Why do we asemble

As much as religion talks about the word “community,” our assembling is not a assembling of  a united working community. Showmanship performances might add some hipster flair for the celebrity "pa-star" and the chosen actors, but the focal point of the liturgical week remains theatric. The chosen frozen perform for the pew-warmers that sit, stand, kneel, pray, and sing on command. We might squeeze a little of something similar to community into the gaps, between events with a hierarchical structure. Not only is this a long way from Biblical models of the early Church, it’s a breeding ground for messy group dynamics.

Our assembling today, no matter the gathering place, has little in common with the New Testament church. In the first century there was still teaching, prayer, and worship, but the early church was about community, not about religious conformity. Paul’s letters paint a picture of people living together and collectively figuring out what it meant to follow Christ. The authority of the leaders and teachers wasn’t a forgone conclusion. They were in dialogue with their congregations. Paul himself often had to defend his position of authority and many of his letters are part of an ongoing doctrinal debate. You get the sense, however, that even theological issues were somewhat secondary. The focus was a meal, not a class or a worship service. Some early Christians enjoyed the community meal so much that Paul had to tell them to tone it down because they were partying a little too hard.

Nowadays, Church is an adjunct to professional and segregated religious communities. We get up on Sunday, drive to the meeting place, park, sit, listen, sing, pray, chat, and go home. Even if we’re involved in a small group, the relationships are usually secondary. The early Christians learned and grew through relationship. It’s all throughout the New Testament. Yet, we still structure our religious meetings around one guy, and it’s not Jesus.

Much of our assembling centers around a talented preacher. He’s smart, but moreover, entertaining. For the most part meeting gatherings are cults of personality, not spiritual communities. Try to imagine Mars Hill in Seattle without a Mark Driscoll. Try to imagine the other one without a Rob Bell. Try to imagine Lakewood Church without a Joel Osteen. You can’t. When our attention turns to Christ, it’s only after the showman gets our attention first. We don’t find God in each other. Denominations have a big head atop a weak, frail body.

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