Sunday, December 5, 2010

Acts 20:7 Gatherings

Acts 20: 7 says, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." Read the entire passage here.

The context is Paul's third missionary journey. Luke is with Paul (notice the word "we"), as are several others who assist Paul. They have arrived at Troas. Acts 20:7 and following describe what happens at a church gathering.

As we read 20:7-11, we see three aspects of the meeting that stand out. I'm not talking about the miraculous healing, but rather three characteristics of the gathering that would have been repeated when the church got together. First, they met on Sunday. Second, they gathered together to break bread. Third, they spent significant time talking with each other.

Since Paul was present, we can safely surmise that he gave approval to this church gathering. Since this is the case, it makes sense that our gatherings today should closely follow this model. But do they?

First, the church in Troas gathered on Sunday. Most churches in the USA still gather on this day. Does this hold much theological significance? I would say no. Certainly Jesus' rising from the dead on Sunday is important, but to say that a church gathering must occur on this day of the week seems rather silly to me. Despite this, most churches assemble this day.

Second, the church in Troas broke bread together. But notice something significant; this appears to have been the purpose of their gathering. The text says, "when we gathered together to break bread." The best assumption is that this describes the celebration of the Lord's Supper, which would have been a full meal. Does the meal have theological significance? It certainly does since we are commanded to celebrate it. It is a tangible reminder to us of Christ's death, resurrection, and promise to return. Despite this significance, most churches celebrate the Lord's Supper relatively infrequently.

Third, Paul talked with them long into the night. Luke uses a word that tells us that Paul talked, discussed, had a conversation with them (he did not "preach" to them. The KJV got that translation incorrect). In fact, the word Luke uses for what Paul did is closely related to our English word for "dialog." Take note that Acts 20:11 tells us, "And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed." Part of the reason he spent so much time with them most likely had to do with the fact that he wasn't in Troas very often. However, we still see that this church spent significant time conversing. Their gathering was one of multiple-direction conversation. Is this theologically significant? The simple answer: Yes! What might the people have said? Hebrews 10:24-25 provides us with a clue, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

In light of what we see of the church gathering in Troas, of which the Apostle Paul was a part, we should ask ourselves if our gatherings measure up. Do we look like them?

-Do we meet on Sunday? Frankly, this probably isn't that important as long as we are gathering regularly some time. Interestingly, this is the one aspect of the Troas gathering that most of today's churches emulate.

-Do we meet together to break bread? In other words, do we come together to eat, celebrating the Lord's Supper? This is certainly significant theologically. It is also an act of obedience. Let's celebrate this full meal together as a joyful occasion.

-Do we spend time talking, conversing, engaging in dialog with one another? This is extremely important. It is how we stir up one another to love and good works. We should ask if our gatherings provide us with ample opportunity to speak in a relaxed setting with one another. If not, then why not?

Let's let the bible inform all we do. This short passage tells us much about church gatherings. We would benefit a great deal from reading it and learning from it. May we strive to be a part of church gatherings that look like what we see in scripture.

24 comments:

David, Erika, Lucy and Harry Cleland said...

OK. I've been following along and would love to get together to dialogue again. But here I have to ask: so you consider this account to be prescriptive (telling us what to do) rather than descritptive (telling us what they did)? Is Luke's intention in this narrative to present Troas as a model for all church gatherings?

Eric said...

Hi David,

I'd love to get together as well. Let's do it soon.

As for this account, I think we would all agree that it is at least descriptive. Whether or not it it prescriptive is difficult to say.

We do know that Paul was present. We can surmise that he gave approval to what occurred. In light of this, we can be certain that it is fine to meet on Sundays, to gather for the purpose of eating together, and to engage in multiple-direction conversation during gatherings.

Because we can know that Paul gave approval to these things, it makes sense to me that we would want to function in this manner.

Alan Knox said...

I wonder, if this passage - and others like it - are only descriptive, which ones are prescriptive? Where do we see the modern "worship service" either prescribed or described in Scripture?

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

Good question. I suppose people are asking whether or not we have to do it this way. I'd want to know why we wouldn't. Why would we come up with something (worship service) that we don't see anywhere in the NT?

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Your passage,in association with Acts 2:42, caused me much struggle and introspection in my younger days, especially as I stood behind the communion table with a taste of grape juice and enough cracker or dry bread to get stuck in a hollow tooth.

How we deceive ourselves!

Eric said...

John,

After a while the bible begins to get louder and louder in areas where we are off-base. I'm so thankful to have finally seen the light.

michaeldebusk.com said...

Eric,

I find myself again confused by your hermeneutic. How is the description of the church meeting on Sunday any different than the description of her meeting in houses? If Scripture clearly implies approval for the practice of the church meeting on Sunday, who are we to to say that insisting on Sunday as the appropriate day is silly?

MJD

David, Erika, Lucy and Harry Cleland said...

"I'd want to know why we wouldn't."

I guess my response to this would be: because there are factors here that just aren't present today. For one, they had an apostle in town. I'd be willing to sit up and listen all night too if Paul came to Savannah.

Second, I just don't think I'm troubled by coming up with things that aren't in the NT as long as they don't break some kind of scriptural principle. I've always been thankful that the scriptures give a lot of freedom to individuals and local churches. Take church leadership for instance. We learn that there should be godly leadership and accountability among leaders. Apart from that there is no prescription. Congregational churches and elder led churches use the same passages to support their way of leading.

I think creativity among church gatherings is great. I just don't see a need to call out gatherings that don't look like Troas in Acts 20 as unbiblical.

Eric said...

Mike,

I'd rather do all three of these things in church gatherings than none of them. In fact, just today we met in our home on Sunday, we celebrated the Lord's Supper as a full meal, and our gathering was a time of discussion between all the people. It was wonderful.

Eric said...

David,

I suppose it is a matter of interpretation. I don't see as much freedom in church life as most others do. When I use the term "freedom," I'm referring to deviation from the biblical model.

My goal is not to scold traditional churches. Rather, it is to challenge them to ask why they do what they do. If they are not following the biblical model, then why not? If they can provide a solid answer that satisfies them, that's fine by me.

michaeldebusk.com said...

I'm sure it was and I certainly would want to be understood as condemning the incorporation of any of those practices. I was just confused by this statement: "Certainly Jesus' rising from the dead on Sunday is important, but to say that a church gathering must occur on this day of the week seems rather silly to me." I really do want to understand how Sunday could be take it or leave it but houses can't. It's entirely possible I misunderstand. Help a brother out!

MJD

michaeldebusk.com said...

That should be "wouldn't" :)

Eric said...

Mike,

It comes down to theological and ecclesiological significance. I know of very few people at all who would say that gathering on Sundays is important to the life of the church.

However, gathering in homes is significant. Homes keep the number of people small enough to be intimate. Homes provide a wonderful place for the Lord's supper as a full meal. Homes lend themselves to informality. In other words, gathering in homes has advantages for gatherings.

In the end, I want to do my best to follow the biblical model in any area of significance.

michaeldebusk.com said...

But those are all practical arguments, not biblical ones are they not? They are at best assumptions behind the practices described in the text. Scripture doesn't spell out specifically that they met in homes in order to facilitate the breaking of bread, or am I'm forgetting somewhere that it does? Following the hermeneutical model that requires employing maximum described/implicitly approved practice makes Sunday a requirement, no?

MJD

Eric said...

Mike,

We know they met in homes. We know they met in order to break bread. We know they spent a great deal of time is discussion, exhortation, etc. We also know they met on Sunday.

Do these all seem to hold the same significance? I don't think so.

It seems to me that those who want to follow the biblical model should not have to justify it. Rather, those who deviate from what we see in the bible should be the ones explaining themselves. I've yet to hear solid arguments in favor of many modern church practices such as preaching to saved people, Sunday School, Youth Group, and million dollar buildings.

If I have to meet with the church on Sunday to be consistent then I'll do so. My desire is to follow what the apostles approved of.

michaeldebusk.com said...

OK, very well. I agree with you about Sunday, by the way (though I think I'd have an easier time making a biblical, historical, and theological case for the necessity of Sunday than I would making one for the necessity of houses--perhaps a future post!). I just know how I get there, and I was pretty sure it was different from how you would get there. Your suggestion about biblical features varying in significance was helpful to me for understanding how you approach the text. Thanks for taking the time to clarify and thanks again for the exchange.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

There's something vaguely familiar in Michael's words. I suspect that he is a pastor in a traditional setting, as I was.

We must not allow this to be just a one, two, or three issue matter. Our gathering together has far wider implications, which, in my opinion, are equally important from a Scriptural perspective, and is very well stated by Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

"Are we giving the members of the church an adequate opportunity to exercise their gifts? Are our churches corresponding to the life of the New Testament church? Or is there too much concentration in the hands of ministers and clergy? You say, "We provide opportunity for the gifts of others in week-night activities." But I still ask, Do we manifest the freedom of the New Testament church? . . . When one looks at the New Testament church and contrasts the church today, even our churches, with that church, one is appalled at the difference. In the New Testament church one sees vigour and activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its glory and of its responsibility, with the whole church, as it were, an evangelistic force. The notion of people belonging to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two or three doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me it is foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in times of revival and of reawakening".
(Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, pp.195-196)

Alan Knox said...

I see no problem with gathering with my brothers and sisters on Sunday (Acts 20:7) or daily (Acts 2:46 and Acts 19:9). I do see a big problem with meeting in a way that silences the majority of God's children and does not allow (much less encourage) them to follow the principles (Hebrews 10:24-25), examples (Acts 20:7-12), or commands (1 Corinthians 14:26) of Scripture. Apparently, given traditional practices, the many 'one anothers' of Scripture were intended for anytime except when the church gathered together.

-Alan

Eric said...

Mike,

I appreciate tour willingness to discuss these things and ask hard questions. Most people don't want to do that.

Please know that I'm not meaning to throw traditional churches under the bus. I still respect and am thankful for the service you give to the body.

Eric said...

John,

I agree with you completely that this is a larger issue. The church needs to function, as you say, in such a way that everyone is expected and needed to exercise his or her gifts. We must operate in such a way that this happens. If not, the body will be very ill indeed.

michaeldebusk.com said...

Eric,

I know brother. I read you everyday, even if I don't always take the time to comment. I continually appreciate your tone.

Michael

Eric said...

Alan,

You bring up a good point. What a crazy idea it is that the one anothers could and should be followed all the time except during the primary meeting of the church during the week. This is completely backwards.

Jeffrey said...

It must difficult for someone who has only experienced the "ceremonial" version of church to understand what a "biblical" church meeting as Eric describes it, is like. Rather than an endless "parry and thrust" debate, I have a suggestion. Why don't the folks who have never attempted to meet as the Bible describes, give it a try?

Honest, it only hurts a little. You might be surprised at what God shows you.

Jeff

Eric said...

Jeff,

Thanks for getting together with us today. It was very edifying. The food was good, but the conversation was better.