"We do not know as well as we should like to know what the meetings of the first Christians were like in detail, but we have in the New Testament some extremely helpful indications. In any case we know enough to realize that these meetings were not at all what we think of as characteristic Christian gatherings in our own day. The probability is that there was no human audience at all and not the slightest thought of a pattern in which one man is expected to be inspired to speak fifty-two times a year, while the rest are never so inspired. A clear indication of procedure is proved by Colossians 3:16 where we read "as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom." The most reasonable picture which these words suggest is that of a group of modest Christians sitting in a circle in some simple room, sharing with one another their hopes, their failures, and their prayers. The key words are "one another." There are no mere observers or auditors; all are involved. Each is in the ministry; each needs the advice of the others; and each has something to say to the others. The picture of mutual admonition seems strange to modern man, but the strangeness is only a measure of our essential decline from something of amazing power.” Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed
"Personally I am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with all [spiritual] knowledge and competent to admonish and counsel and instruct one another also" (Romans 15:14).
IT CAME AS A REAL EPIPHANY TO ME in noticing all of the "one-another’s" of the New Testament. Most of us think of the Christian church as a "performance" that is attended on Sunday mornings while sitting in a pew looking at the back of another person's head. The "one-another’s" tell me that the early Christian enterprise was more of a face-to-face encounter with the brothers in real community rather than what we are most used to. I Corinthians 12 & 14 lays down the ground rules and the reason Christian are to meet, and here we find no mention of watching a performance of professional Christians directing the meeting while the rest of the Christian church sit as passive audience. The New Testament pattern states emphatically that the Holy Spirit has been given to each member for the profit of all (I Cor. 12:7). And Paul gives further instruction on Christian meetings in I Cor. 14:27 wherein he states:
"What is the right course brethren, when you assemble together, each one of you has a song, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, and interpretation of tongues."
And then we come to Hebrews 10:24-25. This is the one place where we are commanded to meet together, but it is not for the purpose of being an audience to listen to sermons, but the reason the early church gathered was to "encourage one another." It couldn't be more explicit:
"And let us consider how we may spur 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 ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Why are these apostolic instructions ignored in so many churches today? The same churches which claim to be "biblical?"
The picture I see of a New Testament meeting can be so easily visualized in our Lord's Last Supper. The early Christians often gathered to break-bread together. You can be sure that this was not an affair where everyone was sitting behind one another to listen to preaching, but to fellowship together around the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the focus of their meeting together. His actual presence. Not so much discussion or preaching "about" Him, but His actual presence. The cry of the early church's heart was this:
"OH THAT WE MAY KNOW JESUS!"
Ephesians 2:22 says this:
"It is in Him [and in fellowship with one another] you yourselves also are being built up [into this structure] with the rest, to form a fixed abode (dwelling place) of God in (by, through) the Spirit."
No mention here of listening to "sermons." Perhaps they have their place, but one is hard-pressed to find the central place sermons had in the early church to the place of prominence we have given them in our modern gatherings. The overwhelming emphasis is on the fellowship of the saints around the Lord Jesus Christ. This is seen in this early church meeting in Antioch, Acts 13:1-3:
"Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off."
No mention here of these brothers listening to sermons but of "ministering to the Lord." He was the focus of their meeting together. He was the one they gathered together to "listen" to. No clergy was present at this meeting to expound on the scriptures, but Jesus Christ was encountered in this meeting because He was the reason they assembled.
If one looks at the "one-another’s" of the New Testament, one can easily come to the settled conclusion the early church didn't focus their time and attention to a special clergy class teaching them the rudiments of the doctrine of Christ. What I see is a fellowship that was "face-to-face" and their teaching was of "one another:" (Romans 15:4; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19; 1 Peter 4:10; Hebrews 10:25).
Here are the commands of the Spirit regarding the face-to-face nature of what our Lord is after. The work of a clergy class was done through the ministry of the "one another’s," through the common priest-hood of all the saints. Would to God that the central place of "sermonizings" would become secondary to a quality of fellowship that shook the Roman world, face-to-face with Christ as the Head of His church, the MC, the central figure.
1. “…Be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50)
2. “…Wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14)
3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34-35; John 15:12, 17, Romans 13:8)
4. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
5. “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)
6. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
7. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
8. “…instruct one another” (Romans 15:4)
9. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other” (I Corinthians 11:33)
10. “…Have equal concern for each other” (I Corinthians 12:25)
11. “…Serve one another in love” (II Corinthians 13:12)
12. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
13. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2)
14. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
15. “…forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
16. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19)
17. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21)
18. “…in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3)
19. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
20. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Colossians 3:13)
21. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
22. “…admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16)
23. “Encourage one another” (I Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 10:25)
24. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
25. “Encourage one another daily…” (Hebrews 3:13)
26. “Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)
27. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
28. “…Pray for each other” (James 5:16)
29. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart” (I Peter 1:22, 4:8)
30. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
31. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
32. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…” (I Peter 5:15)
The early Christians were awash in the person and presence of Jesus Christ. Each church was built on the foundation of Christ, conceived by apostolic ministry that preached a full Christ and then equipped each church to "build itself up up in love" through the fellowship of the common saints without a division of labor we commonly know as the clergy and the laity. Each member was called into the ministry to build up the body of Christ. May we be a people who strive to walk in God's Eternal Purpose for His church, yearning for His High Calling in Christ Jesus, and seek no rest for our eyes until His House is built on the earth without human headship but only one Teacher, Preacher, Pastor, Priest for His people, through His people, by His people.
"For because of Him the whole body (the church, in all its various parts), closely joined and firmly knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, WHEN EACH PART [with power adapted to its need] IS WORKING PROPERLY [in all its functions], grows to full maturity, BUILDING ITSELF UP IN LOVE." Eph. 4:16-17
"BUT YOU ARE NOT TO BE CALLED RABBI (TEACHER), FOR YOU HAVE ONE TEACHER AND YOU ARE ALL BROTHERS. And do not call anyone [in the church] on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant." Mathew 23:8-11