Why I am in a Local Assembly Today

Joel Portman

My experience was much like other young people whose parents enjoyed active fellowship in a local assembly. My parents had passed through a long period of searching, both of the Scriptures to know the truth and for a Scriptural place, before they finally found a local assembly and left the denomination they had attended for many years. But growing up in an assembly and knowing nothing else, there were many times that I questioned if the local assembly was really the right place for a Christian to be. Why not other places? I had friends who I enjoyed, and they claimed to be saved but went to other places. Those places had more activities, more people, and much more to offer than the little assembly of 10-12 Christians that met at the hall where I was the only "young person." So the time came that I left home and also left the assembly. I found that there were Christians in the place I began to attend, and they were interested in the Word of God and were seeking to live for the Lord in some way. The preacher was a good man who tried to serve the Lord in that place. However, in time, I found that when I considered what the Bible said and what I had experienced at the little assembly, there were elements and practices that I knew were not right. I sorely missed the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day morning, remembering the Lord in that simple way. This spoke to me more than most other things at that point, but I also missed the brethren taking part as they were exercised, and local men giving ministry to the saints, though they weren’t as polished in their presentation or as educated in their studies. I knew they had something that this man didn’t have, and I also realized that the Lord intended for local brethren to develop exercise and to be used in that exercise, something that wasn’t permitted where I was going. Many other aspects continued to come together as the Lord dealt with me until there was nothing else I could do to be responsive to the Word of God, but I had to seek fellowship in the local assembly once again and be obedient to the Word of God.

A little later in life, I was faced with circumstances that forced my thinking another step. Being discouraged with some things in the local assembly and also enjoying warm fellowship with brethren from another gathering worked strongly to make me consider leaving the assembly for that place. For some reason, I determined to wait on the Lord for guidance, not making any move, but praying and searching the Word for something that would show me what to do. After about a year of this exercise, two simple things came to my mind very abruptly, not from anything that anyone said but just as simple thoughts. One was that these brethren with whom I enjoyed so much happy fellowship were the best spiritually that this other gathering had, and if I were to go to that place, I would have to accept fellowship with all those who were there. This, I knew, I could not do. I knew there were those in that meeting that did and thought things that I could not agree with. Secondly, I realized that in any gathering, if the principles were right, then one could seek to do something about the practices that failed to measure up to those principles; but if the principles upon which they were gathered were wrong, there was virtually nothing could be done about the practices.

These two thoughts possibly may seem very small or insignificant to some, but to me then and now, they appeared as if God had built a solid foundation under me that has settled me firmly in the fellowship of a local assembly as we gather today. It seems that those truths have never wavered or changed, and they continue to speak to me in the same way today.

Along with these experiences, there are many truths that the Lord has used to make me absolutely convinced that the local assembly is the only Scripturally correct gathering for saints today. Notice a few of these:

The Only Gathering Taught in the New Testament is the Assembly

We find other gatherings of individuals in synagogues and pagan temples, but for the believers, there was only one place they were gathered, and that was the assembly. Search as one might, we can find no other instructions given except for the assembly and its gathering; we cannot find any practices of believers in gathering except in a local assembly. The inevitable result of our examination of the Scriptures is that we learn that God has only one place for His saints to gather and that is unto the Lord Himself, in His Name alone, and in subjection to Divine authority.

This is taught in Matt. 18:20, and a careful study of this passage shows us that, while it may not give a definition of a local assembly, it certainly give us its principle. It is a very important passage in the context of this gospel to show us the place where the Lord’s people gather in a hostile environment as is the world, to honor the Lord and to obey the Word of God. It is the consistent practice of all believers in Acts. I Corinthians gives the teaching that describes the distinctiveness and functioning of that assembly. I Timothy 3:15 teaches us that, in contrast to the Jewish synagogue and the pagan temple in Ephesus, only one place was ‘house of God’ and was recognized by God. There is only one gathering for believers today that is taught by the Word of God, and if one departs from the local assembly, he would have to disregard the clear, simple teaching of this blessed book.

It is the only Gathering that...

Acknowledges the Lordship of Christ and gives Him the place of supreme authority that He deserves. A. W. Tozer, who was a great preacher of a past day in a denomination, wrote a chapter in a book and titled it, "The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches." In this book he says that in all his experience of sitting in church meetings to make decisions, he never heard any person say, "Why don’t we see what the Word of God has to say about it?" The only gathering that seeks to know the teaching of the Bible and allows it to determine the functioning of the gathering is a local assembly. It is the place where His will is sought and His mind is carried out within the realms of our limitations. Matthew 18:18 teaches that the assembly is responsible to carry out on earth what has been determined in heaven, and that will is made known through the Word of God to spiritually exercised believers on earth.

Seeks to uphold Scriptural Doctrine, for any other place one might go usually has serious problems with doctrine, often doctrine that touches on the person of Christ. Prominent leaders of denominations often do not believe in the impeccability of Christ, that He could not and did not sin. Many do not believe in the virgin birth, the eternal, essential Deity of Christ, His eternal Sonship, and many other fundamental truths. Many places have serious problems with Charismatic teachings. Doctrine is very important, and these are not the only ones (every doctrine of Scripture is very important) so that we must seek to be in a place that teaches and upholds the truth. I Timothy 3:15 again tells us that the assembly is the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, and this is vital for its preservation.

Allows the Control of the Holy Spirit since it is in a local assembly that the Spirit of God is allowed to direct and control those who would rise to give out a hymn, lead the saints in praise and prayer, speak a word for the purpose the Spirit designs or to act Scripturally in other ways (I Cor. 12:7-9, 14:26). He is not only Present, but He is to be President in the gathering. That also means that man’s arrangements ahead of time are often contrary to the Spirit’s control in the gathering. Some assemblies are forgetting this important principle. In any other gathering, where one or two men control, there is no room or possibility for the Spirit of God to cause other men to rise and take part. This is likely the most grievous sin against the Holy Spirit in our day.

Encourages and permits the Priesthood of all Believers in the functioning of the meeting, allowing brethren to rise and take part as they are exercised, qualified and gifted by the Holy Spirit. Most fundamental gatherings profess to believe in the Priesthood of all believers, but not Priesthood in the collective gathering. Private priesthood of believers is one thing, but the Scriptures also teach the Public, collective functioning of that priesthood (Heb. 13:12-15). One man ministry is a grievous thing and is contrary to this principle.

Any other Gathering Requires me to...

Compromise Essential Truths of the Word of God since one cannot accommodate the teachings of men in church gatherings without compromise of Divine truth. Many of the things already mentioned, for example, require compromise on the part of any believer who would be a part of such a gathering. They require compromise in the teaching of the Lord’s Supper as a weekly observance of the local assembly alone, the truths concerning the Lord Jesus and the place He is to have among His people, truths having to do with fellowship and what the Lord requires for His people. Compromise is the call of our day, and outside the assembly, one must continually compromise to be able to remain in such a place.

Fellowship with those who do not give clear testimony of salvation because most church gatherings outside the assembly do not preach a clear, searching gospel and as a result, many are brought in or accepted in that fellowship who do not have a clear testimony or give evidence of Divine life. To be in fellowship in any place like that requires me to be in fellowship with all who are there, no matter what they are or practice.

Practice activities that Contradict the Principles of the Word of God and by this we mean involvement in interdenominational activities, participation in functions that are not Scriptural in the local gathering, and many other elements that would be part of such a fellowship. In addition, the principles of separation must be compromised or ignored, mingling with and associating with those who not saved, and being affected by their practices that only tend toward an association with the world and its practices. Inevitably one becomes like those he associates with, and in time, one attending such places outside the local assembly becomes like those of that place.

What is the solution to questions about the local assembly? Search the Scriptures to learn and make sure that the local assembly, with all its faults and failures that one might see, is the place that the Word of God teaches. There is only one place that can properly claim the presence of the Lord in the midst, and an exercised believer should be most concerned to be where HE is. We do not gather in an assembly just because the brethren are pleasing to us. We should be there regardless, because that is where our Lord is. Remember that the coming day of review at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be according to our faithfulness to the Word of God and the Person of Christ so that what may seem like gain now will be exposed then as a great and eternal loss in comparison with what one might receive from the hand of our Lord in that coming day.