Corporate worship in large groups or small group meetings – must we chose?

Model of the Temple in Jerusalem (Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine, if you will, a pastor walking up to his podium on a Sunday morning and beginning his sermon with tears of repentance in his eyes and sharing with his congregation that he realized that he had become extremely legalistic in his views of the proper and modest way to dress and upon realizing how damaging his position was that he was now going to remove all of his clothing and live his life, especially his pastoral ministry life, completely nude. Most of those listening would understand that, while it may be true that the pastor had become extreme and even unbiblical in his understanding and teaching concerning dress, it was an over-reaction for him to let the pendulum swing so far and that his response was equally unbiblical.

While this example may seem far fetched, let me assure you that people in ministry, even well-known people with huge followings, have reacted in ways that were just as extreme and, although maybe not as visually evident, just as unbiblical.

Over the past few weeks, I have read articles and blogs written by or about leaders who, for very good reasons, have left their large, medium, and even average size congregations and instead have switched to a “home church” model. Let me stop here for just a moment and express how firmly I believe that home groups, cell groups, small groups etc. are not only biblical, but also necessary to the spiritual health and development of the body of believers. I cannot stress enough how strongly I believe in home meetings.

While I believe that home groups, whatever they are called, are absolutely biblical, this exodus from “organized congregations” has, in some cases, resulted in the rejection of the idea that corporate gatherings are also biblical and essential to the health of the body of believers. I have heard and read things such as “All of the 1st century churches met in homes,” or “In the New Testament, we only find ‘Christians’ gathering in house meetings.” These statements are dangerous and unbiblical and feed an unbalanced view of the New Testament. Yes, in the New Testament we read verse like Acts 2: 46-47,

Day by day they continued with one mind, spending time at the Temple and breaking bread from house to house. They were sharing meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord was adding to their number those being saved.

We tend to read these verses and focus on the “house to house” portion, yet, in doing so, we bypass the “spending time at the Temple.” Notice that these New Testament believers in Yeshua worshipped at the Temple and in house gatherings, keeping in mind that the Temple was the very first “Mega-congregation.” The Temple was a place where thousands of people gathered and where a professional clergy served and ministered to the people. The Temple was everything that these “large-gatherings-are-not-found-exampled-in-New-Testament” believers teach against. Yet, the Apostles and all of the early disciples continued to gather and worship at the Temple. We also find that outside of Jerusalem, the believers continued to gather together in Synagogues. Remember when Paul went to arrest the believers in Damascus, he was going to the synagogues. Acts 9:2,

He requested letters of introduction from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Paul even went so far as to place his life in danger to travel back to Jerusalem in order to worship at the Temple during the Biblical feast days. Acts 20:16

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he might not spend much time in Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Shavuot.

It is clear from the words of the New Testament that the believers in Yeshua as Messiah continued both larger corporate worship and home meetings to strengthen and encourage one another.

Looking back at the pastor in the opening paragraph, he absolutely may have become legalistic as it concerns dress within his congregation and the Spirit of G-D may have been convicting him of his attitudes and unbiblical approach to dress. However, his response should not have been to swing from unbiblical to unbiblical. It should have been to simply change his attitude and reject legalistic unbiblical presentation of G-D’s Word, which does in fact teach modesty in dress for all people.

This same line of response is what should be taken by those who are rejecting corporate worship in large groups in favor of only meeting in small groups. These men and women have sound reasons for making changes. People do get lost in large crowds. Yes, there is sometimes corruption and excessive amounts of money spent that could be used to feed to poor etc. Yes, there are people who have gifts and talents that are not being provided with outlets and opportunities to use their gifts and abilities, along with many other issues that need to be addressed. However, just as the answer for the pastor above was not to remove his clothing because he had become legalistic, the answer for the above issues isn’t to reject corporate bodies for worship, but to actually address the waste in spending, to provide opportunities for those with talents and gifts to use them, and to make sure that no one gets lost in the crowd. We can do this without throwing out the baby with the bathwater by rejecting corporate worship and all that goes with it. We must remember we cannot become more Biblical by rejecting things that are Biblical. We can only become more Biblical by adhering to and following the Biblical example we find in the Scriptures.