In the previous paper we dealt with the subject of the Church, chiefly in its universal aspect, as comprising all regenerated persons from its commencement at Pentecost to its consummation at the Rapture.
We shall now be concerned with the Church in its local aspect. By this is meant a number of Christians in a certain area who assemble together, in the name of the Lord Jesus, for either worship, praise, the ministry of the word, or mutual edification.
One of the most important questions that faces a young Christian is this matter of his assembly association. This decision can either make or mar his whole Christian life. In view of this each child of God needs the spiritual enlightenment that comes from the study of the Word of God, (Acts 17:11-12; James 1:5-7).
We shall think of four things regarding this subject.
The Need for Church Fellowship
We know, from the Old Testament, that it was God’s desire for His redeemed people to meet together, at stated times, in order to enjoy fellowship with each other, rejoice before the Lord, and unitedly worship Jehovah. For this purpose He appointed the seven feasts which are described in Leviticus 23. Compare also Deuteronomy 12:5-7.
A similar provision was made in the New Testament by our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew how much His disciples would need the mutual comfort, encouragement, strength, and edification from such fellowship. As He anticipated this coming together, He promised: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
He further provided for this by instituting the Lord’s supper. He appointed the bread as the symbol of His body; and the wine, as the symbol of His precious blood, and requested them to “This do in remembrance of Me.” Later on He gave a special revelation to the Apostle Paul concerning this ordinance (Luke 22:19- 20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).
The Book of Acts and the Epistles show how the early Christians met together in local companies for prayer, ministry of the Word, the Lord’s supper, and a united testimony in the Gospel (Acts 2:41-47; 4:23, 32; 5:13-14; 8:4; 11:19-26; 13:1-4; 14:21-27; 16:4-5; 20:1; 20:17-38; 1 Cor. 12:1-14:40; etc.).
The Epistles of the New Testament were written, by divine inspiration, to these various companies of believers, and are full of “doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.” They were written for the purpose of encouraging these assemblies to exercise their spiritual gifts, and to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus develop into Christian maturity and consequent usefulness in the service of their Lord and Master.
The Pattern for Church Fellowship
We have in the Acts and the Epistles the scriptural pattern which God has given for assembly fellowship, and which should govern the whole period of Church history. It should therefore be obvious that we have no more right to alter this pattern of Church fellowship than we have a right to alter the way of salvation. It is for us to follow it, cost what it may and lead where it will.
As one reads and rereads the Acts and the Epistles, he will be impressed with the refreshing simplicity which characterized these New Testament assemblies. He will find no mention of highly organized and rival denominations such as exist today, each separated from the other by humanly constructed barriers in the shape of creeds, forms of government, rites, books of discipline, rules, regulations and traditions, and largely serviced by a group of ordained clergymen.
The young Christian of today finds himself in a world characterized by religious confusion. A multitude of voices seeks to advise him as to his choice of church fellowship. Eager hands beckon him here or there, to join this or that party. All sorts of inducements will be made to secure his membership in some organization.
What is the young believer to do as he faces these confused conditions in Christendom? There is but one correct answer to this question. The same holy Scriptures, which revealed to him the way of salvation and led him to trust Christ as his Saviour and Lord, must also be his guide in his church fellowship.
The Principles of Church Fellowship
There was no need in the early days of the Church for such a choice, for there was only one place where the believer could go! It is only the present confusion that makes such a choice necessary.
Let us therefore devote a little time to a consideration of those scriptural principles that should aid a young believer in his choice. An assembly of professed believers should meet a three-fold condition. First, it should be doctrinally sound; second, scripturally constituted; third, spiritually healthy.
It should be doctrinally sound: By this is meant that the great foundation truths of the Christian faith should be tenaciously held and fearlessly taught. Let us name a few of these fundamental doctrines.
The Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God in its every part, and is therefore absolutely authoritative on every subject dealt with in its pages (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
The essential and eternal Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as equal and eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That He became incarnate by a virgin birth, and combines in Himself absolute Deity and perfect humanity (1 Tim. 3:16; Col. 1:13-20. John 1:1-4).
The necessity for and the eternal efficacy of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice: This and His victorious resurrection and glorification held as the sole basis of a sinner’s acceptance with God (Rom. 3:24-26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8; John 3:14-18).
The ruined state of all humanity by nature, and man’s need of regeneration ere he can either see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-7. Rom. 3:9-24).
That salvation is wholly of grace, and therefore entirely apart from human merit, and is conditioned by repentance towards God, faith in the Person and work of the Son of God, and confession of Him as Lord of the life (Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 20:20-21; Rom. 4:1-8; 11:6; 10:8-13).
The Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit: That He inspired the Word of God, convicts the sinner of his need of salvation and, on his reception of Christ, seals him as the possession of Christ forever (John 16:7-15; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 1 Cor. 6:19-20).
The eternal retribution of the wrath of God upon all who die unrepentant, either neglecting or despising the salvation provided by the Son of God (John 3:36; Mark 9:43-48; John 12:47-48; Rev. 20:11-15).
These are foundation truths, and it is written: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:2). Any company that denies these truths is no place for a Christian (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
It should be scripturally constituted. That is to say, it should meet the requirements found in the pattern given in the New Testament.
It should have no name, but what is common to and inclusive of all believers.
It should believe in and act upon the truth of the unity of all believers as members of the Body of Christ, of which the Lord Jesus is the Head. Denominationalism is a virtual denial of this.
It should accept the Bible as the final authority on all matters of faith and doctrine. This will eliminate the decrees of men and books of discipline.
It should give liberty for the exercise and development of any spiritual gift which the Head of the Church has given, such as evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. Its ministry should not be confined to one man.
It should be solely responsible to the Lord Jesus as its Head for the maintenance of godly order and discipline, and not to a central synod who dictates its policy and enforces its rules.
It should be prepared to welcome to its fellowship all believers who are sound in doctrine and moral in life, and who desire to meet with them.
It should practise the two ordinances that Christ instituted. First, baptism by immersion subsequent to faith in the Son of God. Second, the observance each Lord’s day of the Lord’s supper.
It should carry on its Gospel activity in a scriptural manner, soliciting no money from the unsaved.
It Should be Spiritually Healthy
A company of professed believers may meet the first two conditions and yet fail in this respect. By the term, “Spiritually healthy,” we mean that the meetings are characterized by an atmosphere of spirituality. Would that this could be said of all such gatherings! Several things will combine to produce this spiritual atmosphere.
Sincere and fervent love for the Lord Jesus. This, as nothing else, stirs the hearts of believers and leads them out in prayer, praise, and adoration.
The warm glow of Christian love towards all who love the Saviour irrespective of the amount of Bible light they have. This love will evidence itself in courteous consideration, in kindliness, hospitality, generosity, and godly care for the flock of God.
Humility of spirit: This will be recognized by an absence of spiritual pride, religious snobbery, and Pharisaical pretention, which prides itself on a superior knowledge of the truth, a greater attainment of “separation” from other Christians, and a “holier than thou” attitude to other believers.
Openheartedness in relation to all believers, and a willingness to welcome to the Lord’s supper all Christians who so desire, and are both doctrinally and morally sound, simply because they belong to Christ.
Christian liberty of thought and action: This will be evidenced by the absence of the blight of legalism, which shows itself in rigid formality, a critical spirit, a jealous attitude, a censorious outlook on the work of others, and a quarrelsome mood. Such an atmosphere is fatal to spirituality and therefore is no place for a young Christian.
The Deportment of a Christian in an Assembly
Having found an assembly of believers that most nearly fits this description, what should a young Christian do?
He should make known his desire for fellowship to the elder brethren of this assembly. They, in turn, will expect him to give testimony to his experience of the saving grace of God, and also of his spiritual exercise concerning the matter of church fellowship. They will probably inquire as to whether he has been baptized as a believer, or whether he is willing to thus follow the Lord in this rite.
On being welcomed to the fellowship of this company of believers, he should make it a point to be present at all the meetings convened by this assembly, such as the remembrance of the Lord in the breaking of bread, the prayer meeting, the Bible teaching meeting, the Sunday school and the Gospel meeting. This will involve some effort and the sacrifice of time, energy and money, but the effort will be amply repaid in terms of spiritual blessing in his own life. He must not forget that he needs the assembly and the assembly needs him.
He should seek to develop his own spiritual life by diligent study of the Word of God, prayer, and personal witness for Christ, and godly life before the world.
He should stir up whatever gift the Lord has given him and, by exercising this gift, seek to contribute to the upbuilding of the assembly. Each Christian has been given some gift by the Lord, but this gift must be developed if it is to be of use in Christian service.
He should be a systematic, proportionate, cheerful and liberal giver of his means to the assembly for its Gospel, teaching and foreign missionary effort. This will mean that he will set aside a definite portion of his income for the Lord. This is a most important thing, for liberality and spirituality go hand in hand. It is possible to be very sanctimonious and very stingy! God devotes two whole chapters of the Bible to the grace of giving (2 Cor. 8-9).
May the Lord lead each young Christian reading these pages, to a greater realization of his tremendous privileges as a child of God, and a corresponding discharge of his responsibilities towards the Lord Jesus and His Church!