Identifying A New Testament Assembly
Compiled by Lonnie Ford for the Nepali Brethren
II. THE NATURE OF THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY
- THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
- Earlier in the study we referred to the Greek word ekklesia (Heb. 'qahal'), which is translated 'church' in our King James Bibles.
We noted that in the New Testament, this term was used to refer to a town meeting.
We noted also that it was used in reference to the Nation of Israel ASSEMBLED BEFORE The LORD.
- The Greek word, EKKLESIA is derived from the verb ek-kaleo, meaning "the called out ones."
- Among the Greeks, it meant 'an ASSEMBLY of the people, called out from their homes into some public place for the purpose of deliberating some predetermined matter of business.'
- The word was never used of a mob or casual gathering.
- These were people called out or called together for a distinct purpose.
In the N. T. this word 'ekklesia' refers to a LOCAL BODY; which is a fellowship of baptized believers; voluntarily associated with one another for WORSHIP, NURTURE, and SERVICE.
- In Deut. 31:30, we find it used to designate the people of God under divine Covenant, as it is written: "and Moses spake in the ears of ALL THE CONGREGATION of Israel . . .," (Deut. 31:30).
- This assembly, (congregation) was made up of God's covenant people gathered in the presence of the LORD.
- In that Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel, it was a local visible assembly of people.
The use of the terms visible or local when speaking of the Lord's Assembly, has been made necessary because the doctrine of the Catholic Church ('Universal Church') was spiritualized by her children, the Protestants and turned into an Invisible Church made up of professed believers.
- In every case, it was always, a local, visible, assembly of people; chosen out of the world (John 15:19) and called out of their homes to assemble for a purpose.
The terms visible and invisible are currently used in an effort to distinguish two aspects of 'the Assembly on earth,' the Biblical Assembly and the imaginative Assembly.
The universal, or imaginative Assembly is 'invisible' because it does not exist, it is the product of human fantasy, the fairy tale of imagination.
- This new term began with Martin Luther and has been in existence only since the reformation efforts of the Catholic Church.
However, the existence of 'the invisible congregation,' can never be proven nor verified by Scripture.
Also, because of the mystical nature of such an assembly, no one can calculate precisely who is and who is not a part of it.
- It is also called 'the church universal,' supposedly comprising all of God's people throughout the world of all church denominations.
- It also is said to include the believers who, though they do not belong to 'a particular local assembly,' have followed all the light that Christ has given them.
- This latter group is supposed to include those who have never had the opportunity to learn the truth about Christ, but who have responded and "by nature do the things contained in the law" of God.
- Romans 2:14 is solicited in support of this assumption to grant admission into the 'invisible church.'
The local, visible Assembly is God's People prepared for service.
- They simply 'believe' that they are!
- It is also taught that the Holy Spirit leads God's people from 'the invisible and mystical church,' (which no one can see or has ever seen), into union with His local and visible assembly . . . any local and visible assembly will do!
BIBLICAL DESCRIPTIONS OF THE LORD'S ASSEMBLY.
- It is authorized to fulfill Christ's great commission to carry the Gospel to the world (Matt. 28:18-20), and prepare a people for His glorious return, (1 Thess. 5:23; Eph. 5:27).
- It is only in 'The local and visible Assembly,' that believing ones can fully experience God's truth, love, and fellowship, because He has given to the local and visible Assembly the spiritual gifts that edify its members corporately and individually, (Eph. 4:4-16).
- When Paul was converted, God put him in touch with His local, visible Assembly and then appointed him to carry out the mission of His Assembly, (Acts 9:10-22).
- So today, God intends that all believing ones be baptized into His local -- visible Assemblies, that are characterized by loyalty to God's Word and possessing the faith of Jesus they actively participate in His work on earth, (Matt. 24:14).
- Christ's commission to carry the Gospel to the whole world, also involves the nurturing of those who have already accepted the Gospel of the Kingdom.
- New members are to be established in the faith, taught to use their God given talents and gifts in carrying out the mission the Lord gave them.
- Since "God is not the author of confusion," there is only one kind of New Testament Assembly and it is a local-visible Assembly which can function according to the terms of the New Covenant.
- FIRST, AS TO POSSESSION, EACH LOCAL ASSEMBLY BELONGS TO GOD.
- 1 Cor. 1:2; "Unto the Assembly of God which is at Corinth. . ."
1 Cor. 10:32; "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to The assembly of God . . ."
- The phrase, 'the assembly of God,' shows possession, -- it belongs to God.
1 Cor. 11:16; "If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD," (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4).
- This passage makes a distinction between the Lord's Assembly and the Jews (that nation of Israel), or Gentiles as all other nations of people, (cf. 11:22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5).
Acts 20:28; "THE ASSEMBLY OF GOD, which he hath purchased with His own blood."
Matt. 16:18; "I will build MY ASSEMBLY; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it."
IN LIKE MANNER, THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
- Again, showing possession, these are Assemblies that belong to the Lord.
- Signifying a fellowship of believing ones, who in obedience to Divine command have joined themselves through baptism to a local assembly, and are MADE ONE under God's New Covenant.
Hence, in describing "the People of God", THE NEW TESTAMENT writers use terms originally used of Israel.
- The new assembly is a remnant of the Old Covenant people of God, that grew out of the REDEMPTIVE MISSION and WORK of Christ Jesus.
These are a people separated from the world, by choice, that they might be the people of God, (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE BRANCH OR VINE.
- THE ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS:
1) "The Israel of God," (Gal. 6:16).
2) "Abraham's offspring," (Gal. 3:29).
3) "A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people," (1 Peter 2:9; see Ex. 19:6).
4) Called by God, "My people . . . . . sons of the living God," (Romans 9:22-26).
5) "The circumcision, which worship God in the spirit . . ." (Phil. 3:3).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE BODY OF CHRIST.
- The Assembly is related to Jesus as fruitful branches related to a vine, (John 15:1-8).
- Jesus drew out of the Old Testament symbols that depicted Israel as a vine or a vineyard, (Psalm 80; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; Hosea 9:10). "I am the Vine, you are the branches."
- The literal body of Christ is in heaven, at the right hand of the Father.
The metaphor or figurative use of the term, refers to the relationship of the local Assembly to Christ and the relationship of the members one to another, (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:14-16; 3:3-13; 4:1-16; 5:30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:16-19; 3:15).
The word body as used in the above scriptures is the physical body used as an analogy of the Lord's assembly.
- All will agree that the literal body was that one born of the virgin, (Matt. 1:23).
- This body was, according to Paul, specially prepared for the Lord, (Heb. 10:5).
Jesus is the Head, and the only head, of the local Assembly, (Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:23).
This metaphor of 'the body' also stresses the unity of each local Assembly, and the functional relationship of each member to the local body of believers.
- As each physical body is independent, local and visible, so the term is used in this same manner to refer to each Assembly as an independent, local, visible body.
The purpose of the body of Christ is to carry out the will of its divine Head.
As 'a body,' the local Assembly is nothing less than Christ's body in its given locality, (Eph. 1:23).
- The members of the body are members' because of their intimate relationship with Him.
- Like members of the physical body, members' of the Assembly, individually and collectively, have a wide variety of responsibilities to carry out.
- Each member has his own particular and individual gifts, yet all members are interrelated and need one another, (1 Cor. 12:14-25; Romans 12).
- In His love, God gives each member of His Assembly at least one spiritual gift that enables that member to accomplish a vital function.
- Just as the function of each organ is vital to the human body, so, the successful completion of the Assembly's mission depends on the functioning of each member exercising their spiritual gifts.
- What good is a body without a heart, or how much less efficient is it without eyes, or a leg?
- If its members withhold their gifts the Assembly will be dead, or blind, or at least crippled.
- However, these special, God-assigned gifts are not an end in themselves.
Consequently, the Spirit of Christ gives resurrection life through His power and grace, to every faithful believer.
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS GOD'S FIELD.
- It is the organism through which He imparts His fullness.
- Thus properly baptized believers are 'members of His body,' (Eph. 5:30).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS GOD'S BUILDING . . . this again is a metaphor or figure that reveals the relationship of the members to Christ.
- As 'God's Field' (1 Cor. 3:9), it is like a garden plot under God's cultivation for the purpose of bearing fruit for His glory.
- As 'God's Building' (1 Cor. 3:9), it is being constructed according to His plan.
- In the same chapter (1 Cor. 3:16), it is described as a 'Temple' or 'Sanctuary.'
- This temple is not a dead structure; it displays dynamic growth.
The result is a "Spiritual House" of which Christ is the foundation, and the "chief cornerstone" (1 Peter 2:5) wherein God is pleased to dwell, (1 Cor. 3:9-16; Eph. 2:20-22).
- As Christ is the "Living Stone," Peter said, so believers are "living stones" that make up a "spiritual house," (1 Peter 2:4-6).
- God builds His Assembly out of living persons redeemed by His grace.
The temple metaphor also emphasizes the holiness of the local Assembly.
- The building is never completed until the day of the Lord.
- New living stones are constantly added to the temple that is "being built together as a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit," (Eph. 2:22).
- Paul urges believers to use the best building materials in this temple, so that it will endure the fiery test at the Day of Judgment, (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE LORD'S FLOCK.
- His presence makes possible and necessary a "Holy" people," (1 Cor. 3:17).
- God's temple is holy, said Paul. "If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him," (1 Cor. 3:17).
- Alliances or partnerships between the members and unbelievers are contrary to the holy character of the Assembly, Paul noted, and should be avoided, "for what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? . . . And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?," (2 Cor. 6:14-16).
- (His counsel pertains to both business and marriage relations.)
- This does not mean that there can be no interaction with unbelievers, for then we would need to go out of the world and would not be a witness to them, (1 Cor. 5:9-10).
- The Lord's Assembly is to be held in great respect, for it is the object on which God bestows His supreme regard.
- Israel is ideally "God's Flock" but was a disobedient, willful flock, "lost sheep."
Jesus came as the SHEPHERD (Mark 14:27; cf. John 10:11) to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10) and is spoken of in (Matt. 10:6; 15:24; Ezekiel 34:7-16), as the one who came to rescue the lost sheep of Israel, to bring them into the fold of Christ's deliverance.
- The use of the LORD as the 'Shepherd' and Israel as the 'sheep' is a common one in the Old Covenant, (Psalm 23:1; 28:9; 77:20; 78:52; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Isa. 40:11; Jer. 23:1; Ezek. 34:11).
This designation as "the flock of God" is now used in regards to the Lord's Assembly, (John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:2-3; Acts 20:28).
- Israel AS A WHOLE was deaf to the voice of her SHEPHERD; but those who heard and followed the Shepherd constituted His fold, the little flock, the true Israel.
Jesus was 'forming' a 'NEW FLOCK,' to which He Himself is 'THE DOOR.'
- This is clear from the discourse about the 'Shepherd and His flock' as recorded in John 10:1-18.
Jesus' disciples will INHERIT the Kingdom because they are now His 'little flock,' (Luke 12:32).
- Anyone who does not enter the 'sheep fold' by the 'Door' but climbs in by another way, "that man is a thief and robber," (John 10:1).
This New People is to be made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
- The Shepherd has found them and brought them home, (Luke 15:3-7).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS A FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS.
- This is reflected in the statement, "I have other sheep, that are not of THIS FOLD. I must bring them also, and they will heed My voice. So there shall be one flock, one Shepherd," (John 10:16).
- A simple way to understand this is to think of THIS FOLD not of being Israel as a nation, but of being the Jewish DISCIPLES that had accepted Jesus as the Messiah and submitted to Baptism, while the other sheep represent Gentiles who would in the future be included in the one flock.
- The flock will be one, because it finds its unity in the one Shepherd who made peace by breaking down the middle wall of partition.
- A fellowship empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Fellowship is not a human creation.
- The Greek word for fellowship is "koinonia."
- It means sharing, participation, communion, and fellowship.
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE PILLAR, AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH.
- It is the gift of God, the product of a relationship with Him, (1 John 1:3).
- The believing ones are called by God into the fellowship of His Son, (1 Cor. 1:9).
- The words "pillar and ground" (1 Tim. 3:15) designate the Assembly as a key witness to the truth of God's revelation.
Every doctrine or interpretation should be tested by the standard of Scripture, (Isa. 8:20).
- This also suggests the role of supporting and defending the truth, both verbally and nonverbally, (1 Peter 3:15-16; Jude 3; 1 Tim. 4:13).
Through spreading the truth, i.e., through its witness, the Assembly becomes "the light of the world," "a city that is set on a hill" that "cannot be hidden," and "the salt of the earth," (Matt. 5:13-15).
Christ gave to the Assembly "the keys of the kingdom of heaven," (Matt. 16:19).
- If the doctrine or interpretation meets this standard, then the Assembly must accept it; if not, it should reject it.
When the Assembly proclaims the truths of the Bible, these keys to salvation have the power to bind and to loose, to open and shut the doors of the Kingdom; because they declare the criteria by which people are received into or rejected out of the body relationship.
- These keys speak of the privilege and authority to access.
- These keys are the Words of Christ -- they are all the words of the Bible.
- More specifically, they include "the key of knowledge" regarding how to enter the kingdom, (Luke 11:52).
- In this passage, the Lawyers had taken away the very key to the knowledge of entering into the Kingdom.
- They did this by making the Word of God of no effect by their traditions, (Matt. 7:13).
- They also made the worship of God, vain, by teaching their commandments as if they were the doctrine of God, (Matt. 15:9).
- Jesus' words are spirit and life to all who receive them, (John 6:63).
- They bring Everlasting (aionion) life, which is the life of the Kingdom, (John 6:68).
Jesus knew the importance of living "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," (Matt. 4:4).
Only by doing so can the Assembly fulfill Jesus' command for them to teach the disciples of all nations "to observe all things that I have commanded you," (Matt. 28:20).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST . . . (John 3:19).
- The proclamation of the Word is the means by which men come to a knowledge of God's Love and of God's great salvation.
- Each individual is given the opportunity to believe the Word and receive this salvation, or to reject the Word and suffer eternal loss.
- Thus as the Assembly preaches the Gospel, it puts forth "the fragrance of life" or "the smell of death," (2 Cor. 2:14-17).
- The Congregation of Israel (representing the relationship of the Covenant Nation to God) is represented as a bride, the Lord as the bridegroom.
Paul uses the same imagery in his letter to the Assembly in Corinth: I "present you as a chaste virgin to Christ," (2 Cor. 11:2).
- The Lord solemnly pledges, "I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in loving kindness and mercy," (Hosea 2:19).
- Again He assures, "I am married to you," (Jer. 3:14).
Jesus had this Bride before John the Baptist was put in prison, "for John had not yet been thrown into prison," (John 3:24).
- Christ's love for His Assembly is so deep and lasting that He "gave Himself for it," (Eph. 5:25).
- He made this sacrifice "that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word," (Eph. 5:26).
- By the sanctifying influence of the truth of God's Word (John 17:17), and by the cleansing that is available to those who enter into the New Covenant fellowship through the door of baptism, Christ purifies the members of the Assembly, taking away their filthy garments and clothing them in the robe of His perfect righteousness.
- In this way He prepares the Assembly as His bride -- "a glorious Assembly, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but . . . holy and without blemish," (Eph. 5:27).
In verse 25 & 26, of this same passage, the disciples of John came to him concerned that Jesus and his disciples were making and baptizing more disciples than John.
- This was the testimony of John as recorded in John 3:29, "He who has the bride is the Bridegroom; but the friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled..."
The local assembly is the place where we prepare to be the bride of Christ, (Eph. 5:22-33; 2 Cor. 11:2); only the faithful in the assembly will qualify for this bridal relationship, (Heb 3:6-14 & context; Matt. 25:1-13).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IS REFERRED TO AS THE "JERUSALEM ABOVE," (Heb. 12:22-23).
- John, in substance said, 'Jesus is the Bridegroom, His disciples are the bride and I stand in the place of the friend of the Bridegroom.'
- The Scriptures call the city of Jerusalem; 'Zion.'
The New Covenant sees the Lord's Assembly as the "Jerusalem above," the spiritual counterpart of the earthly Jerusalem, (Gal. 4:26).
- There God dwells with His people, (Psalm 9:11).
- It is from Zion that salvation comes, (Psalm 14:7; 53:6).
- And this city was to be the "joy of the whole earth," (Psalm 48:2).
The citizens of this city are no longer in the bondage of attempting to be "justified by the law," (Gal. 4:22, 26, 31; 5:4).
- The citizens of this Jerusalem have their "citizenship in heaven," (Phil. 3:20).
- They are the "children of promise," who are "born according to the Spirit," enjoying the liberty by which Christ has made them free, (Gal. 4:28-29; 5:1).
Those who are part of this glorious company, "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and congregation of the firstborn who are registered in heaven," (Heb 12:22-23).
This heavenly, New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ, made up of the Overcomers of all ages, (Rev. 21:1-10).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY IN HEAVEN AND EARTH IS REFERRED TO AS A CONGREGATIONAL FAMILY, (Eph. 3:15).
- Now, "through the Spirit," they eagerly wait for "the hope of righteousness by faith."
- They realize that in Christ Jesus, it is "faith working through love" that gives them citizenship, (Gal. 5:5-6).
- Through faith in Christ, those who are newly baptized are no longer slaves, but children of the heavenly Father, (Gal. 3:26-4:7), who live by the terms of the New Covenant.
- Now they belong to the "household of God" (Eph. 2:19), the "household of faith," (Gal. 6:10).
- Members of His family address God as "Father," (Gal. 4:6).
- They relate to one another as brother and sister, (James 2:15; 1 Cor. 8:11; Romans 16:1).
- Because he brought many into the Congregational family, Paul sees himself as a spiritual father. "In Christ Jesus," he said, "I became your father through the Gospel," (1 Cor. 4:15).
A special characteristic of each Congregational family is fellowship.
- He refers to those he brought in as "my beloved children," (1 Cor. 4:14; cf. Eph. 5:1).
The metaphor of family reveals a caring Assembly where people are loved, respected, and recognized as somebody.
- Christian fellowship (koinonia in Greek) is not merely socializing but a "fellowship in the Gospel," (Phil. 1:5).
- It involves genuine fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14), as well as with fellow members, (1 John 1:3, 7).
- Members, then, give anyone who becomes a part of the family "the right hand of fellowship," (Gal. 2:9).
And finally, it means that each member will have toward each other member a love that produces a deep loyalty which under girds and strengthens.
- A place where people acknowledge that they need each other.
- Where talents are developed.
- Where people grow.
- Where everybody is fulfilled.
- It also implies accountability, a respect for spiritual parents, a watching out for spiritual brothers and sisters.
A DIVINE INSTITUTION.
- Membership in a Church family enables individuals who vary greatly, in nature and disposition, to enjoy and support one another.
- Church family members learn to live in unity while not losing their individuality.
- The Assembly originated with God and was created to serve His purpose.
The Assembly is divine because of its relationship to Jesus as the MESSIAH, the founder and head of the Assembly, (Matt. 16:18; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23).
In this unique relationship the Assembly is like a 'body' to its 'head' (1 Cor. 6:15; 10:14-22; 11:28; 12:12, 14; Romans 7:4; 12:5; Col. 1:24; 3:15), and must function as the Head desires.
Though it belongs to God and Jesus is its founder and head, it is the HOLY SPIRIT that empowers the Assembly and maintains its life and growth.
- It is divine in its relationship.
- They form a "Spiritual Temple" and are God's own People.
- Peter bases this doctrine of the PRIESTHOOD of ASSEMBLY SAINTS on their divine ownership, (1 Peter 2:4-10).