The public setting recognizes that the church of God is not meant to be sectarian, but open to all who wish to enter its meetings. The use of public buildings since the fourth century testifies to their practicality for fostering a biblical concern for gospel communication to outsiders through intelligible yet Spirit-filled worship.
The theology behind this accessibility is found in Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 14. Verses 1-17 reveal the necessity for communication and edification; verses 18-25 reveal the necessity for intelligibility to outsiders; implicit in verse 23 is the idea of the church gathering in a larger setting, where unbelievers were likely to have been present; and verses 26-40 reveal the necessity for order in worship, of a kind which promotes peace in the church.
Public worship on Paul's view needs to be formal in a sense that is different from, but which is easily confused with, the formality that results from atrophied tradition. Correct formality is such as will allow for good order and godly peace to prevail at a large gathering where trust is based more on predictability than on intimacy.
Such formality will also be natural. It is important that the historic liturgy be conducted in a way that takes account of the needs of contemporary people. Concern for the contemporary must not be excluded from this strand, thus keeping the distinction between the two strands from appearing artificially sharp. The church will be then preserved from the ravages of antiquarianism.
Despite these arguments, the actual use of public buildings for large gatherings was not an intrinsic part of New Testament teaching about the church. On the other hand, even though the churches described in the New Testament met in homes, there is no evidence to suggest that this was for any greater reason than convenience. What was of enduring significance was not the type of building used but the set of relationships that existed within the church.
This model works on the premise that in modern technological society two types of meeting are needed to achieve the same thing as was achieved by the household alone in the first century. We need the formal but natural meeting in public buildings, and the informal but structured (having some degree of appropriate order) meeting based around the household. A certain primacy belongs to the household context, provided it is not seen as restricted to the nuclear family.This should further encourage the small church as a structure of equal significance alongside Sunday worship. It is in the home that the highly significant ministry of hospitality is exercised. The family-type relationships that ought to exist between Christians can be developed as a powerful means by which church members build one another up into Christ.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Large and Small Gatherings
David Gilmour proposes "A Two-Strand Model for the Contemporary Congregation." Here's what he has to say about public and house settings for church meetings (and the need for both):