What constitutes an assembly meeting? What are the “official” meetings of an assembly?
Concerning the first locally gathered assembly we encounter this well-known phrase: “they continued …apostles’ doctrine (teaching), (the) breaking of bread, and (the) prayers (Acts 2:42). So we are immediately aware that there were three gatherings which marked believers from the outset: meetings for the teaching of the Word of God, the breaking of bread, and the prayer meeting.
In Acts 15 apostles and elders came together to confront assembly problems and issues. So the meeting to discuss assembly spiritual issues (not the normal business meeting) is also suggested in Acts. Paul’s return to Antioch in Acts 14, from where he and Barnabas had been commended, is marked by a report meeting in which they recounted the work which God had wrought through them. Scripture recognizes a worker’s report as an assembly gathering. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 5 we have a meeting of the assembly for discipline.
What about the Bible reading? Is this a Scriptural meeting? Recall that the assembly is responsible for “teaching” (Acts 2:42). How that teaching is carried out and accomplished is the responsibility of those who have the care of the assembly. The Scriptures do not legislate that there must be ministry or there must be didactic sessions. It only legislates “teaching” (1Tim 4:13). The word used for Paul’s preaching at Troas (Acts 20:9) would allow the thought of conversation and not strictly preaching as we know it (See W. E. Vine).
Is there, as well, a pattern for our gospel meetings in the New Testament? It must be admitted that the apostles and believers went out to where the people were. Philip went to the desert; Peter went to the home of Cornelius; Paul was found in the synagogues and by the riverside. The pattern is unmistakable and clear. But does that negate the assembly’s responsibility to have a venue where friends, contacts, and neighbors can come to hear the gospel? Is there any substitute for the unsaved children of believers hearing the gospel weekly? But we cannot rest on tradition or what is pragmatic; is there anything Scriptural to support this in principle?
The teaching of 1 Timothy 3:15 is crucial: an assembly is “pillar and ground (bulwark) of the truth.” We not only preserve the truth of God (bulwark) but we proclaim it (pillar). Any means that assembly leaders see as consistent with the remainder of Scripture which enables them to uphold the truth of God is consistent with the goal of an assembly and the principles of Scripture.
Difficulties can arise regarding Sunday school work and outreach work in the gospel. Dealing with the latter, those who go out with the gospel to reach new areas are to be commended and encouraged as much as possible. But it also must be remembered that they are extensions of the assembly and not free agents or subcontractors. Even those commended by an assembly are still responsible to the local assembly which commended them. Their gospel work should carry the same character as that of the assembly itself. Distance from the local assembly is not an excuse to abandon the principles of the assembly.
Sunday school work, where children speak, give out hymns, recite verses, and actively participate, and where sisters teach, can hardly be called an assembly meeting. Often, the Sunday school begins as a general meeting and then the children leave for their classes, and the remainder of the assembly has either a Bible reading or ministry meeting. While the children and their teachers are in their classes, the adults are in “meeting” which is one of the teaching meetings of the assembly.
A few young men meeting to prepare for the Bible reading, or meeting to pray together in someone’s home is not an assembly meeting. If a few couples were to get together to discuss issues related to raising their families, seeking guidance from the Scriptures, and were to read and pray together, this is not under the control of the oversight. Rather, it is under the control of the owner of the house in which they are meeting.
When a commended sister returns from a mission field, how should she give a “report” of her work in that country?
We need to be balanced and sensitive to issues such as this. There should be nothing to even hint that the labor of our sisters is in anyway inferior to, or less noteworthy than, what our laboring brethren are doing. In point of fact, the wives of these brethren labor as much as the men do, yet get no “platform time” to tell of their exploits.
As always, Scripture must dictate and guide us. While we have the example in Acts 14:26, 27 of a missionary report by Paul and Barnabas to their commending assembly in Antioch, the very same Paul, through the Spirit of God, enjoined that women keep silence in the church (1Cor 14:33-37) and that a woman is not to have leadership or a vocal place in the assembly (1Tim 2:11-12). Despite many arguments which have been raised, Paul is not demeaning women, calling into question their intelligence, or inflicting some form of punishment because of Eve’s failure. Leadership in the man has been God’s intention since creation and is to be preserved in the local assembly, if nowhere else.
How then can we express appreciation for the work being done and how can the sister missionary show accountability to the commending assembly?
Would it not be wiser for one of the believers to open his/her home for all who are interested to come and hear about the work and, if available, view some documentation of the labors of the sister in her field? This would certainly not contradict the teaching of Scripture and would enable those interested to gain an understanding and appreciation for what the sister has been doing for God. We preach and teach that, though linked with the testimony of the assembly, the “hall” is not a sanctuary. Assembly basements and dining areas are used for showers, weddings, and other assembly activities. This could also be a convenient place for a sister to informally tell others of the labor in which she is involved for the Lord.
The previous question, submitted from a totally different source, established that there are no sisters’ meetings envisioned in the NT. The absence of a brother does not suddenly lift the Spirit-given restrictions of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. There are no segregated meetings, apart from the elders’ meeting, in the list which the Spirit of God has given us.