No doubt there are many young people in the “Assemblies” today, recognizing that there is something unique about the function of the assemblies, have asked, perhaps only to themselves, why? Many of us, if not all, go through a period of time when we echo the words of the Nation of Israel when they said, in effect, “We don’t want to be different; we would rather be like the other nations; therefore get us a king.”
It is evident that it is not merely enough to be a Christian and attend any Evangelical Church. The world today needs men, women and young people of conviction. An assembly with ten members who are there by conviction are worth twenty assemblies full of people who are prepared merely to attend an Evangelical Church.
Consider some of the ways in which an assembly stands out in the world of Christianity, what features make it unique and what Scriptures support its individuality.
First, it is different because it has no pastor yet is not pastorless.
There are three significant words used in the New Testament which have a distinct bearing on this subject:
Presbuteros — translated elder. This is the word used in Titus 1:5 where Paul asks Titus to “ordain elders.” The predominant thought in the use of this word is that of maturity.
Episkopos — translated bishop or overseer. This is the word used in Titus 1:7 for a bishop; he must be blameless. This word comes from two Greek words: epi — over, scopeo —to look or see. Thus, literally the word means to watch or see over. Hence, in Titus 1, the word translated elder equates the word translated bishop.
Poimeen is translated Pastor or shepherd and is used in Ephesians 4:11 (and some, pastors) where it refers to the gifts to the Church. Acts 20:28 reads, “Take heed to the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you (the elders) overseers, to feed the Church of God (or act as a pastor or shepherd to the Church of God.)” In this verse the work of pastoring is given to the overseers. In short, the three words refer to the same individuals. The first (elders) finds its source is spiritual maturity; the second (overseers), in spiritual perceptiveness; the third, (pastors) in spiritual understanding.
Wherever these individuals are referred to in the New Testament, even though it is to one church only the reference is made, they are always in the plural. For example, Paul writes in Philipians 1:1 to the Bishops and Deacons, (both plural). In 1 Timothy 5:17 Paul advises that the elders (plural) who rule well are to be counted worthy of double honour.
In summary, the work of an elder, (overseer, bishop) is urgently needed in our assemblies. However, in our concern and youthful ambition, let us never consider anything but New Testament pattern, precedent and principle.
If we allow one man, spiritual though he may be, to function alone as pastor (in the church sense), four basic problems are bound to arise and they all begin with “P.” It passes over the truth of the priesthood of all Believers; it prohibits the exercise of gifts; it perpetuates dependence on man; it provides a head other than Christ.
Secondly the assembly is different because it has a Breaking of Bread Service every week.
The term “first day of the week” takes on a peculiar meaning in the New Testament. The first time it is used is in relation to the resurrection (Matt. 28:1). The next time is in the Book of Acts where we read that the disciples came together to break bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Again it is used where Paul exhorts the Christians to lay aside as the Lord has prospered them, and to present their offering on the first day of the week so that there would be no special offerings when he arrived (1 Cor. 16:2).
In the first we have the foundation of our gathering, in the second, the fact of our gathering and in the third, the fruits of our gathering.
In the New Testament the “Lord’s Supper” became the centre of the whole activity of the local church. In 1 Corinthians 10, there may be a key to help us understand the reason for this. There are three tables mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, namely: the Jewish table, the demon’s table, the Lord’s Table.
When a person sat at the Jew’s table it signified his identification with the Jewish system; likewise when he sat at the table of demon sit meant that he was identified with them. Hence, when a Christian partook of the Lord’s supper as he sat at the Lord’s table he was, in a sense, saying, “By this act I am showing that I am identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.” This continued display of the fidelity of the early Church kept the fires of persecution burning and yet was the means of causing the Church to grow.
Today the greatest protection the assembly has against the inroads of Modernism is this simple feast.
Another comment may be made particularly to young men. Never let Christian service take precedence over the privilege of remembering the Lord Jesus. Service, important though it may be, is always secondary to worship in the Word of God. In the very shadow of the Cross the Lord Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of Me.”
Thirdly, each assembly is an entity responsible only to the Lord Himself.
There is no organization which governs what we believe, how we are to function or to whom we must account. Each assembly is responsible to God for its own activities. The local church is, both in its doctrines, functions and activity, a miniature of the Church Universal. It cannot, because of this fact, in any way contradict the principles governing the Church Universal. The Universal Church is described in the New Testament as a Body and Christ is the Head. So it is with the local church; He is the Head and we are responsible to Him alone for our activities.
Acts 20:28 reminds us that the appointment of overseers is made by the Holy Ghost. Inferred in this appointment is the fact that elders are responsible to Him alone for their actions. Hebrews 13:17 states that the elders must give an account of their stewardship of the people of God. To whom? To a divisional synod? To a local diocese? No! They must give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ to Him who stands in the midst of the churches, to Him who is the Alpha and Omega, to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.