The church has been created to fulfill two major roles or functions, though they can't ultimately be separated. One role is in relation to itself while the other is in relation to the world. What is meant is with respect to itself, the church functions to promote growth in brotherly love and holiness so that it may reach the "measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13), to the glory of God. With respect to the world, the church functions as Christ's witnesses in the proclamation of the Gospel (Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20), to the glory of God. By the church assembling together it provides an environment that is specifically suited for the building up of the body of Christ in true love and holiness. This enables the church to fulfill its role in relation to itself. When the church is dispersed in the world, then this is the ideal and primary context for evangelism. It is God's appointed setting for the fulfillment of the church's role in relation to the world.
There are some key ingredients in gathering together with worship of God at the heart of each assembly.
- Prayer (Matthew 21:13; Acts 2:42; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 25; 1 Timothy 2:1, 8).
- Fellowship (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Hebrews 10:24-25)
- Singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)
- Reading, teaching and exhortation from the Word (Acts 2:42; 11:26; 1 Timothy 4:13; 5:17; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27)
- The Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:26-30; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-33)
- Evangelism may happen as the unbeliever observes the reality of God in the midst of the church body (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). God's presence is especially evidenced as the assembly demonstrates a genuine love for God, for one another (John 13:34-35) and for the unbeliever.
The biblical assembling of a group of believers is getting together to do things that only believers can do! An unbeliever cannot worship the Lord in song, he cannot participate in true fellowship with the body of Christ, he cannot engage in prayer, and he cannot understand or appreciate the truths of God's Word (1 Corinthians 2:14). Often times, an unbeliever finds it distasteful or at the very least uninteresting. That doesn't mean that we are to make it our goal to be repulsive to the unbeliever! Just the opposite, we should seek to be as attractive as possible to the unbeliever without sacrificing the biblical nature of the assembly. The assembly is not so much the place to bring an unbeliever to hear the gospel and get saved as it is the place to bring the unbeliever to see and experience the sincere love that Christians have for one another and for God. We must be careful not to sacrifice the biblical doctrines of the assembly in order to be more attractive and/or comfortable for the unsaved.
In the New Testament, evangelism took place in everyday life as believers interacted with the world around them. It was the natural outworking of the believers' life in Christ. So as we mature in Christ, we should desire to "excel still more".
After living here in Utah for over 24 years I am well acquainted with the problems that can arise between Christianity and other religions. I agree that it is important to be able to sit down together and to share and talk respectfully with one another about the differences between one's beliefs. However, as a Christian, your goal is not to just discuss the beliefs but to show another his need for a Savior. All other conversation pales in comparison to this truth. Whereas, it's good to know information about other religions, the real importance of that is not the knowledge, but the facts that are different from the absolute Truth found in the Bible.
Now, returning to the original subject matter, a Christian church has no business bringing on staff, a Muslim cleric, or anyone whose views would be antithetical to that of the church body and Biblical truth.
Thank you to each of you who participated in the discussion. I have to say it was very stimulating!