The Lord’s Day Worship
Why do Christians gather every first day of the week for worship? Many people in these modern times try to set forth the notion that it is not required to assemble with the saints on the first day of the week for worship. It is contended that there is no reference in scripture for what we today refer to as a “worship service” and that it is not really required. The purpose for this lesson is to examine this from a historical and Biblical perspective with the goal of establishing authority for the assembling of the saints for worship on the first day of the week.
First of all, let’s take a look at the word “church”. This English word is translated from the Greek word “Ekklesia”. In the original language this word is used in reference to both the church universal and the local assembly. The word “Ekklesia” is a derivative of two other Greek Words, “ek” which is a primary preposition denoting origin or the point from which action or motion proceeds. In this instance, the translation of the this word is “out”. The other Greek word is “Kaleo” which means to “Call” or to “Bid”. The two words put together mean the “called out”. This is a group, body or assembly of people who have been called out into a group. When used in a religious sense, this word can either mean the entire company of Christians worldwide such as is the intent in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said He would build His church. Or it can refer to a single gathering of Christians such as we see in Acts 14:23 and 1 Corinthians 4:17. The word “ekklesia” is also used in scripture with a non-religious intent to refer to an assembly of people who have gathered for purposes other than to offer worship to God as in Acts 19:39 and then again in Acts 19:41. The KJV simply called it an assembly. So we learn here that this word, used with religious intent, can refer to the church as a whole or it can refer to an assembly of Christians in a local setting. What is very important to take from this is that the word Ekklesia does not in any way refer to a building or a place. That is a meaning that has been given to this word in modern times. In the original language the word always refers to an assembly of people, and was never intended to refer to a physical object of any kind.
So why must Christians assemble to worship on the first day of the week? To adequately answer this question, one must look at a number of scriptures and examine how the first century Christians worshiped and then emulate that. The first century Christians were exposed to those who were either direct eye-witnesses of Christ or were very close to those who did. The logic behind this is if we use only the inspired scripture and we emulate the worship practices of those who were the closest to Christ, we will be assured of following practices which are untainted by the traditions of man. There are two scriptures which demonstrate the importance of this concept:
Turning to John 4:23-24, we read, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.“
6 “He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me,Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’* 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men* — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” 9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
From these two teachings of Jesus Christ we learn some very important facts regarding Christian worship.
1) God seeks true worshipers.
2) True worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. This is an imperative condition for worship and implies the existence of false worshipers who do not.
3) The traditions of men where they depart from the commandments of God render one’s worship vain or useless.
In light of these clear teachings concerning worship offered to God, it is logical to conclude that the best way to accomplish this and to avoid any mistakes is to adhere closely to the word of God concerning Christian worship and be careful not to add anything from the mind of man to it. These two verses clearly mention two kinds of worship, true worship and vain worship. It is clear that God sets a distinction between the two and identifies the doctrines and commandments of men as what makes the difference. It is important that we as Christians be assured that the worship we offer is indeed acceptable to God because it can be logically inferred that vain worship, or, that worship which is tainted with the commandments of men, is unacceptable to God and will result in it being rejected by Him. Man does not set the standards on worship, offered to God. God sets the standards and it is important to understand this and pattern one’s worship according to God’s standard only.
God wants true worshipers. Those worshiper must worship in spirit and in truth to be the worshipers God is looking for. Worship in spirit and in truth must be only that which is according to God’s standard in order to avoid being vain therefore not that worship which God seeks. In view of the seriousness of this conclusion, we can be assured that there is a pattern to follow in scripture. God wouldn’t make such a serious charge and then fail to give the standards which we can follow in order to assure ourselves of being the true worshipers God seeks.
So how does one accomplish worship that is true and not tainted by the commandments of men? Simply stated, one turns to the standard where true worshipers are found. They seek from the word of God only, the accepted means and methods of worship offered by those who lived and walked in the infancy of the church. One uses those teachings which came directly from the eyewitnesses of Christ or as closely as possible. If we will reject the teachings and doctrines of men and pattern our worship after the accepted examples and commandments from those who offered it in the infancy of the church, then we can be reasonably assured that our worship will be the worship God seeks.
Did the first century Christians assemble for worship?
Many references are made in scripture to assemblies of Christians in organized worship to God. Paul gave instructions on more than one occasion to the Christians living in or near Corinth regarding certain activities engaged in during assemblies where worship to God was being engaged in.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 we read that the Corinthians were profaning the Lord’s supper when they assembled to partake of it and they received instruction from Paul regarding the proper way in which to engage in this particular act of worship. From this we can draw two conclusions regarding this topic. 1) Christians did assemble to partake of the Lord’s supper in the first century. 2) There are standards to follow if one is to engage in this act of worship in order for it to be acceptable to God. In verse 26 we learn that the assembling for the purpose of observing the Lord’s supper as a group is something that is done regularly. And in vs 27-29 we learn that to partake of this act of worship in an unworthy manner results in damnation to one’s soul. There are rules to be followed and standards to be adhered to.
In Acts 2:42, we read, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” These Christian activities are in the context of worship. We see them adhering closely to the teachings of the apostles. The first congregation of Christians had been established in Jerusalem and the context here is in view of organized activities. The term “continued steadfastly” means they were engaging in learning the apostles teachings, fellowshiping, the breaking of bread and praying on a regular basis.
Then in Acts 20:7, we read, “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread“. Now since we know from the prior verses of scripture that the Christians in Jerusalem met regularly for the purpose of continuing steadfastly in the “apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”, we see from Acts 20:7 that the first day of the week was when the Christians in Troas came together as a congregation to partake of the Lord’s supper. We now have two scriptures which establish a pattern of behavior and the specific day on which this was accomplished. Every week has a first day so we can be reasonably certain from these two passages alone that on the first day of the week Christians came together as a group to partake of the Lord’s supper on a regular basis. A broader examination of the context also reveals other activities that were associated with the weekly Lord’s supper assembly such as fellowship, prayer (Acts 2:42) and preaching (Acts 20:7).
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, we read, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” Paul gave the Corinthian instructions here for the collecting of money for the saints. When he arrived to pick up this offering, he did want to have to travel around from house to house to collect these funds individually. He wanted them all in one place for convenience so he instructed the Christians in Corinth to have these funds collected so that “there be no collections when I come“. Paul wanted the collecting of these offerings to be finished and ready for pickup when he showed up.
One significant point to be made here is that though it is not reflected in some modern translations, the original language of 1 Corinthians 16:2 reads “the first day of every week”. This coincides and reinforces the weekly assembly for the observance of the Lord’s supper. The church has to assemble in order to pool their contributions, so also must they assemble to partake of the Lord’s supper as a group. From the contexts of all the scriptures we have considered thus far, we have giving, preaching, prayer and the Lord’s supper all taking place on the first day of the week in an assembly.
While giving instruction on showing personal favoritism, James wrote in 2:2, “For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel…“. There can be no doubt the context here is of the Christian assembly.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul goes into a lengthy discourse on the use of spiritual gifts during the assemblies of the Christians. In V 15 he references singing in the unmistakable setting of the assemblies, thus we derive congregational singing as another activity that took place in 1st century worship. So now we have singing, giving, preaching, prayer and the Lord’s supper all taking place on the first day of the week in an assembly. The Christians did indeed assemble in the first century, on the first day of every week and we know the activities they engaged in during these assemblies. All five of these activities, singing, giving, preaching, prayer and the Lord’s supper, are specific acts of worship, therefore assemblies were for the purpose of offering worship to God as a group.
While writing Revelation, John made a reference to the Lord’s Day in chapter 1:10. This expression is found only here in the New Testament, and beyond all reasonable doubt it means on Sunday. Here, “Lord’s day” is a similar construction to “Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20). “It means ‘belonging to the Lord’, or ‘consecrated to the Lord’. Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead, the very same day the apostles met him in the upper room, and a week later on another Sunday the Lord appeared to his assembled apostles again. Sunday was the day the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost; it was the day the disciples came together to break bread (Acts 20:7); it was the day the collection was taken up (1 Corinthians 16:2).
When all of the evidence is considered, there can be no doubt that the first century Christians did indeed assemble on the first day of every week. And on this day, which John labeled “the Lord’s day” they engaged in various forms of worship to God of which we have examples of. Many today try and set forth the idea that since a ‘worship assembly’ is never specifically mentioned in scripture, there were none. This notion cannot stand up to a critical examination of the text. In light of the abundant scriptural evidence which specifically mentions acts of worship being engaged in during an assembly of Christians, such a claim is equal to saying there are no footprints in the sand on a busy beach because they are never specifically mentioned in any of the accounts.
When the first century Christians assembled to sing, pray, teach, give and partake of the Lord’s supper, they assembled to worship. These assemblies were for that purpose. A group of people who gather for the express purpose of offering worship is by definition a “worship assembly”. A worship assembly is an assembly of worshipers and we know from the scriptures there were assemblies of Christians offering worship to God.
And finally, last but certainly not least to this topic is Hebrews 10:22-28, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.“
From this context we learn a great many things. Christians are to encourage each other towards love and good works. It is obvious the intent here is that this is best served in the setting of an assembly. The Christians were commanded not to forsake the assembling of themselves for this purpose and then given a stern warning which indicated the loss of Christ’s sacrifice for sin if they persisted in this. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Of significance to this topic is the Greek construction of the original language. The translation “assembling of yourselves” is accurate. While there can be no doubt the Lord’s day assembly is included in the assemblies which are not to be forsaken, they are by no means exclusively limited to those. Christians are not to make a practice of forsaking any of the assemblies of Christians if it is for the purpose of the work of the church. This means Sunday evening worship services, Wednesday evening Bible studies, care group meetings, etc, etc. If the church assembles for the purpose of engaging in the work of the Lord, the members are obligated to set their worldly cares aside and attend. And when forsaking these assemblies becomes a regular practice, the result is loss of salvation. There is no way to be honest with what this scripture teaches and come to any other conclusion.
Many people fail to attend the assemblies of Christians together and claim that there is no command in scripture to do so. Since the scriptures clearly teach tha t it is a soul damning sin to forsake them in regular practice, the command to attend is understood in the prohibition against forsaking. Not only is there ample scriptural evidence to draw the conclusion that 1st century Christians assembled to worship, it is also obvious that attendance by the members is a mandatory obligation so declared by God. The wise and penitent believer will submit to the will of God on this in obedience and seek first the kingdom of God as directed.
There are no bulleted lists in scripture for how worship to God is to be carried out. The New Testament is not written in that fashion. But we do have scripture which gives us guidance in how we are to determine the proper manner of our worship.
1 Thessalonians 2:14, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.” When we search through the scriptures and determine the accepted practices of the early churches and apply those to ourselves today, we become like the Thessalonian Christians who were praised for that very thing. We study and learn how the first century Christians worshipped and we emulate the forms of their worship then. They partook of the Lord Supper on every first day of the week. We do the same. They gave of their means, sang, prayed, taught and assembled on every first day of the week. We know we can do these things today and be assured that our worship is acceptable to God. The burden of acceptable worship falls on us. God is the object, we are the ones offering it, we are the benefactors of it.
The 1st century New Testament Christians did indeed worship in assemblies held in the first day of every week. 21st Century New Testament Christians do as well.