Why not services?

This model replaces that of the large Sunday ‘service’, supplemented in many congregations by weekly homegroups. Church 14-26 believes that homegroup meetings are the regular church meetings described in the New Testament. Church meetings are described as taking place in the home in 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15 and Philemon 1:2. No verse describes routine church gatherings anywhere else. The idea of a service comes partly from the synagogue gatherings of Jews 2000 years ago, but there never were ‘Jesus synagogues’ because Paul’s preaching in synagogues divided the congregation, and Jews who accepted Christ were unable to remain. (Jesus prophesied that in John 16:1.) The early church met privately, because of the hostility it faced.

The believers in Corinth would not have recognised the notion of a ‘church service’, for nothing like one is described in Paul’s letters or the rest of the New Testament. Believers meet Jesus Christ most closely – just like meeting anyone else present (Matthew 18:20) – in interactions within homegroups and in private prayer. Together, believers make up Christ’s body in their region (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and he is their head (Ephesians 1:22). The church, meaning now the collective of all believers in Christ across time and space, is mysteriously also his betrothed (Ephesians 5:25-31), whom He loves.

Every meeting of Christians is unique in its combination of people and the circumstances in which they gather. The Holy Spirit can respond appropriately. That is impossible among believers who meet only at a weekly service at which everybody does the same thing. They cannot interact, even if there is an open-microphone policy (which tends to encourage exhibitionism). They do not look into each other’s faces, which tell more than words. Holy Communion is not taken in the table setting described in 1 Corinthians 11. Hymns or songs are sung that have been chosen by a worship or congregation leader, you sit through a sermon without discussing what is said, you say Amen at the end of prayers that have been tailored by somebody else. (Jesus intended the Lord’s Prayer to be prayed alone on behalf of others, according to Matthew 6:6-13.) Even in the Old Testament no words were specified for Temple ceremonies, only what was to be done.

‘High’ church liturgy engages the parts of a person that appreciate theatre and complex choir music but, although music and drama can be deeply moving and beautiful, the parts of us they touch do not engage with God personally. In a fixed liturgy there is no room for Jesus Christ to manifest; atheists could entire into it. Liturgy is no substitute for koinonia, the corporate expression and experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus loves and interacts with each of us as individuals, and this must make the way we gather round him different from gatherings in other religions. Reading out a declaration of love or a formulaic apology from a book, or learnt by rote, would not impress your spouse, so why would it impress God? No liturgy is found in the New Testament: it is rule-based and ultimately law, in the sense Paul means in his contrast with grace (in Romans and Galatians). Talking and impromptu prayer over coffee after a service is often closer to 1 Corinthians 14.

Believers should prepare themselves for church gatherings, because some ways of contributing described in 1 Corinthians 14:26-30 involve preparation in advance. Quaker meetings also seek spontaneity in the Holy Spirit, but without expecting all persons to contribute. Church 14-26 believes that the Spirit will guide the preparation of believers for the meeting, as well as guiding the meeting itself.

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