Marks of a Healthy, Spiritual Assembly

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine—Acts 2:42.

A mark of a spiritual assembly is “sound doctrine.” This was true of the Jerusalem assembly. Christian truth is known in the Scripture as “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9) and as “the faith” (Colossians 1:23; Jude 3).

The source of all doctrine is the Scriptures. The whole body of truth as it came from God is contained therein. Paul says that the Scriptures are “profitable for doctrine”—2 Timothy 3:16. In Acts 2 the NT had not been written, and doctrine had to be transmitted orally by the apostles. This is why it is called the apostles’ doctrine—it was the truth as taught by the apostles.

The importance of the doctrine:

1. We are exhorted to earnestly contend for the faith—Jude 3.

2. Anyone who denies “the doctrine of Christ (that is, His deity, Sonship, virgin birth, atoning death, and resurrection) is not a believer at all”—2 John 9; 1 John 2:23.

3. Men who deny the fundamental doctrines are debarred from assembly fellowship—Titus 3:10; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 2 Timothy 4:14-15.

Some of the fundamentals:

1. The inspiration of the Scriptures. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”—2 Timothy 3:16. Literally it reads in the original, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” Just as god breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7), so God breathed upon holy men and they wrote as they were moved by the Spirit. They were so possessed and energized by the Spirit, so under His divine control that the words that they wrote were the very words of God Himself. 2 Peter 1:21. So then the Book that we hold in our hands is nothing less than the Word of God. Compare also Hebrews 1:1.

2. The virgin birth. In Eden’s garden God foretold the coming of the savior who would bruise the head of the serpent, and described Him as the “seed” of the woman. Genesis 3:15. This word “seed” occurs frequently in the Scriptures and is always used with reference to the father, and not the mother, save in this one case. There was something unusual about the birth of the Savior—“the seed of a woman.” Isaiah explains the unusual event in this way: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14. Prior to the birth of Jesus an angel assured Joseph, Mary’s husband, “that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20. Notice how meticulous the Spirit is when recording the genealogy of Joseph in Matthew 1:18. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this way.” This suggests something different from the births that preceded, births that were of natural generation. The angel who announced the birth of John said to Zachariah, “Thy wife, Elizabeth, shall bear thee a son”—Luke 1:13. But when the angel spoke to Joseph, he said, “Mary thy wife shall bring forth a son.” He was God’s Son. This is a most important doctrine. It provides us with a sinless Savior. A claim which could never be made for any man born with a human father.

3. The Deity of Christ. The Scriptures teach emphatically that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and also God the Son. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse14 we read, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” Verse 1 asserts His deity, and verse 14 identifies Him as Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God. Also in Hebrews 1:8 we read, “Unto the Son, He saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” In this verse the Father recognizes Him as God the Son. In 1 John 5:20 it is written, “We know that the Son of God is come, and we are in Him, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Note that this verse speaks first of all of the Son of God. That there should be no misunderstanding about who is meant, He is identified as Jesus Christ. Then comes the awesome statement, “This is the true God.” This fundamental teaching was part of the apostles’ doctrine, and needs to be reiterated with emphasis in these modern days of infidelity. Please also note that “whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.” 1 John 2:23.

4. Atonement through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel which the apostle Paul preached displayed three great truths: (1) the death of Christ, interpreted according to the Scriptures; (2) His burial; (3) His resurrection interpreted according to the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. There are three things which the Scriptures teach concerning His death: (1) His death was propitiatory, Romans 3:24-25. Propitiation is that which meets the claims of God’s holiness on account of man’s sin, and makes it possible for God to show mercy in forgiving sin. Man’s sin is an offense against God’s holiness. The death of Christ met all the claims of God’s holiness. So thoroughly did He do this that it is written, “He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”—Hebrews 9:26. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (2) Christ’s death is redemptive—Romans 3:24. Redemption means to buy back by the payment of the ransom price, and then to set free. Mankind is sold unto slavery, he is the captive of Satan. The death of Christ is the ransom price to buy back the sinner and set him free. Matthew 20:28, 1 Peter 1:18-19, Ephesians 1:7. Propitiation is that part of Christ’s death that meets God’s claims. Redemption is that aspect of Christ’s death that meets the sinner’s needs. (3) Christ’s death is substitutionary. The term substitutionary does not occur in the Scriptures, but the doctrine of substitution is one of Scripture’s foremost truths. Isaiah 53:5-6.

Please note three parallel truths:

1. Sin-bearing. “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”

2. Substitutionary sacrifice. “Wounded for our transgressions.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for our sins.”

3. Salvation resulting from that sacrifice. “By His stripes we are healed.” “For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

From these and other Scriptures we conclude that our atonement is by the death of Christ. In this death God has been propitiated in that his holy claim against man’s sin has been met. Through His death mankind can be bought and brought back to God. These great blessings were brought to us through the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection of Christ

The two doctrines which were greatly stressed in the Apostolic Age were the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. What proof could we have of Christ’s death being accepted as a propitiation for our sins unless god had raised Him from the dead.

What proof could we have of our redemption as a result of His death unless He were raised from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:17, Luke 24:34, Romans 4:25. In the resurrection lies the proof of our redemption.

In the resurrection of Christ lies the proof that the dead in Christ will be raised. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23.

Then there lives the unanswerable declaration of His deity in His resurrection. Romans 1:4.

This fundamental truth, which is so essential to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 10:9) has been attacked vigorously by the enemies of the Cross. Yet the Scriptures remain unmoved and avers that Christ was made known “by many infallible proofs” during His 40 days of manifestation.

During the days of manifestation He was seen by His disciples, He showed them His hands and His feet and His side, He ate supper in an Emmaus house, He broiled fish on the shores of Galilee and gave to His disciples, He made arrangements with His disciples to spread the Gospel, He led them out from Jerusalem to Bethany, He blessed them ere He ascended into glory where He is now seated a Prince and a Savior.

The disciples preached constantly the resurrection of Christ. See Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:2, 10, 17-18; 24:15; 26:8.

We read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,” etc. Doctrine or teaching is an essential part of Christianity. Its principles are propagated by teaching and preaching. The only authoritative statement on what we should believe is to be found in the Scriptures themselves.

Here are some other facets of sound doctrine: the second coming of Christ. The disciples were sad when they heard the Lord say, “Yet a little while I am with you.” John 14:1-3—“Let not your hearts be troubled…If I go, I will come again.”

When Jesus ascended into heaven, two men from heaven brought them this message. This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven. Acts 1:11.

The apostle Paul enlarges on this theme in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout,” etc.

Words cannot be plainer than these. “I will come again”, “This same Jesus shall come”, “The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven.” Praise God, Jesus is coming. He is coming personally. He is coming to receive His won to Himself. “I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” We which are alive and remain shall be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air. Praise His ever-blessed name.

The Ruin of Man

This is an unpopular doctrine. Despite man’s progress in material things—science, medicine, art, business—the Bible teaches that man is a fallen creature. Romans 3:10, 20, 23; 6:23. One of the most concise summaries of the Bible doctrine of the fall and ruin of man is found in Romans 5:12.

The New Birth

The complementary truth to the ruin of man is regeneration or the new birth. The Lord was the first to mention this in John 3:3. See also 1 Peter 1:23.

We must be born of God—John 1:12-13. All that believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are “born of God” and become the “sons of God.”

All Believers Have Eternal Life

John 3:16, 10:27-28; 1 John 5:13. The Scriptures declare that the believer has eternal life and cannot lose it.

Unbelievers will be punished eternally. The complementary truth to the eternal life of the believer is the eternal punishment of the unbeliever. Matthew 25:41, 46; Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 15.

Those who inhabit this place are tormented day and night forever and ever. Brethren, this is a very solemn truth.

The Trinity of the Godhead

The Scripture teaches that there is one God (1 Timothy 2:5), His name is Jehovah (Deuteronomy 4:35), There is none beside Him (Isaiah 44:6).

But in the one God there are three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 1:2.

In Acts 5:3 we read that Annanias lied to the Holy Spirit, then in the next verse it is recorded that he lied unto God. The Holy Spirit is God. Since there is one God that exists in three persons it is not surprising to find the name of God written thus, “The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Some further doctrines: the personality of Satan, the creation of the worlds, the justification of the believer, the believer’s two natures, the believer’s subjection to the Holy Spirit, the believer’s accountability at the Judgment Seat of Christ, the believer’s fellowship with God, the Lordship of Christ.

In such an assembly Christ is the center, circumference, and the focal point in all church gatherings and activities. He is the authority of all church administration. In the epistles God gives Christ the preeminent place in the church. He is the center of His people and must ever govern in all church affairs.

This is true in the marks of a healthy, spiritual assembly.

Assembly Reception

Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost was vigorous and effective. Those who received the message were converted to God. They gave public testimony of their conversion by being baptized.

Then they went a step further: they identified themselves with the local believers. “The same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.”

Reception into an assembly and its fellowship is a great blessing and should be coveted by every true believer.

Who should be received into assembly fellowship?

Verse 41 points out that it was those who received the Word, and had been baptized, who were added to the fellowship. In verse 47 “such as should be saved” were added to the church. 5:14 says that “believers were the more added to the church.” This is the work of the Lord and should always precede reception into a local assembly.

Those who met in assembly capacity and enjoy assembly privileges and fellowship are described in the Scriptures by various names: saved ones (Acts 2:47), believers (Acts 5:14), Christians (Acts 11:26), saints (1 Corinthians 1:2), and brethren (Colossians 1:2).

God has conferred upon His own, who gather in His prescribed manner, those lovely descriptive names.

Two principles are laid down in the Scriptures for the guidance of assemblies in the matter of reception:

1. We should receive those whom the Lord has received. We are to receive “the weak in the faith” because God has received him. We should receive on the basis of life and not on light. Those who do not understand the Scriptures and the blessings and liberties that are in Christ Jesus will receive, generally speaking, better teaching and a more suitable spiritual environment in the assembly than in most places.

2. Reception is refused to those who are morally or doctrinally unclean. There are six moral evils listed in 1 Corinthians 5:11 which exclude a person from fellowship, even though they may be believers.

    Fornicator—A fornicator is one who engages in illicit sexual intercourse.

    Covetous—A person who desires more, in an evil sense. Love of money, etc.

    Idolator—A person who turns away from God to worship idols.

    Railer—A person who uses abusive or violent language against another.

    Drunkard—A person who is a slave to drink.

    Extortioner—A person who plunders and robs by unlawful extortion.

With these we are exhorted not to have fellowship and certainly not to receive anyone practicing these sins into fellowship.

The assembly is the house of God—1 Timothy 3:15. It is the habitation of God through the Spirit—Ephesians 2:22. Being God’s dwelling place, the assembly must be kept clean—Psalm 43:5.

Doctrinal evil is also a barrier to assembly fellowship. Titus 1:9, 10-11; 3:10. The first admonition would come from the elders who would try to convince him of his error from the Scriptures. If he continues to preach or teach his error, “his mouth must be stopped.” This is the second admonition. If these steps fail to curb his teaching of evil, then he must be rejected.

Weakness of faith is no barrier to reception. Diseased faith and the holding of unsound doctrines exclude a man from fellowship. In essence, we should receive those whom the Lord has received, those who are godly in life and sound in doctrine.