How would you answer your son or another younger believer if you were questioned about the Scriptural ground for a local assembly? The answer given by our brother is excellent and doctrinal!:’ sound.
The son has come to his father with another question: “Is the local assembly truly distinct before God or is it just another place where we may fellowship with other believers?” In other words, does it matter to God where we go? They take down their Bibles and review together that in the Old Testament, God decreed that “unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all you tribes to put His Name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come…” (Deut 12:4). In 12:13 they see the injunction reinforced with the words, “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offering in every place that thou seest.”
As they read the passage together they are impressed with the fact that the words “place”, “choose”, and “Name” stand out almost as if they were highlighted in bold type. The son wonders if the principle of separation from all other places is as important in the New Testament as it was in the old. Does God have a place that He has chosen in this dispensation? Is there a place of the Name? And is that Place, if it exists, the only place where a believer is to go?
These are important questions for a young mind, and remembering to always ask, “what saith the Scriptures?” they set out together to learn New Testament church truth. They remember that Matt 16:15-19 introduces the truth of the Church which is His body and that Matt 18:l5-20 introduces the church in its local aspect. They also remember that Ephesians deals with the Church in its Body aspect, whereas 1 Corinthians deals with the local aspect.
They are arrested by the similarity between Deut 12:5 and Matt 18:20. Both deal with the Name and both deal with the place. The father attempts to point out that in the verse, “For where two or three are gathered together unto My Name, there am I in the midst of them,” that the tense “are gathered together” is perfect, indicating a gathered state, which he says is different from any thought of a “get together” or of “occasional fellowship.” He then says that the voice is passive, meaning that the gathering was done by another, the Holy Spirit. The son’s head is spinning with tenses and voices but he is willing to recognize them as part of the perfections and excellencies of Scripture.
They have found a place and they have found a Name. From there they turn to I Cor 1:1-9 to get some insight into the peculiar character of the local church. The son feels like the disciples of John the Baptist, who being impressed with the walk and the work of the Lamb of God, follow Him with the question, “Where dwellest Thou?”
They read I Cor 1:1-9 and notice the expression, “…with all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” They again see the Place of the Name. They read the passage over and over again and decide to study the church of God under the headings:
Its Character, Its Center, Its Composition, Its Communion, Its Confession, Its Competence and Its Consummation.
They find that it is called “church of God”. Being aware that the word “church” is “ekklesia” in the original and rneans ‘a called out company,’ a company called out of Jews and Gentiles, they see an entity not previously existing in the city of Corinth prior to Paul’s coming with the Gospel. They knew the word ‘ekklesia’, in its secular sense referred to ‘an assembly of citizens called out of their dwellings by an official summons.’ (See Acts 19:39-41). But here it was church of God, not a secular assembly but a sanctuary. They ponder the expression ‘of God’ and con-dude that it implies ownership. It is not ‘our church’ or ‘our assembly’ but His and so they can see why Paul wrote an entire letter to Timothy in order that he might know, “How thou oughtest to behave in the House of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Trm 3:16).
Ownership also implies that there must be consistency with His character. “Be ye holy for I am holy” refers to our personal life (1 Peter 1:16). “Holiness becometh Thine Housc” (Ps 93:5) refers to all aspects of our personal and corporate lives in the church.
They see, however that ‘of God’ implies not only ownership but also origin. The church is not a human organization; it is a divinely designed organism. They realize that it was critical that Moses make all things according to the pattern given to him in the mount for that was God’s pattern for His house (Ex 25:40, Heb 8:5). There was no room for any interference with the design. When he had done all things according to the pattern, then the Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:33-38). Does it not seem true that likewise we have no right to say that we are a New Testament church if there are parts of the pattern that we have chosen to neglect?
“…To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.” Of what is a local church composed? A local church is composed only of those who have been sanctified (set apart by God for God) positionally and who thus are saints. It is not a general company as is often seen in the religious world. There must be care in reception to insure that no ‘mixed multitude’ comes among the believers but that there be only those who possess divine life.
Seven times in these nine verses, we have reference to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does this not show us the significance of the Lord in the midst? It is the purpose of God that in all things “Christ should have the preeminence” (Col 1:18).
John the Baptist went through his lifetime with a purpose of heart expressed in the words, “He must increase; but I must decrease” John 3:30). If John had been in a local church, he would have lived a life consistent with one of the themes in this local church epistle: “no flesh shall glory in His presence” (1 Cor 1:29). If we appreciate that He is in the midst, that He is the present and future Center of the Company (Heb 2:12), then surely we will examine the intents of our hearts in every move we make to ensure that it for His glory and not for ours.
“That call upon His Name…” We believe this is one of the things that is meant by gathering unto His Name. The believers in Philadelphia were commended for “having a little strength, for having kept His Word and for not having denied His Name”(Rev 3:8). Some in Corinth had denied His Name and had taken names other than His.
“With all that in every place call upon the Name.” Paul recognized that there were other companies of similarly gathered believers with whom the church of God at Corinth would be in fellowship (4:17; 11:16) as those who would be united in the Person of Christ and in the practices of the doctrines of the apostles.
“That ye come behind in no gift…” The son is impressed as he sees a local church that has had within itself the development of gift, making it sufficient to function under God, on its own. While it will appreciate visits by men like Apollos (Acts 18:24-28, I Cor 3:6), there will be those raised up by God who will be able to feed the flock of God (Acts 20:28) and to present the Gospel to the world (l Thes l:8). A study of I Cor 12-14 will show us these gifts in action in the church. The father and son realize from the Scriptures that there is no such thing as “one man ministry” nor is there “any man ministry.” The idea of one pastor doing the work that God has decreed is to be done by overseers is totally foreign to the Word. The “pastor teachers” or “teaching pastors” of Eph 4:12 are not given that they may do all the ministering, but rather that they may equip the saints that these saints according to the grace gifts, may minister with a view to the building up of the church.
They wonder why a clerical system develops and decide that it could be the result of one person wanting to do everything or of no one wanting to do anything! Seeing that one must find out what his gift is and use it for “mutual profit” 02:7), they agree to study the truths connected with 12:27,” ye are body of Christ” in more detail later
“Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Corporately and individually those who work, exercising the grace gifts, are also to watch expectantly for that day when the Church will be caught up, when at the last trump, the dead will be resurrected, the living will be changed and all will be raptured into His presence.
Has the son begun to see the distinctiveness of a true New Testament church when compared to all that is around it? Yes, he has only begun!