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Alan Knox

Alan Knox

Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

Internet Ministry: Interaction

In my first three posts concerning Internet ministry (“What is it?,” “Evangelism and Discipleship,” and “Global Interaction”), I defined Internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people maturing in their walk with Jesus Christ. Finally, I encouraged those involved in “Internet ministry” to recognize the importance of personal, face-to-fact contact and example in discipleship.

In this final installment in my series on “Internet ministry,” I would like to continue discussing the importance of “face-to-face contact and example” by talking about using online interaction to further facilitate discipleship.

When I use the term interaction, I’m talking about communication that takes place in both directions. Now, certainly, it is possible to help someone without this kind of two-way communication. For example, someone could post a teaching based on a particular passage of Scripture, and someone else reading that teaching could benefit, without further interaction.

In reality, this is similar to the teaching/preaching found in many churches today. A person hears a teaching/sermon, but has no further interaction and no deeper relationship with the teacher/preacher. The person hearing can be helped with this type of teaching/preaching, but the amount and type of help is limited.

The way the Jesus and others in Scripture practiced and taught it, discipleship was interactive, in the midst of sharing life together, with questions and answers and follow-up and discussion and argument and another example, etc. It is possible to include this type of interaction using online resources.

The problem is that many who post material on the Internet consider the “posted material” to be the most important part of their work. In fact, that posted material is simply the beginning. Whether through comments or emails or phone calls or whatever, the further interaction with other people is often much more important than the posted material that began the further interaction.

Again, do not misunderstand me. Still, personal, face-to-face interaction is both important and necessary. But using various means, Internet ministry can be more interactive and, therefore, more effective at helping people mature in Christ and walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Of course, this also means that the way that we interact with people is as important (if not more important) than what we say (or write) in our posted material. If we react with hostility to someone who disagrees with us, it will completely nullify our post about the love of Christ. If we reject someone else, it hinders our message about the grace we have through Christ.

Finally, through interaction, we can demonstrate that we are also teachable – that we also need to be discipled – that we do not have all the answers – that God can and does speak to us and changes us through other people.

So, as we use online tools and resources to disciple others – that is, to help others grow in maturity in Christ – we should seek as much interaction as possible, always attempting to demonstrate the love of Christ in that interaction. In humility, we should admit that we do not have all the answers, that we are sometimes wrong, and that our relationships with others is more important than proving ourselves to be right.

Internet Ministry: Global Connection

In my two previous posts concerning internet ministry (“What is it?” and “Evangelism and Discipleship”), I defined Internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people mature in their walk with Jesus Christ.

In this post, I am will discuss one of the major benefits of serving people using online resources, and I will show how this benefit can also be a disadvantage.

Of course, the benefit that I’m talking about (as indicated in the title of this post) is the global connection, meaning that by using online resources we are able to connect to people all around the world. Until very recently (less than 100 years), if I wanted to communicate with someone in another country, it would take days, weeks, even months or more. Today, I can talk with people from every country on the planet in seconds.

In previous generations, the only people who could carry on conversations with people of different religions were those who traveled to different countries, or those with neighbors who were part of different religions. Today, anyone with a computer or cell phone with an Internet connection can communicate and interact with people from any number of belief systems.

So, the ability to communicate with other people has been drastically improved through the use of online resources. Because of the advancements in communication, many have compared the invention of the Internet to the invention of the printing press. And, in many ways, the two inventions are similar. Both inventions dramatically increased the ability to communicate ideas.

This then, leads to one of the disadvantages of this new global connection. But let’s take a step back and consider the practices of the apostles and other Christians as demonstrated in Scripture. Often, Peter, Paul, James, and others would desire to communicate with other believers in distant lands. They would then write letters – often dictating the letters to others who could write – and then send those letters by couriers, a process that could take weeks or months to complete.

However, neither Peter nor Paul nor James nor any others mentioned in the Scriptures relied completely on long distance communication methods. The letters were generally sent with other people who were to live among the recipients and help them with any problems they may have. Thus, the long distance communication was combined with personal interaction.

In fact, in many of Paul’s letters, instead of simply telling his readers what to do, he would remind them of how he himself had lived while he was among them. Thus, the letters were only part of an ongoing process of discipleship that included past interaction and present interaction. In other words, these people knew one another face to face, not just through letters.

With the advantages of today’s global connectivity, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. As we help people walk with Christ, no written words – no matter how eloquent – can replace a living example.

It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and never interact with others face to face. We must never allow our “online” ministry to replace the process of building mutually discipling relationships with other people that God brings into our lives. In fact, Internet ministry should work to supplement – not replace – our service to other people in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, etc.

So, as we attempt to disciple people using online resources, we must remember that Internet ministry – as with other types of long distance communication – works best when it is accompanied by face-to-face, personal interaction, either with us or with other Christians who can demonstrate a maturing faith by example.

Internet Ministry: Evangelism and Discipleship

In my previous post, “Internet Ministry: What is it?,” I defined “Internet ministry” as follows:

“Internet ministry” is the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ.

What what kind of service can be included in “Internet ministry”? Is this evangelism or discipleship?

The short answer is, “Yes.”

First, in Scripture, evangelism is part of discipleship. “Discipleship” is simply the process of helping someone live in a manner that honors Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. “Discipleship” is helping someone else mature in Christ.

Evangelism is the process of proclaiming the gospel with someone or some group. This is the first step of discipling that person or group.

Note that evangelism is different from apologetics. Apologetics is presenting arguments in support of one’s beliefs in order to show that those beliefs are reasonable, cohesive, coherent, and consistent. So, apologetics may or may not include a presentation of the good news.

Evangelism, on the other hand, focuses on the good news of Jesus Christ and the fundamentals of trusting Christ for salvation and life. As such, evangelism is part of the process of helping someone live as a disciple of Jesus Christ – that is, discipleship.

Thus, Internet ministry – if it is truly ministry (“service”) – is a part of the process of discipling others. This process begins with evangelism, but must not end there. Remembering that “ministry” includes interaction with others, “Internet ministry” must continue beyond evangelism to helping the new believer follow Jesus more closely – that is, to mature in Christ.

(Note: I believe this is true of all evangelism, not just online evangelism: Evangelism must include the intention of continuing the discipling process.)

So, an “Internet ministry” (or any type of service) that focuses on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers must include the further service of helping new believers grow and mature. Why? Because our goal as disciples of Jesus Christ is not to evangelize (only), but also to make disciples. Our goal is not converts, but disciples.

When we proclaim the gospel to someone, we are (whether we realize it or not) beginning the first step of discipleship. So, when we proclaim the good news, we should understand that we’re asking the person or people to begin to share our lives with us so that we can help one another grow in maturity in Christ.

Yes, there will be occasions when these types of ongoing discipling relationships are not possible. But they should be the exception, not the rule. We should not plan to use the Internet only to serve people through evangelism. Instead, we should understand that evangelism should include further discipleship, and so include discipleship in our plans to serve people.

Jesus told his apostles, “As you go, disciple all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20). If this command applies to us (and I think it does), then we should seek to disciple other people wherever we go. If we go across the oceans, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism. If we go across the street, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism.

And, if we go online, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism.

Internet Ministry: What Is It?

A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a post about Internet ministry. Since I was preparing to leave for Ethiopia, I said that I would write the post after I returned. As I was studying and thinking about the topic, my post turned into a series of posts.

In this first post, I want to define what I mean by the term Internet ministry. Now, to be completely honest, this is my definition. While my definition may be similar to others, I wanted to define the phrase in a way that expresses what I think about ministry itself. So, I’ll begin my definition with the term “ministry.”

As many, many scholars have pointed out, the English term ministry comes from the same Greek term as the English term service. “Ministry” is “service” and “service” is “ministry.” In the New Testament, there is not difference. So, in my definition there is no difference either. “Internet ministry” is “Internet service.”

But serving whom? In Scripture, service is also directed toward other people. While it may be beneficial to do something that benefits only yourself, this is not service. For example, if I write a book, but do not show it to anyone, it is not an act of service. It only because a possible act of service when I then share that book with others. So, “ministry” or “service” is directed toward others and interacts with others in some way.

Thus, “Internet ministry” is “internet service directed toward and interacting with other people.”

Now, what about the “Internet” part of the phrase “Internet ministry?” For this series, I will include any technology, app, or function that uses the Internet as “Internet.” That may seem obvious, but this means that both email and cell phone apps could be included in the phrase “Internet ministry.”

On the other hand, simply having a computer program does not mean that I would include that program in the phrase “Internet.” For example, I often use BibleWorks, but I would not include that software package in the term Internet.

There is at least one more statement that needs to be made about “Internet ministry.” I’m writing this from the perspective of a child of God – from someone who desires to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. As such, my intentions in serving others is so that those other people will be drawn to the love of God and begin following him as well. In other words, I want to see people grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ as the ultimate goal.

So, I could give a hungry person food as an act of service. But as a child of God, I also give them that food to demonstrate the love of God and to attract them to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This idea is not found in the terms ministry or service but should always be found in the life and actions of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Thus, as a Christian, my idea of “Internet ministry” must include the idea of helping someone grow in their understanding of God and in maturity in Christ.

So, “Internet ministry” is the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ.

Why Do We Often Respond Differently to Jesus?

One day, a friend of ours asked about dealing with a brother or sister in Christ who seemed completely apathetic to following Jesus. That led to a good discussion and some good advice from others, but it also led to a good discussion between my wife Margaret and myself.

As Margaret and I were talking about this subject, I remembered something that I had noticed earlier. When Jesus talked about dealing with a brother or sister who “sins against you,” those listening to him responded differently to the way that people today often respond to that same teaching.

What am I talking about? Well, start with this familiar passage:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)

Upon hearing or studying this passage, I’ve heard people respond with many questions, such as:

* Is this only for when a person sins directly again you, or is it also for someone who sins in general?

* Who should the one or two others be?

* What does it mean to “tell it to the church”? Who tells and when?

* What does it mean to treat the person “as a Gentile and a tax collector”?

* What does it mean to bind and loose?

* When Jesus says “where two or three are gathered,” is he only talking about “church discipline” or is he defining the church?

But, if we keep reading, we find that Jesus’ first audience responded quite differently:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

Peter recognized something that we often miss: Jesus’ statements were about relationships. When faced with the potential of breaking a relationship, most people will ask for forgiveness (even if they don’t really mean it). Peter recognized this, and wondered how many times he would have to forgive this brother who continued to sin against him.

How did Jesus respond? Keep on going to them, and keep on forgiving them.

I think there are other examples, too. But, to me, this is an obvious example of Jesus’ listeners responding to him differently than we often respond to him. Perhaps their focus (and Jesus’ focus) was different than our focus as well.

The Disciples, the Apostles, and the Twelve

When I was growing up, I thought that the terms “disciples,” “apostles,” and “the Twelve” all referred to the same group of twelve men who followed Jesus around between his baptism and his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, I often heard the terms combined as in “the twelve disciples” or “the twelve apostles,” and I rarely heard the terms “disciples” or “apostles” used to refer to anyone other than “the Twelve.”

Now, I understand that “the Twelve” were “apostles,” but other people were apostles as well. I also understand that “the Twelve” and the “apostles” were “disciples,” but other people were disciples as well.

Believe it or not, Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once. He uses the term “twelve” eight times. But he uses the term “disciple” over 30 times. A few times, Matthew combines the terms: “twelve apostles” or “twelve disciples.” That clarification (i.e., the fact that Matthew occasionally says “the twelve disciples”) indicates that at times Matthew is using the term “disciple” to refer to a group that does not include ONLY the Twelve.

It’s clear from reading the Gospels and Acts that many people – not just the Twelve – followed Jesus as his disciples. In fact, we learn in Acts 1, that at least 2 people – but probably more – followed Jesus from the time of his baptism by John and were still with the 120 when they were gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:21-23.)

Here’s a passage from Matthew, for example, that indicates that the term “disicples” was used to refer to more than just the Twelve:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 ESV)

Why is this important? Well, think about these questions:

Who was in the boat with Jesus when he calmed the storm? (“And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him…” Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Who did Jesus teach privately? (“Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’” Matthew 13:36 ESV)

Who did Jesus eat ‘the Last Supper’ with? (“He [Jesus] said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”‘” Matthew 26:18 ESV)

In the same way, we know that other people (besides the Twelve) were referred to as “apostles,” especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Therefore, when we read that apostles said or did something, we cannot assume that the author was referring to the Twelve. (However, as an interesting aside, perhaps Matthais was chosen to replace Judas as one of “the Twelve” in Acts 1:15-26.)

This passage by Paul specifically points out this difference:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)

Did you notice that Paul makes a distinction between “the Twelve” and “the apostles”? Notice that we see that Jesus also appears to “more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).”

So, we should be careful when we read these terms in Scripture. Otherwise, we might limit the scope and reference more narrowly than the authors intended.

Test Everything: The Role of Discernment When the Church Gathers

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a long (3 chapters) section of the letter addressing spiritual gifts. In the first part (chapter 12), Paul focuses mainly on the variety types of gifts and the importance of all the gifts working together for the benefit of the whole church. In the next part (chapter 13), he tells his readers that demonstrating love is more important than exercising any kind of gift. (In a rhetorical exclamation, he announced that even exercising great faith is nothing if the person is not showing the love of God to others.)

Finally, in the last section of this teaching about spiritual gifts, Paul turns more toward the use and exercise of the various gifts when the church gathers together. Since he primarily discusses the gifts of prophecy and tongues, some believe that the Corinthian church struggled with those two gifts. This is possible, perhaps probable.

But while correcting the way that the Corinthians were practicing or emphasizing spiritual gifts, Paul gives them (and us) a key principle: everything that is said or done when we are gathered with other Christians should edify those others. In fact, the only reason (according to Paul) that prophecy is preferred to tongues (uninterpreted) when the church is gathered together is that prophecy directly edifies the church while speaking in tongues does not.

When Paul comes around to laying down some general guidelines for speaking when gathered with other believers (1 Corinthians 14:26-40), he again divides his instructions into two parts: one set of instructions for speaking in tongues and another set of instructions for prophesying. Among the instructions for prophesying, Paul adds the importance of “discernment”: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV)

So, while Paul believes that prophesy directly edifies the church, he also says that prophesy should be weighed. He says something similar when writing to the church in Thessalonica: “Do not despise(AD) prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 ESV)

This discernment (or judging/weighing) becomes even more important when we think about other forms of speaking when the church gathers together. For example, I would think that teaching is directly edifying also (like prophesying). Thus, teaching would fall under the same guidelines as prophecy, and any type of instruction should be judged also. The same would be true of other types of speaking such as encouragement or even admonishment.

But what does it mean to “weigh” what someone says? What is discernment? Who should judge what is said and for what reason? What examples of discernment do we find in Scripture? I hope to examine each of these questions in the next few posts.

But let’s be honest. For the majority of Christians who gather together (at least in the Western world), discernment is not and cannot be part of their gatherings. Usually, only one person speaks. If someone else speaks, that person must first be given permission to speak. Then, if someone has a question about what is said, or if someone disagrees, there are few avenues of asking questions, much less discernment. (Yes, I understand that some “preachers” or teachers allow for questions and disagreements. But for most Christians in America and the West, this is not allowed or encouraged.)

In spite of this, discernment was important to Paul. Plus, this is a topic that I have not studied much. So, I’m looking forward to looking at various passages of Scripture that I think are related to this topic.

What passages would you study in order to understand discernment? Do you think everything said among the church should be “judged”? Why or why not? When something is spoken, what about that should be “weighed” by others?

Disciples Follow Jesus

It sounds simple and obvious, doesn’t it? Disciples follow Jesus. Notice this passage in Matthew’s Gospel:

Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. (Matthew 8:18 ESV)

That’s a simple order, isn’t it? “Go to the other side of the sea.” That has to be the most simple and direct command that Jesus gave. What was the response of the crowd?

And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:19-20 ESV)

One man jumped up right away…. “Yes Sir, Jesus! I’ll go wherever you want me to go.” I think he probably started humming to himself, “Wherever he leads, I’ll go. Wherever he leads, I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ….”

Jesus warned this enthusiastic fellow to count the cost before agreeing to follow. Discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. Following Jesus is hard work. Jesus says, “Are you sure you are ready to give up everything? Enthusiasm doesn’t count for much when the going gets tough.”

Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22 ESV)

Another person jumped up and said, “Yeah, Jesus, I’ll follow you. I’ve thought about it, like you said, and I need to take care of some things first.”

Jesus didn’t cut this guy any slack either. He said, “Either follow me, or go home. All or nothing.”

I imagine there were other responses as well. “Jesus, I’ll follow you as soon as my job is more stable.” “Yes, Jesus, I’ll be right there as soon as I finish school. My education has to be a priority right now.” “Jesus, you know that I want to follow you, but let me raised the kids first. You might lead me to places where I wouldn’t want to take the kids.”

So many responses to Jesus. How will Jesus ever determine who is sincere and who is not? How will we ever recognize the true disciples?

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. (Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Doesn’t that sound simple? Jesus issues a command, and those who are his disciples obey by following him. The ones who speak up first are not necessarily disciples. The ones who delay and are admonished by Jesus are not necessarily disciples, nor are they necessarily NOT disciples.

Are you a disciple? Are you following Jesus? That’s the simple test. Start with Jesus’ most important commandments: Are you following Jesus by loving God and loving other people?

Find out more about Alan Knox on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

Meeting with the Early Church – Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas is a very early Christian document. It was probably written sometime between 70 AD and 132 AD, but it was probably not written by the Barnabas who was a friend and fellow-traveller of Paul. The epistle was included in Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest complete manuscripts of the New Testament.

In at least one passage, the author writes about the the gathering of the church:

Now, because I want to write many things to you, not as a teacher, but as suitable for one who loves you, I have taken care not to fail to write to you from what I myself possess, with a view to your purification. For this reason, we should be attentive in these last days; for the whole past time of your life and faith will be of no benefit to us, unless now in this wicked time we should stand against coming temptation, as is suitable for children of God. Therefore, in order that the Black One may find no means of entrance, we should flee from every futility (frustration?), and we should completely hate the works of the way of evil. Do not live separate lives, by each going his own way, as those who have already been justified; but by coming together in harmony, you must discuss what leads to the benefit of all. For Scripture says, “Woe to those who are wise to themselves, and have understanding in their own sight!” We should be spiritual; a complete temple to God. As much as depends on us, we should meditate on the fear of God, and we should strive to observe His commandments, in order that we may rejoice in His requirements. (Epistle of Barnabas 4:9-11)

Once again, we see the important of gathering together in unity with other believers. This has been a very important common theme to many of the early Christian writers.

Furthermore, according to the Epistle of Barnabas, there is a danger to every believers going their separate ways without gathering together with other believers. That danger is described as the entrance of the Black One, and – according to the Scripture quoted – pride in assuming that each believer has enough wisdom and understanding on their own.

The remedy is to come together in order to discuss things that lead to the benefit of the entire group. The phrase that I translated “that leads to the benefit of all” is very similar to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 1:

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

While Paul seems to focus on each person speaking and serving for the benefit of others, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas has a different focus – the individual. The individual benefits when he or she comes together with other believers to discuss mutually beneficial things. Thus, Paul and this author are talking about the same type of meeting, but from different perspectives.

Given the close proximity, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas may also be connecting the gathering of believers with meditating on the fear of God and striving to keep God’s commandments. If so, then a meeting of believers should aid all present in thinking about God and in obeying him.

One final note, the verb that I translated “discuss” in the phrase “you must discuss what leads to the benefit of all” is a Greek verb that means “discuss,” “carry on a discussion,” “dispute,” “debate,” or “argue.” It is a compound verb combining the verb “to seek” with the preposition “together with.” You can find it in many passages in the gospels and twice in Acts (Acts 6:9, Acts 9:29). This verb is stronger than the verb that is usually used to describe “discussion” in the church such as in Acts 19:9 where Paul “spoke to” or “dialogued with” Christian disciples in the school or Tyrannus or in Acts 20:7 when Paul “spoke to” or “dialogued with” the church in Troas.

At the time of the writing of the Epistle of Barnabas, the church meeting had not turned into a time for one teacher to present a monologue type sermon.

Meeting with the Early Church - Clement

Clement was bishop in Rome from around 88 AD until his death in 99 AD. His best known writing is the First Epistle of Clement, or 1 Clement, which he wrote to the church in Corinth. This letter is considered by some to be the oldest non-canonical Christian writing. In fact, it was considered Scripture by many in the early church. A second epistle (2 Clement) was probably written at a much later date by someone other than Clement of Rome.

In writing to the church in Corinth in 1 Clement, he admonished the believers for their factious actions. While Paul wrote about the divisions in Corinth, Clement indicates that these schisms were corrected. However, discord happened again, which led many of the believers to refuse to acknowledge the elders in the church, and instead to recognize different elders. In this letter, Clement covers many topics related to leadership and “followership,” including humility, service, and faithfulness. At one point, Clement mentions the importance of meeting together as the church:

For the Scripture says, Ten thousand times ten thousand stood around Him, and thousands of thousands served Him, and cried, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Sabaoth; the whole creation is full of His glory. Therefore, by being gathered together conscientiously in harmony, we should call out to Him eagerly, as with one mouth, that we may become partakers of His great and glorious promises. (1 Clement 34:6-7)

We can learn several important aspects of gathering together according to Clement from this short passage. First, Clement associates the church meeting with the eschatological, heavenly worship of God. This worship is carried out by those around God’s throne and by creation.

Second, the church should gather together “conscientiously.” This word is very important for Clement. He uses it several times to refer to the “good conscience” of those in Scripture who pleased God, and the “good conscience” with which the believers in Corinth should live. Apparently, for Clement, gathering together should be carried out in a good conscience, just as the rest of life should be lived.

Third, believers should come together in harmony with one another. We’ve seen several times that these early believers focused on unity and harmony among brothers and sisters, especially when they meet together as the church. In this passage, harmony is emphasized by three different phrases: two different phrases for “harmony” which are usually just translated once, and the phrase “as with one mouth.” This is understandable given the division at Corinth.

Finally, the focus of Clement’s meeting seems to be on the promises of God. Perhaps this is similar to the passage in Hebrews 10 where the author also associates trusting in the promises of God and gathering together with other believers:

[L]et us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:22-25)

So, we have seen many of the same emphases in Clement’s letter that we’ve seen in other early writings about the gathering of the church. Primarily, the authors continue to focus on unity among brothers and sisters. Also, important to a study of the church meeting, we also begin to see an association between the meeting of the church and worship.

Meeting with the Early Church – Ignatius

Ignatius of Antioch was sent to Rome to be killed sometime around AD 110. During his trip to Rome, he wrote at least seven letters to churches and individuals. A letter to Polycarp as well as letters to the churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, Trallia, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna exist today. If you are interested in Ignatius, I’ve written about him in several posts: “Singing a Song of Unity“, “Gospel and Monoepiscopacy in Ignatius“, and “Ignatius, the church, and others“.

For Ignatius, unity was very important. Unity begins with One God, One Lord, and One faith. This also means that there must therefore be one gospel and one bishop. So, for Ignatius, unity with the Lord, the bishop, and one another will be very important when he discusses the meeting of the church:

Therefore, make every effort to come together frequently for gratitude and praise of God. For whenever you are together frequently, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his destructive plan is ruined by your unity of faith. (Ign. Eph. 13:1)

[I will do this] especially if the Lord makes known to me that you all – man to man – come together in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality – that is, the antidote so that we would not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ. (Ign. Eph. 20:2)

Let your assemblies be more frequent. Seek all by name. (Ign. Pol. 4:2)

In the first passage, Ignatius focuses on the purpose of gathering together and the results of gathering together. In Ign. Eph. 13:1, he says that we should come together to proclaim both our gratitude for God and to proclaim God’s glory. The result of our meeting together is the destruction of Satan’s powers and his destructive plans. Ignatius does not fully explain what he means by this. However, in the next verse he writes, “Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.” In this context, it seems that Ignatius is saying that war is the work of Satan and that Christians defeat Satan by remaining in peace.

In the second passage (Ign. Eph. 20:2), the bishop focuses on coming together in unity. He emphasizes unity with one another due to our common grace and faith and the Lord Jesus. Primarily, this unity will be displayed in our mutual submission to leaders (the bishop and the presbyters) and in our partaking of a common meal (which would probably include the Lord’s Supper). It is very interesting that Ignatius associated the breaking of bread together with eternal life in Christ.

In the last passage, Ignatius only focuses on meeting together frequently. We don’t learn much more about his understanding of the church meeting from this.

As we can see, both the frequency of meetings and the unity of those involved is extremely important to Ignatius. Ignatius places much emphasis – both in the second passage and in other parts of his letters – on remaining in unity with the bishop. If you read through his letters, you will see that besides meeting together, Ignatius does not think that believers should do anything without the consent of the bishop. I believe this arises from his concern for unity among followers of Jesus Christ.

Meeting with the Early Church – The Didache

The Didache (“Teaching”) was probably written in the late first century or early second century (80-150 AD). While it was referenced very early (Eusebius ~ 324 AD), the actual text of the document was not discovered until 1873.

The book is easily divided into two parts. The first part (chapters 1-6) deal with “the two ways”: the way of life and the way of death. The second part (chapters 7-16) deals primarily with living the Christian life and touches on topics such as communion, baptism, travelling apostles and prophets, and fasting.

While the sections concerning the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and teachers affects the meeting of the church, there are two passages that clearly speak about Christians gathering together:

But gathering together every Lord’s, break bread and give thanks after confessing your transgressions, so that your sacrifice may be pure. But do not let anyone who is at variance with his friend come together with you, until they are reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. (Didache 14:1-2)

But you should come together frequently, seeking the things which are proper for your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not be profitable to your souls, if you are not made perfect in the last time. (Didache 16:2)

In these two passages, the primary concerns for meeting together is 1) the purity of our sacrifice before God and 2) the benefit to each other.

The word “sacrifice” is only used in Didache 14:1-3, and it is not explained further. If it carries the same meaning as found in the New Testament, it refers to both our praises to God (Hebrews 13:15) and the good deeds we do for others (Hebrews 13:16). Meeting together should aid us in both of these endeavors. Notice that the author includes “breaking bread” (eating together) and “giving thanks” (prayer or sharing the Eucharist) as well as confessing our sins to one another. It is also important to the author that believers come together in a spirit of unity, dealing with any disagreements or divisions between brothers and sisters before they are allowed to meet with the remainder of the group.

The second passage (Didache 16:2) focuses on meeting together for the benefit of those gathered. It seems that gathering with other believers should help us mature (“made perfect”) in the faith – looking forward to that time when we will be completely perfect in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 13:9-12). Individual activities are not in focus in this passage. Instead the focus is on the outcome or the purpose of meeting together – mainly for the benefit of maturing one another in the faith.

There is also a secondary focus on the time of the gathering. In 14:1, the focus is on the day of the gathering, called here simply kuriakos (“belonging to the Lord” meaning “the day belonging to the Lord”). In 16:2, the focus is on the frequency of gathering together. The believers were to gather together frequently – a subjective description that becomes clearer only when used in conjunction with kuriakos in 14:1. The author is encouraging his readers to gather together frequently on the Lord’s Day.

As I said earlier, the Didache includes many instructions for the Lord’s Supper, baptism, dealing with travelling apostles and prophets, choosing bishops and deacons, and other activities that probably take place during the church meeting. All of these passages are important for us to understand what the author of the Didache thought about the church meeting. But only in these two passages (14:1-2; 16:2) do we see a primary focus on the meeting itself.