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 this 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 in interactions within homegroups and in private prayer.

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 often encourages 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 and ritual engages the parts of a person that appreciate theatre and elaborate choir music, but the parts of us they touch do not engage with God personally, just as singers and actors and singers performing Shakespeare or Mozart do not engage with them personally. (They are dead, and only their works live on.) 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. There is no room in ritual for Jesus Christ to manifest; atheists could take part in it. 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? Family and adoption are key metaphors for church in the New Testament, and not in any part of family life do people gather and say the identical words each week. No liturgy is found in the New Testament – liturgy is rule-based and is law, in the sense Paul meant 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, because we are meant to minister to one another. The mutual upbuilding and encouragement for which we are to gather together (Hebrews 10:24-25) is not possible in liturgy.

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 Quakers suppose that only persons who believe they have been given words by the Holy Spirit should speak, when in fact believers may also speak to each other in the presence of Jesus Christ. What should not be done is speak about Jesus in his presence, for he is present (Matthew 18:20). This is a gathering of friends, not an “address the chair” style of meeting.

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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