Must I Be Part of an Assembly?8 min read
“We have our Bibles, our reading plans, our coffee hours, our TV broadcasts, our books, our audio, our Christian music – what more could a local church offer us that we don’t have already? Yes I have Christian friends who go to church, but that certainly can’t mean they are better than I am!”
Obligations We Cannot Fulfil Without the Assembly
The display of public Headship, the Lord’s Supper, collective holding of the truth, exercise of spiritual gifts, collective singing, edification – what do all these have in common? They cannot be done without the Biblical assembly, yet they are obligations. They are not simply obligations to fulfil providing someone chooses to be part of a local assembly, but rather obligations of the believers assuming fellowship with a local assembly. The Lord said to his disciples before the New Testament assembly was even formed “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Surely it is a command to individuals, not just something that is to be done should a person desire to gather with God’s people, yet when it is carried out it is in the assembly. Or what about the fruits of the Spirit – do they not assume we are with people on a consistent basis? How do we practice longsuffering and love while avoiding envy and strife without being amongst God’s people? Or how shall the angels see Headship carried out (1 Cor 11:10) if there is no assembly to carry it out in? Throughout all of Scripture, there is no question as to a believer’s attitude toward the assembly, and in the commands it makes, it assumes the believers will have capacity to fulfil them. It is a very basic point in God’s mind that a believer be part of an assembly. Notice how that is displayed in this vital passage in Hebrews.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
The Appropriate Attitude Toward Assembly Fellowship
Thankfully we don’t have to only see ourselves as obligated to the assembly, but desirous towards it. Notice the great joy these verses express toward God’s house, and let them sink in. “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4). “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.” (Ps. 65:4). “Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (Ps. 92:13). “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD… Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.” (Ps. 122:1,9).
Could you claim the same things about the assembly? The Psalms represent the deepest considerations of the heart; one wonders how deeply we would consider the assembly. Though we have obligations, they are not meant to burden us. Rather, they should be our greatest delight. For example, Acts 2 records the salvation, baptism, and reception of 3,000 into assembly fellowship. Though we won’t see that phenomenon today, we do see a principle of eagerness to be with God’s people expressed in these brand-new believers. This is seen in the following verse: “They devoted themselves” to the activities of the assembly. Shouldn’t that be expected of us? Furthermore, John in his first epistle reiterates time and time again the centrality of loving the brethren – God’s people. In fact, this is one of the primary tests of true salvation. But surely it is not love toward the brethren when, fully able to participate with them, we shrink back from edifying them and being with them. Love toward God’s people can only be nominal until accompanied by love to His assembly. Yes, there can be love toward Christian family members and friends who we don’t normally meet with, but God’s central focus is the assembly. What is our attitude to the gathering of God’s people?
The Loss Without Assembly Fellowship
In 1 John 5, we see a wonderful promise “By this we know we love the children of God, if we love God and keep His commandments. He that loves God keeps His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.” In other words, God doesn’t bring commands before us arbitrarily and without reason. They are for our very good. One would expect, then, that the command to remain faithful to the assembly – made up of God’s children – would be accompanied by various blessings, and in fact it is! Notice what we would miss without the assembly.
- Proper exercise of spiritual gifts. First Corinthians 12 is clear when it says that the context for the exercise of our spiritual gift is in a body. The assembly is seen as that body-like entity in which the individual members function. A member without its body is without function. While a body may be able to function temporarily without a member, a member cannot function without a body. So it is with the assembly. We have a specific role to fulfil amongst God’s people, and we cannot properly fulfil that role outside the local assembly. From this we can take away (1) that the assembly is the central atmosphere of our role fulfilment and (2) that our main goal should be the benefit of the local body. If we are to put others first in edifying them by our gifts, the assembly is essential. And who would argue that we are to put others first?
- Order and establishment throughout the faith. The assembly is called the pillar and ground of truth in 1 Timothy, meaning God’s desire is that His truth be upheld collectively. If we are all to be lone-rangers, there would be no body of people to maintain a set standard throughout Christian testimony. There would be no collaboration as to the needs of God’s people. There would be no set standard of living, because we would all be left to our own thoughts. There would be no definiteness amongst believers, because no one would be on the same page since there was no unified effort to define and outline Scriptural doctrines. There would be no mode of passing down truth in a way that preserves it for another generation. We must be ready to work as a body if we are going to have a solid ground for progress.
- How sad to lose the weekly encouragement of God’s people! Are our hearts not warmed by the weekly Breaking of Bread? Are our hearts not encouraged to see God’s people together with the singular desire to glorify the blessed Man of Calvary? Or what about the encouragement from believers who serve as examples of godliness? This should be everything to us! And yet it isn’t ours without an assembly.
- This should be an assumed factor in our minds. Society and every organization knows the importance of working together for a common goal. Why? Because we are not the measure of perfection. We need other people and their contributions to acquire true progress. So it is with the assembly. We should be people persons, yet this cannot be a perfected goal if we do not have an assembly to be selfless with.
- Without an assembly, there can be no assembly discipline; yet that is a very important factor in Scripture. Without an assembly, we can live however we want, or perhaps head toward a tragic mistake, without any wise warning to be watchful. And there is really no accountability when sin does happen. How can that be profitable? Surely, if we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge our need for accountability. It is actually quite arrogant to think we can look after ourselves without any support.
- Without something outside ourselves to remind us regularly of our purpose in life, we will always digress in spiritual progress. The assembly, in both the responsibilities there and the teaching there, serves to remind us of the appropriate focus. Again, if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize how much we need this regular reminder, for we are so apt to forget.
As we conclude, let’s take another look at the question proposed at the beginning, but this time in light of what we have seen: “Surely God must have forgotten to foresee all we would have to supplement church these days. Obviously what man has produced regarding the Bible surpasses an old book, written 2,000 years ago. And surely God does not have the right to say what kind of Christianity is pleasing to Him and what kind isn’t!” This on the surface won’t seem to be the same question, but it is the implication that the question entails. When pragmatic people say that our lives should be run by whatever works best, they imply that God couldn’t foresee all the resources we have today and thus gave a primitive pattern in His Word that must be improved upon by modern “wisdom.” God actually knew exactly what He was doing when He wrote His Word. He knew exactly what new methods would arise in the 21st century, what new media would be available for proclaiming certain messages, what kind of social media we would have. Isn’t it interesting, then, that He still gave us what we find in His Word. Could it be that what we find in Scripture is actually what we are called to fulfill? Could it be that when He says “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together,” he actually meant it, even in spite of “video church” and audio sermons? Consistent Christianity can only reply “Yes.” So then, we must be without excuse when it comes to putting off assembly fellowship – and without excuse for our own good!