The Bible says, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow: and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7).
The regularity of meeting together for worship was a marked feature of the church in apostolic times. Of the early Christians Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” They were consistent and unwavering in their public meetings for worship. The record of Acts 20:7 implies that the early disciples met every Lord’s Day to commune. The inference is drawn from the precedent set in Exodus 20:8-10, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy….” which was obviously a command to observe every Sabbath Day without exception. In the effort to restore New Testament Christianity by going back to the Bible for our religious practices, we follow the example of the church at Troas and the Apostle Paul in observing the significance of every Lord’s Day by meeting together to break bread. These are things that nearly all who are identified with the Church of Christ accept and contend for.
Is This Assembly Mandatory?
These meetings are so vital to the continuation of our Christian service that Paul commanded in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” Some contend, on one side, that approved example and inference teaches that local congregations must assemble every Lord’s Day to commune. However, they will then argue that such gatherings are not incumbent upon each member of that congregation. In other words, if a job or a recreational outing conflict with one’s appointment with the Lord, one does not commit sin by opting to work or play instead. This flies in the face of so many basic principles of Christianity that one hardly knows where to start! They often maintain that Hebrews 10:25 does not apply to every Lord’s day but rather to the habit of assembling in general. One does not forsake the assembling of ourselves together until he goes back into sin and “quits the church”, so they reason. While I deny such a loose meaning being placed upon the passage, if we were to concede the point in reference to Hebrews 10:25, consistency on our application of Acts 20:7 would still be an issue. If one is willing to say that a member of the church can willfully absent himself from the local gathering of the saints for one reason or another, then let him immediately stop telling the Baptists that it is wrong for them to commune quarterly or yearly. If the local church finds instruction to meet every Lord’s Day to commune then why not the members who make up that congregation? If one could opt to go on vacation and not assemble, or work and not assemble then what would be wrong with 90% or even 100% of the group doing likewise? Rather, when the scripture says “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” it implies that all, not some, of the saints at Troas along with the apostle Paul came together.
Assemblies Were Congregational
The antiquity of scripture refers to the church of the Lord in only two senses. It is identified universally and locally. When Christ made the emphatic declaration in Ceasarea, “Upon this rock I will build my church”, he spoke of all who would come into covenant relationship with him by obedience to the truth the world over. It was all the saved throughout the world for whom Peter commanded us to “Love the brotherhood!” (I Peter 2:17). However, the only relationship sustained in the universal body according to the scriptures is a mutual conforming to the truth and a fellowship in the gospel. Never once did Jesus commission the world-wide church to any type of work as such. However, through his wisdom, he designed the church in the aggregate sense, so that it would be constituted by local or individual congregations sent out into respective areas to spread the gospel and fulfill the great commission. When Paul prefaced his Corinthian letter by saying “to the church of God at Corinth,” or as in Galatians 1:2, “…unto the churches of Galatia,” he was not speaking of the universal church, a multiplicity of denominations, or individual Christians, but rather local and autonomous (self-governing) churches designated to carry on their own respective work. Any religious institution that is larger than the universal church, larger than the local church but smaller than the aggregate church (a denomination or regional conference, etc.), or smaller than the local congregation is human and not divine in its origin.
What Constitutes A Local Church?
The word church is worthy of definition in this study. The commonly accepted meaning is that of an assembly of saved people. W. E. Vine says that it stands for the word assembly which, in the Greek, means “to call out of” or, in other words, those who have been called out. He offers the explanation of two senses in which the word is used. “It has two applications to companies of Christians, (a) to the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, ‘I will build My Church,’ Matt. 16:18, and which is further described as ‘the Church, which is His Body’ Eph. 1:22; 5:23; (b) in the singular number (e.g., Matt. 18:17, RV marg., ‘congregation’), to a company of professed believers, e.g., Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Tim 3:51.”
Sometimes people will point to Matthew 18:20 where the Savior said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” in an effort to justify any type gathering in any place to perform religious service. However, this IS NOT the import of Jesus’ words! Rather, Christ qualifies the gathering of which he is in the midst. They must be gathered together in his name. He did not say where two or three are gathered together, in the name of worship, or in the name of religion, there will I be… When Paul declared in Colossians 3:17, “Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” he was not saying that every solitary thing we say or do in life is an act of direct worship to God. He is saying that all must be done according to the authority that is represented in the name of Christ. If a civil authoritarian were to approach your door demanding entrance in the name of the law, he would be affirming that he has the authority of the government vested in him. Perhaps he has a warrant issued by the court to search the premises. He is own accord. So it is when a child of the King undertakes the duties assigned him by heaven in heaven’s way. He is speaking or acting in the name of or by the authority of Jesus Christ as revealed in his word. For Christ to be in midst of an assembly of his people whether it be two, three or a hundred that assembly must be in his name or by his authority. A local congregation is not just any two Christians who decide to get together under a shade tree and discuss the scriptures or meet in a motel room to observe the Lord’s Supper because they are not in vicinity of an established church.
When the scriptures teach that the disciples at Troas came together to break bread, it was to an established congregation of God’s people residing in that vicinity. It undoubtedly bore the marks of an autonomous local church.
A local church is a local body of believers knit together in the fellowship of the Lord’s work. When Paul said in 1 Cor. 12:20, “But now are they many members but yet one body” he had reference to a definite church that met for worship and edification in the city of Corinth. Of this same people he began his list of guidelines for the assembly of the church in 1 Cor. 14:23 by stating, “If therefore the church be come together…”
Each local congregation is to maintain a treasury of money which facilitates its benevolent work and its endeavors in preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8, 9).
A local church is to have leadership (eventually elders and deacons) who feed, guard, and disciple members under their oversight. In Acts 20:28, Paul commissioned the elders at Ephesus to “feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood.” He also commanded Titus while among disciples at Crete “that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting and ordain elders in every city as I had appointed thee” according to Titus 1:5.
Every aspect of church work, including the observing of ordinances pertaining to the worship of God, are to be accomplished by the local congregation, no more – NO LESS! If a large number from the brotherhood get together to worship and engage in a gospel meeting such assemblies are to be overseen by the leadership of a local congregation. If one desires to fulfill his obligation in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, this too must be accomplished in an assembly of the local church. One has NO SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY to meet once in a while in his motel room, his car, or his home to the Lord’s Supper.
If a family meets in their home to worship in the corporate sense (i.e.- observe the Lord’s Supper) they must constitute a local church such as existed at Troas which meets EVERY Lord’s Day for worship and carries on the Lord’s work in a local area. Brethren, when people out of convenience, or for any other reason, convene an assembly in their home or elsewhere to commune one time or on a sporadic basis, they are violating not only the scriptural guidelines for what constitutes the worship and work of the church, but the entire design behind communion – a common sharing in the benefits of Christ’s death.
Those who contend that such is scriptural should begin doing as the digressives and take individual communion to shut-ins who cannot assemble with the local congregation. What is the difference? This writer contends that sporadic “home or roadside communion” is just as digressive as individual cups or any other perversion of the design of our Lord’s memorial. Brethren, let us conform to the Bible’s blueprint for not only what we do when we assemble, but HOW WE ASSEMBLE!
Published in The Christian Informer in January, 2000.