The Ideal Assembly
A brother recently asked me, “If you absolutely had your way how would the affairs of the Church be conducted and what would it’s structure be like? Present to us a picture of an idea assembly with every member performing with their full potential and authority.”
I agree that the structure of our assembly and worship is a very serious subject. Yet I also believe that many people elevate it FAR above its Scriptural level of importance. Let us recall that God did not see fit to provide us with a single example of what we in 2005 call a “worship service”. For all of Luke’s painstaking chronicling of the activities in the early assemblies in Acts, he does not record for us a single “order of worship” or any “beginning to end” examples for us to follow. I may be mistaken, but I believe the first record from the “early church fathers” that we possess comes from the writings of Justin Martyr in circa AD 150.
I am not in any way suggesting that the Scriptures do not provide a model to follow, or that being concerned with worshipping rightly is a frivolous matter. Far from it. However, I believe the Scriptural model is rather more flexible than the order of worship at most of our American congregations. In fact, 1 Cor 14:26 “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” seems to make it clear that the early assemblies were very dynamic and involved. In the synagogue, any man who wished could get up and speak or read, provided that he was recognized by the elders. Note Luke 4:16, where it was Jesus’ custom to get up and read in the synagogue. Outsiders and strangers were encouraged to participate, as we learn from the experiences of Paul and Barnabas.
These practices seem to have carried over into the Christian assemblies, with two notable differences. Acts 2:46,47 describes the first difference with the single word “daily”. No longer did God’s people only assemble on the Sabbath, or even only on the Lord’s Day. To the Christian, every day is the Sabbath. Every day is dedicated to God. We live in the spiritual Sabbath-rest that Jesus provided for us by his death and resurrection. In response to this joyous freedom, believers in Jesus got together as often as possible (daily) to eat together, to build one another up, to comfort one another, to worship together. Did they get together because if they didn’t, the involvement minister would send an elder to their house to disfellowship them otherwise? It doesn’t seem so. It seems that they got together as often as possible because they couldn’t think of anything better to do than to assemble with their brothers and sisters. Did some take this idea too far? Certainly. Thus we have Paul’s reprimand to those in Thessalonika that had stopped working. Yet, today we have (in my opinion) a dangerously legalistic assembly theology crafted out of two mentionings of “Lord’s Day”, a theology that teaches our brethren that “assembling together” is a law to be obeyed, not an opportunity to be cherished.
The second difference between the Jewish assembly and the Christian one caused far more trouble in the early church. In the Christian assembly, women were present. There were no pre-existing traditions to regulate this, and thus it was a source of turmoil in the early church, because a lot of people sought their own way instead of what was best for the whole. People acted out of self-interest, instead of agape. Thus we have the rebellious uncovered women in Corinth, and the battling prophets and tongue-speakers, again in Corinth.
An ideal assembly: Daily assembly by as many Christians as have the opportunity to assemble. Among other things, this kind of assembling would permit a woman to “hold her peace” during the assembly and still have her question dealt with promptly and with respect, because her husband or father or elder would be able to deal with it during the assembly the next day, not a week later, when hardly anyone (even the questioner) remembers the context of the question.
Table fellowship, with mutual service. Either only on Passover, or only on the Lord’s day, or during every assembly (depending on the understanding of the LOCAL elders, rather than the influential publishers of the day), the Lord’s Supper memorial would be shared as a part of a fellowship meal, as the original pattern requires and the clearest example (Corinth) exemplifies. Among all the other positives, this would eliminate the question of “How does a woman silently carrying a tray constitute usurpation of authority?”
Singing, LOTS of singing. So much singing that after a month or two, we wouldn’t need the hymnals anymore, and ditto for the song leader.
Scripture reading. LOTS of Scripture reading. So much Scripture reading that after a year or two, we wouldn’t need to give out prizes to get people to memorize passages.
Local evangelists would be encouraged to report on their activities.
The elders would either teach or open the floor for any man with the desire to offer an encouraging or edifying word from the Scriptures.
If a pressing need presented itself, a collection would be taken up to address it. Otherwise, giving would be a private issue between the Christian and the elders, as it was in the 1st century. Barnabas laid his offering at the feet of the elders, and so should we. We have been saved by the Creator, the King of the Universe, the Eternal Source of all Resources. Why do we feel like we have to guilt-trip people into a legalistic pattern of giving that did not exist in the 1st century, when we know that God will provide whether we worry about it or not?
The older men teach the younger men. The older women teach the younger women. The younger men teach those younger than themselves; the younger women teach those younger than themselves. All is done decently and orderly, under the guidance and supervision of the shepherds. Everyone is present to serve. Everyone is encouraged to share the Gospel, and convinced that they are qualified and equipped to do so.
That, in a nutshell, is my picture of the ideal assembly with every member performing with their full potential and authority.
in HIS love,