Some might question the necessity of addressing such a topic. Yet, it could be of timely value to a younger generation who gather in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no longer enough to follow the traditional, and say, “It was good enough for our forefathers, so it is good enough for me.” While there is wisdom in respecting the principles of those who have left us a rich legacy, yet more is required. Getting back to the NT teachings on this subject is our sole and scriptural answer in our present day. We must get back to “the BOCK!”
The scriptures that are most prominent in addressing the subject are: Matt 18:20; I Cor 1:9; 1 Cor 3: 5-17; 1 Tim 3: 14 16; Phil 1: 1; Acts 20: 28 and Rev 2 & 3. It is important to note that from the beginning of time there has been a relentless attack upon two basic pillars of the truth in our Bibles: (1) The Name and (2) The Place. History traces either OPPOSITION to, UNIFICATION against, IMITATION like, or INFILTRATION into these great bulwarks. While there will never cease to be “a testimony” on earth, we are also aware of the constant three-fold danger assailing the testimony of the Lord: a) the world that intrudes, b) the flesh that divides and c) the Devil that destroys. The preservation of local assemblies is nothing short of a miracle!
We must distinguish between the Church which is His body and local churches found in various place, or confusion will result. The Church which is His body is foretold in Matt 16: 15-18, and commenced in Acts 2. Also in Acts 2 we have the first local church in Jerusalem, a testimony unto the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through persecution, believers were scattered and gathered in different places in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the mind of God: scriptural churches in many places.
We now come to the subject. Are we fanatical to believe that the local assembly stands in contradistinction to everything else on earth? The Facts are unassailable.
The PERSON to Whom we Gather.
In Matthew 18:20 we have the local church introduced. While it is introduced in the context of a discipline matter, nonetheless, it is clear that we have in embryo the local church foretold by our Lord. They were formed in the Acts and were functioning in the Epistles. From Matthew 18:20 we must deduce one important principle: the importance of “My Name.” Some might feel this is overstated, but can we really overstate this? I don’t think so! The Name of our Lord Jesus Christ is the magnet of Attraction and the power of Auhority As those sixty valiant men surrounded Solomon the King in their protection and defense of their Sovereign (S of S 3: 5-8), we guard the Name and Centrality of our Lord Jesus Christ as to our gathering center.
He is Supreme in Authority in the local churches. To place any other name alongside would dishonor His Name that must ever be Preeminent.
The PATTERN, as to How we Gather
In Acts 2: 41-42 we find the clear, plain, constructive teaching as to the first NT assembly. This is the pattern for this present age. a) They were happily converted, and though the cost of turning in repentance to Christ was great, they gladly received His word. b) They faithfully obeyed and “were baptized.” This was a death-knell to their Judeaistic (religious) associations. c) They were genuinely added, willingly paying the price, even to constant persecution. Their Convictions were deep rooted, immovable. There was no appeal to the false in this company! How lovely was this first assembly! How delightful in the midst of apostasy, confusion and opposition – a band of true and loyal hearted believers! Like Ittai; ” in what place my lord the king shall be even there also will thy servant be” (2 Sam 15:21). The fourfold outcome was that they continued a) steadfast in in the Apostolic Teaching, b) bonded together in the Fellowship, or partnership, c) in the Breaking of Bread, the expression of that fellowship and d) in the prayers, the maintenance of the fellowship. This, beloved, is the establishment and the declaration of an assembly according to the mind of God.
The PURPOSE for Which they Gathered.
The Corinthian letter, called the charter of the church, gives us the purpose of the local assembly: It is a testimony unto His Name and the display of the mighty grace of God in the community, a heavenly witness to the perishing world around them. The Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. In that city reputed for its wickedness there was the Jewish synagogue, the heathen (pagan) temple and the church of God. Paul states in I Cor 14, in the context of gifts and order, “let all things be done decently and in order.” In 1 Cor.12: 23 we have the diversity of gifts by the Spirit, in Romans 12 the gifts from God and in Ephesians 4 the gifts from the risen Christ. What is basic is the uniformity in practice and order in each local assembly though each is autonomous. We recall what the Queen of Sheba acknowledged when she heard the wisdom of Solomon and saw the service of Solomon in the temple: “It was a true report which I heard … howbeit I believed not their words until I came, and mine eyes had seen it:… there was no more spirit left in her.” Good it is when those who observe from the backseat fall down and acknowledge, “God is in you of a truth” (I Cor. 14:25).
The PREEMINENCE of the Word.
What preserves and protects the assembly is the authority of the Word. The rich and precious truths of Headship, Lordship and Fellowship are all controlled by divine revelation, and when obeyed, produces heavenly features in the Lord’s people. In Headship there is the display of Divine order. Angels behold with wonder in the local gathering the recovery of Headship based upon Redemption: the man with uncovered head and the woman with her long hair (her glory) and head covered. What is displayed locally will be displayed universally when all is under the Authority of Divine Persons. In Lordship there is the dedication to the Divine Lord in obedience to His Word. In the Fellowship there is the declaration of the Unity of the saints. The unadulterated, indispensable and infallible Word is supreme and sufficient in everything pertaining to the local assembly.
The PRESIDENT in the Assembly
The Holy Spirit is the President of the local assembly. He presides, controls, constrains, restrains, equips and empowers in the local gatherings for the good of all. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor 3:16). With reverence and godly fear we should conduct ourselves in the Presence of Divine Persons. The uniqueness of the operation of the Holy Spirit in this “church age” is set forth in unmistakable terms. The Holy Spirit can be grieved individually and quenched collectively. Let us be sensitive to this Divine Person of the Godhead. In the NT it is evident that we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s operations in the local assemblies.
The PRESERVATION of the Assembly
Each assembly has a Spiritraised oversight, often referred to as the government of the assembly. This is for its Preservation, Acts 20: 28-31; 1 Tim 3; Titus 1; 1 Pet 5. and Heb 13. An oversight is not a dictatorship, not despotic rule. It is a selected number in each assembly raised by the Holy Spirit to oversee the whole company for its good and spiritual edification. As Shepherds, their responsibility is great, their sacrifices are many and their tasks are difficult. They take their pattern from the Good, Great and Chief Shepherd. They are marked by devotion to the Lord and to the flock, and dedication to the Book. They predominantly are concerned about “spiritual matters.” Others of godly character can attend to the material affairs of the saints. They meet consistently for prayer and seek wisdom in handling spiritual problems. The Book is their guide. Their Lord is their Pattern. Never is there one over the whole company, but always a plurality.
The PROSPECT of the Assembly.
Each company serves in several capacities in view of “that day.” While they anticipate our gathering together unto Him, “the rapture” (2 Thess 2 : 1; John 14: 1-3; 1 Thess 4: 13-18), they look beyond to the day of recompense and reward (1 Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:9-11; Rom 14: 12; 2 Tim 4: 8). The judgment seat of Christ is before them. Our passport to the glory is the redemptive work of Christ, the precious blood. The place in the kingdom is evaluated by our devotion and faithfulness in service. We conclude this meditation with firm conviction based on the Facts from the Word of God that our position and practice as to the local assembly is biblical and has its Foundation in the Word of God.