By Eric Norford
The above question is an interesting one to ponder. It would receive various responses from people in denominationalism and even from members in the body of Christ. Our assembling refers to worship of God. At the same time worship to God is an individual matter. Each individual is to determine in his heart that he will worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). At the same time the church is to come together to worship God (Heb. 10:25; 12:23; Acts 2:42). The two terms go together. We cannot separate them. This means I cannot worship God under a tree, a street light, in the back of my car, or in my home, absent of the church. It would be worship that is vain before God (Matt. 7:21-23; 15:9).
The word assembling or assembly is used in the Old Testament 24 times: Exodus 12:6; 16:3; Leviticus 4:13; Numbers 10:2; 20:6; Deuteronomy 9:10; 10:4; 18:16; Judges 21:8; 1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Chronicles 30:23; Nehemiah 5:7; Psalm 22:16; 89:7;107:32;111:1; Proverbs 15:4; Jeremiah 6:11; 9:2; 15:17; Lamentations 2:6 and Ezekiel 13:9; 23:24. Each of these passages refers to the word assembly as a gathering together of people. It often refers to the whole camp or nation of Israel assembling to observe God’s special commands. It is in that sense that God refers to the gathering as a solemn assembly (Lev. 23:26; Num. 29:35, Deut. 16:8; 2 Kings 10:20; 2 Chron. 7:9).
In the New Testament the word is used six times: Acts 19:32, 41, 49; Hebrews 10:25; 12:23; James 2:2. The pas-sage in Acts 19 calls that assembly a riotous mob, which is not a description of the church gathering together for worship. James 2:2 calls it the church coming into assembly. Hebrews 12:23 uses both terms “general assembly and church,” which Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that the word assembly “coupled with the word church, as applied to all believers who form the body of Christ (the church EN).”
The King James Version says in Hebrews 2:12, “Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the church will I sing praise unto thee.” The word church here refers to the assembly. The New King James translates that word that way. When is the church in assembly? When it comes together to worship God.
The Septuagint translation de-fines the word assembly this way, “a gathering of Israel, summoned for any definite purpose.” We are the Israel of today and we have been called by the word of God for a definite purpose in serving our Lord, which is by worship.
Another way the New Testament uses the word assembly is by using the term “congregation” as in Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; and 1 Timothy 3:15.
The Greek word for assembly is sunago. According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon the word means “to gather together, to come together, to meet. ” It refers to believers, the church.
Brethren, the word assembly clearly refers to the church coming together. The Bible mentions no where of one person being an assembly outside the church and the Scriptures.
Knowing this someone invariably says, “You don’t have to assemble in a central location, I and my family assemble every Sunday and Wednesday, we can do that under a tree or in our homes, therefore we are worshiping God.” They may not go to church, but they “assemble.” They often do it in their own homes or in the home of their leader. Some circumstances give credence to meeting in the home. For example, when the weather prevents us from assembling. Another would be when members move to an area where no church exists and they start the work by meeting in their homes (Rom. 16:5). Another would be if the brethren can-not afford to build a building or there are no buildings to meet in then the church meets in a home or several homes (Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 16:19; Philem. 2).
Nevertheless, the idea of meeting in the home when brethren assemble in a central location is not necessary when these above conditions do not exist. We must meet collectively to worship God, partake of the Lord’s supper, give, and have fellowship with one another (John 4:24; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor.16:2; 11:23-27). When we fail to meet faithfully with the church, we forsake the gathering together, the assembly (Heb.10:25), thus we cannot provoke one another to love and good works (Heb.10:24). Brethren, even people in the denominations understand what meeting together means and they are all following man’s wisdom.
If brethren feel that meeting in the home is an assembly because there are two or three people gathered and feel that God is in their midst, then we might as well eliminate the local church. This is a dangerous belief to have, because it upholds the false theory held by brother Charles Holt. Brother Holt has been teaching for years that there is no such thing as a local church. This is utterly false. There are too many passages of Scripture that justify the use of the term local church. Notice the Scriptures where phrases like “the church at . . . ” and “the church of. . . ” and “the brethren which are at . . .” are mentioned (Acts 9:26; 11:26; 18:1-3; 28:16; Rom.16:1; 1 Cor.1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:2; Eph. 1: 1; Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:13; Rev. 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). The God of heaven wanted elders in every church in those cities (Acts 14:23). If there are no local congregations then why place elders overseeing the work of a local church?
There are brethren that just uproot themselves and their families from the local church because they feel they can-not conscientiously worship with the brethren in the area in which they live because of problems. Often these problems are figments of their imaginations. Many times the problems have been simply in the area of personal conscience or judgment where brethren do not agree with them on a particular point. Instead of trying to allow that brother the liberty of disagreeing and having fellowship, they act like a child and go home. Then they try to make things look right when they “assemble” in their homes. Then they attempt to persuade others and sow discord among the brethren. They deceive the stronger brethren to think that it is perfectly all right to meet in the home when the church of Christ is just two miles from where they live. They disguise that under the heading, “We assemble, therefore we are not wrong.” Brethren, if every member “withdrew” from the church be-cause they didn’t have their way, there would be no church.
When we fail to assemble with the brethren who share the same faith, we fail to obey Hebrews 10:25. As a result we stand in contempt and rebellion against the God of heaven. The Hebrew writer said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). When brethren persuade other brethren that their actions are right and bring division into the church, they have sown discord among the brethren. God considers that an abomination, “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him . . . he that sows discord among the brethren” (Prov. 6:16, 19).
God also views them in contempt because they are a Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). They bring division into the church (Rom. 16:17). They create seditions or dissension among the brethren (Rom. 16: 17; 1 Cor. 3:3). They produce heresies where people take sides (1 Cor. 11:19; 2 Pet. 2:1).
Another term for all of this is factionalism. Brother Mike Willis said in the Guardian of Truth, September 2, 1982, on the subject of factionalism:
What generally occurs is something like this: an is-sue focuses in a local church, parties form within the local congregation centered around prominent men, heated exchanges occur, the church divides, and information is circulated condemning each other. Information is frequently sent to the periodicals to announce the joyous news that a new congregation was formed in that locality. The truth is that the devil infiltrated the Lord’s kingdom and caused factious men to split the church. Men who should have been the subjects of church discipline because of their factious spirit in dividing the kingdom of God are exalted to leading roles in the church.
It is no wonder that God said we are to “mark them or withdraw from them” that do such things (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Thess. 3:6-7). We are to “reject them” (Tit. 3:10) be-cause they are heretics.
Is assembling individual or collective? According to the Scriptures it is both. However, both words are used in the same setting as when the church, the family of God, gathers together in worship. We cannot have one without the other. There are brethren in who want to leave one of these out and justify their actions. But if we want to be pleasing to God, we must worship him individually in the collective body of Christ (John 4:24; Acts 2:42). Then we can provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:22-24).
Guardian of Truth XLI: 23 p. 12-13
December 4, 1997