THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY

CHAPTER 13 

THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY

If we would have been privileged to come into an assembly of believers gathered in one of the New Testament towns, we would have observed vast differences between that gathering and what is called a church today! We would have marked the stark simplicity of the place (perhaps a home), the plainness of the meetings, and the appearance of the saints. The complete lack of ritual, man?s organization, ornate fixtures and formalism would have surprised those who are only acquainted with the manners of Christendom. What should have been clear to every observer as well as every participant was that this was a gathering distinct from all else, whether the pagan temple or the Jewish synagogue. This gathering showed true spiritual character unrelated to the physical surroundings. And behind the outward appearances it would have been clear that this gathering was the result of the Holy Spirit?s work and was being maintained by a continuation of that work. This assembly had been planted by His work at some point in time, the saints had been  gathered to it by His call, their power to continue was in dependence on the Holy Spirit and the entire atmosphere of the assembly breathed ?spiritual.?

SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THE ASSEMBLY

In our study, we  want  to  consider  the local assembly as it exists today in its capacity as being  the expression  of  the  work  of  the  Holy Spirit to the saints of God in a collective capacity. The local assembly  is clearly defined in the Scripture, and with exercise, we maintain emphatically, that God?s assembly is not an organization that men have formed. It is not a system such as a denomination nor is it the result of men determining that because of common agreement concerning doctrine, rules, a constitution or any like thing they would form a ?church.? A local assembly is an organism, a local, living entity of believers, planted by the work of the Holy Spirit and upheld by His on-going work to add others to that assembly. It is being cared for and taught through the ministry of those who God has raised up and equipped by the Spirit.

The word translated ?church? or ?assembly? implies the idea of a company that has been called out. It is evident that there is someone in every case who does the calling. They are called out for a definite gathering, for a distinct purpose and  they have common ground. This word is used both for the universal or wide aspect of the church composed of every believer as well as for the local assembly gathered to His Name in a place.

Matt.18:15-20 gives us the first mention of the local assembly in which context we find the simple statement regarding that assembly in verse 20. We notice it is a gathering unto the Name of the Lord Jesus alone, not occasionally or only as a matter of convenience, but as a continuing, established assembly in that place. The gathering is the work of another, not men bringing themselves to that gathering. We believe that the Spirit of God is the gathering force Who establishes that local assembly in its beginning and adds believers to its fellowship afterward. We read in Acts 2:44 that ?all that believed were together,? no doubt as a result of their willing obedience and exercise in verse 42. Then in verse 47 we are told that ?the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,? or ?the saved ones? (Newberry). In Acts 5:14 we find that ?believers were the more added to the Lord.? Since this speaks of those who were already saved, this is not speaking of their salvation; rather, it means they were being brought into the fellowship of the local assembly in Jerusalem. It is never directly stated that the Holy Spirit is the One Who gathers the saints in this way; however,  the upper room ministry of our Lord in John 14-17 makes clear that in the absence of the Lord, the Holy Spirit would be the Divine Agent to accomplish and complete every purpose of God toward the saints and also to complete every other aspect of His work to men. So we feel quite confident to say that the Holy Spirit is the One Who works in the local assembly to gather the believers, add them to the assembly and direct their function in that assembly.

It is a great thing when believers recognize that an assembly is distinct from every other place religiously. It is very important for us to see its spiritual character in contrast with all else. One?s soul is at rest even in times of difficulty when one can see that the Holy Spirit of God has formed this assembly, that He has brought me to it and made me a part of it. There is a sense of Divine purpose and power in the realization of that vital truth. This is what produces spiritual commitment and enhances spiritual exercise to be a help in that assembly. This is what preserves the individual believer from wrong behavior in life as he or she recognizes their part in that spiritual organism. This also preserves the believer from leaving for another place where practices and principles are not according to the Word of God.

The difference between an organization and an organism is that an organization can function with rules, creeds, hierarchy of rule and ?machinery.? But an organism depends on LIFE within and sustenance from without. The intricate working of every part requires power, purpose, and ability, and in this case it requires more than man is able to produce; it requires a work from God Himself. The local assembly is a temple of God and a dwelling of the Holy Spirit (I Cor.3:16) and considering it as a spiritual building, all must be done consistent with His will and in His power.

An assembly is not man?s work alone; it is God?s work accomplished through human instruments. The record in Acts is not only a record of the work of the early disciples, particularly Peter and Paul, but it is a record giving us the acts of the Holy Spirit. Through these men going out into the world with the gospel, assemblies were established as souls were saved, taught, baptized, and brought into local gatherings by the Spirit?s work. All work of gathering saints in Scripture is a Divine work, and in order for such a gathering to continue Scripturally there must be evidence of His work.

Even in the physical tabernacle of the Old Testament, the dwelling of God in the midst of Israel, its building required the work of the Holy Spirit through selected men. They were enabled, guided, and given ability to complete that tabernacle according to the plan God gave to Moses.The same is true today; it requires a spiritual, Divine work through spiritual men to carry out the truths of the Word of God and bring into existence a local assembly of believers.

Spiritual activities require spiritual power. We cannot begin in a spiritual activity for God and then continue in the flesh. Natural ability will not suffice for this work. That natural ability, if useful at all, must be subjected to and directed by the Holy Spirit to be of any value in an assembly. From the beginning to the end, it all must be the work of the Holy Spirit. This is true in the formation of an assembly; it is also true for the continuance of the assembly. The proper function of an assembly requires saints who are exercised, yielded to the Spirit of God and occupied in spiritual things.

The only place where the Spirit of God can work in this way today is in the scriptural local assembly gathered in this way unto the Name of the Lord Jesus alone. In the vast majority, if not all, of other places of religious gathering the focus is on the organization and other elements that rob the Spirit of God of His power and the Lord Jesus of His sovereignty.

SPIRIT-DEVELOPED ELDERHOOD

When Paul called the elders of the assembly in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus (Acts 20) he addressed them in verse 28 saying that ?the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers to feed the church of God.? Comparing this passage with others giving the qualifications of overseers (the same as elders, shepherds, or pastors) in I Tim.3, Titus 1, I Peter 5 it is clear that these men are to be those who the Holy Spirit has raised up, equipped, and given the exercise for that work. We mark that this is not a position or an office. There are no positions as such recognized in the assembly. This is a work that is intensely spiritual in its character. These are men that must be spiritual, godly, having maturity and the respect of the saints and who must also have a life and reputation without blame. The qualifications are high, and we do not feel right to lower them in any way. God doesn?t compromise His standards even though men fail to measure up to them completely.

Elders are not voted in by a congregation. That practice is completely contrary to the Word of God. There are those who are advocating this practice in assemblies and also those who are promoting the practice of having a full-time paid pastor to carry on the work of the assembly. Both practices are completely against the Scripture. If they are raised up by God, they are responsible to Him and they must give an account to Him for their work (Heb.13:17, I Pet 5:4). If God has truly raised up such a man he will have the life and qualities essential to meet the standard God has given as well as to function in the assembly as God?s Word describes.

There are some men who want a position in the assembly and aspire to be an overseer for this reason. Not being raised up by the Holy Spirit nor being spiritual men with the right qualifications, if they ever come to the place of being recognized as an elder, they always will do much harm to the assembly. The merest desire for prominence should bar any man from the oversight of an assembly. We can see the harm such a man does in III John.

One who is being raised up of God for oversight work will be one who has that exercise for the honor of God and the blessing of the Lord?s people. He will be seeking to do the work of an overseer long before he is publicly recognized in an ?official? way. That work will consist of visiting and shepherding the saints, seeking to encourage, care for, feed, console, admonish, restore and strengthen the people of God. He will be exercised before God to pray for the believers, the assembly and its needs. The burden of the saints and their condition will lie heavily on his heart and soul and it will be clear that the Spirit of God has a work for him to do in that assembly.

The spiritual work of the elder depends on his ability to handle the Word of God properly. It is to be feared that some do not have this ability as they should and in this case the saints can be abused, driven, and harmed by the lack of responsible care. They are not to be ?lords? over the saints (I Pet.5:3). Their only authority is the Word of God and they must be able to properly use the Word to ?convince the gainsayers? (Titus 1:9) as well as teach the saints and uphold right principles in the assembly. This work properly done will bring joy now (Heb.13:17) and a full reward in a coming day (I Peter 5:4). It also will have a lasting effect on the assembly as the Holy Spirit ministers through them to the Lord?s people. It is imperative for the well-being of a local assembly that there be men who have this exercise. They are not desiring an office, but willing and exercised to do a work.

HOLY SPIRIT DIRECTS THE ASSEMBLY

Every activity of the local assembly should be under the control of the Spirit of God. He must be allowed to lead, direct and make clear the mind of God in every activity and decision made in the assembly. This requires elders who are submissive to that Word, spiritual, godly and as a result, they recognize the necessity for waiting on God for guidance in their decisions. It also requires saints who are exercised spiritually and are willing to depend on that guidance that only the Spirit of God can give. If not, it is clear that they will go in the direction of expediency or human opinion that even though it might appear right or seem to work, is not the will of God and will not produce desired blessing to the saints.

The mind of the Spirit of God will be made clear through the Word of God. The Scriptures are not the highest authority; they are the ONLY AUTHORITY for the people of God. The Spirit will make His mind known through inward convictions being wrought on spiritual men discerning the leading of God. At times circumstances may have a part to play, but above all else, the Word of God will speak to the spirits of those who are exercised thereby. Even as Israel was led through the wilderness by the pillar cloud,  thus knowing what direction to go and every movement for the camp to take, so God guides His people today if they are willing. Today, even as then, we must be willing to recognize His guiding, be willing to follow and carry out His will.

In an assembly, activities, plans and organization that preclude opportunities for Spirit control are a means of quenching the Holy Spirit. Assemblies must continuously seek to maintain conditions that allow His guidance in this way. Some have turned to prearranged programs, selecting speakers, determining hymns and their order, deciding ahead of time the ?theme of worship? for a meeting and using other organizational schemes. All these arrangements are a means of intruding man?s reasoning and desires into the realm in which the Holy Spirit is to have presidency. Though the argument is used that the Spirit  can  guide  ahead  of time,  it is clear from   I Cor.12-14 that the Spirit was guiding in the actual meeting of the assembly, not in pre-planned arrangements for the meetings. All this only tends back to the prevalent conditions of the religious world with its clergy and one man ordained ministry. These things prevent His prerogative to use the ones whom He will in an assembly, to have complete liberty to guide and control and to enable in the proper exercise of gift according to the Word of God for the Lord?s  glory.

HOLY SPIRIT LEADS IN OUR WORSHIP

Worship is the primary purpose of the assembly and must have priority. God desires worship before service and we must always keep that order before our minds. For example, in the days of recovery under Ezra and Nehemiah, that pattern was displayed in their activities. Once they were back in the right place, the first thing they did was to set up the altar, then build the house of God, followed by raising the separating walls of the city.

That pattern illustrates the principles that should regulate our exercise in the assembly.  Worship involves an exercise of priesthood that is distinctly spiritual. John 4:24 makes clear that not only does the Father seek worshippers, but those that worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. Worship is in the Spirit and by the Spirit and it is a worship of God. In the main, most today do not comprehend what worship is nor do they appreciate its importance. Most gatherings in Christendom that are labeled ?worship? actually are preaching sessions with no opportunity for true worship.

What is worship? While worship is difficult to define, the word itself derives from the thought of ?worth-ship.? It is the attitude and exercise of heart, soul and spirit that is occupied with God. It is the outflow of appreciation to Him for His being, worth, His work and gifts. It is an attitude and expression of reverence and true devotion of all to Him because He is worthy of it. Note the expressions of the redeemed souls in Rev. 5:9,12. It is more than thanksgiving, though that is part of it. It takes more than words alone, for it is the total involvement of the person expressing his willing subjection to another. It is expressed in Romans 12:1-2 in the truth of the believer completely presenting himself to God as a living sacrifice for Him alone. We give our all when we worship. An important part of worship is our reverence or awe of God and His majestic greatness. We have a sense of wonder when we worship and without it, our worship is very poor.

The Holy Spirit produces and directs in the worship of the saints. That direction cannot be arranged by men or properly achieved by human means. Our souls are thrilled in a gathering of saints to remember the Lord when it is distinctly clear that an unseen Person is moving first one and then another to rise and  participate publicly in worship. That One Who produces those expressions from redeemed souls and spirits is the Holy Spirit. The Lord Himself said that He would take of the things of Christ and reveal them to us (John 16:13-15). He delights to glorify the Lord Jesus in our hearts (John 16:14). Those thoughts that are expressed in the presence of God are produced by the musings and meditations of the believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. Not only are the expressions the result of the Spirit, but He would direct in the order of such a gathering if we are being led by the Spirit of God. There is no place for the saints that is closer to heaven itself than when we are thus gathered. In fact, our worship itself is not in a building or earthly place, though we may be physically in a place. Our worship is in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb.10:19-25, 13:10-15) where our Great High Priest is, and every believer, silently or audibly, has the privilege and responsibility to enter.

Service draws from worship and is linked with it even as the Levites in their service were found in connection with the Priesthood of Aaron. Service is the result of worship, for only as we have been in the presence of our God and given Him His portion can we go out before men properly to represent Him. If our service is poor it is usually because our worship is the same. Service requires spiritual gift to function while worship has no gift associated with it. No one can say they have no gift to worship for there is none. Worship involves the heart and spirit being properly directed toward our God.

HOLY SPIRIT DIRECTS IN SERVICE

The previous chapter has been occupied with the subject of gift and its exercise, so little needs to be said at this point. However, we must emphasize again the need that for a spiritual gift to be properly exercised, the believer must personally be in a right spiritual condition. We find that at times those who have a recognized spiritual gift  are considered by untaught believers to be spiritual. That ability does not confer spirituality, but it should call for spiritual exercise so that it will be used properly for God.

Those who have spiritual gift are responsible to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in its exercise. We need to wait on God and discern how and when to be active. Perhaps our problem is not too much involvement in the exercise of gift or of any service for God but rather too little! We need to be stirred more to seek that the things of God might have priority in our lives so that the will of God might be done.

To serve properly also involves waiting on God to know His will in guidance that we might serve effectively. We can run unsent, as Ahimaaz did in II Sam.17:23-29,   without a message  or ability to deliver it. There are many other ways we can fail to serve under direct knowledge of the will of God. It should be our exercise to be as the servant or handmaid of Psalm 123:2, with an eye fastened on our Lord so that we might know His will and be in a right condition and position to be used in doing it. There may be times when we cannot definitely know or say that we are in the will of God at that moment in our service, but we will be nearest to that condition of knowing when we are living constantly with a ready and willing attitude toward God?s will. The will of God will be known by the Holy Spirit directing our lives according to the principles of His Word when we are allowing Him to do so.

SINS AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT

Some sins against the Holy Spirit can have an aspect that involves the assembly. We read in Eph.2:29-32, about the sin of grieving the Holy Spirit of God. We know this is individual, but it is a sin that is committed in our attitude toward other believers, when our words and deeds  are not according to His will for us. How often the entire atmosphere of an assembly has been affected by a few in the assembly who are at odds one with another, speaking bitterly against one another and having wrong thoughts against those who should be the objects of our love. If this is the case, His work is hindered. It is necessary for the Spirit to restore right conditions in that assembly before real blessing can be seen.

Again, in I Thess.5:19-22 we read of quenching the Holy Spirit. While this can be committed by the individual, it is also possible for an assembly to quench the Spirit by not allowing opportunity for spiritual gift to be expressed or function. Would it not be possible to quench the Spirit by not allowing an exercised brother who has a message to deliver it? It is also possible that an assembly could sink to such a low condition that it is not willing to receive ministry that would correct its practices when wrong. We need to cultivate that kind of spirit personally and collectively that is willing to receive what the Spirit of God would bring to our hearts for our blessing.

In conclusion we can only say that an assembly, when properly led by the Spirit of God, is the most blessed place for any saint to be found. He desires to and will do this if the saints of that assembly are being willingly led and exercised to allow Him the place of absolutely presidency He should have. We must develop and maintain that attitude of spiritual dependence on Him for every expression of His will and work in our midst so the Lord Jesus will be exalted and the saints of God edified.

?As dews that fall on Hermon

  Refresh the plains below,

The Spirit?s holy unction

  Through Thee to us doth flow.

Ah, then, how good and pleasant,

    As one, to live in love,

Forgetting all things present

    In hope of joys above.?

                                                                Mary Peters (BHB 306)