Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 23, PAGE 8-9b

By What Authority Do We Assemble?

Thomas F. Shropshire, Cactus, Texas

This question, as others that have to do with our service to the Lord in the church, must be answered in the light of divine teaching. The New Testament requires that we have Bible authority for what we teach and practice in religion. See Col. 3:17 and I Pet. 3:15. If one is teaching or practicing anything in religion for which they do not have Bible authority, they should cease and desist in regard to that thing.

As the church, we assemble at various times and for various purposes. As the church, we should not assemble at any time or for any purpose for which there is no Bible authority. People, including the members of the church may assemble, not as the church, at any time and for any legitimate purpose — social, political, etc.

The Command To Assemble

In Heb. 10:25, we find this statement: "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh." In this statement there is the command to assemble. Failure to assemble or teaching that it is unnecessary to assemble is a violation of Bible authority. There has been a great deal of controversy upon this verse as to what time of assembly it refers to. Some contend that it refers only to the first day of the week when the church assembles to observe the Lord's supper. By what process of reasoning such a conclusion is reached, we are at a loss to understand.

It is argued that the day of Heb. 10.25 has reference to the first day of the week. But Thayer indicates that the term "day" in this passage refers to "the last day of the present age". Therefore, the exhorting is done while the church is assembled and in view of the judgment day. As to the time or day upon which the church assembles, it could be any day for which there is divine authority. Actually, Heb. 10:25 does not have reference to any particular day upon which to assemble nor to any particular purpose for which to assemble. It is a command with reference to the act of assembling.

Assembling To Observe The Lord's Supper

The command to observe the Lord's supper is found in I Cor. 11:24, "this do in remembrance of me". Acts 20:7 teaches that the first day of the week is the day upon which it is to be observed. "And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, --- and prolonged his speech until midnight". This verse also teaches that we are to assemble to observe it. Hence, the New Testament teaches that the church is to assemble upon the first day of the week to observe the Lord's supper. This we do by divine authority.

Assembling For Other Purposes

But we find that the gospel was preached when the disciples assembled to break bread, Acts 20:7. And we find that the singing of a hymn was done when Jesus and his disciples were assembled at the time of the institution of the Lord's supper. Mt. 26:30. So the church may assemble for the preaching of the gospel and the singing of hymns by divine authority.

We find in Acts 2:42, that the church in Jerusalem "continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers". And in Acts 2:46 we find, "and day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart," Thus it is shown that to assemble for teaching, preaching, singing and praying may be done upon any or every day by divine authority. The breaking of bread of Acts 20:7 is distinguished from the breaking of bread of Acts 2:46. Acts 20:7 has reference to the Lord's supper for which they assembled; while the breaking of bread of Acts 2:46 has reference to the common meals which they ate at home. I Cor. 16:2 teaches the contribution of our means on the first day of the week.

Thus we have established the presence of divine authority for assembling on the first day of the week to observe the Lord's supper and to contribute of our means. And for assembling on any or every day for teaching, preaching, praying and singing.

Now we wish to raise the question: By whose authority are the appointments made to assemble on days other than the first day of the week and for the hour to assemble on the first day of the week? The answer to this question is found in the authority delegated by the Lord to certain men whom he has made responsible for the oversight of the church. Let us now examine this phase of our study in the light of New Testament teaching.

In Acts 20:28 we find the charge, given by Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus, "to feed the church of God". We believe that no one will deny that feeding the church has reference to teaching the word of God to the church. As to how often the elders are to have the church to assemble for the purpose of teaching is not set forth with the charge. The command to feed the church is general and the performance of it is to be governed by circumstances. The elders have no authority to assemble the church for any purpose other than those authorized by the Lord. But they do have authority to assemble the church for the purpose of discharging their God given responsibility toward the church. The same thing is true with reference to the hour to assemble on the Lord's day.

In addition to this, we wish to point out the fact that members of the church are obligated to assemble for the purposes set forth above, regardless of what day or how often. Remember that the assembly is for purposes divinely authorized. And remember that the elders of the church have the responsibility of arranging for the teaching of the church. In Heb. 13:17 we find this command to members of the church: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you." In having the church to assemble so it may be taught, the elders are watching for the souls under their charge. As the elders are responsible for the spiritual welfare of the members, the members are responsible to obey the elders in these things which are essential to their spiritual welfare.

As to how often the church is to assemble is left to the discretion of the elders, so are the methods of teaching. Any method which does not violate any teaching of the New Testament, may be employed by them in teaching the word of God. The church may be taught in one group or may be divided into classes or small groups for teaching. We must remember that the purpose is to teach the word of God in any case.

We wish to consider one more question: How are we to conduct these matters in a congregation which has no elders? And there are churches in which elders cannot be appointed because of the lack of qualified men. Let us ask this question: How is it decided as to the hour the church assembles on the first day of the week? Cannot the other arrangements be made as easily as this one? The church needs to be taught whether it has men qualified for elders or not. And when times, other than the first day of the week are arrived at for the purpose of teaching God's word, is the obligation to assemble any less than when there are elders? If so, why?

When Heb. 10:25 was written, there were those who did not want to assemble. There are still those who do not want to assemble. It is the custom of some to forsake assembling. Naturally. these people seek to justify themselves by claiming that to assemble is unnecessary — at least a Part of the time. But such self-justification is only self-detention. When one willfully forsakes assembling with the saints at any time they assemble for a purpose authorized by the Lord, they violate the plain teaching of God's word.