Do Not Give Up Meeting Together
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,” say the Scriptures, “but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25, New International Version) Clearly, true worshipers are to come together at a place of worship to “consider one another to incite to love and fine works.”—Hebrews 10:24.
WHEN the apostle Paul penned the foregoing words in the first century of our Common Era, an impressive temple in Jerusalem served as a place of worship for the Jews. There were also synagogues. Jesus had “taught in a synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews [came] together.”—John 18:20.
What type of meeting places did Paul have in mind when he admonished Christians to come together to encourage one another? Do the religious edifices of Christendom find any precedent in the temple arrangement in Jerusalem? When were massive religious structures introduced to professed Christians?
‘A House to God’s Name’
The first instructions about a place to worship God are found in the Bible book of Exodus. Jehovah God instructed his chosen people—the Israelites—to build “the tabernacle,” or “the tent of meeting.” The ark of the covenant and various sacred utensils were to be kept there. “Jehovah’s glory filled the tabernacle” upon its completion in 1512 B.C.E. That portable tent served as a central feature of God’s arrangement for approach to him for over four centuries. (Exodus, chapters 25-27; 40:33-38) The Bible also refers to this tent as “the temple of Jehovah” and “the house of Jehovah.”—1 Samuel 1:9, 24.
Later, when David was king in Jerusalem, he expressed a strong desire to build a permanent house to Jehovah’s glory. Since David had been a man of war, however, Jehovah told him: “You will not build a house to my name.” Instead, He chose David’s son Solomon to build the temple. (1 Chronicles 22:6-10) Solomon inaugurated the temple in 1026 B.C.E., after a construction period lasting seven and a half years. Jehovah approved of this building, saying: “I have sanctified this house that you have built by putting my name there to time indefinite; and my eyes and my heart will certainly prove to be there always.” (1 Kings 9:3) As long as the Israelites remained faithful, Jehovah would direct his favor toward that house. However, if they turned aside from what was right, Jehovah would remove his favor from that place, and ‘the house itself would become heaps of ruins.’—1 Kings 9:4-9; 2 Chronicles 7:16, 19, 20.
In time, the Israelites did turn aside from true worship. (2 Kings 21:1-5) “So [Jehovah] brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who proceeded . . . to burn the house of the true God and pull down the wall of Jerusalem; and all its dwelling towers they burned with fire and also all its desirable articles, so as to cause ruin. Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons.” According to the Bible, this happened in 607 B.C.E.—2 Chronicles 36:15-21; Jeremiah 52:12-14.
As foretold by the prophet Isaiah, God raised up King Cyrus of Persia to liberate the Jews from the power of Babylon. (Isaiah 45:1) Following a 70-year exile, they returned to Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E. for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. (Ezra 1:1-6; 2:1, 2; Jeremiah 29:10) After delays in construction, the temple was finally completed in 515 B.C.E., and the pure worship of God was restored. Though it was not as glorious as Solomon’s temple, the structure lasted for nearly 600 years. However, this temple also fell into disrepair because the Israelites neglected the worship of Jehovah. When Jesus Christ appeared on the earthly scene, the temple was in the process of being progressively rebuilt by King Herod. What was in the offing for this temple?
‘Not a Stone Will Be Left Upon a Stone’
Referring to the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples: “By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1, 2) True to those words, the place that had been recognized for centuries as the center of God’s worship was destroyed in 70 C.E. by Roman troops who came to put down the revolt of the Jews.a That temple was never rebuilt. In the seventh century, the Muslim shrine known as the Dome of the Rock was erected, and it stands until this day upon the location of the former Jewish place of worship.
What was to be the arrangement of worship for Jesus’ followers? Would early Christians coming from a Jewish background continue to worship God at the temple that was soon to be destroyed? Where would non-Jewish Christians worship God? Were religious structures of Christendom to serve as a replacement for the temple? Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman gives us insight into the matter.
For centuries, Samaritans worshiped God at a large temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. “Our forefathers worshiped in this mountain,” said the Samaritan woman to Jesus, “but you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where persons ought to worship.” In reply Jesus said: “Believe me, woman, The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father.” A material temple would no longer be necessary in the worship of Jehovah, for Jesus explained: “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:20, 21, 24) The apostle Paul later told the Athenians: “The God that made the world and all the things in it, being, as this One is, Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in handmade temples.”—Acts 17:24.
Clearly, the religious buildings of Christendom have no connection with the temple arrangement of the pre-Christian Era. And first-century Christians had no reason to erect such places. After the death of the apostles, however, the foretold deviation from the true teachings—the apostasy—occurred. (Acts 20:29, 30) Years before Roman Emperor Constantine was supposedly converted to Christianity in 313 C.E., professed Christians began to turn aside from what Jesus had taught.
Constantine contributed to the fusing of “Christianity” with the pagan Roman religion. The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “Constantine himself commissioned the construction of three enormous Christian basilicas in Rome: St. Peter’s, S. Paolo Fuori le Mura, and S. Giovanni in Laterano. He . . . created the cross-shaped plan that became standard for churches in western Europe throughout the Middle Ages.” The reconstructed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is still considered the center of the Roman Catholic Church.
“The Church took over some religious customs and forms common in pre-Christian [pagan] Rome,” says historian Will Durant. This included “the architecture of the basilica.” From the 10th to the 15th century, there was a boom in the construction of churches and cathedrals, with great emphasis placed on architecture. That was when many of the edifices of Christendom that are now considered artistic monuments came into existence.
Do people always find spiritual refreshment and encouragement from worshiping in a church? “For me, the church came to represent all that is tedious and tiresome in religion,” says Francisco from Brazil. “Mass was a meaningless, repetitive ceremony that did nothing to satisfy my real needs. It was a relief when it was over.” Nevertheless, true believers are commanded to meet together. What arrangement for meetings should they follow?
“The Congregation That Is in Their House”
The pattern for the Christian way of meeting together emerges from an examination of how first-century believers met. The Scriptures indicate that they usually met together in private homes. For example, the apostle Paul wrote: “Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, . . . and greet the congregation that is in their house.” (Romans 16:3, 5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2) The Greek word for “congregation” (ek·kle·siʹa) is rendered “church” in some English translations, such as the King James Version. But the term refers to a group of people gathered together for a common purpose, not to a building. (Acts 8:1; 13:1) Worship practiced by true Christians does not require ornate religious buildings.
How were the meetings conducted in early Christian congregations? The disciple James uses a form of the Greek word sy·na·go·geʹ to refer to a Christian meeting. (James 2:2, footnote) This Greek word means “a bringing together” and is used interchangeably with ek·kle·siʹa. Over time, though, the term “synagogue” took on the meaning of the place or building where the assembly was held. The first Jewish Christians were familiar with what took place at a synagogue.b
While the Jews met at the temple in Jerusalem for their annual festivals, the synagogues served as local places for learning about Jehovah and gaining an education in the Law. The exercises held at synagogues appear to have consisted of prayer and reading the Scriptures, as well as exposition and exhortation. When Paul and others with him went into a synagogue in Antioch, “the presiding officers of the synagogue sent out to them, saying: ‘Men, brothers, if there is any word of encouragement for the people that you have, tell it.’” (Acts 13:15) When the first Jewish Christians met together in private homes, they undoubtedly followed a similar pattern, making their meetings Scripturally instructive and spiritually upbuilding.
Congregations for Building Up
Like the early Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses today come together at simple places of worship to receive instruction in the Bible and to enjoy wholesome fellowship. For many years they met only in private homes and still do so in some places. But now the number of congregations has grown to over 90,000, and their principal meeting places are called Kingdom Halls. These buildings are neither ostentatious nor churchlike in appearance. They are practical and modest structures that allow for congregations of 100 to 200 people to congregate for weekly meetings in order to listen to and learn from God’s Word.
Most congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses meet three times a week. One meeting is a public lecture on a subject of current interest. It is followed by a study based on a Bible theme or prophecy, using the Watchtower magazine as source material. Another meeting is a school designed to provide training in presenting the Bible’s message. It is followed by a meeting especially devoted to giving practical suggestions for the Christian ministry. Once a week, Witnesses also assemble for Bible study in small groups in private homes. All these meetings are open to the public. No collections are ever taken.
Francisco, mentioned earlier, found meetings at the Kingdom Hall to be highly beneficial. He says: “The first meeting place I visited was a comfortable building in a downtown area, and I left the hall with a favorable impression. Those in attendance were friendly, and I could sense the love among them. I could hardly wait to go back. In fact, I have not missed a meeting since then. These Christian meetings are lively, and they satisfy my spiritual need. Even when I am feeling discouraged for some reason, I go to the Kingdom Hall, confident that I will return home encouraged.”
Bible education, upbuilding association, and the opportunity to praise God also await you at Christian meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. You have our warm invitation to attend at the Kingdom Hall nearest to your home. You will be glad you did.
a The temple was completely demolished by the Romans. The Wailing Wall, to which many Jews come from great distances to pray, is not part of that temple. It is only a part of the wall of the temple courtyard.
b It seems likely that synagogues were instituted during the 70-year Babylonian exile when there was no temple in existence or shortly after the return from exile while the temple was being reconstructed. By the first century, each town in Palestine had its own synagogue, the larger cities more than one.
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The tabernacle and later the temples served as fine centers of Jehovah’s worship
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St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome
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The early Christians met together in private homes
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Jehovah’s Witnesses hold Christian meetings in private homes and at Kingdom Halls