Gallup reported this week that “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999” (news.gallup.com). New Testament Christians know the spiritual value of being members of a local body of saints (1 Cor. 12:12-27). The Lord arranged local churches for our spiritual edification (which includes worship), the spread of the gospel, and relief of needy Christians (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35; 11:22; 20:28-35). Churches of Christ assemble on the first day of the week to offer God worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Scripture shows how true worship honors God and strengthens Christians in the faith (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19). Therefore, membership in a local church is a responsibility of great importance to Christians (Acts 9:26-28; Rom. 16:2). Being a member of a local church identifies each Christian as part of a working group of believers striving to do God’s will (Rom. 12:4; Eph. 4:16; Rev. 2-3). Christians will be active members of faithful congregations (there is no floating membership or “membership-at-large” in the New Testament). May each Christian be committed to fully participating in assembled worship and the other scriptural work given the local church by the Lord (Heb. 10:24-25).
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:33–34, NKJV)
The apostle has been correcting problems in the Corinthian church that were happening when they came together to worship (namely, abuse of the Lord’s supper, and class divisions, 1 Cor. 11:17-22). Now, he summarizes the solutions he gave by exhorting them to “wait for one another.” To “wait” means “1) to receive, accept 2) to look for, expect, wait for, await” (Thayer, 193). Paul makes a unity argument here. When a church assembles, the members should receive or accept each other so that their coming together is blessed (11:17). By doing so, the assembly can “eat the Lord’s supper” decently and with order (11:20-21). To bring and eat our own suppers to satisfy hunger produces “judgment” (condemnation). The work of the church, when gathered together, is orderly worship, not disorderly, divisive conduct. It gathers for spiritual work, not for social activities. By keeping our own suppers at home (entirely separate from the assembled activities), the Holy Spirit ensures unity when the church gathers to eat the Lord’s Supper. By doing we, we avoid condemnation.
“Praise the Lord! I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.” (Psalm 111:1, NKJV)
The Lord has arranged assembled worship for Christians (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 16:2). While worship is congregational, it is unquestionably individual. God seeks true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). The first day of the week is revealed as the day disciples of Jesus Christ congregate to worship God, each one lifting up praise and prayers to Jehovah with an undivided heart of devotion, honor and adoration. The day of worship is not to be forsaken, but the outcome of considering one another and stirring up love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). All that is done in the worship assembly is for our spiritual edification – prayers, songs, the Lord’s Supper, giving, and preaching God’s word (1 Corinthians 14:26). View each Lord’s Day as a great opportunity to worship Almighty God and to drink deeply from the spiritual benefits He has arranged for you in the congregation of the upright.
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:17–18, NKJV)
It is disruptive and discouraging when Christians are not united in spirit, doctrine and practice as they “come together as a church.” Such was the state of affairs in the Corinthian church, and the apostle registered his protest. Clearly, God was not pleased with them. There is a clear and important lesson here for us: Sin prevents the true worship of God (Jno. 4:23-24). A local church nullifies its praise of God in assembled worship when brethren are divided against one another. Just because brethren assemble under one roof does not mean that church has Christ’s approval. Indeed, when sinful attitudes and actions exist in a local church, both true worship and effective edification are hindered. Therefore, it is essential that Christians solve personal disputes of sin among themselves so their worship is not impeded. It is necessary that truth, not error, defines our conduct when the church comes together. God has no praise for those who offer Him corrupt praise.
14 These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14–15, NKJV)
This verse describes the church as the house or family of God. Our behavior must respect Him and His truth. Other passages depict the church as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the temple of God, and the kingdom of heaven (Col. 1:18; Rev. 19:7; 2 Cor. 6:16; Matt. 16:18-19). Notably, the local church is never described as the “business of Christ,” because it is not an economic enterprise. Yet, many think it is, since they set out arranging and operating the local church like a business. To treat the local church like a business shows a serious misunderstanding of the church. The congregation is a fellowship of Christians arranged under the authority of Christ for spiritual service, not for economic profit (Acts 2:42-47; Rom. 12:1-8). Elders are not cooperate board members; they are overseers of souls (Acts 20:28-32). Its funds are collected by freewill giving, not by business endeavors (1 Cor. 16:1-2). The treasury belongs to the Lord for His authorized work. It does not belong to the elders, the preacher, or the members (Acts 4:34-5:4). The church is the pillar and ground of the truth; not a laboratory of “best practices” determined by the business world and the wisdom of men.