Is remembering the Lord a privilege of the Church?
This is an instance where it is essential to distinguish between the “Church, the Body” (Ephesians 1:22, 23) and the “Church of God” (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5, 15). Although the Church of God expresses truth about the Church, the Body, it is not its local expression. They represent distinct truths. A few of many distinctions should demonstrate this: the Body has one Builder (Matthew 16:18 vs. 1 Corinthians 3:10); the Body has one Shepherd (John 10:16 vs. Acts 20:17, 28); the Body is indestructible (Matthew 16:18 vs. 1 Corinthians 3:17; Revelation 2:5; 3:16); being in the Body is irreversible (John 10:28 vs. 1 Corinthians 5:12, 13); the Body’s testimony and visibility is future (Revelation 21:9-11 vs. 1:12, 20). 1 Corinthians 14:25 states clearly that some believers in Corinth were not in the “whole church.” The unbelievers were neither in the Body nor in the “whole church” which met in Corinth; the unlearned are in the Body, but not the Church of God (they are not unbelievers, but not part of the “whole church”); “the whole church” describes those in both the Church of God and the Body (presumably).
“Assembly” is an alternative translation of “church.” Referring to a church of God as an assembly is an easy and common way to distinguish it.
In the New Testament, remembering the Lord is always associated with an assembly. It is therefore clear that remembering the Lord is not a privilege of the Church, the Body, but is a privilege of a church of God, an assembly. Remembering the Lord is a responsibility for all in the Body, however (Luke 22:19); to the degree a believer fails to obey what the Lord ordained, he disobeys the Lord.
Why is the Breaking of Bread inseparable from an assembly?
Breaking bread is a testimony (1 Corinthians 11:26). Unlike baptism, being honest, witnessing to individuals, and many other Christian behaviors, breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord is not an individual responsibility but a responsibility shared with others. Like unity (1 Corinthians 1), discipline (1 Corinthians 5), headship (1 Corinthians 11), the functioning of varied gifts (1 Corinthians 12), defending doctrine (1 Corinthians 15), collective giving (1 Corinthians 16), and spreading the gospel (Acts 13:1-3), remembering the Lord is part of assembly testimony.
In addition, the breaking of bread expresses a fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:16). When all believers in an assembly take their part from the bread, they express that the assembly is one, as a body is (10:17). This truth affects their relationships (11:29-34; 12:25, 26) and how varied gifts function (12:14-25, 27).
Remembering the Lord in the Breaking of Bread is therefore impossible apart from an established assembly whose testimony is consistent with the scriptural truths which the fellowship holds in common with one another and the Lord Himself.
What are the New Testament conditions for reception to an assembly?
The New Testament provides an example and doctrine that answer this question.
In Acts 9:26 & 27, Saul came to the assembly at Jerusalem. Three facts confirmed by Barnabas enabled the assembly to receive Saul: his salvation (“how he had seen the Lord”); his beliefs or doctrine (“He had spoken to him”); his life (“he had preached boldly”). Some may object that this was necessary because Saul was a persecutor. Universally in the New Testament, wrong doctrine and behavior, and unbelievers “creeping in” posed more danger to assemblies than persecution. Overseers in an assembly have a responsibility to preserve believers in that assembly from behavior or teaching that will endanger their progress in Christian living.
New Testament doctrine implies that, since an assembly is a fellowship, anyone whose behavior or teaching denies the scriptural truths held by the assembly could not be part of the assembly or participate in its privileges.
Since an assembly is a testimony, to include anyone whose life and testimony are contrary to the testimony of the assembly weakens or destroys what the Lord expects the assembly to uphold. An assembly, for instance, testifies that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). Baptism is an initial public testimony of submission to the Lord’s command. Without being baptized, a believer could not participate in a collective testimony to the Lordship of Christ.
Carrying a letter of commendation when visiting another assembly is a scriptural practice. The letter does not certify “membership” and therefore guarantee “admission.” It enables the receiving assembly to determine whether the visitor can be safely received. The letter is only valuable to the degree that the receiving assembly knows and has confidence in those who have sent the letter.
How can we help visitors understand New Testament teaching about assembly reception?
Society’s creed is tolerance. Evangelicals generally see no distinction between the Church, the Body, and the Church of God. These two factors combined make it likely that visitors not familiar with an assembly’s practices will question why they cannot enjoy the privileges of an assembly. Sometimes on short notice and with little time, overseers will have to give a Biblical answer to those questions. Wherever possible, when bringing a visitor to the Breaking of Bread, help him understand what will happen and why. Be prepared to answer with grace and truth. We would all like to effectively answer such questions, but can be assured that a perfect answer won’t persuade every questioner. We have a responsibility to wisely, patiently, considerately help others understand God’s ways. Help is available through prayer and dependence on the Spirit of God.