The present dispensation is characterised by a three–fold division of mankind: Jews, Gentiles and the Assembly of God (see 1 Cor. 10: 32). As the kingdom of the heavens has developed from being “like a grain of mustard [seed]” into “a tree” in which birds can roost (Matt. 13: 31, 32), so the visible distinctions between these three groups have become blurred. In the beginning, however, the Assembly had a clear “within” and “without” (1 Cor. 5: 12, 13), “within” being the fellowship of God’s Son, while “without” was the world of men (whether Jew or Gentile).
Furthermore, the Assembly is one. If this fact were properly understood it would do much to combat the careless attitude to fellowship so prevalent today. Of course the NT also speaks of assemblies, but these were merely local arrangements for practical reasons. Paul persecuted many assemblies (see Gal. 1: 22, 23), but when he recounts his actions, he refers to “persecuting the assembly of God” (v13). Again, when Paul speaks of the Corinthians as being “Christ’s body” (1 Cor. 12: 27), he does not mean that they were the body of Christ to the exclusion of Christians elsewhere, or that Christ has many bodies, but simply that they were a local representation of the universal whole.
The sinful man put out of the local assembly in Corinth (see 1 Cor. 5: 13) could not simply move down the road to Cenchrea and be accepted there. Corinth had not only acted on behalf of themselves, but also on behalf of the Assembly universally. We simply do not appreciate in our day what a solemn thing it was then to be put out of the Assembly (or, for that matter, to cut oneself off)––there was no other assembly to go to. This is what lay behind the word to the Hebrew saints about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10: 25)––they were in danger thereby of abandoning Christianity completely.
Today, the visible unity of the Assembly is gone. People join and leave the various denominations as if God had provided a selection of assemblies to choose from, and fellowship is largely degraded to being simply a matter of walking with people we like. In God’s eyes, however, there is still one Assembly. That being so, we ought to value all whom God has placed with us, and grieve for every saint from whom we are parted. Brethren may have many faults, but why take pleasure in being rid of their company? If we keep in mind the oneness of the Assembly we shall be preserved from a narrow attitude to fellowship and our affections will go out to all. That the Assembly is in ruins as regards its outward form is not denied, but that should not be an excuse to acquiesce in sectarianism. May our thoughts be in keeping with God’s thoughts!
Just One Company
It does not take long to realise that there is no such thing as the perfect company despite the proliferation of ‘churches’, ‘meetings’ and ‘fellowships’ around us. There will be no perfect company until every Christian is with Christ in glory. There is another thing, however, that many are seeking (or even believe they have found), and this is what I might call the best company. Their ‘church’, their ‘meeting’––whatever it is called––is, in their opinion, the most Scriptural available. They have looked on the multitude of sects and denominations that make up Christendom, and selected what they judge as being closest to the Biblical model. Theirs is the one that conforms most to NT doctrine and practice, and, more than any other, has rejected the evils of tradition, ritualism, and worldliness. It is not perfect––this they will admit––but it is the best around.
This is not the way God would have us proceed. He has only one company before His eye––the Assembly which Christ died for (see Eph. 5: 25). God is not concerned with arbitrary sections of His Assembly which men might like to designate as this or that company––He is concerned only with the whole thing. In God’s eyes there is only one company, and that is the Assembly. Now if this is all God recognises, who are we to recognise anything more? When a group of believers think of themselves as the most Scripturally accurate company around, then they have in effect abandoned God’s viewpoint for one of their own. What blinds them is the notion of themselves as a distinct company. I repeat, God recognises only one company. Instead of striving to find the best company we ought simply to recognise what God recognises.
It is a common reaction to the disorder of Christendom to attempt to build a little replica of the NT Assembly––in effect to form another company out from that which has failed. This is a mistake. Even if we realise that in a day of outward ruin the formation of an exact replica is impossible, we still err if we imagine that we can be a distinct company in the eye of God apart from the Assembly as a whole. In an evil day we are to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2: 22), but by so doing we do not form another company within the Assembly. We are only so many individuals walking together, seeking to abide by the principles of the only right company––the Assembly which cost Christ so much. Thus there are no overcoming companies only individual overcomers in the assemblies of Rev. 2–3.
One Church or Two?
The inspiration behind the Bible relates not only to concepts or ideas, but to the very words themselves: “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit”, (1 Cor. 2: 13). Thus if one Scripture phrases things differently from another, we may be sure that there is instruction in the difference. Some Christians, however, are overzealous and draw distinctions where there are none. Thus whilst most accept that Eph. 1: 23: “the assembly, which is his body” has a slightly different meaning to 1 Cor. 10: 32 “the assembly of God”, these go as far as to say that there are in fact two different Assemblies in view . It is not merely a question of the assembly in two aspects, but of two Assemblies––hence my title.
According to this presentation, the Assembly which is Christ’s body (Col. 1: 18) is a universal Assembly embracing every believer––there being only one body (Eph. 4: 4). From this body no member can ever be removed––I am there by virtue of faith in Christ. Distinguished from this is the Assembly of God, which is said to be an exclusively local concept and from which persons can indeed be removed. If this is true it means that each local assembly can only act in discipline on its own behalf and not on behalf of other assemblies. Thus while the Corinthians removed the wicked man from among themselves, he was not thereby excluded from fellowship elsewhere––the action was only applicable in Corinth. How other assemblies regarded him was entirely up to them.
By contrast, I believe Scripture teaches that there is only one Assembly, that discipline relates to that one Assembly, and that the local assembly is only a local expression of that one universal whole. This can be demonstrated by showing that the one body has a local as well as a universal aspect, and that the Assembly of God has a universal as well as a local aspect––in short that they are two aspects of the same thing, and not two different Assemblies.
That the body of Christ has a local aspect can be seen from 1 Cor. 12: 27 (AV): “now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular”. This is addressed to “the assembly of God which is in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1: 1)––a local assembly. This does not mean that the Corinthian assembly was the body of Christ in its totality––in the original Greek the definite article is lacking, and thus 1 Cor. 12: 27 is better rendered as “Now ye are Christ’s body, and members in particular”. The assembly of God at Corinth was the body of Christ representatively––a local representation of the universal body of Christ. It was a picture of the one body in miniature.
What about the Assembly of God in its universal aspect? You will remember that it was said that the term Assembly of God always relates to the local assembly. Let us look at the teaching of God’s Word.
In Acts 20: 28, the elders of Ephesus were exhorted by Paul to take heed to themselves and all the flock in which the Holy Spirit had set them as overseers. From the context, it is clear that the words “all the flock” refer to the Ephesian assembly. Now the Lord Himself taught that there would be one flock (see John 10: 16). For Scripture to be consistent with itself then, the flock at Ephesus must then be only a representative part of the whole flock. Thus I might tell a child to ‘tidy all the toys away’ even though ‘all’ might not include all the toys in his possession. By “all” Paul means what is immediately in view––the saints at Ephesus. It is not “all” in an absolute sense as if the saints at Ephesus made one complete flock. Now the elders had been set in the flock at Ephesus to shepherd the assembly of God. Clearly, the flock and the assembly here are synonymous, and ‘the assembly of God’ in this context relates to the assembly at Ephesus. However, just as the flock at Ephesus was merely a representative part of the whole flock, so the assembly of God at Ephesus was a representative part of the whole Assembly of God. This is confirmed by the following words “which he has purchased with the blood of his own”. It is not true to say that each local assembly was purchased in its own right. The Assembly was purchased as one whole (Eph. 5: 25). If local assemblies are bought, then some saints have, in effect, been bought more than once since in moving house they changed their local assembly (see Acts 18: 1, 2)!
First Corinthians is addressed to “the assembly of God which is in Corinth” (v2). Clearly what is in view is the assembly in that particular city. However, the fact that the term “assembly of God” is used in a restricted way here does not preclude it being used in a wider sense elsewhere! A burglar who outran a constable might boast of having ‘got away from the police’, but this does not mean that he had eluded the police service as a whole.
Moving on to chapter ten we read: “Give no occasion to stumbling, whether to Jews, or Greeks, or the assembly of God” (v 32). Now if only the local assembly is in view here, why then does Paul not use the plural and say ‘assemblies of God’ as he does in chapter eleven? Some answer by saying that here the apostle is not speaking of things generally, but only of Corinth (even though the phrase ‘assembly of God’ occurs elsewhere in the epistle where it does not relate to Corinth––see 1 Cor. 15: 9). Thus the apostle’s meaning, it is said, is the Corinthian Jews, the Corinthian Gentiles, and the Corinthian assembly.
The Jews, the Greeks and the Assembly of God are the present threefold division of mankind. Are there any grounds for limiting 1 Cor. 10: 32 to a local division of mankind? Jews and Greeks are mentioned elsewhere in the epistle, and never in a local sense. In 1 Cor. 1: 22–24, the context is clearly the world in general not just Corinth. In 1 Cor. 12: 13 the apostle says “we” (that is, not only the Corinthians, but himself as well), and speaks of Jews and Gentiles being baptised into one body (again, not just the Corinthians). Thus there is no evidence at all that 1 Cor 10: 32 is limited to the local situation. When Paul goes on to speak of himself pleasing all in all things, not seeking his own profit, but that of the many, in order that they might be saved (see v 33), it is hardly plausible that he had just the local situation before him. Clearly he is describing his general attitude everywhere.
Later on Paul states that he “persecuted the assembly of God” (15: 9) Those who believe that “the assembly of God” is a purely local thought say that this verse refers to the assembly in Jerusalem. Now Paul did indeed persecute the assembly in Jerusalem (Acts 8: 1–3), but if he had meant just that company he would have said ‘the assembly of God which is in Jerusalem’, or ‘an assembly of God’. Instead he uses the definite article. (Indeed if the phrase “the assembly of God” is purely local in character, the Corinthians would automatically think he was referring to them!) Paul’s confession is repeated in Gal. 1: 13: “I excessively persecuted the assembly of God”. Again, note the definite article. Go down a few verses: “But I was unknown personally to the assemblies of Judea which [are] in Christ; only they were hearing that he who persecuted us formerly now announces the glad tidings of the faith which formerly he ravaged” (v 22–23). Who did Paul persecute? Assemblies (plural)! How does he describe them? As THE assembly of God! Again, turn to Acts 26: 11 where Paul says he persecuted the saints even to cities out of Israel. Paul ravaged more than just the assembly in Jerusalem! His attack was not just on an assembly, but the Assembly, the Assembly which he describes as “the assembly of God”.
Years later, Paul wrote to Timothy in order that he might know “how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is [the] assembly of [the] living God, [the] pillar and base of the truth” (1 Tim. 3: 15). It is asserted that the instructions on the appointment of elders given immediately preceding this were given to Timothy for use in Ephesus, “God’s house” and “[the] assembly of [the] living God” being made to refer exclusively to the assembly at Ephesus. Yet Ephesus already had elders (Acts 20: 17) and so there would have already been knowledge there on the subject. Is it not obvious that the instructions given to Timothy had in view his labours in a variety of places rather than just one?
God has one house. Peter writes to “[the] sojourners of [the] dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1: 1) that is, not just to saints from one local assembly, but from over a considerable area. Yet a little later he says “yourselves” (that is all of them) “also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2: 5). Not several houses corresponding to each assembly, but one house. Again, “For the time of having the judgement begin from the house of God [is come]; but if first from us...” (1 Pet. 4: 17). Us! All the sojourners, as well as Peter, are in the same house of God! Turn to Hebrews: “ but Christ, as Son over his house, whose house are we” (Heb. 3: 6) Can anything be plainer? When Paul told Timothy how to conduct himself in God’s house he did not mean behaviour in a particular local assembly. That is virtually saying that God has thousands of houses––one for each local assembly. No, what the apostle meant is behaviour in the Assembly––which Assembly finds its local representation in each local assembly. If I am in the local assembly, then I am in the house of God, but this does not mean that this is a house of God distinct from another house of God in another city. I repeat, God has ONE house, and that house is “[the] assembly of [the] living God” (1 Tim. 3: 15).
The elders were to “take care of the assembly of God”(1 Tim. 3: 5). Clearly, the office of eldership was discharged locally––but this does not alter the fact that the work is with a view to the welfare of the whole. The elders were not looking after independent assemblies, but caring for local representations of the universal Assembly. They were contributing to a wider scheme of things. Note the apostle’s language: “but if one does not know how to conduct his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God?”. The contrast is between the elder’s house and God’s house. Scripture teaches that God has one house. The assembly of God here then cannot mean just Ephesus. It must have in view the Assembly as a world–wide whole.
It can thus be seen that the term “Assembly of God” is not limited to the local Assembly. There are not two kinds of Assembly but one. When the British Army invaded France in 1944 it does not mean that the whole army was involved––yet it was still the army. In the same way the “assembly of God” may have in view the whole Assembly or just a local representative part––but it always relates to the whole.
Let us see that we hold dear the oneness of the Assembly. If I am joined to the Lord then I am joined to all that belong to Him! Blessed unity! Never give it up!
The Assembly and the Assemblies
It is taught in some circles that the subject of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is the local assembly. This falls short of the whole truth. Admittedly there are circumstances dealt with in the epistle such as in 1 Cor. 7: 1, which had special application to the assembly in Corinth, but the epistle is addressed not just to “the assembly of God which is in Corinth”, but also to “all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1: 2). This important fact is sometimes overlooked.
“God has set certain in the assembly: first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; ...” etc. (1 Cor. 12: 28). What Assembly is in view here? God has never set apostles and prophets in a local assembly (certainly there were no apostles in Corinth)––they are gifts to the body of Christ viewed as a whole (Eph. 4: 7–16), and their responsibilities are world–wide. There is thus something on earth at the present moment which God owns as the Assembly, which is not the same as the Assembly in its totality through the ages, (Matt. 16: 18), nor can it be equated with the local assembly anywhere. It is the Assembly in its present, universal, working aspect.
To saints everywhere (not just at Corinth) the apostle says “God [is] faithful, by whom ye have been called into [the] fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1: 9). To this fellowship every believer is called, for it is not the fellowship of a local assembly, but the fellowship of the Assembly. Furthermore, once the truth is learned that God has created only one fellowship for his saints, all other fellowships become abhorrent to the soul; first because they are a dishonour to the Lord, and second, because they impose barriers between those who should be walking together.
To put the position more plainly, seeing that the body of Christ is one, and all the saints are members one of another (Rom. 12: 5), it would seem right for all to meet together if it was practically possible. Men would then see what the body of Christ is, and realise how distinct it is from the evil order of things around. Seeing, however, that God’s saints are numerous and the earth is large, one gathering is impossible, and local assemblies therefore became necessary. Yet these should be viewed as geographical conveniences and not as independent entities. Membership is of the body of Christ, not of a local assembly. To speak of a local assembly as “a body of Christ” and as “a house of God” is absurd. Has Christ thousands of bodies, and has God thousand of houses? No! The apostle’s avoidance of the definite article in this connection should be noted. Thus in 1 Cor. 12: 27 he does not say “Ye are the body of Christ” (as the AV renders it), but “Ye are body of Christ” (literal rendering) that is, Christ’s body representatively in that city. Similarly, in 1 Cor. 3: 16 he does not say, as the AV says he does, “Ye are the temple of God” but “Ye are temple of God”, that is, God’s temple representatively in that city. The smallest number of saints in any place form a miniature of the whole.
It is alleged by some that the term “assembly of God” refers only to the local assembly. Thus when the apostle speaks of “Jews or Greeks, or the assembly of God” (1 Cor. 10: 32), we are told he means the assembly in Corinth! Also, when the apostle expressed his sorrow that he had persecuted the assembly of God (1 Cor. 15: 9), this is interpreted to mean that he was thinking only of the havoc that he had wrought in the city of Jerusalem. This kind of teaching is easily refuted. In Gal. 1: 13 Paul says “I excessively persecuted the assembly of God, and ravaged it”. Then in verses 22–23 he speaks of the assemblies in Judea which were in Christ as hearing “that he who persecuted us formerly now announces the glad tidings of the faith which formerly he ravaged”. Thus there were various assemblies in Judea before Paul was converted, and he did his utmost to destroy them all. The term “the assembly of God” thus applies not only to the local assembly, but to the last of the three divisions of mankind, “Jews or Greeks, or the Assembly of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The Assembly of God is composed of souls separated by grace from both Jews and Gentiles and brought together into one holy unity.
Observe the use of the apostle’s use of the word “we” in 1 Cor. 10: 16, 17. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not [the] communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of the Christ? Because we, [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”. Paul was not a resident in Corinth, yet he says “we”! The truth is that he had a larger thought in his mind than many modern teachers. Thus “one body” here is perverted to mean “one (local) body”! It is a serious thing to tamper with Scripture for the sake of a theory. Paul was thinking of saints universally. Oh, that we could get out of our pettinesses and look at things more as God sees them! As He looks down upon His saints He sees just one body, one table, one loaf and one cup, although actually many loaves and many cups are in use in order to meet local needs. On the same principle, God saw but one lamb in Egypt on the Passover night (“the assembly of Israel shall kill it”––Exod. 12: 6), although many lambs were in fact slaughtered. God thought of the one Christ, the Lamb of His providing.
The word “many” in 1 Cor. 10: 17 should not escape us: “Because we, [being] many, are one loaf” (see also 1 Cor. 12: 14). It is a fact that where just two or three are truly gathered to the Lord’s name, then He is present with them, and the company has assembly character. The present writer has broken bread in gatherings so small that the word “many” could not be applied to them. Yet all that is true of a large company is equally true of the smallest in divine thought. When, however, we read of eyes, ears, hands, feet and a variety of gifts as in 1 Cor. 12, clearly something larger is in view. It should be obvious to every reflecting soul that in 1 Cor. 12, the aggregate of God’s saints is contemplated.
Supposing a number of saints withdraw themselves from all unscriptural religious bodies, and gather together according to the Word of God, should they describe themselves as “the local assembly” in their town? No, for the local assembly in any place includes all the Christians located there. Alas, it is an assembly that refuses to assemble, with the majority attracted in different directions by sectarian interests. Those who seek to be obedient to God’s Word must never forget that they are but a part of the whole. Thus “Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob” (1 Kings 18: 31) though the nation was outwardly in division. Similarly, though only a fraction of God’s people returned to the land in Ezra’s day, it is beautiful to observe that their offerings were “for all Israel” (Ezra 8: 35). The unity of God’s people was very precious to these men of faith. Is it equally precious to us?
When we use the word “assembly” of a company in any locality we should connect it with a building and not with the town in which the building stands. An assembly met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila in Rome (Rom. 16: 5), and an assembly met in the house of Philemon in Colosse (Phil. 2), but we should not assume that all the saints in those cities met in those particular houses. Others could meet elsewhere. If, in this day of confusion, we speak of a company meeting in such and such a building, we speak correctly; but if we speak of them as “the local assembly” in the town we are ignoring all other saints, who may well be numerous. This will not do for God. Some have their thoughts so fully engaged in their “assemblies“ that they have almost lost sight of “the Assembly”.
Let us be humble: Is it possible that, at the back of our minds, we imagine that we have made a new start for God on more Scriptural lines than others, and so feel that we have no responsibility concerning the past? Daniel felt deeply the unfaithfulness of Israel over the centuries, and confessed his nation’s sins as his own (Dan. 9). Yet he had only nine centuries of failure behind him––we have twenty centuries behind us! Are our links with the past generations of Christians less intimate and real than those between Daniel and his ancestors? Until we understand that we are living in the closing days of a ruined dispensation, we shall never see our own path clearly, nor shall we be able to help our brethren universally.
In Each City
The divinely ordered system set up under the Mosaic Law was confined to a single nation, divided into twelve tribes and with an earthly metropolis—for Jerusalem was the focus of all collective service God–ward. In Christianity, by contrast, Jew and Gentile are baptised by one Spirit into one body, and that Assembly is viewed as one whole throughout its sojourn on earth. Furthermore, the Assembly has no earthly centre because it belongs to heaven and its Head is there.
In the practical ordering of the Assembly down here, however, it is evident that it finds concrete expression in localities. This begins to appear with distinctness in Acts 11, when some of those who were scattered by the persecution that followed Stephen’s martyrdom entered into Antioch and preached not only to the Jews but to Greeks as well. The Lord’s hand was with them in this, and “a great number believed” (v21). The Assembly which was in Jerusalem heard of these conversions and sent out Barnabas who, “seeing the grace of God, rejoiced, and exhorted all with purpose of heart to abide with the Lord” (v23). It is important to notice that the converts in Antioch were not required to go up to Jerusalem or elsewhere to be received into fellowship by those already gathered. There is no suggestion in Scripture that persons resident in one city should be received in another as a preliminary to breaking bread where they live. The messenger from Jerusalem simply acknowledged the sovereign work of God in Antioch and, instead of fetching one or more of the twelve apostles to give official recognition to the work, he went away to Tarsus and brought Saul to the place: “And so it was with them that for a whole year they were gathered together in the assembly and taught a large crowd” (v26—my emphasis). The formal reference in Acts 13: 1 to “the assembly which was [there]” shows that the assembly in Antioch was accorded the same status by the Spirit as that in Jerusalem. To some, this might appear to conflict with the events recorded in Acts 15 when Antioch consulted Jerusalem over a serious doctrinal issue. Now of course Jerusalem had a unique standing through being the place where Christianity had begun and where Peter and the other apostles lived, but as an assembly its supposed position of supremacy over Antioch is doubtful. Paul’s recollection of his visit to Jerusalem (see Gal. 2: 1–10) shows that what counted ultimately was the maintenance of the apostle’s doctrine, irrespective of the opinion of anyone in Jerusalem. Indeed, some time after, Peter (‘conspicuous’ at Jerusalem), was publicly rebuked in Antioch (see Acts 15: 7; Gal. 2: 11–14). Acts 15: 23–29 is the first and last apostolic letter recorded as written in association with the brethren in Jerusalem, though other Christians and assemblies sent communications in conjunction with the apostles (see Rom. 16: 23; 3 John 14 etc.). To Jewish eyes, Jerusalem would be a natural centre, and though it no doubt occupied that place while the Assembly was strictly Jewish in membership, ultimately this would it bring into conflict with the revelation of Christ as Head in heaven.
From Acts 13 onward the work extends far beyond the bounds of Israel’s territory, and we read of the formation of assemblies in cities. Paul says to Barnabas in Acts 15: 36: “Let us return now and visit the brethren in every city where we have announced the word of the Lord, [and see] how they are getting on” (my emphasis). In Acts 20, Paul tells the elders from the assembly at Ephesus “And now, behold, bound in my spirit I go to Jerusalem, not knowing what things shall happen to me in it; only that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and tribulations await me” (vs 22, 23—my emphasis). This testimony would, of course, be given through the saints in the cities he passed through. Then we learn that elders were established “in each city” (Titus 1: 5, my emphasis), thus showing incidentally the extent and limitation of their sphere of rule.
Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians is addressed to “the assembly of God which is in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1: 2—my emphasis). There was only one assembly there, although the Lord had much people in that city (see Acts 18: 10). From this it follows that if because of large numbers there had to be more than one gathering for the Lord’s Supper (as appears to have been sometimes the case—see Acts 2: 46; Rom. 16: 5; 1 Cor. 16: 19) yet there was in any one city only one assembly. On certain occasions, the “whole assembly” in the place would “come together” (see 1 Cor. 14: 23). At the same time, the apostle associates the assembly in Corinth “with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1: 3) since the things he wrote to Corinth were equally binding everywhere. It could not be otherwise, as there is but one body, which embraces the saints universally.
Nevertheless, the Corinthian assembly was, in that city, characteristically “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3: 16) and “Christ’s body” (1 Cor. 12: 27). They were to be, as it were, a miniature of the whole Assembly. The inhabitants of Corinth could not observe what was going on in the assemblies in Philippi or Thessalonica, but they could take account of the saints in Corinth, and were to see in the assembly there that which was proper to the whole.
However, in stressing (and rightly so) the fact that there is but one universal fellowship, a fellowship to which all Christians everywhere are called, there is a great danger of losing sight of our local responsibilities. Scripture nowhere teaches that assemblies are independent of each other (and in Galatians 1: 2, multiple assemblies are explicitly linked together), but nor does it teach that a local assembly is to make itself subservient to decisions made elsewhere. What is implicit in Paul’s many letters to individual assemblies, but very clearly brought out by John in Revelation 1–3, is that the assembly in each city is accountable to the Lord directly. While Hebrews 9: 2 refers to one candlestick which had seven branches, Revelation 1: 12 speaks of seven separate candle–sticks (or lamps), because each of the seven assemblies had its own responsibility as a light–bearer, for which it was answerable directly to the Lord. The separate address to each assembly clearly shows this. In Revelation 2: 5 the Lord warns Ephesus that if it did not repent “I am coming to thee, and I will remove thy lamp out of its place” (my emphasis).
As Christians moved about from city to city, they made use of “commendatory letters” (2 Cor. 3: 1) to provide some form of identification when they visited assemblies where they were strangers. Was Ephesus then, bound to receive a man commended by Corinth? Not at all, for that would mean Ephesus giving up its own responsibility before the Lord as to receiving those who it judged to be walking faithful. Certainly if Ephesus rejected an individual recommended by Corinth that would have serious implications for the bond existing between the two assemblies, but Corinth could not decide for Ephesus who it was to accept.
Thus we see that the administration of the Assembly is not by means of a central authority like Rome or Canterbury governing the whole, or through the overbearing influence of one assembly over another. Instead, the saints in each locality are to act in obedience to the Head, though never forgetting that whatever they do in their own locality, they act for the whole Assembly universally.