The third essential that marks a New Testament assembly is those who “were added unto them.” About 3000 souls who were saved when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost “were baptized,” and added to the 120 who were waiting in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended and filled each of them. They were gathered to His Name by the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Matthew 18:20. Those who are received to the fellowship of the assembly show evidence of salvation, are baptized, sound in doctrine, teachable, and their life morally pure.
This clearly shows that there was a “within and a without” to the fellowship of the “ecclesia” or “gathered out company” in Jerusalem. Later in his corrective epistle to the Corinthian assembly, Paul speaks of those in the “seat of the unlearned,” or those observing, who have a desire to be part of the fellowship of the assembly. As we will see later, fellowship is maintained when the receivers and recipients are of one mind. The assembly receives to the fellowship, and it is the assembly who puts away from the fellowship, when sin needs to be confessed, in view of the restoration of the sinning believer and the preservation of the assembly. “For the temple of God is holy …” (1Cor 3:17).
Saul of Tarsus was arrested by God and saved, given spiritual help by Ananias and baptized, and subsequently was received into the Jerusalem assembly. In Acts 9:3-31, it was on Barnabas’s testimony concerning Saul (later named Paul) that he was received into the fellowship of the assembly at Jerusalem. “He was with them” wholeheartedly, “coming in and going out at Jerusalem.” When a believer is received to the fellowship of an assembly, he is received to share in the joys, sorrows, and responsibilities of that assembly.
An important part in this pattern for New Testament gatherings is, “they continued.” Despite Satan’s many attempts and attacks on God’s assemblies since this first assembly in Acts 2 commenced, testimony for our Lord continues. Later, Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned …“ (2Tim 3:14).
The fourth essential is: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” or teachings. This is the truth revealed to the apostles during their time with their Lord in His teachings prior to the cross. This essential constrains us to appreciate why God gave the epistles. With the completed canon of Scripture, sign gifts (tongues, prophecies, etc. which proved it to be God’s work) ceased. “But when that which is perfect (neuter tense, referring to the completed Scriptures) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1Cor 13:10). This is a fulfillment of the great truth spoken by our Lord in John chapters 14 and 16: “But the Comforter … will teach you all things,” referring to the epistles. “He will bring all things to your remembrance,” referring to the gospels. Furthermore we read in John 16:13-14, “When He, the Spirit of truth is come … He will guide you into all truth.” “He will shew you things to come.”
This refers to the “Revelation of the Lord Jesus.” “He shall glorify me … [and] shew it unto you.” Consequently, we can see that the triune God would teach them and lead them in the pattern He had desired them to follow. He would lead them by His Spirit, through his apostles, for His own honor and glory. Thankfully, the Word of God gives us this clear instruction for gathering.
This local church, perfect in its pattern and composed of believers in Christ, would be subject to the same attitudes and treatment as He received prior to the cross. The practice of an assembly depends on the spiritual development of believers. (We would desire that our practice was as spiritual as the pattern given by our Lord.) This company, individually and collectively indwelt and guided by the Spirit of God, continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching. They, like believers today, had three enemies to contend with: the world around them, the flesh within them, and the devil following them. This soon became apparent when the sin of covetousness appeared. In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, lied to the Holy Spirit. They gave part of the price of the sale of their property, kept back some, and gave the balance as though it were the whole amount. Both experienced sudden death when they confessed to this act. The result was “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (vv5, 11). Solomon, in several proverbs, speaks concerning the reverential fear of God. When this fear is lacking, the enemy takes advantage, and worldliness and the desires of the flesh enter. A casual attitude in our desires and our walk is seen. Our outward appearance should be a manifestation of inward reality.
The Holy Ghost makes overseers (Acts 20:28). Their work as shepherds is to “feed the flock of God.” As overseers, these men watch over the flock. With spiritual maturity, they are referred to as “elders.” These holy, Spirit-given men are to “be examples to the flock” and lead them into spiritual pastures. Peter, who preached the gospel when many souls were saved in Acts 2, wrote later in 1 Peter 5:1-4 “The elders … feed the flock of God … taking the oversight thereof … of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the little flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear [they] shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” We thank God for the faithful shepherds who labor as they lead the people of God. A crown of glory awaits them in that day of reward for all work that was done for Him.