What is an Assembly?7 min read
As we begin to study the main concepts of our place relative to the assembly, it is first of all important to start with Biblical definitions. The Watchtower cult calls itself “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” when in reality the organization is neither Jehovah’s or made up of true witnesses: it has the term, but not the real definition. In the Charismatic movement we have so-called “tongues,” when it is really just gibberish as opposed to the Biblical definition of being real languages; it has the term, but not the correct definition. Even the title “Christian” has been stripped of its true definition, being applied now to anyone who professes any adherence to the Bible or so-called “Bible-based” religions; they have the term, but not the correct definition. It should be very clear to us that titles don’t mean anything unless they are the expression of Scripture’s true explanation of it. It is the same way with the local church/assembly. Just because we “go to church,” we cannot automatically say are part of an assembly. We need to start with Biblical definitions before we can appreciate the term. For example, consider what an assembly has been confused with, and this will illustrate our need to define it properly.
An assembly is not the Body of Christ; it is body-like in its character, but must be distinguished from the spiritual Body which is the entirety of believers from Pentecost to the Rapture. An assembly is not an organization or branch of a denomination. Every assembly answers directly to Christ alone and is a distinct entity; Scripture makes it clear that it is identified by Christ’s name and Scripture’s authority, not a denominational name or creed. An assembly is also not a group of Christians at any given time in any given place. Scripture tells us there is a clear inside and outside to assembly membership and fellowship as well as a distinct locality for that specific congregation. Finally, the local church is not a repair-shop for the unsaved. Many have objected to local churches “arguing” about what is sin and what is truth, while sinners are “left confused and unattended.” But this is actually a completely baseless objection, because it implies that the unsaved have part in the local church, when the church is actually the Christians themselves. And those believers are called to uphold truth – a very noble thing. As a result of the believers’ concern for the truth, those who are unsaved will be attended to through gospel-preaching. But that only means Christ can change them, not the assembly. Our obligation to the world is the preaching of the gospel complimented by a deeply godly testimony; let us, then, still be confident to preach truth and holiness amongst God’s people. That is not a loss for the unsaved.
What Actually Is the New Testament Assembly?
While a full comprehension of what a New Testament assembly looks like cannot really be had until one does a thorough study on his own, we can see a few defining observations that will help us pin-point just what we mean when we study “the assembly.” We will do this by looking briefly at its identity, its attributes, and its activities.
As to its identity, it is an ekklesia. This is the Greek word underlying “church” in the New Testament, meaning literally “out-called”; that is why it is more accurately called an “assembly.” One man said regarding the history of this word that it “meant originally any public assembly of citizens summoned by a herald… It is the [Septuagint] term for the community of Israel, whether assembled or no.” (The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament). Thus it is clear that an assembly is no mere two or three believers getting together for coffee: it is a distinct congregation in a specific locality that has been formed for a long-term, specific purpose. And it is in this congregation that Christ promises “Where two or three are, gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is the dwelling-place of God, through which He fulfills His administration purposes throughout Christianity.
But for God to have a people appropriate to fulfilling His purposes, He must have people marked by certain things. The first is Headship and roles. First Timothy is saturated with distinctions between assembly members – some are elders, some are deacons, some are to pray, some are to remain silent, etc. Just as God has designed familial roles and authority roles in the Body (Ephesians 5), so He has ordained in the assembly that His purposes be fulfilled by means of people acting within their capacity and calling. First Corinthians 11 speaks of Headship between men, women, Christ, and God. Chapter 12 speaks of spiritual gifting and acting as distinct members to edify the local body. First Timothy 3 speaks of being an overseer, indicating distinct assembly government. Chapter 5 speaks of distinct age and gender categories which must be taken into account. All this is to emphasize the main point: God’s assembly is marked by order and roles. There can be no assembly unless this is understood.
That is the assembly’s character in its function; it also has character as to it’s holiness and focus. This is seen in Paul’s greeting to the Corinthians: “Unto the church of God [distinct possession] which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified [holy in character] in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, [holy in identity] with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, [owning Christ as central and authority] both theirs and ours.” There is no question that when God wants to use a certain people he first of all fits them for such use. If an assembly is to be a long-term entity for God’s purposes, it has very high standards of behavior. Unity, love, purity, zeal, devotion, holiness, etc. – these are the emphases of the New Testament, because without them we cannot function. “Holiness is becoming to thine house, O LORD, for ever.”
Thirdly, the assembly is marked by distinct activities. If we are to be useful for God, we must not only be fit to do His will, but we must do it. This was the mentality of the early assemblies: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” An assembly is not just a group, but a group in action. Our actions have to do with God’s pattern. He calls us to Biblical doctrine: we are responsible to uphold truth and the gospel as an assembly. Christ calls us to “Do this in remembrance of Me”: we are obligated to fulfill that ordinance in the Breaking of Bread. Scripture reveals fellowship as an assembly function: we are to be one in accomplishing God’s administration. And in all of this, we are called to worship as God’s redeemed: “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.”
As was said at the beginning, titles and terms mean nothing unless appropriately defined. When thinking of the assembly let us recollect what we have seen from Scripture, understanding it to be more than just “going to church.” It is God’s center of action. It is God’s special people called out for His purposes. Should we not, then, take seriously how He defines it? Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11 that there were ‘gospels’ of another kind being preached; they may have been called ‘the gospel’, but were in reality far from the truth. Let us not bear with “an assembly of another kind” either. Though we could call ourselves a church or a congregation or an assembly, let us not be so naive to think that buys us a free ticket to Biblical doctrine and practice; rather, let us uphold Biblical doctrine first so that we might rightly call ourselves “God’s assembly.” Let us uphold the truth of God’s assembly by His definitions. Only then do our claims mean something.