Vol. 3, No. 10
"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). "I want to be a worker for the Lord, I want to love and trust His holy word; I want to sing and pray, and be busy every day In the kingdom of the Lord. I will work, I will pray In the vineyard, in the vineyard of the Lord; I will work I will pray, I will labor every day In the vineyard of the Lord," says the first stanza of the popular song: I Want To Be A Worker.
The Book of Acts is called by many names that attest to its uniqueness among the great company of epistles comprising the Holy Bible. These designations include: the Hub of the Bible, the Book of Conversions and the History of the first century church. Therefore, the Book of Acts is an appropriate place to begin a study of "Want-To-Religion and Church Attendance."
The Lord's church is first acknowledged in Scripture (KJV) in the present tense, already in existence, in Acts 2:47. Before Acts Two, references to the church clearly indicate the church was not yet established (e.g., Matthew 16:18). The church, or kingdom as it was sometimes called (Matthew 16:18-19), was still only a promise in Acts 1:8. However, the Lord's promise that it should be established with power (Mark 9:1; Matthew 18:18) was fulfilled when the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts Two (verses 1-4). The power with which the Lord's church was established or the "keys of the kingdom" (Matthew 16:18-19) began to be demonstrated when the apostles miraculously spoke in languages that they had not studied, styled "tongues" (Acts 2:5-13).
The Gospel was initially preached in Jerusalem, per Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 2:2-3). The first recorded Gospel sermon appears in Acts 2:14-40. Believers were baptized and the Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:41-47). These early Christians enjoyed a close religious and social fellowship (Acts 2:42). Their worship and study assemblies were frequent (often daily, verse 46). Faithful attendance was not a matter of regulation then, as it later became in the context of which Hebrews 10:25 is a part. Christians eagerly assembled for public worship and study, (i.e. in the temple, and in more private settings, from house to house) because they possessed "want-to-religion." This pervading attitude also led these disciples to prefer one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10), love the brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17) and develop a like precious faith (2 Peter 1:1).
Upon the apostles' release from prison and before the Sanhedrin, they returned "to their own company" (4:23) which was "assembled together" (4:31). This was not conclusively a Lord's Day worship assembly though they were teaching or preaching and praying (Acts 4:23-32). "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul . . ." (4:32).
Public preaching continued on Solomon's Porch of the Temple area (5:12-16). Regular assembling, teaching, worshipping and miracles confirming the Word of God resulted in many men and women being added to the multitude of the church. ". . . and they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch . . . And the believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (5:12, 14). "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (5:42). The early church met daily in public (the Temple) and in private (in every member's home). These daily assemblies included both preaching (formal teaching, usually of a public nature) and teaching (usually less formal than preaching and often in private settings).
From Acts Chapters Four and Five one must conclude: (1) The church was still meeting frequently, not just for Lord's Day worship. (2) The church's frequent assembling was not based on "compulsory motivation," but "want-to-religion"; there was an absence of admonition to assemble regularly in the presence of the "want-to" principle. (3) The key to "want-to-religion" and the enthusiasm that prompted the early church to assemble regularly was that the multitude which believed was of "one heart and of one soul" (4:32), truly "one," enjoying unity (John 17:21) and they possessed a disposition to "speak the same thing," have "no divisions" and "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).
"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied . . . And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (6:1, 7). By Chapter Six, the early church graduated from addition (Acts 2:47; 5:14) to multiplication. "Want-to-religion" had become contagious! Frequent attendance was edifying and resulted in spiritual and numerical growth.
About the time Stephen was stoned, severe persecution came upon the church. The threat of death and imprisonment scattered Christians throughout Judaea and Samaria and abroad (8:1-4). However, church attendance did not stop; it was just diverted to all parts of the known world as the disciples "went every where preaching the word" (8:4).
Persecution, described as "threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (9:1), continued. Yet, the church was still meeting in Jerusalem (9:26). The Jerusalem church still possessed the "want-to" principle. As a result, the Jerusalem church was "edified" and "multiplied" (9:31).
Persecution of the early church did not douse its "want-to-religion." Instead, persecution merely served as the catalyst for the church's spread throughout the world and for spiritual and numerical growth.
Persecution led scattered disciples to Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch where they preached the Gospel of Christ to the Jews. Those new converts also preached the Gospel to other Jews and some Greeks (11:19-21). "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number [of Greeks] believed, and turned unto the Lord" (11:21). The Jerusalem church then sent Barnabas to Antioch where he and Paul assembled with the church there for a year. "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (11:26; cf. Isaiah 62:2).
Following the murder of James, Peter was imprisoned and faced the same untimely end. However, angelic intervention freed him, after which the apostle went to ". . . where many were gathered together praying" (12:-17). It was not the Lord's Day crowd upon whom Peter happened, but a special assembly, in this instance devoted to prayer.
The "want-to" principle or motivator grew steadily throughout Acts, leading to Gentile conversions and the new name of prophecy, Christian. Further, the same attitude roused disciples to participate in "special" in addition to "regular" assemblies.
Acts Chapter Thirteen opens with the selection of missionaries Paul and Barnabas during an assembly of the church at Antioch (13:1-4). Later, upon their return to Antioch, a "special" assembly was called to rehearse the missionary team's evangelistic tour (14:26-28). This assembly probably was not a Lord's Day assembly since they "gathered the church together."
Chapter Fifteen depicts a New Testament lectureship. The purpose of the assembly was not to "make doctrine," but to ascertain what God requires versus what some brethren were teaching. Subsequently, a "special" assembly was also called in Antioch to counter the misgivings formerly preached by Judaizing teachers (15:30).
Paul visited formerly established congregations on his second and third missionary journeys. Those churches were still assembling upon the apostle's return. The church at Antioch bubbled over in "want-to-religion," thereby able to not only sustain itself, but also send preachers to plant and revisit new assemblies (churches). "Want-to-religion" prompted the first century church to attend regular assemblies and additional "special assemblies," too.
The apostle Paul was hurriedly en route to Jerusalem, intending to arrive by the time of the Feast of Pentecost. However, he delayed several days in Troas, waiting for the Lord's Day worship (20:6-8). The Lord's Day or first day of the week worship was paramount in the mind of Paul and the first century church. Acts 20:7 (cf. Exodus 20:8; I Corinthians 16:1-2) prescribes the frequency with which Christians must partake of the Lord's Supper (every Lord's Day). This assembling of the church for worship is described by "the disciples came together to break bread" (verse 7) and "they were gathered together" (verse 8).
Later, at another place, Paul again tarried several days though he was in a hurry (20:16; 21:3-4); maybe he was again waiting for the Lord's Day assembly. The early Christians were still enjoying a heightened religious and social closeness or fellowship. "And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship" (20:36-38; cf. 21:5-6).
One can easily see the emphasis placed by first century Christians on Lord's Day or worship assemblies. However, the Book of Acts is saturated with "assemblies," many of which are in addition to Lord's Day assemblies. The Lord's Day worship was an assembly that involved spiritual and physical togetherness.
Admonition to not forsake assembling means not to "abandon" the
assemblies. "All appointed assemblies" are implied, since Lord's Day assemblies are not alone specified. Hebrews 10:25 addresses appointed, regular, specified assemblies for which it was sinful to purposely miss. It is implied that Christians must attend Lord's Day worship assemblies, the hours of which are designated by the elders (Hebrews 13:17), and other assemblies appointed by the elders (1 Peter 5:1-2; Acts 20:28). Forsaking appointed or regular assemblies is willful sin, punishable by fiery indignation (10:26-27).
In essence, Hebrews 10:25-27 says, "Repent or else!" Similarly, especially two of the five churches of Asia that were condemned in Revelation also lost their "want-to-religion." They too, in essence, received the ultimatum: "Repent or else!" The opposite of "lost first love" and "lukewarmness" is "want-to-religion."
The Book of Acts vividly depicts "want-to-religion." Admonitions to not forsake assembling together are absent from the Book of Acts in the presence of "want-to-religion." The "repent or else!" admonition was only issued when some lost their "want-to-religion." It is much better to operate on the "want-to" principle instead of the "repent or else!" principle. "Want-to-religion" led early Christians to exercise special care to worship on the Lord's Day. They enjoyed assembling for "regular" (sometimes daily), "Lord's Day" and "special" assemblies.
The early church realized a closeness (oneness) that prompted them to seek both frequent religious and social association. This frequent religious and social fellowship also fortified the oneness they enjoyed. A complete circle of oneness and assembling occurred.
Brethren should prefer one another today (Romans 12:10) much more than they typically do. Preference for brethren helps keep Christians from becoming worldly (John 17:15-16; James 4:4). The religious bond Christians know in Christ should result in a superior social bond as well.
Dear Reader, do you possess an earnest "want-to-religion?" We can do anything we genuinely "want-to." First century Christians and the early church accomplished much with significantly fewer resources than we have -- because they "wanted-to."