Saturday, June 8, 2019

"Publicly and in every house"

There's been some discussion here about what constitutes an "assembly meeting". I've seen a lot of these discussions over the last twenty years, and I've come to dislike them intensely.

In my experience, when someone questions whether something is an "assembly meeting," the question behind the question is, "must we obey 1 Corinthians 14:26–40?" Literally every time I've heard someone question whether something is an "assembly meeting," the actual question is whether women should be speaking in the meeting. I can't recall a single instance when that wasn't the issue.

I can't find where scripture discusses "assembly meetings". I just can't find those verses. It seems to me we get into the weeds when we start building theologies on terminology that's not in scripture. If we really want to be biblical Christians, it seems to me the best place to start is by using biblical terms to describe biblical ideas.

So, if "assembly meeting" isn't a scriptural term, is it at least a scriptural idea? I suppose the actual question is whether there is the concept of a non "assembly meeting." It seems to me there are two questions we need to consider. First, is there the concept in scripture that Christians might gather, but not as the assembly? Second, is it possible that the assembly gathers, but it's not an "assembly meeting?"

In practical terms, the second question is really the one people are asking. I don't know anyone who questions whether it is "the assembly" when I have other Christians over for dinner. I'm sure there is someone, somewhere who holds that view, but it's not something I've come across.

I think the closest thing we get to a scriptural answer is in Acts 20:20. There, Paul says he taught the Ephesian elders "publicly and in every house." If there is a more relevant verse, I haven't found it.

So Paul appears to classify his teaching into two categories:

  1. public
  2. and private (in every house).
This has the advantage of being a simple and clear distinction, but there isn't really a lot of nuance to it. If someone has a Bible study in their home, then it would fall under "in every house." If the assembly has a Bible study on a weeknight, then it would fall under "publicly."

Again, I realize this isn't really nuanced, but it's all I really see in Scripture.

The small meeting here has a Wednesday night meeting. We spend about 45 minutes praying, then we spend another 45 minutes in a Bible reading. I've been told that the first 45 minutes is an "assembly meeting," while the next 45 minutes is "not an assembly meeting." That's certainly nuanced, but it also seems a bit ridiculous.

What I haven't personally seen – what I'd like to see – is an assembly taking the position that we only do what scripture clearly teaches. If we have to build a theology to explain "not assembly meeting" and "assembly meeting," then perhaps we've already gone down the wrong path. Perhaps we've already filled our schedules with things scripture doesn't actually command. Perhaps we're already doing too much.

"brethren" like to refer to Acts 2:42 as a sort of a charter for the assembly. There we read about four activities in the early church:

  1. the teaching of the apostles
  2. fellowship
  3. breaking of bread
  4. prayers.
It seems to my "brethren" read way too much into that verse. It's not a command for us, it's a description of what the early Christians did. And it certainly isn't giving us a list of meetings that we ought to be attending, although I've known plenty of folks who seem to think it is.

But let's just take those four elements as a sort of a basic description of four things an assembly should be doing. Let's be clear that adding more things isn't necessarily an improvement: the Ephesians appear to have been involved in all sorts of activities, but were still missing the point (Revelation 2:2–4). But let's get back to the four in Acts 2:42. If those comprise a list of activities the assembly should be doing, then perhaps we could generate a list of things the assembly shouldn't be doing.

In the end, I'm not actually advocating for cancelling all the meetings, nor even reducing the count to four or fewer. What I am advocating is that we test what we're doing against Scripture. If a meeting doesn't seem to work unless we declare it to be a "non-assembly meeting," then maybe we should just cancel it. And certainly, if there's no real exercise before the Lord about a meeting, we should pray about dropping it. Having a meeting just because "we've always done it" is a step down the path to Ephesus (Revelation 2:2–4).

1 comment:

Robert said...

I was walking with an evangelist from America one day and we were discussing current trends. I asked him what he thought were the greatest threats to assembly testimony today and without any hesitation he said, “the rise of feminism and the rise of relativism”.

I agree with you that this question is asked to give women a place that scripture does not give. I would also add that this question is also used to justify the removal of the head covering at meetings. And often, relativism is used to support feminism!

Paul’s early experience was, coming in and going out with the saints at Jerusalem. There was a public and private experience. There is clearly a public and private experience envisaged at Corinth. “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it”1 Corinthians 11:18 He mentions in two verses that we should eat in our houses.

The matter of headship is universal and headcovering is a reflection on the glory of Christ. A more appropriate question to ask than is this an assembly meeting would be, is this a meeting where we want to bring glory to Christ?

And when we reach 1 Corinthians 12-14, the subject is “the profit of all”. That profit comes by the exercise of spiritual gift. So the artificial and man made distinction between a prayer meeting and a bible reading can easily be settled if the question is asked, ‘who is gifted by the Spirit to speak for the profit of all’? And the answer when the whole church is come together will not be, a sister!