Now, harken back to Abraham. He offered sacrifices, including offering his only son. He walked in the very presence of God, talking with him face to face. And he was marked with a sign of his covenant with God. And all these are true of Christians today, and none speak particularly of the assembly.
Jesus offered the only atoning sacrifice we’ll ever need. But we continue to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and fellowship offerings. These are no longer animals and such like, but they are offered by priests (each of us) in a temple (each of us and our congregations).
And we see over and over how the Spirit’s indwelling makes this all true. You see, in a sense, we’ve replaced the Spirit with 5 Acts of Worship. We’ve concluded that what brings us close to God and allows us to have confidence in his presence is getting the 5 Acts right — but the truth is that the Spirit makes this happen. The Spirt allows us to worship as Abraham did — wherever he met God. And God doesn’t live in a building made with hands.
That’s not to dismiss the assembly. The assembly is of vital, critical importance. But to make the assembly into the center of our worship as the Temple was the center of Jewish worship is to miss the point.
So what is the assembly for? Well, what does the Bible say? The Bible says the assembly is for encouragement, strengthening, comfort, and edification of the Christians present. The Bible says the assembly is where we go to encourage others to love and good works. You see, the assembly is where we go to prepare for a week of sacrifice.
And it’s a place of sacrifice, too, but remember the original meaning of “sacrifice.” You have to give something up to make a sacrifice. You don’t get to bring the lamb or bull home with you on a leash. It winds up dead and burned.
So if we want our assemblies to be places of worship, they have to be places of sacrifice — and what are we going to give up in our assembly? Do you see how that changes everything? Rather than going to have our ears tickled and our favorite songs sung, we go to encourage others. That’s what Heb 10:24-25 says.
And we go expecting to leave our weaknesses, bad habits, sinful attitudes, and bad theology on the altar, where they’re burned to a crisp. We give up our selfishness and our preferences, and we sacrifice them to God.
Oh, and we give up ourselves. Especially when we take communion, we remember that one lesson of the communion is that we are to hang ourselves on a cross for Jesus. It’s not worship unless we lay our lives on the altar. You see, wearing our “Sunday best” is not a sacrifice at all. We get to bring our clothes home with us!
The question therefore is: what will we leave at the building? And that’s a lot different question from: did we get the right Acts of Worship? The Spirit teaches us to be like Jesus, to give ourselves up out of a committed love, because Jesus us lives in us through his Spirit. And that approach to worship is nothing like the Five Acts approach. You might do much the same things on the outside, but on the inside, everything changes when worship becomes about sacrifice rather than affirmation.