The Christian Assembly
Some Notes of an Address on 1 Corinthians
The Christian Assembly is a community formed upon earth by God Himself, for His own pleasure. It is the ecclesia of God, that is, His called-out assembly; it is “God’s husbandry,” “God’s building,” “God’s temple” (chap. 3:9, 16).
It has been called out of the world in which God can find no pleasure, and “sanctified in Christ Jesus” in whom is all His delight, and He has ordained that its sole glory shall be the Lord—Christ, crucified, risen and exalted. That the assembly should have no glory but the Lord He has been made everything to it—“wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” WISDOM on the cross, solving every question that He only could solve, and only there. RIGHTEOUSNESS in resurrection, for He was raised again for our justification. SANCTIFICATION in the glory, for He has set Himself apart there that we also might be sanctified through the truth (John 17), and He is the measure of our sanctification. REDEMPTION at His coming again, when He will change our vile bodies by His mighty redemptive power and complete the wonderful story of grace in His glory above “Wherefore let him that glorieth glory in the Lord.”
The assembly is made to owe everything to Christ, but not to Christ in the greatness of His creative power, as the Epistle to the Colossians presents Him, or in any other manifestation of power that might fill men with wonder and awe, but to Christ crucified, to Christ on a cross of weakness and shame. The assembly owes its very existence to that cross. There God dealt in wisdom and power and righteousness with every offending element and opposing force, that he might establish what is of Himself and for Himself upon an immovable basis.
Christ must be supreme in His assembly; it has been ordained of God and formed by the power and presence of the Holy Ghost that His rights might be maintained in it. It is the circle of His rights; the spot where His love can flow out to His loved ones, and where He can administer for the glory of God; and within its sacred enclosure all should be subject to Him. It is no place for the display of the greatness of man, his will should have no place there, the cross settles that question. It were a less heinous offence to be godless outside than self-willed inside the assembly. As all within it are subject to Christ it will be in concert with heaven, and as “all the mind in heaven is one,” so there will be one mind in the assembly, and this is the gist of the exhortation “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” That same mind is not the mind of this leader or that elder, or the other esteemed brother; of this council or that committee, but the mind of God as expressed in Christ. “We have the mind of Christ,” said the apostle.
In the great worldly communities men are great; debaters, orators, men of great mental ability and administrative powers are acceptable, and applauded there, but God’s assembly is not composed of such as these, but of the weak and poor and foolish things, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
Nothing that the world possesses, neither its wisdom, power, nor wealth, can contribute to the well-being or excellence of the assembly of God. This should be clear from the fact that not merely did the world by its wisdom not know God, but it failed to discover Him when He showed Himself to it in Christ; and it went further, it hated that revelation and crucified the Lord of glory. This is an appalling fact. The world had no use for the Lord of glory. He was a perpetual menace to the structure it had erected every word of His was in direct opposition to its whole course. His whole life was an exposure of its insincerity and corruption. He was for God, and it was for self, it heard Him, watched Him, and hated Him, and after taking counsel together it crucified Him. The consummation of the world’s wisdom was to award the Lord of glory a malefactor’s cross. It should be plain, could anything be plainer, that since the sole glory of the assembly is Christ it can have nothing in common with the world that judged Him to be worthy of shame—shame without measure, shame to the uttermost.
The assembly rallies to Christ whom the world crucified. It has been called out of the world that crucified Him and is no longer of it, it is the ecclesia of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, whom God has raised up from the dead. How exclusive of the world would the assembly have been if this had been understood, and if it had been held in power by it.
While all the members of the body of Christ on earth form one assembly, it is manifestly impossible for them all to meet together in one place, so that we have assemblies in the various towns and districts that the Gospel had reached. But these assemblies were not independent congregations, each able to act as it thought best regardless of all others, for “there is one body and one Spirit.” Independent assemblies may be the principle of congregationalism, but it is not a principle of the assembly of God. What Paul wrote as inspired by the Holy Spirit to the assembly at Corinth was for all who in every place called upon the name of the Lord; and everything that was done at Corinth under the direction of the Lord by His Spirit would most surely bind all those who were subject to Him in every place. The same God that formed the assembly at Corinth formed those at Ephesus, Thessalonica and Philippi, they were all built upon one foundation, they all had one Head, and were indwelt and energized by one Spirit, consequently what was of God in one place would be accepted by all, or God would be divided against Himself, the Spirit would have two minds and Christ would be divided! Impossible! Yes, and equally impossible are independent assemblies when the truth is fully carried out and when all are subject to the mind of Christ as it is expressed in the Word.
Paul, who laid the foundation at Corinth, was not sent to baptise, but to preach the Gospel; it was by the Gospel that Paul preached that those who composed the assembly were called out of the world; and it was not by their baptism by water that they entered the assembly. Baptism sets forth our individual identification with the death of Christ. There is another baptism spoken of in this epistle, the baptism of the Holy Ghost; this is not individual but collective, or rather corporate, for it is into one body that we are thus baptized; this is a baptism of life, by it we are introduced into a sphere of life, the assembly of God. The assembly has its institution that identifies it with the death of Christ; the Lord’s Supper does this, but that Supper is not an individual supper, but a community Supper; it is the bread which we break, and the cup which we bless, “for we being many are one bread, and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread” (chap. 10:16-17).
There were famous schools of philosophy in the days when Paul wrote, and men joined themselves to these schools according to their own choice, but the assembly of God has not been so formed; it is not our choice that has put us there, but His call. He has called us effectually into the fellowship of His Son, and being called into this fellowship, we may be assured that here we shall find what these schools of men’s wisdom debated over in vain—the knowledge of God. The Son of God reveals God to us; the knowledge of God is the very life of the fellowship, it is both light and life, and Jesus Christ who has revealed Him is our Lord. We must be subject to Him.
It should yield great satisfaction to every heart that is loyal to Christ that there is a sphere in which His rights can be upheld for these were utterly denied Him when He was on earth. He was in the world and the world was made by Him, but it knew Him not. He came to His own and His own received Him not; but when He gathered His disciples together on the resurrection day and stood in the midst of them, showing them His hands and His side, eloquent witnesses of the price that He had paid to make them His own, they were glad, for they saw THE LORD. They were glad for the Lord was with them, glad to own His authority, to hear His voice, and to be subject to Him. Such is the assembly of God when things in it are normal and the Spirit of God has His way, for He has come not only to form the assembly but to maintain the rights of Christ in it. Let no one then talk of his rights in the assembly of God, but let all acknowledge the rights of Christ, remembering that the fellowship to which God has called us is the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The assembly is spoken of as “the Christ”; it is a body in which His life and character is to be seen, and this not only in a clear witness to God in the world, but in the intimate loving care which each member of the body exercises to all the others. Not much of this do we see, alas, nevertheless that is no excuse for any of us to say it cannot be, for the Lord abides as the Head of His assembly whose grace is inexhaustible, and the Holy Ghost abides as the unifying power in the assembly; the Word of God abides as direction in every difficulty for the assembly, and God abides who will have glory through the assembly by Christ Jesus throughout eternal ages.