Scriptural list of Assembly Meetings
E Tipson, Bournemouth
In Matt. 18. 20 we read the words of our Lord when He said, " For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst." The words "gathered together" represent one word in the Greek (sunago) and that word when used in connection with the Church in the New Testament gives us a complete list of seven different kinds of meetings that every assembly ought to have. The word is also used of other gatherings, such as Herod gathering together the chief priests and scribes in Matt. 2. 4, etc., but the word as used only in connection with the Church gives the following list:—
(1) The Prayer Meeting, Acts 4. 31, "And when they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled together." Here the word is translated "assembled together." It is surely very significant that the first meeting of the Church where this word is used is a prayer-meeting, especially as nowadays, if attendances signify anything, the prayer-meeting is generally looked upon as the least important in the Church. We should remember that Matt. 18. 20 was spoken in connection with prayer.
Two things should be noted of this meeting : First, that the word used for prayer (and there are several), is the word used of the Lord praying in Gethsemane, which in Heb. 5. 7 is described as " When He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears." That is, the kind of praying meant—Gethsemane praying. Second, it was prayer that shook the building and was accompanied by the filling of the Holy Spirit. Do we know anything of such prayer-meetings today ? Only when the Church realizes again the important place of the prayer-meeting amongst the other church meetings, will there be a reviving amongst us.
(2) The Teaching Meeting or Bible Address, Acts 11. 26, " They assembled themselves with the Church and taught much people." This is also a very important meeting. Often, alas, it is badly attended and thus the people lack instruction in the things of God, not because there is no provision for such instruction, or a lack of teachers, but because they do not assemble at that meeting, not realizing perhaps the importance of being instructed in the things of God, What was the teaching in New Testament days ?
Jesus and the resurrection, Acts 4. 2 Doctrine
The Word of the Lord, Acts 15.35;18. 11 Doctrine
To do whatsoever Christ commanded them, Matt. 28. 20 PRACTICE
It is very needful to teach doctrine to believers. Someone said to Dr. Dale of Birmingham when he commenced to give his famous addresses on the deep subject of the Atonement, " Your congregation won't stand for it." " They will have to stand for it," said the doctor, and stand for it they did.
Elders who watch for souls and have the care of the ministry should see that regular and consistent ministry on the doctrines of Scripture is supplied to the believers.
But doctrine is not all. There should be a balance in teaching as the Lord commanded His disciples before He left them, " Teaching them to observe (i.e. to do), whatsoever I have commanded you." Practice as well as precept.
(3) The Missionary Meeting, Acts 14. 27, " And when they were come and had gathered the Church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them." Note that missionary meetings are not a modern innovation. They were amongst the first of the Church's gatherings. Note also the purpose of the meetings—not to tell of what the missionary had done and thus glorify him, but what the Lord had done. See how much the first missionaries needed to learn this lesson. In Luke 9. 10, we arc told that the apostles returned and they told Him all that they had done. See also Luke 10. 17 : " when the 70 returned with joy, they said ' Lord, even the devils are subject unto us.' " They did add, " through Thy name," but there was the exaltation of what they were and had done ; and so the Lord had to rebuke them with the picture of Satan falling—surely a hint that they were also in for a fall, if they persisted in rejoicing in that kind of thing. To these He immediately gave, by illustration, the right attitude to take, as we see in verse 21. " In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, ' I thank Thee, 0 Father.' " What a difference !
See Mark's version of Luke 9. 10. The apostles gathered themselves to Jesus and told him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught, and He said unto them, " Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest awhile." That was the best place for those filled with what they had done and what they had taught !
In Acts 15. 3. 4, 12, we get further light as to what made up their missionary addresses :
(1) the conversion of the Gentiles,
(2) all things that God had done with them, and
(3) what miracles and wonders God had wrought. This is the kind of work God wants His people to be interested in. A father is always pleased if his boy asks what lie is doing, and our Heavenly Father loves to see His children taking an interest in what He is doing.
(4) The Elders' Meeting, Acts 15. 6, " And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter." This was a matter which had caused "no small dissension and disputation," and the elders had a meeting to consider it, at which there was also much discussion. It was a question of wrong doctrine being taught to the believers, and had all the elements of a serious division in the Church. Yet see how wisely it was handled. Firstly, on the way down to the meeting the brethren did not spread the disaffection, but rather held missionary meetings (see w. 3, 4 and 12), to fasten the people's minds on what God was doing in the spread of the gospel, rather than the disputed things. Secondly, see where they turn for their final authority on questions—the Word of God. It was what God had done, what the Lord Jesus had done, and what the Holy Spirit had done, that was the final word with them.
We may note, of course, that this was not a meeting of local elders strictly ; nor indeed of elders only. It was the apostles as well as the elders that came together, and these not from one particular locality. It nevertheless establishes as a precedent the fact that it was regarded as wise for elders to come together in their care and concern for the teaching and spiritual welfare of the saints. And further, an apostle, because he was an apostle, did not cease to be an elder. (See 1. Pet. 5. 1).
Elders' meetings are very necessary to the welfare of the Church. Remember elders watch for your souls. And happy is the assembly that has wise and godly elders. The state of a meeting can usually be determined by the kind of elders found there. But they need your prayers, and probably most when you disagree with them. Let the elders realize their tremendous responsibility and the others their responsibility to pray for them, instead of criticizing them.
(5) The Bible Reading Meeting, Acts 15. 30. " When they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle, which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation (or exhortation, see margin)." The same word for reading is used in Acts 8, where the Ethiopian and Philip had a Bible Reading together on the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. How profitable that was! Why is it that so many Bible Readings are unprofitable? That is the only word that adequately describes some. And why is it that they have fallen so much into disfavour and decay? Is it not that often brethren come together to consider a portion of the Word of God without ever having spent five minutes beforehand studying that portion ; and so, when they come together no one has a single profitable thought to give to the rest of the assembly ? If you get several godly brethren, who have prayerfully and carefully studied the same portion of the Word before coming to the meeting, you may rest assured that you will get a really profitable Bible Reading, and the Saints will go home, as the Saints in The Acts went home, rejoicing.
(6) The Breaking of Bread Meeting, Acts 20. 7, "When the disciples came together to break bread" When? On the first day of the week. This is proof positive that the Christians did not keep the Jewish Sabbath ; for these travellers were there (Troas) for seven days (v. 6) and thus were there on the Jewish Sabbath, the day before ; but they did not break bread on that day, but the first day of the week.
What a precious meeting this is, acknowledged and enjoyed more than any other meeting by the majority of believers (if the attendance is any guide!). And yet, here a word of caution is needed. If it is considered by some that this meeting is so important that it is all that is necessary for one's soul, and they become what are called " once a week " believers, then let them consider that God by His Holy Spirit, did not put this meeting first on the list lie gave us, and let it be remembered that He gave all the others as equally necessary. Thus, if the others are neglected, however precious this one may be, it is not sufficient for the growth of the soul, nor for the up-building of the Church.
(7) The Discipline Meeting, 1 Cor. 5. 4., " In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye arc gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan . . . ." Here is the saddest meeting of all. Is there not the suggestion here that this should be a special meeting for the purpose? I think the practice of just "reading out" a person at the end of a Morning Meeting, and then forgetting the person, is quite wrong. If a special meeting were convened for the occasion where the one is read out, and then the assembly got down to earnest and tearful prayer for the clear one, who has fallen by the way, that he or she may be restored, how often would it result in the erring one being brought back into happy fellowship with the assembly again. As J. N. Darby once expressed it, "We should think of the dear fallen one as if she were our own daughter." What a difference that would make in our attitude to the one " put away." Remember that the Church of Ephesus was known for its exact correctness as to doctrine, and how they could not bear them which were evil, yet they themselves were in a loveless condition and ready to be set aside by God as far as their testimony was concerned. May God help each one of us to make use of all these meetings that God has ordained for the blessing and welfare and growth of His people, and I am sure there will be a more healthy state amongst us.