christians within a geographical area, especially churches of like faith and practice?  And even the ones who don’t practice exactly alike could work together in evangelistic efforts, charity work, and other endeavors.

I used to live in NC in a town of about 16,000 people.  There were over 50 churches!  And most of those were Baptist or Methodist.  (I like to joke that even the Catholic church was Baptist: “St. John the Baptist Catholic Church”.  I’m not kidding.)  I had met people who went to other churches and there were true Christians who loved the Lord in various churches. But we rarely, if ever, interacted with the other churches.  If anything, we competed with them.  I ask: Is that what Jesus intended for His church to be?

It seems obvious from the Epistles that God wants Christians to communicate and work together, regardless of where they meet for regular worship. Just like Paul could write to the churches in Galatia and have confidence that his epistle would make it to all of those churches, likewise churches today should have some interaction based upon their joint faith in Jesus Christ.

Church Meetings – Part 1: Introduction

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have been adjusting how they meet and when they meet. Some churches have moved to virtual services. Some have outdoor or in-car services. Some have added more service times to promote social distancing. All are striving to find a way to meet the need of a church to assemble in a meaningful way. This has brought up the question: What constitutes a church meeting?

In this series, I will attempt to address some specific concepts involved with a church meeting. These will include topics such as:

  • What constitutes a church?
  • When should churches meet?
  • Where should churches meet?
  • What functions are required at a church meeting?

During this pivotal time in world history, perhaps we need to reevaluate our concept of the local church. I fear that we have become so accustomed to how our culture has defined a church that we have neglected what is revealed in Scripture about churches. Let’s get back to the Bible and let God dictate our beliefs about what a church meeting should be.