[A short podcast series is being done currently and can be found HERE.]
Given that most churches are not assembling together on the Lord's Day during this trial, we thought it would be good to teach a little on what is and what is not an assembly of God.
There is a lot of information on the internet today about what churches are doing in place of meeting together, and this serves to muddy the waters a bit on this issue. Some are meeting in homes as families, some are meeting online. And others are getting together in small groups.
Why is this important?
The Lord tells us in his word how he wants the church to behave. The Scriptures are written, in part, for that purpose. [1Ti 3:14-15 NKJV] 14 These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, [I write] so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The Scriptures alone teach us everything we need to know about what we should be doing, as the people of God - everything from doctrine, to ministry, and to personal behavior. This is known as the doctrine of "Sola Scriptura." [2Ti 3:16-17 NKJV] 16 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (For a short message on Sola Scriptura - go HERE.)
Sadly, somewhere along the line, the church adopted the belief that if there was a problem, it could use its imagination and invention to find a solution. Consequently, all sorts of ministries occur now that are found nowhere in Scripture. Some of these are so embedded in the fabric of church culture, that they have become a law unto themselves. At this time the church is tempted again to find new ways to serve the Lord as a substitute for assembling in his presence.
The Scriptures alone make us wise in the ways of the Lord. [Psa 119:98-100 NKJV] 98 You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they [are] ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies [are] my meditation. 100 I understand more than the ancients, Because I keep Your precepts.
[Psa 19:7-11 NKJV] 7 The law of the LORD [is] perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD [is] sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the LORD [are] right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD [is] pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the LORD [is] clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired [are they] than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, [And] in keeping them [there is] great reward.
What is an assembly of the church?
A biblical assembly of the church is when the whole church comes together in one place in the name of the Lord (1 Cor 11:23). It includes elders, deacons and all of the saints (Phil 1:1).
This is seen in a number of places in Scripture, but 1st Corinthians provides the best examples:
[1Co 11:17-22 NKJV] 17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise [you], since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of [others]; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise [you].
We see in the above passage (and also 1 Cor 14:23) that the whole church is coming together, in one place. This means several things:
- It means that all of the saints of a particular church, (elders, deacons and saints - See Phil 1:1) are assembled.
- It means that all the saints are physically present as they have "come together."
- It means that the church is all physically assembled "in one place." This means one place geographically or physically. [In fact, the church is always either assembled together in one place OR it is separated unto its homes or other locations privately.]
The Assembly is a Means of Grace
To see why this issue is so important, we must understand what is meant by "means of grace." "Means of grace" is a phrase that stands for the biblical ways in which God blesses his people spiritually. These are the things the Lord actually tells us to do in his word. It would include things like prayer [1 Thes 5:17], meditation [Psalm 1:2-3], preaching of the word [2 Tim 4:1-4], singing [Psalm 100:4], getting discipled [Luke 6:40], engaging in the Great Commission in the church [Phil 1:27] and so on. God blesses his people through biblical means (or ways) of grace. [For a message on Meditation - go HERE.]
The assembly of the church is a biblical means of grace. It is something in particular the Lord prescribes in his word that his people should do. The Lord blesses his people in unique ways when a whole church assembles together in one place.
[Psa 36:8 ESV] 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
[Psa 65:4 NKJV] 4 Blessed [is the man] You choose, And cause to approach [You], [That] he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Of Your holy temple.
[Psa 84:4, 7, 10-11 NKJV] 4 Blessed [are] those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. Selah ... 7 They go from strength to strength; [Each one] appears before God in Zion. ... 10 For a day in Your courts [is] better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the LORD God [is] a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good [thing] will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.
[1Co 11:23-26 NKJV] 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the [same] night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke [it] and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner [He] also [took] the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink [it], in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
The assembly of the church is a particular means of grace, a particular way that the Lord blesses his people. And it occurs when the whole church comes together in one place. When it assembles together in the name of Christ, it does so in the Most Holy Place. [Heb 10:19-23 NKJV] 19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and [having] a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of [our] hope without wavering, for He who promised [is] faithful.
The Old Testament temple inner chamber, called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies, [see Lev 16] where only one man (the High Priest), from one nation (Israel), from one tribe (Levi), on one day (the Day of Atonement) could enter, pointed to every assembly of a local church, every time it assembles in one place. We gather together as the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2), washed in the blood of Christ (Heb 10), clothed with his righteousness (the priestly garments - Isaiah 61) in the Most Holy Place (Heb 10). This is an honor and privilege beyond measure.
And when the church assembles in one place, it does so in the presence of Christ. [Mat 18:20 NKJV] 20 "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." [The immediate context of Matt 18 is a brother in sin, who has been warned privately without repentance, and now must be addressed by the whole church. To narrow the application of this passage to church discipline is a mistake. To suggest that Christ is present for the assembly of the church for the loving discipline of a brother, but not when it is assembled in the Holy of Holies, as the royal priesthood, to offer up spiritually acceptable sacrifices (1 Peter 2), speaks for itself. The point is that Christ is present in a unique way when the whole church comes together in one place. The application of this passage to the Lord's Day assembly is obvious from the whole of Scripture.]
The assembly of the whole church together in one place is a means of grace whereby God blesses his people in unique ways.
Applying the Means of Grace
A very simple principle applies to all of the biblical means of grace, including the assembly of the church together in one place. If a saint does not, or cannot partake of a particular means of grace, he will not be blessed by particular means of grace . [Gal 6:7-8 NKJV] 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
And again in James we read - [Jas 4:8 NKJV] 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse [your] hands, [you] sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [you] double-minded.
And again from Psalm 19 we read - [Psa 19:9-11 NKJV] 9 The fear of the LORD [is] clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired [are they] than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, [And] in keeping them [there is] great reward.
Let us use a means of grace or lose the blessing of those means of grace. God's prescription, or means of grace, with regards to the church assembling is this - Assemble with all the saints, when the church assembles, for as long as it assembles, every time it assembles, and we will be blessed in the Lord! Take advantage of this means of grace and we will be blessed. [Psa 65:4 NKJV] 4 Blessed [is the man] You choose, And cause to approach [You], [That] he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Of Your holy temple. How can a man be blessed in this way if he is not present?
There are No Substitutes or Workarounds
We should be cautioned to avoid believing that there is some substitute or workaround if we are not able to assemble. Make no mistake, the assembly of the church is when the whole church comes together (physically) in one place. There is no substitute or workaround for this.
Right now the Lord is preventing us from assembling according to his word. We should not believe that we can find another way to obtain the same blessings that he promises when the church assembles.
While meeting in our homes to worship the Lord, or getting together with other Christians to worship, or listening to sermons online, or even having a broadcast to the church at a particular time, may provide spiritual nourishment and up-building, none of these can replace what is lost by not assembling with the whole church in one place.
The Lord, by his sovereign hand, is preventing us from assembling. He is in effect removing this means of grace from our lives presently. There is no biblical replacement for this. We are, by the will of God, losing the promised blessings of assembly by not being able to assemble. And we can't make these blessings up online, or in our homes with our family or getting together with a few other brothers and sisters. This isn't a problem we can fix!
What Can We Learn from Current Events?
Knowing that the Lord himself is preventing us from assembling in his presence, we should humble ourselves before the Lord. We should consider how valuable the Lord's Days assemblies are, that they are not to be treated lightly, are not to be thrown away by pursuits of the world. Rather, they are to be desired, prepared for properly, attended always (barring some merciful reason), delighted in always, participated in fully, and missed greatly when they do not occur.
The Psalmists, in Psalm 84 capture this perfectly. The assemblies of the Lord (referred to as "the courts") are lovely! [Psa 84:1 NKJV] 1 To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. How lovely [is] Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts!
They are highly desirable! [Psa 84:2 NKJV] 2 My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
They are a blessing to us in Christ! [Psa 84:4 NKJV] 4 Blessed [are] those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. Selah
They are up-building to us in spiritually dry world! [Psa 84:5-7 NKJV] 5 Blessed [is] the man whose strength [is] in You, Whose heart [is] set on pilgrimage. 6 [As they] pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; [Each one] appears before God in Zion.
They all occur in the presence of the Lord! [Psa 84:8-9 NKJV] 8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah 9 O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed.
Each individual assembly is worth more than any amount of any other activity in the world! [Psa 84:10 NKJV] 10 For a day in Your courts [is] better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
They are a means of grace! [Psa 84:11-12 NKJV] 11 For the LORD God [is] a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good [thing] will He withhold From those who walk uprightly. 12 O LORD of hosts, Blessed [is] the man who trusts in You!
Seek the Grace of God!
Our God is a gracious God! [Psa 116:1-2, 5 NKJV] 1 I love the LORD, because He has heard My voice [and] my supplications. 2 Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I will call [upon Him] as long as I live. ... 5 Gracious [is] the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God [is] merciful. Because the Lord is gracious, we can assemble in his presence!
We know that his will and pleasure is that we come before him together in love. [Sng 2:14 NKJV] 14 "O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, In the secret [places] of the cliff, Let me see your face, Let me hear your voice; For your voice [is] sweet, And your face [is] lovely." He died for us that we could come before him in love.
If we find that our hearts are not right with the Lord regarding assembling with the church, or if our habit has been to attend periodically (every now and then), or partially (only part of the time the church assembles on a given Lord's Day), know that God is gracious, and he will give us right desires! We only need seek his grace, and ask that he move our hearts in the direction of his will, and we will have it!
Seek the grace of God to think rightly and behave rightly regarding the assemblies of our church. Ask, and it will be given to you who believe in Christ! [Mat 7:7-8, 11 NKJV] 7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. ... 11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Rejoice that even though we all fall short (or sin) in many areas of our Christian lives, God is slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness towards us. [Psa 103:8 NKJV] 8 The LORD [is] merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. Ask that you may receive grace in time of need!
[1Jo 5:14-15 NKJV] 14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
What a wonderful, glorious, joyful, gracious, blessed, hopeful, holy, right, good means of grace God has given us in the coming together of the whole church in one place in his presence! Love it! Desire it! And when the Lord allows, do it! Delight in it! Don't forsake it! Let us assemble in his presence and be blessed by the Lord!
[Psa 122:1 NKJV] 1 A Song of Ascents. Of David. I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the LORD."