When Christians gather together for fellowship, prayer, and Bible study, we are doing something which dates back to the very beginnings of Christianity. There are compelling reasons why this practice still continues today.
In the Early Church, before Christians had church buildings to use, believers gathered wherever they could for times of prayer, fellowship and teaching. When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and around 3,000 people accepted Christ, they began by meeting in the courtyard of the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem.
Acts 2:42 (Amplified) records the nature of these meetings: “And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.”
As time went on, the new believers began to meet in homes as well as at the Temple.
Acts 2:46-7 (Amplified) says: “And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts, constantly praising God and being in favor and goodwill with all the people; and the Lord kept adding [to their number] daily those were being saved [from spiritual death].”
Even when they faced strong persecution by the Jewish religious authorities, the new believers continued to meet together faithfully. Acts 5:42 (Amplified) says: “Yet [in spite of the threats] they never ceased for a single day, both in the temple area and at home, to teach and to proclaim the good news (Gospel) of Jesus [as] the Christ (the Messiah).”
From these accounts, we can gather several of the main reasons why Christians met together in those early days (Christians today gather for the same reasons):
(1) They met for Christian fellowship, which is one of life’s greatest treasures. There is a love and closeness which God builds among Christians that eclipses any other type of relationship known to man. It is well-described by Psalm 133:1 (KJV), which says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
(2) They met together for mutual encouragement, inspiration and edification. Life is hard for everyone, and the Christian life, at times, can be even harder. For this reason, the author of Hebrews advises us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).
(3) They came together for vital instruction from the Word of God. The Word of God is our only sure source of spiritual truth. It is given to believers to encourage us, motivate us, help us to grow spiritually, teach us about eternal priorities, and guide us in how we live our lives. It provides us with correction when we stray (II Timothy 3:16), comfort during difficult times, and courage to face life’s battles. Romans 15:4 (NKJV) says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
(4) They shared meals together and partook of the Lord’s Supper. The Church is the family of God. Sharing both physical and spiritual meals affirms our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ and members of God’s Kingdom.
(5) The Gospel message was proclaimed to those who did not know the Lord. Being invited to a time of Christian fellowship in either a home or informal gathering can often be the beginning of a person’s journey toward coming to know the Lord.
There is a love and closeness that God builds among Christians which eclipses any other type of relationship known to man.
(6) In gratitude to God for all that He had done, they praised God and worshipped together. There is a special power and presence of God in corporate worship which exceeds that of one’s private devotions. Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 KJV).
(7) They prayed to be strengthened by God’s Spirit in order to serve Him successfully. It should be noted that Pentecost itself, and most of the world’s greatest revivals, all began with believers gathering together to seek God and pray for His touch on their lives. Jesus told the disciples to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49b NKJV). Paul prayed for the believers in Colossae to be “fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Colossians 1:10b-11 NKJV).
(8) They prayed for physical and spiritual healing. Acts 3:2-9 and Acts 5:14-16 report that many people were healed both physically and spiritually as a result of prayer. James describes this kind of prayer as follows: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15 Holman).
(9) They met together to find ways to serve God and others. Believers meeting together to find ways to serve God have birthed a multitude of Christian ministries and movements for social reform. In the early church, “true religion” was defined as taking care of those who had special needs. James wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27 NIV). In more modern times, these good works have included the Salvation Army, the Rescue Mission movement, the antislavery movement, child welfare programs, and countless outreaches to the poor, prisoners, victims of sex-trafficking, orphans, refugees, and others that share the Gospel and the love of Christ with people in need.
(10) They pooled their resources to meet the needs of others. In the early church, offerings were taken to support the immediate needs of church members and to support the propagation of the Gospel in other places. This was the beginning of what churches now refer to as “benevolence offerings” and “missionary offerings.”