Pendulums swing. The extent of the arc in one direction determines the destination of the swing in the opposite direction. For a while, being part of a “mega-church” was the “in thing.” The sense of having arrived, of being successful, of matching corporate America in its bigness in the religious sphere was all the rage. But the impersonal aspect and the anonymity of being part of a congregation numbering in the thousands began to lose its charm. It led many to small intimate groups, cells, or house churches, as they are known.
There is something attractive about being part of a small group in an informal setting. Concerns and burdens can be shared; genuine spiritual support and care can be fostered; warmth and spiritual intimacy can be known; accountability and its influence can be seen. Here is where believers can get to know one another and serve one another with spiritual intelligence and sincerity. It does away with the formality and stiffness linked with ritualism and form, replacing it with spontaneity and warmth.
Little cells have much to be said for them. The only question remaining is: Does this conform to God’s ultimate for His people? This question spawns additional ones as well. Is Christian living all about me and others? Does this practice perhaps omit one dimension, and could that dimension be the critical and ultimate dimension?
What then is God’s purpose for believers who meet in a collective capacity? No one would deny that God intended for the community of saints to foster one another’s growth and blessing; to be available to each other for support in crises, encouragement amidst difficulties, and mutuality of love at all times. But as precious as these are, they are not the ultimate.
God intended believers to gather together to bear testimony to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our greatest privilege on earth is to be House of God, giving testimony to the Master of the House; it is to be Temple of God, with collective worship ascending; it is to be the pillar and ground of truth, preserving truth and proclaiming it. As God’s husbandry or tilled field, we are to bring Him pleasure and delight by the fruit produced.
An assembly is primarily for God’s pleasure and not for our own. We are to be givers and not merely receivers. We are to be giving to God worship, devotion, and the “fruit of our lips.” It is not only, however, by our words that we give testimony to the Son. Everything about an assembly – the silence and head covering of the sisters, the plurality of leadership, the exercise of gift, the priesthood of believers – all of these reflect upon the person, work, and offices of the Son. All reveal something of His worth to created intelligence.
We would covet the benefits of the small group and should incorporate them into assembly life, but God’s ultimate purpose for gatherings is all about Him.