Assembly Authority

All authority depends on God’s sovereign rights over His creation, and thus submission and obedience is the proper place for every individual and every institution before God. God has established all authority, including authority in government, in the home and in the assembly.
Christ is “Son over His own house,” and the assembly is responsible for its behavior as “the house of God.” Accordingly, Christ has delegated to the assembly authority to deal in His name with what is inconsistent with the holy character of the assembly as His representative in this world. As stated in Matthew 18:1818Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18), the responsibility thus given to the assembly is immense: “Verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In no other sphere of God’s delegated authority do we find such a solemn and sweeping investiture of divine authority as we find here! These words (as well as 1 Corinthians 5:45 and other scriptures) give the assembly authority to maintain order, to deal with one who sins by exhortation and rebuke, and in an extreme case to put away an evildoer from its midst.
The subject of assembly authority is large, and it is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail on all that Scripture gives us concerning the use and abuse of assembly authority, but the following points cover a few important principles concerning this subject.
The Lord in the Midst
The Lord Himself is in the midst of the assembly, and He is there to direct by His Spirit, through His Word. Thus the assembly, properly speaking, is not a judicial body, but rather a place where the Lord’s will is sought and carried out according to His Word. It is the place where His glory must be paramount.
The presence of the Lord in the midst of the assembly and the fact that it acts in His name makes the exercise of its authority most solemn. In view of His presence there, the assembly is to exercise its authority in keeping with the principles of His Word, in dependence on Himself, and always with reference to Himself.
Acting in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is most important, for when a local expression of the body acts in His name, its actions are not merely binding in that place, but in every place — both in heaven and on earth — where the Lord’s authority and Headship are owned.
The Scope of Assembly Authority
As with every sphere of delegated authority, the assembly has a prescribed area of responsibility, and the instructions to fulfill its responsibilities are given in the Word of God. God has established the scope of responsibility for each authority that He has set up in such a way that they are not in conflict with each other. For example, suppose a young man, living in his father’s household and at the table of the Lord, robs a bank. For that act, the local government, the father and the assembly, each according to their respective God-given area of responsibility, will have to deal with that young man in discipline or punishment, but none may take the place of or interfere with the responsibility of the other authorities involved.
When the assembly acts within the sphere that the Word of God gives it and upon those who are “within” its sphere, there must be submission to it, as to the Lord Himself. As with every authority committed to man, it is not infallible. Its authority may be abused, mistakes may be made, and the flesh may enter into its actions, but God never rescinds His delegated authority simply because of this. As stated above, the Word in Matthew 18:1818Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18) gives the assembly its authority, and only the Word can take it away. Of course, if God’s Word has been violated, then His Word must be upheld, for God never gives either an individual or the assembly authority to set aside His Word. While it is beyond the scope of this article to consider this aspect of the subject, it is important to notice that God in His governmental ways may remove an authority He has set up. He may remove a person in a place of authority. He may remove an assembly, or transfer authority from one power to another, as He did when putting government into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.
Authority and Power
God formed different relationships of authority and submission, such as man – animals, husband –wife, parents – children, government – man, and Christ – the assembly. Then He established the relative duties and responsibilities that are to govern these relationships. By “authority” we mean that these relationships, duties and responsibilities are not voluntary, but are ordained by God. In these relationships there is the responsibility of headship or rule and a corresponding responsibility of submission and obedience.
In view of the flesh in those under authority, God has given “power” to those in authority to fulfill their responsibilities. God has given the sword into the hands of government to back up its authority, while to parents He has given the rod. Likewise, a master has at least legal power to enforce his authority. The assembly’s power is different, however, from that of other authorities. The assembly’s power in collective action is “the power of [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” its Head, who acts by the Holy Spirit according to the Word.
While in every relationship the one in authority over others may fail, due to ignorance, a lack of dependence upon God or fleshly activity in him, Christ the Head in the assembly never fails. His direction is always perfect and according to God’s mind and will. If the assembly fails, it is always its own failure to follow the direction of the Head, who leads and works by the Spirit.
Today the assembly has reached a state of such disorder and confusion that, as a whole, it no longer keeps the “unity of the Spirit” in the uniting “bond of peace.” As a result, there are within the house many “vessels  .  .  .  to dishonor,” and, as well, there are many who refuse to separate from such. While the whole is in a state of outward ruin and a collective dishonor to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has not set aside the authority of even “two or three” gathered unto His name acting in obedience to the Word concerning assembly responsibility. The promise that the Lord Himself will be in their midst is still valid, and “binding” decisions may still be made in His name.
Obedience and Conscience
The assembly today is to obey God’s will communicated to it through the Word, and His will is specially given through the apostles’ doctrine. An assembly action is an act of obedience to the will of its Head communicated by God’s Word. It is to have the character of the obedience of the Christ — that obedience in which God’s will is everything and man’s will is nothing.
In its normal operation, when the obedience of the Christ is operating in the soul (that is, when self-will and the flesh are not active), then the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and gives to each individual His mind, His will, His heart in a matter. This acts upon the spirit, the heart and the conscience as a word from the Lord.
The case of the evildoer in Corinth furnishes us with divine instruction as to how the assembly is to deal with evil in its midst and how God works to exercise the conscience of each one and bring the assembly to act in obedience. When Paul first wrote, the saints were both in a poor state and ignorant of God’s mind. Paul had first to rebuke them about the evil in their midst by saying, “Ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned.” By a word from the Lord he enlightens their dark consciences with the truth of God.
God had communicated to Paul what the assembly must do in the Lord’s name and by His power. In obedience to the Head, they were to purge from among themselves the wicked person. As an apostle, Paul had authority and power to “deliver such a one unto Satan,” but he alone would not do so, for the assembly must prove itself “clear in [the] matter” by each one having their conscience exercised by the evil in their midst. They clear themselves of the evil by acting in obedience to the word of the Head given to the Apostle Paul, and by each repenting—the evildoer as well. When the “mass” (the body at large) did so, it would return practically to its proper state as an unleavened lump.
Purging the wicked man from their midst was an act of obedience. If the act was according to the Word of God, the Spirit of God would act upon each heart and conscience to submit to and support God’s will. It is not supposed when evil is present that every conscience would respond properly, for the working of a conscience cannot be separated from the state of a soul. At first the consciences in Corinth were ignorant. Then they were enlightened. As shown by his actions, the evildoer was not in communion with God — he was in a bad state of conscience. As well as having a bad conscience, any working of the will of the flesh in a saint leads to unwillingness to submit to the will of the Lord.
The Apostle Paul is a pattern for us of assembly leadership. He illustrates how one in a position of authority or leadership should act when those in the assembly are not in a proper state. He not only applies the truth to them, but also his own walk is in conformity to the truth and commends that truth “to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). He leads them by moral example into the path of obedience to the will of God.
The Apostle Paul also gave a right example in the way he used the Word of God to bring the consciences of the Corinthians into the same mind of the Lord while at the same time recognizing the authority of the Lord over them. He wrote to the Corinthians, “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:10). He did not use his own will or even his right as an apostle to govern their consciences.
On the other hand, when one leads in a fleshly spirit, he greatly hinders the work of the Spirit of God. While it does not set aside the responsibility of obedience to the Head, the working of the flesh in one tends to stir the flesh in others, and the result may be confusion, strife, and even division.
Self-Judgment Comes First
Scripture exhorts us, “In lowliness of mind let us each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:33Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)). It is of the highest importance for all of us to remember this, for we are quick to find fault in others and slow to recognize fault in ourselves. Let us, first of all, search our own hearts and ways to see our own faults. If we are honest before God and are willing to get into His presence, He will show us, first of all, the truth about ourselves, and then enable us to see clearly with respect to others. Only when we are right with the Lord ourselves can we make a right judgment concerning another. Finally, let us remember that true slavery is being enslaved by our own will, while true liberty consists in having our own wills entirely set aside.
Adapted from the writings
of various authors