Why do we meet together?
By: Scott Morton
The question listed as the title of this article is something that is asked by many Christians, especially once they understand who they are as members of the Body of Christ. They want to know why it is important to assemble together, especially since they understand they have the Lord Jesus Christ dwelling in them. There are various reasons for why they decide to not do so, but they cannot come up with "good reasons" to actually attend a local assembly.
This also comes from a lack of understanding as well about what the meaning of the word church is. Too often, this is looked at as being the building where the local assembly is meeting. This can even be seen by the first definition given in Webster's 1828 Dictionary:
1. A house consecrated to the worship of God, among Christians; the Lords house. This seems to be the original meaning of the word. The Greek, to call out or call together, denotes an assembly or collection. But, Lord, a term applied by the early Christians to Jesus Christ; and the house in which they worshipped was named from the title. So church goods, bona ecclesiastica; the Lords day, dies dominica.
2. The collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ, and acknowledge him to be the Savior of mankind. In this sense, the church is sometimes called the Catholic or Universal Church.
3. A particular number of christens, united under one form of ecclesiastical government, in one creed, and using the same ritual and ceremonies; as the English church; the Gallican church; the Presbyterian church; the Romish church; the Greek church.
4. The followers of Christ in a particular city or province; as the church of Ephesus, or of Antioch.
5. The disciples of Christ assembled for worship in a particular place, as in a private house. Col 4.
6. The worshipers of Jehovah or the true God, before the advent of Christ; as the Jewish church.
7. The body of clergy, or ecclesiastics, in distinction from the laity. Hence, ecclesiastical authority.
8. An assembly of sacred rulers convened in Christs name to execute his laws.
9. The collective body of Christians, who have made a public profession of the Christian religion, and who are untied under the same pastor; in distinction from those who belong to the same parish, or ecclesiastical society, but have made no profession of their faith.
The first definition given goes to what most people associate the word church to mean. The meaning they take is it speaks of the building itself. This is not what the Word of God actually means by the word church. The Bible actually takes the second definition listed above as the true meaning of the word. This can be seen by looking at the definition of the Greek word translated as church (Definition given here comes from Strong's Concordance):
From a compound of G1537 and a derivative of G2564; a calling out, that is, (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both): - assembly, church.
The meaning of the word church is the group of people who are coming together. This would mean the local assembly is actually the church being spoken of in the Bible. Where this is being done has no importance to God. There are passages in Paul's epistles that would show the local assembly meeting in a home or meeting in a building. The important thing was the local assembly actually coming together for their worship, as this was what they were instructed to do.
Three churches mentioned in Scripture
Three different entities are identified as a church in the Bible. We will look at each of these briefly to show how they are not all the same thing.
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.  This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
There is a group here identified as the church in the wilderness. This would have been at the time Israel had first been brought of Egypt and were wandering in the wilderness waiting to go into the promised land. The specific event of Mount Sinai being spoken of here is recorded in Exodus 19, speaking of the giving of the law.
Israel was to function as God's people to fulfill the program God had. This program involved the reconciliation of the earth back unto Him. Since all of man had been found incapable of being used by God (as they had failed to follow His instructions and had been judged at the Tower of Babel- Genesis 11), God chooses to make a nation through which these promises will be fulfilled.
An objection some people have to this is the word church is never found in the books of Genesis through Malachi (commonly referred to as the Old Testament). While this is true, the meaning of the word shows this is exactly what they were. They were a called out group of people God was dealing with at the time. He chose one nation to fulfill the promises made to Abraham related to the reconciliation of the earth back unto Himself. This is why Israel could always be referred to as a called out assembly, as they had been called out from all of the nations.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
This passage shows the second church mentioned in the Bible. This one is usually taken by individuals to be speaking about us, as this is the Lord Jesus Christ speaking and the four gospels are thought to refer to the Body of Christ. The problem with this thought process is that there are many passages where the Lord Jesus Christ identifies He is bringing salvation to Israel.
For those who are objecting to this, the above passage shows the gospel presentation that is making them members of this church. The rock mentioned in Matthew 16 is not Peter, but is the truth that is identified here. Peter states the Lord Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the one they had been waiting for according to the prophecies listed in the Old Testament and was going to establish the kingdom through Israel. Their belief in this message made them part of this church and was necessary for them to have salvation.
This is not what saves an individual today. The gospel message for individuals today is:
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
This message is given exclusively to the Apostle Paul and cannot be part of the church mentioned in the book of Matthew. They were building on the promises of the coming kingdom for the nation of Israel, which is part of the plan of God to reconcile the earth back unto Him. We are part of the promise to reconcile the heavenly places back unto God, which is why we are given promises there (Ephesians 1:3).
The church that is mentioned in Matthew is part of the program of God, which is continuing throughout the book of Acts:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.  And all that believed were together, and had all things common;  And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,  Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
The individuals being spoken to on the day of Pentecost are asking what they need to do in order to have salvation. A message is given to them, which is different from what would be said today. He gives them a message of repentance and baptism, which is going to give them the remission of sins.
Many would teach this is the beginning of the church. However, verse 41 listed above would say otherwise. It says there were added to the church. If something is being added to, there could not be something new going on. There had to be something already in place, which is now having something added to it. This church in place would be the one mentioned in Matthew. There can be no other explanation than this, which would line up with the Bible's clear teaching.
The third church that is mentioned is the church, the Body of Christ. This information is given to the Apostle Paul for us today.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.  And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
The Lord Jesus Christ is identified in this passage as being the head of the Body, which is also identified as being the church. All individuals who put their trust in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) are automatically put into the Body of Christ and are made members of this church. There are no other requirements for membership in this church, which is often contrary to what man has done. Many local assemblies put numerous qualifications on an individual before they are allowed to join. This means man is making it harder to do something than God has allowed.
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:  Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;  Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:  To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
As the Apostle Paul continues in this epistle, he lays out again the issue of the church being made up of the members of the Body of Christ. He also speaks about how he is the one who is the minister to the Body of Christ and has given the doctrine the members of the Body of Christ are supposed to follow today. This means we should be using the books of Romans through Philemon as the foundation for what is being done during this dispensation.
While it is sometimes said that individuals make too much of Paul, the Bible is very clear on who he is. He is identified as being the Apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) and talks about how he has been given the information we need, the gospel of the Uncircumcision (Galatians 2:7-9). Paul is the one who magnified his office (Romans 11:13), as he clearly understood the change which was occurring during this dispensation. God was stopping his dealing with Israel and was offering salvation to the Gentiles, which means it would be a completely different church than what had been occurring during the gospels and the early part of the book of Acts.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.  For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:  For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.  This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
This passage continues the thought process of the church and the membership of it. This is again speaking of the Body of Christ, with a focus on the uniqueness of this church and the relationship the Lord Jesus Christ has with this church. This was never said of the nation of Israel in any manner, as they had been looking for the coming Messiah, which dealt with the Lord Jesus Christ coming to be with them. They did not have a hope that was close to what we have.
Function of the Church
This is important to understand, as this will help to answer the question that started this article. We have identified who the church is, now we need to see why the church is needed in this dispensation:
And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,  Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.  And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
This passage from the book of Acts shows what the thinking of the Apostle Paul is and what they were attempting to do as they were going into each of these cities. They had gone into these places, had taught the gospel, and established local assemblies in these places already. Now, they are going back to these places to check on them. As part of this, they are going to do three particular things with each of these assemblies:
Confirming the souls of the disciples
Exhorting them to continue in the faith
Ordained them elders in every church
These three things were part of their ministry to each of these local assemblies. It is important to note what they were doing, as it shows a lot of information about what they were doing and what we should be doing as part of the local assembly. This is how we can follow the pattern of the Apostle Paul as he demonstrates for us what God intends during this dispensation.
The first of these things mentioned is confirming the souls of the disciples. This would be referring to strengthening them, or what we usually call edification. One of the roles of the local assembly is to build up someone in the faith. The members are built up through their study of the Word of God individually, but there needs to be something done on a collective basis to continue to build up the individual members. This happens because we are able to gain insight into what the Word of God says from each other. There is not one individual who can say they have all the answers to what the Word of God teaches in all areas. An individual may have insight in some things, but we are all still growing in knowledge of what the Word of God teaches. This is why the Apostle Paul offers up these prayers:
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;  That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:  The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
These two passages show the thought process of the Apostle Paul in his prayer life. The first thing he was praying for was the growth in knowledge of what the Bible says. This is the only way a person is going to be edified and how they are going to learn what they need to do in their life.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
The Apostle Paul clearly teaches us that it is only through the grace of God that we can have any understanding of how we are to live our lives. This understanding comes as we study the Word of God rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15) and take in this knowledge. The Word then is applied to our lives as we understand the doctrine and come to the knowledge of what is intended for us.
The next thing they were doing is what is called exhortation. This word has confused many people. The following is the definition from Webster's 1828 Dictionary:
The act or practice of exhorting; the act of inciting to laudable deeds; incitement to that which is good or commendable.
1. The form of words intended to incite and encourage.
2. Advice; counsel.
The idea is exhortation is to encourage. This is something the members of the Body of Christ are supposed to do when they come together. There is an encouraging of the fellow members that should be going on. This is necessary because the world is not going to encourage those who are following the Word of God. If you look around at the world, you can see the reaction to the things of God. Instead of being encouraging to people who follow the Word of God, the world makes fun of the things of God and attempts to tear down those who are doing what God would intend for individuals to do. This is the sad reality of the world we live in.
Exhortation can come in many different forms. One of these is just by being with the members of the Body of Christ. It is encouraging to know there are others who have the same understanding of the Bible, especially after spending time in the world, where people are rejecting the things of the Bible. It is good just to be able to be around the members of the Body of Christ.
This can also come from the comfort through which the members of the Body of Christ are to provide each other:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;  Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.  And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
There is to be a comfort that comes from the members of the Body of Christ when an individual is facing tribulation. The comfort ultimately is coming from God, but the members of the Body of Christ are able to provide comfort for each other through the Word of God.
This happens when someone is going through a problem and speaks with another member of the Body of Christ who went through something similar. The member who has gone through the problem shares with the person who is struggling some verses they used to get comfort from. This is the sharing of the experience that is to come through dealing with problems correctly according to the Word of God (Romans 5:3-5). When this happens, the members of the Body of Christ are functioning according to the plan God has determined for this dispensation.
One last way the encouragement occurs is through the love of the members of the Body of Christ for each other. The members of the Body are to have a care for one another that go beyond the care we have for others. They are to be considered like family, as many of the words used by the Apostle Paul demonstrate this.
The last reason for the local assembly is the ordaining of elders. This is a reference to the leadership of the local assembly and it is interesting to note the plurality of elders being mentioned. This is demonstrated in Philippians 1:1 and is necessary for the church to function properly.
The eldership has a responsibility to the local assembly:
2 Timothy 2:2
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
The Apostle Paul here shows one of the primary functions of the eldership of the local assembly, which is the ability to teach others. The elders, through their teaching, will help the local assembly function through the first two things covered in this article (edification and exhortation).
The teaching is centered on the Word of God rightly divided, as this is where the doctrine can only come from. The idea of just telling stories to teach is something that is warned about (2 Timothy 4:4) and does nothing to help a person understand the doctrine they need to live their life. It is only through God�s Word that a person can understand what they need to do. This is why the Apostle Paul held up the church at Thessalonica so high (1 Thessalonians 2:13), as they were taking what had been taught as the Word of God and were applying it to their lives.
The eldership have the responsibility to not only study for themselves (2 Timothy 2:15), but they need to be able to take the things they have been studying and teach them to others. It is a difficult task that is not for those who are novices when it comes to studying the Word of God. There needs to be a foundation laid for them upon which they can build in order to do this.
If the local assembly is functioning properly, they will have someone from the next generation come up and fill the roles of the eldership of the church. They will not have to keep going outside of itself in order to find this person (Note: For local assemblies that are just starting out, this cannot always be the case. This should be true for those assemblies that have been established for a period of time, as the teaching should have raised up an individual who would be able to carry out this role). This is truly what God would have happen in the local assembly, which is going to cause the assembly to be able to survive over time, as the new eldership is able to take over and keep the teaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery going for each generation.
These are the reasons why we should be getting together each Sunday (or whenever the services of your local assembly are). If you live in an area where there is a local assembly, you should make every effort to attend. Not only do the members of the Body of Christ need what you can offer them, but also you need what they can offer you. God wants us to function together:
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.