Maybe it is not surprising that truths concerning our salvation should tend to interest us most, but there are other truths of equal value in the estimation of heaven – truths which concern the place and honour of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. These are truths that we should be careful to search out, appreciate and act on in order that we might give the Lord Jesus His right place in our lives.
Some such truths are to be discovered in the mode and manner in which those who are His disciples gather together in a local assembly. Seeking to display these principles in our practice will bring God-designed honour to His Son – and surely the privilege and priority of any true disciple would be to ensure that their Saviour is given due honour?
To see truths in relation to a local assembly in this light might bring a freshness to them in our day and generation. They are not a matter of man’s opinion or tradition – of rules or creeds – these truths have been unveiled for us in scripture in order that we might honour the Son. This is what will make these truths precious to us. It will mean we won’t give them up lightly; we won’t see them as optional; we will be careful about seeking them out, grasping their meaning and working them out in our lives. It will also mean that we will take care not to meddle with them or modify them. It is the happy privilege of all those who are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ to render willing, ungrudging obedience to all the commands of the Saviour, John 14. 15.
In launching into this series, we hope to cover a number of aspects of the practice to be found among a biblically-gathered assembly of believers. That said, this is in no way intended to be a list of ‘rules’ that define what an assembly is – that would risk legalism, an attitude which is devoid of the liberty into which believers have been brought. Nor do we see that God has left believers free to devise their own approach to honouring His Son – that would be a liberalism that is equally to be shunned.
It is implicit in the salvation of every true, born-again believer that they have not only received Christ as their Saviour but have acknowledged Jesus as ‘Lord’. This acknowledgement of His lordship is not a step subsequent to salvation – it is integral in trusting Christ in order to receive salvation and is part of the gospel, as illustrated when Paul preached in Corinth, 2 Cor. 4. 5. This truth is seen in other scriptures too. Paul, in Romans chapter 5 verse 1, states that ‘we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ’. The Spirit of God is very careful to use appropriate titles when mentioning the Son of God, so we can rest assured that the inclusion of ‘Lord’ here is significant. In other words, man can only be at peace with a holy God on the basis of God declaring him righteous (justification), and that declaration can only be made through all that the name ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ avails for. In passing, maybe we would do well to reflect on the content of our preaching – the declaring of this aspect in respect of salvation might protect us from the big danger of ‘easy-believism’! Salvation is not simply a rescue plan for mankind from eternal judgement; it is much bigger than that – it is about God bringing honour (glory) to Himself through giving suitable recognition to His Son.
It is clear from the account of the formation of the church at Antioch that this recognition of Christ as Lord was to be promoted as they gathered. The early church leaders, on hearing of the salvation of a great number of souls, sent Barnabas and he exhorted them all ‘that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord’, Acts 11. 23. Furthermore, it would be strange doctrinal logic that unveils such a critical and beautiful truth and then dismisses it as irrelevant in a local church.
Nationally, Israel made it abundantly clear what position they ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth – they had Him crucified. The Gentile nations also took their place at Golgotha, and gave their verdict through ‘wicked hands’, Acts 2. 23. God, however, has declared Him to be both ‘Lord and Christ’. One day – at the dawn of a glorious 1,000-year earthly reign, the nation will accept its folly and, along with the Gentile nations, experience the righteous rule of the One they crucified – He will be given His rightful place!
However, in a world in which our Saviour is rejected and disowned, and where He is ‘trodden under foot’ by the majority of humanity, there are those who for the glory of God, and on the basis of gracious, divine purpose, are destined to be conformed to the image of His Son, ‘that he might be the firstborn among many brethren’, Heb. 10. 29; Rom. 8. 29.
As divine purpose is worked out in time, God has given us the opportunity to demonstrate the lordship of Christ among us as we gather as an assembly. What joy it must bring to God to see those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of His Son, gather in a united attitude of ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’, Phil. 2. 11!
How is that lordship expressed in a local assembly? From some of the corrective teaching in the New Testament, we can see the implications of an absence of the practice of this truth and therefore understand how its proper implementation may be seen.
The first letter to the Corinthians is a letter addressing a number of errors into which that assembly had fallen. Paul opens by addressing the issue of division among the saints. Outside of the Gospels and the historical book of Acts, the term ‘Lord’ appears more in this letter than any other in the New Testament (fifty-four times), and its importance is under scored by seven occurrences in chapter 1 alone, demonstrating unequivocally that the root of the division was the absence of the lordship of Christ being acknowledged among them. It is salutary also to note that the failure of two saints to live out the lordship of Christ also caused unacceptable consequences in the assembly in Philippi. Paul beseeches that the lordship of Christ be the foundation for the resolution of their differences, Phil. 4. 2. It is a searching issue: amongst the saints where you meet, is there unity? If not, then the solution does not lie in pushing a personal agenda; it lies in repentance amongst all the saints and reinstatement of the lordship of Christ. Of course, unity does not equate to uniformity – that issue is also addressed in later chapters of the same Epistle – and the secret ingredient that allows an assembly to function under the lordship of Christ is explicitly revealed by God’s Holy Spirit in chapter 13.
In chapter 5, a sad, solemn gathering is described, and the apostle instructs the assembly that when they are gathered together they need to act with the ‘power of the Lord Jesus Christ’, v. 4. It is important to note that the power that would enable them to deal with the situation didn’t come from themselves. I can only imagine how stressful such a situation might have been for them to face. How were they to face it? The ‘power’ to act would not come from their authority, but from the authority drawn from the One who they recognized as Lord.
There is also an important distinction to be made as to the Lord’s table in chapter 10 and the Lord’s supper in chapter 11. The table in chapter 10 is relevant to the daily, individual experience of every believer; note the absolute, categoric nature of the phrase ‘Ye cannot’, 10. 21. On the other hand, the supper in chapter 11 is clearly an activity which is corporate and the practice of an assembly. So, in a local assembly, the weekly (see Acts chapter 20 verse 7) gathering in order to ‘eat the Lord’s supper’ is closely linked with the declaration of the assembly that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ – note that we are told that it is a declaration by the participants of ‘the Lord’s death till he come’, 11. 26. Which believer that loves the Lord would not want to be there and be part of that wonderful privilege of publicly proclaiming such wondrous truth?
Finally, as he draws the letter to a close, Paul reminds the assembly at Corinth that their labours should be in the Lord, 15. 58. Indeed, it is the lordship of Christ among them that prevents their labours being pointless. Are we working together in the assembly, single-minded, single-hearted, single-eyed, under the lordship of the Saviour?
There is another type of ‘lordship’ which is also recorded for our warning in scripture. It is that of unprincipled, proud, self-centred, self-appointed elders who use their position to demand submission from the saints, 1 Pet. 5. 1-4. That is not the shepherd character of how God expects elders to discharge their responsibilities under the Chief Shepherd. Those elders, who ‘lord it’ over the saints, are usurping the lordship of that same Chief Shepherd. God forbid!
One final note is that this truth also underpins the truth of the autonomy of all local assemblies. It was never God’s intention that assemblies should have accountability to each other. That does not preclude fellowship between assemblies, but to entertain the concept that one local assembly is in anyway responsible or accountable to another invalidates the honour that our risen Lord claims for Himself amongst His gathered people! Even a cursory reading of the description of the risen Saviour in Revelation chapter 1 will show that He holds a direct relationship with each assembly individually and no-one else, nor any other assembly, can usurp that. We live in days where the understanding of this autonomy is under threat; the danger is that failure to adhere to this truth potentially turns a so-called assembly into no more than an organization or denomination. God give us the grace to never see assemblies as ‘The Assemblies’.
How important this truth is, and how privileged we are to be able to put the lordship of Christ into practice as we meet together and honour our Saviour!