Are the gatherings of the assembly merely traditions of the brethren or are they Scriptural?
It is paramount for any assembly of believers that young and old work together. In such a working relationship, new and old ideas will be suggested and reviewed. Because an idea is new, it is not necessary to implement it or because it is old it is not necessary to continue it. “We have always done it this way,” is not an answer when we are questioned about practices. We should weigh with care the source of our practices.
The Jews in the day of the Lord had traditions they lived by that were opposed to the teachings of Scripture; they nullified Scripture. To the Levitical laws, the Jewish rabbinical schools added many of their own teachings. The added teachings were condemned by our Lord. They chose their traditions at the expense of the commandments of God. In Matthew 15:3, the Lord said, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” and again in verse 6, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” From such a background came Saul of Tarsus who, in Galatians 1:14, said he was “exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” He could never forget the errors of those pre-conversion days, yet he chose the same word to describe the truth of God. In 1 Corinthians 11:2 he said “keep the ordinance” (traditions), and again in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” W. E. Vine defines tradition as “a handing down or on” which is exactly what the apostle Paul did. The truth the apostle received from the Lord was handed down or over to the believers, and subsequently handed down to believers today. The “traditions” of which Paul spoke are the very Word of God, not what men have added to the Scriptures. Our authority is the Word of God.
The New Testament identifies seven meetings of the assembly.
The Breaking Of Bread Meeting
The Lord Himself instituted this gathering when He took bread and a cup and gave thanks. We see the pattern at Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-42), and the practice at Troas (Acts 20:6-7). Paul waited a week in order to break bread with the assembly. The teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:23 was received by revelation from the Lord. The purpose seen in John 4 is that the Father seeks worshipers, and we worship in spirit and in truth. Worship is ascribed to God alone. The Lord said, “This do in remembrance of ME.” We muse upon Him. The Spirit said, “Ye do proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.” We tell once again of His limitless love, infinite suffering, and the eternal blessings of Calvary. The Scriptures always link the Lord’s Supper with an established assembly. We do not receive to the Lord’s Supper, rather we receive to the fellowship of the assembly. The breaking of bread is one of the privileges. We believe with all our heart, “He is in the midst,” and this is expressed by arranging the chairs in a circle. We must observe carefully the “within and without” of the assembly and provide room for the observer. Since Christ wants the first place in our heart’s affections, we give priority to this meeting. We meet early on the first day of the week. Does this meeting become just a habit or an empty form? Do we violate Scripture by gathering the first of each week to remember the Man who died for us? A thousand times, “no!” We come to present to the Father the Son in all of His glory, the blessed One who loved me and gave Himself for me.
The Prayer Meeting
“The day of Pentecost was fully come.” The Spirit descends, the gospel is preached, and souls are saved. The Spirit of God notes that these believers continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42). So the prayer meeting was not just for a few; all joined in the exercise of prayer. When we come to Acts 12, Peter is in prison, “but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (v. 5). It brought joy to the saints when their prayers were answered. The apostle Paul, instructing Timothy concerning the need at Ephesus, exhorts first of all regarding the prayer meeting (1 Tim 2). They were to be marked by supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, for all men in order that the saints might live godly lives. The male members of the assembly were to lead the company in prayer, marked by godliness and scriptural motives. If the prayer meeting is the powerhouse of the assembly, is our assembly marked by united prayer? Is it a priority? What about prayer meeting before the gospel meeting?
The Teaching Meeting
The ministry meeting or the Bible reading (1Co 14:26) is for the teaching of the saints. How can we know the mind of God for our lives and our assemblies? It is through a proper understanding of the Word of God. We need teaching from men who spend time with the Book, workmen approved of God. The teacher will be a patient husbandman, laboring in the Word. He will be a trusted steward, passing truth on to others. His teaching and example will stir the lambs to follow the blessed Master. Teaching should “edify and encourage, and comfort” the saints. This meeting is vital for the preservation and growth of the believers.
The Gospel Meeting
This meeting (1Th 1:8) will warm the hearts of the saints and stir them in love to Christ. Every spiritual revival began with a fresh appreciation of the gospel. The saints at Thessalonica were no exception when the apostle says, “For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord.” The believers had received the Word of God. It molded their lives and stirred them to make it known to others. What about our gospel meeting? Is it evident proper preparation was made for the meeting? Do we speak with a burden from the Lord? Do we shed tears, selflessly laboring for souls? When we present the gospel, state the truth simply: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Make sure the audience knows exactly what we are speaking about. We are trying to correct man’s faulty thinking about God, sin, and the way of salvation. Prove what we say from the living Word. Use illustrations as the Lord did. Spurgeon said, “Illustrations are like windows; they let in the light.” Apply the truth. Preach with reverence and simplicity, remembering that “God’s Word is like a hammer.”
The Elders’ Meeting
Elders are men raised up by the Holy Spirit of God to guide and shepherd the flock of God. They have been entrusted with that which is dear to the heart of God, His blood-bought people. They labor to meet the needs of the assembly and promote its harmony. Men of God today preserve and prepare the assembly for future usefulness. They meet regularly to consider the practical and spiritual needs of the assembly. This meeting is the only segregated meeting of the assembly (Acts 20:17-38). Spiritual exercise is necessary for believers to appreciate and lovingly respect the leadership of the company.
The Discipline Meeting
This is a sad, solemn, and most searching meeting, but it is absolutely necessary (1Co 5:4). When a deed has been done that is condemned by God, discipline must be carried out. “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, for ever” (Ps 93:5). He that is holy, He that is true, is in our midst. The assembly must be preserved in purity for God. This meeting will humble the saints, and cause all to mourn and fear lest they, too, grieve God. Remember that, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” But discipline is not the end. Men with shepherd hearts will manifest an interest in the erring one in view of restoration to the Lord and the assembly.
The Report Meeting
The church of God in Antioch was richly blessed with gifted servants, and the Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” The assembly would gladly have kept such useful men at home but, in harmony with the mind of the Spirit, sent them forth to preach Christ. Souls were saved and assemblies were established. Returning to Antioch, they met with the assembly to recount how God had worked (Acts 14:26-28). This is a report meeting. Barnabas and Saul did not consider themselves independent of their brethren. They were careful to maintain the same harmony with the assembly that was evident at the beginning. Today, it is a privilege to hear of God’s work in the salvation of souls and the establishment of testimonies to His Name, both at home and in distant lands.
We have noted that assembly gatherings that are sometimes called “traditions” are practices based on the authority of Scripture. If you hear someone referring to the practices of the assembly as traditions, don’t be afraid to direct them to the Word of God. Brethren, “be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”