It is common nowadays to ‘choose a church’ based on personal preference. If the kids’ programme is ‘cool’, the Pastor is easy to listen to and the band is trendy, what more could one want? However, in light of the fact that the Bible contains several epistles that give detailed doctrinal instructions about the function, character and purpose of a local assembly1, a ‘choice of church’ must of necessity involve spiritual convictions and an intelligent commitment to Biblical doctrine.
This should come as no surprise. Biblical Christianity has never been about personal preferences. At its most basic level, Christianity means “God reveals His truth and I obey it”. When the first local assembly was formed in Jerusalem its members “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine”, not “in their own personal preferences” (Acts 2:42). That doctrine, now enshrined in all its fulness in the New Testament, includes not only all we need to know about our Lord and Saviour, about the gospel of our salvation, about walking by faith, and about the coming Kingdom, but also about the whole spectrum of local assembly principles and practices.
Doctrine matters to serious Christians. The history books are full of examples of faithful believers through the ages who, often at great cost to themselves, took a stand for Bible truth. Though the simplicity of assembly order and the purity of assembly principles were, for the most part, buried for centuries under the liturgy, ceremonies and rituals of Christendom, when the Bible was translated into English (and the mother tongues of many other nations), believers’ eyes were opened. They saw through the extra-Biblical ecclesiastical traditions of men and earnestly desired to get back to the simplicity of New Testament doctrine, both as to the way of salvation and also to church doctrine and practice.
How things have changed. In the 21st Century it’s not purity of doctrine that church-goers want – they don’t seem to want doctrine at all. They want a church free from doctrine. No doctrine, no demands and no duties. Let’s just have a fun time, avoid debates about ‘non-essentials’, and not judge anyone or anything – an attitude that is very far removed from the emphasis in the New Testament:
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim 4:13)
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine” (1 Tim 4:16)
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine…” (2 Tim 3:16)
So, doctrine matters; and in the realm of ‘assembly truth’, no less than in any other area of divine revelation, it is vital that we get a clear grasp of the basics. This will help us to form our own settled understanding of first principles. So, here are the 8 purposes of a local assembly:
- It exists for divine glory
- It manifests the divine presence
- It exhibits divine design
- It administers divine authority
- It displays divine order
- It provides divine care
- It proclaims divine truth
- It fulfils the divine commission
In eight consecutive chapters we will look at these foundational issues. These chaoters first appeared as eight articles in the ‘Believer’s Magazine’, from April to November 2017. They have been edited and expanded slightly now that they have been combined into a whole publication.
Michael J. Penfold (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. The word “assembly” rather than “church” will be used throughout this series of posts, as it more accurately expresses the meaning of the original Greek word “ekklesia”.