In this country you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money you get the power. Then when you get power then you get the woman.
- The Prophet Tony Montana, ScarfaceMy prior post, An Unusually Honest Statement Plus Some Bonus Eisegesis!, led to an interesting question from Dan Edelen, one of the most thoughtful people I read on the internet. Dan asked:
How is it that "meet together" only passes the sniff test if it happen in a church building? Can't I meet together with a half dozen believers over a lemonade at the local bistro Tuesday evening and have it count?
And an hour or two on Sunday with nothing the rest of the week--the typical American version of church--is a poor example, especially when compared to the Church in other countries.A very good question but one we rarely ask. Why is it like this? Why don't people even question it for the most part, after hundreds of years? Certainly there are some good reasons to meet on Sunday morning but there are lots of good reasons to meet other times, either in addition to or in lieu of meeting on Sunday morning. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that in most corners of the church world if you told someone that you never attended a "worship service" on Sunday morning but met 4 times a weeks for a total of ten hours with believers in other settings (home Bible study, ministering alongside them for the poor, etc.), you would be accused of violating Hebrews 10:24.
There is absolutely zero evidence that the church met on Sunday morning, either primarily or exclusively. In fact we read that the early church met far more often than Sunday morning: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:46-47)
Yet here we are 2000 years later and most of the church still demands we narrowly define "meet together". It is bad enough that this makes it hard to experience church life outside of this narrow, extra-biblical traditional understanding but it also de-legitimizes the experience of many Christians who have fellowship apart from pews and pulpits.
Getting back to Dan's question of "why?". I am pretty sure I know the answer and it hasn't changed in over 1700 years and remains in place in spite of a Reformation and a Radical Reformation, despite the "religious liberty" we cherish in America and the general religious pluralism of our setting. Although Tony Montana was speaking about women, he got the order right (yes I know he is a fictional character in a movie full of sex, violence and coarse language). In the church it comes in this pattern.
The church is rarely much different than the world and that is the wellspring from which the "Only on Sunday morning and only in a church building and only under the 'authority' of clergy" model comes from, a desire for power fueled by money and control.
I am meandering a bit so let me draw it back together. When the church is told it can only legitimately meet when...
1. In a holy space
2. At a holy time
3. Officiated by holy men
....it places people in bondage. Those who control the time, space and who gets to be in charge dictate and control everyone else. This is most obvious in Rome where access to Christ is controlled via the Eucharist and threatening to withhold it has been used to keep people in line for 1000 years but it can also be found in Protestant churches of all stripes. When someone challenges this model and steps away from the boundaries of control, it is a threat. When people leave they take money with them and they take back control from the professional clerical class. This diminishes the power of men and that is a far greater threat to them than heretical teaching or Islamic extremists. Even well-meaning, sincere men fall into this trap, often made all the more subtle because it is cloaked in religious respectability. "Sure I want people to obey me but it is for their own good!". I doubt that many guys go to seminary because they want to control people but just like some men become cops or politicians for that reason, so do some clergy.
The power issue is also deeply tied to the atmosphere of distrust among the clergy toward the laity. From the beginning of the church there have been those who look at the common people in the church as dangerous to themselves. Catholic priests refer to themselves as "Father" and demand others do as well, referring to parishioners as "my child". This attitude has followed the Reformation down to today in the form of paternalistic clergy protecting the laity from themselves like a parent keeping a child from sticking a screwdriver in an outlet. Ironically most of the great heretics of the faith delivered their message (and still do) from behind pulpits.
So why do we only regard the "official" meeting as legitimate? Because those who derive their power from controlling the means and the money have declared it so. Mull that over for a while and then make the time to meet with the church on a day and in a place that is not officially sanctioned!