The Assembly

Ephesians 1:22‑23  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Part 1: The Assembly as the Fruit of Counsel
When we think of the assembly as "The Fruit of Counsel" (God's counsel), we are thinking of the body of which Christ, risen from the dead and glorified, is the Head. (Eph. 1:22, 2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23).) The body consists of all believers. They are united to one another and to Christ, the glorified Man in heaven.
What is the means by which this union is effected? It is by the Spirit on earth dwelling in each individual believer, uniting him to his fellow believers on earth, and to Christ as Man on high. (1 Cor. 6:1717But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:17); 2 Cor. 1:2222Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:22); Eph. 4:33Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3).) Belonging to the same denominational faith does not unite.
This body is formed of both Jew and Gentile. (Eph. 2:16, 3:6.)
Four things were necessary before this union could be:
1. Redemption accomplished.
2. The middle wall of partition, by which God had shut the Jew in from the Gentile, removed. (Eph. 2:1414For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; (Ephesians 2:14).)
3. A glorified Man present in heaven.
The effect of this is that the union is accomplished (1 Cor. 12:1313For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)), the body of Christ is formed (having the characteristic of vital union between all the members and the Head), and Eph. 2:1616And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: (Ephesians 2:16) and 3:6 are fulfilled. "And that He might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.... That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel." We can see the Gentiles formally brought into the body in Acts 10.
The symbol of this unity is the one unbroken loaf at the Lord's Table. (1 Cor. 10:16, 1716The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16‑17).) At the Lord's Table, the members in that location partake of the one loaf, because they are members together of the one body.
The present position of the body is that the Head is in heaven and the members, although having by faith and in God's sight a heavenly place (Eph. 2:5, 65Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:5‑6)), are in actual fact maintained here upon the earth by the Holy Spirit. By His presence and power, He maintains the body of Christ. The body of Christ, therefore, will remain on earth until completed and called to be with the Head in heaven; the Holy Spirit will then go too. (John 14:1717Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:17).)
When the body is called the church or the Assembly of God, it refers to all the saints between the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Lord for His saints (the rapture). When the body is called the body on the earth, it refers to all the saints alive on the earth at any given moment, between the day of Pentecost and the rapture of the saints.
The center of gathering of the members of the one body is "He that is holy, He that is true." Rev. 3:77And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; (Revelation 3:7); see also Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20). The power of gathering is the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of truth. The principle of gathering is holiness and truth, separation from evil and according to the revelation of God's will and what suits Him. The ground (basis) of gathering is the one body.
The responsibility of the saint is to endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Eph. 4:33Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3). The endeavoring means to use diligence to keep practically the one body in the uniting bond of peace. It must be remembered that the unity of the body only exists by the presence and operation of the Spirit of God. Diligence should also be given to exhibit the moral qualities which are consistent with holiness and truth. Diligence is needed to manifest the unity of the body on the earth.
The spirit in which this responsibility is to be fulfilled is found in Eph. 4:2, 32With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2‑3). The characteristics found in these verses are suitable for unity and they are also the means of keeping the unity in practice. Wherever saints break bread, they should do so as being members of the one body.
What are the required characteristics of any table to have a valid claim to be the Lord's Table? It must be spread as owning, in practice, the truth of the one body. It must also be spread according to the principles of holiness and truth. Its basis and surroundings must be founded on and in accordance with the truth revealed and the character of Him whose table it claims to be.
Requirements for being at the Lord's Table simply are (1) confession of Christ and membership in the body, (2) a desire to be part of that which represents Him, and, (3) holiness of walk and conversation. The effect of the addition of any other conditions is to make the group who requires such conditions into a sect. Thus their table becomes a sectarian table.
Part 2: The Assembly as the Fruit of Work
Another or the second way in which the assembly is viewed is as "The Fruit of Work": a building, which has the distinctive characteristic of being a dwelling place. Viewed from this perspective, the thoughts of head, body and union are not present. There are two ways in which the assembly as a building is presented.
First, according to the operation of God and in its full result, it is called a holy temple in the Lord. This building, at the present moment in the process of construction, is still not yet completed. (Eph. 2:2121In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:21).) Those who make up the building when completed in glory are all the saints from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the saints. The Builder of this temple is Christ. (Matt. 16:17, 1817And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:17‑18).) The foundation on which it is built is the Person of Christ as Son of the living God. He is in the power of life manifested in resurrection and the resurrection displayed Him to be such. (Rom. 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4).) The consequence of the above is that nothing but true material (living stones) can go into its construction. It is completely immune from judgment. (Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18); 1 Peter 2:4, 54To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4‑5).)
Second, according to the result produced on earth and under the responsibility of man, it is called a habitation on earth in which God by His Spirit dwells, the building of which He committed to man's responsibility. Those in it when looked at in this way are all persons on earth who profess to own the name of the Lord at any given time from the day of Pentecost to the rapture. The builder of this house is man. The consequence of the above is that no guarantee can be made against the entrance of material that is other than that introduced by the Lord into the temple or by the Spirit into the body. There is no immunity from judgment, but rather the contrary. (1 Peter 4:1717For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).)
The reason for the present confusion in Christendom is the confounding of the house as built by man with either the temple which Christ builds or with the body which the Holy Spirit forms and maintains.
There are different characters of builders and different qualities of materials introduced into the house when thinking of the building as man's responsibility to build. (1 Cor. 3.)
1. A Christian properly uses gold, silver and precious stones in building. The work is tested and abides. He is rewarded.
2. A Christian uses wood, hay and stubble (worthless ideas) in building. The testing of the work results in its being burned up. The man himself is saved because he is a believer.
3. A person who is not a Christian defiles the building, introducing only bad doctrine which is subversive to the fundamental truth. In such a case both the work and the workman are destroyed.
At the day of Pentecost, the body, the temple and the house were co-extensive (that is, they all consisted of the same people, all true believers). The building was committed to man's responsibility in Acts 3-8. In Acts 8:1313Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. (Acts 8:13), there was the entrance of some who professed but were not real, and thus the house was disproportionately enlarged beyond the real size of the temple or body. The result since then has been the continued disproportionate enlargement which is now called Christendom.
Declension was already apparent in the apostles' day. (Phil. 2:21, 3:15-19; 2 Tim. 2:19-2419Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. 22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, (2 Timothy 2:19‑24).) What did the apostle say would be in the last days? See 2 Tim. 3:1-51This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1‑5). The apostasy (that is, the entire throwing off of the profession of Christ) is spoken of in 2 Thess. 2:2-82That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (2 Thessalonians 2:2‑8).
What is the path and the responsibility of the saint in connection with the house of God? It is to remain consistent with the character of Him (the holy God) who dwells in the house. The principle on which this responsibility is carried out is separation from evil. The practical way in which this separation from evil is maintained is by purging out leaven. (1 Cor. 5:77Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: (1 Corinthians 5:7).) Leaven in Scripture speaks of evil. The effect of the entrance of evil into the assembly is not confined to the one personally guilty of it, but the whole assembly is involved. See Josh. 7:1111Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. (Joshua 7:11) for an illustration of this. Achan was the guilty person, but God says, "Israel [that is, the whole congregation] hath sinned.”
What the assembly was to do in 1 Cor. 5:7, 137Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: (1 Corinthians 5:7)
13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:13)
was to "purge out therefore the old leaven.... put away from among yourselves that wicked person." The character of the action of putting away is one of duty (that is, obedience) and not of power.
When should the assembly resort to "putting away"? When all individual care and discipline have been used without effect. Putting away is the last resort and takes place when, if it were not used, the glory of the Lord's name would be compromised.
The exercise of ecclesiastical discipline (putting away by the assembly) is not the act of an individual, or even of a certain number of individuals: it is the act of the whole assembly as such. "The conscience of the assembly is to be exercised as feeling the sin in humiliation, self-judgment and confession, owning it as that of the whole. Where this is not so, saints exercising it merely form themselves into a court of justice, giving a verdict and passing judgment on a guilty person. There is no real clearing of themselves." The assembly is not clear, once evil is known, until discipline has been exercised. (2 Cor. 7:9-119Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:9‑11).)
The object of discipline, with regard to the Lord, is the maintenance of that holiness which is consistent with the character and presence of God. (Psa. 93:55Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever. (Psalm 93:5).) The object of discipline, with regard to the assembly, is the clearance of itself and the maintenance of practical consistency with the absolute character it has before God ("a new lump," "unleavened," 1 Cor. 5:77Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: (1 Corinthians 5:7)). The object of discipline, with regard to the individual upon whom it has been exercised, is to awaken his conscience and break down that which necessitated discipline, thus producing self-judgment so that in the end restoration may take place. The motive is love; the end (object) is holiness.
The consequence to an assembly of refusing to judge and put away evil or refraining from doing so is the same as affirming the possibility of agreement between God and evil. By doing this, the assembly forfeits all claim to be on the ground of God's assembly or to represent it. This might be so, even though each individual in that assembly is still a saint of God.
The behavior of the individual when an assembly has made a judgment concerning a matter is to accept its judgment. If it is thought that a mistake has been made, remonstrance is open so that there may be a review of the case in question. In no case is private judgment to be set up in opposition to the judgment of an assembly. No individual has the promise of the Lord's presence as has the assembly which is gathered unto His name.