Pardon me, but I just happen to like the assemblies. It seems almost counter-cultural to say something like that. The ‘in thing’ is to bad-mouth them, to highlight all their faults and failures. There are plenty of critics who pontificate on what is wrong with the assemblies. Maybe it’s time for someone to step forward and say what is good about them. I’d like to be that person. Let me tell you why I like them. I like the weekly remembrance of the Lord in the breaking of bread. For fifty years I have sought to remember the Lord every Sunday and it has never lost its charm for me. There is something special about a meeting where our beloved Lord is the sole attraction and the central object of worship. No wonder that when people leave an assembly for a different type of fellowship they invariably say, ‘I do miss the worship meeting’. It makes me sad that they ever left it.
The assembly has endeared itself tome because I have seen Ephesians chapter 4 and verse 12 practised as nowhere else. Gifts were given for building up the saints for the work of the ministry. I have seen un-lettered men mature to the point where they preached the gospel with convicting power. I have seen home-spun men ministering to the hearts of God’s people and not just to their heads. I have seen devoted women finding fulfilment, not onlyin raising sons and daughters for God, but also in teaching other women and children, co-labouring with their husbands in support of their ministry, supporting the work of missionaries at home and abroad, visiting the sick and afflicted and showing hospitality to saints and strangers alike. I have seen young men encouraged to exercise their gifts in a way that would never happen in the average church. Many prominent evangelical leaders give lip-service to Ephesians 4. 12 and some even commend the assemblies in the way they practise it. One of the glories of the assemblies is their steadfast refusal to divide an equal brotherhood into clergy and laity. To gather to the person of Christ rather than to a charismatic preacher is divine in both principle and practice. The New Testament teaches a plurality of elders and never a one man ministry. But assemblies who preach and practise this will always be speckled birds in the Christian community. There is a certain measure of reproach to being in an assembly of this type and those who cast in their lot with the assemblies had better be prepared to bear it. I like the fact that each assembly is autonomous, responsible to the Lord alone. There is no headquarters on earth, no humanly-ordained hierarchy, no organisation coming between the Head and the body. This impedes the take-over of assemblies by liberalism, alien doctrines or dictatorships. The financial policies of the assemblies are commendable. It is extraordinary that in most fellowships there is only one collection or offering a week. And yet that one offering, taken without fanfare or begging appeals, is sufficient to meet the local expenses and to help support Christian ministries at home and abroad. Traditionally, full-time workers have looked to the Lord alone for the supply of their needs without publicizing those needs. The world cannot say of the assemblies what it says of Christendom in general, ‘All the church wants is your money’. I appreciate the fact that the assemblies are willing to exercise godly discipline when it is called for, even if in doing so they may be limiting their chances of ever becoming mega-churches. They are content to judge their fellowships, not by their size, but by the holiness of the members.
The literature ministry of the assemblies has been outstanding.Perhaps this has been their main contribution to the evangelical scene. The writings of Darby, Kelly, Mackintosh and Vine, and a host of others, have exerted a profound and beneficial influence throughout the world. Some years ago the librarian of a Christian college attempted to compile a bibliography of ‘brethren’ writers; he later despaired of ever finishing the project. And mention must be made of the missionary movement associated with the assemblies, a movement that is all out of proportion to the number of local fellowships supporting it. Other people have other reasons for liking the assemblies, some of them quite unexpected. For instance, a sister who recently came into fellowship after years of church hopping said she was delighted to be in one with male leadership. That was a strange note to sound in a day of women’s lib.
Probably few groups engage in as much self-criticism as the assemblies. Frankly, I feel it is grossly over-done, causing impressionable people to be un-necessarily disenchanted and turned away. Criticism comes best on the back of praise. It is time we balanced the two. The foregoing does not mean that I am satisfied with the status quo. I recognize that there are areas in which we need to improve,such as evangelistic outreach and development of leadership in the assembly. While unalterably committed to biblical principles, I recognize the need for changing methods from time to time. I agree that some of our people, including our young people, have legitimate concerns and need to be heard. But instead of calling out the wrecking crew, we need to roll up our sleeves and tackle the problems. Give us men who will show us how to do a constructive job rather than armchair generals who black-ball the assemblies or bail out altogether. And those who draw their support from the assemblies should demonstrate a measure of loyalty and avoid the appearance of ‘biting the hand that feeds them’.