Go to Church: Public Worship Is Biblical
Karen Pansler Lam, J.D.
Don’t Go to Church?
More and more “Christian” videos on Youtube allege the Bible does not teach public worship. Many say the early church met to worship in houses only – private worship; therefore, Christians should not attend public worship in a church building.
Many posting these videos either are ignorant of or deliberately ignore early Christians were persecuted and were not allowed to build public church buildings.
Those who post videos on Youtube condemning public worship also fail to consider the Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was a place where both adults and children gathered to learn the Law and its application to life. The synagogue services of worship were held principally on Sabbaths (Acts 15:21), and the Church took over its Scripture reading, prayer, and preaching.
Roman Rulers Persecuted Early Christians
In the early days of Christianity, Christians were persecuted by the rulers of the Roman Empire. It was the custom of conquering Rome to do nothing to disturb the religions of the peoples subdued by her armies, and commonly the principal deities of the conquered nations were added to the overcrowded pantheon of Rome.
But Christianity was a new and different religion…
Jesus and His disciples preached about “the kingdom of heaven.” This new religion was seen as a threat to the sacred state. Many of Rome’s statesmen made inquiries about it and were watchful of it. They heard rumors of this new kingdom which the Christians hoped would soon come, and prophesies that it would be established on the ruins of Rome.
James Henry Breasted writes in Ancient Times: A History of the Early World…
The officers of government often found these early converts not only refusing to sacrifice to the emperor as a god but also openly prophesying the downfall of the Roman state. The early Christians were therefore more than once called upon to endure cruel persecution. Their religion seemed incompatible with good citizenship, since it forbade them to show the usual respect for the emperor and the government.
numbers steadily grew, and each new Christian group or community organized
itself into an assembly of members called an
or as we say, a church.
was the old Greek word for Assembly of the People, and in these new
assemblies, or churches, men of ability were now beginning to find those
opportunities for leadership and power which the decline of citizenship in
the old city republics no longer offered. The leaders of the churches were
soon to be the strong men of the people, and to play a political as well as
Since early Christians were not allowed to build public places of worship, they met regularly in house churches. Several passages in the Bible specifically mention churches meeting in houses. The first house church is recorded in Acts 1:13, where Jesus' disciples met together in the "Upper Room" of a house. "The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, along with the church that is in their house" (I Cor 16:19). The church meeting in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is again mentioned in Romans 16:3, 5. The church that meets in the house of Nymphas is cited in Col. 4:15: "Salute the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house." And Paul writes to Philemon and Apphia, and with them Archippus, and the church in Philemon's house (Phil 1:1, 2).
However, the early churches were not without structure. Paul writes to Timothy about the qualifications of a man to be admitted to the office of a bishop (1 Tim. v. 1-7). II. The qualifications of deacons (v. 8-10), and of their wives (v. 11), again of the deacons (v. 12, 13).
Moreover, the early churches were organized and were instructed: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).
Jewish Religious Leaders Persecuted Christians
Early Christians were not only persecuted by Roman rulers, but also Jewish religious leaders. Remember Saul – later Paul – persecuted the early Christians.
Saul looks after the coats of the men who stone Stephen to death in Jerusalem in 35AD…
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. Acts 7:58
Saul leads a
violent persecution of the young Christian church in Jerusalem. He goes from
house to house, dragging men and women off to prison...
Acts 8 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and
haling men and women committed them to prison.
Who was an active man in it; none so zealous, so busy, as Saul, a young Pharisee, v. 3. As for Saul (who had been twice mentioned before, and now again for a notorious persecutor) he made havoc of the church; he did all he could to lay it waste and ruin it; he cared not what mischief he did to the disciples of Christ, nor knew when to stop. He aimed at no less than the cutting off of the gospel Israel, that the name of it should be no more in remembrance, Ps. 83:4. He was the fittest tool the chief priests could find out to serve their purposes; he was informer-general against the disciples, a messenger of the great council to be employed in searching for meetings, and seizing all that were suspected to favour that way. Saul was bred a scholar, a gentleman, and yet did not think it below him to be employed in the vilest work of that kind.
(1.) He entered into every house, making no difficulty of breaking open doors, night or day, and having a force attending him for that purpose. He entered into every house where they used to hold their meetings, or every house that had any Christians in it, or was thought to have. No man could be secure in his own house, though it was his castle.
(2.) He haled, with the utmost contempt and cruelty, both men and women, dragged them along the streets, without any regard to the tenderness of the weaker sex; he stooped so low as to take cognizance of the meanest that were leavened with the gospel, so extremely bigoted was he.
(3.) He committed them to
prison, in order to their being tried and put to death, unless they would
renounce Christ; and some, we find, were compelled by him to blaspheme, ch.
Since Roman rulers and Jewish religious leaders persecuted early Christians, they could not build churches for public worship.
Public Worship in the Old and New Testaments
Public worship is important and is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.
Assemblies for public worship were called in the Old Testament.
Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly,
gather the elders and all the
inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God,
and cry unto the Lord.
Reverend A. Rowland explains the importance of public worship…
III. THE CULTIVATION OF RELIGIOUS FELLOWSHIP. The "solemn assembly" which was to be summoned was a religious gathering of the people. Their national unity was greatly fostered by the annual feasts, which brought the nation together in one place. The sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, was this—that he erected calves at Bethel and Dan, not only leading the people to idolatry, but breaking up their national unity. It was largely a political manaeuvre on his part, for he could not have established a separate kingdom of Israel if all continued to go up to the same temple at Jerusalem.
the Christian dispensation we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of
ourselves together. When we meet for worship, the faith and prayer of one
raise the faith and prayer of another. Separate embers die out, but gathered
together they blaze. Public worship will be wonderfully revived in a real
The Pulpit Commentary,
Moreover, Jesus went to the temple. And He never commanded the disciples to forsake worship there. After Pentecost, the disciples continued to go to the temple.
continuing daily with one accord in the temple,
See how these Christians
love one another. They were concerned for one another, sympathized with one
another, and heartily espoused one another's interests. They had fellowship
with one another in religious worship. They met in
the temple: there
was their rendezvous; for joint-fellowship with God is the best fellowship
we can have with one another, 1 Jn. 1:3. Observe, (1.) They were daily in
the temple, not only on the days of the sabbaths and solemn feasts, but on
other days, every day. Worshipping God is to be our daily work, and, where
there is opportunity, the oftener it is done publicly the better.
Even though the apostles were persecuted, they were not discouraged, for they considered it an honor to suffer for the name of Christ. They continued to preach and teach Jesus as the Messiah, both publicly in the Court of the Gentiles in the temple and in their Christian gatherings in private homes.
And daily in
the temple, and in every house,
Matthew Henry explains...
2. They went on in their work with indefatigable diligence (v. 41): They were punished for preaching, and were commanded not to preach, and yet they ceased not to teach and preach; they omitted no opportunity, nor abated any thing of their zeal or forwardness. Observe,
(1.) When they preached—daily; not only on sabbath days, or on Lord's days, but every day, as duly as the day came, without intermitting any day, as their Master did (Mt. 26:55, Lu. 19:47), not fearing that they should either kill themselves or cloy their hearers.
(2.) Where they preached-both publicly in the temple, and privately in every house; in promiscuous assemblies, to which all resorted, and in the select assemblies of Christians for special ordinances. They did not think that either one would excuse them from the other, for the word must be preached in season and out of season. Though in the temple they were more exposed, and under the eye of their enemies, yet they did not confine themselves to their little oratories in their own houses, but ventured into the post of danger; and though they had the liberty of the temple, a consecrated place, yet they made no difficulty of preaching in houses, in every house, even the poorest cottage. They visited the families of those that were under their charge, and gave particular instructions to them according as their case required, even to the children and servants.
(3.) What was the subject
matter of their preaching: They
preached Jesus Christ; they
preached concerning him; and this was not all, they preached him up, they
proposed him to those who heard them, to
be their prince and Saviour. They
did not preach
themselves, but Christ, as
faithful friends to the bridegroom, making it their business to advance his
interest. This was the preaching that gave most offence to the priests, who
were willing they should preach any thing but Christ; but they would not
alter their subject to please them. It ought to be the constant business of
gospel ministers to preach Christ; Christ,
and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; nothing
besides this but what is reducible to it.
Rowland said, "Public
worship will be wonderfully revived in a real religious reformation."
Let's add a few words: "Reverent and holy public worship will be wonderfully
revived in a real religious reformation."
The Synagogue and the Church
Those who post videos on Youtube condemning public worship fail to consider the Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was a place where both adults and children gathered to learn the Law and its application to life. The synagogue services of worship were held principally on Sabbaths (Acts 15:21). From the synagogue the Church took over its Scripture reading, prayer, and preaching.
By New Testament times there were hundreds of synagogues throughout Palestine; every village had at least one. At least 40 very old synagogues have been recovered in Jerusalem.
Jesus as a boy was instructed in a Nazareth synagogue. Later he taught in synagogues whenever they were open to Him (Matt. 12:9; Mk.3:1; Luke 4:16-30; Luke 6:6).
And Paul preached
in synagogues. For example, Acts tells us he preached to the Jews in their
synagogue at Thessalonica.
17 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.
Matthew Henry comments:
2. He met them in their synagogue on the sabbath day, in their place and at their time of meeting, and thus he would pay respect to both. Sabbaths and solemn assemblies are always very precious to those to whom Christ is precious, Ps. 84:10. It is good being in the house of the Lord on his day. This was Christ's manner, and Paul's manner, and has been the manner of all the saints, the good old way which they have walked in.
In most towns the synagogues were the most important structures. In rich communities like Capernaum elaborate architecture and rich ornamentation prevailed.
Jesus taught in the synagogue of Capernaum...
21 And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
To repeat, in most towns the synagogues were the most important structures.
Churches Are the Cornerstone of the Community
Today, true churches play an important role in the community. They are the cornerstone of the community, and must be a visible reminder of the true cornerstone of the Church – Jesus Christ. But Christians fail to understand the importance church buildings play in the daily life of the community. Churches are daily reminders of God and the call to daily Christian living – holiness. Therefore, churches should be given eminent places in the community. The Tabernacle was given an eminent place in the Israelite’s camp – in the center. And Solomon gave the Temple an eminent place in Jerusalem – on Mount Moriah. And synagogues were important structures. Therefore, churches must be given eminent places in the community.
Specifically, the presence of churches in the community proclaims God’s supreme authority over the affairs of man. Therefore, the true church looks like a church. It is a visible daily reminder that the Supreme Lawgiver is God Almighty. And it is a place of worship. By its very structure, its dignity and its beauty, it proclaims its sanctity and sacred purpose. It does not look like a civic center, theater, business or other secular building.
Unfortunately, since the 1960s, churches are often built to look like commercial buildings: theaters, civic centers, and so forth. Nothing about their architecture causes passersby to think about the majesty of God. A church in my hometown looks like a nightclub, and the architecture of the church is a true indication of its worldly false worship.
Churches should be architectural gems of the community. The true church considers the architecture of the church building; it connotes a religious structure. For example, the church steeple is a focal point of some churches, a witness to the community and an architectural design intended to lift our eyes upward - heavenward. And looking heavenward leads us to think about God and Truth. This daily visible reminder of our pilgrimage heavenward should inspire us to holy thoughts and holy acts – holiness. And the church should remind us of our daily duty of prayer and praise.
Inside the church, the sanctuary should encourage reverence and holiness with its beauty and dignity. The worshipper should feel that he is in the presence of the Lord. Christ is the King of the Church and deserves a place of worship worthy of the King of kings. Besides, God is the God of beauty, and has clothed nature with glory and beauty. Indeed, God desires the beautification of His sanctuary. For instance, God gave Moses specific instructions for the beautification of the Tabernacle. And Solomon’s temple was known for its beauty. Any church that fails to consider the beauty of the interior and exterior shows disrespect for the Lord’s House.
Reverend S. Conway explains:
It is a public
dishonouring of God if men are content that the sanctuaries in which they
worship should be mean and ill-appointed, as so many of them are, whilst in
their own houses no costly expense is spared and no adornment withheld (see
Hag.i.4). On the other hand, the magnificent churches, minsters, abbeys,
which still remain in this and other lands, have throughout all the long
centuries since they were built borne silent but eloquent testimony to the
reverence, love, and devotion towards God which dwelt in the hearts of their
builders, and which it was their profound conviction ought to dwell in the
hearts of all. Meanness and miserable selfishness often skulk behind the
plea of spirituality of worship, and that the heart is all that God desires.
Magnificent churches throughout the centuries proclaimed the reverence, love, and devotion toward God which dwelt in the hearts of their builders. And church buildings today should not only proclaim the reverence, love and devotion toward God of their builders, but should inspire those who look upon them with reverence, love and devotion toward God.
Certainly, when we see a magnificent stone cathedral or a simple, white New England church with a steeple, our thoughts turn toward God. Its dignity and beauty proclaim its sanctity and sacred purpose.
A stone church reminds us of that spiritual Rock: and that Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
And a modest white church of simple beauty is symbolic of the purity of a bride reminding us the Church is the pure Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle.
might present it to himself a glorious church, not having a spot, or
wrinkle,or any such thing;
Those who condemn worship in a church building need to study the Bible. In New Testament times, Jews met in synagogues which were the most important structures in town. And Jesus and Paul preached in synagogues. From the synagogue the Church took over its Scripture reading, prayer, and preaching.
Today, it is not unbiblical for religious buildings dedicated to the Lord to be important structures in the community. Church buildings should inspire those who look upon them with reverence, love and devotion toward God; and remind us of our daily duty of prayer and praise.
Let Us Go into the House of the Lord
I was glad when they
said unto me,
Matthew Henry comments...
I. The pleasure which David and other pious Israelites took
in approaching to and attending upon God in public ordinances, v. 1, 2.
(1.) It is the will of God that we should worship him in concert, that many should join together to wait upon him in public ordinances. We ought to worship God in our own houses, but that is not enough; we must go into the house of the Lord, to pay our homage to him there, and not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
(2.) We should not only agree with one another, but excite
and stir up one another, to go to worship God in public. Let
us go; not,
"Do you go and pray for us, and we will stay at home;" but, We
will go also, Zec.
8:21. Not, "Do you go before, and we will follow at our leisure;" or, "We
will go first, and you shall come after us;" but, "Let
us go together,
for the honour of God and for our mutual edification and encouragement."
We should attend the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, to be observed in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ.
Understandably, many Christians are disgusted with greedy pastors who beg and beg and beg for money for big mortgages, the latest technology, a large unnecessary staff, and other wasteful spending. These are not Biblical churches. These are greedy and corrupt churches.
And it is almost impossible to find a church that teaches and preaches sound doctrine in sermon and song.
If you can find a Biblical church – attend it faithfully.