Why Assemble Anyway?
I am a retired Assemblies of God minister. I grew up in that organization. I also served for many years outside that group in several non-denominational settings. The Assemblies of God, when first formed, took the name “assembly” because they saw it as a biblical term for “church.”
“Where do you go to church?” We all have been asked that question. I’ve begun answering, “I don’t go to church!” This is a shocking but biblically correct answer. I’ll explain myself. At my stage of life, I’m deeply committed to Jesus’ expression of the real church.
Recently I heard the Lord say to me, “…not forsaking your own assembling together…” Holy Spirit was alerting me to remember something important, a timely word for us all. He was using a verse I’d memorized decades ago. The key word was “assembling.” This is crucial to my own church activity. What does “assemble” mean? Is it a congregation sitting in a building listening to a sermon?
The startling fact is you can congregate without assembling. Big crowds don't cut it. People listening to preaching or teaching is only the first grade. Training them to stand by faith on the Scriptures, seek the Lord, intercede in prayer, witness, and prophesy to one another is very much needed.
This verse in Hebrews 10:25 is frequently quoted by pastors when they exhort believers to be in church on Sunday. They love God’s sheep and want to feed them. Pastors want to keep attendance up. Scattered sheep are at risk. When pastoring I said I was searching for two kinds of people: lost souls and lost sheep. Lost souls need Jesus. Lost sheep need a shepherd. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that things fall apart at church when believers don’t show up. The crowd dwindles. Offerings drop off. People lose hope or lose faith. They need God’s encouragement. God’s sheep are meant to gather for a reason.
But is this basic usage (attending church services) what the Lord is emphasizing to us today? I think the Lord is saying much more than this, something far beyond the simple idea of going to church. He is wanting us to discover our purpose and role in His kingdom.
I heard the late Bible teacher and language scholar Derek Prince say, “In New Testament Greek there is no way to say, ‘Let’s go to church.’” Church is not a place where you go. Church is something you become. This functional transformation happens when you are assembled by Holy Spirit under Christ’s authority to do kingdom business. In the original language of the New Testament, “church” was not a building on the corner but a gathering of believers performing a specific kingdom function. It is ekklesia in action, a happening. God is restoring this exciting operational reality of the church in our day through his apostles and prophets.
There are some very explicit and well-defined usages of the word “assembly” in the New Testament. If we want to know what Jesus meant by “church” and understand what the Holy Spirit is saying to us now, we need to track with God’s authorized usage and understand His accurate definition of this key word found in the Bible. It is precise and necessary.
In the context of the whole passage in Hebrews 10:19-25 (to use sound exegesis) there are several powerful truths being laid out. (I intend to examine more of these in detail in a future podcast on my YouTube channel.) For now, within the context of this paragraph in Hebrews 10, the first practical instruction is found in verse 25: “assemble ourselves together.” (KJV) This is something we personally decide to do. It is an action we can choose to take.
In this verse, “assemble” is the Greek word episunagoge. Can you see the word “synagogue” in it? That is what it comes from. It means “a complete collection.” It is a “gathering together.” Assembling is part of our obedience to Christ. It is becoming a connected functioning member of his church by intentionally gathering ourselves with fellow members of Christ’s body. However, this is much more than merely sitting in an auditorium among a crowd of strangers. It involves personal activity led by the Spirit.
Ask yourself, “To whom am I connected? To what part of Christ’s body am I joined?” At one time I thought the answer was, “Where do I attend church?” That was very simplistic. Later I thought the answer was, “To which spiritual father or apostolic stream am I related?” That was more biblical and required more discernment. Finally, in my maturity I have come to a functional observation. “Who do I pray with?” In these progressive steps I personally have moved from knowing my location, to discovering my identity, to clarifying my function.
You too will know your final answer to these questions for yourself when you can regularly meet for prayer and encouragement with fellow Christians in a small strategic prayer group. In this oikos relationship, being joined together becomes a source of mutual supply. It becomes a living cell in the body where you are activated to operate in a spiritual role. It is truly where you fit - where you exercise your metron (sphere) within your ekklesia (church) - extending God’s rod of authority into the world, and thus glorifying Christ.
Interestingly, the word episunagoge is also used for the rapture of the church. It describes the saints being gathered together to meet the Lord in the air. “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him…” (2 Thess. 2:1 KJV) The word for “coming” is parousia (“appearing”) and the word for “gathering together” is episunagoge (“assembling”). We are gathered to Him, not to a place. I have spoken a prophetic word for years now that Christ will first appear in the church before He appears for the church. His fulness is increasing! Until our involuntary assembly to Him by rapture or resurrection, we must willingly assemble with fellow believers for prayer.
Awaiting Jesus’ return, we are to keep assembling. But why? One reason- to encourage one another. How does this encouragement happen? The scripture in two key places explains how mutual encouragement works: Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor. 14:23-33. These verses describe normal gatherings of the church. In neither of them does a professional clergyman appear. These are ordinary saints routinely doing the work of the ministry. The first has to do with the functional operation of the daily life of the early church, its habitual mode. The second has to do with the wonderful supernatural charismatic dynamic of spiritual utterances normally expressed when Christians gather to edify one another and glorify Christ Jesus. This can happen when they are free of unbiblical restraints or religious prejudice, i.e.- when spiritual gifts are allowed to properly operate outside of manmade prohibitions.
Acts 2:42 lists four activities that describe the daily life of the early church. The followers of Christ, having received the gospel, having been baptized, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, had now corporately begun a new pattern of church behavior that was basic and important. This church lifestyle is often neglected today. This pattern exemplified four key things that the apostolic church practiced. What are they? 1. They followed the teaching of the apostles, not pastoral doctrine. There is a difference. 2. They enjoyed rich fellowship, a life lived as brothers and sisters in Christ. 3. They shared meals as they met in one another’s homes. 4. They engaged in corporate prayer based on Holy Spirit’s agenda.
1 Corinthians 14 details how the Holy Spirit uses the charismatic gift of prophecy (spiritually inspired exhortations) in the context of gatherings of believers in their homes. Praying together and prophesying to one another are normal parts of healthy Christian gatherings. This kind of assembling includes reading scriptures, singing psalms, and speaking encouraging words by the Spirit. Lately I’ve become increasingly dismayed to realize how most of our traditional modern church services prevent believers from praying or prophesying. The professional pastor has total control. There is no room for anything else at church but a sermon or songs. Sadly, most believers don’t get to pray or prophesy.
We are to gather to encourage one another. “To encourage” comes from the Greek word “parakaleo.” The same word describes the Holy Spirit, our Paraclete. He is one called alongside to strengthen or to help. He does this through the spiritual grace-gift of prophesying, a charismata. Encouraging one another is something that happens mutually. It is a wonderful work of the Spirit done out of love. It is not one-way but reciprocal, for one another. It isn’t something only pastors, preachers, clergy, or ministers do. We can all exhort one another. Encouragement is not normally accomplished by the act of preaching or teaching to a large crowd, although large gatherings do serve a purpose. It usually occurs in the context of small-group relationships (or friendships) where prayer and prophecy naturally happen. It can occur in a house church group as small as two or three people.
Praying and prophesying are two ways we encourage one another. These are “one another” benefits, activities the Holy Spirit inspires among believers. Stir this up. This ministry works best in informal settings (not big congregational church meeting) where spiritual gift-activities are permitted, like in a neighborhood house church, cell group, or small prayer meeting.
This brings us to the other usage of the word ASSEMBLY in the New Testament. It is a the word “church.” In Acts, an ekklesia also referred to a secular gathering of citizens in a city that met in order to decide an issue. You can also see this same word used for church gatherings in Acts 5:11, 7:38, 8:1,3, 9:31. It is also in Hebrews12:23 and James 2:2. You can see it used as a civil Roman governmental assembly in Acts 19:32, 39, 41.
When Jesus said he would build his church, He didn’t use the word “synagogue” or “temple.” Instead, he chose ekklesia. Why? This word already had specific common usage in the Roman Empire. It meant a lawful assembly of citizens gathered in order to govern or decide a matter.
Jesus deliberately used the Greek word ekklesia two times- Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:17. In Mt. 16, Jesus referred to the universal church as an ekklesia he would build, saying Peter’s confession of Jesus as God’s Son was backed by heaven’s authority. This revelation gave Peter keys. Authority has keys. In Mt. 18, Jesus used ekklesia for the local church, saying two or three gathered (sunago) could resolve contention and keep the peace.
I believe Jesus wants us to use his authority to “bind” and “loose.” This revelation is being rediscovered. This activity exercises heaven’s power to permit or prohibit a thing. Jesus said two or three believers could do this. It is ordinary believers exercising the king’s power by gathering and agreeing in prayer and prophetic decrees. Jesus said his presence, power, and authority would be immediately with us whenever we functioned as the church like this here on the earth. This is more than attending church services or hearing a sermon. This requires active intentional participation by individual believers taking strategic concerted action, using praying and prophesying while assembling in His name. Have you ever done this?
What’s the bottom line concerning this spiritual alert? Here are two takeaways…
1) Assembling together is NOT just going to church. God is not calling us to be merely passive placeholders parked on pews. We are not idle listeners. We are not meant to be silent, neutral, powerless, harmless saints waiting on the Lord to come rescue us. We are His ambassadors, change-agents, salt and light, spiritual legislators and soldiers; his living yeast penetrating the dough of the world. As my son Scott has said “We are the movement!”
2) Assembling together IS for the purpose of being Christ’s ekklesia, active members of His governing council, advancing the kingdom of God right now here on the earth. We are edified and empowered to dismantle evil spheres of influence and thus open the door for the gospel to affect the culture surrounding us. As a result, more people will be saved. Evil’s grip will weaken. The light of truth will penetrate the darkness around us.
Besides attending congregational meetings where you are taught the word and equipped for ministry, you can also begin gathering with two or three believers as the Spirit leads, for strategic praying and for anointed prophesying. You can use the sword of the Spirit!
Don’t doubt the power of two or three ordinary believers who gather together in order to function in godly governance. Don’t quench the Spirit’s fire by despising (or neglecting) prophesying. Let God use you. You have a vital role! Become an "activated" member of the body of Christ.
“Why Assemble Anyway?” Article by Ron Wood, Oct 25, 2021. www.touchedbygrace.org