An Assembly of God

We have been asked to say something on what constitutes “An assembly of God.” We answer with these brief notes on the subject which we trust will be helpful. We use the word Assembly instead of Church.

The first thing without which all else is invalid must be the recognition that the Assembly is Christ’s Assembly, the circle in which His love can flow out to His own, in which He must be supreme, and in which His will and not the will of any man must be the rule. We see a clear and blessed pattern of this on the resurrection day. The Lord had come to His own, and they (Israel) had not received Him, they had cast Him out, and He had nothing of all that was due to Him. But when on the evening of the resurrection day He stood in the midst of His disciples, gathered together in the upper room, He stood in the midst of His own circle, and “the disciples were glad when they saw THE LORD.” He was Lord there—the risen Lord in the midst of a people brought to God by His blood.

How gladly and willingly every one of those disciples would be subject to Him and own His rights over them and His authority in their midst, and that not as individual servants of His, but as a body, made one by His presence and by the bond of His love.

They were not there as forgiven sinners only: they were that of course, but they were more; the message of His love that He had sent to them through Mary, the message that had gathered them together, was, “Go to MY BRETHREN, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, unto My God and your God.” They were His brethren, He brought them through death and resurrection into this new relationship with Himself. As gathered together in this new relationship, they had the title to approach to God and speak to Him in prayer and thanksgiving and worship, not as Almighty, or as Lord God—He is both—but now as Father, even as He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of that wonderful statement in Hebrews 2:11-12 “Both He that sanctifies (Christ) and they who an sanctified (all believers) are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.”

Mark this, they did not call the Lord their brother, or their “elder brother.” There is no warrant in Scripture for using such language of or to our Lord Jesus Christ; that would be bringing Him down to our level. We must not, we cannot, do that. He is always Lord to us. The truth is He lifts us up to His level. He is not ashamed to call us brethren because He has made us one with Himself, having communicated to us His own life, as the Last Adam, raised from the dead. He, the corn of wheat, has fallen into the ground and died and brought forth much fruit (John 12:24). We miss the whole truth and meaning of the Assembly if we miss that.

We can understand the supremacy of the Lord in the midst of His own being maintained as long as He was actually and visibly with them, but can it be maintained when He is not bodily present? Yes, the Holy Spirit of God has come down from Him in heaven to maintain His rights in the Assemblies, and to make the Lord’s own words real to all who obey Him. “Where two or three are gathered together unto My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” There could be no Assembly of God on earth apart from the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord in the midst of His disciples on the resurrection day was a pattern of the Assembly, but it came into actual being when the Holy Ghost came down from the risen and glorified Lord at Pentecost and indwelt the 120 disciples who were waiting in the upper room for His coming, according to the Lord’s word. The presence of the Holy Spirit of God must be recognised if the blessings of the Assembly are to be known. He is here to bear witness to Christ, and to take of His things and show them to those who have ears to hear what He will say to the churches. He is here to move the hearts of those He gathers together in responsive love to their Lord. He is the Organiser of all that is according to God and the only power by which what is organised can be maintained and carried out. He has formed the whole Assembly on earth into one body, for “by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13); but He also acts for Christ in the local Assemblies when and where His presence and divine power and wisdom are acknowledged, and there He distributes gifts for the edification and progress and witness of the Assembly (1 Cor. 12).

The third essential to the true constitution of an assembly according to God is that all the saints must be embraced by it. “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it.” The faithful brethren at Colosse not only had faith in Christ Jesus, but love to all the saints also. We may not be able to gather them all together, but their place is there. Schools of doctrine, sects and parties that divide them from one another are an evidence of the Corinthian carnality into which the Church has fallen; they are not of God. The unity of the Spirit has in view the whole body of Christ on earth, not one member of that body is lost sight of it is expressed in a practical way in that beautiful passage in Romans 15, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” Speaking of the typical teaching of the Peace offering, (Lev. 3). J.N.Darby says, “Worship to God, true worship cannot separate itself from the whole body of believers … The interest of His heart takes them all in. God withal has His priests, and I cannot approach Him but in the way He has ordained and in association with and in recognition of those that are sanctified in Christ Jesus. He who walks not in this spirit is in conflict with the ordinance of God and has no true Peace offering according to God’s institution” (Synopsis Vol. 1, p. 173).

The word of the Lord abides for us to this day, “Where two or three are gathered to My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” This is true for the whole church, but it is specially encouraging to any who desire to keep His word and not deny His Name in these times of widespread drift from the truth. To be gathered to His name involves bearing His character, and He is “meek and lowly of heart”: He is “the Holy and True” and without meekness and lowliness, and holiness and truth His Word is not kept, and His Name is surely denied. To aim at ecclesiastical correctness without these moral qualities is to have the broken shell without the kernel, a name to live but dead.

Two things we must bear in mind. The Church or Assembly of God has been called out of the world by the gospel, it is His ecclesia—His called out ones—But the called out ones are to be gathered together, they are not left as so many units to tread a solitary pilgrim way to heaven. They are to be gathered together, Christ the centre of the gathering and the Holy Ghost the power of it.

When God at the beginning gathered His saints together unto “the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” He was not experimenting as some seem to think but was displaying His manifold wisdom. That is plainly told in Ephesians 3:10, “To the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” God does not experiment for He knows and sees all things from the beginning to the end. Men experiment and as experience teaches them they improve upon their work. The British “Hurricane” is a very different aeroplane to the one in which the Wright Brothers first rose above the earth. God is not like that. His work as it comes from His hand is perfect, it was so in Creation, it was so when the Church was launched on its career in the world, God’s truth abides as He gave it at the beginning, and His resources which are at the disposal of those who walk in the truth do not fail, they are as great as at the beginning and our wisdom lies in abiding in that which was from the beginning, or in returning to it if we have departed from it. God will stand by that which He formed at the beginning and all those who abide in it will have His support and approval.

The subject is a great one and we see how Paul valued it as he wrote his God-inspired letters to Corinth and Ephesus and Colosse and to his son Timothy, but he was telling out the thoughts of the Lord concerning it. The assembly of God and especially its gatherings together are Christ’s greatest interest on the earth. 1 Corinthians gives us these gatherings as God intended them to be and shows us also the way in which men departed from His perfect plan.

If we look at the Assembly when assembled, as ordained of God in the beginning, we see that it was not a voluntary gathering of believers, each claiming his right to be there because he was a member of the same body, or because he liked the way they gathered; much less was it a free assembly in which everyone had the right to take part in ministry as his impulses might lead him. Nor was it a gathering together of a select or selected company, who had attained a certain standard of knowledge, or saw eye to eye as to certain lines of truth, or followed certain leaders, or adopted a certain system of teaching. The likes and dislikes and opinions and rights of men have no place in the assembly, when gathered according to God, to Him Christ is everything and He gathers to Him. Christ is God’s Centre; and the Holy Ghost’s power is the power that gathers His blood-redeemed people to Christ. No one can claim rights in the assembly but Christ, and the Holy Ghost has come to maintain those rights in it. This is fundamental to the truth of the Assembly.

At Corinth, as elsewhere, all sorts of people were saved by the gospel and gathered to Christ—Jew and Greek, bond and free, rich and poor, they were “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and called by God unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (ch. 1). They were made one, for one life—the life of Christ was in them, and they had been all baptised into one body by the one Holy Ghost who dwelt in them. But they soon forgot this. The flesh in them began to work and they began to act according to their own wisdom, which was folly and self-will, so that Paul had to write, “There are contentions among you … Is Christ divided?” (ch. 1:11-13), “Ye are yet carnal for whereas there is among you envying and strife and division, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (ch 3:3), and “When ye come together in the church. I hear that there are divisions among you” (ch. 2:18). He wrote by the Spirit’s inspiration and we can clearly see that this carnal condition which showed itself in the sects and parties in the Corinthian assembly deeply moved him, and no wonder, it meant the destruction of the assembly in its true character. They were dividing Christ when they, said, “I of Paul and I of Apollos,” and thereby they showed their carnality, and those who said “I of Christ” were as bad or worse than the rest, for they were making His sacred Name the badge of a party. We must have done with that sort of carnality if we would know the blessedness and power that is possible in God’s assembly. And yet if we separate ourselves from it we need to heed the warning words of J.N.Darby “If anyone speaks of separation from evil, without being humiliated, let him take care lest his position becomes simply only that which at all times constituted sects, and produced doctrinal heresy. Nearness to Christ would keep us from sectarianism, the most natural weed of the human heart. Sectarianism is getting an interest in a little circle round ourselves.”

There is blessed simplicity about the truth. I cannot forget how it came to me as a young Christian. A venerable servant of the Lord was addressing us and he enquired, “Would you young Christians like to meet your Saviour? You may meet Him, for He has said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.’” Then he added, “When I go to the Lord’s day morning meeting I say to myself, I’m going to meet the Son of God.” Those words impressed me greatly and I have never forgotten them. I do not go to take part in a service, no matter how blessed, nor listen to ministry, no matter how true, but to meet the Son of God, to meet Him in His own circle, where He is supreme and where He shows Himself to “His own” as the One who loves them and gave Himself for them. In that lies the whole truth of the Assembly of God.

J. T. Mawson