Take a gander at the following description of a church gathering…
The gathering of the church is a weekly event, almost always Sunday morning although alternate times are often provided to accommodate those who are just too busy to carve out a whole hour (plus drive time!) to gather with the church. People are expected to show up at a particular time and sit in the rows of seats provided. Coming in late is a social faux pas. Most of the service is observation, watching and listening, typically restricted to one man in the front where all of the attention is focused. That man is usually on a platform so people in the seats can look up and see him clearly and he stands behind a pulpit or lectern much of the time. Along with a few prayers and songs sung, the man in front will deliver a monologue message after an offering is collected in anonymous envelopes. No interaction is permitted during the monologue. The communion portion of the service typically is near the end of the hour and is marked by a table with the elements. The same man who leads the service will speak some words over the elements and then oversee the distribution of these elements to the people in attendance. As soon as the service is over people rush to the exits to get in their cars and get on with the rest of their Sunday. As long as you attend the scheduled meeting on Sunday morning, you are not under any obligation or expectation to spend additional time with the church.
So here is the question. Am I describing a Roman Mass or a Protestant worship service?
Ah ha, it was a trick question! The answer is both!
It seems that the Reformation saw the gathering of the church as an after thought. Not that there was not a lot of thought given to it but rather that they “assumed the church” in many respects and kept the format virtually the same. Certainly the theology was better and the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was recovered and proclaimed but the community inhibiting format of the gathered church was essentially unchanged from how Rome did it and that format is by and large the same today. Little wonder that so many people are desperately looking for community and are doing so outside of the traditional church. Instead of being a force for increasing community, the traditional church is the greatest obstacle to Christian community.
There are several great regrets about the reformation. One is the readiness of the magisterial reformers to embrace a church-state union. Another is the willingness of the magisterial reformers to tacitly or overtly approve of the state using the sword to crush dissenters like the Anabaptists. The third is the adoption of the Roman form of the church gathering or the lack of reformation thereof. As I have said over and over, the reformation was merely the beginning of reform that we should seek to complete, not the pinnacle of reform that we constantly should try to return to and nowhere is that more true than how we traditionally see the church gathered.