|Gathering Unto His Name - The Seven Meetings of an Assembly|
In New Testament days, when travel was so difficult and many who gathered in assemblies were the poor, and even slaves, and there was no Sunday off privilege, such as we enjoy today, it is very likely that an assembly met to remember the Lord, had teaching, prayer and gospel preaching in one long session (Acts 20:6-12), but this does not contradict the distinctive character of the seven meetings of the assembly that are described in this outline.
The Lord?s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.
The Institution of the supper, Luke 22:15-20.
The Injunction for the supper, 1 Cor 11:24.
The Intention of the supper, 1 Cor 11:26.
The Inclusion in the supper, 1 Cor 11:18-22.
The Investigation for the supper, 1 Cor 11:28.
The Lord's supper is the meeting that expresses more fully than any other the basis for assembly fellowship and it gives character to every other meeting of an assembly It is an expression of collective worship and because worship is toward God while all other service is primarily toward others, it has priority and primacy in assembly meetings. The great privilege of worship is to be our eternal occupation. The Lord's supper (1 Cor 11:20), on the Lord's Day (Rev 1:10), to proclaim the Lord's death is the nearest place to heaven we can ever be on earth. Its weekly celebration never becomes tedious or commonplace. To gather with God's people to give God thanks for His Son and to remember the sacrifice that purchased eternal redemption for us is one of the greatest blessing bestowed on us. ?This do in remembrance of Me? is a command that we love to keep.
Personal prayers are a vital part of a believer's life, rightly called, "Our native breath", but collective prayer is a separate privilege and is the "continuing steadfastly in prayer" (Acts 2:42) of an assembly
W. E. Vine once wrote a paper that described seven ways to destroy a prayer meeting. They were; 1) don't come; 2) if you do, don?t pray; 3) use the time to plan your weekly activities; 4) pray very long; 5) pray for nothing specifically, 6) pray without heart 7) pray without the Holy Spirit. "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands..." (1 Tim 2:8).
The Ministry Meeting, 1 Corinthians 14:1-5; 29-40.
The "ministry meeting" includes a Bible reading or any meeting for the edification, exhortation and comfort of an assembly (1 Cor 14:3). The practice of assemblies has always been to make a clear distinction between a "ministry" and a "Gospel" meeting. When this distinction is blurred, believers may recognize the teaching that is for them, but how can unsaved people distinguish what is for them? In fact, where there is no clear cut difference, unsaved people attempt to apply Christian principles to themselves. There are many places where sinners are never called sinners; the need of the new birth is confused with the thought of a "rededication". This method may look good in campaign reports, but is barren in eternal results.
The librarian of a large seminary put together a list of assembly writings. Many of the early writers did not append their names to their papers. The librarian used various criteria to determine if the writer was an assembly writer. One of these was, Did he distinguish between a meeting for ministry and other kinds of meetings? We still have ministry meetings. The Lord Jesus gave as part of the great commission that we should teach them "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20). Paul did not fail to "teach all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
We are at a loss to be able to explain why the heralding of the Gospel as a public declaration has fallen into such serious neglect. When new methods are promoted for Christian witness, the heralding of the Gospel is missing from the agenda. All believers should be personal witnesses, and this one on one evangelism is a vital part of Gospel witness. However, all believers are not gifted evangelists and a public declaration of the Gospel by an evangelist is very different from personal witness. We are very sure that this neglect of Gospel preaching by a herald has been caused by ignorance of New Testament teaching, but it is also a symptom of shallow belief about a spiritual awakening that leads to "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Easy believism has substituted for the convicting and saving power of the Holy Spirit.
There are at least five words used in the NT for preaching. The general word for evangelism covers every method by which the truths of the Gospel are communicated. The word that is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1 could be paraphrased, ?a man with a message?. The content of the message is expressed by the word for preach (kerugma) that is used in 1 Corinthians 1:23.
The word, kerruso, in 1 Corinthians 1:21 is used 60 times in the NT. A careful reading of this word in every case will show that it is only used for the declaration by a herald to a company of people. When Philip went up into the chariot of the Eunuch, he "preached unto him Jesus" (Acts 8:35). Philip was an evangelist, but he is not exercising his public gift, so the word for preach is not kerusso, but evangelidzo, because it was a personal witness, not a public declaration. Those who tell us that one on one witness is the method for today, not public preaching, are ignorant of this distinction. We believe in "the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5) which is a gifted, public declaration of "the Gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). There is awakening and quickening power in ?the preached word? (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
We need to ask ourselves why it is that when assemblies change their practices, two of the meetings that decline in importance or are totally neglected are the breaking of bread and the Gospel meeting. Some have gone so far as to say that the preaching of the Gospel has lost its attraction and the Lord's supper had become tedious and boring to them. It has been claimed that "meditation" is a 19th century practice that is not relevant to our day. We have always thought that meditation "day and night" in the truths of God's Word was a holy practice from Scripture. The Lord Jesus is the perfect Pattern (Psalm 1:2), and it is not an outmoded practice of 19th century "brethren"
A love for Gospel preaching is a true test of our spiritual condition. "The preaching of the cross is to those who perish foolishness (tasteless), but unto us who are saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). If the remembrance of the Lord is boring, and meditation on Him is outmoded, and the preaching of the cross is tasteless to us, let us examine our hearts and confess to God that we are far away from Him. The answer is not to invent new methods and new machinery, but restoration in our souls.
The Report Meeting, Acts 14:26-28.
The report meeting is often called a missionary meeting and the mission field is usually thought of as a foreign land, but reports from home workers are equally scriptural. The pattern for such a meeting is beautiful: "When they were come and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).
We may need to re-think our distinction between the evangelist and the missionary. They are not two different gifts; they are the same. The evangelist may preach in his homeland or a foreign land, but he is exercising his evangelistic gift in whatever place God has called him to labor. It is neither fair nor scriptural to commend an ungifted brother to a foreign land, if he is not judged to be gifted enough to preach at home. Godliness, grace and experience should be given priority, but gift is also a necessity.
The Elders Meeting, Acts 20:17-38.
A body of elders should meet regularly for prayer and discussion about the spiritual needs of the saints. It should not be merely a business session where matters that are related to the building and property are decided.
There are at least four descriptive names for this body of brethren. It is their spiritual maturity that is in view when they are called "elders" (1 Timothy 5:17). In their work, they are ?overseers? (Acts 20:28) who literally "look over" or "look after" the spiritual needs of the assembly where they have this responsibility. They are not voted in or out, but are raised up by the Holy Spirit.
In their care of the little flock, elders are pastors (shepherds) (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2). Pastor is never one man over a church who exercises all the gifts. Such a system is common in Christendom and has been adopted by some professing assemblies, but it is a denial of four great New Testament truths:
1. The preeminence of the Lord Jesus,
2. The priesthood of all believers,
3. The multiplicity of gifts,
4. The rule of a body of elders without veto power over their decisions.
This is not an indictment against the personal godliness of individuals who
take a position as the one pastor of a local church, but it is a condemnation of
the system which the Lord says He hates (Revelation 2:15).
Elders are deacons in service (1 Timothy 3:8-13). This word applies to their spiritual ministry as well as to their practical work. All elders are deacons, but a man or woman may well be a highly valued deacon, yet not be an elder (Romans 16:1-2). There is a recognized body of elders, but all who have spiritual fitness may function as deacons when they are given assembly work to do.
The Discipline Meeting, 1 Corinthians 5:3-S.
The language of this passage suggests a distinct, separate meeting for discipline that is quarantined to the assembly and not known beyond its limits. This is very difficult when discipline is appended to another meeting.
The meeting that is described in Matthew 18:20 may also have been a meeting for discipline. This fact does not diminish the value of that verse, but it does say that even at the smallest assembly meeting, the presence of the Lord in the midst is promised. The distinction between Matthew 18:20 and 1 Corinthians 5:4 is that the former was a meeting to make a decision about the offending brother, but the latter was the calling together of the whole church to carry out discipline. The assembly only carried out what heaven had determined should be done (Matt 18:18).
Discipline may be internal, or it may require excommunication. The reasons for excommunication are given in Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Timothy 1:20. It is always in view of recovery and that others may fear (1 Timothy 5:20).
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