I am increasingly convinced that all theological and ethical thought must be organically rooted–not simply tangentially connected–and illuminated by what Scot McKnight calls the “Jesus Creed,” that is, the first and second greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor.
As a step in that direction, I offer three blogs on the nature and purpose of assembly. When believers gather as disciples of Jesus to pray and commune, when they assemble as the people of God in community, they embody and practice the first and second greatest commandments. Assembly, of course, is not the only way to embody those commands, but it is certainly one way. And, I think, it is illuminating to reflect on the assembly through that lens.
When we assemble, we love each other.
Who could disagree with that? Assembly provides opportunity for mutual encouragement, mutual comfort, and mutual edification. It is a moment of shared life, shared song, shared prayer, shared teaching, and shared communion.
Paul takes us directly to this point when he addresses the problems in the Corinthian assembly in 1 Corinthians 11-14. “Love,” he wrote earlier in the letter, “builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) and the assembly is a place where everything must have the intention of “building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
But in Corinth it had become an occasion of humiliating the poor (1 Corinthians 11:22) and egotistical self-promotion (1 Corinthians 12, 14). Their supper did not lovingly share with those who had little but rather assumed that each would fend for themselves. They used gifts to distinguish the superior from the inferior rather than for the common good of the body. Their prayers and praises did not prioritize the encouragement and comforting of others but rather promoted their own gifts as tokens of their approved status before God.
Contextually, it is no surprise that 1 Corinthians 13 comes between chapters 12 and 14. Love is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and the “greatest” gift (1 Corinthians 13:13).
What kind of love should shape our assemblies? A kind patience that is neither easily irritated nor resentful of others; a hopeful, trustful and enduring love that is neither envious nor boastful. May God bless all our assemblies with such love!
In the assembly love is diminished in several ways. Love is diminished by boastful arrogance which pridefully exalts one gift above another; it is diminished when performers perform rather than encourage and edify. Love is also diminished when assemblies cater to and coddle consumers; it is diminished by attractional consumerism when assemblies should confront us with the reality of God’s presence (1 Corinthians 14:24-25) whereby the secrets of our hearts are disclosed and God is revealed. Love is also diminished when traditional preferences become immutable rules and also where innovative options are introduced in ways that ignore the sensitivities of others.
Love is never easy, and loving each other in community as assembly is not easy either. Miscommunication, inadvertent comments, unannounced changes, liturgical arrangements, seating changes, etc., etc., etc.–almost ad infinitum–are occasions of offense, misunderstanding and hurt feelings.
But love–truly loving our neighbor–love covers a multitude of sins and offenses…even when they happen in an assembly!
When we assemble, let us love one another.