Not for All
Protestants are in the habit of sneering at the coming together of the world’s cardinals to elect a new pope, but one questions whether the motto of Sola scriptura––Scripture only––is really so applicable to their own arrangements as they would like to think.
Where, for example, did they get the idea of a general synod composed of selected delegates? Certainly not from Acts 15! Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to be received, not only by the apostles and elders, but “by the assembly” (v4)––it was not a conference just for some only. Again, on the same occasion we read of “all the multitude” (v12) being present, and when a decision had been reached on the matter of dispute, “it seemed good to the apostles and to the elders, with the whole assembly, to send chosen men from among them with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch” (v22, my emphasis). The idea of allowing every ‘ordinary church–member’ (whatever that expression might mean) to sit in a decision–making council would be anathema to a good many in the hierarchy of what takes the name of Christ––but it is Scriptural. Certainly all might not be qualified to make decisions on every matter, (hence the prominence of the apostles and elders in Acts 15), but all must be carried with the decisions. Thus the message sent to Antioch from Jerusalem was from “the apostles, and the elders, and the brethren” (v23, my emphasis).
At Corinth, Paul allowed for the fact of “the whole assembly come together in one place” (1 Cor. 14: 23), and gave instruction on how their activities as so assembled were to be regulated. Now this is not to say that the assembly at Corinth did not, on occasion, break down into smaller groups for the sake of convenience (the word “if” preceding “therefore the whole assembly” would suggest the possibility), but that is not the same as arranging events from which other members of the assembly, for whatever reason, are excluded. Nowhere does Scripture sanction such sectional meetings.
Where is the Scriptural support for ‘Women’s meetings’? If we really believe God when He says, through Paul, “I do not suffer a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man” (1 Tim. 2: 12), logically we must also enforce an exclusion of men from such meetings. Why? Because when a brother in Christ walked in, it would be incumbent upon the sisters to “be silent” (1 Cor. 14: 34), and thus the ‘Women’s meeting’ would effectively be at an end! No one with the slightest comprehension of the unity of the assembly would countenance for one second the exclusion of any member of that assembly, male or female, from any of its gatherings––except for the extreme example of wickedness (see 1 Cor. 5: 13).
As with all truth, however, there are always those who misuse it. Thus some who rightly oppose sectional meetings of the Lord’s people seem to think they can oppose Sunday schools on the same grounds. They say that since the lambs feed with the sheep, special meetings for children are wrong. This misses the point entirely. Sunday schools are not aimed at young believers, nor even simply at the children of Christians. Their primary purpose is to present the Word of God to children who come from unbelieving households. These are not lambs in the sense of either real or nominal members of Christ’s flock. It would be more accurate, if anything, to describe them as the offspring of wild goats! To restrict any meeting of the assembly to some only is wrong; the Sunday school, however, is not set up for the assembly, or any part of it, or even those simply connected with it through their parents. It is a meeting for those know who nothing of being raised in the “discipline and admonition of [the] Lord” (Eph. 6: 4), in order to present to them the message of salvation.
‘Brother’s meetings’, ‘Minister’s conferences’, and any meetings by special invitation only, can, however, be rightly denounced as against Scripture. There is no support whatsoever in the NT for such sectional gatherings. All together is God’s theme––young and old, learned and unlearned, Jew and Greek, male and female. What right have we to exclude sisters, or so–called laity, or those we simply don’t like? Certainly God can use sectional meetings for profit (it would be an affront to His person to suggest He could not), but that is not the same as suggesting that he condones the principles underlying them.
Some practise ‘Elder’s meetings’ where decisions on behalf of the assembly are made without that same assembly being present. Where is the justification for this? Acts 20 will not help here. Let me quote the relevant passage: “the next day we came to Miletus: for Paul thought it desirable to sail by Ephesus, so that he might not be made to spend time in Asia; for he hastened, if it was possible for him, to be the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem. But from Miletus having sent to Ephesus, he called over [to him] the elders of the assembly” (vs 15–17). Certainly this was an ‘Elder’s meeting’ but does it resemble the modern practice? No. What did the elders decide on behalf of the assembly? Nothing! This is simply the apostle giving his farewell instructions to those who had been given the responsibility of shepherding the assembly of God––for he knew that those who would not spare the flock were on the horizon. It was a message peculiarly for them. In any case, if Paul was at Miletus it is doubtful whether it would be practicable to call over the whole assembly from Ephesus, and so he addresses his last words to those in position of leadership and influence there. The passage is about nothing more than that.
In Matthew 18: 20 we read that “where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them”. Now we can hardly expect the Lord to grace our meeting with His presence if some of His brethren are excluded simply because they do not belong to some sectional group! God’s mind is the “whole assembly” (1 Cor. 14: 23); the mind of man ever tends towards the break up of that unity.