Did you ever wonder where church meetings came from? Searching through the New Testament may give us glimpses of how the early church conducted itself when gathered and we can find principles to help us decide how we should meet, but there are no schedules, programs or agendas to be found. Where then did all the meetings come from? What responsibilities do elders have to make sure an assembly has enough (but not too many) meetings, and that the content is Biblical and profitable?
As we study the earliest churches in Acts, we note that the Christians met frequently and letters written by the apostles assumed such gatherings to be a normal part of the life of a separated or “called out company.” Statements like “preach the Word” and “feed the flock” assume the assembling of people in one place for a common purpose. When the Lord Jesus said “This do in remembrance of me,” the gathering of believers is just as much a part of the instruction as the taking of the bread and cup. In fact Hebrews 10:25 admonishes Christians not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. Probably the best summary statement of the conduct of the earliest Christians is found in Acts 2:42 (KJV): “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
While it is an overstatement to assert that this is a formal list of the meetings of the churches, it is at least a statement of the priorities to which those believers addressed their time together as indicated by the phrase “they continued steadfastly.” These were the priorities of their gathering. When we discover from history that the items mentioned above may have all been parts of a single meeting or coming together, we see how important it was that principles rather than schedules and agendas were preserved in Scripture. Let’s think briefly about the four items mentioned in Acts 2:42.
First is the apostles’ doctrine. Everything depends on the great truth that God speaks to His people. Any true church must assemble to hear the Word of God, and God’s Word builds the church. There is an authority attached to it; not the authority of the church or the preacher, but of the voice of God. Elders must be sure that the ministry of the Word in the church reflects the idea: “If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Pet. 4:11).
Second is fellowship because the immediate effect of hearing God speak is concern for our brother. This is the “and thy neighbor as thyself” part of the greatest commandment. The word of God removes the darkness and the barriers that separate people. Love for one another and ministry to one another are expressed in both formal and informal fellowship among the saints. Our communion or fellowship reflects communion with the heavenly Father.
Third is the breaking of bread. Precious as this meeting is with worship as the inevitable result of remembering the Lord, it must be third because the Lord Jesus laid down the principle that relationships must be clear before worship could be genuine (Matt. 5:23,24). John asks “he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (I John 5:20).
Fourth is prayer, an opportunity to give thanks for blessings received and to make requests for God’s help as believers prepare to return to the world to shine as lights for the Lord. Each local fellowship will build these great priorities into its schedule of meetings as best meets the needs of its people. No two will be just alike. Elders must be vigilant as the assembly grows to be certain that the meetings of the church are Biblical and relevant, and do not become simply the whirr of religious machinery.