Uniquenesses of a New Testament Local Church (3)

Walter Gustafson

3. Scripturally the breaking of bread is only associated with a permanent N.T. assembly

After the institution of the Lord’s Supper on the night of His betrayal, the Lord’s supper is only associated with a permanent N.T. assembly. Between the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the Day of Pentecost when the local assembly at Jerusalem was formed, there are seven Lord’s Days but no record of any breaking of bread. There is only one of those Lord’s Days that we know for sure that the lord Jesus wasn’t with them physically, no need of a remembrance with Him present. In Acts 2:41,42 the Lord’s Supper is associated with the assembly at Jerusalem. In Acts 23:7 it is associated with the assembly at Troas. The only ones in the N.T. to receive instruction about the breaking of bread is the local church of God at Corinth (1 Cor. 11:17-34). The Lord’s Supper is not associated with convenience or a summer Bible camp. It is only associated with a permanent N.T. assembly. Brother Carl Payne and I were at Templeman, Newfoundland (200 miles from the nearest assembly), for 3 months in 1967 and 4 months in 1968. There were between four and ten assembly believers there, but we never broke bread because there is no scriptural authority to do so. We are thankful that there is a small assembly there now and five other assemblies in a 160 mile area.

4. Their only priesthood is the priesthood of all believers

In the O.T. there were priests by physical birth; they had to be descended from Aaron. In the N.T., every believer is a priest by the new birth (1 Peter 2:5,9). Only priests in the O.T. could enter the sanctuary. Even though our sisters do not lead in prayer or praise, they can function as priests by entering the sanctuary inside the veil. We all need each other. Because our sisters are truly priests, they can be a real help to any assembly meeting.

Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic priest when he got saved. He believed in the priesthood of all believers. Many evangelicals believe in the priesthood of all believers; but the only place of which I know where the priesthood of all believers is allowed to function as it should, is assemblies gathered to the Name and person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James M. Gray, the first president of Moody Bible Institute, wrote an excellent book "Synthetic Bible Studies" in which he gives a synthesis of every book of the Bible. When I read something worth reading again in my own books, I put a line beside it; if it is very good, I put two lines beside it; if it is exceptional, I put three lines beside it. However, if I read something with which I disagree, I put an "x" beside it. I have two x’s in that book. One is in 1 Corinthians 14 and the other is in 1 Timothy 2. In spite of the fact that both passages are so clear, he tries to justify women speaking publicly in the local church.

After profitably reading the book, I decided to look into 1 Timothy 2 more closely. There are two words in that chapter for men. The first one is a word meaning mankind, men, women, boys, and girls. The first one is in verses 1, 4 and 5. God is just as interested in the women and girls getting saved as the men and boys. But, when we come to verse 8 ("I will therefore that men pray everywhere..."), Paul guided by the Holy Spirit used a word meaning the males as distinct from the females. I felt rewarded for looking into 1 Timothy 2 more carefully.

5. The only presidency acknowledged is that of the Holy Spirit

In 1 Thess. 5:19, 20 we read, "Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings." There are saved denominational preachers who have written some profitable things about not quenching the Spirit, but they miss something that is right in the context. We do not have prophets today, but in every local church there should be room for what answers to "prophesyings," a word of ministry to meet a special need. Likely the reason that saved denominational men miss it, is because their very position (of doing everything) quenches the Spirit.

About 50 years ago I had a conversation with the late Royal Merritt. He knew about N.T. assemblies when he first got saved because his sister, Mrs. Frank McMillan, was in the assembly that met in the Cliff Street Gospel Hall. He, more or less, turned his back on assembly truth and became a one man pastor of a large congregation of about 300 persons. He told me, "All the time that I had that position, it really bothered me that I knew there were men in my congregation who should be free to lead in prayer or praise, give a gospel message, or give a word in ministry and they couldn’t do it because of my position of doing everything." He eventually severed his denominational connections and finished his days as an assembly missionary in Chile.

It is also possible for us in the assembly who know better to quench the Spirit. Any brother who wrongly thinks that every time there is any opportunity for ministry, he should be the one to give it; that could be quenching the Spirit. About 50 years ago I was burdened about a message to meet a present need in the assembly. I believe the Spirit of God can lead a brother to give a profitable message that is not necessarily a burden. This time it was a burden. I did not consider it proper to rise to give ministry until the brother who put the collection box back on the table had returned to his place and was fully seated. I can assure you that I was as wide awake as I could be, waiting for the brother to get fully seated. However, before he had done so, a brother jumped up like a "jack in the box." It would have been all right with me if he was burdened. It seemed incredulous that he was so quick to speak and his first words were, "Don’t expect anything, I wasn’t exercised to speak". As soon as the meeting was over I went right to him and asked him, "Since you said this morning "not to expect anything since you weren’t exercised to speak, why is it that you couldn’t wait even half a minute for the Spirit of God to raise up someone whom He had exercised to speak?" To his credit he didn’t say anything, but I think it would have been more to his credit if he had said that he was wrong, because he was wrong. He was quenching the Holy Spirit.

We have no president or chairman to direct the Breaking of Bread meeting. Each brother in fellowship, unless under discipline, is free to give out a suitable hymn or to lead in praise. We read in Philippians 3:3 R.V. "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." It is only a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit who can worship God in the highest sense. I hope I never hear of any assembly, even assemblies I am not happy to visit, putting a sign outside their meeting place inviting the general public, "Come and worship with us." They would then be inviting unsaved persons to do what they cannot do.

It was a joy for me, at the first L’Anse au Loup conference which I attended in 1965, to hear eight local brethren at the Breaking of Bread take part in thanksgiving and praise. I did not time them, but I estimate that they took an average of a half of a minute each. Some of those beloved brethren could not read or write, but it is most important that our hearts be led out in worship. I know that there are exceptions, but there is a lot of truth in the statement, "If the backward brethren weren’t so backward, the forward brethren wouldn’t be so forward".

I heard of a conference many years ago in Detroit where a born again lawyer was invited to witness an assembly Breaking of Bread meeting for the first time. He had an excellent seat in the balcony, looking down on hundreds of saints. He was so favorably impressed that he said to the brother who invited him, "I would like to know whoever arranged that program. He is a genius." He could hardly believe that it was left completely to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the Spirit of God is more than a genius, He is omniscient.