My former understanding
I used to think that we assembled “for worship,” but interestingly Paul says, “let all things be done for edification.” (1 Cor 14:26) In fact, never does God describe our Christian assembly as being something done “to worship Him.” But back when I thought that He did, I saw the assembling of the saints as a formal function, not a family function, and I have to be honest—that view was destructive and hampered my ability to serve Christ with my life.
God never says “worship service,” or “Bible class,” but He does use some very interesting terminology that I think apply to the assembling of the saints: equipping, being mended, being fully trained, and being made complete.
Why do I think this? Because of a word that God loves to you: kartartizo.
⤷Kartartizo: Equipping the saints
So why is this word “kartartizo important to me? Why did it change my understanding? Well, along with my change in undestanding of “worship” and “service,” I saw that this word was also used in ways I wasn’t familiar with, and it explained a change within me—a change from not caring much about assembling with people on Sunday, to needing them in my life as much as possible. Let’s look at some uses of the word.
One reason that we assemble with our brothers and sisters—I think—in Christ is for,
“the EQUIPPING of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-15)(Here kartartizo means “equipping.”
The word “equipping” here is from a Greek word, “kartartizo.” Notice that it isn’t for “worship,” but as I said in the opening, for edification; for the building up.
When I quit viewing the assembly as some formality and realized that it was refreshing, it changed who I was. But there’s more to it than that.
⤷Kartartizo: Mending the saints
This basic word is also used when Jesus was walking in Matthew 4:21, He said,
“Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, MENDING their nets; and He called them.”(This time katartizo is mending.)
That makes sense. Edification is “building up,” and certainly assembling with my brothers and sisters does that for me! But it also mends the spiritual and emotional wounds that I get throughout the week, like net (as a fisher of men) that has been beaten and battered.
⤷Kartartizo: Fully training the saints
That’s still not the end of the story, though. Assemblies always featured “instruction,” and often we are “able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). In that sense, Luke 6:40 used “equipping,” and “mending” a little differently, saying,
“A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been FULLY TRAINED, will be like his teacher.”(This time katartizo is about training.)
Being equipped as saints is the same thing that Jesus describes as BECOMING FULLY TRAINED.
And I think there’s a reason for the above paragraph, too. Although our assemblies these days don’t feature much more than a bunch of people listening to one “smart lecturer,” early Christians “each had a psalm, a teaching, a revelation.” (1 Cor 14:26) I imagine that this really did help them become fully trained, and that training (in a non-hostile environment with spiritual family) probably helped them much more effectively spread the gospel.
⤷Kartartizo: Making the saints complete
I noticed one other thing about kartartizo. Equipping, mending, and being fully trained lead to one other use of the very same word:
“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you BE MADE COMPLETE in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor 1:10)
(And this time katartizo is about being made complete.)
When we assemble and do all things for the building up, we are being made complete. And all these things, then, are a lot more enticing than a mere checklist of things that we have to do to “keep God happy.” As we are all members of the body of Christ, we all have different functions. In your own body, an eye is important, and so is a leg, though they serve very different purposes. Christ’s church is the same way! As we assemble together, we have more people with various talents, and we truly start to be made complete!
⤷Assembling: Family or formality?
In many assemblies, there’s been a focus on accomplishing certain, necessary “worship tasks” in the correct manner. In such assemblies, at least in my experience, the social experience I had was phatic at best.
A “phatic expression” is a form of communication which has low information-value, yet high utility in establishing a social dynamic. As an example, if you go up to a cashier, you might be asked, “How are you today?” but the response being sought is not an actual, information-laden discourse on the current status of your life. Instead, you’ll reply, “Very well, and you?” which then sets up a social-dynamic of non-hostility.
In effect, phatic expressions help us be pleasant and disarming, but they don’t require much interaction. They are a type of social formality, but they are not intimate nor familial, nor are the words spoken in such situations necessarily even face-valid. (Ie, you might be absolutely not well, but you still say it, because the information of the words is not of value.)
I believe that assemblies often exist on a scale of formality-to-family, and the more we focus on exterior actions, directed vertically toward God, done in the right manner, the more we lose sight of God’s desire for the assembly to be a place where we are built up. So here’s what I think:
Jesus had to correct a Jewish misconception that was very similar and He chided them saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-3:6) Likewise, the assembly is for the saints, not the saints for assembly. Edification and equipping of the saints for the work of service is the goal—making ourselves strong, spiritual warriors for Christ, not just rulekeepers of technicalities.
And I believe that, in part, our tradition pigeon-holes us into such, often-phatic dynamics. We mostly have the star-speaker, the star-singer, and the star-pray-er, while those on the bench watch the game. Yet as God said through Paul,
“What then, brothers? When you come together, EACH ONE has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians)
How can we incorporate this philosophy, wherein each of us brings something of value publicly? Is it possible? Is it worth trying? Will it result in a more familial, less-phatic church?
We assemble to build each other up. In becoming a strong, spiritual army, we best serve our Lord. But if we have a vertical focus, only on God, ignoring the horizontal focus, wherein we “one another” the assembly around us, we serve God less well.
A total misunderstanding of “worship service” and “acts of worship” hindered my own ability to serve others for many years. While it is not evil, I do feel that it retards spiritual growth for many, including myself. A change in my understanding of the words associated with worship and service led to me being more spiritually productive. Just as importantly, understanding “kartartizo” made me realize the true value of assembling with my brothers and sisters in Christ. God made the assembly for the saints, not the saints for the assembly.
Feel free to let me know what you think. I’m here to serve you, and I often need correction.