The term “Assembly Distinctives” has different meanings to different people. To some it is the hallmark of the assembly “Brethren” movement. To others it is a term of baggage that has been dropped upon recent generations.
I’d like to suggest to you a number of reasons why we should drop this term and no longer use it in our local churches. At its core I believe it to be hurting the assemblies and this is not a good thing to continue.
1. Us versus them
I find it interesting that many who use the phrase “Assembly Distinctives” recoil at the notion that the assemblies are a denomination. While I agree we do not have all the features of some denominations, we certainly have many of them.
Creating a list of things “we” hold onto is nothing more than actively separating ourselves from part of the body of Christ. This is essentially denominational-ism. (Note: I am not speaking here for or against being denominational)
This builds walls between believers instead of building up. It creates division. I have no problem stating that we meet “a specific way as we see it in scripture” but that should never be a cause for keeping people away from “us”.
2. Feeding the pride monster
This “us versus them” attitude leads to pride. It screams, “We are better than they are.” “We are more spiritual than they are.” “We are more obedient to the Lord than they are.” This is nothing more than pride and we know what the Lord thinks of that.
I have seen this played out more times than I would have liked. It’s ugly and it needs to go away. It’s time we killed the pride monster. If we don’t it will devour us. It has only one purpose and that is to destroy.
How do we kill it? Stop feeding it. That is done by seeing all believers as the Lord does – His precious children. We may not agree on all points of doctrine and practice but that’s ok. It really is ok if we don’t all hold to the same view.
My dad and I have had some intense discussions on the Word of God and yet we never allow them to get in the way of our fellowship. There is no one I love or respect more and yet we don’t see eye to eye on all areas of truth and practice. We should treat our spiritual family this same way.
3. Following men, not God
For this point I’d like to quote William MacDonald and highly suggest you take a few minutes to read this article. He says,
“Thus the history of most spiritual movements has been aptly described in the word series: man … movement … machine . . . monument. At the outset there is a man, anointed in a special way by the Holy Spirit. As others are led into the truth, a movement develops. But by the second or third generation, people are following a system with sectarian, machine-like precision. Eventually nothing is left but a lifeless, denominational monument.”
The assemblies were founded upon a movement of men. It was a great movement to be sure. Many great truths were taught and promoted. The problem with creating “distinctives” around these men is, well, they are men. Is it possible they didn’t get everything right? Absolutely.
It would be far better for each local church to search the scriptures themselves and follow those convictions than adhere simply to an established list of the “Brethren”.
4. Ignoring the unity of the body
I believe this point is paramount. It’s not ok to create division within the church. It seems to have become easy to do though. We pull out our list of things to evaluate someone by (our assembly distinctives) and if they measure up we give them a handshake and if they don’t we show them the door.
What is ironic is that the acceptance of other believers no matter what their denominational affiliation was the very foundation of the first “Brethren” assemblies. This was the reason they left their specific groups so they could meet simply and under the banner of Christ, not a system.
Is it possible the assemblies have become just that? A system, or as Bill MacDonald says, a monument, that qualifies a person as either in or out? I believe with all my heart that the Lord hates this. He longs for us to strive after unity. He wants us to throw out our list and use only His list.
I have used it many times in the past. I now see the use of it as harmful in many cases. It is not something I can justify from Scripture. That doesn’t sit well with me.