How can the decision of one assembly be binding on another when Revelation 2 and 3 show that assemblies are independent units?
Revelation 2 and 3 show no such thing. Conditions in each of the seven assemblies were different, but that they were not independent of each other is shown by the words to the overcomer: “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies” (Rev. 2: 7). Assemblies––not just his own assembly.
What then is the truth of Scripture? In 1 Corinthians we find divine instruction for the ordering of the local assembly. This is based upon two great truths, namely the truth of the fellowship into which all believers are called, and the truth of the one body.
As to the fellowship we read: “God [is] faithful, by whom ye have been called into [the] fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord”, (1 Cor. 1: 9). Now it is to this fellowship that we are called and to none other. There is only one fellowship, the fellowship of God’s Son. Those who speak of independent meetings or local fellowships only show that they have lost sight of the fellowship to which they are called. The fellowship of God’s Son is not limited to one locality––every believer is called to it. It is in the light of this that the apostle associates with the Church of God in Corinth “all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1: 2). Now such a fellowship has its privileges and responsibilities, to be carried out in dependence upon the Lord––the One who is the uniting bond of that fellowship. The Lord is not simply the uniting bond of a local meeting, nor is it only to such we receive, nor from such we put away if the sad necessity arises. When at the end of chapter five the apostle speaks of the “within” and “outside” he does not merely mean within or outside of the local assembly at Corinth. The “within” was the whole assembly of God on earth, the “outside” the whole world system.
Take an example. When a man becomes a citizen of the United Kingdom he also becomes a citizen of the European Community. Furthermore if he loses his British citizenship he also ceases to be a citizen of the European Community. Likewise a man that is received by the local assembly is also received on behalf of the whole Church and ought to be received by local assemblies everywhere. The same principle also applies in reverse: A man excluded from fellowship by a local assembly should not be received anywhere.
Those who argue for independency have little else before them than a local fellowship, with themselves as members of a local meeting. Scripture, however, never so speaks: we are called into “the fellowship” and are members of the one body. The local assembly may cease or be unable to meet; the fellowship to which we are called remains whatever the circumstances of the local meeting.
The other truth to be examined is that of the one body. Now when the apostle tells the assembly at Corinth: “Ye are Christ’s body, and members in particular” (1 Cor. 12: 27), he does not mean by this that they are the body of Christ, for that would have limited the one body to Corinth. What he is saying is that the assembly there was the local representative of the body. A general might say to a local company of soldiers ‘Remember you are Coldstream Guards’. He would not say ‘You are the Coldstream Guards’ because they do not form the whole regiment, but he reminds them that they are the local representatives of that famous regiment, and are expected to act and behave in view of the whole. So with a local assembly: if acting according to the light of Scripture, it does so as representing the one body. It is perfectly true that the local assembly is directly responsible to Christ as the Head of the body, but whether in reception or discipline, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their act is not independent of all other assemblies, but is in view of the whole Church, and has a bearing which extends to the whole. So too, when the local saints come together in the exercise of their privileges, to break bread, they do so not as members of a local meeting, but as members of the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 10: 16, 17). In this epistle, the local assembly at Corinth is called upon to perform an act of discipline in putting away a wicked person, but in this solemn act, as in all else, they are linked up “with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1: 2). A system of independent meetings has lost sight of the one body as a practical truth. The local assembly, whether in its privileges or responsibilities acts not just for itself, but with a view to the whole Church of God.