Presuppositions of Assembly Truth8 min read
Coming to from understanding (1) that assembly truth exists and (2) that it is extremely important to understand, we now need to ask ourselves: on what basis must we study assembly doctrine in Scripture? The reason so many denominational differences exist today is because many have built their local church doctrine on the wrong foundation. This is where presuppositions come into our study. Basically, presuppositions are plain facts one assumes to be true before approaching a subject, and they will determine his conclusion on it. For instance, if one assumes that man has no sinful nature, then it would make sense in his mind that a criminal is only evil because of a traumatic childhood or such, thus making him inevitably evil, but not wilfully evil. But if one does assume man has a sinful nature, he knows the solution to criminal activity is not Freudian psychology, but the application of Scripture’s cure: either governmental punishment or salvation from sin. Because of presuppositions which were made, there would be no fruit in discussing possible solutions since the real issue is not targeted. The assumptions we make will always affect our conclusions. This is why they are so important. Thus, in studying the assembly, we need to start right, or else we will never finish on the same page. We must presuppose certain things to be true before studying the local church.
Presupposition #1: God’s House Must Be Ordered God’s Way
In First Timothy 3:15, Paul used a clause in writing to Timothy that should catch our attention: “These things I write unto you … that one might know how he must behave in the house of God.” It tells us first of all that there is a way to behave. It also tells us that the basis for that is Scripture. How simple! In a society that clouds our thinking by saying “All truth is valid,” it is nice to have something absolute for once. But there is more to it than that. Many would say “Of course I believe Scripture is the authority.” However, that doesn’t seem to show through in many denominations today. Think about what this really means.
- It means total Scriptural authority and sufficiency. In the assembly, before we ever hear the words “I think…” come from our lips we need to stand on a “Thus saith the Lord,” either from a Biblical principle, pattern, or precept. God is clear when He speaks. We really just need to listen, and it will be clear what we need to do.
- It also means we obey a statement regardless of how many times it is mentioned or said. When God speaks He is always right and authoritative. When He said “Let there be light,” there was no question as to the authority and truth behind the command. Why? God said it. Sadly we find ourselves with the attitude that if something is not a well-developed major doctrine, it becomes trivial. It should be obvious that this is our attempt to do as little as possible to get by when it comes to the assembly. How sad. But if we are really going to say Scripture is authority, all of it must hold the same authority, for God does not vary in how true He is at different times.
- It only follows, then, that no matter the size or subject of the statement, when God speaks at all on an issue, we are obligated to follow it since it is true. Sometimes Scripture only mentions a certain assembly practice in passing or in brief without too much development. Does that mean it becomes unnecessary to follow? Well, no, because that would imply God was arbitrary in breathing out Scripture. So then, when we see even seemingly small commands or patterns (both in size and in seriousness), let us not think that it is not for us. God did not say ‘oops’ when Scripture was penned; we shouldn’t pretend He did.
Presupposition #2: Man’s Wisdom and Personal Preference Is Irrelevant
“Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” This is a quote from 1 Corinthians 1, the first of three chapters which elaborate in great power the fact that we as assemblies and believers operate fully on God’s standards: everything else is foolishness. So then, we can really dismiss the idea of a seeker-sensitive church structure. But it means so much more. It means assembly government should not be based on a political model, as it is in many places. It means in assembly preaching we shouldn’t be concerned with the method advertisers would suggest, because God has His own perfect method of communicating His truth. It means we don’t try to get “numbers” to our gatherings by making it more attractive with music and decorations and whatever else might attract people. But these are just representative examples which could extent further. The main point is this: if by human logic what we see in Scripture doesn’t seem to be very efficient, let’s still be happy with Scripture. The natural mind has its own way of thinking that is contrary to God’s revealed pattern. We don’t need to feel obligated to satisfy that. We can rejoice in God’s method and leave it there. The assembly is not a place of pragmatism: it is a place of Divine revelation and pattern.
Presupposition #3: God’s Principles Are Timeless
Romans 15 says “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” In addition to that, in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul uses an obscure Old Testament law (“You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn”) to prove his point that a gospel worker should be financially supported. This tells us that God has absolute principles in His Word that remain true regardless of time period. Thus, though we are not under Law, we can look back in our studies to the Old Testament and the many places God’s tabernacle/temple is mentioned and apply that to the assembly as God’s house today. For example, when David says “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” we can be absolutely confident that this should be our attitude in the assembly. So then, when we look at passages from the Old Testament, let us not think they have no bearing on us today. On the contrary, we serve the same God with the same principles: the Old Testament is for us! This certainly broadens our range for understanding a proper attitude toward the local assembly.
Presupposition # 4: God Prescribes Assembly Truth in Different Ways
Why is it important to understand this? Because it will help us to interpret assembly truth. It means we will not always be looking for a “thou shalt” for everything we do in the assembly, because God has different methods in Scripture of conveying to us His design for our practice. Too many fall into the trap of thinking in a Law-based way, that is, always looking for “thou shalts” while claiming someone is legalistic for not supplying a direct command to support their convictions in the assembly. (Such is quite ironic, because it is actually more legalistic to say we need a list of “thou shalts” for the assembly than to say the assembly is based on principles as well as direct commands.) So then, what do we look to in Scripture as the assembly’s basis for its practices?
- Portrayal. This includes how the assembly is defined or approached by Scripture’s writers. It tells us what the assembly by nature is, which will always lead to an accurate knowledge of what the assembly does.
- Precepts. These are direct commands and are unmistakable in how they should be applied. It is obvious that we must listen to what God commands.
- Principles. These are timeless, general truths that can be applied to several different circumstances and also serve as the arbiter of choices which don’t seem to have direct reference in Scripture.
- Patterns. In the New Testament we sometimes see a reference to what an assembly did as its common practice, even though there isn’t necessarily a direct command associated with it. One example is “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” or Acts 2:41-42. While some patterns should no longer be used because of their time-specific nature, others should be authoritative since the early church’s practices were (1) assumed to be Biblical assembly practice (which is timeless) and (2) attached to apostolic authority.
Hopefully the simplicity and accuracy of these principles are clear, because it shouldn’t be difficult to study the Scriptural assembly. God isn’t secretive in revealing His pattern, but that doesn’t mean we will find that pattern regardless of our approach. Just as with all other Bible interpretation, there are certain principles that will guide our approach in understanding the assembly; and if we start with an approach that depends on man’s wisdom or preference, surely we will only end with a man-made organization. We want that which is from God, and so we must understand how to arrive at that. Thus, even though these principles are simple they are foundational. If we don’t get the foundation right, we can’t get the structure right. Let us be thankful, then, that we can have a clear trajectory for our studies. And let us be confident that studying Scripture in Scripture’s way will yield a clear pattern for God’s people. Will we aim for such a pattern?