21st Century Western culture is, by and large, self-centred. The one-time Hilton Hotel motto, “Welcome to a world that revolves around you”, neatly sums up our present age’s spirit of entitlement and self-gratification. By contrast, a local assembly exists first and foremost for God – for His glory! It’s not about me, my comfort or my schedule. It’s about Him. It’s not my assembly, or even the leadership’s assembly – it is God’s assembly! The Bible describes it as “the flock of God” (1 Pet 2:5), “the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:17), and God’s husbandry or tilled field (1 Cor 3:9). We will see in later articles that God both dwells in the assembly and rules in the assembly; but, for now, let us simply be reminded that God owns the assembly. It is His – and it exists for Him and for His glory.
Think of it this way: Creation – the Universe and everything in it – exists “in Christ, through Christ and for Christ” (Col 1:16). The Lord is simultaneously creation’s architect, builder and owner. The same is true of a local assembly.
First, the local assembly exists “in Him”. Writing to the assembly in Thessalonica (in ancient Greece) Paul addressed them as follows: “Unto church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1:1). That is quite a statement. Each local assembly exists in the sphere and power of God and of Christ.
Second, the local assembly exists “through Him”. There would be no assemblies without the instrumentality of the Lord Jesus. That’s the idea in Acts 20:28 where it speaks of “the church of God [in Ephesus], which He hath purchased with his own blood”. How costly a gathered company of Christians is! It is composed of redeemed sinners, each one the fruit of the atoning sufferings of Christ. Every local testimony exists through His cross work and through His working in salvation in localities all around the globe. That’s why each assembly belongs to Him.
Third, the local assembly exists “for Him”. When God asked Moses to construct a house for Him, at the time of the exodus from Egypt (1,500 BC), He said, “Let them make ME a sanctuary” (Exod 25:8). The Tabernacle, and the later Temple, existed for God! And so it is today. The assembly is a “house for God”. It exists to manifest His glory, to represent Him and to promote His interests. How precious this is! In this “present evil world” that rejects Christ, there are assemblies dotted all around the world that exist “for Him”.
Think of what glory is brought to God as companies of redeemed sinners – priests who are able to offer up spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5) – meet together weekly to “remember the Lord” at the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim His death, and lift up their voices in praise, thanksgiving and worship to God for His worthy Son, the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 11:23-26, 14:15-17). The corporate worship and praise of a local assembly renders to God the glory due to His name. This is the highest privilege and loftiest occupation of an assembly. But let us remember that everything about an assembly – all of its meetings, activities, order and design – has God’s glory in view (1 Cor 10:31). We shall see this ever more clearly as we work our way through the chapters to come.
If the local assembly exists “in HIM, through HIM and for HIM”, our first consideration cannot be “Are we attractive to the world?”, or “Are we coming across as exciting to millennials?”, or “Are we impressing the business professionals among us?”. Everything must be gauged as to whether it is acceptable and well-pleasing to the Lord. That said, the quality and condition of our gospel literature, or hymn books, or buildings, should not give anyone a valid reason to think we are neglectful or that we don’t take Christianity seriously. There is no excuse for laziness, coldness or carelessness in assembly testimony. But the modern trend of borrowing from the business world, from the rock music scene and from the celebrity culture around us, in order to attract bigger crowds and to be ‘successful’, is a fundamental misunderstanding of why an assembly exists. It exists not for the eye of men, but for the eye of God. We need not expect the ungodly to be impressed with what is spiritual and scriptural, unless of course the Spirit of God is working in their hearts and they are seeking God. Lost people, with their ungodly ways of thinking, impressed as they are with power, prestige and grandeur, will not find a company of pilgrims gathered to the name of Christ “outside the camp” (Heb 13:13) appealing or attractive.
So, if our culture “doesn’t do group singing anymore”, that should not affect our determination to follow the Bible’s exhortation to assemblies to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). If our culture says it no longer finds public preaching “the best way to absorb information”, and would rather the emphasis was placed on multimedia, music and mime, that should not sway us from our duty to “proclaim the Word as a herald”. God has clearly outlined that ‘public preaching’ is the chosen method for the spreading of the gospel and the teaching of the Word (1 Cor 1:17-2:5). All of this must be understood and settled in our hearts, or we will be forever chasing the latest fad in Christendom in an attempt to make the assembly look cool in the eyes of the world, rather than starting from the premise “What saith the Lord?”.
The fact that the assembly exists for God’s glory not only reorients our thinking about whom the assembly is for, but also dignifies and elevates our service in connection with it. If the assembly exists for God’s glory, then the mid-week prayer meeting is significant and worth attending. All of the assembly’s meetings and activities are of interest to heaven. In a results-orientated pragmatic society, it needs to be remembered that Sunday School work, gospel literature distribution, open air preaching, and series of gospel meetings are all primarily conducted with a view to the Lord’s glory – and He is honoured and pleased with such service, whether or not it “produces results” (2 Cor 2:14-17).
As we revisit the basics of assembly testimony, there could scarcely be a more fundamental and important truth than this – the local assembly exists for the glory of God.
Michael J. Penfold (email@example.com)