When we really read the bible instead of relying on unquestioned traditions (in belief and practice), it can sometimes be a challenging and even painful experience.
For example, many of us would probably say that we come together as local churches in order to worship. Where I serve as pastor, we refer to our gatherings on Sunday mornings and evenings as "worship services." I even catch myself in the pulpit referring to what we are doing as "worshiping."
But what does the bible say we should be doing as we gather together? I'm not sure I'm ready for this answer.
I Corinthians chapter 14 describes for us in the clearest terms what the gathering of the church looks like. In 14:26, Paul writes this:
"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." ESV
"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." NASB
"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." NKJV
Paul is clearly talking about the church coming together/assembling. What happens? Different people in the church do/offer different things mentioned above. But what is the purpose? Paul again makes this blatantly clear. Everything that happens is to build up/edify the church body.
Let's make this clear. Everything that happens when the church gathers is for the purpose of edification. Let's also take note that Paul did not write worship. He specifically wrote edification.
What can we take from this? Do we not worship when the church gathers?
We can at least learn the following:
1) The church should come together.
2) Church gatherings are made up of numerous people doing numerous things.
3) When the church gathers, the purpose of the activities is the building up of the body. Paul could not be clearer on this point.
4) Paul is quiet about the issue of worship. However, we can assume this is taking place because the church is composed of followers of Jesus, and all of life is supposed to be worship for followers of Jesus. Roamans 12:1-2 makes this clear, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." ESV
The bible often forces us out of our comfort zones. I Corinthians 14 makes us, if we are willing to really let scripture speak, think differently about what the purpose of church gatherings is. Yes, there will be worship. However, the gathering should certainly not be the only time of the week that a Christian is worshiping.
As we come together, let us think of it primarily as a time to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we think this way, it ought to take our focus off self, and place it on others. It also ought to cause us to think a great deal about both what we say and how we say it in the context of the local church gathering.
One great verse for us to follow in all of life, and especially as we gather is Ephesians 4:29. Paul writes, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." ESV
What difference could the church make if we all lived (and gathered) according to this verse?