In A Christian Assembly - Why?
Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
In the early days of our Christian experience our ways are greatly influenced by others. These external influences can be so strong that there is the danger of accepting them without having any real personal convictions governing our behaviour. For example we may be associated with a Christian assembly and have no definite conviction why. Without a personal exercise about this we shall lose so much and soon fail in our responsibility. Also this lack of exercise among many young Christians is a source of weakness.
Consider some of the means through which fellowship in a local assembly can be brought about. There is the influence of family. To have Christian parents is a great blessing. To be led by them to accept Christ as Saviour and then to follow on to baptism and fellowship is a most happy course of events. Then, there is the influence of Christian friendship. Through godly friendship we may have been led to Christ. Consequently we may seek the circle of fellowship where our friends meet. Such friendship is of great worth and can only bring good to us. We may have been blessed through attending the Sunday School and Bible Class and subsequently came into fellowship. Or maybe, with us it was simply an attraction to Christian things, seeking “a place of worship” which may have seemed the place which most suited us.
We must ask ourselves, “Are good influences a sound enough reason for assembly fellowship?”. As we seriously consider this question it must be apparent that more is needed to give true stability when our convictions are tested or questioned. It is essential at the earliest possible moment in Christian experience, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to build our lives on convictions that are our own. Let us consider three basic reasons for gathering in local assembly fellowship.
1. The Person of Christ - the Gathering Centre
By His own promise Christ is the gathering centre of those who meet in His Name, Matt. 18. 20. Now this is much more than just a pious motto adopted by an assembly to justify its way of church life. Where the Lordship of Christ is truly owned, and His Name with all its precious values recognised and reverenced, His presence is a wonderful reality. Stronger than the bonds of family and friendship are the bonds that bind us eternally to our glorious Saviour. An undeniable compulsion to gather as we do will grip us, if we definitely realise that we meet essentially with Him; He is there. Perhaps we complain of the failures we find in those with whom we meet. Remember, they can see ours also. But, praise God, there is no fault or failure in Him. We need to pray continually in all our gatherings:
O fix our earnest gaze,
More wholly Lord on Thee;
That with Thy beauty occupied.
We elsewhere none may see.
No higher reason for our gathering can be given, than that He is there.
2. The Word of God - the Gathering Plan
The Bible has been called the “blue print for Christian living”. Perhaps we accept this for the private and more individual details of life. Are we fully persuaded that it presents the plan of our corporate life also? Can we find adequate reasons in the Word of God for our present assembly fellowship and practice? If we cannot, then surely one place will be as good as any other.
The study of the book of The Acts shows that there is a New Testament pattern for church gatherings. As we follow the course of the early church we find that local companies had certain notable characteristics. Only Christians were in fellowship in the local churches, Acts 2. 47. Each believer in Christ was baptised, Acts 2. 41. Their fellowship was an expression of common interests and exercises in the things of the Lord, Acts 2. 42; 4. 23-28. They broke bread together on the first day of the week, Acts 20. 7. These and other features are laid out in the historical record of Acts and further elucidated in the doctrine of the Epistles. Obedience to the Word of God is better than sacrifice and brings pleasure to God. The secret of all true corporate blessing is experienced where the pattern of the divine record is most closely followed in church gatherings. We need to think carefully on these things. The teaching of God’s Word presents sufficient reason for gathering with those who do likewise.
3. The Operations of the Holy Spirit - the Gathering Power
The experience of the Spirit’s power is essential to useful Christian service. This is true individually. It is most necessary collectively. Where the Lordship of Christ is owned and where the Word of God is obeyed, then it is xeasonable to expect the power of the Spirit to be manifest. In the gatherings of the early believers, there was a strange awareness of the Holy Spirit’s power. It was at once a basis for blessing and a barrier to evil intrusion. Perhaps we feel that this is lost today. Either legal formality or worldly looseness rob meetings of this sense of power. Too often, this is sadly true. But in gatherings with true scriptural foundations, with Christ as the centre, there must be the potential for the liberty and power of the Spirit to be experienced. And we can sincerely claim this as a reason for being found there. Our prayers and a committed willingness to contribute our best service, despite all the problems of present day church life, will add to our sense of God’s blessing.
Young Christians, our lives can be characterised either by drifting or direction. It is either groping in the darkness of our own speculations or grasping the divine Hand which will lead us into light. God is willing to lead us, even today, into certainty of conviction with regard to right church fellowship. Are we willing to be led into certainty?