Our appreciation of the local assembly increases as we understand more clearly its place and purpose in Gods plan. To see such a spiritual gathering as the only place that God intended from the beginning and the only place that God recognizes today out of Christendom causes a marked increase in its importance, even with our self-caused failures.
The Holy Spirit through Matthew has presented the local assembly in a setting that emphasizes this importance. The events leading up to chapter 18 develop the environment in which the assembly is to stand and function for the honor of the Lord and in subjection to His will. Notice, please,
His Presentation of Unquestionable Evidences of Christ from Matthew 1-11. The material of this gospel has been arranged so that commencing with the first chapter, the Holy Spirit develops those evidences to His person that should have caused Israel and her leaders to acknowledge Him and to submit to His authority.
These elements given include (with others) His Traceable Genealogy in chapter 1, His Birth Location according to prophetic scriptures in chapter 2 along with the fulfillment of those prophecies from scripture, His Early Pathway taking Him into and out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1), the message of John the baptizer as the Foretold Forerunner (Matt. 3, Isaiah 40:3) and His Perfect Resistance to Satanic temptation which showed Him morally superior to Adam and expressed His perfect qualification to reign (Matt. 4, Psa. 45:6-7). The Righteous Standards of Gods Kingdom declared by the King in chapters 5-7 and the miracles of the following chapters show He was the One who fulfilled all anticipated conditions verifying the Messiah.
Much more could be considered concerning this material, but we look at this mainly to show that it culminates in a national rejection of the Messiah, a rejection that was deliberate and repeated (9:34, 10:25, 12:24-29) as the Pharisees and Scribes attributed His Spirit-empowered work to the power of Beelzebub. Following this complete, deliberate setting aside of His claims and of every evidence to His Person and Position, He begins to speak of
The Kingdom of the Heavens in mystery form to hide the truth from the nation that has rejected Him (13:10-17). In this chapter, the Lord unfolds the development of a new aspect of His dealings with men, not mentioning Jew or Gentile in particular, but emphasizing Gods work countered by Satanic opposition that will one day come to its final harvest and termination. Following that parabolic presentation of the Kingdom, John the forerunner is beheaded (14:10) and Jesus commences a ministry in Galilee, moving in areas that are borderline Jew-Gentile territories. It is in that environment that, following two acts of continuing opposition from the Jewish religious/national leaders (15:1, 16:1) the Lord asks His disciples the very important question in the regions of Caesarea Philippi regarding their convictions about Himself (16:13). He is looking for a response that transcends those normal, accepted opinions that prevailed and which were identified with a nation in denial and unbelief concerning Him. What is vital is that their knowledge of His Person must go beyond the prevailing ideas and be solidly based on Divine revelation concerning Himself. It is upon Him alone and the confession of Himself that He speaks of...
The Church that He would Build, which includes in it all who gladly submit to His Person and acknowledge His Supreme Authority. In this context, He gives authority to Peter to be exercised in the Kingdom of Heaven (expressed in His opening the doors in the Acts) and establishes the fact that the church, founded by Himself, will not be overcome by the gates of hell.
In this church, the Body of Christ, He has begun a new thing that is distinct from the nation to which He had come. Everyone who has had a convicting knowledge of Himself imparted to them through Gods revelation is a part of this church in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:28). In the borders of Gentile ground, He finds a people who have responded to Himself and desire to honor Him in this scene of rejection.
But the functioning of that purpose in its local setting, and the practical outworking of a gathering that acknowledges the authority of Christ is not seen until Matthew 18. He develops the truth of a...
Local Assembly Gathering that is responsible to carry out the mind of heaven on earth (18:18). This is in the context of discipline in the local assembly, and this itself makes clear that it cannot be the entire church which is His body. It is not that such a gathering will find that whatever they determine to do on earth will automatically be ratified in heaven, but that this gathering must seek to do, according to Gods Word, the will of God upon earth. This gathering, a local assembly in this context, has the responsibility to uphold Divine principles and to carry out Divine Judgment. This is important so that the Name of the Lord Jesus, the One Who is in the midst of His own people, (v. 20) will be upheld and honored by submission to His authority and will.
Would this be important to God? Most assuredly! To find such a company gathered with an exercise to carry out His will rather than what is the normal, accepted religious course of men in a rebellious, unbelieving world would be very precious and important to Him. It is HIS WILL that such a company exists and functions in this exercise before Him.
Where is such a company to be found? Not in the world, in which there has been a deliberate rejection of the truth of God and in subjection to His will. In a sphere that is marked by the substitution of human reasoning for Divine principles and the implementation of mans prerogatives in religious activities, there cannot be a proper response to desire to uphold the will of God in heaven. There is only one place that can be truly gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus, with all that this means and implies, and that can consciously know His presence in their midst. The Lord cannot be in the midst of any other company in this same manner, but He desires to and delights in being found in the midst of those who are deliberately seeking to carry out His will on earth. This is truth that corresponds with the character of the local assembly seen in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. In that vast city of Ephesus, there was only one gathering that was the "church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," and it wasnt the temple of Diana with its grandeur nor the synagogue of the Jews. There was only One Place, the local assembly of believers, that God could identify in this way.
It is in this sense that we recognize that the local assembly is vitally essential to the continuation of Gods purposes regarding practical fellowship and maintenance of testimony for Him. It is the "main stream" of Gods plan, and all else is a departure from it. That departure is anticipated in Scripture, but it is not His will. Only in this assembly setting can the truths of His Word be maintained and His Name truly honored.
To comprehend this in some measure will enhance our appreciation of what a local assembly is to the Lord so that we might be strengthened with spiritual resolve to uphold Divine Principles that are according to His Word and which express subjection to His will. The coming day of review and manifestation will undoubtedly consider such faithfulness to the Lord and the principles of His Word in view of reward for the believer. May we know His grace to maintain such principles and practices that are consistent with His purpose so that a gathering of saints might act consistently with the mind of God in heaven.