Church, Not As We Know It

This is an portion from Chapter 20 “Making Church Gatherings Work” from the book Biblical Church – A Challenge to Unscriptural Traditions and Practice by Beresford Job, used by permission. It shows in some detail what a particular church gathering looks like.

It’s Church Jim, but not as we know it!

When our church first started the general consensus was to meet on Sunday afternoons and have the Lord’s Supper as our evening meal. We could, of course, equally have chosen to meet in the morning and had the Lord’s Supper as lunch; and of course there is complete freedom as to whether a church has the Lord’s Supper before or after the worship and sharing time. However, the luxury of unhurried Sunday mornings won out for us and so we decided to meet at 3pm and to therefore have our worship and sharing time – the ‘1 Corinthians 14’ part of the gathering, as some like to call it – first. We therefore do encourage punctuality in order to ensure that people aren’t arriving after proceedings have commenced, thereby causing a distraction.

We are blessed to have various people who play the guitar and so we don’t have to sing unaccompanied by musical instruments. The musicians do not, however, lead our sung worship, as would a worship group in an unbiblical church, but merely accompany what is transpiring. Sometimes someone will just strike out with a song to the Lord with the musicians doing their best to join in, whilst at other times a song will be requested in which case the musicians will start it off. And of course any of the musicians are free to start a song up as well.

This is what we think of as being the main backdrop to our ‘1 Corinthians 14’ time; sung worship to the Lord. Not that singing is all we do though, but throughout the hour or so (sometimes longer) of our corporate worship and sharing together as a church, our default mode is nevertheless that of quiet and prayerful worship before the Lord. Therefore, whenever there is silence, the mode we are in as individuals is simply that of quietly waiting on the Lord.

As already described, no one leads from the front. We are in the home of whichever family is hosting that particular week, and there is precisely no front to lead from. We all sit around the sides of the room – some on chairs and others on the floor depending upon available space – and everyone can clearly see everyone else’s face. All are free to interject into the silence, whether with sung praise and worship, a prayer, a tongue, an interpretation, a prophecy, a testimony, a request for prayer, a word of encouragement, a word of instruction from the scriptures, or a reading from them: anything, in fact, which would have the effect of encouraging and building up in the Lord those present. This is the foundational underlying principle and rule laid down in scripture for the 1 Corinthians 14 time; “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”[1] There are times too when, quite naturally, general discussion occurs concerning something that has been contributed, but once there is an obvious and natural end to a contribution and any ensuing discussion, then we revert back to the default dynamic of individual and corporate silent, prayerful and worshipful waiting on the Lord.

After our corporate worship and sharing time has ended the dynamic of the gathering changes. Instead of the backdrop being that of worship, and with only one person contributing at a time with the rest of us listening quietly, the gathering now gives way to the hubbub of multiple conversations and activities as people fellowship together on an individual, as opposed to corporate, basis. This is ‘hang-out’ time – fellowship and social interaction. The highlight of the gathering – eating the Lord’s Supper together – is yet to come, and the atmosphere is that of casual and informal social camaraderie. Theological discussion sometimes occurs among small groups, and may even, though this is much more rare, end up involving everyone, but the default now is that of fellowship together on a much more personal basis than is the corporate worship and sharing time. Anything from fun and games in the garden to individuals vanishing off to pray together about something is the order of the day.

By the time an hour or so has passed the ladies have prepared the food and the meal is ready.[2] The loaf and cup (we use separate small cups but filled from the one bottle) are readied and we join together again as a corporate body in order to focus on what the meal is all about. Usually the husband of the host family leads us in this, and whether simply through prayer, or with the addition of a short teaching as well, he calls to mind what the loaf and cup stand for by way of what the Lord Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for us. When that has been done we sing a worship song together, after which we proceed to eat our church family meal – indeed, the Lord’s Meal[3] – together.

The food is usually served ‘buffet style’ in the kitchen, and so an orderly queue soon forms. Parents get their children’s meals first, and then everyone else is free to dive in. The (broken) bread and grape juice (sometimes wine) are laid out with the rest of the food, and each of us takes a handful from the loaf, along with a cup of the drink, which we then consume with the rest of the meal. More recently some of the men-folk, when it is the turn of their family to host the gathering, have begun every now and then to break the bread and pass it round, with the cup, before we actually eat, as part of the process of us giving thanks and focusing on what they represent. This has been truly excellent, and a variety of different approaches helps to keep our reminders and understanding of the Lord’s Supper new and fresh.

After the meal is finished we consider the gathering to be generally over, but that is not to say that everyone leaves. Those with young children usually leave early evening, but others stay for as long as the host family is happy to have them – sometimes until late into the evening. It’s a good day, and we all certainly know that we’ve been to church. And we are all the more blessed too in knowing that we have precisely gone about it just as the Lord has directed us through his Word.


[1] 1 Corinthians 14 v 26

 

[2] In recent years we have developed the idea of having a set theme for the meal each Sunday which everyone knows about in advance. This could be anything from Chinese one week to Italian the next, and we just make sure that the wives know ahead of time what is needed and can therefore co-ordinate what each person is going to prepare and bring. At other times we just have a ‘pot-luck’ meal where people bring whatever they want. It works well and really does make the Lord’s Supper one of the best meals of the whole week.

[3] The reader will recall that the Greek word Paul uses in the term Lord’s Supper is deipnon, and it precisely means the main meal of the day towards evening. ‘The Lord’s Meal’ is therefore a perfectly accurate alternative translation.

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