L. M. Grant.
There are three meetings designated in scripture as being gatherings of the assembly, the first (1 Cor. 5:4) a gathering for assembly discipline; the second (1 Cor. 11:20) for the breaking of bread; the third (1 Cor. 14:23) for the ministry of the word as the Lord may lead. A prayer meeting also may be an assembly meeting (Acts 12:5), though prayer meetings are not always so, for prayer may be engaged in by brothers alone, or sisters alone, or by a few apart from the assembly.
In an assembly meeting there is the full liberty of the Spirit of God to use whatever brother He pleases in any becoming way. He may announce a hymn, read a scripture, take the lead in prayer, or minister from the word of God. Each activity of course should be consistent with the character of the meeting.
The meeting for open ministry is valuable if conducted according to scripture. But it does call for honest exercise of the assembly, every saint being concerned that the Lord will give what is specially needed by the assembly at the time. Corinth came behind in no gift (1 Cor. 1:7), so that there was a danger of brethren being too forward in taking part (1 Cor. 14:26). Therefore they needed instruction in restraining themselves. Since some at that time had the gift of tongues, they must be warned not to use it unless an interpretation were given. Two could speak, but at the most three, and one must interpret. Or, on the other hand, if prophets spoke, it was to be at least two, but no more than three. Prophecy is that ministry that exercises hearts and consciences, for it does not necessarily mean foretelling the future, but forth-telling, that is, giving the word as God's message for the present time, though it might also refer to God's predictions as to the future glory of Christ, whether in connection with the church, with Israel, or the nations.
Brethren who take part must be prepared beforehand in heart and soul. Certainly they must not memorize the words they want to speak, but must depend on the Lord to put the words into their mouths at the time, by the power of the Spirit of God. But if they have not spent time in reading, meditation or study of the word of God, they will not be prepared to speak.
It may be that for some days a subject has so stirred one's heart that he may come with this burden to the meeting. He should still not be too quick to get up to speak, but if the Lord gives calmness of faith to realize he ought to speak, then certainly he may depend on the Spirit of God to give him the words to express what has exercised him. Or it may be that he is concerned about a certain subject, yet when the time comes, the Lord makes it evident that He is leading in another way. He may then either not take part, or else be exercised of God to speak that which confirms the message that preceded his own. Or he may come with no special exercise in mind, but concerned as to being led by the Spirit of God, then be free to speak that which God may at the time lay upon his heart In all of this, it is most important to have a heart quietly subject to the Lord, a true sense of self-restraint, yet a ready willingness to speak when and as the Lord leads.
If He should lead a brother in a certain line of ministry, then the following ministry should have some clear reference to this, whether in reinforcing it, or presenting another viewpoint of the same subject, a leading from this to another connected subject, or developing the subject in a practical way.
If there is much public gift in an assembly (as at Corinth), there should be no difficulty in having such meetings weekly. Various assemblies have tried such weekly meetings, however, while having only two or three brethren present who are gifted in speaking; and have found there are long silences, and sometimes only one brother ministering the word. If the latter occurs, then this is not really an open ministry meeting. So that, rather than continue this unsatisfactory attempt to maintain such an assembly meeting, it has been considered wise to have this once a month, and to have Bible studies each week instead.
The Bible study cannot be considered an assembly meeting, for it is not by any means the same as an open ministry meeting. Teaching of the word will be most prominent in this, and therefore any who may be teachers will take the leading part, while questions will be welcomed, and explanations given, with liberty for more than two or three to take part. Certainly there should be no less consideration for one another, a true spirit of "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21), none insisting on his own opinions, but all seeking by grace the mind of God in His word, and that word having its true place of authority over every heart.
Often by this means souls will learn more, and time will not be wasted by the long silences that sometimes speak to our shame in the open ministry meetings. Also, through this learning, young brethren may develop in such a way that an open ministry meeting may be desired more frequently than once a month. Even then, it would doubtless be wise to try this each second week rather than every week, though it may later be increased to this. In all of this, experience should teach what should be the most wise.
We may add to this another suggestion that seems deeply needed today. Young brethren who have some ability to speak and who desire to serve the Lord should surely be given every proper encouragement. Yet it is unseemly that they should begin by becoming teachers of the saints. How much more solid and stable would their progress be if they do what they can in reaching out with the gospel to the lost. We would greatly advocate work with children as an excellent training ground for young men. If, together with women also in the assembly, they are able to awaken interest in boys and girls to come to children's meetings, young men may take the lead in making these gatherings spiritually attractive to the young. Women also often prove to be excellent teachers of children. Let us never think lightly of this good and valuable work, but seek to prove faithful in the smallest details of it. Concern for these dear young souls will drive teachers to study their Bibles in order to get the simplest things across to their developing minds. So that in feeding others, their own souls will be fed.
If young men are able to find a nursing home that will welcome visits for singing hymns and speaking the word, this is another helpful opportunity for the developing of a gospel gift, for it is surely the simple gospel of the grace of God that is needed in such places.
If they make a practice of giving out gospel tracts, or of speaking to others of Christ when an occasion arises, this may lead to an opportunity of having a Bible study in a home along gospel lines, with people who may have never before had a real knowledge of the gospel of grace. Then if the Lord should give the deep joy of leading someone to Himself, this may work in giving a better understanding of the need of such people after they are saved.
We greatly need this work of the gospel if we are to have people present to enjoy the meetings of the assembly. For the assembly is not everything. Christ is everything, and His great heart delights in the gospel, as He delights in the assembly. This in fact was the double ministry of the apostle Paul (Col. 2:23-25), who shows an admirable balance which we should be wise to imitate.
L. M . Grant.