I grew up in a faith tradition that spent a lot of time talking about and participating in Sunday assemblies. In fact, much of how I was taught to read the Bible was in regards to how we structure and order assemblies. How else could we argue with others if we couldn’t quote certain sections from Paul, right? I have great appreciation for my faith tradition because these are the people that passed the faith on to me, and they taught me a love of Scripture. However, it seems that the Christian faith is about so much more than a Sunday worship service and how we conduct those, and about so much more than correct understandings of doctrine.
I’ve been reading a couple of texts from Luke lately in preparation for preaching. It is astounding to me how much Jesus keeps pushing the Pharisees to think beyond being keepers of the law and to become people who are shaped by the implication of the law. For example, in Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman on the sabbath and the leader of the synagogue goes nuts. “You’ve got 6 days for working, come and be healed then”, he says. In other words, they’re more concerned with the legalities of keeping the sabbath than they are with the implications of keeping sabbath. People in need aren’t as important as right practice, they seem to say. However, someone who keeps sabbath hopefully learns to see the world the way God does, where all things are set to right. Where people who have been bound for 18 years like this woman are set free. The sabbath ought to propel us toward those people and their healing, not away from them. What good are they if they keep the sabbath but have not love for their neighbors?
And then I think of my faith tradition that seemed to spend more time and sermons on worship assemblies and how they were conducted than on how the gospel gets inside of us and drives us out into the world proclaiming the reign of God.
Or think about texts like Luke 16 and Matthew 25. In Luke 16, we often preach this text to speak of the realities of judgement and warn people. Yet, do we ever pause and ask what put the rich man on the other side of this chasm from Lazarus? It was because the rich man put a chasm up in his own life against someone who was hurting and broken. Or Matthew 25, another text for arguing judgement. But you know what puts people in with the goats? They didn’t clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick, etc.
In other words, I’ve yet to read Jesus say “Depart me you evildoers. For I wanted this particular worship style and you didn’t do it. I wanted you to understand this doctrine correctly but you didn’t.” Nor do I see the rich man where he is because he had the wrong worship style, or didn’t have the correct understandings and knowledge about certain doctrine. I think you get the point.
The older I get and the more I learn, the more I understand how little I actually know. I have less and less confidence in my own understandings of faith and God and more and more trust in Christ as a Savior. If Christianity is about what we know and understand, then we’re all in a heap of trouble. I mean think about it, there were faithful communities of Christ followers early on who may have never read a letter from Paul. But wait, how did they know how to order their worship services? How did they know correct doctrine? They didn’t, as far as we’re concerned. They knew the story of Jesus and trusted him, and were propelled to love their neighbors because of it.
Is doctrine good? Absolutely. Should we put some thought and effort into Sunday assemblies? Of course. Does the Bible give some pictures of Sunday assemblies and even some instruction? Yes, but far less than we may realize. Does what we know matter? Sure.
But, let’s not think God is out to get us on some technicalities or things we misunderstood. The story of Jesus seems to say it’s more about how the gospel gets inside of us and shapes our orientation to the world than it is about our correct doctrine.
And let’s not think that being a follower of Jesus is mostly about what we know. I’m mindful that Jesus had 12 guys following him for 3 years who had very little idea what was going on.
And let’s think about Christianity beyond assemblies, and think more about what it means to truly love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. After all, the entire law and prophets hinge upon these 2 commands. Maybe it’s less about how our assemblies are conducted, but more about what they do to us. Like the Luke 13 passage, it’s probably more about the implications of participating in Christian assemblies. As we continually learn, re-learn, and rehearse the story of Jesus each Sunday, it sends us out into the world being people who long to see the world restored the way God does, and do something about that longing.
Maybe Paul would write us today and say, “If I have worship assemblies that look doctrinally sound, but have not love, I am nothing. If I have worship assemblies that are moving and emotional, but have not love for others that propels me to action, I have nothing. If I have what I believe to be sound doctrine but have not love for the broken and hurting, I am nothing.”
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Jesus Christ