All believers find themselves drawn to other Christians because of the “common salvation” which they mutually enjoy. Such association frequently leads to questions such as, “What church do you attend?” And, “How large is the congregation?” Sometimes there follows an exchange of visits to the various places of worship.
These experiences reveal the fact that there are basic differences between places and a marked contrast in general procedure. The reason for such a condition may be explained in the language of The Song of Solomon (5:9). In that passage the bride is asked by certain inquisitive persons, “What is thy Beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women?” In current speech this simply asks, What may be our evaluation of the Lord Jesus Christ? Once we did not esteem Him, but perhaps there has been a change and we hold Him so high that we believe Him to be everything to us, our all in all. If so, this is the important question with us now, Are we interested in full obedience to His principles and plain instructions or do we choose to observe only the things that are convenient to us? If we follow His teaching, we will acknowledge Him as our Head, our Lord in heaven, and collectively we will gather with fellow-believers in His Name (Matt. 18:20), and unto Himself (Gen. 49:10).
With some Christians the big attraction is the denomination, the organization, and the visible leader. On one occasion, while talking with a Christian acquaintance who was affiliated with a large fundamental group, the writer quoted Bible verses, and explained Scriptural truths relative to church order and procedure. The friend’s comment was, “Oh, but when you have a thousand people it is nice to have a leader with you to direct.”
In speaking to the woman at the well of Sychar, the weary Stranger, the Lord Jesus, said, “Ye worship ye know not what” (John 4:22). His words, unfortunately, apply to many today who simply follow customs and traditions without knowing the principles that are given in the Word of God.
The Son of God, among His other high offices, is declared to be the Head of the Body, the Church (Col. 1:18). Does our Lord receive and enjoy His supreme pre-eminence among those groups who demand a human head? Would the charge of “Not holding the Head” apply to them (Col. 2:19)?
The writer is not presenting these thoughts with the intention of being supercritical of others. The purpose, rather, is to provoke serious thinking and to stimulate further interest in God’s principles of church gathering, and to help those who are faced with the question, “Where ecclesiastically should I be?” Let us study more fully what God has to say on the subject.
More than activity, form, and tradition God desires simple obedience to His Word. Remember the emphatic statement of Samuel to Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). Surely we should be most interested in learning His will and in doing it.
Let us consider the typical case of the Israelite. Having been redeemed out of the bondage of Egypt, fed and protected through the wilderness journey, he is brought into the Promised Land to raise his own produce in its fields. As a means of showing his appreciation for all God’s goodness to him, he offers the first of that produce (the offering of firstfruits) to the Lord.
His place of worship was not left to his own choice. He received instruction in the form of a command, “Thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place His name there” (Deut. 26:2). In this act of worship the individual Israelite functioned as the actual offerer, and as he set down his basket of first-fruits before the altar, he confessed his background, “A Syrian ready to perish was my father.” The Israelite himself, and not an officiating priest spoke these words after which the firstfruits were offered and he individually worshipped God (V. 10).
Scriptural principles would lead to a similar practice today. When Christians are gathered at an appointed place around the Lord, brethren are led one by one to review their past, their sinnership, and, as it were, the hole of the pit from which they have been digged. Such reflection calls forth appreciation from all the hearts for all that has been done for them. This response, whether audible or silent, rises to God from each individual rather than through any intermediary who may stand before the congregation to direct and to function in a selective capacity. According to 1 Cor. 15:20-23, Christ is our firstfruits, and as we through our praise present Him back to God we heartily exclaim, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)! This is the privilege of all believers because we are a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices by Christ Jesus (1 Pet. 2:9).
In gathering, congregationally, to show forth His death till He come, there should be nothing that would appeal to the senses, for we are not concerned with the physical, but with the spiritual, for “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
The divine principle of church gathering is given to us by the Lord Himself, “Where two or three (whether it be in a home, a hall, a chapel, a store-building, or a barn) are gathered together in My Name (not under a man-ascribed title which signifies a denomination, cult, or sect), there am I in the midst (not a titled visible leader, but the Lord Himself is the centre) of them” (Matt. 18:20).
Because believers in Christ are a needy people, they meet together at times to make supplication to the Father. They pray that their needs may be met and that their testimony, both collective and individual, may be blessed and strengthened. This is known as a prayer-meeting.
The Bible reading or the ministry meeting is the collective gathering together of the saints to study the Word of God or to hear it ministered by those to whom God has entrusted a gift for teaching or ministry.
The Scriptural church or assembly, constrained by the love of Christ, has a compassion for the many of all ages who know not the Saviour and who are travelling to a lost Eternity. Gospel meetings, family Bible hours, and Sunday-schools are therefore conducted for the proclamation of the gospel.
The pattern laid down in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistles show that the early churches were engaged in united prayers, the study of the Holy Scriptures, and the sounding forth of the gospel of God’s grace, as well as the weekly breaking of the bread.
What a contrast is found today in the functions and facilities of modern Christendom which stimulate fleshly pride through accomplishment, acquisition, association, eloquence, and display. Such things are all to perish with the using.
If you are in any doubt concerning your ecclesiastic association, if you learn more of Christians who gather only to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, search the Scriptures and enquire for yourself as to what is God’s purpose for you, and as to what is man’s perversion of that divine intention. Remember the Word of God liveth and abideth forever; we should, therefore, live with it and by it as long as we are here below.