Authority to Assemble  

Authority to Assemble


Calvin Lashway
January 2008 Revised


As Sabbatarian Christians, many of us are abandoning the weekly religious services sponsored by our tradition’s official churches. We are taking the initiative to gather with fellow believers to worship on the Sabbath.  We haven't sought the blessing or approval of a church organization or minister to meet. Because of this the leaders and members of our tradition’s official churches criticize us. They want to know by whose authority we gather. The purpose of this study is to examine the Biblical evidence regarding assembling on the Sabbath, and by whose authority these assembles occur.


Not forsaking a holy assembly

The major reason we assemble on the Sabbath is because God commands it: "The LORD said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:1-3 New International Version).

Gathering with fellow believers isn’t just an Old Testament command. This is a New Testament teaching as well: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.   And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:23-25, all scriptures quoted are from the New King James Version, unless other wise stated).


By putting together Leviticus 23:1-3 and Hebrews 10:23-25, we clearly see God commands us to gather with other believers on the Sabbath. The authority to have a holy convocation comes from God, not any man or organization.  Thus, no man or organization can prevent us from gathering with fellow believers to worship God.


Where has God placed His name?

Once Israel crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. They were to worship God only where He had placed His name and chosen to dwell:


"These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. . . . You shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. . . . But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you" (Deuteronomy 12:1-14).


Some say Christians can only meet for worship in the place where God has placed his name.  Most of the time these same people also think the ministry is the one who has the authority to decide where God has placed his name. Thus, individual Christians don’t have the prerogative to decide where and when to worship on the Sabbath.  Is this line of reasoning valid?


God’s dwelling in place in the Old Testament

At the beginning of Israel’s history, God had them build a tabernacle so He could dwell among them: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it" (Exodus 25:8-9). God’s dwelling place inside the Tabernacle, was “above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim,” which were on top of the ark (Exodus 25:18-22; 1 Samuel 4:4).  Once Israel entered the Promised Land, God set His name on Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:12); and it was there they erected Tabernacle (Joshua 18:1). 


During King Solomon’s reign, God placed His name on Jerusalem, and had a Temple built in which to dwell. At the dedication of the Temple "Solomon spoke: The LORD said He would dwell in the dark cloud.  I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for You to dwell in forever.  Then the king turned around and blessed the whole assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel was standing.  And he said: Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who has fulfilled with His hands what He spoke with His mouth to my father David, saying, Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I have chosen no city from any tribe of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there, nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel.  Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there; and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel" (2 Chronicles 6:1-6).


Obviously, God didn’t literally live in the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Solomon recognized this during the dedication ceremony when he asked:  “will God indeed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18 also see 2 Chronicles 2:6; Isaiah 66:1-2; Acts 7:47-50). Sometimes in the form of a cloud, God would “appear” in the Sanctuary, filling it with His glory (Exodus 40:34-35; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14).


God later rejected Jerusalem and the Temple from being the place where He set His name: "And the LORD said, I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there" (2 Kings 23:27). This happened during the Babylonian captivity of Judah, and again when the Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in A. D. 70.


During the history of the nation of Israel, the Tabernacle and later the Temple were the center of worship. This is where people had to go to be in the presence of God. This is where God placed his name.


Where does God dwell today?

With the Tabernacle and Temple gone, where does God dwell today? Is His name and presence currently associated with any physical location or organization? According to the apostle Paul, Christians are now the Temple of God: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?   If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Paul also says that Christians are “a holy temple in the Lord” a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22). The Father and Son dwell in us through the Holy Spirit:


"Jesus answered and said to him, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23).


"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).


"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:9-11).


"No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:12-16).


Christians are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). God now dwells in us, His children, the spiritual Temple of God.


As Christians, we are the children of God (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1-2).  Members of His family, who bear the family name, God:  "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15). How do we bear the name of God? Are we not known as the “Church of God”?  There are eight references in the King James Version to the “Church of God”: Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5; and three to “Churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4).


We bear the name of God because we are the Church of God as well as the family of God. Under the Old Covenant, God had a specific place were He placed His name. Today, under the New Covenant, God hasn’t placed His name on a specific location. But on His children, who are the members of the household or family of God.


Worshipping God in Spirit and Truth

Since Christians are God’s Temple and He abides in us, and has placed His name on us. There is no physical place for us to go to appear before God. Because Christians are always in the presence of God, no man or organization has the authority to say God has placed His name “here,” and we can only worship God at this specifically chosen site. This is something Jesus taught.


Jesus was traveling through Samaria on His way to Galilee, when He stopped near the Samaritan city of Sychar, at Jacob’s well (John 4:3-6). At this well, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman who said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (verse 20).


The mountain referred to by the woman is Gerizim. If a Samaritan wanted to worship God, he had to go to Mount Gerizim.  If a Jew wanted to worship God, he had to go to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The location of Mount Gerizim is in Ephraim near Shechem. From this mountain the Israelites heard the blessings read to them upon entering Canaan (Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:12; Joshua 8:33-35). Mount Gerizim was also the site of a Samaritan temple, built after the return of Jews from the Babylonian captivity. Gerizim was the center of Samaritan worship even after the destruction of their temple by the Jews around 128 B.C.


Jesus responded to the women’s comments by saying “the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. . . But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).


Christians must worship God in Spirit and Truth. The physical location and setting are unimportant.  A modern version of the Jerusalem Temple could be a church building or a church organization. These structures and organizations are unnecessary to worship God. What Christians need is an environment were the Spirit of God is present, and the Truth of God taught. We need to gather with people who have the Spirit and Truth of God.   Where we meet to worship is not all that important, but what is critical is whom we meet with.   Deciding who these people are is a personal decision each of us must make with the guidance of God. It’s not a decision any man or organization can make for us.


Where two or three gather in Jesus’ name

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus is dealing with the subject of church discipline.  He finishes His discourse by explaining the minimum size of a congregation needed for doing this: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The word “church” used in verse 17, does not mean the ministry or just the leaders. The Greek word for “church” is ekklesia 1577 “an assembly, a (religious) congregation” Abbott-Smith Lexicon .  According to Jesus, where two or three people gather in his name; He is in their midst. His presence among Christians does not depend on the assembly having the blessing of a minister or organization. This is an important principle we can apply to a church business meeting, a family Bible Study, and yes, even worshipping on the Sabbath.


Conclusion

God commands us to have a sacred assembly on the Sabbath. As God’s Temple on earth, He abides in us, and has placed His name on us.  There is nowhere we can go to appear before God.  No man or organization has the authority to say this is where God has placed His name, or the worship of God can only take place at a specifically chosen site.  On the Sabbath, Christians need to gather in Jesus’ name with people who have the Spirit and Truth of God.  

© Calvin Lashway 2017  -  Contact: cinfowritings@gmail.com