What are Assembly Distinctives?
In a series of articles, a little a few months ago, two other authors and I had a back and forth over Assembly Distinctives and if they are a good thing for the assemblies.
One observation I had was that it can be difficult to talk about Assembly Distinctives because there is no official list of what they are. Ask 10 different people in 10 different assemblies and you will get 10 different lists.
The purpose of this article is to try and identify what Assembly Distinctives are in general. After establishing some form of a list, we will in another article try to prescribe what Assembly Distinctives should be. Now, the list in this article is not meant to be completely exhaustive.
Maybe something will appear that you think should not be there, or that I will leave off something you think is an Assembly Distinctives. This list is meant to be general and to represent Assembly Distinctives as they have more or less been understood and practiced by the assemblies.
A list of nine
One of the more ‘recent’ treatments on ADS is a short book called Assembly Distinctives by H. G. Mackay in the early 1980s. Mackay writes on 9 Assembly Distinctives:
- Christ – The gathering center
- Independent and undenominational
- Fellowship, not membership
- No clergy
- The weekly remembrance feast
- Finances-no solicitation for funds
- Finances-no salaried ministry
- The place of women in the assembly
- Foreign missions
Most of these are familiar to any who have spent some time in the Assemblies. A few short comments are important to make.
In an introduction, Mackay lays out what Assembly Distinctives are not, which include:
- The fundamentals of the faith
- The Trinity, Christology, authority of the Bible, return of Christ, the millenium
- Preaching the gospel of grace
- Believer’s baptism
- The priesthood of all believers
In the book My People: The History of those Christians Sometimes Called Plymouth Brethren the author, Robert Baylis, identifies some early “Cardinal Principles” of the early Brethren (pages 21-28), many of which are similar to Mackay’s list of 9.
Early “cardinal principles”
- The centrality of the Lord’s Supper
- Authority of Scripture
- Church truth-this is the why church should be organized. Baylis refers to 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians 10-11 and 14
- Devotion to Christ-this is more of a radical life devotion and different from Mackay’s “Christ the Gathering Center”
- The priesthood of all believers
- Freedom to exercise gifts
- Dependent on God for financial needs
- Expectation of the soon return of Christ
- Imperative of the gospel
While there are some differences there are some notable similarities between the lists of Mackay and Baylis. The Lord Supper and dependence for financial needs both appear.
It is also interesting that some of the things that Mackay claims are not Assembly Distinctives, Baylis has on his list. This may be a result of the fact that Mackay writes as one who is trying to show Assembly Distinctives through the Bible, while Baylis’ approach is that of a historian.
It is not surprising that over time from the 1820s-1830s to the 1980s we would see some change in what people considered the core principles or Assembly Distinctives to be.
Despite some of their variations and their differing methods, the lists of Mackay and Baylis do give a good picture of what Assembly Distinctives are. Of course, some may want to include this or that or remove this or that, but I do not think that either Mackay or Baylis misrepresent what Assembly Distinctives are or can be.
In another article we will begin to consider what Assembly Distinctives should be going forward.