The Local Assembly
The local assembly is one of the single most important entities in the believer’s life. Knowing what it means to be part of a company of believers gathered in the Lord’s name is indispensable. Too often believers take for granted what it means to “go to church,” and yet they have never looked into these truths from Scripture for themselves. Over the course of several weeks, Inside the Bible: Weekly posted articles on the basics of the local assembly. They separate into five parts which, after having been read, the reader will have a Scriptural understanding of what it means to be part of a local church – the way God meant it. The articles below are free to copy and print and distribute providing the readers of the printed materials know where they come from. A suggested method of printing would be to paste the link into www.printfriendly.com.
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BIBLICAL PILLARS OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
An Introduction to the Local Church
The local church is one of the single most vital elements in the believer’s life. In the Old Testament, more Scripture was devoted to the building of the Tabernacle than to the whole of Creation, telling us that the house of God is precious and essential in His eyes, as it should be in ours. In the New Testament, several epistles were written specifically to deal with problems in and teaching regarding the local church. It is also interesting that the Scriptures dealing with what happened in the Tabernacle were greater in number than that which dealt with the building of it. Teaching regarding God’s house is utterly essential. Being without clear doctrine regarding these issues would be like trying to stay holy in God’s presence without the guidelines in Leviticus. It would be devastating (are not Nadab and Abihu proof of this?), as it would also be devastating to claim to be part of true assembly of believers when that assembly doesn’t follow Scripture. If we don’t study these doctrines for ourselves, the results can be and will be destructive to the people for whom Christ died.
And so, we must establish foundational truth regarding these matters. With Scripture guiding us, we will study God-given foundations for the subject at hand. Truly we can say with the Psalmist: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). The world will try to destroy these precious truths and minimize their importance; our responsibility is to reverse their efforts. We must hold fast to truth, for truth is of the Lord.
The Foundations of the Local Church: The Person and Position of Christ
Unless an assembly recognizes the position of Christ and His significance, it will fall apart. We will examine Scriptures regarding His centrality, His presence, His Headship, His Lordship, and Who He should be to every assembly of believers.
His Centrality: First Corinthians 3:11 says that Christ is the foundation of each local church. In light of this, we are to build upon it with righteous “materials” as it were. If an assembly loses sign of the foundation, the work of Christ, those in it can never properly build upon it. Therefore, if Christ is not central, the foundation can never remain strong; but what is built upon it will collapse when the winds of trial and affliction blow our way.
His Presence: Matthew 18:15-20 describes how to deal with a brother in Christ who sins. In the course of addressing this, the Lord brings up a seed concept as to the local assembly and the basis of its gathering. When the assembly gathers together unto His name (unto His authority / identified by the name above all names), the Lord Jesus is Himself in the midst. He is present. We must gather unto His name, for only then is the promise of His presence ours. The purpose of God’s house is to be His dwelling place. How can we claim to be God’s house if we do not have Christ in the midst and by extension if we are not gathering unto His name at the start?
His Headship: Ephesians 5:23 describes Christ as being the Head of the Church, that is, the body of Christ. In the local church context, we see that 1 Corinthians 11:3 also describes Christ as the Head of every male – showing Divine order. (We will describe Headship in a later section). When headship is not carried out in every assembly, (how? See 1 Cor 11:5,6; 1 Cor 14:34,35; 1 Tim 2:9-15) the very Person of Christ in relation to the assembly is compromised. As well as that, divine order will be subjected to fallen man’s wisdom: the latter part of Acts 5 shows the folly of such a notion.
His Lordship: While headship is a truth regarding position and roles, Lordship is a truth regarding authority and rule. 118 times is the phrase ‘Lord Jesus” found, including the 85 times we see the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ.” Col. 2:6, Eph. 3:11, 2 Cor. 15:31, 1 Cor. 9:1, 1 Cor 1:9 – these all speak of Jesus Christ as being Lord, not only to Paul who wrote those verses, but to the churches to whom he was writing. It is not commanded, but assumed that Jesus Christ is Lord among the churches. It must be a truth assumed amongst our gatherings. Without the Lordship of Christ, there is no reason to obey, no reason to carry out doctrine, no foundation for doctrine, and everything collapses. Where Christ is not Lord, the local assembly gatherings simply become a social event. There is no gathering to His name where there is no Lordship.
His Revelation to the Churches: The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 each contain a description of Christ, allowing us insight as to our attitude toward Him as an assembly.
- To Ephesus: He is the One who holds the seven stars (angels of the churches) in His right hand and Who walks in the midst of them. These are truths of His ownership and presence in each assembly.
- To Smyrna:He is the First and the Last, the living One Who was dead. He is the Almighty Jehovah – the God of life.
- To Pergamos:He is the holder of the sharp sword, showing His right to judge each lenient assembly.
- To Thyatira:He is the Son of God with eyes as flames of fire and feet as fine brass, showing His “piercing vision and… threatened judgment,” as William MacDonald puts it.
- To Sardis:He is the One holding the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.
- To Philadelphia:He is the One holy and true, having the key of David (His right to Kingship), being able to open and close doors that cannot be altered by man.
- To Laodicea:He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Beginning (Originator) of God’s creation.
Considering the wide range of subject matter regarding Christ, who is He to us? If these foundational truths are not held by a gathering which claims to be a church, it cannot rightly be called a Biblical assembly. Christ is central.
The Foundations of the Local Church: The Peculiarity of the Assembly
Ekklesia: The word ekklesia is a Greek word for “church,” formed from the words ek (out of) and kaleō (call), which gives it the meaning “called-out.” From this knowledge, a local church would better be called an assembly; it too is quite clear that the church is a people, not a building. We learn three things from this word:
- The assembly is a people called out fromamong the world. (Thus, we do not adopt their motives, messages, or methods.)
- The assembly is a people called toa specific purpose and gathered to a specific Person (Matt 18:20). (Thus we have a specific purpose and authority)
- The assembly is a specific people. (Thus: 1. If one is a member of the assembly, he cannot pretend that they are still complete without his full participation. 2. There must be a distinct inside and outside of fellowship for it to remain a distinct entity. 3. It cannot be just another group of believers gathered for any purpose.)
God’s Presence: (Matthew 18:20) The assembly is also distinct because of the truth of God’s presence within it. Think of it: a simple group of believer’s gathering to Christ’s name are actually gathering with the very Saviour in the midst! This is not a privilege for anybody at any time, but it is for a certain people gathering specifically to Him. The assembly must be unique.
Fellowship with Heaven: Matthew 18:18 describes a fellowship with the actions of Heaven, and it is in the context of the local church. Despite a world living contrary to God in every way, each assembly is unique, because it acts within God’s will – in fellowship with Heaven itself. In fact, God even grants authority to it to act on His behalf at times. If we don’t realize our peculiarity, preciousness, and position before God, many assembly activities will be done with the wrong focus.
The Foundations of the Local Church: The Purpose of the Assembly
When it comes to the purpose of the local assembly, it is essential to know, understand, and fulfill its purpose. We are not left with what a church is, but we are given instruction as to what it does and stands for. What then is its purpose?
To be a Pillar and Ground of the Truth: This is found in 1 Timothy 3:15. A pillar is a foundational piece of a structure; it is designed to uphold something. A ground is a basis on which something is. Truth – what is truth? “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” (Jn. 14:6). “…the King of Heaven, whose works are truth.” (Dan. 4:37) “Thy Word is Truth.” (Jn. 17:17). “For all the promises of God are yea, and in Him amen (true), unto the glory of God by us.” (2 Cor. 1:20). The Local assembly in a collective aspect is to uphold truth, because its foundation is Christ. This is not a responsibility allocated to one pastor or a head elder, but the whole of the church.
If our purpose is to be the basis of truth, this tells us three things:
- The assembly is the basis and upholder of truth – how profound! If there is a seeker of truth, where should he go? To the Word and to the local assembly.
- If God wants the assembly to be an integral part of His truth, we can know that each assembly is an essential part of His purposes.
- If we are to uphold truth, this means an assembly is responsible and accountable to compromise nothing. To compromise is to show disregard for the Word of God and the Person of Christ, for they are the embodiment of God’s divine revelation.
To be a local Testimony: In Revelation 2:5, the assembly in Ephesus was referred to as a lamp-stand, which of course was in the context of the Lord judging the assembly if it failed to repent. When we typically think of a lamp-stand, the image in our minds is a lit lamp on a corner, guiding pedestrians and drivers around the streets. In the same sense, the assembly is a lamp-stand which directs both sinners and saints alike to Truth. We are a testimony, shining light into the darkness of this world. Now, much could be exhausted from Scripture regarding what and how we testify; however, these truths can also be exhausting to read. In brief, we are a testimony of Truth and of light, whether regarding the gospel, the truth of Scripture, the truth of the Scriptural assembly, etc. We are not only responsible to uphold truth, but to broadcast it. May God help us to faithfully do so in a local church setting.
THE BIBLICAL PATTERN OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
The Importance of a Pattern
Concerning the house of God, in Exodus 28:9, the Lord said, “According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the Tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof – even so shall ye make it.” God’s holy presence demands holiness to enter; and therefore, it is the responsibility of every one entering to do it right. This is where the pattern comes in.
Today, in the local assembly, when we gather together in the Lord’s name, He is with us. Though we are not under Law, though we will not be consumed for entering His presence slightly wrong, we are as much in His presence as in the holiest place of the Tabernacle. We must enter the place right. The pattern is God’s Word: it must always be our basis. Why? It is of the Lord. Scripture says “Unless the Lord build the house, them that labor labor in vain.” Our own wisdom is no match for God’s prescription: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
The Development of an Assembly
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-12, there is seen numerous steps to how the assembly in Corinth was formed. In a nutshell: 1). There was the truth of the gospel – Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. 2). There were laborers chosen by God for the work of the gospel. 3). There was a gospel preached. 4). There were a people saved. 5). There was a local gathering of people who stood firm in the gospel.
From each of these progression steps, we see a lesson of what it takes to see an assembly established…
- The gospel is foundational in every sphere of the Christian life, whether in gospel preaching or in the assembly and its teaching. Unless the person of Christ is the foundation (1 Cor 3), there will be no building of God.
- As with any purpose of God, He sets apart certain men to be used in the fulfillment of those purposes. Without the calling of competent, spiritual, godly laborers to the harvest fields, there will not be much of a harvest.
- Seeing an assembly formed in a new area will require hard, passionate gospel work. Not only that, but work of the right method. God has ordained the public heralding of the cross as His method for communicating the gospel. We must be faithful to that method if we expect to see genuine results.
- When God desires to see an assembly called out in a new area, He will bless in salvation. Souls will be saved.
- Finally, after many long efforts to establish foundations (the gospel) for an assembly, when the people come together in the Lord’s name as a company of baptized believers with a permanent outlook in mind, there is an assembly; and that assembly is responsible to stand firm in the doctrines of Scripture.
The Description of an Assembly
The Pattern of Acts 2
After an assembly is formed, there is a basic pattern which it follows – the pattern of Acts 2:41-42
Verse 41 – “Then they which gladly received his word (were saved, the good soil) were baptized, and the same day were added unto them [the church of Jerusalem] about three-thousand souls.” As we can see, there was a great harvest of souls at this event. There were a people who repented and received God’s Word for what it was – they were saved, the number one prerequisite for assembly fellowship. Then they were baptized, openly professing amongst a godless people their identity with Christ – the number two prerequisite for assembly fellowship. Afterward, there was an assembly formed, and those who were received into the church had the characteristics of verse 42.
Verse 42 – “Then they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” This is the nutshell truth of an assembly’s pattern. Here are keys which we can take away from this verse:
- “They continued steadfastly.” This gives us a model attitude which should be held by each believer, especially in fellowship of the local church. This is an attitude of wholehearted desire to continue in constant diligence doing what the people of God were called to. Do we have zeal for the house of God? Are we passionate about the doctrines of it?
- “in the apostles’ doctrine,” These zealous believers didn’t continue in a pattern of a political organization or a business, but in God’s unique revelation of what a local church should be. We must never add to or take from what God has revealed though His apostles of old.
- “and in fellowship,” These believers continued in fellowship with the apostles teachings and with others of like faith. In the assembly, there is a unique fellowship that cannot be had with the world or even in some Christian circles because of the difference of teaching. The three spheres of this fellowship are as follows: 1). With Scripture. 2). With other believers. 3). With other assemblies.
- “in the breaking of bread,” The Lord’s Supper must be held highly by the assembly; it must be a priority and thus a weekly observance. Acts 20:7 – “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them…”
- “and in prayers.” The assembly must hold collective prayer highly. 1 Timothy 2:8 – “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
The Meetings of an Assembly
Where there is a local church, there are meetings carried out by it. (Otherwise, why is it there?) The meetings are as follows: The Lord’s Supper, the Prayer meeting, the Teaching meeting, the Gospel meeting, the Missionary meeting, the Discipline meeting, and the Elders meeting.
The Lord’s Supper is not only a pattern (Acts 2:42) found in the New Testament; but when it was instituted, the Lord Jesus established it as a command (1 Cor 11:24,25). This meeting, therefore, is of special significance because of the manner in which it is dealt; and we, then must also know its significance and pattern.
Its purpose, first of all, is simply this: “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew forth the Lord’s death until He come.” It is a testimony to the world of our hope, it is a reminder to us of our hope, and it is an act of worship which glorifies the Lord in His great work.
Its picture is seen in the emblems of the bread and wine. The bread speaks of His body – the sacrifice and suffering of it. The wine speaks of His blood shed, which brings us into the benefits of His new covenant (testament) of grace.
Its pattern is seen in the following characteristics: 1). The Breaking of Bread is associated with prayer and thanksgiving (Luke 22:17). 2). The Breaking of Bread is associated with teaching (Luke 22:19-30) and singing (Mark 14:26). 3). The Breaking of Bread occurred on the first day of the week (every week) (Acts 20:7). 4). The Breaking of Bread is only for those who eat and drink worthily (1 Cor 11:28); one must examine himself before taking part. There is a clear distinction between those who take part and those who cannot.
The Prayer Meeting of the assembly is seen in Acts 12:5, when the church came together to pray for Peter in his dire position. Furthermore, we see in Acts 2:42; 6:4 that the desire of the early church was to pray together.
Prayer takes on these forms: supplication (bringing requests to God), thanksgiving/praise (returning blessing to God), and intercession (prayer for another).
Prayer includes these elements: the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev 1:6,5:16) (every prayer in the assembly is made as if the whole assembly was praying the same), the intercession of the Spirit (Rom. 8:26,27) (though our prayers may be feeble, our requests are as bold as ever through the Spirit.), and consistency (1 Thess. 5:17) (“Pray without ceasing”).
Hopefully, these brief points will establish the fact that prayer is vital and expected. If an assembly is not an assembly of prayer, it is a people without strength; and since is is the people making up the church, we must see it as our own responsibility to support the meetings of prayer both by presence and participation (audibly by the brethren). Having been united doctrinally and practically (Acts 2:42), whether prayer of thanksgiving/worship, prayer for believers, prayer for leaders, prayer for the gospel, etc., we have a responsibility to participate as an assembly.
The Teaching Meeting is found as a pattern all throughout the New Testament, whether it be Paul’s teaching elders/churches or the churches themselves being seen teaching and holding fast to doctrine. Acts 6:4 refers to this as “ministry of the Word.” This ministry can take on different forms of teaching: practical teaching, doctrinal/informational teaching, and encouragement. Because doctrine is the basis for behavior and encouragement, a ministry message should be based on Scriptural exposition of truth which will usually flow into very encouraging and practical teaching.
The teaching in an assembly is vital; for without it, we have a group of believers without spiritual food. Though we are responsible to feed ourselves in personal communion, there must be a collective feeding on the Word. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”John 17:17 “Sanctify them by thy truth; thy Word is truth.” The early verses of 1 Timothy 6 also lay out that Scriptural teaching is the basis for assembly unity: false teaching is what produces strife.
The Gospel Meeting. The gospel is the very foundation of the local assembly, and if the assembly loses sight of its foundation, it will soon crumble. First Corinthians 15 elaborates on this:
“(1) Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; (2) By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (3) For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; (4) And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”
The gospel meeting being carried out is seen in 1 Thessalonians 1:8. The Thessalonians went out amongst various regions to preach: they literally were part of an outreach. The assembly should be a people tremendously concerned with Biblical gospel work, and we should be marked by its preaching. It is not a Biblical practice to combine believer’s teaching with focused gospel preaching. When we miss the gospel, we miss the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor 1:8). Both collectively and individually, we must be a people of the gospel; yet sadly even the cults seem to be more diligent at times. How sad. With a dying world and a corrupt religious system, how vital it is to preach the gospel and to preach it right! As an assembly, it is the responsibility of the believers to preach with the correct method, a consistent message, and a competent messenger. Scriptural preaching is a sign of God’s wisdom being carried out in the assembly: to neglect it would be a sign of worldliness creeping in (1 Corinthians 1).
The Missionary Meeting, along with the next two meetings, are not as common as the previous four. This meeting is taken up by a laborer in the gospel, as we see with Paul and the assembly in Antioch (Acts 14:26). What is its purpose?
- To inform local assemblies of the work of their laborers. There is a special relationship between the worker and those supporting him.
- To encourage assemblies in the work of the Lord and to glorify Him for the provision in the field of labor.
- To challenge churches to be diligent in gospel work.
It is clear that this meeting is vital; if the Lord does a work in saving souls, he should receive the glory for it.
The Elders Meeting is seen in Acts 20:17-38 as we see Paul giving farewell exhortations to the elders specifically (the elders of Ephesus). This meeting was characterized by an encouragement to continue feeding the flock as well as a warning to watch for wolves, either amongst the flock or amongst the overseers. It was closed with prayer. For elders, and at times laborers, to discuss the things and issues of the assembly is vital; there must be a unity in guiding the flock, which these meetings would seek to achieve.
Finally, we have the Discipline Meeting, which is found in 1 Corinthians 5 and in Matthew 18 regarding a rebellious brother who offends another brother. First Timothy 5:20 “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” Titus 3:10 “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.”
Sins requiring discipline include the following: fornication, covetousness, idolatry, railing, (frequent) drunkenness, extortion. A majority of these refer to those who have a habit/lifestyle of idolatry, railing, etc.
- These sins must be dealt with by God; but in the assembly God judges no man, because He gives that responsibility to the elders when it comes to less-consequential sin. In order to have God work, one must be put out of the assembly (see1 Cor. 5:12,13).
- It preserves assembly testimony.
- The assembly must be preserved from wolves and sin. In order to preserve it, those causing the assembly to crumble must be put out of it.
- Assembly discipline allows for proper restoration
2 Thessalonians 3:14,15 tells us to discipline, but yet to remain loving and brotherly to the one disciplined. Discipline preserves the assembly, yet allows for a believer to be restored to it after brotherly admonition. Too often, churches neglect discipline, causing disastrous results. Without discipline, though there be one more in number, there will soon be no assembly for any member to be part of. These are serious matters and ones that we should be sobered by.
The Display in an Assembly
“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that 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: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” 1Corinthians 11:1-15
This section is vital, for it is neglected by far to many churches. This is the teaching of Headship and the head covering, found in the above passage, as well as others . Many raise objections to it. Many are undecided about it. And some would say that this applies at all times. What does Scripture teach? If what is going to be presented is new to you, please read with Scriptural discernment. If Scripture contradicts these writings, they should be totally discounted. But if the only contradictions to these paragraphs are denominational teaching, and they cannot be directly found in Scripture, then something is seriously wrong with the way many interpret Scripture.
Firstly, let us look at some comments regarding this doctrine. (Please keep in mind that these quotes are not individual attacks on the authors themselves). “The matter of wearing hats or head coverings, though seemingly insignificant, had become a big problem, because two cultural backgrounds were colliding.” (Life Application Study Bible note on 1 Corinthians 11:3ff) “Specifically, there was a problem with women’s hats. Hats? Yes hats! It sounds silly to our culture, but it was a big issue in that time and place – and not as silly you might think…. If a woman was seen bareheaded, she was immediately identified as a prostitute, one of the temple prophetesses….” (Adventuring Through the Bible p. 580, by Ray Stedman, ©1997, Discovery House Publishers). Are these objections so obvious and biblical?
The issue of culture is widespread today; however, we must realize that there was no mention at all of these temple prostitutes at all in the surrounding chapters of 1 Corinthians 11. In fact, Paul never even alludes to this issue, but instead gives a straightforward reason for why he wrote regarding this. If an attack is going to be made on the head covering, it must be made on a proper basis. That basis is this: “The head of every woman is the male; the head of every male is Christ, and the Head of Christ is God.” Is it cultural that the head of every man is Christ?
Furthermore, if chapter 11 is cultural, we run into serious problems. If merely this chapter is cultural, all of the epistle is. If this is not the case, how do we define what is cultural and what is not, seeing as we have no identifiers in Scripture? The book cannot be cultural, for in it are the vital doctrines of the assembly. First Corinthians 4:17 says: “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.” Secondly, we see in 1:2 that the Corinthians were identified with all the other churches that call upon the name of the Lord. Thirdly, we see in 11:2 Paul commending the believers for practicing the teaching he delivered to them. Fourthly and most importantly, we see in 14:37 that “the things that I write unto you are the commandment of the Lord.”… If Corinthians is cultural, every epistle to the churches is cultural, because Paul clearly states that he taught these doctrines universally. How sad if we were left without church doctrine because it is all cultural!
Regarding the other extreme which states that women should cover their heads at all times to allow for “pray[er] without ceasing,” this is not the context of the passage. Firstly, this would also mean men could never be covered. Secondly, this is in the context of the local church gathering, as we see in verses 17-34.
Now we must look at the passage for its doctrinal significance. Compare this passage (1 Cor. 11) with Ephesians 5:22-27 and 1 Timothy 2 – these show us the significance of Headship both in the universal church and in the local assembly. In Ephesians we see Christ as the head of the Body, giving a pattern for husbands and wives in that Body. In 1 Timothy 2:7-15, we see Headship brought to a local assembly setting. Specifically, Paul commands males to pray in every local church, but commands the females to learn in silence with all submission. 1 Corinthians 14 elaborates further on this by saying unmistakably “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
Scriptural Headship actually goes back to Creation (1 Tim 2:13-14). God’s pattern for nature was that man be the head; that is why God specifically gave Adam the instructions in Genesis 2 before Eve was created, though technically under Adam’s headship she was included in that instruction giving. But in chapter 3, we see Eve usurping authority over Adam by taking the fruit, not submitting herself to her husband. (Adam also broke God’s pattern by allowing Eve to be deceived and take the fruit. He didn’t protect her). Imagine – the whole fall of humanity would have been prevented (at least at that point) if only proper headship was maintained. This gives a whole new aspect to the importance of the subject.
And so, in 1 Corinthians 11, we see what this pattern should be in the assembly: Women → her head: man → his Head: Christ → Christ’s Head: God. This is not an issue of inferiority or rights by any means (all rights were forsaken at the cross), but of willful submission and Heavenly order. Therefore, there are two physical elements clearly laid out which display Headship in the assembly as Adam and Eve should have upheld in the beginning: the head covering and the silence of sisters. When these two ordinances are rejected, Who the very person of Christ is to the Church becomes compromised; these are essential! When a beloved sister not only enters the assembly without a head covering but holds a position of teaching, she not only dishonors God and man, but herself. It is a privilege to uphold what God holds precious; and therefore, taking the Godly place of submission is a precious privilege. It is the pattern we see in Christ. Much more could be said about the person of the Lord Jesus, but now we will look at answers to some questions that may arise:
- Is the hair in 1 Cor. 11:5that is given for a covering the covering which she should wear in assembly gatherings?
- If women are to be silent, why does Paul say “Every women that prays or prophesies”?
- To what extent does the sister’s silence go?
- How are we to understand verse 10, where it speaks of the angels?
The Covering: Hair or a Hat?
Regarding the first question, we must realize two things: 1). If the hair is the covering, every man in the local church gatherings would have to be bald. 2). Verse 6 of chapter 11 says “If the woman be not covered, let her be shorn (or ‘she might as well be shaved’)” If the hair is the covering, this would not make sense. Otherwise, this is what Paul would be saying: “If the women be not covered (without hair), let her hair (that she doesn’t have) be shorn.” If she did not have her hair in the first place, this would be quite contradictory.
However, in verse 15, the word “for” in the phrase “for a covering” can be translated “instead of.” Does this mean the hair is supposed to replace the need for a hat/veil? In other passages, we see that the word is translated based on the context (SeeMk. 10:45; Ac. 12:23; Eph. 5:31; and Heb. 12:2). In this context, because the hair cannot be the covering described earlier in chapter 11, the word could legitimately be translated “for.”
Furthermore, if the word “for” is in fact better translated “instead of,” there is a purpose for that. Because it is a shame for a woman to be bald, there must be a covering to hide her from shame. Instead of a continual veil/hat being on the woman’s head, God gave her beautiful hair to not only cover the shame, but to be a glory for her. This is why it is God’s desire that the hair isn’t shortened, but rather allowed growth to the extent that He allows – this is God’s method of preserving beloved sisters from shame. The covering of the hair (v. 15) and the covering for the head (v. 5) are not only in different contexts, but they are different also in the original Greek (kephalē as opposed to paribolaion). We must not confuse the two coverings.
To Speak or not to Speak?
Concerning the second question, how can we reconcile 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“Every woman that prays or prophesies…..”) and 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 / 2 Timothy 2:8-14 (“I suffer not a woman to speak”)? Firstly, we must not do what sadly many do with Scripture: many will throw away the clearly-stated doctrine of a sister’s role because of one phrase. It is as if they choose which phrase they want and stick with it, because it is easier to explain to the world which is all about equality and such. Scripture does not contradict, nor was it meant to be obscure. When two passages seemingly conflict, we must never take an interpretation merely because it is the easier alternative.
However, thankfully, we are not left without answers. There are three very good explanations for this:
1). The Corinthians were carnal, and Paul needed to speak simply for them for their understanding (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Perhaps because women were carnally speaking in assembly gatherings, Paul started from that to give basis for the head covering in the context of public meetings. Then later on, he addressed the issue specifically of women speaking (1 Cor. 14:34,35). We must remember context. It is not unthinkable that a concept would be introduced here that would be clarified and modified later so the flow could be maintained. For instance John 4:1 says that Jesus baptized, while the next verse clarifies by saying “(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples).” The last word had the final word, because it was used to give context to the passage. This could very well be the case with 1 Corinthians 11 and 14.
2). The phrase “praying or prophesying” would very fittingly be a Greek synecdoche. A synecdoche is a literary device in which the whole is described by one of its distinguishing parts. Thus since an assembly meeting is distinguished by praying and prophesying (preaching), this phrase would stand for a public meeting in which the assembly is gathered. Thus the focus would be on the public nature of the context, rather than what the men and women were actually doing in it.
3). Perhaps this refers to the priesthood of all believers (Rev. 5:10 / 1 Peter 5:5,9). With men praying and speaking for God as His oracles, they are literally doing that on behalf of the assembly. In God’s eyes, with the man speaking and acting as a priest, the sisters were praying/prophesying with the men, yet in silence. With these reasons there is utterly no basis on which to compromise the clear teaching of Scripture.
What if the sister does speak/teach? Firstly, the sister brings shame not only to herself, but to the whole of the assembly (1 Cor. 14:35). Secondly, disobedience is practiced which is sin; the whole church will also suffer from this.
Our sisters in the assembly are a vital part! Without them, there could be no assembly. Their position is vital; and when one compromises that, thinking she will be in a more privileged place, she actually is in a less-privileged place. She does herself a great disservice. It is a beautiful thing in the sight of God to see Godly sisters willingly being modest and submitting to God’s will. This is something unique in the world, yet it is essential. It shows Heavenly, God-ordained order. We must not neglect that.
How Far Does the Silence Go?
If it is so clear that sisters are to be silent in the assembly meetings, how far does this go? Some would say that women have no part, not even in singing. However, this is not the case; for Scripture never condemns this. (Actually, Ephesians 5 says we sing one to another as an assembly when we do. This obviously is completely collective and thus includes sisters.) Rather, the emphasis is always on taking part in things which usurp authority, whether it be praying, preaching, or anything dealing with an assembly meeting. Perhaps if the issue is song-leading, one might perhaps have a more Scriptural basis for that; but it must never turn into legalism. Whatever the issue is, we must ask “Does this deal with assembly authority?”
What About the Angels?
In 11:10, we see two elements in the head covering that may be confusing: 1). We see the phrase “power on the head.” This simply refers to the woman’s sign of her authority; the authority is the man, and the covering is the sign. 2). “because [on account of] of the angels.” Some say this refers to the watching of the assembly by angels; the head covering would then be to satisfy the angel’s desire to see Heavenly order restored, unlike in most places. This would also teach angels what true Heavenly order is, reminding them of the seriousness of Satan’s fall and such. Some also say this refers to the angels who fell and rebelled against God; instead of rejecting God’s authority in the assembly, we embrace it. The Preachers Homelitical Commentary points out that this rests on whether these were good or bad angels. It says the general use of “angels” refers to good angels, unless specifically pointed out. Either way, the subject of angels only gives more accountability for the use of the head covering. Perhaps our attitude would be different if we understood that a literal unseen audience is watching each assembly meeting and even learning from it.
As a conclusion to the subject of Headship, we must realize that this is not a matter of rights, but of giving Christ the rightful place in the assembly. Too often, believers interpret Scripture based on books and sermons, yet don’t give time to meditating on these truths themselves. The thing with Scripture is that its truth is available to every believer through the Spirit. One does not have to read books or commentaries in order to interpret the Word of God. What interpretation do we come to on a simple reading of God’s Word? We would have to admit that we don’t see many objections some would raise regarding Headship in Scripture. They are opinion and western culture train-of-thought, not Scripture. If you as the reader do not agree with the doctrines presented in the previous pages, please don’t go to books or sermons or websites. Gain a Biblical conviction based solely on God’s Word. This is the true test of a doctrine.
The Death of an Assembly
When it comes to the sad truth of the death of an assembly, we must be very diligent to remember it. Through much labor the assembly is founded; through little work the assembly is failing. Unless the Lord decides an assembly (still with its dignity and purity) should no longer continue on, this is a heart-breaking affair. And so, in the hopes of preventing this by God’s grace, we will look at some characteristics of an assembly on the road to this end… and how to avoid them.
Promoting an Assembly’s Downfall
Firstly, we see an example of a church that would be uprooted by the Lord in Revelation 2. This was an assembly regarding which many of God’s people would say, “What a great church!” They labored, they tested false prophets, they hated compromise, etc. – these are things we must have in an assembly. Yet there was one thing which nearly made the assembly lose its whole testimony: they left their initial love for the Lord Jesus Christ. When an assembly loses heartfelt worship, and when it loses zeal for Christ’s sake, it is in a frightening position before God.
Secondly, assemblies can be ruined by contention: legalism and pride. When God’s people strive within the fellowship, if it is not dealt with, eventually hearts will be immensely grieved, assemblies will divide, resentment will arise, etc. How sad it is when the most precious gathering on earth is ruined by our ego! Galatians 5:15 “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
Thirdly, if one wants to destroy an assembly, he can take on these characteristics: laziness, spiritual weakness, compromise, and a lukewarm attitude. 1 Corinthians 12 shows us the affect which a single member can have on the whole assembly. This is certainly a principle we need to consider when it comes to a lack of spirituality. Laziness can be seen in one who makes the assembly meetings a secondary part of life or when one when some have no participation when they are fully able, yet unprepared. Weakness describes the one without the strength to stand firm in Biblical convictions, because he is not in the Word. Compromise is all too common, for it is seen in those too common with the world and its ways. A lukewarm spirit is one neither with zeal nor resentment for the things of God, but with an indifference to the people of God. Scripture repeatedly condemns these characteristics, and not without reason. We must be extremely careful to refrain from these characteristics: they have caused assembly downfall, and they will again. A vital lesson to learn is this: assemblies do not only dissolve over legalism. Compromise has shown this result, too, because if people do not see the assembly as God’s gathering-place, they will find no problem forsaking it and gathering unto a different name, a different denomination with more entertainment and such.
Preserving an Assembly’s Dignity
How, then, do we remain strong? It is said that there is strength in numbers (Ecc. 4:12), and this is all the more true in God’s house, the assembly. God’s people must be unified – unified in repentance from the above dangers and unified in holding fast to the truth. We must be unified in theme, purpose, attitude, etc. For “Behold! How good and hose pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). So often we do not dwell in unity, but instead are willing to fight “to the death” merely to defend our position. We just have to be right. Or do we? And so we have questions each assembly must ask itself; since individuals make up the assembly, we must ask ourselves these questions:
…Are we willing to admit wrong?
…Are we willing to bear defraudment if it will preserve from strife?
…Are we willing to turn from it?
…How fast do we hold to truth?
…How important is our first love?
…How important is a pattern to us?
BIBLICAL PRACTICES OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
A Precious Entity: An Active Assembly
To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote these words (in the context of our hope of resurrection): “Therefore [remembering our hope] brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58). It is beautiful – is it not? – when a group of believers remains faithful in the Lord’s work because of an overflowing love that drives them. It is truly precious to see an assembly active for the Lord. We see lessons in the context, the command, and the confidence in the verse above.
The Context of the chapter is resurrection truth: Paul gives a defense of the gospel, Christ’s resurrection, and our resurrection. It sets forth truth of death’s defeat; the point being: we are free from both sin and death’s power! We are now sons of God, able to bear eternal fruit and store up Heavenly treasure. Hebrews 10:34 describes our hope: “…knowing in yourselves that ye have in Heaven a better and an enduring substance.” What incentive to serve!
The Command of the verse is a pattern for service. Service is to be constant, faithful, and firm. How often do we serve? Is service our lifestyle? How willingly do we serve? How willing would we be to give it up if it were an option? O may we learn to appreciate the work of the Lord!
The Confidence in our service is this truth: the work we do cannot be in vain when it is in the Lord. What an incentive to serve; what an incentive to appreciate His work. As part of an assembly, we must be faithful, because this work which He allows us to accomplish is precious. And so may we learn to apply what we will consider regarding the practices of the local assembly.
The Exercising of Spiritual Gifts
The common passage regarding spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12. There are several foundational truths we find in this chapter. And so, we will look at the following truths:
- The importance of teaching on spiritual gifts.
- The Trinity and spiritual gifts.
- The use of spiritual gifts.
- Diversity in spiritual gifts.
- Unity through spiritual gifts.
The Importance of Teaching on Spiritual Gifts
In the first verse, we see Paul’s opening statement to these subjects: “Now concerning (as I address this important issue in the church) spiritual gifts, my brethren, I would not have you ignorant (because they are vital to understand).” The Apostle Paul also wrote regarding spiritual gifts in three other places: it is a vital doctrine. If an assembly does not know the doctrines regarding these things, there will be disuse (no gifts being encouraged), misuse (confusion regarding Scriptural use), and abuse (using “gifts” for self-edification – evidenced by the charismatic movement). If we misunderstand these things, the results can be disastrous for God’s assembly.
The Trinity and Spiritual Gifts
“But there are distinctions of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are distinctions of services, and the same Lord; and there are distinctions of operations, but the same God who operates all things in all.” – 1 Cor. 12:4-6 (Darby)
Here we see first of all the fact that each Person of the Godhead is actively involved in the use of spiritual gifts in the assembly. It tells us (1) that no member of the assembly has reason to boast since his specific grace to fulfill his call was given sovereignly by God, (2) that those gifts and services and operations would show themselves to work as one since it is the same God ruling each, and (3) that the true power for all of these things came from Divine power and wisdom that goes beyond our human abilities.
The Use of the Gift
In verse seven of our chapter, we see the simple, solemn purpose of the gift: to profit (in the context of the assembly). This truth is further elaborated upon in chapter 14. If we do not desire to use our spiritual gift, if there is no nurturing of that gift, or if that gift is used for reasons of pride, the assembly is done a great disservice. If one has no desire to “profit withal,” by default, though perhaps unconsciously, he will certainly cause loss for God’s house. How sad, yet how common it is.
Diversity in Gifts
Another element in spiritual gifts is the fact that believers differ in their gifts. Some are fit for teaching; some are fit for shepherding; some are laborers in the gospel – full time evangelists. But there may also be some who are people of great faith and pray without ceasing for the things of the assembly; some may not be gifted in speech or such, but are extremely merciful people. All gifts that we see today are vital in the assembly; they are never a reason for pride on one extreme or a feeling of worthlessness on the other extreme. We must be humble in our diversity. And as an assembly, we should “covet the best gifts” so that the believers may be edified to the fullest extent.
Unity in the Gifts
Yet in this diversity, we are unified; for the same Spirit guides the every member of the local church. It is each individual’s responsibility to use his gift in unison with the assembly to further its efforts/outreaches. Though we are individual members, we are part of one Body – the Body of Christ. First Corinthians 12:12-15 “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (14) For the body is not one member, but many. (15) If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”
A Word About the Charismatic Movement
Because there is widespread confusion in the denominations today regarding the Charismatic Movement, we must be Scripturally discerning of these matters. Because we only have a limited amount of space to use, we must be concise; therefore, we will simply give a few resources for further study.
Audio: “Speaking in Tongues.” by Michael Penfold can be found here.
Books: Under the Scope by various authors. Published by Truth & Tidings and can be found on truthandtidings.com. See also Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire by John MacArthur.
Websites: www.gty.org; www.hebrongospelhall.org
The Enforcing of Scriptural Discipline
This section is a sobering one to deal with, because it tells us the sad reality that no assembly is perfect; nor should anyone claim one is. It tells us that believers do fall, and believers do merit discipline. Though it is grieving to think of, we must be Scripturally decided; many churches neglect this altogether. And so we will look at the Scriptural prompting, purpose, pattern, and product of assembly discipline.
The Scriptural Prompting of Discipline
There are certain sins which require assembly discipline. First Corinthians 5 is the main passage dealing with the subject; the chapter lists the following sins: fornication, covetousness, idolatry, railing (implying abusive speech), drunkenness (implying a habit of sorts), and extortion. Matthew 18 deals with a brother (in assembly context) who refuses rebuke of sin; this merits discipline if carried to an unreasonable extent. Other sins include:
- Troubling the assembly ( 5:10).
- Unruliness (lack of submission (1 Thess. 5:14).
- Disorderliness (not submitting to the doctrine/practices of the assembly (2 Thess. 3:6-14).
- Blasphemy (1 Tim. 1:20).
- Lack of provision for one’s family (directed to the leaders of the home (1 Tim. 5:8)
- Vain talk and deceit and unruliness ( 1:9,10)
- Refusing rebuke ( 3:10)
The Scriptural Purpose of Discipline
The purpose for discipline is three-fold.
Firstly, discipline preserves the assembly from corruption; if sin continues unaddressed, its consequences will remain also. If those in the assembly do not have a correct attitude towards sin, they will not understand the consequences. If we do not have a Biblical attitude towards sin, our assembly will become – and very quickly – lukewarm and headed for disaster.
Secondly, discipline (when it involves putting away from the assembly) allows for God to deal with/judge the believer accordingly. God does not judge those in the assembly, because that is the responsibility of the assembly itself. For the cause of righteousness, discipline must be carried out so God can do what is best. (see 1 Cor 5:12,13).
Thirdly, discipline allows for proper restoration (Gal. 6:1). It is only meant to be temporal so the one who sinned can be received again into the assembly with a new spiritual fellowship with believers and with God. “… ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” – 2 Cor. 2:7-8
The Scriptural Pattern for Discipline
Depending on the sin, there are various forms of discipline that are to be carried out.
- For those without sound doctrine/teaching, the form of discipline to be carried out would be, as we find in Titus 1:10,11: silencing. These are they “whose mouths must be stopped.”
- First Timothy 5:20describes one who sins and is “rebuke[ed] before all.” The reasoning behind this is not to embarrass the offender, but to show others the seriousness of sin. Sins meriting this sort of action would be serious, yet less-consequential than the sins in 1 Corinthians 5.
- The third and most serious type of discipline is excommunication so that God may deal in the best way with the offender. (This sort of chastening is found in 1 Cor. 5; 18; and 1 Tim. 1:20).
The Scriptural Product of Discipline
The product of correction is (majorly) either the discovery of a wolf amongst the sheep or a restored brother/sister. It is valuable to see one who recognizes his/her sin, is willing to receive the discipline, and desires to be restored to fellowship in God’s assembly. We must be willing to examine our own lives and be willing to take these steps if we fall into sin. And each assembly must gracefully learn to apply these principles, lest the whole of the local testimony fall away.
Again, this issue is one of solemnity and sadness, yet it is essential. Each assembly should be firm, yet compassionate and extremely careful when it comes to this. Addressing sin is not the responsibility of a brother who had no prior relationship with the one who sinned. Rebuke is not to come from the mouths of those who have not also previously showed concern for the spiritual lives of those who have sinned. Many have been hurt because of brethren and sisters who only care about seeing his/her convictions being carried out as opposed to genuine spiritual growth. This must not be.
A final exhortation regarding this is best written through Paul by the Holy Spirit: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Before thinking about believers who we think will fall sooner than we will in the assembly, let us look at our own hearts with a desire to be preserved. Let us be humble in the matter!
The Edification of the Saints
This is the third vital practice of every assembly: edification. This is simply a word which means “to build up.” It would be profitable, no doubt, to examine every Scripture where the word or idea appears, but we sadly cannot. And so, we will restrict our thoughts to the main lessons we can learn from the concept.
Firstly, let us see what the Scripture says:
- Romans 14:19“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify”
- 1 Corinthians 8:1b“…Knowledge puffeth up, but charity ”
- 1 Corinthians 10:23“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not profitable: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify”
- 1 Corinthians 14:12“Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:26“How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto ”
- 2 Corinthians 12:19 “Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.”
- Ephesians 4:29“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
- 1 Timothy 1:4“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.”
Regarding the lessons we learn from this word, we must firstly know this: edification is indispensable, as we see in 1 Corinthians 14:26. Paul exhorts us to do all things to edification in the assembly. Without a constant building up amongst God’s people, how will we ever stand? Even in our diversity, we can all do the same: we can edify. Where is our focus?
Secondly, we are at loss when we fail to edify. Though some things may be allowed, they may not edify. When we are in a position to decide between one thing or another, instead of asking “What’s wrong with it?” we must ask “What’s right with it? Does it edify?” Though something may be allowed, if it does not edify, it would not be Scriptural to do.
Finally, edification comes in various forms:
- Edification comes from speaking as the mouthpiece of God (1 Cor. 4:3).
- Peace brings edification ( 14:19).
- Spiritual gifts bring edification ( 4:11,12).
- Our speech can edify ( 4:29).
- Edification comes from encouraging believers in the coming of the Lord.
What skills can I use to build up the people of God?
The Evangelization of Precious Souls
“The people are dying, and Hell is in view. Can you not hear the crying? Does it not burden you?” This subject of seeing souls saved is a vital one indeed; there is perhaps nothing more important in regards to our living for God. If an assembly is inactive in the gospel, not only do members suffer by lack of growth/encouragement, but precious souls are at stake. A model group of believers in Scripture regarding the gospel is the Thessalonian assembly:
1 Thessalonians 1:7-10 “So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
With this as a vital part of God’s house in the New Testament, we will look at six factors that describe what the gospel is to the local church.
The Gospel: A Forgotten Factor
Sadly, on both a collective scale and individual scale, in many so-called “evangelical” churches, the gospel is simply something we get saved by – if even that. It seems as if many view it as simply a secondary element – a forgotten factor! If we want to be part of such a thing as a Biblical assembly, the gospel must be central; for O how vital it is! Let us look at a few simple points regarding the importance of evangelism/the gospel.
The Proclamation of Christ: Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’” Even if we have little zeal, can we not preach simply out of obedience? Our Lord (Authority) and Saviour (Incentive/Motive) commanded us to go; as saints, should that not be enough for us?
The Pattern of the Preachers: Matthew 10:8b “…freely ye have received, freely give.” Acts 5:42b “…they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:16 “…Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” (See also Luke 4:43 and Acts 16:10). These were men who were more Godly than most of us will ever be; following their example, should be not be diligent to preach?
The Pattern of Scripture: Another Biblical principle is found in Romans 10: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It is a fact: people need to be saved. “How shall they then call on Him in Whom they have not believed?” If people don’t believe on Him, they will not call on Him. “And how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?” The people need to hear the gospel to believe it. “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” It all comes down to us. We preach, the people hear, the people believe, and then they call. Where there are no preachers, there is no calling on the Lord. And where there is no calling on the Lord, there are eternal flames that await every unrepentant sinner. How important it is to preach!
The Passion of Every Believer: Like a firefighter whose responsibility is to rescue souls from the flames, it is our responsibility to do the same, but on a spiritual level. Imagine a firefighter who neglected souls for fear, or worse – indifference! Our responsibility is clear; we must fulfill it, lest we finds our hearts to be lukewarm.
The Preciousness of Every Soul: Take a moment to imagine one dying in his sins. Every Scriptural believer knows where his eternal destiny lay. Sadly, this is no imagination: nearly 160,000 people enter into eternity per day. If there be few who find the narrow way, a majority of those dying today have entered into Hell. The Lord Jesus said that we must not fear him who kills the body, but Him who can kill both body and soul in Hell. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Cor. 5:11). “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31). Are we so cold-hearted that this does not touch our hearts? The gospel must not be a forgotten factor.
The Gospel: Our Foundation
The Gospel as the foundation of every assembly is a truth we cannot afford to miss. There are three main passages from 1 Corinthians we will consider.
Firstly, we see in 1 Corinthians 15:3,14 the message that Paul started with was the truth of the work of Christ. In this aspect, it is the gospel as the vital preliminary before an assembly can ever be formed.
Secondly, we see in chapter 3 this fact: “Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.” In this sense, the gospel, the Person of Christ, is the foundation of everything we do in God’s local church. Christ is the foundation for our present standing, as we also see in the third passage.
Thirdly, we see in chapter 15, verse 1, that every assembly must be constantly remembering the gospel; for in it the assembly stands. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand.”
When we are not an assembly exercised in the gospel, not only are souls compromised, but our assembly will be compromised. How sad if any group of believers decides to put the things directly dealing with Christ and His gospel on a secondary level. He must have preeminence. We must not lose sight of the truth wherein we stand.
The Gospel: Our Focus
If the gospel is our foundation, then it must be our focus, lest we fall. If we don’t remember our foundation, we won’t build properly; and over time, the structure will collapse or else need extreme rebuilding (that is, the assembly will either collapse or need tremendous restoration). Today, so many compromise the gospel message, method, etc.; or worse, they neglect a preaching of it at all. We must never make the cross of Christ a secondary element in the assembly!
Furthermore, where is our focus when preaching the gospel? Does Scripture focus on entertainment in assemblies? Is it a focus of our desiring to merely add to the number of members? Is it to collect offerings? Scripturally, we can respond with a resounding, no. Paul fitly said: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” It is all about Christ. The test for every preacher is this: do I preach the person of Christ?
The Gospel: Our Foolishness
The reason for this section is based on 1 Corinthians 1:21: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” That word “preaching” is literally referring to a herald, proclamation, or public crier. This is vital, because far too many miss the God-ordained pattern for gospel outreach: a public proclamation.
God very well could have prescribed drama and entertainment to bring the gospel to unbelievers, for many cities such as Rome and Athens and such places would have had a theater. God could have prescribed music as the main means of evangelism. God could have prescribed mere testimony as a form of evangelism. Did He? No, but rather, though it is foolishness and absurdity to the world, God told usto preach the gospel audibly and publicly, as we see with nearly every evangelism encounter in the New Testament.
When we revert to man-made methods of marketing the gospel, we compromise not only the method, but the message; they are closely inter-twined. If we find ourselves trying to change the gospel for the sake of the world, we are bringing this most precious and glorious message dramatically down to the level of the world, making it just another message.
As assemblies, we must incorporate this form of preaching for it is this method that bears genuine fruit. While tracts, door-to-door work, Sunday school, and such have a very important place, they must never substitute Godly old-fashioned gospel preaching. Why? “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to herald the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the gospel of Christ be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness (silliness, absurdity), but unto us who are saved, it is the power of God unto salvation. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (1 Cor. 1:17-19). Furthermore, “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them…” Do we want God’s pleasure and power in the assembly? We must preach.
The Gospel: Our Frailty
We have seen why the gospel must be our focus, and we have seen the Biblical method of preaching. When we realize these factors in gospel preaching, we must know what our attitude needs to be when we are actually doing it. Our attitude must be simply to realize this: our frailty. Even the great Apostle Paul realized his inability to preach: “I came to you not with excellency of speech or wisdom… and I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” (1 Cor. 2:3-5). Paul was humble when preaching; he learned to rest on the power of God. How much more should we realize our inability to preach! But not only that – if we are the type that feel we are unable to the extent that we should not be active at all, we must look to God. Whether able or not, the power of God is our source, and we must learn to preach in dependence upon Him. And when we rest on His power, we can preach in His authority. It is an awesome thing to see power and passion in the preaching the gospel through the omnipotent Creator.
The Gospel: Fruit Found
Finally, when it comes to the gospel, we have this blessed hope: there will be fruit found – whether this be fruit in terms of souls saved or in a people restored to the truth of the glorious gospel of Christ. To the assembly in Corinth, Paul the great apostle said “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” and to Galatia “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
May we encourage ourselves (and others) in these things so that this preaching of the gospel is in each assembly.
BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES GUIDING THE LOCAL CHURCH
We have seen Biblical patterns and practices from Scripture; and so, in order to fulfill them properly, there are some principles which guide the assembly. An assembly without Biblical principles guiding it is like a running motor without oil. It does not work for long, and for the time it does work it isn’t smooth. In this teaching, we will look at the Quality of the Assembly in which we will see the importance of fellowship and holiness; we will look at the Qualification of Scripture in which we will see the relationship of God’s Word to the assembly; and finally, we will look at some Questions We Must Ask before we act in the assembly.
The Quality of the Assembly
One can be part of a large assembly with hundreds of members, several outreaches, a large building, etc.; and yet the people can be a disgruntled one with division and attitudes of unholiness. The appearance may be fine; but if the inward of the gathering is ungodly, many spiritual pitfalls are on their way. We must hold to Biblical principles of fellowship and holiness.
Fellowship and Unity
Firstly, we must be firm regarding the values of fellowship and unity. In Psalm 133:1, the psalmist says “Behold how good and how pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity!” We also see in Acts 2:42 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, in fellowship…” Unity implies a oneness in purpose, and fellowship implies a oneness in fulfillment of that purpose. One could also say that unity is the oneness in doctrine, while fellowship is the oneness in practice. Scripture envisions these as being especially between believers in the local assembly and in a lesser sense between assemblies themselves.
When it comes to unity, we must remember our goal: to glorify God and lift His name to the highest in position through the continual holding forth of the truth. The awe-inspiring character of Biblical assemblies is that we have a common bond with other members of the assembly, or even from other gatherings of the same convictions. We have a common bond, both in Saviour and in doctrine – this is the way local churches were meant to be. The Apostle Paul traveled from assembly to assembly teaching the same doctrine (1 Cor. 4:17); Timothy, an elder in Ephesus, is seen in Paul’s letters traveling numerous places to teach. We must hold to the sound, Godly teaching of Scripture. An assembly divided against itself is condemned in Scripture (1 Cor. 3:3), for divisions are a sign of immaturity and carnality. We must live united.
But as for fellowship, it must be the assembly’s collective goal to live for God in a Scriptural manner. When it comes to making a Spiritual decision that may affect God’s people, we must ask: “Is this in fellowship with God’s assembly?” When one lives a double life, it can only hinder God’s people. Furthermore, we must realize that, regardless of our personalities, we are to live in togetherness. The design of the church is so that we can gather in our differences to complete a common goal. Is this true of our actions? Are we harmonized in the Breaking of Bread, in prayers, in evangelism?
Holiness and Purity
Psalm 93:5b “Holiness becometh Thine house O LORD forever.” “Wherefore, come out from among them, and by ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you.” (2 Cor. 6:17). What a call! As believers, we have the privilege and responsibility to remain pure and sanctified before God in His house. In this section, we will look at elements of separation so that as members of an assembly, we will not corrupt it.
Firstly, we must remember this: there is a within and without. Look at Acts 2:41 – “Then they that gladly received his word (were saved), were baptized; and the same day we added unto them (received into the assembly) about 3,000 souls.” Were all the believers automatically in the assembly when they are saved? No. Were all baptized believers in the assembly? No. Furthermore, Acts 15:4 describes believers (including Paul) being received individually into the assembly. And 1 Corinthians 14:16 refers to a physical place of the unlearned, showing distinction between the believers in assembly fellowship and those that were not, though they may or may not have been saved. What is this telling us? That assembly fellowship is a very specific thing. Sadly, many churches today simply allow any and all who claim the name of Christ to take part in the activities such as the Breaking of Bread, teaching, and such. This is totally and completely unscriptural. Even the great Apostle Paul needed a way by which he could be identified as a trustworthy believer, worthy of reception into the assembly. He gave us the pattern of using a letter commendation when visiting other assemblies. When we forget what it means to be separate from false teachers of believers outside assembly fellowship (not that an assembly is a cult), we forget what it means to be an assembly – called out from the world and called to His name and pattern. When we forget what it means to have a within and without, we risk compromising Biblical teaching with “the doctrines of devils” and an unequal yoke.
Secondly, we must remember the vital element of purity. 1 Corinthians 6:15 “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.” 1 Corinthians 5:11“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” Dear believers, let us grasp this; for many a man (or woman) have been ruined or have ruined assemblies through fornication, adultery, and railing. It is tremendously easy to fall into. It starts slow, then escalates quickly; and the whole assembly is grieved. And so, we as individuals have the responsibility before God and our fellow believers to faithfully remain pure. It is utterly vital for sisters to dress modestly and decently and to teach younger sisters to do the same; otherwise, how will young brethren intreat “younger [women] as sisters with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2)? It is vital for brethren to remain pure in thought, in speech, and in deed. Even a secret life of pornography will affect God’s people in one way or another.
It is therefore the difficult, sobering, yet essential task for believers to corporately: (1) be an example to and teach other believers and (2) carry out discipline if need be. Perhaps there would be less need for discipline if (1) there was a focus on teaching regarding godliness in and out of the assembly. (2) If the right believers with shepherd’s hearts took the time to edify the younger. (3) If believers knew when not to approach others regarding these issues. At times, God’s people are chased away, because right principles were taught in a wrong way by the wrong people with the wrong attitude. These things must be done in grace. When grace is carried out, it is then the responsibility of the one who was shepherded to respond to that issue.
Whatever our position in the assembly, what is our attitude? What forms convictions in our lives? How willing are we to he humble when it comes to these issues? We must remain pure, not only regarding immorality, but in how we deal with God’s people, in how we approach sensitive issues, in how we fulfill our duties in God’s assembly. May we learn to objectively examine our own lives so that we might remain pure and holy in the sight of God: it is His assembly.
Thirdly, we must remember the element of separation from the world. It may be easy to compromise truth to make the world feel for comfortable. It may be easy to use the world’s methods to attract attention. It may be easy to format the assembly like the world. And is may be easy to bring the world’s attitude into the assembly. But is it godly? No. James 4:4, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” 1Corinthians 3:19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” God has separated us to be a church, an ekklesia, a called-out people. Even the very name of our gathering shows these principles. And so, we will briefly look at principles regarding what holiness (separation) means and a few Scriptures also.
We must be separate in our Truth. The doctrines of the world should frighten us, for they reflect the one the world serves: the god of this world, the Devil. As an assembly, we are a pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15): it is our responsibility to stand for Scriptural teaching.
We must also be separate in our appearance. Natural man does not know peace with God. He does not know true joy. Therefore, he only can see on the outward what we experience on the inward. How do our faces reflect what our hearts possess? Do we appear as people of God should appear when gathering together: showing headship, showing heartfelt joy, showing reverence and respect, showing a professional attitude, showing decency and modesty? As one said, “What goes into the mind comes out in life.”
We must be separate in our walk. The world finds nothing wrong with promiscuity, with unnatural affections, with witchcraft, and so many other defiling, harmful practices. We must seek to have no hint of these sins in our assemblies. It is said in Job 15:34 “The congregation (assembly) of hypocrites shall be desolate…” Proverbs 11:9 says “An hypocrite with his mouth open destroyeth his neighbor…” Could it be that when one wants nothing to do with assembly fellowship, it is because of hypocrisy? It is no excuse for them, but certainly a rebuke for us if that be the case. We must walk according to the Spirit; let us be separate. Let our assemblies be assemblies of godly quality!
The Qualification of Scripture
Total Biblical Authority
We are speaking of principles which guide the local church, and perhaps this is the most vital one to grasp. Scripture must be sufficient in God’s assembly. It must be our total authority and guide. Christ is the Word of God; Scripture is the Word of God – Christ revealed. Therefore, if every local church centers around Christ, we must hold Scripture extremely high. Notice the truth in these verses:
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped unto all good works.”
- 2 Peter 1:19-21“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Scripture is not only essential because it is of God; but it is essential, because we are totally lost without it.
We then come to this conclusion: each assembly must be led by Total Biblical Authority. When it comes to the subject of assembly doctrines such as Headship, Eldership, Christology, etc., where must we go? To Scripture! The forgotten truth of God’s Word is that we don’t need books or sermons to interpret it. We know this for two reasons: 1). Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the great Illuminator (1 John 2:27). 2). “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Pet. 1:20). This is essential, because too often we see individuals listening to the human leader of the church or books regarding Scripture without questioning his/its authority; and this has resulted in many downfalls for believers, because there is a failure to “Search the Scriptures to see if these things be so.” It has resulted in false doctrines that many consider to be “common knowledge,” when it is really just a denominational pattern rather than Scriptural truth. It must not be so.
Therefore, it must be the desire of each person in the local assembly to develop personal convictions based on the Word of God. And it must also be the collective desire to keep as close to Scripture as possible. Unless we remain Scriptural in all things in the assembly, we are in a place subject to many dangers. Every outreach, practice, meeting, action, etc. – they must be based solely on the Bible, not opinion, not books, not human reasoning, but on Scripture. Let there be Total Biblical Authority. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” (Ps 127:1).
Man’s Wisdom vs. God’s Wisdom
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:25-31
Part of giving Scripture its rightful place means obedience even in times when it would be easier to compromise. Sometimes (and let’s be honest) it is easier to try the world’s methods in the church. Let us look at some examples. The world says Headship and the head-covering make women out to be inferior (while the exact opposite is true); do we then allow every person to fulfill every role they please despite Scripture’s clear teaching? The world runs a business according to certain patterns, and it makes them money. Should we then run an assembly as if a business? The world has certain techniques to make products look more appealing; do we then compromise repentance and the preaching of sin and judgment in the assembly gospel preaching? Of course, to all of these rhetorical questions, we can emphatically answer “Absolutely not.”
A godly man once suggested that the Judgment Seat of Christ will take place along these lines: what is built into the assembly based on man’s wisdom will be consumed; but what is built into it from God’s non-counterfeit wisdom will last through the fire. First Corinthians 3 and the Judgment Seat are in assembly context; is the above suggestion very far from the truth? This is why we are exhorted to “take heed how we build thereon.”
The place of Scripture in an assembly actually defines how fruitful it is for God. Contrary to some opinions, doctrine does matter – is it not one of the main purposes of God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16)? Actually, doctrine is the basis for practical teaching. We see this with Paul: in 1 Corinthians 15, we see that his belief in the resurrection affected his response to persecution. We must hold Scripture and all its teachings highest in the assembly, lest we stand before the Judgment Seat and realize we had so much more we could have given. We must build with God’s wisdom, not man’s.
Elements of Remaining Scriptural
We have seen what is essential in the assembly and why. But how do we become an assembly that holds Scripture highly? We find the essence of this in three steps: constant searching, consistent teaching, and continual applying.
We first have the constant searching of Scripture.. Acts 17:11 records the famous Bereans; they are well-known because of this: “they searched the Scriptures daily.” Remaining Biblical doesn’t mean assuming that truths passed down are automatically Scriptural. It doesn’t mean we read books about church doctrine or any doctrine to see what we should believe. However, it does mean each member of every assembly must have such an intimacy with Scripture that each will be able to point to the Word of God for essential doctrines he holds to. It is dangerous to simply rely upon man’s words, and it is no minor problem to have a wavering devotion to reading and meditation. It is our individual responsibility to “search the Scriptures daily to see if these things be so.”
It is only then that there can be constant teaching. The assembly is the pillar and ground of the Truth; it is responsible to uphold that Truth. Therefore, there must be a focus upon teaching truth from the Word and from an exercised brother who is into the Word. Otherwise, the pattern of the New Testament is broken, and the believers will lose sight of truth, causing the assembly to fail in purpose. In assembly context, this is vital in remaining Biblical.
The final element of remaining Scriptural is continual applying of what has been taught. This will usually happen when the audience has already fulfilled the first step: Searching Scripture. However, at times, we forget that we actually need teaching. Sadly, at times the preacher gives a powerful message, while the one who really needs it was not listening. Let us establish this in our minds: the one who needs the ministry of the Word is me. We must realize this, and we must make it a point to apply what we have heard. If I personally don’t grow, how will the assembly grow?
Questions We Must Ask Before Acting
In Scripture, we see some helpful guidelines which we must learn to apply in assembly context. Before making a decision that affects the believers, we must ask ourselves some questions in order to prevent foolish actions.
Is It Scriptural?
Titus 2:7 “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity.” 2 Timothy 3:16,17 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Proverbs 6:23“For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:”
Hopefully, we have had the fact proven to us over the last portions of teaching that Scripture must be central in each assembly. Therefore, when it comes to making a decision, according to the verses we have read, we must make those decisions according to Scripture. With this as a forefront principle in mind, many problems we face in the assembly would be severely lessened. Teaching in the assembly: we must ask “Is what I am teaching Scriptural?” Serving in the assembly: “Am I serving in a Scriptural manner?” Every action in the assembly should be preceded by this question. Where is our standard in our activities?
Is It Profitable?
1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”
Sadly, even amongst believers, when it comes to “grey” areas, the tendency is to ask “What is wrong with it?” Regarding certain dress, certain talk, certain attitude, certain actions, certain music, etc., our flesh desires to go as far as possible from God; and perhaps it is not directly condemned in Scripture. But, in reality, this question is not even a factor, because though it may be allowed, it may not be profitable. We should rather ask ourselves, “What’s right with it? And how will this benefit God’s people?”
Does This Edify?
1 Corinthians 10:23 “…all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” 2 Corinthians 12:19 “Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.” 1 Corinthians 14:26“Let all things be done unto edifying.”
In Corinth, there were various services a person would fulfill. Some would come with a song or teaching or something they enjoyed from Scripture. There was one common purpose for these things: they built up the believers. This is what each assembly must seek to do, for each action that does not build up tears down. It is vital that we don’t discourage believers and therefore must ask “Does this build up?”
Is This Offensive or Stumbling?
Who would want to even think of offending another, considering what Scripture says? In context of stumbling the conscience of a weaker believer, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:12 “But when ye sin so against the brethren [for whom Christ died], and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” Even though an action may be allowed, even though it may be easier, let us think firstly of the other believers! Protecting another believer for whom Christ died from offense must always be our mindset regarding any action we do. If we can avoid contention and offense, why not do so? Are we so desperate to have our own way that we are willing to sacrifice fellowship? 1 Corinthians 16:14 “Let all things be done in love.”
Does This Promote Peace?
According to 1 Peter 3:11, we are to turn aside evil, seeking peace. Without peace in the assembly, the principle of fellowship is lost. We must not only seek peace, but we must pursue it. How concerned are we with making peace, even at our expense? When a brother or sister offends our opinion, are we so determined to prove our “rightness” that we forsake peace? If this is our attitude, may God have mercy upon us; for trouble will be on its way!
Is This Orderly and Decent?
As an exhortation to the Corinthian assembly, Paul said in 1 Cor. 14:40 “Let all things be done decently and in order.” In context, there were people who, in pride, were disrupting the assembly meetings, whether through unneeded tongues, women speaking in the assembly, or such other problems. And so, in God’s assembly, there must be order. Being part of a local church means we are professional; we are not gathered randomly and without purpose – we are gathered to the name of the Most High! What we do must reflect genuine leading of the Spirit and our unity as believers. We must learn to ask “Is this an action befitting the assembly?”
Is This Done In/For Christ?
Colossians 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
It is a broad statement, yet an essential one. How is it possible to do all to the glory of God? Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” As a start, let us focus our eyes upon Him. Then, even the “mundane” things in life can be done in worship for God. As we grow in appreciation, our longing will be more and more to serve Him alone; and our joy will be to do all for His glory.
In conclusion to these principles which guide the local church, we should take a moment to seriously examine our own lives. Is Scripture or is my opinion primary in my life? What is more important to me: to have my opinion accepted by everyone or to see them uplifted Scripturally? We must learn humility, for many an assembly has been devastated by means of one (or many) whose ego(s) were more important than love. Therefore, as believers, let us objectively examine our lives; do we feed ourselves with that which will build up? “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Are we willing to destroy what is precious to God by forsaking and displaying these Scriptural principles because of our pride? God forbid!
BIBLICAL POSITIONS IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
One may ask why we are dealing with the subject of positions (roles) in the local church. “In Christ, is it not true that there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28 . Matt. 22:30)?” If we are referring to the universal Church, composed of every believer from Pentecost to the Rapture, we would be somewhat correct, though Ephesians 5 shows distinctions in the Body. But in the local assembly, roles are alive and clearly defined in Scripture; there are indisputable positions, which is why one must seek to fulfill Biblically his/her calling there. For example, in the New Testament, there is always a clear distinction between elders and deacons, male and female, young and old. The Lord would not have distinguished between these things if there were not set roles and responsibilities. Because it is of the Lord, let us not neglect this teaching.
The Duties of Every Believer
Firstly, when speaking of positions in the local church, we must realize that there are duties common to every believer. These apply regardless of age, gender, or maturity. We will look at three main, generic responsibilities of ever member in the local assembly.
The first duty is this: the priesthood of all believers according to Revelation 1:6;5:16 and 1 Peter 2:5. Though some intercede audibly, while others silently, every believer is a priest; the assembly is a specific display of this. We can see it displayed in a meeting of prayer: the brethren rise to intercede for others on the assembly’s behalf, and the believers add their “Amen” to what has been said. Perhaps one could also see it in a sister silently interceding for the brother who is preaching or for sinners listening to the gospel. This is an essential aspect of the God’s assembly. There must always be intercession.
The second duty is this: the upholding of truth and conviction. We saw in earlier sections that an assembly is a pillar and ground of truth. Though this is a collective holding to truth, it starts with individual convictions regarding Scripture’s teaching on the assembly and other vital doctrines. There should be no such thing as a believer in assembly fellowship “just because.” We are responsible to God for how we gather; we must be convicted about why we are part of a local assembly. If one were to ask me why I gather where I do, could I explain from Scripture? If everybody was on the same spiritual level as I am, would there be much upholding of truth in my assembly?
The third responsibility is assured in Scripture: that we must build upon the foundation of Christ according to 1 Corinthians 3. Every member should be building something for Christ into his assembly; sadly, too often we build into God’s assembly wood, hay, and stubble. We must learn to take heed how we build; after all, we are dealing with the very church of the living God! And yet too often again, we find ourselves not really building at all, as if we are not a vital part of the assembly. If anyone believes this, he is greatly mistaking. If anyone believes his gift is unneeded or if he believes he has no gift, he compromises the teaching of Scripture; for Scripture places importance upon all. May we learn to build, for God has called us for a purpose. Let us build faithfully – every one of us.
The Duties of Brethren
But now we come to the more specific duties of the believers in the assembly, that is, the duties of brethren in particular. The first of the two responsibilities we will consider is participation.
Participation is manifested in numerous ways, and these are Scripturally gender-specific:
- Public prayer (1 Tim. 2:8“I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”)
- Preaching the Word(2 Tim. 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”)
- Shepherding (1 Tim. 3:1“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”)
- Service(1 Tim. 3:12 “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.”)
Not only are brethren suited for these roles, but they are responsible for them. While everyone will not be an elder (which we will look at later) or a deacon, every brother is able to pray and encourage the saints. It is extremely unfortunate that brethren are often able to fulfill responsibility, yet are equally unexercised as they are able. Therefore, when it comes to an assembly prayer meeting, let there be exercise in prayer. When is comes to the Lord’s Supper, let there be exercise in audible worship. These are no doubt matters that we would tend to make secondary, but we should in reality be humbly willing to take part in these things. Now, it is not required that a brother pray in every meeting; in fact, that may become monotonous if it is not sincere. The principle, however, is this: let there be prayer and preaching (for those skilled in the Word and humble) when the Lord prompts it. Let us who are appointed for these things be exercised therein.
The second (and final) responsibility we need to consider is this: the brother’s role in Headship. Sadly, many in today’s assemblies are able to point out flaws in other churches regarding the practice of Headship, while they themselves are not properly fulfilling it in their own assembly. While one must be Scripturally discerned regarding right and wrong in these matters, it must always be our own lives we examine first. We will look at some ways of how one could miss this in his own life.
Perhaps, first of all, a brother in a local church could be allowing a sister to usurp authority. This may be seen in a sister’s praying /preaching in a public meeting. This would not only be wrong on the sister’s part, but there must be a graceful willingness to stand up for Scriptural teaching on the brother’s part. Of course, one must never be rude and without grace in rebuking the one who usurped authority, especially if she was ignorant; and one should also leave the confronting of this matter to an older, wiser, and more graceful believer if possible. But nevertheless, there must be exercise on the brother’s part in roles allocated to males.
Secondly, though it may seem insignificant in today’s culture, a brother could neglect Headship in having long hair or in wearing a head covering in an assembly meeting. First Corinthians 11 is clear on this: it must not be so. That would actually show a man’s wiping away gender barriers that God so clearly set in place. Men must be and look like men; women must be and look like women. Each is precious in his/her own way.
Finally, we can see an example in a man, not neglecting Headship but abusing it. We must be clear: Headship is not Lordship. Headship deals with Heavenly order and roles. Lordship deals with right to rule. A brother thinking he has the right to constantly humiliate sisters or take another man’s wife aside is clearly mistaking! Authority in the assembly is God’s Word, not a brother’s word that some so often portray as Scripture.
But why is this so important to grasp? Because it speaks of Christ. Headship points to Christ and ultimately the Father. Do we wish to confound the very Person to Whose name we gather? Do we wish to confound the Center and Purpose of our gathering? God forbid.
The Duties of the Sisters
In regard, now, to sisters in the local assembly, we find clear essentials in Scripture for their role and responsibility. But first, it must be emphatically mentioned that no member in the assembly is inferior by any means. There are sadly some whom others esteem less, but this is the fault of the believers, not Scripture. And so, when we speak of the role of our vital, blood-bought sisters, despite what many liberal theologians/teachers say, we are not withholding certain “rights” from certain assembly members; we are not speaking down upon anyone. In fact, we lift them up to glorious heights in God’s eyes, because obedience to His Word is precious to Him. This brings us to our main section regarding the sister’s role.
The first responsibility is this: to display Headship, not only outwardly, but inwardly. Because we have already touched upon these things, we will not go into detail; however, a practical application is necessary.
Firstly, is there an inward desire for Headship to be carried out? While the outward display in God’s house is essential, the symbols are of little value if they do not truly reflect what they signify. The waters of baptism are of little value if one is not truly desiring to obey the Lord in that step; why would it be any different with the head covering? There must not be an attitude of desiring to usurp authorities through “loop-holes” in Scripture. There should not by any means be any bitterness, because one does not “feel” useful. There should always be an inward submission to Godly order, both in the man and the woman.
Secondly, is there submission in the home? Ephesians 5 shows the pattern for the husband and wife: “wives: submit… husbands: love.” It is not the wife’s duty to force the husband to love her, not is it by any means the husband’s duty to force submission – that is abuse. This is all too common in the home. But this should not be so, because what the home displays will eventually affect the assembly. This will be seen later in the qualifications of an elder.
Thirdly, is there outward submission? Though there may be struggle inwardly with these issues, let there at least be obedience for the sake of Christ. When one sees the assembly gathering, do they see covered heads and long hair? Do they see humility? Do they see Scripture carried out? May it be so.
There is also seen in Scripture a need for older sisters to teach the younger. Whether it be through Bible studies with sisters, one-on-one visits, or prayer, there should always be a support for one another in these things. This is what Scripture says on the matter:
“The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Tit 2:3-5)
Furthermore, there are some roles which only sisters can fulfill. For instance, it is very difficult for a brother to relate to children in certain ways; there is a certain tenderness in the tone of the sisters that is especially helpful in childrens work. Also, at times, brethren can become caught up in the public praying while sisters learn what it means to pray sincerely (not that men don’t pray sincerely) and in quiet meditation.
In conclusion, 1 Timothy 2 gives us wisdom from God’s Word regarding these things. Let us take time to digest its truth.
“I will therefore that men (males) pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved (preserved) in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” (1Ti 2:8-15)
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. “ (1 Peter 3:1-4)
The Duties of the Couple
Considering we have already touched upon some of the points regarding the husband and wife, we will only outline a few points regarding the couple and the assembly.
Firstly, the couple must seek to raise children for God’s assembly. We see this as an example in Hannah’s desiring Samuel to be godly; that desire caused her to see Samuel raised in God’s assembly. We must also seek to raise children with a close link to the assembly.
Secondly, there must be a godly example to follow in the home. Is there something of devotion to the assembly for the child to look to in his parents? This is essential.
Thirdly, there must be godly teaching regarding the assembly. We see this in Timothy’s mother and grandmother as they raised him with Scripture and Paul, as Timothy’s spiritual father, teaching how “how he ought to behave in the house of God.”
These are but a few points, but let us never underestimate the preciousness of a marriage and the family in our assemblies. Patterns in these aspects carry into the assembly. They are therefore precious and should be fulfilled in godliness
The Duties of Elders
Now we come to the duties of the elders, sometimes called bishops (overseers) or shepherds. We will deal with the prerequisites and the pattern of eldership.
The Prerequisites of Eldership
The prerequisites deal with character qualities which must become a man for him to properly shepherd the flock of the assembly. These are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Let us bear in mind that the work of an elder is a good thing to desire. While we may not be able to fit the position, the Lord commends those who desire to care for His assembly and have the following characteristics. They are as follows:
- Blamelessness:irreproachable, implies that the elder does not put himself in a position to be judged, whether it be false or righteous judgment.
- Monogamy: husband of one wife (showing all elders are male and perhaps implying they are/have been married at all).
- Vigilance:watchful for wolves.
- Sober:not acting as if drunken, awake, able to make wise and thoughtful choices.
- Of good behavior:self explanatory
- Hospitable:able/desirous to be there for other believers even for physical needs.
- Apt to/able to teach:essential part of shepherding.
- Not given to wine:
- No striker:not violent.
- Not greedy of filthy lucre:not covetous
- Patient:essential, considering the burdens a shepherd will bear.
- Not a brawler:not contentious.
- Not covetous
- Handles his house well:otherwise, he will not be able to guide God’s house well. The home is a training ground.
- Faithful at raising godly children: that is, teaching children godliness and enforcing it. Whether children obey at a certain age or not is a different story.
- Not a novice: elder, experienced, perhaps aged.
- Good report with the world:good testimony with and outside the assembly.
The Patterns of Eldership.
In Acts 14:23, we see Paul and Barnabas appointing elders to the work of overseeing the assembly. There are three “steps” involved in this verse. The Ordination: God gave the responsibility of choosing elders (notice it was plural) to the evangelists whom God used to found an assembly. The Prayer: Though the evangelists appointed elders, it was done in fellowship with Heaven. Prayer is a fundamental factor in these things. The Commendation: It is not the duty of the evangelists to rule the assembly: it is the Lord’s. Evangelists must teach, appoint, and commend elders who they know will carry out the will of God. Perhaps for certain time, the laborer should stay with that assembly to guide it Scripturally and then move on when they were well-founded in the Word.
Furthermore, we see a pattern in the meanings of the names for an overseer. “Pastor”/”Shepherd” denotes care over the flock of God’s people; it implies tenderness. “Elder” denotes experience and ability to lead and maturity. “Bishop” means “overseer” and implies the role of watchfulness over God’s people.
Finally, the pattern of an elder’s duty is also seen in 1 Peter 5:1-4. We will look at the text with underlined portions to emphasize the keys. This will be sufficient.
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1Pe 5:1-4)
The Duties of the Deacons
As for deacons, their character is extremely similar to that of the elders, as we see in 1 Timothy 3. Deacon means “servant,” and its context is in the local assembly. A deacon could be the leader of an evangelistic outreach. A deacon could be one to host the assembly meetings in his home, or perhaps an evangelist in his home. Also, evangelist work is deacon work. No doubt others could list more roles this servant in the assembly could fulfill.
However, we must realize that the office of a deacon is not simple the office of every believer in the church who helps in some way. Every believer should be building into the local church. But a deacon is more of a role of one constantly active in service for the assembly, whether it be evangelism or other practical roles we mentioned above. Deacons are distinct brethren in God’s assembly.
The Duties of the Laborer
A laborer could be considered as a deacon of sorts, but that title implies more. Being a laborer in the gospel implies two things: 1). A deep connection to the local assembly. 2) A life of gospel work.
Firstly, then, we have the truth of an evangelist’s connection to the assembly. Scripturally, there is no such thing as a gospel worker who is not directly and actively involved in a local assembly. In fact, a laborer’s main goal is not only to see souls saved, but to see them gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus and established in truth. Acts shows us individual souls being saved, and their story usually didn’t end there. That conversion was usually accompanied with teaching. The church epistles and epistles to Timothy and Titus are examples of Paul’s trying to establish believers in truth.
Secondly, laboring implies a constant and consistent working. While Paul occasionally made tents to support himself, it was never his main focus in life. He was entrusted with the glorious gospel of Christ, and he was faithful to preach it boldly. Normally, it should be that the assemblies provide for their evangelists according to 1 Corinthians 9. The working in the gospel is mutual with the laborer and the assembly; and it is all for the glory of God.
Truly, much more can be said, but that will be left for personal study. Scriptures dealing with evangelists include a bulk of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Acts, 1 Thessalonians 1, Philippians, and the introductions and conclusions of Paul’s epistles. When these subjects are taken up, one finds that this work is huge: they should prompt prayer and deep appreciation for what one goes through to labor in the gospel. Let us not take our evangelists for granted.
The Duties of Young People
Finally, we conclude our study of positions in the local church with the role of the assembly’s young people. Timothy and Titus were considered young men in God’s assembly (even though they were considerably older than teenagers), and Paul acknowledged that youths needed specific attention. Furthermore, in Titus 2, we see Paul addressing issues regarding youth in relation to the assembly. And so, we will examine truths for young brethren, young sisters, and a few principles which sum up the subject. In order to be concise, we must leave only a few points to outline the lessons to be learned.
From Timothy and Titus, we learn these lessons for young men in both epistles (it will be left to the reader to find these principles in those epistles on his own):
- Young men in the assembly must understand what it means to be in a position of responsibility and its weightiness, because their responsibilities will eventually grow as time moves on.
- Young men must learn to avoid false teachers/teachings. These are foundational years, and they must not be compromised, but rather built up on Biblical assembly teaching.
- Young men must hold the assembly dear to their hearts and know how to behave in the house of God.
- Young men must understand difference in roles.
- Young men must learn to revere the older believers in the assembly.
- Young men must learn to avoid pointless arguments.
- Young men must be sober, for they too are accountable in God’s assembly.
As for young sisters, we find principles from those same passages:
- Young sisters must understand roles in the assembly and what decency and modesty means.
- Young sisters must learn sobriety.
- Young sisters must learn to “lovetheir own husbands…”
- Young sisters must love their children (implying they should understand what that involves),
- Young sisters must be “discreet (sound in mind), chaste (pure), keepers at home, good, subject to their husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
Again, much more could be said; nevertheless, it cannot be. But we can take home a few lessons regarding young people in the assembly:
- They should have a zeal for the assembly.
- They are vital in the assembly.
- They have responsibility in the assembly.
- They should never be overlooked.
While their responsibilities may seem visibly “small,” those responsibilities are precious to God. Let us never minimize their role, but rather see it fulfilled in patience and humility. May God bless every member in His assembly, for each is indispensable! As we close this series on the local assembly, may it grow all the more precious to us.