by Steven Chan
In Heb 10:25, we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. This implies that God expects Christians to gather together as an assembly. In Acts 20:7 it is recorded for us that the brethren in Troas gathered together with Paul on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). They also met whenever the brethren agreed to do so (Acts 6:2; 15:22).
But how is the assembly to be conducted when the church is assembled together? Paul gave us some clear guidelines on the conduct of church assemblies in his first epistle to the church at Corinth.
The apostle Paul praised the church at Corinth for “keeping the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2). Traditions refer to that which is handed down from one to another. Paul had asked them to “follow me even as I follow Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). So the traditions that he handed down to them were from following Christ. Paul instructed Timothy to pass down these traditions or teachings to faithful men: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). But traditions of men (i.e. introduced by men and not from inspired men of God) are to be avoided as they will render our worship unacceptable to God (Mark 7:8; Matt 15:2, 9).
- Assemblies of the church, if not conducted properly, may have “worse” outcome.
“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” (1 Cor 11:17).
Divisions among brethren may be caused by failing to be “of the same mind, same judgement and speaking the same things” (1 Cor 1:10) due in part to “party spirit” or personal preference or loyalty to various church leaders (1 Cor 1:11-13) or to being spiritually immature, “carnal-minded or worldly-minded” (1 Cor 3:1-4). Jesus taught that brethren who have issues with one another should seek to be reconciled before they come to offer their worship to God (Matt 5:23-24). Let us therefore endeavour to be united in “one mind” and to speak the same things when we are assembled. We should avoid causing or perpetuating divisions among brethren who are assembled together.
- Assemblies of the church, will not receive praise from God, if the partaking of the Lord’s Supper are not observed for the right purpose and in the right spirit (1 Cor 11: 20-30). In fact, anything that is done without compliance to God’s will when the church is assembled in worship, will not receive praise from God.
- Assemblies of the church that will not receive praise from God are those where the members failed to be united or knitted together (1 Cor 11:25), do not appreciate the importance of each member in the body of Christ, each one failing to do his part to contribute the edification of the body (Eph 4:16), and do not have the same care one for another (1 Cor 12:12-27). Each one of us need to examine our relationship with one another and our work or contribution towards the building up of the body of Christ. Each one of us is needed in the church. Each one can do something for the profit or benefit of the church for the edification of the body of Christ.
- Assemblies that will not have the praise of God, are those where the “uninformed or unbelievers” present will “say that you are out of your mind” because of the disorderly manner in which the meeting is conducted; there’s confusion and the attendees do not “profit” from being there; their faith is not built up (I Cor 14:23, 33, 40)
- Assemblies that will have the praise of God are those where the focus is not for oneself but efforts are expended for the “profit” of the brethren (i.e. for the edification of brethren). As Paul wrote:“But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor 14:6). “Let it befor the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Cor 14:12b)
The bible says that each and every member need to “seek to excel” in the edification of the church. That means we need to put special effort to do our utmost best in building up the faith of the brethren by what we do when we are assembled together as a church. So, all that we do, for the edification of the brethren, may be physical as well as the spiritual aspects: include “greeting one another” (Rom 16:16); “providing for the needy” (Acts 6); helping to keep the meeting place clean and neat; parking our cars with due consideration for others; coming on time so that others do not have to wait for us before they can start the meeting; teachers/preachers, song leaders, and prayer leaders, being well prepared to carry out these activities in spirit and with understanding; “waiting for one another” in partaking the Lord’s Supper or in “love feasts” (Acts 2:46; Jude 12); and all singing in spirit and with understanding as we teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.
- Assemblies that will have the praise of God are those where all who are present are taught in such in such a way that they understand what is being taught and are therefore able to say “Amen” when we give thanks to God. ( 1 Cor 14:16b,19a) So, we need to pray clearly and loud enough for all to hear. We need to pray in accordance with God’s will and avoid asking anything that contradicts His will (1 John 5:14; James 4:3).
- Assemblies that will have the praise of God are those where the meetings are conducted in such a manner that an “unbeliever or an uninformed person who is present is convinced by all, he is convicted by all”and he will become a worshipper of God by “falling down on his face, worship God and report that God is truly among you”. (1 Cor 14:23-25)
Are our assemblies conducted such that God is glorified in our midst (He is not the author of confusion but of peace – 1 Cor 14:33)? Do we teach or preach in such a manner that unbelievers are “persuaded” of the truth, and cause them to be converted, to decide to change their lives so as to worship God? Do we sing, pray and conduct ourselves in a manner that unbelievers will acknowledge that truly God is in our midst? When we ignore our visitors or walk past them without greeting them or acknowledging their presence, are we reflecting God’s love for them?
- Assemblies that glorify God are those where “all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26) and in a manner “that all may learn and all may be encouraged (1 Cor 14:31b).
Are brethren “learning” the truth of God when assembled with us? Real teaching must take place in the assemblies of the saints – that’s why God has placed teachers in our midst (Eph 4:11-16). Are brethren “encouraged” by the teaching and practice of the truth of God and by the “edifying things done in the assemblies”?
This does not preclude the public discipline by the church assembled of any brother or sister who persists in continuing in sin (1 Cor 5:4-8).
Finally brethren, it is important to note that the apostle Paul declared that “the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord”. (1 Cor 14:37) They are not suggestions or recommendations; they are commandments of the Lord. All assemblies of the saints must “consider how to stir up one another unto further love and good works” (Heb 10:24) and make every effort to ensure that “all things are done decently and in order”. (1 Cor 14:40) Let us all (each and every member) conduct all our assemblies in the manner as outlined by the apostle Paul in I Cor 11-14 so that God may be glorified in our midst.