Limits and restrictions are contrary to the natural tendency of our flesh. Our brother continues his series showing how God has wisely erected hedges for our spiritual blessing and earthlywelfare.
1) 1 Cor 3:5-10
2) Acts 2: 41-46
3) 1 Cor 11:23-34
In previous articles on the topic of hedges, we considered the hedges that protect individuals and families. In this article, we will consider hedges that God has placed around assemblies to keep them as testimonies for His Son.
As indicated in 1 Cor 3:9, a local assembly is God’s husbandry (His tilled field). One consequence of the Lord’s ownership is brought out clearly in the New American Standard version, where 1 Cor 3:6 is translated, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” In a local assembly, those who plant and those who water are really just laborers, because it is God who gives the increase. God has planted gardens (local assembly testimonies) for His glory throughout the world. Each of these gardens is a company of believers who have been gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone to be a testimony for Him in a given locality. Although men often expend a great deal of labor in preaching the Gospel and teaching before an assembly is planted, it is God who does the planting and causes growth. He alone saves souls. When God saves souls in an area and exercises them about obedience to His word, we must stand back and give glory to Him because He alone gives the increase.
The title “a tilled field” was given to the assembly in Corinth. This title reminds us of the work that is necessary for planting and maintaining an assembly. Just as God used Paul in planting the assembly at Corinth, so He uses men to bring the Gospel to different areas today Scriptural assemblies are planted when there is a real work of God in an area. On the other hand, we do not read in Scripture of an assembly beginning because a few disgruntled believers who could not get along with their brethren left an established assembly to start their own gathering.
An assembly is maintained because believers are gathered to the Lord Jesus Christ. If an assembly were a social club, we would soon become tired of each other, but when we are gathered to the Lord Jesus Christ, we will never be disappointed in Him. Furthermore, we should remember that we are not gathered to the “Brethren” nor to a “Gospel Hall,” but to the lovely person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the following paragraphs we shall consider some of the hedges that God has placed around assemblies to preserve them for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hedge One: Gathering in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ:
The Lord’s promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20), is one that gives us great delight. Gathering in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ means that we own His Lordship and authority alone. He has purchased every local assembly testimony that it should be to His glory and that it should be growing like a fruitful garden for His enjoyment.
As we noted in earlier articles, a garden needs an entrance and a hedge or fence for protection. In a similar way, God intends that assemblies have hedges and an entrance. Hedges around local assemblies are particularly important today when so many false doctrines prevail and unscriptural practices are multiplying. Paul showed that assemblies have clear boundaries, for he wrote, “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:12,13). For this judgment to be carried out there must be a “within” and a “without” to a local assembly. Furthermore, each assembly also has an entrance, for believers are received into an assembly’s fellowship.
The hedges and boundary around a local assembly must be recognized by believers in that assembly Being saved is not the only basis for being a member of an assembly Believers accept the principles of assembly gathering when they become part of the assembly Furthermore, when there are evil doctrines or evil practices (as listed in 1 Cor 5:11) in the life of a believer in assembly fellowship then that person must be judged and placed outside assembly fellowship.
In Acts 2:41 we note that there are prerequisites for becoming members of an assembly First, individuals must have a time in their lives when they came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Brethren who interview others for reception into assembly fellowship should be clear that those who seek assembly fellowship give evidence that they are truly born again.
After salvation comes baptism. In Acts 18:8, Paul refers to the Corinthians who “hearing (the word) believed, and were baptized.” Scripture does not give any examples of believers in a local assembly who were not baptized. The Lord wants each believer to be publicly identified with Him through baptism in His death and His resurrection and to walk with Him in newness of life. Furthermore, He wants us to show that we are dead to our old natures and living in the power of our new life in Christ. When believers are baptized they take a step of obedience to the Lord and make a commitment that their lives will be lived in obedience to God’s Word. Reception into a local assembly will follow naturally as believers enter into the full meaning of their baptism. On a practical note, before persons are received into the fellowship, their names should be made known to the company, and if no barriers exist, then they would be received into the fellowship.
Assembly reception is only for those who have bowed to the Lordship of Christ. When believers come into assembly fellowship they are entitled to enjoy all the privileges of that fellowship and are expected to participate in its responsibilities. In Acts 2, reference is made to some of the responsibilities and privileges of Saints in a local assembly Believers in that first assembly, ,, continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
In addition to a “within” and a “without” and an entrance to serve as protection or hedges, God has also placed other hedges about each assembly that we shall now consider.
Hedge Two: Committed Partners and Orderly Conduct:
Everyone in the fellowship of an assembly is a partner with other believers in that assembly in a business for God. Reader, if you are in assembly fellowship you are a partner in the bus of standing for God in an evil world, of proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved, of teaching others about the truths of God and of showing to men and angels your obedience to God’s Word. We are not alone in this business for we work together with each other and with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). God has a plan for believers in each New Testament assembly. First, as partners in a local assembly, we must give the Lord Jesus Christ His rightful place as Lord. If we are to be partners in a fellowship we must all pull our weight. We should share our enjoyment of the wonders of God’s love and His grace and our appreciation and understanding of the truth of God.
If we are full partners, we will want to be at every assembly gathering that we can attend. Brethren will come exercised to pray at the prayer meetings, to contribute to the Bible readings and to express their appreciation for the Lord Jesus Christ at the breaking of bread.
Hedge Three: Bowing to the Headship of Christ:
Recognition of the headship of Christ is another hedge around an assembly. Paul wrote, “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: f?r that is even all one as if she were shaven” (1 Cor 11:3-5). Headship is an acknowledgment that authority comes from God. In God’s plan, headship to God is owned by Christ, headship to Christ is owned by men and headship to the man is owned by women. Headship is demonstrated by sisters coming into a local assembly with their heads covered. Sisters also show obedience to God’s word and make a public statement that Jesus Christ is Lord in their lives when they let their hair grow long (1 Cor 11:15). In an assembly, sisters cover their heads, a symbol of their glory, that it might be a sign to the angels that they acknowledge the headship of man, of Christ and of God. On the other hand, God makes a distinction for men who acknowledge the headship of Christ when they pray having their heads uncovered in the presence of God.
(To be continued)