One of the most unusual words in the English language is Church. We use it in so many ways. We go to church. We have church. We are a church. We are part of the Church with a capital C. Our church is located on Riverside Drive.
All of these are correct things to say. And yet these layers of meaning can muddy the waters of our understanding of what we are doing when we come together on Sunday mornings for church. The church is more than a building. It’s more than a local body of believers. It’s more than a service that we hold. In its broadest sense, the Church is the body of Christ scattered throughout the world and throughout the centuries, those who share “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism,” those “of every tribe and nation, too numerous to count,” the Bride of Christ who will meet all together with Him for the first time at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
That’s a big concept. So what does it mean on Sundays at Riverside Advent Christian Church? Why do we exist as a local body? Why do we come together on Sundays and at other times? What does that have to do with the rest of the week? Our mission statement says, “The mission of the Riverside Advent Christian Church is to bring glory to God by building a community of worshipers which accepts all people, nurtures them and equips them to live victoriously as disciples of Jesus Christ.” How does that fit in?
These are important issues to consider. Whole studies could be done on each question. In this space I only want to address one topic. Theologians talk about the church “scattered” and the church “gathered.” Once you are in Christ, you are part of the Church, whether you have joined a local body or not. When we are not together, we are scattered in the world. Our purpose there is to be salt and light, to be Christ’s body here on earth, to work for kingdom come. God’s presence is with us as we are scattered because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and because He promised never to leave us or forsake us. (Matthew 28:20)
On Sundays we become the church gathered. We gather together for the purpose of worship. Other things happen too. Education, edification, fellowship; all these should occur when we’re together. But the primary purpose of gathering is to worship, to celebrate and adore our Bridegroom. And His presence is with us in a special way when we gather together. He promised, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) Somehow the presence of God that we experience when we’re gathered is different than what we experience when we’re scattered. We have much exploring to do to understand this.
At Riverside, our Sunday worship is designed around a worship model called the “four-fold pattern.” This is a model which recognizes the distinction of the Church scattered for work and gathered for worship. Briefly, our worship consists of four main parts.
- First we have the Gathering, when we purposefully come together out of the sinful world that we are “in, but not of.”
- Secondly we have the Service of the Word, the time when God speaks to us through Scripture and sermon.
- Thirdly we have a Time of Response. This is either the Lord’s Supper or an alternative time of thanksgiving and commitment.
- Last is the Dismissal, when we are sent forth into the world to serve in Jesus’ Name.
Over the next few months we will study these sections more closely so that we can each participate in them more purposefully. Worship is not something we attend; it’s something that we do. Next month we will discuss the Gathering.