Are Christians Expected to Gather Together for Worship?
It is common for Christians to assemble together on the first day of the week to worship God. We’re instructed to come together for worship, and in the bible, we’re given the example of first century Christians coming together for worship. The entire fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with the subject of coming together for worship. Verse 19 says; “..however, in the assembly..” Verse 23 says; “If therefore the whole congregation should assemble together..” And verse 26 says; “What is the outcome then brethren? When you assemble..” 1 Corinthians 11, verse 20 says; “Therefore when you meet together..”
“In the assembly..”, “When you assemble..”, “When you meet together..” So then you can see, it’s obvious that Christians are expected to gather together to worship God.
When are Christians Expected to Gather Together for Worship?
Is there a certain day or time that God expects us to come together to worship Him? As for a specific time of day, the bible is completely silent. There is one example in scripture, of Christians being assembled together in the middle of the night, but we can only speculate as to what time that assembly had begun. The bible says, in Acts 20, verse 7; “On then the first of the week, having come together to break bread, Paul reasoned with them, and intending to depart on the next day, he continued the words until mid-night.”
Did that assembly begin in the late evening, and then go on until the middle of the night? Or did it possibly begin in the afternoon, and last all the way till night time? We don’t know, because the bible doesn’t say. Did this assembly last a particularly long time, since Paul was planning on leaving the next day? It probably did last longer than usual.
The scripture says; “..he continued the words until mid-night.” Now that doesn’t mean 12 O’clock midnight, it simply means somewhere in the middle of the night. How long did the assemblies usually last? We don’t know, because the bible doesn’t tell us. We don’t know what time the worship assemblies back then typically started, and we don’t know how long they usually lasted. We do know from the bible, that this particular gathering didn’t completely end, until daybreak. The bible says in verse 11; “And when he had gone up, and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.”
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this passage, so I want us to deal with this passage in some depth. First of all, I believe that we should be viewing this passage, from the perspective of how the Jews counted time. For the Jews, a new day began at sunset, and lasted of course, until the next sunset. In contrast to that, the Romans counted their days like we do today, with each new day beginning at 12 midnight.
This particular passage would make the most sense it from the perspective of the Jews, with each new day beginning at sunset. If that were the case, then Paul and the Christians at Troas, would have been assembling “to break bread”, at some time after sunset. With that being the case, it would be easy to understand how Paul might have prolonged his speaking, until mid-night.
Acts 20, verse 7 says; “..having come together to break bread, Paul reasoned with them..” Some versions simply say; “..Paul talked to them..” The KJ says; “..Paul preached to them..” And that really seems to be the best rendering here, because the word being translated here, means.. “to address, to reason, to lecture, to preach.” Paul wasn’t just casually talking to them, he was presenting a discourse, in other words, he was preaching to them. That’s why this is also one of the verses that we sometimes go to, for authorization to preach during the worship service.
We have the example here of the Christians coming together for the expressed purpose of “breaking bread”, or in other words, to partake of the Lord’s supper, and we also have the example of Paul preaching at the same assembly. You know, we sometimes go into a lot of detail, about specific meanings of specific words and phrases, just to prove a point. And we wouldn’t have to do that, if everyone simply took the scriptures at “face value”. In other words, if so many people wouldn’t be so ready to argue about everything, and simply accept what the scriptures say, then we wouldn’t have to spend all the time proving what they say.
Time of Worship
Today, it’s probably most common, for individual congregations to assemble in the morning. However, evening assemblies are also fairly common, and some assemblies are also held in the afternoon. Are any and all of these times acceptable to God? Since the bible is silent as to what time of day we come together for worship, it therefore must be up to the discretion of each individual congregation, as to what time of day suits them best. However, if one congregation chooses to assemble in the afternoon, they have no right to tell another congregation to assemble at that same time. And the same thing would be true for any other time of day as well. What God has not legislated, we have no right to legislate either.
Day of Worship
What about the day of worship, has God legislated any specific day in which to come together? In Acts 20, verse 7, we have the example of Paul, an apostle of the Lord, and other Christians, coming together to take the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week. The exact wording in that verse is.. “On then the first of the week..” The writer of the book of Acts, had just been talking about “days”. He wrote in Acts 20, verse 6; “And we sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to them at Troas within five DAYS, and there we stayed seven DAYS.” Then he says in verse 7; “And on the FIRST of the week..” The first what, of the week? Well obviously, the first DAY of the week. Therefore, the phrase “the first of the week” refers to the first “day” of the week.
So then, here we have the mention of a specific DAY in which Christians assembled for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s supper. The partaking of the Lord’s supper was one of the things which were to be done, when the Christians came together in the worship assembly. 1 Corinthians 11, verses 18 thru 21, shows clearly that this is the case. Verse 18 begins with these words; “In the first place, indeed when you come together in the assembly..”
Here’s an example of Christians coming together in an assembly; And then the apostle Paul rebukes them for the way that they have abused the partaking of the Lord’s supper. They had turned the Lord’s supper into a common meal. Paul says in verses 20 & 21; “Therefore, when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in your eating, one is hungry and the other is fully satiated!” Clearly, their purpose for coming together was SUPPOSED to be, to eat the Lord’s supper, but their selfish abuse of that act, made it clear that they were not assembling with the proper motive or purpose in mind, and they were strongly rebuked for it!
Therefore, the bible gives us the clear teaching, in 1 Corinthians 11:18 thru 21, that at least one of the purposes for assembling together was to take the Lord’s supper. And we have the clear example given in Acts 20, verse 7, that an approved day to come together in this assembly, was the first day of the week.
Now, there’s one other passage of scripture that also mentions the first day of the week, in which the whole congregation should be engaged in a specific act. That passage is in 1 Corinthians 16, verses 1 & 2. Here’s what the bible says in those verses; “Now, concerning the collection for the saints..” (the specific collection referred to here was the collection of money to help support the poor Christians in Jerusalem) “..concerning the collection for the saints; As I directed the congregations of Galatia, so do you also..” (that last statement makes it clear that ALL congregations are to do the same thing) “..On the first day of the week, let each one of you put beside him, storing up as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”
When Paul came to the city of Corinth, to gather up the money given for the Christians in Jerusalem, he wanted it to be already collected and stored up, so that he could send it on it’s way to Jerusalem. As the people earned money, they were to “put beside themselves” some of that money, “as they prospered”. In other words in proportion to how much they earned, they were to set aside a part of that. The size of the portion to be set aside, is up to the individual. And the day when everyone was instructed to come together and “store up” that money, was the first day of the week.
Why the first day of the week? Well, we’re told to “store up” our contribution on the first day of the week, for the same reason that we are given the example of coming together to partake of the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week. It’s because of the significance of the first day of the week. The Lord has a long history of desiring the “first” of things, from man. In both the old covenant, and the new covenant, the “first” has been specified. We’re going to get into this in more detail later, but here’s just a quick couple of examples;
The bible says in Exodus 23:19; “You shall bring the choice first fruits of the ground, into the house of the Lord your God.” In Leviticus 23:10, it says; “..When you enter the land which I am going to give to you, and you reap it’s harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest, to the priest.”
Proverbs 3, verse 9 says; “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce..” Exodus 13:2 says; “Sanctify to Me, the first born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both man and beast; It belongs to Me!”
This concept of the significance of the “first” of things, carries into the new testament as well, but like I said, we’ll get into that in more detail later.
Following the Example and the Pattern
Getting back to the example of the first day of the week, there is no mention anywhere in the new testament, of any other day being specified for the collection to be taken up, or for the Lord’s supper to be partaken of. And there is no other example given in the new testament, of any other day when these things were to be done. There are examples of other things that were done in the worship assembly, but no mention of any other day, in which to come together and do these things.
Therefore, is it not scriptural, and are we not “safe”, in following the clear instruction and the clear example, of what Christians did in the first century, and to make the first day of the week, the day that we come together in the worship assembly? Certainly, it is both a safe practice, and it’s also a scriptural practice. If an apostle of Jesus Christ, namely the apostle Paul, assembled with other Christians to partake of the Lord’s supper, on the first day of the week, and if that same apostle instructed all the congregations of Galatia and of Corinth, to take up a collection of money, upon the first day of the week, then it would obviously be acceptable to God, for us to do the same thing as they did.
And since we have no scriptures which would prohibit us from copying their example, and since we have no example of any other day in which these things were done, then there is no reason that this wouldn’t also set a precedent for us to follow, in other words, it sets a pattern for us to follow. The bible is explicit in teaching us to follow the patterns that God has set forth.
God said to Moses, in Exodus 25, verse 40; “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.” God was talking about the things which were to go in the tabernacle, in the wilderness. And in Hebrews 8, verse 5, the writer says that the entire old covenant law and practices, “serve as a copy, and shadow of the heavenly things.” And then the writer quotes that old testament scripture, which says to “make all things according to the pattern..”
Jesus tells us in John 13, verse 15; “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I did for you.” The word “example” there, means.. a figure, a copy, an example, a pattern. And then the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:17; “Brethren, be imitators of me, (in other words, follow my example) and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” The word “pattern” literally means a pattern for us to follow! Originally the word referred to the imprint left when a hammer struck a die. It left an indelible imprint, a pattern.
What pattern did the apostle Paul leave for us concerning when he assembled with other Christians to partake of the Lord’s supper? In Acts 20, verse 7, he left the pattern of doing it on the first day of the week. And what pattern did he leave for us, concerning our contribution? He not only left the pattern, but he left the command, in 1 Corinthians 16, verse 2, of doing it on the first day of the week.
And what else did Paul leave a pattern of doing on the first day of the week? In that same verse, Acts 20, verse 7, he left the pattern of preaching. “And on the first of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul preached to them..” And once again, the word translated as “preached” literally means.. “to lecture, to address, to discuss, to reason.” One of the definitions is.. “to speak through, form one side to the other, reaching a conclusion.” It does not mean simply to have a casual conversation with someone; It means to preach to them.
Correct Translation is Required
Here’s something interesting to take note of. In that same passage, after they had eaten the Lord’s supper, and after Paul had done his preaching, and after the young man named Eutychus, had fallen asleep and fell from the third story window; And after Paul had gone down and revived the young man back to life, it says in verse 11; “And when he had gone back up, and had broken the bread, and tasted..” That reference to “breaking bread” doesn’t refer to the Lord’s supper. That refers to the fact that they now had a meal together.
But you might want some kind of evidence of that. So here’s how we can tell, that this second reference to “breaking bread”, isn’t just another reference to the Lord’s supper. The word “tasted” in that verse, specifically has to do with enjoying the taste of the food. The verse says that they had “..broken the bread and tasted..” The Lord’s supper is not about the flavor of the food, it’s about remembering the death of Jesus Christ. There is no way that God would use the word “tasted”, meaning to savor the taste, in connection with the Lord’s supper. The use of that word here, is specifically indicating that this reference to “breaking bread” is a reference to a meal, where you might sit back and enjoy the taste of the food you’re eating. The word “tasted”, might seem like a small thing here, but that word is there for a reason. In the original text, that word is there for the very purpose of indicating that a meal is being spoken of.
So, after all this had happened, the scripture says; “..he talked with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.” The word “talked” in this verse, simply refers to having a conversation. It’s a different word, then the word translated “preached”, in verse 7. Some bibles translate both words the same. They use the word “talked” in both places. But that simply does not convey the meaning. The word in verse 7 means to preach, and that is contrasted with a different word in verse 11, which means to have a conversation. Is preaching also talking? Of course it is. But not all talking is preaching. So unless a word is used that properly conveys the meaning, the meaning will be lost in the translation.
So then, there’s several little details in this passage, which serve to clarify for us, exactly what was going on, and what is being said. I think that this verse is an example of kind of a rare case, when the meaning of a passage is a little difficult to know, without an understanding of the specific meanings of the original Greek words. But when we do get into the specifics, then the meaning of the passage becomes clear.
Be sure to take a look at the next lesson in this series. View Lesson #2, by clicking here.