When Paul writes to Timothy concerning behaviour in the house of God his letter provides us with a real picture of the ecclesial scene in Ephesus, for that is where Timothy was labouring (1 Tim 1:3). He was continuing the great work of the Apostle Paul who had spent three years of unrelenting service in this large and tempestuous city (Acts 20:31). They were probably the most difficult years of his ministry, due especially to the violent opposition of the Jews of Asia (Acts 20:18–19).

How many members were there in the Ephesian ecclesia? Where did they meet?—all together or in separate houses? It would appear that the ecclesia may have met, for at least some time anyway, in “the school of one Tyrannus”. Whether they all fitted into this one building or not we do not know, but we do gain the sense from 1 Timothy that all in Ephesus belonged to the one meeting, and that it was a large meeting with a very distinct sense of what was right and wrong in its arrangements and decorum. So detailed are some of the items that the advice has become the basis for certain of our ecclesial functions. A well-known example is the Apostle’s teaching regarding the appointment of bishops (overseers) and deacons (practical ministers). Bishops were to be exemplary in their personal and family life and of good report amongst those outside the faith. We apply the same principles in choosing our arranging brethren and the many other committees that serve our ecclesias.

Preparing For The Meeting

 Sunday morning often seems a busy time, but too often the things that make it busy are not the true issues that should have our attention just before the meeting of remembrance. It’s nice to have a crease in our trousers and a shine on our shoes, but if the inner man is not properly clothed when the externals are so spick and span, then clearly the balance is wrong. The apostle was far more concerned with the inward adorning. When he writes to the sisters he positively downgrades the fancy hairdos and the employment of costly and showy jewellery (1 Tim 2:9), but honours modesty, sobriety and good works in the sisters. This is such helpful advice for the latter days! The amount and variety of chains, rings, bangles and ear-rings has greatly increased in the last ten to fifteen years and sadly more Christadelphian sisters are conforming to the trend. Let our mothers set the right example and their daughters will follow their wisdom, and God will value their worth to Him (1 Pet 3:3–4).

If Paul’s advice to sisters was to sobriety, what would he expect of the brethren whose natural inclination has never been to the same degree of outward presentation. Today there are fashions for men just as flamboyant as those for women. The brethren are not to be concerned with such idle nonsense. We are not about such matters. To be clean, tidy and appropriately attired is right, but to be carried away with the latest cuts and colours is surely beneath our calling in Christ. There is a very real pressure today upon our young men in these matters for when a society loses knowledge of God it puts accent upon frivolous matters. So our boys and young men become aware of the costs of certain brands of shirts, trousers, shoes, etc, and there is an unspoken disdain for the cheap and ordinary. We need to wean our young men away from such nonsense so that they too may apprise such interests as inconsistent with Christ. Are Mickey Mouse ties and socks appropriate to our meetings where Christ is present? Is flamboyance of fashion or deliberately casual clothing in keeping with the Lord’s table? We think not.

Preparing our Minds

 It is really a satisfying experience to arrive at a meeting, whether Sunday morning or otherwise, with peace of mind with God, equanimity with one’s family and partner, and unrestrained love towards all members of the ecclesia. With the many issues in our lives this is not always possible, but we should strive for this ideal. If we are to “bring our gift to the altar” and are aware that “our brother hath ought against us” then we are to be first reconciled to our brother and then to come before God (Matt 5:23–24). So our own causes against others are best overcome before we set out for meetings of worship. Sunday morning is not a time to bring up old crotchets within the domestic sphere. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” means that we seek to remove irritations the night before. Persistent ill-feeling with spouse or children can be the ruin of even a good meeting, for our mind is divided and our prayers are hindered. The home needs to be peaceful, “filled with the odour” of godliness and praise, permeated with the sense of approaching worship. Some homes create this with the right music, with the playing of hymns or spiritual songs. If the family is together for breakfast (is this too much to expect on Sunday mornings!), then a short Bible reading and prayer are excellent means to have the family in a pure and positive frame of mind.

Hospitality is a real virtue but if having guests means that a meal is prepared before the meeting and other preparations are omitted, then the value of the meal is mitigated. So with washing the car, putting the finishing touches to the garden, or vacuuming the carpets and washing the windows; these matters are all worthwhile, but they are not that “one thing[which] is needful” (Luke 10:42).

The Beauty of Holiness

 This delightful expression of Psalm 96:9 is used of the atmosphere of worship when Israel came into the courts of Yahweh. It is a sobering thought that 4000 Levites, mostly of the children of Korah, were employed in the rosters of the gate-keepers (1 Chron 23:5). So important was the atmosphere and behaviour about the Temple that David and Samuel discussed the matter many years before, to ensure that the right people were put in charge (1 Chron 9:16–22).

This tells us much about what God thinks of the decorum of our meetings, and is helpful to us who live in an age of little respect or decorum. The formality of our ecclesial meetings may not be quite the same as when ecclesias met in homes in the first century, but there is no question that these domestic meetings were conducted in a solemn and God-fearing manner. The picture we find in the New Testament is one of great warmth, of deep bonds of love, of willingness to serve, of support for all types in the meeting. Whatever formality we have today in our assemblies cannot be at the cost of a genuinely affectionate and sincere fellowship. But casualness and sloppy indifference to ecclesial functions have no justification from New or Old Testaments. “Let all things be done decently and in order” is Paul’s last comment after a long statement on ecclesial behaviour. The prevailing atmosphere before our meetings should be one of quiet meditation, with thoughts stirred by wellchosen voluntaries and reflective reading of the Scriptures. Our sisters cover their heads as a token of respect, according to the advice and teaching of the Apostle Paul. This practice is not outdated in the 1990’s! The Apostle’s reasoning is based upon the facts of the original creation of man and woman; so the principles remain constant and their practice as sound today as ever in the past.

The principles of proper and lively worship are eternal; and it will be the duty of the saints in the kingdom to lead and monitor worship in the House of Prayer for all people. So we need to prepare now in our ecclesial meetings, even in this day of small things, for the greater work of the porters in the Temple of the Age to Come.

“As Unto The Lord”

 One of the most disappointing matters of ecclesial life is the indifference that some seem to have towards ecclesial life and service. Attendance at our regular meetings is sometimes arbitrary and even committee meetings are neglected for insufficient reasons. Those who desire ecclesial office are to be encouraged, says the Apostle (1 Tim 3:1). Arranging brethren are always delighted to find sincere, consistent workers who can be relied upon to fulfil their duties with wisdom and good spirit: “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23). How wonderful to see younger brethren and sisters take up their duties in this spirit! Make sure you can be relied upon—in season and out of season!

Let the arranging brethren and other older brethren see that they lead by example. If they have set the ecclesial programme, then they cannot expect too much from others if they or their families are poor in their support of it.

Kind, Tenderhearted and Just

 In this very brief article on ecclesial behaviour we should consider our relationships one with the other. If we call each other “brother” or “sister”, then we must uphold true family principles one toward another. Members of a family are loyal to each other and stand by each other in times of good or evil. Our family is named after its Heavenly Father. As earthly parents yearn to see loyalty, love and kindness among their children, so in a greater way must our Heavenly Father find pleasure in the mutual lovingkindness of our ecclesial relationships. May our ecclesias live up to these beautiful principles, not just within our own ecclesia but throughout the brotherhood, wherever the Truth is known and loved: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).

What a lofty ideal that in an age of increasing selfishness, coldness and indifference to others, we should preserve, with strong desire, the bonds of love that we have in Christ. This is a precious heritage. Let our arranging brethren see that they uphold these principles and emphasise these teachings in the meeting. Responsibility is upon our exhorting brethren to adequately stress this Christ-like behaviour in our assemblies.

Let justice preside in all our decisions. Divine justice requires the bringing together of divine principles. It does not pamper to cliques or parties. It is God-fearing, fair and courageous, delighting in mercy whilst upholding the principle of right: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

So may our ecclesias prosper until our Lord is here.