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"What Does it Mean to Come Together in the Church? A Closer Look at 1 Corinthians 11:18-34"

Updated: Jun 4




There is confusion today about the value of the local church. This confusion is manifested in the many people who claim to be Christians that have forsaken the "assembling together" (Hebrews 10:25). People will state that they don't need to "go to church." Some will even go so far as to say that they do not believe in "organized religion." Many have said, "The church is not a building. The church is the people." Some will declare, "I am the church, so why attend church." Yet others will say, "I believe in the "universal church." Some rail against the church building so intensively that they miss the underlying truth about the importance of the church.


The above statements are "straw man" arguments. They are designed and used to avoid the New Testament teaching of assembling together. There is no getting around the fact that the New Testament teaches the importance of the local/visible church. There is also no denying that the teaching of the New Testament concerning the local church places certain obligations upon individual believers.


Here is a simple question. Is it important for believers to gather together as a body for worship, encouragement, and instruction? What does the New Testament say?


Look at 1 Corinthians 11:18–34


18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.


19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.


20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.


21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.


33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.


34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.


Four times, the Apostle indicates that the people came together (18, 20, 33, 34)


"come together in the church"

 come together therefore into one place

when ye come together

that ye come not together unto condemnation


There have been arguments about the meaning of the phrase "in the church" in verse 18. It is not that hard to understand. Let us consider various opinions on this passage:



  • The UBS Handbook Series has the following:

The similarity in thought and language between verses 18a and 20a suggests that the phrase as a church...and “together” (20a) are similar in meaning. Commentators discuss whether or not these phrases refer to an actual place. It seems unlikely, however, that Paul is referring to a special place where Christians met in Corinth for worship. He is, nevertheless, referring to physical meetings of the Corinthian Christians, not merely to a unity of spirit. In the New Testament, as in the Septuagint, the Greek word for church often refers to God’s people gathered for worship. This is the likely meaning here. (1)


 

(God's people are to gather for worship. The place is not the focus...the gathering together is the focus.

This was a specific organized congregation of believers.)


 


  • Thiselton in his commentary on the I Corinthians states:

They are “internal” even within a single gathered meeting, i.e., ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ, when they meet in one place as a church. However, the Greek phrase should not be interpreted as a locative: it means as a church, not in church (which would be anachronistic as well as contrary to the normal use of the phrase in this period).



 

(Although it is true that this local congregation met together "for the worse" (v. 17) they still met together in one location.)


 

  • Louw and Nida have this interesting comment about the passage:

13.8 ἐν (e): a marker of a state or condition—‘in, with.’

ἐν μαλακοῖς ἠμφιεσμένον ‘dressed in soft clothes’ Mt 11:8;

ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις ‘being in torment’ Lk 16:23;

σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ ‘it is sown in a state of being mortal, and it rises in a state of being immortal’ 1 Cor 15:42.  


(e) = In state (condition)


To say “when ye come together “as” the church would certainly be ok, however, it doesn’t make sense in this passage.


Dressed as soft clothes?

Being as torment

etc. (3)


 

(It doesn't make sense for God's people to neglect to come together in the church [in the local visible assembly/congregation] when the corporate gathering is so clearly taught throughout the New Testament)


 

  • Vincent in his Word Studies in the New Testament declares:

18. In the church (ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ). See on Matt. 16:18. Not the church edifice, a meaning which the word never has in the New Testament, and which appears first in patristic writings. (4)


 

 

(Again, the "edifice" is not the important part. Don't be confused. The important part is that God's people come together in organized congregations for worship, encouragement, and instruction.)


 

  • Fausett and Brown say:

in the church—not the place of worship; for Isidore of Pelusium denies that there were such places specially set apart for worship in the apostles’ times [Epistle, 246.2]. But, “in the assembly” or “congregation”; in convocation for worship, where especially love, order, and harmony should prevail. The very ordinance instituted for uniting together believers in one body, was made an  occasion of “divisions” (schisms). (5)


 

(God's people are to unite together in the assembly or congregation. Worship. love, order, and harmony should prevail there.)


 

Please think. The people met together. Meeting together was considered important. It is also true that they could not meet as the church congregation without meeting in a certain location. This idea is expressed in the following commentary...


  • When ye come together in the Church.—ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ shows the form of their coming together, i.e., in a church assembly. To suppose a pregnant construction for εἰς ἐκκλησίαν is unnecessary; still less is the word ἐκκλησια, church, to be regarded as denoting the place of assembling; which use of the term did not spring up until later times. Yet perhaps we might say, with Meyer and de Wette, that the congregation is here regarded in the light of a locality. (6)



 

Paul does indeed have a location at least partially in mind as is recorded in


1 Corinthians 11:20 - When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper..


It is biblical and good and right to have local congregations of believers. It is good for those local congregations to have a place to meet. If you are saved, and if you are going to be a biblical Christian, you need to be a part of a local congregation. You also need to assemble with them in the place they have chosen to meet. This is the teaching of the New Testament.


 

_____________________________


(1)  Paul Ellingworth, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth, A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1995), 255.

(2) Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 857.

(3) Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 149.

(4) Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 249.

(5) Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 284–285.

(6) John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Corinthians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 233.

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