You can understand a lot about Christians simply by asking yourself about their behaviour. For example, Christians gather with other human beings just like you do, but sometimes, and quite frequently, the reason they gather is fundamentally different than non-Christians. And unless you understand the difference, your assessment of the practicing Christian will be skewed, and often, very far from the mark.
Take but one example of how off the mark one can get. Apuleius, a non-Christian writing in the second century seems to have honestly thought that Christians assembled only to get drunk and fornicate. A leap of logic to be sure but founded all the same on a few facts. First, it did not help in the least that Christians liked to refer to some of their gatherings as ‘love feasts.’ As a meal that celebrated the God of love the term made perfect sense, but you can see the problem already. Second, as Christians celebrated an ancient Jewish ritual called the passover or the new passover of Jesus, wine was a requirement to speak the blessings of God. Put these two together with a little willed ignorance and we have a recipe for disaster.
So to avoid repeating Apuleius’ error, let’s take a look at what Christians are actually doing when they gather.
As far back as we can go, the Christian God, which is the same God of the Israelites, calls His people to gather about Him. And their gathering has a definite purpose. Often it is to make a sacrifice to highlight the fact that sin always brings death. Other times, the gathering takes place to give thanks for the many ways that God bestows blessings on His people both now and in the past. Other times, they gather to learn from God’s holy writings or to pray for those they know. And still other times, Christians gather to worship the Lord, God with music and song. And all of it is founded on the principle that in God’s presence – no matter the communal activity – we find our rest.
Now notice what Christians are not doing. They are not getting together to pray to God as individuals, because obviously one could do that at home. They are not assembling just to center themselves or to search for inner peace, for God is the focus of their gathering and not themselves. And they are not coming together because it makes them feel good, although we all hope that happens from time to time. Like a family gathering again over Christmas, the family of God, which is what they call themselves, gather at the very least because they should.
Christian gatherings really are different from the pattern we see being lived out in most people’s lives. And the gathering is different because the focus of the Christian life is different. It is not weird or scary or something sinister. Their gathering starts with God.