By Neal Griffin
It is a fact that most splits within the Stone-Campbell movement were prompted by what should or should not be done during the corporate assembly. By "corporate assembly" I am referring to the Sunday worship service as it is currently observed by all denominated religious organizations of the Stone-Campbell movement.
The question before us is whether or not there is a required "corporate worship service" for the new covenant sons of God. Jesus contrasted, in John 4:23, new covenant worship with the time and place oriented worship of the old covenant. By way of contrast He indicated that new covenant worship would be in spirit and in truth and Paul, in Romans 12:1, clarified what that true worship should be. New covenant sons of God offer their bodies as living sacrifices which is the true worship to which Jesus referred. Jesus performed the essential sacrifice when He gave His life, and now secure in that fact, we should present our bodies as living sacrifices. New covenant worship is not expressed by the performance of rituals whether in a "corporate worship service" or otherwise.
Todays pattern keepers, sincere as they may be, adamantly impose assembly requirements on their followers. "Forsake not the assembling", is twisted to mean, "forsake not the corporate worship service". They pick and pull certain passages and try to enforce them as essential to proper new covenant law keeping as if the new covenant were a new legal system that took the place of the old legal system. Oddly enough, in this confused approach old covenant patterns of worship are imposed on new covenant worshipers. The tabernacle is replaced by the lofty cathedral sanctuary, the altar is replaced by the elevated pulpit, and the priest is replaced by the dandily attired paid pulpit minister. Where is the difference that Jeremiah and Jesus prophesied? There should be a contrast, but the corporate worship services of our day are both time and place oriented. Jesus said that the time now is when men will not worship in Jeruselum nor in yonder hill. Todays worship services are as foreign to the new covenant writings as infant baptism, yet the very ones who protest the loudest against infant baptism are the very ones who wrest the Scriptures to prove that "corporate worship services" are essential elements of the new covenant. The current notion that it is required of new covenant worshipers to conduct a "called to order" type assembly is a product of mans imagination. The idea that such assemblies should feature the performance of certain rituals is a myth successfully pushed off on many sincere seekers. Many there are who actually believe that the performance of such rituals is essential to salvation.
It is not my intention to bring a railing accusation against those who participate in such assemblies nor to claim that such participation is sinful. It is a Scriptural fact that God accepts worship from true hearts whether it is commanded or not. The point I am trying to make is that such assemblies are not "essential" requirements of the new covenant sons of God. The gatherings in 1'st Corinthians certainly were not the "called to order" type worship services to which the heirs of the Stone-Campbell movement are accustomed. It is not necessary to have such an orchestrated assembly in order to sing songs, hymns, and Spiritual songs. There is nothing in Ephesians 5:19 to remotely suggest that a formal, orchestrated worship service is where the singing is to take place. It is not necessary to have such formal assemblies in order to build one another up to love and good works. There is nothing in the context of Hebrews 10:21-25 to indicate that a formalized worship service is under consideration. Denominated religious organizations of the Stone-Campbell movement find it necessary to convince their converts that attendance in their assemblies is tantamount to being faithful. This is easy to understand since it is at such assemblies where the collection plate is passed. It is a fact that some such denominated religious organizations impose the passing of the plate as one of the five essential rituals of new covenant worship in spirit and in truth. This is probably the best current example of teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. This is probably about as close to blasphemy that a denominated religious organization can get without shaking its fist at God.
There is no greater commonality than to be united in the blood of Jesus. Sons of God are built up by assembling together but there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that this assembling should be in response to law. There is nothing to indicate that such assemblies are to be of the "called to order" type and essential. It is most probable that the first gatherings of saints did not involve the starchy atmosphere of todays worship services. It is doubtful that those attendees had to look at the backs of others. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful that they met in cathedrals, listened to paid pulpit ministers from elevated pulpits, and passed the plate at every gathering. It is not once recorded that the first saints ever met for the purpose of conducting a worship service, especially as we understand the term, "worship service", today.
Please consider these thoughts. I believe them to be true to the Word.
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