Gathering: But Not For the Better!

2009-04-11T15:10:03+00:00 By |Ekklesia, Fellowship & Church|

“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse” (I Corinthians 11:17).

Jesus made it clear that “where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Just two or three!

I thank and praise God that Jesus did not say, “Where two or three THOUSAND are gathered together, there I am.” He did not say, “Where two or three HUNDRED are gathered together, there I am.” And He did not say, “Where two or three DOZEN are gathered together, there I am.”

Jesus also did not say where the two or three had to be gathered together. He did not specify a church building or a living room meeting. And He did not say how many times a week they had to be gathered, or if the gatherings had to be structured or unstructured, open or closed, inside or outside.

By establishing His Presence in the midst of a group so small as two or three, Jesus repudiates our fascination with large numbers. Anyone can gather a crowd if you tell them what they want to hear. May I say that a large group has no more of the presence of Jesus than a small group. The numbers are irrelevant. Either Jesus is in the midst, or He is not. If Jesus is not in the midst of us then having a large group of people will not compensate for Him not being there.

I would rather sit on the living room floor with three people and have Jesus in the midst than sit in a service with three thousand people where Jesus is nowhere to be found.

Of course, Jesus can sometimes be found in large groups of people, but as my wife says, He tends to get lost in the crowd.

WHAT ABOUT ASSEMBLING TOGETHER?

Concerning our assembling together, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:

“Forsaking not the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

Praise the Lord for the simplicity of this Scripture. Once again, we are not told WHERE to assemble (the local church). We are not told WHEN to assemble (Sunday morning). We are not told HOW OFTEN to assemble (three services a week, prayer on Tuesday, youth group on Thursday). Taking this verse by itself, it simply tells us to make the most of every opportunity we have for encouraging one another face-to-face. Yet it gives no direction about where, when, or how many times a week this is to take place.

As a pastor, I misused this verse all the time. I did it in ignorance, but the message I consistently sent out was, “You need to attend more, pray more, give more, and do more than what you’re doing. You need to be submitted to me so you can have a spiritual covering. You need to be accountable to a local body of believers. And if you don’t come to church every time the doors are open and if you don’t participate in every program we have available for you then you are forsaking the assembling of yourselves together!”

Is that really what this verse means? When you read the verses preceding this one it becomes apparent that the Spirit of God is not trying to get us to be more faithful to attend church services. In fact, when this was written, Christians did not have “church services” (or church buildings, for that matter).

So what does it mean? If you read the entire chapter (better yet, the entire letter), you find that we are being encouraged to draw near to God without fear, by a “new and living way”, through Jesus Christ our High Priest, Who has already assembled us together as the house of God in order to lead us into the Holy of Holies.

Based on what we know about the Lord’s Ekklesia, we could just as easily say, “Don’t forsake the house of living stones that Jesus is assembling together, because there’s no other way to draw near to God!” But people usually find what they expect to see, not what is really there. So we nullify the Word of God with our tradition, missing the blessing and turning it into a burden.

IN THIS I PRAISE YOU NOT

Jesus said if HE is lifted up then HE will draw all men to HIMSELF. Instead, we lift up religion and draw all men into an institution.

Are we suggesting that Christians should never go to church or have fellowship with others? Of course not. But we ask, can fellowship only occur in the context of a church meeting? Once we realize that our fellowship is supposed to be based on a relationship with Jesus, not a relationship with “church”, we will discover that there are more opportunities for fellowship OUTSIDE the local church building than there are INSIDE.

That is because Christ-based fellowship lasts as long as you are abiding in Jesus, while church-based fellowship only lasts as long as you are attending that church. When you go to their services and support their agenda then they love you. Once you leave, and they realize you are not coming back, they want nothing more to do with you. The reality is simply this: their fellowship with you is church-based, ministry-based, man-based, or money-based, but it is not Christ-based.

The true character of a church, fellowship, or ministry is not judged by how they receive you when you join, or how they treat you when you are there, but rather, how they send you when you go, and how they relate to you after you have left.

Many churches, gatherings, meetings, ministries and fellowships do more harm than good. They should be shut down because Jesus does not have the preeminence there. Thus, they serve no Kingdom purpose. I am convinced that most churches exist only to give the pastor someplace to preach on Sunday. The meetings continue but no fruit is produced. They are dead branches still clinging to the vine that need to be hacked off to make way for new growth.

Paul told the Corinthians that when they came together it was not for the better, but for the worse. To be sure, they gathered together. They were faithful to assemble. But their gathering together was not a testimony to their faith, it was a testimony to their division. Actually, they were not assembling together at all, they were assembling separately. “Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you!”

The apostle says it would be better for them to stay home than to gather together for the worse, have division, teach heresies, despise the church of God, bring shame to one another, eat and drink damnation to themselves, and come together “unto condemnation” (see I Corinthians 11:17-34).

This is strong language. When was the last time you heard a message on that? What pastor is willing to stand up and say, “There will be no more services until we can learn how to come together for the better, and not for the worse.” Not many!

IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD’S DAY

Brothers and sisters, do not be deceived or troubled. If we are one with the Head then we are one with the Body, even if we are not physically gathered together; and if we are NOT one with the Head then we are NOT one with the Body, even if we ARE physically gathered together. How can that be? Because Jesus is building His Church, and it is a spiritual house, not a physical house.

This principle is clearly demonstrated in the life of John the apostle. Exiled to the Isle of Patmos because of the testimony of Jesus, he was physically isolated from other believers and had no face-to-face contact with any of the churches. He had no “covering”, no “accountability”, no “authority” no “local body of believers”, no “fellowship”. He seemed to be cast off into a corner, forgotten.

But John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” He maintained connectivity to the Head and to the Body of Christ by way of a spirit-and-truth worship walk. This connectivity is spiritual, not physical, not social, not geographical. Because of this, John received a clear vision and a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ. As a side benefit, John knew the exact spiritual condition of the seven churches of Asia, even though he was not assembled together with them.

It is better to be alone and be in the Spirit than to assemble together and be in the flesh, going through the motions of Churchianity, gathering for the worse, and not for the better. Jesus said,

“Isaiah was correct when he prophesied about you hypocrites, saying, ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouths, and they honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me, and they worship Me in vain, for they teach as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:7-9).

Friends, there is a more excellent way! The Father is actively seeking and recruiting for Himself people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Jesus is setting them free from vain worship and traditions of men, and He is gathering them together into a spiritual house of living stones. The Holy Spirit is leading them into an ever deepening, ever increasing relationship with Christ. With them, every day is “The Lord’s Day”!

While everything not established on Christ is being shaken, those who are being reduced to Christ are receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved. It is a wonderful time to be alive and to see God’s Purpose being fulfilled! Why would we be content with anything less? He has given us new wine and new wineskins. Let us seek the preeminence of Christ in all things, and when Jesus does gather us together in simplicity, He will be in the midst, and our gatherings will be for the better, and not for the worse. Amen.

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About the Author:

CHIP BROGDEN is a best-selling author, teacher, and former pastor who shares "real, simple, truth" about a Christ-centered faith that is based on relationship, not religion. Learn more »

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  1. Maaarrie Milligan October 23, 2009 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    What I’m experiencing leaving the OC I guess I see that others are also. That helps. I’m told I have a relious spirit. There have been times before when I believe the Lord tried to bring me into the desert with Him and I fought and screamed for my church “fix”. This time I don’t want to take another lap in desert. I am now learning to be aloe with Yeshua. I’m beginning to feel free in Him.God bless Maarie

  2. mariek wols January 30, 2010 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Thanks Chip for your wonderfull articles so often
    they confirm what I have received in prayertime.
    It is a good comment of your wife that often Jesus does not always turns in large meetings.Just today
    we met with another two people to worship and it was just beautiful in His presence.It confirms the
    beautifull fellowship they had in the book of Acts
    just going from house to house.Thank you for your invitations to the webcam but I am very new on the
    computer.THanks regards Mariek

  3. Charity Fetters February 23, 2010 at 12:29 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this message! It met my need specifically. I cried through it as it spoke to so much of what our family has gone through this past year.
    “Thank you Jesus for leading us and placing other believers in our path to encourage us in You and Your holy ways.”

  4. Melissa February 25, 2010 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Poweful Message ! I was called out of organized religion a few years ago, but wasn’t sure what was going on for months. I was a member of a “church” where membership was expected and guilt was used as a motivator in getting you to commit to memebership, which was made possible by signing a covenant of membership. Not long after the fog lifted and I was able to see clearly what God was saying about this particular group of people, I was heartbroken at all that He revealed to me. He wasn’t at all pleased with my signing of this covenant with these people. He commanded me to repent and reminded me that I was in covenant with Him and I was not to be in covenant with man. With so few people who had walked in these shoes, I was ridiculed, Talked about behind my back of course, etc. I do attend a church with my husband and am not at all comfortable with that. He is still controlled by the traditions of man, and out of submission I attend. I am in a delimna right now over this, I feel that God is calling me out of this fellowship as well. I feel that my husbands tithe to this church is the equivalent of being in covenant with this group of people. Opening the door to the plagues that will come upon these people. I am in the midst of a spiitual attack against my physical body right now, The same battle several other women in this group have fought recently. I Thank God for you and your teachings that so often speak directly to my situation. May God continue to Bless you guys in all that you do for the building of His kingdom.

    • Karen September 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Melissa,
      I am in the same situation as you describe with attending the church with your husband. The Lord has called me out of the church we currently attend, but my husband still goes, and I do as well out of submission to him. It is a very difficult and stressful situation and am praying for strength daily. The difficulty increases in that we have a child who goes with us who I do not want being influenced by this group. This website is very helpful and encouraging. May God Bless you and strengthen you in your battle. You are not alone.

  5. Sharon June 17, 2010 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Well put, Chip. I think I might carry copies of your article in my purse to give to the next person who says “you aren’t forsaking the fellowship, are you?” I’ve been asked that many times during the past eight years since leaving organized religion and I always struggle with giving a good answer beyond just saying “no”(probably because I’m still so surprised at their question). You explained it so eloquently and clearly. Thank you.

  6. Richard September 20, 2010 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    My wife and I belonged to two different local churches the past decade and both have had serious moral and ethical concerns at the very top of leadership. We have not been able to find another assembly within the past year partly because of this and also because I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and lower back degeneration that had put me in a state of chronic pain and fatigue for the past eight to ten years. My wife also suffers from frequent migraines. I say this because there had been some in the church who have actually challenged the ‘assurance’ of my salvation because we don’t currently belong to a ‘local body’. They challenge this on the premise that there is ‘no biblical evidence’ of early Christians not being a part of a local body or assembly. They back that with the scripture in Hebrews about forsaking the assembly. I’m not sure how people can make the leap from this scripture to the ‘assurance’ of one’s salvation but it’s out there. And it comes from very smart and in some cases well-meaning brethren. Needless to say, however, this implication added insult to injury to us even as we desired to be a part of some fellowship. We found ourselves a little jaded by past ‘church assemblies’ as well as confronting serious physical problems which severely limited our commitments. These were things which were beyond our control.

    But I’m not one who likes to make excuses so I listened to these accusations and fell into theological condemnation. I had never thought about John being alone on the Isle of Patmos yet staying ‘connected’ to Christ. That is an excellent point, and even though I wasn’t clapping my hands on Sunday I was routinely in God’s word, in prayer, in His presence. Your discernment on this goes beyond any point/counterpoint debate. It’s discernment in spiritual truth and wisdom. Sometimes people mistake facts for truth. The Pharisees had all of the facts, but they had no truth nor could they understand it when Jesus spoke it. I’ve come to believe that it is those who sincerely love others with Godly love who have the most discernment. There’s a revelation and perspective that goes beyond biblical knowledge or facts and it comes from those who truly love Christ’s church and take issue with hypocrisy and scholarly pontification. We can also tell the sincerity of the believer not just in what it is said, but how it is presented. Chip, your intention in this article is demonstrated in the love of truth and the love of your brethren. It’s like a breath of fresh air and a fresh drink of water. This is what is lacking and we need to pray for more of this in ourselves and others. I’m all for assembling and fellowship, I’m just not for doing that just for the sake of ‘belonging’. I don’t think this is what Paul meant when he described us a ‘living stones’.

    • Glen August 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      Richard, there is an excellent book available on the web entitled Custom or Command written by Stan Firth, a Scottish ex-pastor. It was written to explain to friends the Biblical basis of certain things they though he should or should not be doing. In his book he examines the scriptures concerning such things as worship, teaching and “assembling” together. I think you will find it to be encouraging and might even be useful to send to your interested friends who are so concerned for your spiritual welfare.

  7. keith yale August 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Chip, I have known you for many years and am in agreement with what the Lord has revealed to you concerning churchianity. I personnaly have challenged many pastors on their doctrine and have been asked to leave more times than I can count. God has just told me to leave Tacoma and move to Chorus Christi, then said nothing other than to go. It is in my heart and I believe my calling to be a pastor/teacher. Souls are at stake, teaching as this imparitive and church as we know it is wrong. I have laid that question before God many times and have challenged many of my fellow ministers with, what if we are doing it wrong, what if there is a different way. Your thoughts?

  8. James Mal August 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Dear Chip and Karla
    That exactly is the question I had been asking the Sunday Christians then they would say, Yes, but what about the fellowship then I try to explain to them what really is the Fellowship. I personally do go to a Church, when I say ‘a Church’ I mean any church, once a month. My purpose is to look for them who have the seeking heart,hungry and thirsty for His righteousness. The Sunday Christians are the most self righteous christians on the earth. At the end of the meeting, when I happen to shake hand with somebody. Their first question is have you been here before. I say. Not really. Then they say. were you blessed, did you enjoy the service”. How negating and heart breaking is this question. Would I be blessed if I go to a Church for enjoyment. Blessed are those who mourn. And that is my blessing when I come out of that church building at the end of the service.
    James

  9. James Mal August 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Dear Chip and Karla
    That exactly is the question I had been asking the Sunday Christians then they would say, Yes, but what about the fellowship then I try to explain to them what really is the Fellowship. I personally do go to a Church, when I say ‘a Church’ I mean any church, once a month. My purpose is to look for them who have the seeking heart,hungry and thirsty for His righteousness. The Sunday Christians are the most self righteous christians on the earth. At the end of the meeting, when I happen to shake hand with somebody. Their first question is have you been here before. I say. Not really. Then they say. were you blessed, did you enjoy the service”. How negating and heart breaking is this question. Would I be blessed if I go to a Church for enjoyment. Blessed are those who mourn. And that is my blessing when I come out of that church building at the end of the service.
    James

  10. Lizette August 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Love the article. I am one with you brother. The Lord is building His House. We just need to be willing to see and follow.

  11. judy ausink August 22, 2011 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Chip. Your articles continue to bless me and my husband. I can’t say this has been an easy journey, but as each day passes we see more and more what the Lord’s purpose is in all of this.

    Thank you,Chip, for another great article that offers encouragement and blessings. Please continue to do what the Lord is leading you to do. May YOU be encouraged and blessed to know how many of us that you have helped. Prayers for you and your family.

  12. Michael August 23, 2011 at 8:47 am - Reply

    Chip,

    Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter.

    It is important for us to share our stories because it’s all God’s story don’t you think?

    I served a congregation for ten years. There was numerical growth, many successes and it often felt like an atmosphere of grace.

    For the first time in ten years I received a ministry evaluation. All high marks. Then nine months after the evaluation, with no explanation other than, “You are a square peg in a round hole.” I was asked to resign. We live in a very small town (2500 people) so it was extremely difficult to navigate this experience. However, we refused to fight back, become vindictive or lash out.

    Several months after the resignation we learned that influential leaders in the church thought me “too spiritual.” Not sure what that means.

    The time in the desert for my wife and I has been extremely painful. It has been over a year now and we are healing–our good days out weigh the bad days. The LORD has ministered to us during this time. It has been through music (often “secular”), your writing, His Word, and friends who have been through similar experiences.

    I read the postings of people who prayed about coming out of the institution, struggled with it and finally made the break. I admire their courage and conviction. If I had not been asked to resign I would have never quit. However I can now honestly say that I am grateful to be out.

    One passage that brought me comfort was Jesus’ own words, “They will put you out of the synagogue” (John 16:2a).

    It is wonderful to be out of the frying pan of man-centered ministry and into the flame of the presence of YHWH.

    May we continue to be “reduced to Christ.”

    Peace.

    Michael

  13. Mary Ann August 23, 2011 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Melissa & Karen…I too am in the same situation but believe that God honors our submission to our husbands. My husband filled out a long questionnaire that was designed to pinpoint your spiritual gifts, along with the majority of our church. Upon completion of that along with attending four classes on membership & responsibilities, he signed his commitment agreement & was presented a certificate of membership. It is stated on there that he has made a commitment to protect the unity, share the responsibility, serve the ministry and support the testimony of this church for the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. He hung it on the wall above his computer desk where he also repairs computers as a side job. I tried a few times to fill out that thick questionnaire but finally tossed it out. I attended three out of the four classes on membership but never bothered to do a makeup of the one I missed. My husband was voted in by the board to become a deacon/board member and I am surprised that they haven’t pressured him about my becoming a member. It may be that because I am involved in a women’s prison ministry (not through my church) and also help out a blind woman since her husband’s death over four yrs ago that they see me in ministry. In my recent birthday card, our head Pastor wrote in my card about that, so I guess I am off the hook? I will be praying for Melissa & Karen and ask that you pray for me as well. I am so thankful for this ministry, it has helped & blessed me more than I can say. God bless, Mary Ann

  14. Wynn August 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    The saddest part is that unbelievers and children seem to be the only ones that notice that Jesus has “left the building”. Then there are those of us who knew something was wrong but thought we would be dishonoring God by forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. People are so disheartened after training up a child “in the way they should go” and then the kids want nothing to do with organized religion. Parents think their children are rejecting Jesus when in actuality they were never introduced to Jesus but given 18 years of organized religion posing as Christianity.

    Most don’t even seem to realize that gathering together in Jesus name has nothing to do with 2 or 3 professing Christians getting together in the same room. If Jesus’ and His agenda are not given the preeminence it can’t be His name we are gathering in. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s usually the pastor’s “vision” that everybody is gathering together for. The people are usually always pointed to the “house vision” and rarely is anyone pointed to Jesus unless it’s to whip the service into a frenzy.

    Thank you Brother Chip for being willing to say what many are not willing to say about the state of “the Church”.

  15. Peggy August 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    Thank you Chip for these articles and all of you who commented on them. Being set further free from the mental torment that comes at people who are so called, “unfaithful” or “uncommitted” is no fun, but something I know God is faithful to walk with us through it all. What good gifts He gives us! He IS the gift!!!

  16. Mike January 6, 2013 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Any suggestions on what to do to fill in the time for fellowship with your family? Being out of the church system and programs feel now what to do? How to have family church and get the children active some how. Still feel the pull to go back just for the kids and wife.

  17. ollie April 7, 2013 at 10:38 am - Reply

    In our assemblies I can not remember when we acknowledged that the Lord was among us and with us in our gathering. Perhaps we have in a paraphrased wording and I missed it, but it seems that the glory that is God’s may have been missing in mentioning such. To have the Lord among us at our gatherings seems something to stand up and shout about in joy and rejoicing, raise holy hands to God.
    Of course, the comeback to this among many of us is, it is not mentioned in the new testament that first century Christians, the church, did such, so it would be seen as sin and unscriptural. Pray hard!

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