the weblog of Alan Knox

Assembling Together 4 – Various Meetings

Posted by on Mar 15, 2007 in books, edification, gathering, ordinances/sacraments, service | 23 comments

The fourth chapter of Watchman Nee’s book Assembling Together (chapter 17 of the Basic Lessons series) is called “Various Meetings”. I believe that this is the chapter that David Rogers wanted me to read in response to his comment in my post called “Messy Meetings“. In this chapter, Nee describes the different types of church meetings that he finds in Scripture.

Before I begin reviewing this chapter, I want to quote Nee from the previous chapter. I think this statement helps explain my view of these various meeting types:

Another principle which governs a gathering 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]

I agree with Nee wholeheartedly at this point. Regardless of the “reason” for our meeting together, the purpose remains the same: “Whenever you come together… let all things be done for edification.” (1 Cor. 14:26) I also believe that the principles of edification which Paul spells out in the following verses of 1 Corinthians 14 apply to any type of meeting of the church. Perhaps, if we find ourselves in a situation where we feel we cannot carry out these principles, we should change our situation or our understanding of the situation instead of ignoring the principles.

Now, on to Nee’s chapter called “Various Meetings”. Nee finds at least 5 different types of meetings in the New Testament:

1. Gospel Meetings
2. Breaking of Bread Meetings
3. Prayer Meetings
4. Exercise of Gifts (or Fellowship) Meetings
5. Ministry (or Preaching) Meetings

He believes that the “gospel meeting” is the most important type of meeting [43], that the “breaking of bread meeting” is the second most important type of meeting [51], and that the “ministry meeting” is the least important type of meeting [65]. Interestingly enough, I believe he would classify the way most churches meet today as a “ministry meeting”, where believers come together specifically to listen to an “apostle, teacher, or prophet”. Similarly, Nee says, “The popularity of listening to sermons is a reflection on the weakened condition of the church.” [44] Before you stone Nee (or me for quoting him here), think about the number of times in Scripture that we are exhorted to sit and listen. Then, think about the number of times in Scripture that we are exhorted to speak and serve. Perhaps Nee is onto something here.

Nee spends most of the chapter describing how these meetings should look. While I apprecaite the time and effort that Nee spends in putting this together, I also recognize that some of these exhortations are not found in Scripture: i.e. “if you bring in one person, sit next to him; if two people sit in the middle” [47], “help the unbelievers to find the hymns” [48], and “pray for one specific matter” [58].

I have three concerns with this chapter. The first concerns the “gospel meeting”. Again, before you pick up stones, I believe the gospel is of utmost importance, and that every believer is responsible for speaking (preaching) the gospel to those around him or her. However, I do not see any meetings of the church in Scripture in which the central focus is to present the gospel to unbelievers. In fact, the only time in Scripture that unbelievers are mentioned in the context of the gathering of the church, the unbeliever is not convicted by the preaching of the gospel, but by the presence of the Lord which is demonstrated by the prophecy of all the people. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

I do agree that the early church took seriously their responsibility to preach (proclaim) the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. However, I do not see where that happened during a meeting of the church. Instead, I see believers going to unbelievers to proclaim the gospel.

I also agree with this statement that Nee makes about preaching the gospel, even though I disagree with the context in which he says this preaching should take place:

As soon as people come to believe in the Lord, they should immediately start to help in the preaching of the gospel. Do not allow them to develop the habit of listening to sermons; instead, help them to cultivate the habit of serving by preaching the gospel. [45]

My second concern revolves around how Nee sees distinct meeting types in Scripture. Unfortunately, this is the entire premise of this chapter. Thus, Nee says that the church met for at least five different types of meetings. This quote shows that Nee sees these at different meetings, not different activities within the same meeting:

From what I personally can see, there are five different types of meetings in the Bible. They are gospel meetings, breaking of bread meetings, prayer meetings, exercise of gifts or fellowship meetings, and ministry or preaching meetings. We can find examples of all these in the Bible. Thus we know that at the time of the apostles in the New Testament days, there were at least these five different types of meetings. The church today also needs to have all these various meetings if it is to be strong before God. [43]

The problem is that in Scripture we also see where the distinctions between these “various meetings” are blurred. So, as Nee says, the church met to pray for Peter in Acts 12:5,12. However, the church is praying and serving (Nee’s “exercise of gifts meeting”) in Acts 13. Similarly, Nee separates the “breaking of bread meeting” from other types of meetings based on 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. But, that ignores 1 Corinthians 14, which is in the same context, and refers to Nee’s “exercise of gifts meeting”. Acts 20 shows us that the church in Troas met to both break bread and to listen to Paul (Nee’s “ministry meeting”).

From these passages, and others, it appears that the church met for various activities, sometimes carried out at the same meeting. It seems odd to suggest that these meetings need to occur at different times with different rules of engagement.

I have already mentioned my third concern, but I’ll add it here anyway. When discussing the “prayer meeting”, Nee suggests that prayer produced Pentecost:

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]

I think this is giving too much credit to those praying, and not enough to the plan, purpose, and power of God. In fact, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 seems to indicate that the Spirit came because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Once again, I found the last paragraph encouraging, especially since Nee has already stated the goal of any meeting is edification:

The above are the five different types of meetings which we find in the Bible. I believe Christianity has in its very nature the need to assemble. If we know how to meet, then the next generation will become stronger. May we gird ourselves that we may arrive at the goal which God has set for us. May God be gracious to us.

I’ll review the next two chapters together. They are called “The Lord’s Day” and “Hymn Singing”.

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


23 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-15-2007

    Alan,

    I’d like to share a few comments that I have concerning your thoughts on Nee’s chapter on various kinds of meetings. First, I think by “gospel meetings,” Nee means what we would call “crusades” today. I know in Baptist circles “crusades” are not as common as they are in Pentecostal/charismatic circles, but that is the kind of meeting that I believe Nee suggests with “gospel meetings.” I also believe that there are enough examples of these in the Book of Acts.

    Secondly, I do believe the Scripture blurs the lines with the various types of meetings… and Nee probably sees it more stark than it really it is. This is common in authoritative-type personalities (I admit that is a weakness of mine, or possibly a strength). Nee was VERY authoritative in his circles and the way he ministered. He was very militant, so I think that explains a lot of why he sees things differently in some respects, compared to you and I do.

    Lastly, I believe that prayer and Pentecost is connected. I do believe in God’s sovereignty, but I also believe that man can thwart the plan, purpose, and power of God. If we do not pray, and are not in faith to receive what God has for us, then we simply will not. And because God is sovereign, He knows what our response will be, and acts accordingly (yeah, I am one of those ‘simple foreknowledge’ types). So, I do believe there was a connection between prayer and Pentecost. Jesus specifically commanded and told His disciples to wait and tarry until the Holy Spirit comes. The waiting and tarrying implies prayer. Thus, that was a requirement to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, when everyone was baptized in (or infilled with) the Holy Spirit. What do you think?

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  2. 3-15-2007

    Alan,

    Various comments. First of all, I don’t think your assessment of this chapter is all that far off from mine. In other words, I don’t have any serious reservations with what you say.

    I tend to agree with Jonathan about “Gospel meetings” basically being the equivalent of “crusades.” I think we could also call them “evangelistic rallies” or even “seeker services.” Granted, we perhaps don’t see the exact same thing in the New Testament. But, we do see Peter proclaiming the Gospel openly, together with the other 11 Apostles, and presumably with the rest who had been with them in the Upper Room, on the day of Pentecost. I think, though I can’t find a direct confirmation, it is a safe assumption to say this was done in the open air. It seems that at one stage they moved from the Upper Room to possibly the temple courts, if I am reading correctly between the lines. If such is the case, v. 46 says “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” It is not a stretch, as I understand it, to think that many, if not most, if not even perhaps all, of these temple court meetings involved gospel proclamation.

    Beyond this, I would agree that the various meetings described in the New Testament are perhaps not quite so clearly delineated as Nee makes them out to be. There are no doubt some occasions in which at least more than one of the 5 functions described by Nee are being accomplished in the same meeting.

    However, I don’t think this invalidates the idea that, in general, there were (and ought to continue to be) different types of church meetings with different purposes in mind (holding to the general premise that the body is to be edified in one way or another, no matter what the specific function at the time).

    I see this in contrast to much of modern evangelical church life (especially perhaps Southern Baptist church life, with which I am most familiar): Several “services” a week, which all include preaching, hymn singing, praying, a Gospel invitation, announcements, etc. Even in many supposed “prayer meetings” the “order of service” is not that different from “Sunday worship services.”

    I think it is more efficient and effective, as well as as biblical precedent (as Nee points out) to concentrate on certain specific functions in separate meetings.

    Which leads back to my main point on “Messy Meetings.” If the main purpose of the meeting at hand is “ministry” or “preaching,” I submit a larger group is appropriate in most cases (in order to make good use of the ministry gifts of the teacher or preacher), and a minimum of interruptions is also helpful for the same reason. In other settings, of course, question and answer sessions are also useful for the purpose of teaching.

    In general, I believe there should be a certain flexibility concerning all this, and adaptation to the circumstances and cultural context.

    But, I still maintain the point that there are certain church meeting functions that are best accomplished on in a large group setting, and others that are best accomplished in a small group setting. I think the church continues to be the church, whether all are gathered together in the same phsyical space, or whether there are “break-out” sessions in which everyone splits into smaller groups.

  3. 3-15-2007

    David,

    I don’t want to appear to disagree too harshly with you, because I think the disagreements are rather negligible.

    However, your comment seems to make some large leaps from the narrative of Acts to “best practice” application.

    I tend to agree…about “Gospel meetings” basically being the equivalent of “crusades.” I think we could also call them “evangelistic rallies” or even “seeker services.” Granted, we perhaps don’t see the exact same thing in the New Testament. But, we do see Peter proclaiming the Gospel openly…on the day of Pentecost.

    You said that we might not see “the exact same thing”, but then you used Peter preaching as an example.

    I think that there is a huge difference between the biblical narrative and “crusades” (who ever came up with that term??? I think it’s a horrible term). What we see in these gospel proclamations is a rather spontaneous approach. In other words, we see that crowds gather, and so Peter preaches. Or Paul. Or whatever the situation is.

    Contrast that with our “rent a huge stadium, or build a multi-million dollar facility and try to attract people with flashy productions and great music, etc. to come listen to the Gospel” approach. I don’t think there’s much in common.

    If anything, I would think that the better application from the Acts narrative is that when God’s Spirit moves, it will likely cause people to take notice, and we should allow the Spirit to work through us in those moments to accomplish His work.

    I recently read the account of Steve Lawson’s sermon at the Shepherd’s Conference last week, where he used Peter’s Acts 2 sermon as a “model” for detailed expository preaching. He made it sound like Peter had spent all week studying, reading commentaries, expositing the Old Testament texts in order to be prepared for the task of preaching on the day of Pentecost.

    With all due respect to Dr. Lawson, that’s rubbish. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and stood up and proclaimed the good news about Jesus.

    This wasn’t a “gathering” of the Church. And so I’m not sure that the “daily meetings in the Temple” were necessarily official meetings, either.

    Now, I do agree that what took place in the temple courts was probably more evangelistic than anything, but that’s conjecture based on the idea that I don’t think the religious leaders in the Temple would have been very keen on the idea of renting out a portion of their facility for the new sect to hold worship services in! ;)

    Anyway, all of that to say that I lean more toward Alan’s take. 1 Corinthians 14:26 is an important verse (in an important chapter, in an important series of chapters) because Paul is actually telling the Corinthians what their gatherings should be like. It is not narrative like in Acts.

  4. 3-15-2007

    I’ll try to respond to several comments in this one comment. I’m not going to divide this into responses to specific individuals because some of your brought up the same topics.

    “Gospel Meetings” and “Crusades”: I did not include this description from Nee, but this is why I do not think that Nee is talking about “Crusades”. (And I agree with Steve. That is a loaded term that should probably be booted.) “There should be at least one gospel meeting every week. Set aside the best time for this meeting, either the Lord’s day morning or the Lord’s day afternoon.” I don’t think Nee has an occasional gospel/evangelistic event in mind here.

    Notice that I do not disagree that occasionaly evangelistic events may be helpful. But, I do not see that these are a meeting of the church. Similarly, I do not see the proclamation of the gospel in Acts as church meetings. The church did (and must continue to) proclaim the gospel.

    Prayer: I agree that God can use prayer as an instrument. I disagree with the statement that “Pentecost was the work accomplished through the prayer of God’s children.” Pentecost was not a work of God’s children at all. Pentecost was a work of God. Did he use the prayer of his children as an instrument? Possibly. But prayer being an instrument of God is completely different from prayer accomplishing Pentecost.

    Various Meetings: I agree that the church can meet for a particular activity: prayer, breaking of bread, etc. However, I believe that the principles in 1 Corinthians 14 should apply to any meeting of the church – whatever the size of the meeting or the activities involved.

    -Alan

  5. 3-15-2007

    Steve & Alan,

    I totally agree with the unfortunateness of the term “crusade.” I only used it in reference back to Jonathan’s original comment.

    Also, I am not necessarily defending here modern-day techniques or methods of anyone (“rent a huge stadium, or build a multi-million dollar facility and try to attract people with flashy productions and great music, etc. to come listen to the Gospel”). I am just pointing out that the early Christians gathered together with the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, and it is a valid purpose for us, as current-day believers, to do the same. The terms “evangelistic rallies” or “seeker services” may come with some cultural baggage, but I believe the essential idea behind the terms is valid.

    I do not see that our evangelistic efforts must always be either spontaneous or pre-planned. I think there is plenty of room for both. I also don’t think that pre-planning necessarily impedes the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon our efforts.

    I don’t understand, Alan, why you think that evangelistic events are not a “meeting of the church.” The text plainly says “every day they continued to MEET TOGETHER in the temple courts.”

    Also, I don’t know enough Greek to comment intelligently on the force of the word “whenever” in “whenever you come together” in 1 Cor. 14.26. But, is it not possible that you are wanting to make it a little more literal and more restrictive than what was really intended by Paul when he wrote this? If I followed along with this super-literal reading, I could also say that a “church meeting” where there was no “tongues” or “interpretation” is no “church meeting” at all. Or am I misunderstanding you here?

  6. 3-15-2007

    David,

    You said: “I don’t understand, Alan, why you think that evangelistic events are not a ‘meeting of the church.’ The text plainly says ‘every day they continued to MEET TOGETHER in the temple courts.'”

    Unfortunately, I think the NIV does not do a very good job in Acts 2:46, which you quoted. At least when the HCSB translates this verse similarly, it italicizes the word “meeting”, showing that it is not actually in the text, but interpreted into the text.

    The phrase translated “they continued to meet together” by the NIV is made up of two Greek words: a verb and a noun. The verb means “adhering to, persisting in, being devoted to, continuing in, giving attention to”. It is translated in this way in Acts 1:14, 2:42, 6:4, and many other passages. In fact, I can’t find any other verse where the NIV, or any other English translation, translates this verb as “meeting”.

    The noun means “with one mind or purpose, together, in one accord”. Again, this does not indicate meeting, but an attitude of unity. This noun is also used in Acts 1:14, 4:24, 5:12, 7:57, etc.

    Now, I do not have a problem with understanding that the believers were in the temple together. However, none of the verbs usually used to indicate gathering or meeting are used here.

    Now, for a moment, let’s assume that the believers did have regular meetings in the temple courts. Where in this verse does it say the purpose of these meetings was evangelistic? Would they proclaim the gospel if an unbeliever was with them? Certainly, as should we when the church gathers. However, this does not mean that the purpose of their meeting together was evangelistic.

    Concerning 1 Corinthians 14:26, there are two indicators that this verse applies to every meeting of the church. The first indicator is the word “whenever” as you mentioned. The second is the word “all” at the end of the verse. Could we argue that this does not include all meetings of the church? I suppose, but that would certainly change the way we read “whenever” in other passages of Scripture, and it doesn’t seem that Scripture gives us alternatives or reasons for setting these principles aside.

    Paul does list several activites in 1 Corinthians 14:26, including tongues and interpretation. In the following verses, he specifies that there may be times when tongues/interpretation are not part of the meeting. Apparently everything listed is not necessary for the meeting. Similarly, we might conclude that there could be other activities during the meeting that are not listed. So, what is necessary? “Let everything be done for edification.” If it is not edifying, it shouldn’t be done.

    -Alan

  7. 3-15-2007

    Alan,

    Could you explain the following in greater depth:

    (1) Why you believe that an evangelistic meeting is not a meeting of the church?

    (2) Why you believe the the proclamation of the Gospel as set forth in the Book of Acts is NOT a meeting of the church?

    I think the only difference from what we saw in the Book of Acts and what we see today when we have evangelistic meetings in rented-out venues is that the former was not organized in any way, and the latter is more definitely organized. But what both have in common is you have a group of believers preaching the gospel to mass crowds which have been gathered by the anointing and power of God, and as a result, there are signs, wonders, miracle, and most importanty, people get saved. The only difference is how the event has been organized (or lack thereof).

    Further, in modern-day, when someone like Benny Hinn (this is the best example I can think of) comes to a city to do evangelistic meetings — it is a meeting of the church. He is supported by major pastors of the city, and the meeting is run by the members of those pastors’ churches. That is, the believers of that city gather together to do such things as usher and greet people, sing in the choir, provide security, etc. This IS a meeting of the church.

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  8. 3-15-2007

    Jonathan,

    My reason is fairly simple. An evangelistic event is for non-believers. Non-believers are not the church. So, evangelistic events are not meetings of the church.

    This does not mean that an evangelistic event is bad. And, it does not mean that the church cannot help with evangelistic events – in fact, I think the church should help with evangelistic events. But, that does not make the event a meeting of the church.

    -Alan

  9. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    So, let me get this straight. You believe that the way to determine whether or not a meeting is “of the church” is if its purpose is for believers or non-believers to attend?

    Why should that be the controlling factor for defining “meeting of the church” – ???

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  10. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    It seems to me you are saying that there are times when the believers who comprise the church get together for different activities, but that in and of itself does not make it a “church meeting.”

    If such is indeed the case, I would be interested to know specifically what, in your opinion, distinguishes a gathering of believers for other purposes from a bona fide “church meeting.”

    My guess is you have already written about this elsewhere on your blog, as it seems to be directly related to the general theme. But since I am a relatively new reader, I am not sure where it might be.

  11. 3-16-2007

    David and Jonathan,

    The church (believers) can work together to accomplish many things. If the church got together, cooked a meal, and fed the homeless, I would not call that a meeting of the church either, even though the church was together and did the activity together.

    It seems from Scripture that there is a purpose for the meeting of the church – and it is not to focus on those outside of the church.

    -Alan

  12. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    So would you say a true “church meeting” is whenever believers get together and focus on edifying one another? Or are there additional criteria as well?

  13. 3-16-2007

    David,

    I would accept that criteria with the following understanding: “edification” does not mean patting each other on the back and making each other feel good about ourselves. “Edification” means helping one another grow in maturity toward Christ.

    What additional criteria do see in Scripture?

    -Alan

  14. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    After reading the past few posts by David and yourself, I have a question for you. Heb. 10:24 (NAS) says, “Let us consider how to stimulate (some translations use ‘provoke’ here) one another to love and good deeds.” Doesn’t this verse suggest that when believers stir themselves up to the extent to ACTION and actually DO a good deed, like the Word of God says, that they are being the church?

    My point is that a “believers meeting” cannot just be about edification and building each other up — it can have external focus as well — and if believers provoke themselves to ACTION — I think going out and feeding the homeless as a result would still be a “church meeting” — given that the next verse (25) deals with fellowship and gathering together.

    Alan, why do you draw a different line???

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  15. 3-16-2007

    Jonathan,

    Great passage and great question! I’ve covered this verse (at least part of it) in detail in a post called “Not forsaking, but encouraging…

    Just to add a few more thoughts, the purpose of our “considering, thinking about” one another is love and good works. Notice that this happens when we gather (not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together) in order to encourage one another. I don’t see the “love and good works” as a meeting. I definitely see the “assembling of yourselves” as the meeting. What happens in that meeting? “Encouraging one another”. What happens when we meet and encourage one another? Love and good works.

    Hopefully, that helps you see how I understand that passage.

    -Alan

  16. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    I’ll try to give some more thought to your follow-up question on criteria.

    But, for now, in order for me to understand better where you are coming from, I’ve got another question for you.

    Do you think that there is a difference between a “church meeting” and, say, a so-called “para-church” Bible study? If so, what is it that makes one a “church meeting” and the other one not?

  17. 3-16-2007

    David,

    Wow… you really know how to ask a loaded question. Before anyone could answer that (myself included), you would have to define para-church and tell me how it is different from a church.

    -Alan

  18. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    That’s part of what I’m trying to get you to do. I will use some examples though, and see if that helps you to be able to answer.

    Would you consider an Intervarsity Bible Study group that meets regularly in a university campus dorm a “meeting of the church.” Why or why not?

  19. 3-16-2007

    David,

    I’ve been discussing the definition of the church for the last year. I honestly do not have a solid answer yet. It’s easier for me to say what the church is not, but that is not very helpful. I posted a series of blogs a few months ago called “Defining the Church” (see especially the last part) which explains my views about the best I can at this time. You could also look through the posts on my blog under the label “Definition”.

    This is a huge topic with far-reaching implication. I’m considering this topic for my PhD dissertation research.

    -Alan

  20. 3-16-2007

    Alan,

    Well, I think you will also agree that the Bible teaches that the DOERS of the Word are blessed, not those who only hear it. Thus, I really think that when a church meeting gets so encouraged that people go out together and DO the work of the ministry — by exhibiting the love and good works discussed in Heb. 10, then I think you are still have a “meeting of the church,” because the people are BEING the church. If you’re right, and such action is NOT a meeting of the church, then I believe your defining life in the body of Christ in a super, over-technical way, which I disagree with. But — in the big scheme of things, I do not see how that matters. :)

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  21. 3-16-2007

    Jonathan,

    That’s very interesting. Most people say that my definition of a meeting of the church is too relaxed, not too “over-technical”. This probably has more to do with the way that I define the church, which also affects how I define a meeting of the church.

    Yes, I agree that we should be doers of the word. Absolutely. We should also be the church all the time, since the church is the people of God. But, being the church and doing the word is not the same as a meeting of the church. I’m happy with leaving this as a point of disagreement as well.

    -Alan

  22. 3-17-2007

    Alan,

    Alright — that’s fine with me. Maybe we could get together over coffee someday and “solve all the world’s problems.” :) LOL

  23. 3-17-2007

    Jonathan,

    Coffee sounds good. If you’re ever in NC look me up, and if I come to OK I’ll do the same.

    -Alan