All believers agree that there is only one way of salvation. Yet many feel that there is not one way of gathering. Is this being narrow minded? Is it fanatical to claim that there is a right way to meet? The two articles which follow show the reasonableness and the scripturalness of so gathering.
Have you ever stood at a junction, but didn’t know which route to take? You are certain that only one of the roads leads to your desired destination. You step out, hoping you are on the right track. If only there was some additional information available to you so your “step of faith” would not be such a “leap in the dark!” What similar distress enters the life of a Christian today when he or she views the myriad of places of worship. Which church is the “right” one? Some claim that you should just attend “the church of your choice.” Others state they can worship God at home, and that there is no need for collective gatherings of saints. Confusing? Perplexing? Very much so.
The great Creator has designed beauty and order in every sphere that concerns Him.
Is it not strange that such a situation exists? Undoubtedly God did not design such a state of bewilderment! Any close observer of nature readily admits that there is an amazing order in creation. It does not require mental gymnastics to believe that the Great Creator has designed a similar beauty and order in every sphere that concerns Him. Why then do we have such a confusing mass of churches? Surely the One Who died to save us from our sins would also ordain some proper way to worship Him!
An ecosystem is a delicate balance of animal and plant life. Yet few refute the existence of putrid smelling lakes where dead fish float at the water’s edge and various creatures sprout strange growths. Is there something wrong with the design of the ecosystem? Of course not! Someone has intervened to upset the balance of nature, and in doing so has wrought havoc. Industrial pollution, improper use of natural resources and human greed have damaged God’s pattern.
Not surprisingly, the local Christian church has experienced something similar. The perfect pattern given by God has been polluted, exploited and greedily altered! But, giving a reason for the confusion facing the Christian is scarcely a solution. We need direction as to what the Divine pattern is, and we need to be confident that we are accurately following it.
First of all, we must be convinced that God even desires the existence of churches! Abraham worshiped as an individual, and so did Isaac, Jacob and many others. We don’t read of collective worship until the people of Israel were delivered from Pharaoh’s clutches and escaped into the wilderness (Exo 8:27). God has always desired more than just the individual. He chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob so he could have a whole nation for Himself. Recall the words of the Lord when the children of Israel were in Egypt: “Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exo 25:8).
Are we abandoned in our era? Not at all. It has always been, and always will be, God’s mind that people gather to worship Him. The psalmist sings, “Gather my people together unto me” (Ps 50:5), and again, “unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen 49:10). The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us among the difficulties and perplexities of life, “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” for this will bring joy and pleasure to our God (Heb 10:25, 38). John sums up the purposes of God by clearly stating, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them” (Rev 21:3).
Since “gathering of saints” is evidently very important to our Heavenly Father, we can expect that He has outlined the way it should be. He does not have to collude with human ideas. God, in His majestic creatorial power, has every right to decide how His creatures should gather collectively to worship.
God has always established a “right” way in His dealings with people (John 14:6) and has been explicit in conveying it. This is what faith is all about. Either you believe God, or you do not. Consider Noah and the ark or the Passover Lamb. God’s word was clear and simple. This is the way that God operates. Therefore, we can expect that not only does God have the right to decide how saints should gather, but that He will exercise that prerogative (Heb 10:19-22)!
Having the rational expectation of God ordaining a church, what would we expect it to look like? Certainly, since Christ has died to save us, and we are exhorted to be like Him, it is reasonable to suggest that the church will display His characteristics. Furthermore, since Christ is the one to be worshiped, He would be acknowledged as Lord in every gathering, the authority of His Word would be absolute and the leading of the Holy Spirit would be very evident.
Where do we put something so every person in the room has an equal opportunity to view it? In the center of the room, of course. Where is the source of our natural life here on the earth? Even the young scholar can tell us that the sun is the hub of our solar system, and that we derive our life from its energy. So we would expect that if Christ is our life and source of Divine energy, then He will be “in the center” of the local church (Matt 18:20; Luke 24: 36).
How could the authority and preeminence of Christ be acknowledged in a church? What does the police officer say to the suspect? “I arrest you in the NAME of the Law!” What does he mean? He is simply stating that all authority for what he is doing is based on the Law. So it would be in the local church God designs. Everything would be done in the NAME of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This concept of the place of the Name should not surprise us. Every student of the Old Testament notices immediately that Jehovah often speaks this way of the location of worship: “Bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set My Name there” (Neh 1:9), and “At the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place His name in, there thou shalt sacrifice” (Deut 16-6). The Lord Jesus Himself stressed the importance of gathering in His Name when He stated, “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Again Paul records, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together…” (1 Cor 5:4).
There is no need, however, to continue speculating about the church’s features. It should thrill the heart of every believer to learn that God has revealed the pattern of a local church, and that this pattern contains everything we could ever expect to characterize the .correct” church! The design honors the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ with such a dignity and reverential simplicity that it could only have come from the Infinite.
Quite simply, a local church, as defined by scripture (Matt 18:20; Acts 2:41-42; 1 Cor 12,13,14; Phil 1:1-2; Col 2:5), is an assembly of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who live in a locality and gather together in His name for the breaking of bread, worship, prayer, ministry of the word, discipline and Gospel activity. Every local church is a temple of God with Christ in the midst and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is guided by overseers, and there is a clear line separating the within and the without of the church. Anything else that is contrary to, in addition to, or in subtraction from what the Word of God states regarding the local church must, by definition, be wrong.
There is also a reward for following the pattern! Recall the reward for Adam’s obedience, for Abraham’s faith, for constructing the tabernacle according to the pattern and for building the temple in the design given by God to David. The reward is always the same: The Presence of God Himself. Is not this the promise of Matt 18:20? “For where two or three are, gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It has always been God’s desire to meet with those who wish to honor Him, and what a promise we can claim, if we do it in the right way. “Ye are the temple (i.e. dwelling place) of God,” Paul could tell the local church in Corinth (1 Cor 3:16).
What tremendous privileges we can enjoy! God asks us to gather to worship Him, He outlines how we should do it, and then gives us the blessing of His presence! Do you enjoy such a place as this? Are you part of a scriptural New Testament church, or does some manmade system claim you as a member? God’s assembly is not an organization, it is a living organism.
You can know for sure! It simply comes down to whether or not you believe God. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom 4:3). What a relief it is that our “step of faith” need not be a “leap in the dark,” for God has given us the information we need. The question is, are you willing to accept it? “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”