The Future of the Churches of Christ: Ancient-Future Assembly, Part 2


Continuing in the instruction of the author of the Hebrews, we read —

(Heb 10:24-25 ESV)  24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  25 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.

The author turns his attention much more directly toward the assembly. It’s not merely entry into the mystical presence of the Trinity, but it’s also the church being together as a body that loves each other.

And because we are one, and because we love one another, we “stir up,” “provoke” (KJV), “stimulate” (NAS), “spur on” (NIV) our brothers to do good works.

The variety in translations results from the use of a Greek word that often has a negative connotation. It’s the same word used in —

(Act 15:39 ESV)  And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,

Context removes the negativity in the word but not the intensity. “Stir up” means to incite even to the point of upsetting someone. We need to push hard to be certain we all live lives of love and service. After all, this is how we stand firm in our assurance. Pushing is an act of love.

Why are love and good works a point of the assembly? Well, we return to the church as a type of the Israelites encamped around Mt. Sinai.

(Exo 24:7 ESV) Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”

This is church. This is the assembly. And to truly be the church, to be re-created in God’s own image, we must be people characterized by love and good works.

The author of Hebrews next takes us to the “roll call of the faithful,” in which the ancient heroes of Scripture are commended for a faith that leads to works of service. For example,

(Heb 11:32-38 ESV) 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– 38 of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

What are love and good deeds? Well, the things that our faith calls us to be and to do. It’s more than a little scary, if you ask me.

The author then tells his readers not to think of themselves as having returned to the foot of Mt. Sinai because we’re called to a place that’s even better —

(Heb 12:18-21 ESV) 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest  19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.  20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

Here we are, saved by grace, empowered by his Spirit, gathered as his elect people, and God is speaking to us — but because we have a greater salvation than Israel, we should think of ourselves, not as trembling in fear in the desert, but rather —

(Heb 12:22-24 ESV) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

“Assembly” translates ekklesia, which we normally translate “church.”

Get this: when we assemble in the name of Jesus, as God’s ekklesia, among us are innumerable angels, countless Christians who died before us, and God and Jesus. The “cloud of witnesses” described in chapter 11 are all with us in the assembly, because the assembly takes place not only on earth but in heaven.

For a brief time, we are lifted out of the desert and taken to a feast day in the New Jerusalem, in heaven. And as we eat together, we eat with millions of other believers in heaven, both living and dead, because all the saved dine with Jesus and God at the heavenly banquet. (Compare Eph 2:6. See also F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on Hebrews.)

“Festal gathering” translates a single word meaning a public feast and celebration. You see, the early church thought church was about celebration. And they ate together, because that’s what you do at a festal gathering. (Otherwise, it’s not really “festal,” you know.)

You see, those who’ve entered Zion before us have not died. Not really. And like us, they are worshiping God.

Now, it would be a mistake to take this passage as speaking exclusively of the Christian assembly. These things are true of our daily lives in Jesus as well. But when we are gathered to hear God’s words, we are most truly the ekklesia, because that is when Israel was called God’s ekklesia.


(Heb 12:28-29 ESV)  28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The word translated “worship” is latreuo, referring to the service a priest renders at the Temple. BDAG translates, to serve but “only of the carrying out of religious duties, esp. of a cultic nature, by human beings.”

We are God’s priests, serving at his tabernacle, in which he dwells. This is the congregation, but especially the congregation assembled. We all serve. We aren’t there to be served.

And how do we serve? Well, by encouraging our fellow Christians toward love and good works. It’s simple acts of worship, such as —

“Will you come with me to visit Sally in the hospital?”

“Will you host a shower for our friend?”

“Don’t forget to bring the taco salad to our small group tonight!”

“I’ve been praying for your sick uncle. I’ve been through the same thing. Can we go to lunch to talk about it?”

“Will you volunteer in the nursery?”

“Can you be the preschool board of directors?”

“Will you teach me how to study the Bible with someone? I have this friend …”

“Can you help us with the food distribution on Tuesday night?”

This is how we worship God “with reverence and awe.” This is what it’s like to be spiritually transported into heaven with our ancestors.

(Rev 7:15 ESV) 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

The service that God most delights in is not four-part harmony. It’s being on mission together. It’s being community. It’s loving each other so much that we hold each other accountable. It’s giving permission to be held accountable.

You see, the assembly is relational in the deepest possible sense. It’s not following a secret rulebook in hopes that God’s anger will be placated for another seven days. Nor is it only about God. You see, while God deserves our worship, he doesn’t need to hear praises every Sunday morning. Rather, he needs us to fulfill our part in his mission.

(It just drives me nuts when Christians declare that the only thing in the assembly that matters is whether God is pleased. How can God be pleased if we don’t love each other enough to sacrifice for their good? To truly encourage them? No, God cares much more about how we treat our brothers, for the same reason that I’d far rather you hurt me than my child!)

And part of that mission is loving each other as brothers — sacrificially submitting and serving one another. And sometimes that service is insisting that our brother honor the gospel that saved him by serving his King with love and good works.

Therefore, any proper assembly is as horizontal — as member to member — as we can make it in light of the numbers present.

And therefore, our most important acts of worship often happen in the aisles and foyer before and after the “worship.”

Don’t let anyone silence the church before services begin. They may be offering the truest, most holy worship of the entire week!

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to The Future of the Churches of Christ: Ancient-Future Assembly, Part 2

  1. Excellent post. As you observe, the assembly is for us. We gain the benefit. God deserves our worship, but he does not need it. It is we who need to worship God. We should be changed by worship, because God is certainly not.

  2. Tim Archer says:

    The big 13 after Hebrews 12:29 is one of those chapter breaks that really interrupts the flow. If that weren’t there, I think we’d have a better idea of what the author sees as “acceptable worship.”

    Forgive me for getting ahead if that’s where you’re headed. 🙂

  3. Jerry says:

    That is a powerful observation! The Hebrew author describes acceptable worship:
    loving one another, welcoming strangers, remembering those who are suffering, honorable marriages, living in contentment without loving money, recognizing that God is with us as our helper, etc.

    And this is what we are to encourage one another in as we are assembling together!

  4. R.J. says:

    Here’s how the verse is literally rendered(Hebrews 12:18)…

    “For ye came not near to the mount **touched and scorched with fire**, and to blackness, and darkness, and tempest”.


    “Because you have not approached that which has been tampered and ignited by fire, in darkness, gloom, and whirlwind!”

    I think many translations have mistakenly rendered “felt”(psēlaphōmenō) here in a subjunctive, active sense rather then as it is. A passive, indicative verb in the aoristic present tense.

    Exodus 10:21 & Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:22(LXX) are primarily what the author eludes to here.

  5. R.J. says:

    Actually now that I have given this passage much thought, I have come to the realization that under the old convent, folks could only grope(psēlaphōmenō) toward God in fear.

    But now since Christ has bridged that gap(as mediator), we no longer live as slaves(to fear) but are sons in festive gathering(panéguris) with the Ancient of Days! In Eschatological terms, we’ve gone from “groping in terror near Mt. Sinai” to “celebrating in confidence on Mt. Zion!”

    None of this is Platonic but prophetic!

  6. Jay Guin says:

    David wrote,

    Excellent post.


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