the weblog of Alan Knox

Assembling Together 3 – Assembling Together

Posted by on Mar 14, 2007 in books, edification, gathering | 17 comments

The third chapter of Watchman Nee’s book Assembling Together (chapter 16 of the Basic Lessons series) is called “Assembling Together”. I looked forward to reading this chapter, since I am very interested in the gathering of the church (thus, the name of this blog). In fact, Nee begins this chapter by quoting some of the passages of Scripture that I have been studying closely: Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 18:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:23&26. For the most part, I agreed with Nee in this chapter.

I especially appreciated Nee’s encouragement that the body edifies itself when many in the gathering take part – speaking or not speaking as the Spirit leads them. For example, he says:

How wonderful the assembling of God’s children is! We do not know how the body operates, but we do know that it does function. As one brother rises, you see light. When another brother stands up, you sense the presence of the Lord. Still another brother opens his mouth to pray, and you touch God. Yet another says a few words, and you receive the supply of life. Let me tell you, this is something beyond explanation – how the body of Christ works together. [38-39]

Because of Nee’s understanding of the presence of God only (or more?) when the church gathers, he emphasizes meeting for that purpose. I will deal with this later. However, he also recognizes that the purpose for the gathering is edification:

Another principle which governs a gathering [besides the special presence of God] is the edifying or building up of God’s people. According to 1 Corinthians 14, this is a purpose found in all gatherings – that others, not ourselves, may be edified. [40]

That which only edifies self and not others should not be expressed in the meeting. [40]

Therefore, when we come to the meeting, we need to consider whether or not others will be edified. [40]

Do remember that both our speaking and our silence may hurt others. If we are not considerate of others, we will cause the meeting to suffer loss. Whether we speak or remain silent, it is to profit the meeting by edifying the people. Do not refrain from speaking when your speaking is needed. All things should be done for edification. [41]

Never come to the meeting with the though of what you can get; rather let all your actions be for the benefit of others. If speaking is good for others, then speak; if silence is better, then keep quiet. The basic priciple of a meeting is edification of the people. [41]

When we are concerned with others’ needs and others’ edification, then the Holy Spirit is honored and He will do the work of edification both in us and in others. [42]

This last sentence is especially important, and perhaps it states a point that I do not state enough. When we speak to edify others, it is actually the Holy Spirit who does the work of edification through us. Similarly, when others are edified, then God is glorified (that is, we worship). (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Again, the concern that I have with this chapter is the emphasis that Nee places on the presence of God with the community of believers. Now, do not misunderstand me. I do believe that God is present when the community gathers. However, Nee indicates a special presence during the gathering that is not available to believers when they are alone. Consider these statements from this chapter:

But God gives corporate grace as well as personal grace, and this corporate grace can only be obtained in the assembly. [34]

Indeed, in reading the Bible we are granted grace to understand. Nevertheless, certain Scriptures will not be opened up to us except in the gathering of the saints. They cannot be understood individually; but in the meeting special grace is given to understand them. [34]

Due to the interaction of one member with another, our prayers in the meetings are more easily heard by God and we also receive more light. [37] [Note: This is especially peculiar to me. He makes another statement in a later chapter that is even more peculiar: “The power of the specific prayer in Acts 1 and 2 produced Pentecost. As the cross was the work accomplished by the Son of God, so Pentecost was the work accomplished through the prayer of God’s children.” -59]

Only when the saints are assembled together does the church become God’s dwelling place, and then God’s light shines in full splendor. [37]

Many know of His presence in a personal way, but such knowledge is insufficient. His most powerful and overwhelming presence is known only in the meeting. Although there is His presence with you personally, it is bound to be of a lesser degree. [38]

So, at this point we see that Nee does recognize that God’s presence is with the individual. But, he also indicates that God is limited to how He is able to work in the individual’s life. Apparently, Nee believes there are certain things that God is only able to reveal some things to the believer in the assembly and is only able to operation in some ways in the assembly. I’m not comfortable with limiting God is this manner.

Remember, I agree that God operates in the assembly of believers. I also agree that God uses different believers in the assembly to edify others. It is very important for believers to gather together. However, I do not think we need to limit God’s abilities to make this point, nor do I believe that Scripture shows that God’s abilities are limited except during the assembly.

Once again, though, I greatly resonated with the final paragraph of this chapter:

Be a humble soul from the very start. If anyone is uncertain whether his speaking edifies or not, it is best for him to consult with responsible brothers, to ask them, “Brothers, do you think I should speak more or less in the meetings?” Be humble and do not think too highly of yourself, as if you were the marvel of these twenty centuries – the best singer and the best preacher! Let us learn humility that our gatherings may be strong. Whenever people walk into our midst, they should instantly sense the presence of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It will cause them to fall down on their faces and worship God, declaring that God is indeed among us. [42]

The next chapter is called “Various Meetings”.

Review of Watchman Nee’s Assembling Together Series:
1: Chapter 1 – Joining the Church
2: Chapter 2 – Laying on of Hands
3: Chapter 3 – Assembling Together
4: Chapter 4 – Various Meetings
5: Chapters 5 & 6 – The Lord’s Day and Hymn Singing
6: Chapters 7 & 8 – Praise and The Breaking of Bread


17 Comments

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  1. 3-14-2007

    Alan,

    This is an interesting subject. I do not have much to say, because I agree mostly with both you and Nee in this area. However, I will say one thing. There are certain areas in which God can only reveal something to you through someone else. This could occur in an assembly, in a small group environment, or if you are meeting one-on-one with another believer. But, I am thinking primarily of “blind spots,” areas that we cannot identify ourselves, but it takes someone else to identify it for us, so we can go to the Lord, and have Him correct it in us.

    The same is true as a basic principle of accountability, which we all need, and get through the fellowship of the local body.

    I agree we shouldn’t limit God, necessarily, but these are basic truths in the Christian faith, and I think Nee is onto something in that regard.

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  2. 3-14-2007

    Jonathan,

    I think we would be in agreement here, for the most part. I do not mind saying that God works through other people and through the assembly. Sometimes God does reveal things to us or teach us through other people that he has not revealed or taught us on our own. My concern is the language that Nee uses: i.e. God cannot do certain things except during the assembly.

    -Alan

  3. 3-14-2007

    Jesus is in the midst of the gathering of believers.

    Blind spots. One reason why I seek out believers is to operate in Christian love. If I don’t have love I can’t see.
    1 John 2:9-11 “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

    Love allows us to see, and having an opportunit to love gives us an opportunity to see.

    Thanks for sharing these posts.

    Scott

  4. 3-14-2007

    Scott,

    Welcome to my blog, and thank you for the comment! I agree. God has taught me many things through my brothers and sisters in Christ. One thing that I have learned through this is that I must remain humble. If not, then I will think that I have it all together and that I don’t need other people. God has shown me many “blind spots” through other people.

    -Alan

  5. 3-14-2007

    Alan,

    Because I believe so much in the importance of assembling together and the blessings that come as a result, I was perhaps a bit blinded to some of the extreme statements Nee makes when I read them at first. Thanks for pointing this out. I am sensing what may be a tendency in Nee towards what I have heard called “neo-sacramentalism” by others. Are you familiar with that term?

  6. 3-14-2007

    David,

    I have never heard the term “neo-sacramentalism”, however, I assume it is a new form of receiving grace through our actions?

    -Alan

  7. 3-14-2007

    Alan,

    I have heard the term used most often in reference to certain extreme Charismatic/Pentecostal groups that make use of objects (such as prayer cloths, etc.), claiming they have special spiritual power. I see something similar (though not quite as extreme) in Nee saying that the presence of God can only be experienced fully in the assembly of believers, or that the Holy Spirit is transmitted through the laying on of hands.

    It is curious to me that someone like Nee can be so insightful regarding certain points of Scripture, and apparently, so far off-base on others.

  8. 3-14-2007

    Alan,

    I think the reason why Nee takes his extreme view towards assembling together is because of the kind of church movement he was involved in, and how authoritative it was (very hiearchial, control-oriented, etc.) This is why I have always had an aversion towards reading Nee, because of his ideas in that area.

    David,

    Prayer cloths do not have a “special power” but they can and do carry and transmit the anointing of God from one person to another. I also agree with Nee that the Holy Spirit can be imparted with the laying on of hands. However, I would NEVER say that God should be limited through a prayer cloth or the laying on of hands. I just believe those are helpful ways that facilitate the anointing, and get results (see people filled with the Holy Spirit, see people healed, see people delivered from bondages and addictions, etc.) In other words, it isn’t necessary, but it is helpful to facilitate the anointing of God. Does that make sense?

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  9. 3-14-2007

    David,

    You said: “It is curious to me that someone like Nee can be so insightful regarding certain points of Scripture, and apparently, so far off-base on others.”

    I have yet to find an author who seems (at least to me)to follow Scripture at all points. I have also found that some authors who I have been told not to read because of certain aspects of their theology often have very insightful views on certain areas of Scripture. So, I guess what I am saying is that I always try to read books critically – not negatively though – such that I always try to filter them through Scripture.

    Of course, this applies to me as well. I know that what I write is not always scriptural. I thank God for His Spirit and for other brothers and sisters in Christ who help me in those areas.

    Jonathan,

    If the “anointing” is the Holy Spirit, then I’m not sure how he can be transferred via a cloth. Perhaps God uses a cloth, but I don’t think I would use the concepts of a cloth “carrying” or “transferring” the Spirit.

    You said: “However, I would NEVER say that God should be limited through a prayer cloth or the laying on of hands.” That sounds like a very balanced approach.

    -Alan

  10. 3-14-2007

    Jonathan (& Alan),

    The main problem I have with “neo-sacramentalism” is that it can be a form of magic, or an attempt to manipulate God (or other spiritual forces) by means of certain formulae or rituals. I agree that God is totally sovereign, and can use whatever means He chooses to do His work. WE all know that power flowed out of Jesus’ body, and that the woman with the hemorrhage was healed by touching the hem of his garment. And that, they carried handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul to sick people, and their sicknesses were healed, and evil spirits left them. The Bible also says this was an “extraordinary” miracle, that is, not a normal miracle, if we can speak in such terms.

    It concerns me, however, whenever I hear the words “always” or “never” used in connection with such phenomena, or whenever it seems people are proposing some kind of 1-2-3 formula to spiritual success.

  11. 3-14-2007

    David,

    I agree. Unless, of course, Scripture uses words like “always” and “never” to describe something. Such as, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”… or, “Whenever you come together…” ;)

    -Alan

  12. 3-14-2007

    Alan,

    I think the anointing is something that comes from the Holy Spirit. They are not one and the same. There is a valid, biblical basis for a prayer cloth, and it is Acts 19:11-12, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” Basically, the Holy Spirit anointed Paul with power, and anything that was touching Paul’s body was anointed, e.g. a handkerchief. Thus, these anointed cloths were taken from Paul’s body and tranferred Paul’s anointing so that people were healed of diseases and oppression. So, that is how the anointing can be transferred via a cloth.

    David,

    I do agree with you that we need to trust in God’s sovereignty. I think where I would disagree with you is when you say “extraordinary” does not mean “normal.” Yes, these practices are not really “normal” or “normative,” but I think if God leads a minister to heal people through anointed prayer cloths, we should not discourage that. Oral Roberts has done this, and has received testimonies of healings. Is something wrong with that???

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  13. 3-14-2007

    Jonathan,

    As David said earlier, I would never say that God could not do something. He obviously has done something similar in the past.

    -Alan

  14. 3-15-2007

    Jonathan,

    I guess I see a high potential for manipulation and spiritual abuse of people through such things as “prayer cloths,” especially if they are linked to donations towards the ministry of the one dispensing them.

    I am not familiar enough with Oral Roberts ministry to pass judgment on his use of “prayer cloths” at this time. I’d have to go back and review the evidence. Also, a track record of people being healed is not necessarily a guarantee of faithfulness to God’s call and mission.

    But I do concede what I believe to be your main point:

    “if God leads a minister to heal people through anointed prayer cloths, we should not discourage that.”

    But with a capital “IF God leads.” I guess, to be honest, I’ve seen enough things that smack of manipulation and fraud in this area to cause me to be highly skeptical on this one, though.

  15. 3-15-2007

    Jonathan and David,

    “The Mustard Tree” has an interesting post today called “St. Matthew’s Church – Prayer Handkerchiefs“. I’m not making a judgment call on this. I do not know the people involved, nor do I know their motives. However, the post does help describe why many are leary of this practice.

    -Alan

  16. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    You quoted Nee as writing:

    “Be a humble soul from the very start. If anyone is uncertain whether his speaking edifies or not, it is best for him to consult with responsible brothers, to ask them, ‘Brothers, do you think I should speak more or less in the meetings?'”

    This made me think of Reed sharing with the body this past Sunday. He wanted to share what God was doing in his life, but instead was humble and allowed others the opportunity to share, fearing that he speaks too often. When none spoke, he stood up and encouraged us with his words. His humble attitude and the fact that he had “consuslted a responsible brother” (you) about his fear of sharing too much, thus showing his concern for the body was very encouraging.

  17. 3-16-2007

    Maël,

    I was also greatly encouraged by what Reid said, and not just the content, but the attitude with which he spoke. I love watching him grow in Christ.

    This quote by Nee reminded me that edifying the body main mean that I should be silent… even if I am “scheduled” to speak. I think that may be more difficult than speaking even if I am not scheduled to speak.

    -Alan