In a bit of self-reflection concerning 2016, I took an account of how much ‘gathering’ I’ve done with other believers. I can remember at least a half-dozen times, when ‘humble exhorters’ verbally expressed; based purely on speculation, that I just might be developing a custom or habit of forsaking/neglecting the gathering of myself with the saints.
Although, and in many situations, the kind of gathering that they’re talking about is not what I would consider gathering.
The author of Hebrews says; “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
It is interesting that the Greek uses the word ‘episunagógé’ for ‘gathering’ or ‘meeting together.’ Literally ‘synagogue-ing,’ It would suggest that our time together should reflect what took place in the early synagogues. I’ll leave that to you, but I’m still not sure that temple gatherings or synagogue gatherings are the best models for the Church today.
More importantly, the reason for gathering is to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Gathering for the sake of gathering is just not supported by any biblical text. We don’t gather for theological reasons, but for teleological ones. We gather towards a purpose.
I saw one of my twitter friends today make this tweet: “We don’t go to church. We are the church. The church goes to worship.”
To which I would have made this slight change;
“We don’t go to church. We are the church. The church worships as it goes.”
Ever so slightly nuanced, it makes all the difference in the world to me. I find gathering without purpose distasteful. I consider mission-less churches enemies. And yes, I will love my enemies, but it doesn’t mean that I have to gather with them if all they’re going to do is foment momentum for the next gathering.
When the author of Hebrews says not to forsake the gathering ‘as is custom’ (ethos) with some, it makes me think about what kind of ethos I’d like to see. ‘Ethos’ technically – a custom or behavior based on tradition (a habit) fixed by the religious social life of a group of people, cannot stand alone just because it’s a tradition that has been fixed by repetition. Our gatherings are to be fixed toward future purposes and not on antique assumptions.
If there’s no ‘purpose’ being manifested by the gatherings other than self-propagation, then NO THANK YOU. I’d rather gather with a people of direct purpose than with a people of misdirected purpose.
To put it more simply, If a gathering is not focused primarily toward acts of love and good works (mission), then I’m not interested. Am I being overly harsh? Maybe. Is my attitude keeping me from gathering as much as I should? Probably. But I will say this. My fewer gatherings in 2016 have been more impactful than the abundance of gatherings in years past. This overarching principle to ‘worship on the way – as you go’ has birthed new fellowships and deepened the ones already in existence.
It makes me wonder if gathering less and purposing more isn’t ‘the higher road,’ and if reshaping the ethos instead of just accepting the one in play is the better path.