Our hearts rise in thanksgiving to our great God as we think of the many companies of God’s redeemed people presently gathered out to His Name in the various countries of the world. We are thankful for the Scriptural pattern given in His Word, and for every gathering for His honor and glory.
In this three part article, we will look at the divine plan for the assembly gathering given by the Holy Spirit following the preaching of the gospel by Peter (Acts 2). The Acts of the apostles is a connecting link between the gospels and the epistles. In the gospels, in reply to Peter’s answer to the Lord’s question, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matt 16:13), He gave teaching regarding the Church that was to be born on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Christ stated “… upon this Rock (Christ) I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). This Church would include every believer from the day of Pentecost until His Church is raptured home. “For where two or three are gathered together in (“in” – He is the attraction) My Name, there am I in (“in” – preeminence of His presence and place in the gathering) the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). He gave this teaching in embryo form concerning the local church that commenced following His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the promised descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:41-42). This teaching is enlarged upon and practiced in the Acts of the apostles, and taught in Paul’s epistles.
Just as Moses was instructed to make the tabernacle according to the pattern shown to him in the mount (Exo 25:40), in this present dispensation, a redeemed, Spirit-filled people are instructed to gather according to the pattern (Acts 2:41-42). There are “seven essentials” that form the pattern of a New Testament assembly.
The preaching of the gospel was the command of our Lord in the commission given to His disciples. “Go ye therefore and teach (make disciples of) all nations“ (Matt 28:19). Its reception is the very foundation of the Christian life. Its heralding forth lies at the heart of assembly testimony. The “first essential“ then is: “They that gladly received His word” (Acts 2:41). The preaching of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit resulted in many, who were once among the murderers of our Lord Jesus Christ, crying out saying, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37b). This gospel is clearly stated in Peter’s words, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The believers who gathered to His name in Thessalonica were commended for their faithfulness in preaching the gospel. Paul writes, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord“ (1Thes 1:8). The Thessalonian believers “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God … even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (vv9-10). An assembly that has a faithful gospel testimony will rejoice in seeing souls saved to whom they will be able to teach divine truth. The weekly gospel meeting not only warms the hearts of believers, reminding them of their faith in the finished work of Christ, but is also used by the Spirit of God to awaken sinners to their need of salvation. Simple, profound gospel verses, such as John 3:16, 10:9, etc., should be read, and man’s ruin, God’s remedy, and man’s responsibility to God plainly preached by godly, gifted men. Children’s work, whether in special outreaches or the weekly Sunday school classes, has often proven profitable in planting seeds of the Word of God to bring forth fruit. It also provides contacts with homes, and in some cases parents have been eternally blessed with the message as well.
The “second essential” is baptism. “Then they that gladly received His word were baptized” (v41). In His commission to His own to “make disciples” by the heralding forth of the gospel, and to “baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” instruction was given for believers, those who had put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. The command to baptize believers, and its detailed practice in the Acts, is further taught clearly in the epistles. This indicates that it is to continue through this Church age. I look back with great joy to the afternoon when a large number of saints and sinners gathered on the shore of Lake Huron to witness my obedience to the Lord. While I was being baptized by immersion, joy flooded my heart as I looked into the blue sky and thought, “I’m doing this for the Man who died for me.” This act of obedience and submission expresses outwardly our inward desire to live for the Lord.
Infant baptism and sprinkling are not found in the Bible. In Acts 8:34-38, the mode of baptism is clearly given. Following the conversation between Philip and the eunuch, the eunuch believed Philip’s preaching (v35). Then he asked, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” The eunuch’s reply (v37a) was, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (v37b). Next we read, “And they went down both of them into the water … and he baptized him.” This clearly shows that baptism by immersion follows salvation. This order is also seen in Acts 16:29-33.
Baptized believers have the further joy of knowing their sins forgiven and heaven as their home. They experience Peter’s words: they have a “good conscience toward God” (1Peter 3:21) having obeyed His Word. Baptism is not the door to the assembly, but it is at the door.