The assembly (or church) of Christ is described as His body, of which every born again Christian is a member (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 1:22-23, 2:16, 3:6, 4:12,16, 5:23; Col. 1:18,24). This intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is based on the fact that the assembly is saved (Eph. 5:25-27), purchased (Acts 20:28), sanctified (Eph. 5:26-27), established (Eph. 2:19-20), built (Matt. 16:18), loved (Eph. 5:25) and owned by Him (Rom. 7:4).
On the local level, the assembly of Christ is mostly represented by small assemblies (also referred to as congregations) that achieve their objectives not by power or by might but by the work of God’s Spirit. The true assembly should guard against human falsifications and alliances with the world by remaining true to its calling and commission. The following are the eight most important characteristics of the assembly. Individual Christians should demonstrate these characteristics to their fullest potential and in their purest form in order that the assembly is built up spiritually, sinners are saved, new assemblies are established and spiritual deception by ignorant people and false prophets is resisted.
1. The called out ones
The New Testament term for the assembly, or church, of Christ is the ecclesia – which literally means “the called out ones.” It refers to those who have been called from the darkness of sin and spiritual lostness to the marvellous light of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). Through spiritual regeneration, God made them new people (John 3:3). The true assembly of Christ is, therefore, only composed of born again Christians. To be regarded as members of the assembly of Christ, they must be able to testify spontaneously and frankly of their changed lives. The observing of this principle of membership is clearly evident from Acts 2:47 – only saved people are added to the assembly of Christ. One first has to confess your sins to the Lord Jesus (1 John 1:9) and put your faith in Him as your Saviour (Acts 16:31) so He can make you spiritually alive (John 5:24). Only then will you belong to Him and be a member of His body, or assembly, on earth.
Many people never confess their sins honestly and therefore do not thoroughly repent of their sins. In their unsaved state they join Christian assemblies, but from a biblical point of view they do not belong to the assembly of Christ. They are nominal believers who only have a form of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:16; Rev. 3:1). The Lord will reject these nominal believers when they appear before His throne – even though they belonged to denominations and may even have preached in His Name (Matt. 7:21-23). Serious strife and dissension can prevail in assemblies if “false brothers” (2 Cor. 11:26) sneak in and pretend to be believers, while in reality they are still totally dominated by their carnal nature.
2. The temple of the Holy Spirit
The assembly of Christ is commanded to live holy, Spirit-filled lives. They must put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24; 1 Thess. 5:22-24). Members of the assembly of Christ must fully realise that the Holy Spirit was not only poured out to convict them of their sins and to regenerate them spiritually – they are also called to be a temple of the Holy Spirit and to live lives that will glorify God (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Holy Spirit wishes to fill and enable them to achieve victory over sin, temptations and the flesh (Gal. 5:16), and also empower them to render service in the kingdom of God (Acts 1:8; Eph. 5:18).
3. The body of Christ
By being born again we are baptised into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). The body of Christ can be likened to an organic body in which the various members supplement one another (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31). In association with other members you can put your talents and gifts to use in the extension of God’s kingdom (1 Pet. 4:10). The local assembly must aim to be a worthy reflection and representative of the corporate body of Christ. Fulfil your calling and task only in the power and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as we cannot please God when doing things in the power of the flesh. The authority for your calling in the assembly is only vested in Christ, while the Holy Spirit endues you with power to execute it. In this position of dependence on Him alone, victory is assured as the Lord Jesus is our Head who calls, empowers, guides and sends us (Eph. 1:17-23).
4. The little flock
God’s kingdom is revealed by the little flock of His assembly (Luke 12:32). The followers of Christ are like a flock of sheep that are led and cared for by the Good Shepherd. They are deeply dependent on Him to lead them to green pastures, to protect them against dangers and to guide them through every crisis and challenging situation (Ps. 23:1-4). The Shepherd knows His sheep, supplies in their needs and knows to deliver them from all anxiety and evil – even from the devil himself (Matt. 6:13; John 10:14-15). The Chief Shepherd also appointed overseers to take responsibility for the care of His flock (Acts 20:28).
5. ‘n Pillar and ground of the truth
The assembly of the living God is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). It must be a clear feature of the assembly of Christ that it maintains and preaches the biblical doctrine on salvation, thereby ensuring that the members are not deceived. For this reason it is imperative that the assembly also has an apologetic ministry in which the pure Christian doctrine is defended against wrong teachings. The pastor has a responsibility to inform members on sects and to enable them to refute all forms of spiritual deception from the Word of God (Jude 1:3-4). The truth of the Word can set people free from the power of delusion (John 8:32), and in its full light every heresy will be exposed.
6. Disciples of Christ
All members of the assembly must dedicate themselves to attain the standard set for disciples of Christ, as that is the only way to be worthy representatives of God’s kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus has called (Matt. 4:19), instructed (Matt. 28:19; John 14:26), equipped (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8) and sent (Matt. 28:19; Luke 10:3; John 20:21) His disciples. The call to discipleship renders the assembly an active, out-going group which is committed to evangelising the non-Christian world. Wherever new groups of believers are formed, new assemblies should be established – even if they assemble in the houses of believers. During their meetings, believers must be trained to become disciples who can preach the Word themselves. In this way, the kingdom of God on earth will be extended.
7. The bride of the Lamb
The assembly is the bride of the Lamb. Through a process of sanctification we are prepared to be presented to the heavenly Bridegroom in a worthy way, without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:26-27). Sanctification, which is a vitally important preparation for our appearance before Christ, entails two different aspects. The first one is personal holiness. We must have no vile and sinful habits which can defile us in our spirit, soul or body (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23-24). Secondly, we must do works which will please the Lord as “holiness” can also be translated as “separated for the service of the Lord.” There must be works in our lives which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit who works through us. These works in the lives of truly dedicated Christians will also ensure that they have a proper wedding garment (Rev. 19:7-8; see also Ps. 45:9,13-15).
8. The light of the world
We are called to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16). God’s assembly must be like a lamp which shines brightly in the midst of spiritual darkness. We represent His kingdom in a sinful world which lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). We should, under no circumstances whatsoever, make any compromise with the crooked ways of the world, but walk strictly in accordance with the Word of God, that we may be blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15). If we walk in the light of God’s presence, then His light will shine through us and onto the world around us. Make sure that you stay close to the Lord and that your feet are anchored in His Word. The psalmist says: “The entrance of Your words give light” (Ps. 119:130). We know what the source of light is, namely the Lord Jesus and His Word, and we are commissioned to let this light shine in the world. Should we fail to be the light of a dark world and the salt of a corrupt earth, the world will deteriorate faster and be totally overcome by evil. God wants to reveal Himself and His assembly to the world, and we are commanded to do it. Are you busy doing so?
It is a thrilling and challenging thought that we can be the members of Christ’s body on earth. It should motivate us to rise to higher levels of sanctification, purity and willingness to serve the Lord. We must always keep in mind that Jesus Christ is the Head of the assembly, and that His place cannot be taken up by a human office-bearer. May we never backslide to the level of the church in Ephesus, to whom Christ said: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Eph. 2:4). May we rather accept the challenge to be like the church in Philadelphia who kept the Lord’s Word and did not deny His Name (Rev. 3:8). Let us “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). I dedicate myself to the cause of serving “the pure milk of the word” to people (1 Pet. 2:2), always refraining from teaching the commandments of men (Mark 7:9,13). It is also the responsibility of all of us to train more disciples so that the gospel of salvation may have free course to the unsaved (2 Thess. 3:1).
1. Who and what are the called out ones?
2. Is a denomination necessarily part of the body of Christ?
3. What is the body of Christ and how does it function?
4. Describe the assembly as the bride of Christ.
5. How can the assembly be the light of the world?
Prof. Johan Malan