“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day…” Rev 1:10.
The initial audience (the seven churches) to which John wrote this epistle entitled “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” understood the meaning of “the Lord’s Day.” Outside of its immediate audience context we cannot presume we know what is meant without consideration of other scripture references and church history. The church in history has understood the Lord’s Day to be the first day of the week (Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor 16:2), that day of the week (our Sunday) that Jesus rose from the dead (John 20:1). While the Apostle Paul states that one day is not necessarily better than another in the context of Christian freedom (Romans 14:5), this does not exclude the conviction of designating a day of the week as “The Lord’s Day” for the purpose of gathering akin to the gathering on the sabbath day in Judaism. Thus, we may safely presume that gathering on the first day of the week distinguished the Christian movement to be separate from Judaism’s gathering on the traditional sabbath day.
Hebrews 10:25 states not to neglect the gathering together of believers which can be applied to any day of the week. However, the Church gathering on a designated day of the week is not meant to be legalistic, but strategic. Unfortunately, this weekly gathering over history has become too often a religious ritual and exercise, or even worse, a promotion of personal ministries (disciples primarily following “charismatic” leaders, sitting to face a stage), than a voluntary (Psalm 110:3) strategic Kingdom of God advancement gathering. This will always be a challenge that I believe may be overcome by being Spirit-led people.
So, I am writing about the Lord’s Day gathering from this strategic, Spirit-led purpose. Right away from an evangelical perspective many see the purpose of the gathering as a recruitment meeting. “Bring a friend to church” is a popular promotion to populate the attendance and eventual membership on a given Sunday. While encouraging others to worship is certainly not wrong (to invite friends to join you in worship on a given Sunday gathering), the emphasis of more “butts in the seats” often misses the purpose of the strategic gathering. Its purpose is not first and foremost to convert non-believers during this particular weekly gathering, though it is quite acceptable for that to happen on this occasion as well as any other occasion. Evangelism is a seven day a week opportunity to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom and witness to Jesus the Messiah King with the call to respond! Rather, the strategy on the Lord’s Day is to accomplish the mandate of discipling the nations in coming to Christ as Lord! This purpose is so much bigger than a preaching service to gain converts.
Please note, we can meet whenever we want, how often we want, with any God-given purpose in mind, given we are led by the Spirit as instructed by scripture. We can hold crusades, we can minister to one another, we can gather for a particular proclamation, teaching, fellowship, or particular prayerful purpose. We can combine them as we wish and as led by the Spirit. My concern here is the functional, purposed-filled, and strategic One Church gathering on the day designated as the Lord’s Day.
On the Lord’s Day I believe there are four common movements of worship from Scripture and from the practice throughout Church history: Praise, Scripture, Proclamation and Prayer. The Church gathers according to the Word of the Lord. From the testimony of scripture, The Church believes we are to voluntarily gather as One Body (in many allotments across the planet) for God’s purposes on the earth. So, we gather to present ourselves as One Church before the throne of God (See John’s testimony of being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day Rev 1:10 and then in Rev 4:2 finding himself in the spirit before the throne of God). It is from the throne of God that the Judgments of God are declared from heaven and decreed upon the earth from the administration of Christ the Lamb who was slain and Christ the Lion of Judah who roars God’s justice and righteousness (Rev 4-5).
Thus, the Church gathers as One on the Lord’s Day for the Judgments of God (His justice and righteousness) upon the nations to be revealed upon the earth. Now, before you think I am saying God cannot wait to punish the nations, please note that the judgment of God from the standpoint of Christ as Lord is first and foremost “forgiveness” for those who respond positively to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. There are consequences for those who choose not to repent in response to the gospel proclamation (see 2 Corinthians 2 :15-16 concerning the affects upon others with the message of the Gospel believers carry). One reason I believe the nations remain being led by corrupt governments today is because the church as we know it is not fulfilling its mandate with this strategic purpose of the Lord’s Day gathering. We think we gather on this day to win some local sinners when in fact we gather to win the nations!
This Lord’s Day gathering is considered a “governmental” meeting. This meeting is where we let Christ, the Head of His Church, govern us and the nations according to His judgments, statutes, and decrees. Isaiah 9:6 says the government will be upon The Messiah’s shoulders. If Christ is the head of His Church, then He is governing through His Body on the earth. The Lord’s Day gathering is strategic in how The Messiah King governs the earth through His Church. Could you imagine what God would do through His Church if we all voluntarily “showed up” as truly One Body in this manner? It is from this governmental meeting the Church Jesus builds is collectively commissioned with assignments towards discipling the nations following the prayers declared at this meeting (think “who will go for us?” from Isaiah 6:8, also a throne room scene like Rev 4 and 5).
So, let us consider again the four movements within the Lord’s Day gathering for worship while considering this strategic purpose, for Christ to govern the nations of the earth through His Body, The Church. With praise we boldly approach the throne of grace. The Presence of God is with us and within us by the Holy Spirit. When we gather in our many allotments across the globe on this designated day, we magnify the Lord together as One Body. In this gathering we do not make the Lord more than what He is to Himself, but to us and to the nations! Our praise to God helps we who gather to recognize together that we stand in the Presence of the Lord, and thus we present ourselves to receive our assignments to fulfill God’s purposes on the earth. The time that it takes to come to this point in worship is determined by the Spirit and not by our wrist watches. It may be shorter or longer than another allotment, but the purpose is still the same: To be aware that we stand together by the Spirit in His Presence before His throne for His Word and His judgments to be declared and our assignments received.
As we collectively enter His Presence (we are collectively aware that we are before the throne) we are ready to hear the Word of the Lord from the holy scriptures and from the prophets. I mean “prophets” in the most general manner, those who through the Spirit of God (any Spirit-filled believer) declare the word of the Lord according to the Word already revealed. The Word and the Spirit agree. This is why we must judge any declaration, that it remains consistent with the Word and the Spirit (and thus why we prepare, train, and raise up accountable leaders who are responsible for the release of sound words according to Scripture). The proclamation illumines and inspires us to what has already been revealed in scripture, and thus directs our common prayers in response.
To re-affirm our common union in our response to the proclaimed word that are to be declared in our prayers, we break bread together. Celebrating Holy Communion reminds us of our union with God through Christ, and with one another, as accomplished through Christ’s redemption, the gospel story. We are free to celebrate this Holy Communion every Lord’s Day as led by the Spirit as necessary for our allotment that is gathering. This is not to be a religious ritual to fulfill. Rather, this is meant to be a meaningful, Spirit-led remembrance that honors the direction of the Lord from scripture and accomplishes the purpose of re-experiencing our union through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The elements of bread and wine remind us of the covenant establish by God the Father with the Son from the beginning. We are reminded that we are one by The Spirit as we break this “bread” and drink from the “cup” together as a corporate body. By our participation in this sacrament, we have been reminded of our inclusion in God’s eternal covenant through Christ according to God’s eternal plan and purpose. This is the basis of our authority on the earth, whereby we are in the Spirit seated with Him at the right hand of the Father. Because of what Christ has accomplished for us on our behalf, we get to participate with Him in the gathering of the nations under His Lordship starting with our prayers and declarations. The participation with Christ with partaking His “body” and “blood” establishes us to pray with His authority and with One Voice for the nations to be converted. Our assignments with action follow these prayers (as above, “Who will go for us?”). We do not have to celebrate Holy Communion to gain what has already been given to us by the grace of Christ. Rather, it is the Lord’s admonition to celebrate His Body and His Blood to re-invigorate this reality as needed. It is also to realize the seriousness of who we are and what we do as the Body of Christ, and to partake without “discerning the Body” (1 Cor 11:29) may result in needed correction among the Body. Many allotments will find Holy Communion meaningful every Lord’s Day gathering, and that is certainly not out of order in relation to the Lord’s direction in scripture about it.
The prayers of the people, the prayers of the Church that has gathered, have an outlined agenda given by the Lord in what commonly is called “the Lord’s Prayer.” Unfortunately, instead of using the Lord’s prayer as the outline for the content of our prayers in response to the word of the Lord, we have religiously made it a rote prayer repeated endlessly with no fervency or conviction about what we are praying. There are other supportive prayers found in scripture that also help us pray accordingly to the Lord’s prayer agenda (e.g., Psalm 2 and Acts 4:24-30). When we pray together with One Voice, we exercise the authority of God upon the earth for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done.
Consequently, the climax of our gathering as One Church on a given Lord’s Day is to pray in agreement God’s will upon the earth, all in line with scripture and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The sad thing today is out of all four movements, prayer is probably the least effective thing we do together on a given Sunday (and thus reveals our current weakness). Too often when we do pray, it is mostly about our needs than for the nations to repent in response to the proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, the gathering to praise, to hear the scriptures read, to hear the related proclamation, to celebrate our common union in Christ and then to pray is according to the mandate given to us by Christ the Head of His Body to disciple the nations.
The ineffectiveness of the church as we know it today can be seen in this disconnect when it comes to the Lord’s Day worship. We are so focused on our ministry being built up that we miss the whole purpose of the gathering, which is for the ingathering harvest of all nations in response to the Gospel of the Kingdom. Because we mistakenly believe more in our self-serving ministry than in God’s ministry for the nations, we build our churches and our ministries according to our ways (the ways we have been taught by those who do not understand the true strategy of The Lord’s Day gathering). I believe among other things this is why the church as we know it is the mess that it is as we see it today. The proper actions and assignments will follow the proper prayers.
Therefore, it is time to reform ourselves, the church as we know it, starting with the revelation of Christ as Lord and King among the nations of the earth (proclaiming the authentic gospel). While ministering to one another is appropriate among life within the Body of Christ, it is not the mandate that the Lord has given us for this strategic governmental Lord’s Day gathering. We do not exist for ourselves. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me” (Galatians 2:20). This is to be true of each and every Christian disciple and of the entire Church as One Body on the earth, accomplishing the Kingdom purposes of Christ our King according to the eternal plan and purpose of God.