Truth is always under attack. The closing years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st have seen an unprecedented attack on the distinctive character of the local assembly, the church of God. In eight carefully-crafted and scripturally-based chapters, MIchael Penfold has addressed not only the nature of the attacks, but the biblical basis for assembly practices themselves.
The importance of doctrine is stressed in his initial chapter, laying a form foundation for all that follows. In a society marked by ‘tolerance’ and the rejection of ‘absolute truth’ in any sphere, it is difficult to overemphasise the importance of our adherence to doctrine in all that we do. Those who label assembly practice as mere ‘tradition’ will do well to read this chapter with care.
The purpose of the local assembly’s very existence, the pattern for its design, the principles which guide it, and the practices which mark it are all detailed and shown to have a biblical basis.
Careful distinction is made between the Lord’s omnipresence and His approving presence, defusing the argument raised by many that the Lord is everywhere and that therefore none can claim His presence in some unique manner. Chapters dealing with the authority which is present in a local assembly are very helpful. Mr. Penfold makes it abundantly clear that while men may administer authority, its source of the Lord and His Word.
Responsibility for shepherd care and for mutual care one of another is highlighted in a chapter which discusses the assembly as a haven for the care of the believers. It is reminiscent of the ‘inn’ to which the Samaritan brought the injured traveller. All his needs were met; this is an often forgotten function of a local assembly.
One of the features occurring in many assemblies is the jettisoning of the weekly gospel meeting and of series of gospel meetings, and either replacing it with small group discussions, or abandoning it altogether. The chapter which deals with the responsibility of the assembly to be involved in the ‘heralding’ of the gospel should be mandatory reading for all.
The sad history of Scripture and of real-life experience has been that with the passing of time there is also a movement away from first principles. The convictions of the fathers become conveniences for the sons; what was a convenience for the sons sadly becomes compromise to the succeeding generation. A clear apostolic call to return to first principles, to scriptural teaching concerning the assembly – not to the practices of ‘early brethren’ or to ‘brethrenism’ – is crucial.
For assembly testimony to continue in its pristine and God-honouring character, we must heed the kind of warnings and words contained in this book. May they enhance the value of assembly order to those who love it; may they stir the consciences of those who merely continue out of habit; and may they restore any who have compromised the truth, having bowed to society and religion’s siren call to conformity.
Author; editor of Truth and Tidings magazine