Just A Little More on Assembly
Much thanks to my brother in Christ Duane Morgan for his response to my article. (See his comment on “The Worship Myth.”) There is no one I respect and admire more than this brother whose whole heart is given to God and whose only desire is to serve Him. He has endured much hardship to follow in the steps of Jesus. It makes no difference where he goes: Indonesia, Europe, Africa…seeking and saving the lost is his mission. His first priority is to learn the language of those he seeks. He is in the process of becoming fluent in Arabic and conversant in French. He knows that only by speaking the language of a culture can one effectively enter that culture. He is a great writer and a careful student of the Word. Therefore, when he speaks (or writes), I listen carefully.[i]
It is obvious the two terms I used in the previous article are more general than the way I used them. “Evangelism” is the proclamation of the message whether to the lost or to the saved. The same is true of “edification.” The word means “to instruct or improve morally or spiritually…”the promotion of spiritual growth by teaching or example.”
Clearly then, as Duane has pointed out; unbelievers can be edified and believers can be evangelized. I stand corrected. I will have to come up with a more accurate way of getting my points across. I apologize for any misunderstanding, but until I find (or someone suggests) a better way, I will use this definition of evangelism: the teaching, preaching or proclamation of the gospel, validated by good works, to those outside of Christ with their conversion as the objective.
Evangelism happens…even (occasionally) in assemblies. But again, evangelism is not the purpose of assembly. We need to be more concerned that assemblies fulfill their primary purpose: edification, encouragement, instruction, and stimulation to love and good deeds.
Are assemblies effective in reaching the lost? Well, use your own judgment. Mere observation should answer that question. If, however, we diligently seek to fulfill the primary purpose of assemblies, it is possible outsiders will be drawn to them and even more evangelism will happen within them. But, even better and much more effectively, fired-up disciples will leave the assembly to seek and save the lost and numbers will grow. Only then will we move from decline to growth.
The crux of the matter is the intention of the assembly (when the church comes together). In 1 Corinthians 14, an unbeliever’s entrance into the assembly was incidental, not intentional. If an unbeliever comes in, we should conduct ourselves in such a way that he (or she) is “…convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24,25). Personally, I have not seen this happen as it seems to be the result of someone exercising the gift of prophecy. I believe, however, the principle remains the same…be ready to receive an unbeliever in the assembly and make the most of the opportunity (Colossians 4:5,6).
The primary purpose of assembly is not to reach the lost but to edify the saved. At the moment, I will stand by that position. If we don’t move beyond an assembly-oriented evangelism model, our continued decline is assured. The message of Jesus must be proclaimed as He proclaimed it…everywhere!
When Paul states in Romans 1:15,16 that he desired to preach the gospel (evangelize) to “…you also who are in Rome.” It is obvious that his priority was to obtain fruit among unsaved Gentiles (verses 13,14). He makes that even clearer by speaking of the power of the gospel to save everyone who believes whether Jew or Greek (verse 16). That would have to be done primarily (not exclusively) outside of the assembly in the streets and marketplaces as was his custom. We will have to translate that principle to our respective cultures and become visible and audible outside of our assemblies.
Decline is the result of not following the example of Jesus, Paul and others who went to the lost instead of expecting the lost to come to them.
There is only one cure for decline and it is a simple one: “Go…and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)