On wooden pews this side of comfort, we settled into an old “church building” that was built two hundred years before. The old Dutch architecture of the premises glowed with antiquity and reverence. With the usual “church building culture” of yesteryear, the ornate pulpit was elevated so high that we assumed the preacher had to take oxygen in order to complete a full sermon. The hard and smooth worn wooden pews made spectators out of all of us as we quietly listened to expositions of Scripture resonate from the speaker of the hour. We sensed coolness in the atmosphere that was mixed with orthodoxy. Nevertheless, we breathed an air of solemnity as we witnessed a tear here and there trickle down various cheeks. And then we erroneously concluded, “This religion is cold and dead, and the spectators have no relationships with one another.”
We were cold dead wrong. Our judgment came two centuries too late. When the old church house was built two centuries before, the people were as neighborly as neighbors could be. It was a relational era in history when “church buildings” were actually meant to be only “places of community worship.” They were not designed to be four-walled factories to manufacture superficial relationships, nor the site of religious concerts.
We grew up as the last remnants of this type of rural neighborly culture in America. When holidays came around, we remember when the entire rural community would come together to celebrate and commune. When there was a school function, all the people in the region were present. Everyone! Well . . . almost everyone. (There was John who lived alone by himself down the road in an old debilitated shack. We called him a “hermit” because he wanted to be left to himself. But in the entire farming community of the York District of Stafford Country of Kansas, there was only John who wanted to be alone. No church-house assembly with others would have changed John from being a hermit.)
Back in those days, when Sunday morning came, no one had any thought of allowing different church meetings to separate us as a community simply because we all shuttled ourselves off to sit on pews in different premises throughout the area. We were still a connected community. The premises where we all sat on Sunday were constructed for Bible teaching and worship of God. Places of worship were never constructed in an effort to establish relationships between the attendees of any particular community. The people were already community with relationships before they showed up at the premises of their respective “church.” Communities were “one another” before they came together to worship with one another.
But the modern urban culture has changed us. Modern metropolitan existence has alienated us from one another as citizens. In our efforts to chase money in the urban business world, community relationships are sacrificed for job promotions. In rushing from one appointment to another, we simply bypass one another. The consequence of our alienation is that the “hour of worship” on Sunday morning has become an effort to rewire our relationships. We seek to inject some relational experience into ourselves in order that a temporary and superficial connection sustain us until the next meeting. Some churches use Wednesday nights to check the wiring unless our relationships become frayed before Sunday. Our wiring is simply disconnected with too many “closing prayers.”
Ever hear the statement, “I went to that church and no one greeted me.” The one making such a statement “went to church” with the wrong expectations. Spectator assemblies of disconnected people do not establish relationships. The one who has made such a statement usually had few relationships before he or she showed up at the doors of the sanctuary. Those who have strong relationships with others do not show up at the assembly in order to “get something.” They show up to give worship to God. If we seek to establish “one another relationships” at an assembly where worship is to be poured out, then we are out of touch with those with whom we should already have a relationship. Assemblies of the saints were never intended to establish relationships. They exist because relationships already existed. The early saints were together daily because they already had a relationship with one another because their common obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:46). They were not together in order to establish relationships with one another. For this reason, it is never the prime objective of the cross-cleansed community of God to construct cathedrals where relationships are to be established.
And in the context of this subject, Hebrews 10:24,25 has since the beginning of the alienated community been twisted out of its historical relational context. The entire context of the Hebrew letter is about maintaining a vertical relationship with Jesus who is the Son of God and our high priest. The context of 10:24,25 is that those who have this vertical relationship with Him should already be in a horizontal relationship with one another. When we take our community relationships with one another that we already have outside our assemblies, and bring such into our assemblies, then expression love is manifested for one another. The connected must then determine in assembly how their love for one another is to go into action through good works in our communities.
There is nothing about legalities in a genuine relationship that is built on love. If our community as “church” exists because we are pushed together by a legal command, then the premises in which we assemble becomes cold and orthodox. Our assembly becomes theatrical. We will get nothing out of being with one another if we are legally driven to one another. But if we are drawn to one another through love, then regardless of the premises, we will explode into worship of the One who shed blood to make us one united body. Physical premises then become irrelevant to our assemblies. They are convenient, but they are not the foundation upon which we establish our community with one another as the children of God. It is for this reason that the saints who meet under a tree have as much a relationship with one another as those who meet in an air-conditioned/heated orthodox cathedral. Places and premises mean nothing in reference to the “peculiar” people who are precious in the heart of the Prince of Peace who poured out His blood for them. When we are connected with one another outside our assemblies, then our worship, as Jesus explained, can take place anywhere and at any time (John 4:1-38).
Biblical Research Library
Book 35: Worship God
Book 36: Worship Freely
Book 43: Exercising Sobriety & Self-Control