Gathering Unto His Name - The Pattern of an Assembly

 THE PATTERN FOR AN ASSEMBLY

A Christian home should be a model of godliness and should have the ideal atmosphere for the training of our children. Actually, our children are taught by three methods. We teach principles to them that come from the Scrip­tures. What a privilege for a mother and father to pour into the ears and hearts of their young children divine principles of truth and morality! The distinc­tion between right and wrong is almost entirely missing in public education. Teachers are frequently forbidden to teach value judgments; so more neces­sary than ever is the home influence. We also teach our children by precepts. These commands should be based on the principles we teach and be in agree­ment with them. But when we have thoroughly given our children the right principles and precepts, they are in need of a pattern that is in harmony with the principles and precepts. In many homes, a pattern of godly, unselfish living for the sake of the Lord Jesus and the needs of others is missing.

God teaches by the same three principles. The doctrines are in agreement with the precepts. God never asks for meaningless compliance. All His com­mands have deep spiritual meaning and are for our good always. However, God has also given us the perfect moral pattern of the lowly Savior whose footsteps as a Man brought delight to the heart of the Father. (1 Peter 2:21).

HOW IMPORTANT IS A PATTERN?

Acts 2:41-42 is God?s pattern for a New Testament assembly. Each of the seven divine principles and practices of these two verses are used in 1 Corinthians. Again and again, Paul used the pattern to point out the wrong in Corinth and to correct it. Paul appealed to this preservation to the Ephesians elders, "I commend you to God and the Word of His grace" (Acts 20:32).

It is impossible to keep to the pattern and make little of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is preeminent in an assembly because He is preeminent in the pattern.

An example of the difference between a precept and a pattern is:

Precept:    "This do in remembrance of Me until I come" (1 Corinthians 11:24).

Pattern:    "On the first day of the week the disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7).

Does a precept have more importance than a pattern? When NT doctrine, precepts and patterns agree, they have equal authority.

An example of a practice without a precept is found in Acts 2:44, where the believers in Jerusalem shared all their possessions and no man claimed any personal property. It was a necessity for the conditions of that time, but 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 forbid it. There are many examples of a principle, precept and pattern working in harmony. One example is the way Ephesians teaches "good works":

Principle:  "We are His workmanship" Ephesians 2:10.

Precept:    "Walk as children of light" Ephesians 5:8.

Pattern:    "As Christ also loved us" Ephesians 5:1.

GOD?S DESCRIPTION OF THE PATTERN ASSEMBLY

There were apostles and prophets in the first assembly and we have none today, but we do have the ministry of these foundation gifts in the New Testa­ment. The assemblies in Achaia and Macedonia were patterned after the assemblies in Judea (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14). The seven principles found in Acts 2:41-42 are still the pattern.

Salvation, baptism and reception to an assembly take place in this order; it is a divine order (Acts 18:8). It is no more scriptural to put reception before salvation than it is to put baptism after reception. The Acts and Epistles give ample proof of this divine order.

The four things of verse 42 all have a definite article. The apostle?s teach­ing, the fellowship; the breaking of bread and the prayers are each particu­larly related to assembly order and practice.

We can humbly thank God that we have the apostle?s doctrine preserved to us in God's Word and we have no reason or right to change any of the great truths that are revealed in it. Assemblies must and do believe and teach from the inspired and inerrant Holy Scriptures the Holy Trinity, the undiminished deity and impeccable humanity of the Lord Jesus, the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, the efficacy of the precious blood, the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus, His present ministry and his promised coming and kingdom. This is true orthodoxy, the faith once for all delivered to the saints that has been pre­served through the centuries.

"The fellowship" of Acts 2:42 is described in detail in 1 Corinthians 10:14-32. It is based on the fellowship of children with the Father and His Son, but is distinct in that an assembly is a unique expression of it. Even though fellow­ship is a great spiritual truth, it has visible expressions in an assembly. It is based on the value of the precious shed blood and is expressed in the one cup and one loaf at the table of the Lord. It can also be seen in the ?within? of an assembly (1 Corinthians 5:13), and even in the circle of believers who gather around with the Lord in the midst at the Lord?s supper.

They "continued steadfastly" in the fellowship in contrast to occasional or spasmodic sharing. We have departed from the pattern when we encour­age occasional fellowship. No privilege, such as partaking of the Lord?s supper should ever be enjoyed apart from corresponding responsibilities.

In "Gathering Unto His Name", a book of 250 pages that is still available from Christian book dealers, the author of this booklet expressed wonder that Dr. C. I. Schofield, in his well known reference Bible, gives such an accurate description of a New Testament assembly (C. I. Schofield, Philippians 1:1, note). Ob­viously, his definition came from the New Testament and not from the de­nomination to which he belonged, and this is to be admired.

The following is a simple summary of the order and practices of an as­sembly as it is seen in the NT and may be helpful to the reader.

WHAT IS AN ASSEMBLY?

An assembly is a company of baptized believers (Acts 2:41), gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; 5:4), who meet regularly in a particular locality according to the pattern found in the New Testament in Acts 2:41,42, and developed fully in such Epistles as 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Such an assembly is a spiritual fellowship (1 Corinthians 10:16,17), which is expressed visibly as they meet for the breaking of bread, prayer, col­lective testimony, the teaching of the Word of God and the preaching of the gospel. They have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit (Mark 14:13; Romans 8:14), their sole authority is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16, 17), and they have the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ to be in their midst (Matthew 18:20). They are a residence of the Holy Spirit on earth, so they are a holy temple unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:15,16). Such an assembly is guided by godly overseers and served by faithful deacons in both a temporal and spiritual ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-16). The priesthood of all believers is exercised in worship, praise and prayer, and the gifts, given by the risen Head of the church (Ephesians 4:8-13) have liberty to func­tion under the control of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:23-40). There is a clear line of demarcation between the within and the without of an assembly and purity is maintained by a careful, compassionate and godly exercise of discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

This is a carefully written statement, but the reader should examine each passage of Scriptures in the references and learn from the Word of God the truth of an assembly gathering. Our statements are only valuable in the de­gree that they teach Holy Scripture. It is only the Word of God that has author­ity in the realm of testimony for God.

There are varying degrees of conformity to the Word of God in the lives of believers and in the order and practices of companies of saints. The following are some principles that are unique to a New Testament assembly.

12 UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT AN ASSEMBLY.

1.  The entity, uniqueness and autonomy of the local church in distinction from the body. It has a within and without and is made up of a number of believers who are known to each other and to elders because they regularly meet (1 Corinthians 5:12,13; Acts 2:41, 42; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; 3:9-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16).

2.  The uniqueness of the name of the Lord Jesus; and the exclusion of every other name in which an assembly gathers. Second names are a denial that His name is above every other name (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 10; 5:4; Philippians 2:9-11).

3. Local government by the Word of God under a plurality of elders, raised up by the Holy Spirit. An assembly is a Theocracy where God rules, not a democracy with majority rule (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

4.  The practice of NT priesthood (Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 14:26-39; 1 Peter 2:5).

5. The recognition of spiritual gifts and liberty for their function. One-man ministry and all men ministry denied. There must be a gifted ministry under the control of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corians 12:1-11; 28-31; Ephesians 4:8-16).

6. The priority of spiritual worship (Luke 22:14-20; John 4:19-26; 1 Corinthians 11:23-34). The breaking bread is given priority because it is a meeting for col­lective worship and is observed on the first day of every week.

7. The authority of the Word of God alone without creedal statements, organizational rules or councils, even though we do believe in the accuracy of the historic creedal statements (Acts 20:32; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

8. A spiritual, not organizational link between assemblies. Autonomy fails to express the truth of God?s rule. An assembly is only answerable to God, yet interdependent with other assemblies (Acts 11:22-26; Acts 14:23-28).

9.  The Silence of women in audible prayer, testimony or assembly teach­ing and preaching (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:8-15). Teaching a Sunday School class does not violate this principle. It is not an assembly meeting.

10.   No financial support from unbelievers (3 John 5-8; Proverbs 15:8;21:27).

11.   The dependence on the presidency of the Holy Spirit in salvation and service (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8; 1 Corinthians 2:2-5; 2:13-16; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

12.   Internal discipline and excommunication when Scripture demands it (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 1 Timothy 1:18-20).

Many of the practices outlined above are unique to assemblies. Some companies conform in part to some of these truths, but all of these are identifying marks of a New Testament assembly.