This is not an exhaustive study. This is, however, packed with advice for the 21st century American who needs fellowship and knows it. It probably applies in other countries as well.
The Purpose of Church
This is covered more thoroughly in my “How to Find a Church.”
The purpose of gathering as an assembly of saints is to provoke one another to love and good works. If you gather with the saints, and you did not at least pray about exhorting your brothers and sisters, you have not obeyed the command to assemble in Hebrews 10:24-25. (Note: “Exhort” is a big and often-used word in the New Testament. See the definitions at StudyBible.info. I consider 1 Thessalonians 5:14 the best definition of “exhort,” parakaleo in Greek.)
This should carry over into our daily lives. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘today,’ lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
This is the central purpose of the getting together with saints. Bible study, prayer, praise, sermons and other forms of teaching, and collecting money to help the poor and advance the Gospel are all good things to be done in a church gathering. The prime purpose, however, is exhorting–remembering the definition of “exhort” in 1 Thess. 5:14–to provoke to love and good works.
Disciple-Making Movements (DMM)
Churches, usually small ones, associated with DMMs are the only churches that I know that are guaranteed to be obeying Hebrews 10:24-25 when they gather. They may even be actively obeying Hebrews 3:13. This is because all DMMs, across the board, are trying to obey Matthew 28:18-20 and the things commanded there:
- Go (even if it’s across the street or just to work with non-believers)
- Make disciples
- Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded
There are several ways to find out if there are DMM churches, disciple makers, or church planters near you. Many DMMs lost themselves at 2414Now.net. You can also search for Disciple Making Movements, multiplication movements, or Church Planting Movements near you. There is no official theology among those movements except that the Bible is to be obeyed rather than just used for knowledge. All that I have encountered, however, are heavily influenced by evangelical theology. Most have experienced miraculous support in their evangelism efforts, so no matter where they begin on the subject of the cessation of miraculous spiritual gifts, they now acknowledge them because they have experienced them.
Because Protestant churches are in a lineage from the Roman Catholic Church, they have a focus on the pastor, and the general membership does not obey Hebrews 10:24-25. Like their Roman Catholic mother, though, the Protestant churches do have members committed to spending time with God, reading the Bible, and obeying it. Many of those will be actively exhorting and serving others.
I never tell people to stop “going to church” on Sunday morning (or Sunday night or Wednesday night), even if they are going to a church meeting in which the members do not exhort or consider one another as the Bible commands. I simply tell them to find those members who are learning, obeying, and exhorting others and grow in Christ with them (2 Tim. 2:22).
The passage I like to quote for this is:
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22)
Again, I never tell people to stop going to church meetings just because members are not free to exhort nor to provoke to love and good works. I tell them to find the individuals in those churches who are doing so and join themselves to them.
Liturgy and Sacraments
If liturgy helps you worship God, do it. It does not do much for me.
By definition, all gathering for worship is “liturgy.” but no one uses the word that way. Instead, “liturgy,” as used by the average Christian, means doing what the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox churches do. They have readings, responses, prayers, confessions, and even teachings that are repeated each week. Lots of people like to worship God this way, and some find deep contemplation and communion with God in it. God bless them.
If you want more on liturgy and sacraments. You will have to read someone else’s articles. I do know that the early Christians had tremendous regard for the Lord’s Supper, and they did generally refer to it as the “Eucharist,” (which means “thanksgiving meal”). Most Protestants prefer to call it communion (which means “fellowship meal”), and both are used in Scripture.
One of the earliest Christian bishops (literally “overseer”), Ignatius of Antioch, called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality and the antidote to prevent us from dying, which causes us to live in Christ Jesus” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, ch. 20). I like to point out that if eating the bread and drinking the wine of the Lord’s Supper unworthily can make us sick or even kill us, then it cannot possibly be a merely symbolic thing.
You’ll have to work out how to commune with the saints around you regularly. I do not believe the Eucharist requires the consecration of a “priest” except insofar as we are all priests. A priesthood consisting of clergy is not just unscriptural, it is anti-scriptural. We cannot add a priesthood to the one High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7) and the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2), no matter how “sacred” they may seem. Can you imagine the apostles in a bishop’s robe and mitre?!
“High” Protestant Churches
Churches like the Anglicans, Episcopalians, and others that have preserved at least some form of liturgy are called “high” churches … at least by Craig Allert in his book A High View of Scripture?, published by BakerAcademic. I had never heard the term before reading his book.
Honestly, if you want the “sacred” feeling of a Roman Catholic or Orthodox church, you might try the Anglicans. If you have read many of my articles, you know that I spend a lot of time trying to correct evangelical and Calvinist traditions. The Anglicans are influenced by the Calvinists through John Knox and others, but those of us who have read the early church fathers find Anglican theology much more bearable than typical evangelical theology. (My experience with those who have read the early church fathers is mostly through the “Patristics for Protestants” Facebook group, which has more than two thousand members.) These “high” churches avoid some of the more controversial practices such as bowing before statues or icons.
Roman Catholic Church (RCC)
I disagree with the Roman Catholic Church on a lot of things. I wrote a book, Rome’s Audacious Claim, disproving many historical claims made by the RCC. I think it is crazy to direct prayers to dead humans, no matter how holy they lived, when we have confident access by faith to the throne room of God (Heb. 4:16), who knows everything we need and answers far beyond our ability to ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Nonetheless, I have met plenty of Roman Catholics that I am sure are saved.
Because of reading the early church fathers and talking about them with others, I have met a lot of people, both in person and online, who feel they need to join the Roman Catholic Church in order to maintain the unity of the whole Church on earth. I understand that sentiment.
I do, however, want to point out that I use the term “Roman Catholic Church” because they are definitely not “the Catholic Church.” The Catholic Church split into chunks in the fourth century. The churches in the Roman Empire plus European barbarians were one section. The churches of the Persian Empire were another. The churches of Iran/Iraq split from the rest of the Roman Empire at the Council of Ephesus (AD 432), and the churches of Egypt split at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). Finally, the churches led by Rome in the West split from the churches led by patriarchs in the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. By then, the “Roman Catholic Church” and its clergy were unrecognizable as a Church or as Christians. (See both Rome’s Audacious Claim, ch. 27, and Horace Mann’s Lives of the Popes, the volumes on the 10th and 11th centuries, a set of books ordered by a pope and written by a Roman Catholic.)
No matter how much we hate the idea, there is no way to return to “The Church” in any real way unless we all obey Paul’s command to “make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
I have a friend who read a history of Eastern Christianity and seems to have remembered it all. I cannot, but I do know that there are several “Orthodox” churches. The churches of the Eastern Empire, led primarily by the bishops (also “patriarchs”) of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, split from the Roman Catholics in the 11th century, as said above. East of the old Byzantine Empire are the Assyrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, the St. Thomas Orthodox, and at least a couple others. There are also the Coptic Orthodox in Egypt.
The Orthodox churches have done a much better job of preserving the theology of the early church fathers than the Roman Catholics have. Nonetheless, they have all the pomp and circumstance of Roman clergy or even more.
That said, once again, I never tell anyone to quit going to any Sunday morning meeting unless they are being taught that obeying Jesus is optional. The Orthodox do not teach that obeying Jesus is optional. You will need to find ways outside Sunday morning to obey the Bible and exhort your brothers and sisters and provoke them to love and good works. You will have to find saints apart from Sunday morning so that you can “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Obeying the Bible in the 21st Century
As said, I never tell anyone to stop attending their Sunday morning church meeting unless that church is teaching you that obeying Jesus is optional. Obeying Jesus is not optional, and there are so many Scriptures saying so that I can’t reference them all. Let’s just use “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
The will of the Father is that when the church assembles, the saints consider one another so they can provoke to love and good works and exhort one another. “Exhorting” includes warning, encouraging, comforting, and helping (1 Thess. 5:14).
Imagine how different the world would be if the 2 billion professing Christians on this earth were all to take up obeying Jesus, provoking one another to love and good works, exhorting one another (which includes encouraging, comforting, and helping one another), and loving the Lord our God with all our strength, soul, mind, and heart.