Friday, November 19, 2010


The primary gathering of the church each week is specifically intended for (1) the worship of God and (2) for the edification of believers—the primary gathering of the church each week is not intended to evangelize the lost.

This discussion must be had not only because of misconceptions that have infiltrated the church over the centuries, but also because of practices and traditions that have crept in among the ecclesia, the “called out ones”, the church. Among the misconceptions, practices and traditions are:
Preaching to the “Margins”
Abandonment of Theology/Doctrine 
Man-centered view of evangelism/salvation 
“Crusades” held in large venues 
The “altar call” 
• “Revivalism”

Each of these will be addressed very briefly, in order to illustrate why many have come to believe that the primary gathering of the church is for the purpose of evangelism, and why such a view is Biblically indefensible.

In most evangelical churches today, the preaching is “to the margins”, that is, the man in the pulpit will preach the truth only to the point that he thinks will not offend the “marginal” Christian or the possible unbelieving visitor in the pew. The goal is to make sure nothing offends, so the marginal believer or the unbeliever will possibly return the next week. This watering down of the Scriptures, in order to not offend an unbeliever or a supposed believer at the edge, is a serious misstep by the preacher, and is undertaken with the misguided belief that the goal of the primary meeting of the church is evangelism.

It was not always this way. Charles Spurgeon, for example, preached expository messages from the Word of God in a profound, intentional manner, without worrying about offending anyone.

George Whitefield did the same in the fields of colonial America. God used both men mightily to further his kingdom.

Nowhere in Scripture do we see an example of preaching to the margins; instead, we see preaching to believers for their edification, for their building up, to equip them for the work of ministry.

Again, men in the pulpits of most evangelical churches today are preaching “how to...” messages, “when you feel...” messages, “what to do when...” messages, as well as messages from Bible study guides, messages revolving around psychology, “felt needs”, or even “messages” that are made up of stories and jokes, rather than expositing the Word of God for the benefit God’s church. They will talk about what movies or books their people should avoid.  Coming across certain accounts in Scripture, they will inject legalism into the discussion, addressing issues such as tattoos, piercings, the use of alcohol, or mode of dress in church, rather than expositing the doctrine and/or theology that begs to be addressed. These men in the pulpits, as well as the congregations in their care, seem to view theology and doctrine as something for the academics, and not useful to the church body. They could not be any further from the truth. How is the preacher in the pulpit going to fulfill the mandate to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” without teaching theology and doctrine? Failure to do so will result in anemic believers who become stagnant. Failure to do so is to send the flock out into the field unprepared and ill equipped to declare to others the good news of Jesus Christ.

This writer can recall attending a “revival”, where a guest preacher was brought in. This man, a leader in a large denomination in California, spent the time in front of the church telling stories, and making people laugh. Even children in attendance recognized he was not teaching the Word of God. The sad thing is that at the State Convention a few months later, where he had the opportunity to expound on theology and doctrine to that gathering of believers, he chose to tell the same silly stories.

The exposition of Scripture naturally includes theology—the “study of God”—and doctrine—“the study of the Scripture for the sake of instruction”—both of which Paul not only did, but also exhorted other pastors to do. Failure to do so is to fail—period.

James Arminius—whose theology is taught in the majority of evangelical churches—held that salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God, who takes the initiative, and man, who must respond, with man's response being the determining factor in salvation. Further, that God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, "choose" to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man's will plays a decisive role; thus, according to this body of teaching, man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation. Such teaching cannot be supported Biblically.

As a result of this teaching, many people in churches in America today believe that they must get their friends to church with them so they will “get saved”. They believe that if their friend hears the word preached, they will come under conviction and will be saved. The all-important altar call will be the time that they “surrender to Christ”. This is a man centered belief system as opposed to being God centered. The fact of the matter is, God is the author of salvation, not man. What takes place in a man’s heart is the work of God, not of man. Man is utterly unable to rescue or save himself. (See Ephesians 1, Ephesians 2, Romans 9)

God has charged the church to go out and evangelize, but he never charged the church anywhere in Scripture to stay within its doors and evangelize. Every time God charged the church with respect to preaching, he did it in such a way as to give the charge to preach to believers. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul instructs Timothy to “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. One does not reprove, rebuke and exhort, and teach unregenerate people, but those covered by the blood of the Lamb.

Under Charles Finney, a Pelagianheretic, the “altar call” came into use in the church. In order to get people to “make a decision”, Charles Finney and those who followed him in his thinking used what they called “techniques” or “new methods” to accomplish that end. Finney’s “new methods” included emotional tactics that resulted in fainting and crying, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them, as well as the “Anxious Seat”.

In approximately 1835, Finney instituted the use of the “Anxious Seat”. Finney held that the Anxious Seat took the place of baptism in the days of the apostles “as a public manifestation of their (new converts) determination to be Christians". The Anxious Seat was not rooted in Scripture and was not rooted in the early church.

The Anxious Seat evolved into what it is today—the walking of an aisle, the raising of a hand, or the praying of a prayer, which, it is believed, is the public manifestation of one’s belief in Christ. It is typically referred to as an “invitation” or “altar call”.

Finney—and altar calls—misconstrue the actual Ordo Salutis, the Order of Salvation and make salvation something that man accomplishes for God rather that what God accomplishes in the hearts of men.

Finney, Moody, Torrey, Sunday, and Graham—their methods all evolved into what passes for the “right way” to get people saved. Anyone that has attended a Billy Graham Crusade has seen people being called to the front for salvation after Dr. Graham has concluded his message. Not only that, but experience has shown that when serving as a “counselor” at a Graham Crusade, the counselors are instructed to begin moving down toward the stage as soon as the invitation is given.  The stated purpose: to encourage the unsaved to begin moving down in response to the call to come down, in response to the plea:

“Don’t let distance keep you from Christ. Your friends will wait for you. Christ went to the Cross because he loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps. Those of you up high in the stadium, begin moving right now. Come right now. We will wait for you”.

In the churches that employ the Invitation System, the congregation will continue to sing “Have Thine Own Way” or “Just As I Am”, waiting for the convicted sinner to release the “white knuckled” grip on the pew, to finally move to the front of the church to “take the pastor’s hand”. Unfortunately, this method has done considerable harm—harm to God’s people, to the unsaved, and also to God’s churches.

The use of the invitation system has caused many people to believe that they must “go forward” or “pray a prayer” in order to be saved. This method was not founded in the early church, and it has no Scriptural support or basis in fact.

Basically, revivalism is pragmatism (practicality) overriding the authority of Scripture. Revivalism is the carrying out of Finney’s misguided belief that it does not matter how we get there, just so long as evangelism is the end result. In other words, when adequate means are employed, the desired result—the salvation of souls—is guaranteed, no matter what the means may be that are employed, in spite of what the means employed happen to be.

It must be understood that the means do matter. To abandon the Scriptural example in favor of “new methods” as Finney called them, is to put man over God. Anyone who has been in or around churches that have given in to this type of pragmatism has seen the manipulation, tricks, heart wrenching stories, compelling peer pressure, and the music, all designed to get someone to “give their life to Christ”, as if that were even possible. It is important to remember that God’s Word is sufficient not only in the message, but also in the methods the church is to employ.

So much for misconceptions, bad practices and traditions people hold on to with a death grip. 

A Biblical understanding of the purpose for gathering as believers on Sunday morning must rest on two unwavering principles: 
1. The inerrancy of the Word of God, including the belief that all of what God said has been preserved for us, and 
2. That the Bible is the ultimate standard of truth, that is, what it says and means today is what it said and meant when it was penned. Further, that the Word does not mutate with the changes in society, but is our final authority.

In order to understand what “worship” is, we must understand what it means. Many “definitions” of “worship” are floating around in the evangelical world. Certainly, we are to be engaged in worship of God individually every waking moment. But the discussion here has to do with why the church gathers on a weekly basis, and the purpose for coming together, so comments about worship will intentionally be related to that subject.

The Greek word for worship, proskuneo, describes an attitude of humility, reverence, appreciation, fear, adoring awe, and wonder. The emphasis is on inner love and devotion, love for and devotion to God. With this in mind, Wayne Grudem’s definition of worship is helpful. He defines worship as “the activity of glorifying God in his presence with our voices and hearts”.

The next question that must be answered is: “Who are believers?” The Greek word for “believer” is pistos, and it is used in the New Testament to render the various forms of the word believe, but more often for “trustworthy”. The greatest number of instances where the word pistos is used, however, makes reference to being faithful—one who can be counted on, one who will not abandon another, no matter what.3 A true believer, then, is one who has been regenerated by God, has been brought to faith by God, continues in the process of sanctification, and who perseveres to the end.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, a letter written in part to chastise the believers in that church because of some of the practices they engaged in when they came together as a church, Paul talked extensively about “when you come together as a church” and what was to be done. Here, one must guard against a myopic view In Chapter 11:

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.  23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.  27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Paul continued his instruction to the church—how they were to “do church” in today’s vernacular—through Chapters 12 and 13, and then we come to Chapter 14, where God gives the church further intentional and explicit instruction as to what is to take place when the church comes together.4

Again, we see Paul talking about “when you come together”—

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolationThe one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the churchNow I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built upNow, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefityou unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church...

(regarding speaking in tongues )17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up627 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

Bear in mind that Paul is writing to the church—then and today—and, more explicitly, he is writing to believers only. His exhortation is not for the unbeliever. His point? When the church gathers, it is for the edification of the saints, for upbuildingencouragement and consolation of the saints.

In v.3 above, Paul talks about upbuilding and encouragement and consolation
In v.4, he talks about spiritual gifts being used to build(ing) up the church
In v. 5, his point is that the church may be built up
In v.6, he refers to the benefit for the believer.
In v.12, Paul says we are to strive to excel in building up the church
In v.17, he protests: but the other person is not being built up 
In v.19, he speaks of the purpose: in order to instruct others 
In v.26, we find the primary instruction: Let all things be done for building up

When is all of this to take place? Paul answers the question in v.23 and v.26 as well as in Chapter 11: it is when the whole church comes together.

Never in Scripture do we see any writer promoting the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of the unbeliever.

Nowhere in Scripture do we see Paul advocating evangelism as the reason for the gathering of the church. In fact, nowhere in Scripture at all do we see God instructing the church to gather for the purpose of evangelism. The absence of instruction in this regard—gathering for the purpose of evangelism—should convince us of God’s plan for his church. 

Again, Grudem,
“...evangelism is not seen as a primary purpose when the church assembles for worship, and it would therefore not be right to have the only weekly gathering of believers designed primarily with an evangelistic purpose.7

Evangelism, it must be understood, takes place after the weekly gathering of believers, when the church is scattered in the world. It is there that individual believers testify to their friends, families, and co-workers about the power of God to change lives, not unlike what took place in the early church. It is there that the individual ministers of God’s church bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Much to the chagrin of some, “it is not the preacher’s job to get people saved”. True believers will take to heart the charge by Jesus to make disciples. True believers will not abdicate the responsibility and the privilege of telling others about the good news.

The Word of God—alone—is sufficient for teaching, reproof, correction and training, not of unbelievers but of believers. “Man does not live by bread alone”, Jesus said, “but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4). The Scriptures show us just who God is, and we learn who we are in Christ from the Scriptures. Al Mohler, the President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said it well:

Preaching is therefore always a matter of life and death. The people in our churches depend for their very lives on the ministry of the Word; therefore our preaching had better be nothing less—and nothing other—than the exposition of the Bible. Nothing else will do. The question that faces us as preachers is not how we’re going to grow our churches or inspire our people. It is not even how we can lead them to live more faithfully than they did before. The question that faces us is: Are these people going to live or are they going to die? ...if we truly believe that Bible to be the written Word of God—the perfect, divinely inspired revelation of God—then expositional preaching is the only option available to us.8

In the church, then, the saints are to be fed on the meat of the Word. The saints are to be edified, built up, and equipped for the work of ministry. This time is no time for appealing to nonbelievers. John Piper writes to pastors:

For only by feeding on the Word can you grow, and only by growing can you attain final salvation. A steady diet of "gospel messages" which do not help the saints grow out of the infancy not only stunts their character but also jeopardizes their salvation.9
Therefore the way to save yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16) is not to arrest the growth of your people by a meatless diet of "salvation messages." This had sent the "Hebrews" straight backward toward destruction (5:11-14). The way to save the saints is to feed them all the Scriptures, for it is the Scriptures "which are able to instruct you for salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15).10

When Paul said goodbye to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20), he made it clear what their responsibility was as to the church in v.28-31:

28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock11, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church12 of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

The responsibility Paul warned the elders about was to “care for the church of God”, and that was to be accomplished by watching out for, and protecting the church (not unbelievers) from “fierce wolves”, the cruel, greedy, predatory, destructive men that would certainly infiltrate the church. They were to “be alert” and to “pay careful attention” not only to themselves, but on behalf of the church as well. The ways in which they were instructed to carry this out included the edification of the saints. The fierce wolves Paul warned them of would come in with a false doctrine, and these false teachers would do their best to undermine the faith of the believers in Ephesus. They would “speak twisted things” to draw the disciples in the church away from the truth. The elders were to protect against such attacks so the disciples would be equipped to do battle with those that would come against them, from outside the church and from within. Elders protect the church when they make the faithful preaching13 of the Word the priority, in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry. It is the church, then, that goes out making disciples of all nations, evangelizing the world.

So, think about it—who was at risk from the “fierce wolves”? “...the disciples” (v. 30) were at risk of being drawn away. It was not unbelievers Paul was worried about, but the saints! That is because the church is made up of believers, and the believers are those who gather on Sunday morning.

What is at stake in pastoral admonition and in preaching is not merely the church's progress in salvation but its salvation. But what a mistake it would be if we drew the conclusion: "Let us then preach only messages which show the simple plan of salvation week after week." This is most emphatically not the way to tend the flock over which "the Holy Spirit has made you guardians" (Acts 20:28).14

So, worship as exemplified in the Bible, is an activity engaged in only by true, faithful believers and corporately takes place primarily on Sunday morning when the church— made up of true believers—gathers together for the purpose of the worship of God and the building up the believers. It is not done for the purpose of evangelism.

“Although the primary purpose of worship is to glorify God, the Scriptures teach that in worship something also happens to us: we ourselves are built up or edified”.15

Paul emphasized this truth in 1 Corinthians 14:26, where he exhorts the church, “Let all things be done for edification”, that is, for the building up the believers. Note, he does not say some things, but all things we do when we come together are to have this purpose, this goal. That would include teaching and admonishing in the church.

Paul instructs us to “teach16 and admonish17 one another in all wisdom18” (Colossians 3:16). Edificationteaching and admonishment can only take place among believers. Should one attempt—with the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living—to instill doctrine, or to admonish, warn or exhort, an unbeliever according to what the Bible says, that unbeliever will rebel against it—I know because that is what I did and what I have seen others do.

When Christians get together this ought to be the aim of the meeting, that everything that is done contributes to the understanding of the mind, the uplifting of the spirit, the encouraging of the heart. Thus it will be an edifying process involving growth, understanding, and exhortation to activity on the basis of an expectant attitude that God is going to be with you, and working through you all through the week. Now that is the basis of the church meeting in the early century, and it still is today.19

Believers are also to be “addressing one another in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs with thanksgiving in our hearts to God”. Think about it. If believers (pistos) address unbelievers (apistos) in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thanksgiving, it will mean nothing to them. These kinds of behaviors are to take place among Christians, when the church comes together. There is no instruction in the Bible to engage in such behavior with unbelievers for any purpose, including evangelism. (Ephesians 5:19 and Hebrews 10:24-25)
1 Corinthians 14:26 also tells us that the condition, the requirement, for anything that goes on in a church meeting is this:

“When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

The word “strengthening” is from the Greek, oikodome, and means “edifying, edification, building up.” Certainly as we worship God corporately we are indeed strengthened.

However, the ultimate focus of the meeting is to strengthen the church. It is not the Lord who stands in need of strengthening, but the Lord’s people. In this sense, the weekly assembly is for the benefit of the people present. A church gathering is to be designed to edify believers. All of these, Paul said, must be done when we come together for the edification, the building up, and the strengthening of the church—not for the purpose of evangelism.

“Let us consider how we may spur20 one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage21 one another–and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Once again, the reason for “meeting together” is to “encourage” one another. We are to think of ways to “spur” one another on, to “incite” one another on, toward love and good deeds.

Christians should be concerned about what edifies the community assembled on Sunday morning. According to God's design, believers are built up in Christ as their voices are lifted in praise. Worship is for His glory and our edification.22 Paul's chief concern, his chief goal is to edify the body of Christ. The idea is that of "building up," just as one might build a house. All components of worship should build up all the participants in their faith.23

Grudem, too, argues “...when we worship God he meets with us and directly ministers to us, strengthening our faith, intensifying our awareness of his presence, and granting refreshment to our spirits”.24

Given the instruction in the Scripture laid out above, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind about the purpose for the gathering of believers: the worship of God and the edification of the saints.


Simply, Pelagianism is a belief system which rejects original sin, teaches “we are sinners because we sin” rather than vice versa; teaches that Jesus was a “good example”, and that man needs moral direction, not a new birth. The teaching by Pelagius was the most frequently declared heresy in church history.
2 A Biblical understanding of worship includes the fact that only believers can engage in and carry out this activity; certainly unbelievers can be present, but they do not have the requisite faith to humble themselves before God and truly participate in the worship of him.
“Unbeliever” apistos
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, p. 1003
That explicit instruction has been emphasized here. 
Greek, opheleo, meaning to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit
Grudem, p. 1009
Mohler, R. Albert, He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, 2008, pp. 63-64 
Piper, John, “Brothers, Save the Saints”, Desiring God Christian Resource Library, January 1, 1995, at 
10 Piper, John, “Brothers, Save the Saints” 
11 Greek, Poimnion, meaning all of Christ’s disciples 
12 Greek, Ekklesia, used 74 times to describe the church

13 Expository preaching is the only genre of preaching exemplified in the entirety of the Bible. Nowhere in Scripture do we see anyone preaching “sermonettes”. Nowhere in Scripture do we see anyone preaching to “felt needs” or preaching shallow messages devoid of theology and doctrinal content. 
14 Piper, John, “Brothers, Save the Saints” (emphasis added)
15 Grudem, p. 1008
16 Didasko, meaning to instill doctrine 
17 Noutheteo, meaning to admonish, warn or exhort 
18 Sophia, meaning the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living 19 Stedman, Ray, “When You Come Together”, 1995,
20 Greek, Paroxusmos, literally, “inciting” 
21Greek, Parakaleo, to urge, encourage and strengthen 
22 Fortson, Don, “Something Old, Something New”, at 
23 Fortson 
24 Grudem, p. 1008

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