The Assembly of God: Its Divine Centre and Constitution.

Three chapters in the Gospel by Matthew specially treat of the gathering together of God’s saints and of the Divine Centre to which God, by His Spirit, gathers.

Chapter 16, on the Lord’s own testimony, is the case of an individual soul taught of the Father, confessing Him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” To this He at once makes reply: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The confession of this heaven-instructed one is in two parts : first, as to His Messiahship; second, as to the Rock of His Divine Sonship, on which the church was to be built. The Divine Sonship of Christ was the “petra” —Rock; so had He become a “petros” —Stone, with this difference, that Peter’s name was given, but Christ’s had only to be revealed. He is the Living Rock, the source of Divine Life. On this Peter gives us an inspired commentary in his First Epistle, chap. 2:3-6. There can be no doubt but his reference there is to Mathew 16, for the very word is here used again and again, which, as the Lord declared, the Father taught him. Christ is presented as the Living Stone, and all who have directly to do with Him, are made living stones also, and upon Him are they built up. True, the word “church” does not appear—this being Paul’s theme rather than Peter’s—but the fundamental truths which constitute the church are here distinctly stated.

Coming to Christ, we are made alive to God, and become partakers of His own nature. Nor is this all. Coming to Christ, we “are built up.” In other words, He is our Saviour and our Rock, Himself alone. Let those who will, add to this at their peril, and to the dishonour of the Son of God. Although this Rock is rejected by foolish builders, either wholly or by adding something of their own to it, yet, in God’s account, His is alone the gathering and uniting Name. From north, south, east and west, all who are on this foundation are built up, and one in Him.

In chapter 17, a glimpse of the Lord in His majesty is vouchsafed to the three favoured disciples, with two heavenly visitants, who in their day upon earth had been the greatest of God’s living witnesses. In this scene, Peter proposes to make three tabernacles, conjoining Moses and Elias with Christ. But ere the words had been spoken, God sharply replied, and with such a vehemence as suggests that He was touched to the quick, by this proposal to put these celebrities alongside of His Son. “This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him.” And not in word alone, but by significant and didactic action, did God reply to Peter’s sentiment by withdrawing Moses and Elias from the scene, and leaving Jesus alone. “They saw no man save Jesus Only” (Luke 22:10). Apart from the prophetic aspect of this transfiguration scene, there need be little doubt as to what the instruction the Holy Ghost would convey to us through it. This is, that the Person of the Lord Jesus, is the one Centre to whom the saints are to gather, and around whom they are to be grouped, for on one side of this remarkable chapter we learn the value of the individual who comes to Him, and on the other, where two or three are gathered unto Him the way of corporate blessing.

In chapter 18, the Christian Assembly, this gathered company of God’s saints in the Name of the Lord Jesus, is especially in view—the assembly in the place of responsibility acting in discipline (ver. 18), and of holy privilege in united prayer (ver. 19). And then follows by way of explanation, that wondrous statement disparaged by some, but which probably has never yet had its full emphasias accorded to it. “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” “Gathered in My Name” imports “gathered unto My presence, or unto Me” (see 2 Chron. 20:9), and to those who are found thus gathered He pledges His word, that He is present in His own proper place “in the midst.” And it is to those who are thus gathered and grouped together around Himself that He applies the word, “the church” or assembly (verse 17), and assigns the fact of His presence as the warrant for the discipline enjoined therein.

Here the true principle of a Church is distinctly enunciated by the Lord. Christ loves to be in “the midst” of his people. His people love to have His presence. Hence, drawn by desires after Him, they assemble in His Name, and to claim the fulfilment of that promise of His. They have not “met” together, as if it were an accidental thing; no, they have been attracted—gathered—by the Holy Spirit of God, who wrought upon their hearts. Thus have they been brought to Him and to each other; thus, too, are they taught to cling close to Him and to those who are His, and the closer they are to Him, the nearer will they be to each other. True union among the disciples of the Lord must ever begin with Christ Himself, who is the true, the only uniting bond. And the union thus formed, is maintained and manifested by fully and heartily owning His supreme authority and that of His Word in all things. Where that Word is alone acknowledged as the rule, and He Himself alone exalted and clung to as in the midst, there are His own most perfectly and intimately united. And to be quite knit together, all that hinders such godly union or would cause division, all that is found to be contrary to His Word, must be put away. For the union of true believers in Christ is not that union in death as in the Church of Rome, where thought and exercise of soul are suppressed, where conscience is kept undisturbed in its hollow peace, and where outward uniformity is to be accepted in lieu of intelligent love and hearty adhesion. Thus, the further they are from sin, the further out from all that God’s Holy Word condemns and would separate His people from, the closer does the Spirit draw them to the Person of the Lord and to each other. Thus gathered unto Him, they are duly constituted a church of His. That is what the word “church,” ecclesia, in the original implies, “a body called out”; and as love to Christ attracts to Him, and the Spirit working by means of the Word gathers His own around Him, so that they become a corporate body or church, so are they “called out” from the world. The line that severs them from the world that crucified their Lord, and from Babylon or the world’s church which denies His Lordship and ignores His Word, must be distinctly drawn, otherwise “fellowship and unity there can be none.

It is not absolutely necessary that those gifted to minister the Word should be found in each particular church, for Christ Himself, not His ministers, is the rallying-point of the saints, though yet in love He raises up in the midst of His gathered people those who, as under-shepherds, feed and tend the flock, not for base gain, or as lord’s over God’s heritage, but constrained by love to Him who gave His life’s blood for the flock. It is well to remember this, because in the world’s church-systems nothing is done, nothing can be done, save by one of the clerical or sacredotal caste, who have, some in less, some in greater degree, perverted the functions of Christ’s ministers into a sort of priesthood, outside of which none may publicly preach or even pray, save as under their direction. Yea, to such a degree is this perversion of the ministerial office persisted in, that in certain circles the dogma is gravely maintained, “no church without a bishop.” But all this is the world’s counterfeit of being gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and of His presence in the midst, rendering such a gathering of His people a true church. Differences of judgment on many points may be found in such a company, which, while they are consistent with true love to Christ and the acknowledgment of His Lordship, may be allowed (Rom. 14:1-4) and borne (Rom. 15:1). It may be needful for true saints to withdraw from those whose influence and ways are not spiritually healthy (1 Tim.6:5); it is their bounden duty to “withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6), and the Lord Himself has commanded that one who sins according to 1 Cor. 5:7-13, even if “called a brother,” should be put away from among His people, thus maintaining by holy discipline the character of the place where He has placed His Name, and where His divine presence is pledged to be: yet in all this is no schism, nothing inconsistent with divine unity. Nay, more; when He is seen walking “in the midst” of the churches (Rev. 1:3), where such discipline had evidently been sadly neglected, where He finds much in the doctrines and practices of some of these churches, which is far from being according to His mind, and calls upon the churches to purge themselves of that which was defiling them, yet He never once hints or gives injunction that His own were to separate there from. Quite the reverse. And why? Because at the core these churches were sound, they were gathered in His Name, they owned His Word, they were His. And let it ever be remembered, that to separate from a church where Christ and His Word is all in all, is regarded by Him as schism. But on the other hand, separation from a professing body which has united itself with the world, and departed from the truth after such a manner that Christ is denied His place and His Word its authority, is a sacred duty, for separation from such apostasy is but separation from the world itself. So real, so pleasing to Him is this grouping of His saints around Himself, so sufficient is His presence to the twos or threes thus gathered, that the Lord Himself, in Matthew 18:17, gives to this company the name of “the Church”—the definite article glancing back to His first use of the word “church” in chap. 16:18. No elaborate organization is required in addition to this simple way of our God. By a necessity of our new nature, we are drawn to one another as we are drawn to Him. But then we must “come out” from all fellowship with the dead, and from all evil, according as the light of His presence makes it plain to us (2 Cor. 6:17; Eph. 5:14). For as His love has drawn others who are His besides ourselves unto Him, so has His light purged us as well as others from all iniquity. Hence we are to persist in keeping ourselves apart from all that His Word has separated us from, as surely as in gathering to Him with all whom His Spirit, through that Word, has drawn unto Him. Thus the assembly in its attitude of witness for the truth before the world, appears in two different aspects. It is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” consequently it can have no complicity with evil. It is the nursery and hospital into which God’s weak and even stumbling children are to be welcomed (Rom. 14:1), and in which they are to be nursed and healed (Thess. 5:14, with Luke 12:12; Matth. 24:15).

Therefore, let the disciples of Christ see to this cardinal point: that the Living Person of their Lord be their sole centre around whom in faith they gather. Let them honour His Name alone, as their only ground of gathering and their only bond of union. Let them beware of putting any servant of His, however gifted, in the place that belongs to and is claimed by the Lord Himself alone. Let them hold fast with great firmness that the Name of “Jesus Only,” whom God hath made both Lord and Christ, is all-sufficient, is the one essential for the two or three who obediently, holily (ver. 18), joyfully (ver. 19) assemble thus together. These are on the right, the only Scriptural ground of the assembly of God. Aught added to this is as dangerous, if not as fatal to the assembly, as it is also to the individual. Here alone is safety—

“On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”