Question Time - Does the New Testament stipulate what meetings an assembly should convene?
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Does the New Testament stipulate what meetings an assembly should convene?
Whilst there may not be specific scriptures stating in precise terms what meetings an assembly should convene, there is no question that the New Testament contains definite guidance on the subject. After all, our only ‘chart and compass’ for the functioning of a local church is the word of God, and it is to this alone that we must look to answer the above question.
Before proceeding, and without contradicting what I have just written, it must be recognized that there are certain issues that God has left to our discretion. These are not matters of doctrine or principle but of practice. Issues such as the timing and duration of meetings, seating arrangements, what hymn books should be used (if any), and the frequency of some services are not covered within the word of God, and these things will vary from place to place. Many factors will impact on how these issues are dealt with, and it is for each assembly to determine what is most suitable for them within the circumstances that prevail.
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul states, ‘For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come’, 1 Cor. 11. 26. Clearly, this verse indicates that the perpetuation of the Lord’s Supper should be maintained until our Saviour returns to take us to be with himself. The only scripture that gives any indicator as to the frequency with which we are to hold this meeting is Acts chapter 20 verse 7, i.e., on the first day of the week.
A commendable feature that characterized the church at Jerusalem was their steadfast continuation in prayer. Furthermore, the vital nature of this meeting is emphasized by the apostle Paul in his first Letter to Timothy: ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made’, 1 Tim. 2. 1. In almost every epistle the apostle wrote to churches, he exhorts them to pray and, accordingly, we can be sure that it is the mind of God that assemblies hold regular prayer meetings.
One of the gifts given by the Lord to his people is that of the teacher, a gift that would be superfluous unless His people met for teaching. Although we are not informed as to how often Paul and Barnabas met with the church at Antioch, we are told ‘that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people’, Acts 11. 26. This marathon effort was surpassed at Ephesus where Paul spent three years teaching the word of God. Within many assemblies the teaching meeting takes a variety of formats, for further thoughts in relation to this please see the Question & Answer page of the May 2015 edition of Precious Seed International.
Probably the three meetings described above will be the most frequently held in many assemblies but, as we look into the scriptures, we discover that other services were also convened. When Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey, we read that they gathered the church together and ‘rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles’, Acts 14. 27. Although it is not called a ‘missionary report meeting’, that is what it was and it sets a precedent that we can legitimately follow.
Sadly, there is another church gathering referred to in the New Testament. If the Lord’s Supper presents one of our highest privileges, this meeting sets out the saddest, although both are equally important. We read of this meeting in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’, 1 Cor. 5. 4-5.
It appears that this meeting was not an appendage to the Lord’s Supper but a meeting specifically convened to deal with the excommunication of someone who has been guilty of a sin that warrants this most severe form of discipline. The dual purpose of this process is given for us in the chapter. As to the guilty party, its aim is to bring about repentance and recovery. As for the assembly, the purpose of this discipline is to preserve its purity.
Being in assembly fellowship brings with it the responsibility of being present at the meetings. However, there is more to it than that. In John chapter 20 some of the disciples were in a locked room and the Lord appeared, but Thomas was an absentee. When the disciples next met him they said, ‘we have seen the Lord’. What a blessing it would be if all our meetings were like that. Not just us meeting together but, consciously, meeting with the Lord.
Questions for this column should be addressed to email@example.com