What Is Meant By “The Church”? Part 2
W. Fraser Naismith, Kilmarnock
No. 2—The Local Assembly
THE Lord, in His wisdom, has given us a pattern which we do well to maintain in the community life of believers: and though in 1 Corinthians 14 assembly order is presented, such is not given as a stereotyped outline from which there can be no divergence. The place that chapter 13 takes in this epistle is worthy of note, for it is sandwiched between chapter 12, where the declaration of the divinely made unity is made, and chapter 14, wherein is unfolded characteristics of the assembly gathering. This “love” chapter (13) is put in as a restraining and balancing influence to the saints of God.
The local assembly in Corinth is called “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12. 27). How can any local assembly be the body of Christ? It can only be so as the believers who comprise it act on the truth of the “One Body”: even though there is paucity in numbers, if the believers embrace in that principle of the One Body, and the fellowship established upon it, every member of the Body of Christ throughout the world; then in this fashion, and in this way only can any local assembly be “The Body of Christ.”
In John 1 (38-39) two disciples of John asked the Lord: “Master, where dwellest Thou?” and consequent upon His invitation to “Come and see,” they saw where He dwelt and they abode with Him that day. They were gathered to Him as Messiah, and the context reveals that thus far and no further did their thoughts go. In Matthew 16, Peter confesses Christ as “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” There is a vast difference now! Christ, owned as Son of God, is the basis upon which the spiritual edifice which He builds rests. Thereafter in chapter 18 the Lord says: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” “Son of God” is the title by which Christ is known and appreciated in the present economy: and we “are gathered together in His Name/' (The gathering to His person is still future, and what a joyous gathering that will be when we meet our Lord in the air and are with Him and like Him for ever.) Meantime we are gathered in His Name. He says, “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” “Two or three” is indicative of a weak condition, yet the Lord does not despise such, but assures those thus gathered, fulfilling the first portion of the Scripture, that He is there in the midst of them, thus giving effect to His promise, in the second part of the verse. Let us guard against presuming to have a monopoly of His presence to the exclusion of other redeemed ones. We must, therefore, be careful not to hold a merely correct ecclesiastical position which might all the while be sectarian in outlook. Need I add that there are not two spiritual corporations in the Word of God: the one formed by the Spirit baptising in One Body all the redeemed—-that living organism upon the earth: and another composed of an affiliated circle of meetings bound together by an ecclesiastical cordon. The spirit that entices saints to glory in a sectarian position is definitely not the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ!
The local assembly is composed of born again ones; those who are recipients of the Holy Spirit, and who are desirous of being submissive to the revealed mind of the Lord in the Holy Scriptures. There exists in Christendom to-day a mighty monstrosity—a religious mandacity—“the mustard tree” of Matthew 13—and the birds of the air lodge in the branches. We, therefore, with meticulous care, must avoid such, and hold with pertinacity the truth unfolded in the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
In the local assembly there is no visible leader: the Lord Himself directs by His Spirit in the midst of His gathered ones. Yet it has been acknowledged as “wonderful” how a company of people can have such a spiritual exercise without being directed by a visible leader. The Holy Spirit is in the assembly to maintain two things: first, the glory and honour of our adorable Lord in whose Name the believers are gathered; and second, the Headship and Lordship of Christ as to His place amongst His saints. The great object of the assembly should be the recognition of the worthiness of the Person of Christ, and His place in supremacy as Lord of His assembly.
The assembly has the responsibility to shine in the darkness of this world’s night for Christ: the character of those comprising it being “sons of the day”—“ye are not of the night nor of darkness.” It maintains the truth of God “once delivered to the saints,” and it countenances no error. It is taught: it does not teach! It would be presumption to say, “Hear what the Church has to say”: as another ecclesiastical body puts it—“Hear mother Church.”
The assembly is, therefore (as another has aptly put it), “the sphere, not for man’s ability, but for the Spirit of God.” When we allow the Lord, the Spirit, to have His free way in the assembly there are “wells of water springing up” in spontaneous adoration and worship from those who comprise the assembly; and there are “rivers of living water” outflowing from such to needy and thirsty ones around.