The New Testament is silent on most aspects of assembly life that relate to “how.” There is instruction on “why” we do certain things and there are principles to uphold, but little on “how.”
For instance, there is no instruction on times, length, or flow of meetings. There is no word on the following issues; hymnbooks, seating arrangements, Sunday school, or how to take the offering. Even more substantive issues such as how to recognize elders, the role and function of deacons, and the order of a meeting like the Lord’s Supper, lack a definitive word.
This is true of reception into fellowship. There is no concrete example or explanation of how the early church functioned. Questions such as; at what age children should children come into fellowship, or, what are the requirements and procedures for reception?
Local church autonomy
This would seem to be an area of assembly life where the autonomy of the local assembly applies. In the absence of “a thus says the Lord” a local church must decide how they will receive people. Association often determines practice, so most assemblies follow more or less a pattern passed on from previous generations. Gospel Halls tend to follow a similar pattern among themselves, as do “Exclusive Meetings” in their circle. “Open assemblies” vary in their approach due to a greater sense of autonomy.
Because there is no word on “how,” each local church must decide before the Lord what their practice will be. As a result, some places have more structure as opposed to other assemblies. As to procedure, there is no right or wrong, maintaining the principles is the important issue.
Generally, where one fellowships determines how one stands on these kind of issues. That is, the type of assembly we are in may well frame our view on this issue. In “Open assemblies” the charter is, “therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7).
What is fellowship based on?
One danger, as I see it, (this is my opinion) in reception is to make “light” (how much you know and how correct are you), and not “life” (are you born again) the standard for reception. When “light” is the standard it then becomes, “do you agree with me?” Using “light” usually leads to some form of legalism. There are moral and doctrinal issues mentioned in the New Testament, which prohibit fellowship and thus “reception.”
Fellowship by definition is a partnership so those who come into fellowship must be in agreement with the direction and function of the assembly. They may have different views on particular verses and doctrines but they must agree with the direction and be willing to submit to the leadership.
Each assembly must decide many of these issues and implement them as they see fit. The decision on the right age to receive children, and how and when to receive recent converts, is up to the leadership. In all these matters, the leadership is ultimately accountable to the Lord.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.