Gathering: But Not For The Better!

by Chip Brogden

“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that you come
together not for the better, but for the worse” (I Corinthians 11:17)

Jesus made it clear that “where two or three are gathered together in My
Name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Just two or three!

I thank and praise God that Jesus did not say, “Where two or three
THOUSAND are gathered together, there I am.” He did not say, “Where two or
three HUNDRED are gathered together, there I am.” And He did not say,
“Where two or three DOZEN are gathered together, there I am.”

Jesus also did not say where the two or three had to be gathered together.
He did not specify a church building or a living room meeting. And He did
not say how many times a week they had to be gathered, or if the
gatherings had to be structured or unstructured, open or closed, inside or
outside.

By establishing His Presence in the midst of a group so small as two or
three, Jesus repudiates our fascination with large numbers. Anyone can
gather a crowd if you tell them what they want to hear. May I say that a
large group has no more of the presence of Jesus than a small group. The
numbers are irrelevant. Either Jesus is in the midst, or He is not. If
Jesus is not in the midst of us then having a large group of people will
not compensate for Him not being there.

I would rather sit on the living room floor with three people and have
Jesus in the midst than sit in a service with three thousand people where
Jesus is nowhere to be found.

Of course, Jesus can sometimes be found in large groups of people, but as
my wife says, He tends to get lost in the crowd.

WHAT ABOUT ASSEMBLING TOGETHER?

Concerning our assembling together, the author of the letter to the
Hebrews says:

“Forsaking not the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some
is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day
approaching” (Hebrews 10:25)

Praise the Lord for the simplicity of this Scripture. Once again, we are
not told WHERE to assemble (the local church). We are not told WHEN to
assemble (Sunday morning). We are not told HOW OFTEN to assemble (three
services a week, prayer on Tuesday, youth group on Thursday). Taking this
verse by itself, it simply tells us to make the most of every opportunity
we have for encouraging one another face-to-face. Yet it gives no
direction about where, when, or how many times a week this is to take
place.

As a pastor, I misused this verse all the time. I did it in ignorance, but
the message I consistently sent out was, “You need to attend more, pray
more, give more, and do more than what you’re doing. You need to be
submitted to me so you can have a spiritual covering. You need to be
accountable to a local body of believers. And if you don’t come to church
every time the doors are open and if you don’t participate in every
program we have available for you then you are forsaking the assembling of
yourselves together!”

Is that really what this verse means? When you read the verses preceding
this one it becomes apparent that the Spirit of God is not trying to get
us to be more faithful to attend church services. In fact, when this was
written, Christians did not have “church services” (or church buildings,
for that matter).

So what does it mean? If you read the entire chapter (better yet, the
entire letter), you find that we are being encouraged to draw near to God
without fear, by a “new and living way”, through Jesus Christ our High
Priest, Who has already assembled us together as the house of God in order
to lead us into the Holy of Holies.

Based on what we know about the Lord’s Ekklesia, we could just as easily
say, “Don’t forsake the house of living stones that Jesus is assembling
together, because there’s no other way to draw near to God!” But people
usually find what they expect to see, not what is really there. So we
nullify the Word of God with our tradition, missing the blessing and
turning it into a burden.

IN THIS I PRAISE YOU NOT

Jesus said if HE is lifted up then HE will draw all men to HIMSELF.
Instead, we lift up religion and draw all men into an institution.

Are we suggesting that Christians should never go to church or have
fellowship with others? Of course not. But we ask, can fellowship only
occur in the context of a church meeting? Once we realize that our
fellowship is supposed to be based on a relationship with Jesus, not a
relationship with “church”, we will discover that there are more
opportunities for fellowship OUTSIDE the local church building than there
are INSIDE.

That is because Christ-based fellowship lasts as long as you are abiding
in Jesus, while church-based fellowship only lasts as long as you are
attending that church. When you go to their services and support their
agenda then they love you. Once you leave, and they realize you are not
coming back, they want nothing more to do with you. The reality is simply
this: their fellowship with you is church-based, ministry-based,
man-based, or money-based, but it is not Christ-based.

The true character of a church, fellowship, or ministry is not judged by
how they receive you when you join, or how they treat you when you are
there, but rather, how they send you when you go, and how they relate to
you after you have left.

Many churches, gatherings, meetings, ministries and fellowships do more
harm than good. They should be shut down because Jesus does not have the
preeminence there. Thus, they serve no Kingdom purpose. I am convinced
that most churches exist only to give the pastor someplace to preach on
Sunday. The meetings continue but no fruit is produced. They are dead
branches still clinging to the vine that need to be hacked off to make way
for new growth.

Paul told the Corinthians that when they came together it was not for the
better, but for the worse. To be sure, they gathered together. They were
faithful to assemble. But their gathering together was not a testimony to
their faith, it was a testimony to their division. Actually, they were not
assembling together at all, they were assembling separately. “Shall I
praise you in this? I do not praise you!”

The apostle says it would be better for them to stay home than to gather
together for the worse, have division, teach heresies, despise the church
of God, bring shame to one another, eat and drink damnation to themselves,
and come together “unto condemnation” (see I Corinthians 11:17-34).

This is strong language. When was the last time you heard a message on
that? What pastor is willing to stand up and say, “There will be no more
services until we can learn how to come together for the better, and not
for the worse.” Not many!

IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD’S DAY

Brothers and sisters, do not be deceived or troubled. If we are one with
the Head then we are one with the Body, even if we are not physically
gathered together; and if we are NOT one with the Head then we are NOT one
with the Body, even if we ARE physically gathered together. How can that
be? Because Jesus is building His Church, and it is a spiritual house, not
a physical house.

This principle is clearly demonstrated in the life of John the apostle.
Exiled to the Isle of Patmos because of the testimony of Jesus, he was
physically isolated from other believers and had no face-to-face contact
with any of the churches. He had no “covering”, no “accountability”, no
“authority” no “local body of believers”, no “fellowship”. He seemed to be
cast off into a corner, forgotten.

But John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” He maintained
connectivity to the Head and to the Body of Christ by way of a
spirit-and-truth worship walk. This connectivity is spiritual, not
physical, not social, not geographical. Because of this, John received a
clear vision and a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ. As a side benefit,
John knew the exact spiritual condition of the seven churches of Asia,
even though he was not assembled together with them.

It is better to be alone and be in the Spirit than to assemble together
and be in the flesh, going through the motions of Churchianity, gathering
for the worse, and not for the better. Jesus said,

“Isaiah was correct when he prophesied about you hypocrites, saying,
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouths, and they honor Me with
their lips, but their hearts are far from Me, and they worship Me in vain,
for they teach as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:7-9)

Friends, there is a more excellent way! The Father is actively seeking and
recruiting for Himself people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.
Jesus is setting them free from vain worship and traditions of men, and He
is gathering them together into a spiritual house of living stones. The
Holy Spirit is leading them into an ever deepening, ever increasing
relationship with Christ. With them, every day is “The Lord’s Day”!

While everything not established on Christ is being shaken, those who are
being reduced to Christ are receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved. It
is a wonderful time to be alive and to see God’s Purpose being fulfilled!
Why would we be content with anything less? He has given us new wine and
new wineskins. Let us seek the preeminence of Christ in all things, and
when Jesus does gather us together in simplicity, He will be in the midst,
and our gatherings will be for the better, and not for the worse. Amen.

28 thoughts on “Gathering: But Not For The Better!

  1. I’m not sure about him using the Matt 18:20 verse in this context. That verse directly applies to church discipline in the context of the passage – as in 2 or 3 witnesses involved in the discipline process.

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  2. AAAAAAAAAAAMEN!!!!!! You do our hearts and minds comfort in this article. What do you do when you can’t find an organized church withing 100 miles or more, to worship with? THANK YOU for this article you did. Can we shout this from the roof tops? 🙂

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  3. Timely article. I was just having this conversation this morning, in vain. Thank you for putting it so well. Although I have little hope that churchianity will understand what is clear to true believers it is encouraging for those of us that are constantly attacked as being arrogant and accused of breaking God’s commands to assemble because we do not want to go to a building full of goats and listen to psycho babble, or worse even clear false teaching. How my heart aches to be in a “church” filled with believers and how discouraging to attend services that cater to unbelievers when the church should be equipping the saints instead. Has anyone else ever wanted to stand on a pew and start bah-bahing in hopes that one other sheep would be found in the midst? Praise God that he has given me other believers that understand, see and hear. Often it is only two or three when and how God directs. Those we are never to forsake assembling with.

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  4. MG,

    The point of the article is that we must get past churchianity. Our focus must be on serving God everyday, all day. The problem for those who are in churchianity is that their god is actually their church and Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. We must get back to serving our Lord with our entire being all the time, not just on Sundays at a specific place with a specific group of people who are doing the same thing–trying to please God with their religion.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  5. Yes, I did get that from the article and I agree. I just thought that particular reference was out of context 🙂

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  6. Mike,

    After reading your comments tonight and I was reduced to tears. I have long since left a mega church where the emphasis was on “seekers and the unchurched”. Finding true fellowship in my local area has been a burden. Since then I have been driven to my Bible where the Holy Spirit is teaching and guiding me. I am growing in the knowledge of the TRUTH! God has allowed me see that fellowship (assembly) is not as man sees it, but how Jesus declared in the Word. I do thank Him for the few Christian friends who I get together with from time to time to enjoy God’s grace and mercy towards us. Thank you for sharing this message, I have gained more clarity.

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  7. Like Kevin, I was reduced to tears. My tears, though, were because I know that I will be leaving the organized church soon, and I thought of the attacks that will come from those who are “friends” and those who are in my family (my mom, esp). It is quite daunting to know that the Lord has shown you so much that you are not satisfied with the status quo and you no longer conform to “churchianity.”

    I will not be alone, I know, but please: I ask for prayer for myself and for my daughter (9yrs old) to continue to move forward in faith, and not be stuck in fear.

    This post was so timely, as it addresses what has been on my mind constantly for the past few weeks. Thanks, Mike.

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  8. Kevin and Melissa,

    I lift you both up in my prayers. This is a difficult thing that you have done. I know because God pushed me out of our old church last year. Since then though my walk has only deepened. I depend on my Lord and the Holy Spirit more than that false crutch of churchianity. I crave fellowship and I love corporate worship, but the price to pay with being consumed with programs and endless empy religious activities that have little if anything to do with the Gospel and this walk are too high a price to pay. God be with you!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  9. Wow…. Mike, is there any reason for this post, ’cause there seems to be some sort of convergence going on. I am starting a series regarding church polity over on my blog, and my friend Vincent at vivavoxdei.blogspot.com is currently doing a series on the local church. And all of us are in a sense disillusioned over the institutional Church, although we don’t exactly say it that way…

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  10. Daniel,

    Yes, I believe God is doing this. How can empty religion please God? People have taken commands to fellowship and love one another and worship together and turned them into “the institutional Church,” that replaces those things with religiosity with motives that are not for God’s glory alone. Yes, God is drawing His people out of the scarlet woman.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  11. Just as an aside, don’t you think it is ironic that churches like Saddleback want to reach out to the unchurched, yet they do not want to cater to the true unchurched, us? After all, the statement that ‘they love Christ but not the church’ is definitely more applicable to us than to the unregenerate masses.

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  12. Yes Daniel, I agree with that. I honestly never thought I would end up on the outside of the institutional Church. I love Christ and the true Church, but I don’t have any affection for the visible Church at all.

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  13. My heart goes out to everyone who have had to walk out of the organized church. I am not sure I can imagine what it is like. But be of good cheer, in that you are walking in the light and obedience to the Lord.

    The road may be hard, but His grace is sufficient.

    As a pastor, when the Lord began to open my eyes to the deception myself and the local church I pastored had been a part of, I repented and made up my mind to obey Him at all costs. That resolve included walking away if it ever got to that.

    It was an agonizing resolve to make; I love those people, but I love God too. Walking away would have meant having nowhere to go. All around, almost every church I saw were in grander darkness than what we had been in.

    I pushed, showing them God’s Word. It was a fresh start for everyone, so to speak. As we reviewed what we believed and practiced, it was as if scales fell off everyone’s eyes.

    The Lord worked a miracle! We are a small congregation, but we did not lose one soul! Today, we all wonder how we ever walked in that level of darkness. I am extremely full of joy over everyone of those precious souls.

    At church, we regularly pray for believers all over the world, asking the Lord to strengthen, keep, renew and revive. My heart is with everyone who agonizes over having no physical fellowship.

    But our Lord is faithful. He will keep His own, church congregation or not! Stay strong in Him, brothers and sisters.

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  14. Yomi,

    I would set at your feet as part of your congregation. I think that this is what God wants us to do, not be cut off from other believers, but be part of small intimate groups like yours. Keep praying. I think my wife and I may have found a local church that is still seeking only to follow God not programs, not someone’s agenda, just follow and obey God.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  15. Mike,

    I pray that this church that you mentioned will be a God leading! I cannot wait to hear about it. By the way, what denomination is it?

    In Christ,
    Sherry

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  16. Mike, this IS a timely article. I cannot believe as I was reading the posts that I had the same experience as others on here – this topic just came up between me and one of my friends! Very good, thank you.

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  17. thegreatapostasy and Mike,

    Now, the two of you want me to go hide my head in the sand talking like that 🙂

    But it would be a honour to fellowship with any of the wonderful people I interact with here. As a matter of fact, every person here would be a great blessing to our little group! Holding on to the Head, which is Christ….

    In Him,

    Yomi

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  18. I was so blessed to read this article on July fourth and forwarded it in an email to the person that I had the conversation with. He just read it and said it made a lot of sense. He appreciated all the scripture and the way the article was written, even said he was in agreement with it. Praise God. I have been saying the same scriptures and giving the same arguments but something finally got through. I think a case of “a prophet is without honor in his home”. (not that I’m claiming to be a prophet, only that I’m not always heard.) Thank you so much for your ministry. I know it is bringing comfort and encouragement to many. May many more eyes be opened. God Bless.

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  19. “Christ-based fellowship lasts as long as you are abiding in Jesus, while church-based fellowship only lasts as long as you are attending that church. When you go to their services and support their agenda then they love you. Once you leave, and they realize you are not coming back, they want nothing more to do with you. The reality is simply this: their fellowship with you is church-based, ministry-based, man-based, or money-based, but it is not Christ-based.

    The true character of a church, fellowship, or ministry is not judged by how they receive you when you join, or how they treat you when you are there, but rather, how they send you when you go, and how they relate to you after you have left.”

    Mike,

    I read your post with much sentiment. It is sad because it is true, and very true. I was once so disenchanted with the kind of fellowship in “church” institutions that I told my Lord that, “If this is genuine Christianity, I want no part of it. But I only want to be part of You, and part of the holy nation you are calling out from this world.” I believe you are writing from experience, isn’t it?

    Vincent from Singapore

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  20. Yes, Vincent, I have become quite disolutioned with what we call “church.” Now I am not talking about THE CHURCH – all genuine believer, but churchianity which, I believe, is an idolatrous religion that has some things in it that are right and much that is wrong. The problem is that when we “do church” we tend to be religious and that seems to always lead to idolatry of one form or another. Instead of being in love with our saviour we become in love with the religion. I love to praise God and fellowship and hear good sermons, etc. But, I also know that that can’t be what I focus on. Instead, I must be God-focused in all that I do. I worship Him in spirit and truth by how I live and I fellowship with all believers any way I can.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  21. I couldn’t agree more, Mike. Thanks for the post. As you had said, if only we can have “churchianity” without the “ianity.” That should return us to Christ-ianity.

    May the Lord bless your ministry,
    Vincent

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  22. Paul Washer said the USA is a joke when it comes to this nation being Christian. He is right. He said the other countries would laugh at us. He is right. Where are all our Calvins, Spurgeons, Pinks, Tozer, and etc???? We don’t have any. Or if we do, you can’t find them!!

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  23. Paul and Luann,

    I agree completely with Paul Washer here. I am convinced that the church has discounted the Reformation and sees Puritanism as legalism. It is rebellion, pure and simple. Therefore, there are only islands of Bible knowledge now and where are our great theologians? Therefore, let us go after Spurgeon, Tyndale, Luther, and Calvin. Truth never changes!

    In Christ

    Editor

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  24. Hi, Mike! This is an old post and I haven’t been here for a long time. You don’t even need to post this comment if you don’t want to…it’s for you not everyone else. I emailed you for this very reason I came here…maybe you didn’t get it. For some reason I have been thinking about you and our discussion about finding a good church and so I came here to see if you had found one. Good, biblically sound churches are hard to find but they are out there. God promises that His children will never go begging for bread and He has commanded that we attend church and He had commanded that there be structure and membership etc. I know you love God and that you are His child and that is why I write. Satan loves to steal away at us in small amounts. I’ve seen those who held to sound doctrine lose that sound doctrine very slowly. They were never held accountable because they felt they could survive without constant fellowship in a corporate setting with other believers who come together to worship God. You can’t abandon going to church just because there are so many churches that are anti-christ. Even if it means moving to find a good reformed church like the OPC or RBC you must. I write this because I love you as my brother and you know I do! My prayers are with you and your family, Mike! If you are going to church please let me know via email so that my present concern for you can change to either relief or for another reason that you might be struggling. Your sister, sarah

    Hebrews 10:24
    24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

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