Schooled In The Assembly
Donald L. Norbie, Greeley, Colorado, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Many times young people wonder, 'Where is the best school for me to attend that I may grow and develop my gift as a Christian?' They may get catalogues from various Bible schools and seminaries and are perplexed as to which school to attend. For some, a year or so at a Bible school may prove helpful and for those seriously interested in learning Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the scripture, it may be necessary to attend a school offering such subjects. One may, of course, attend some secular institution to prepare for a profession or trade.
Carl E. Armerding, PhD, attended three seminaries and was thankful for Hebrew and Greek, hermeneutical method and theological thinking. He adds, 'Was it a great experience? Not exactly.' Then he goes on to state three areas where he was disappointed. 'Within the institutional church, I discovered that informed laity were mostly a threat to the model of ministry I was being taught, while the idea that ministry might take place in the workplace was almost totally unexplored. Moreover, the model of ministry itself focused almost entirely on preaching. My seminaries also had little or no idea of what worship meant, in the sense of people responding audibly and creatively to God's grace in Christ Jesus.' (Christianity Today, October 8, 1990).
A healthy New Testament assembly should be an excellent place to learn God's word and to grow spiritually. Of the early church it is said, 'And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers', Acts 2. 42. There was a plurality of teachers from the very first. Later we read, 'Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers', Acts 13. 1. There was no rigid clergy-laity structure such as often marks churches today. Opportunity for participation encouraged the development of various gifts. 'Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them', Rom. 12. 6. The practice of the early church encouraged participation. 'How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching', 1 Cor. 14. 26. Knowing one has the opportunity to participate encourages exercise of heart and study of the word.
Hearing the word taught by various teachers will give a balance to the teaching. God gives different insights and perceptions to His people in this way. Such teaching also tends to be practical; it is groomed and perfected in the market place of life. It is sad that the Holy Spirit is so often quenched by the clergy-laity system. 'For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged', 1 Cor. 14. 31. Those with gift for preaching and teaching God's word should have opportunity, led and encouraged by the elders, 1 Thess. 5. 12-13.
There should also be the realization that all are gifted in different ways and should be concerned to use their gifts for the blessing of the saints and for the proclamation of the gospel. 'But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all', 1 Cor. 12. 7. Again, a healthy New Testament church will do everything possible to develop and mature whatever gift you may have. There is no ungifted child of God; each should realize his value and uniqueness. Do not bury your talent; use it for the glory of God. A dear friend said, 'I believe God has give me the gift of helps'. He was always busy helping people, a servant of all. Thank God for such gifts.
A New Testament assembly emphasizes worship. Today it is popular to orchestrate worship. The more formal churches follow an established liturgy led by the minister with the people dutifully responding at the proper time. Often such services are read. A contemporary movement has a worship team with a band and song leaders that begin a service. It may resemble a cheerleading session with the volume increasing as the service progresses, and much repetition. There is much enthusiasm but again not much thought is required by the participants. It is all planned by the worship team. The Lord's Supper centres in the Person of Christ and not in personal experience. To remember Him requires thought, meditation and contemplation. There should be an atmosphere of reverence. God is holy, immortal, invisible, wise, almighty, 1 Tim. 1. 17. Each believer must be spiritually prepared to meet with God. 'Let a man examine himself and so let him eat', 1 Cor. 11. 28. It is no light matter to come into the presence of the living God. To remember the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is awesome and exciting. Our worship centres in God's Lamb, even as it did in Israel.
It is important to remember Christ in the breaking of the bread every Sunday, as the early church did, Acts 20. 7. But many churches do this in a dead ritualistic way with unsaved church members going through empty motions. The early church had opportunity for participation, being led by the men, 1 Cor. 14. 34. This keeps worship fresh. Here young believers should feel in total liberty to begin to articulate their love and appreciation for the Lord and for His Christ. Spiritual hymns, rich in theology, inform the mind and warm the heart, stimulating fresh worship. Here mind and heart grow together in love and devotion to God. This, in turn, should lead God's people to greater consecration and obedience.
Whatever other education the child of God may get, he should realize that the primary place for him to learn the word of God, to develop his gift and to learn to worship is the local church. This is all that the apostles established. 'So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed', Acts 14. 23. Saved by the grace of God, gifted by the Holy Spirit and led by spiritual elders the saints would grow and make progress. Paul could say, 'And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified', Acts 20. 32.
Looking for Christian training? Try a New Testament church!
AUTHOR PROFILE: Donald Norbie is in fellowship with the assembly in Greeley, Colorado, and is a commended full-time worker. A regular contributor to Precious Seed and other assembly magazines his ministry is widely appeciated throughout N. America and the UK.