Sacred Assembly: The Link Between the Seminary and Revival

shofar.jpgI draw your attention to a teaching that arises from Scriptures where the leaders of the ancient Church of God, in Israel, were to call the people to a holy or “sacred” assembly or, in the New Testament reading, the people of God were admonished to remember to assemble together, to bring about revival in the land, renewal in the Church, and encouragement for the days in which we live.This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God:

Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, Deuteronomy 31.12  

Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Joel 1.14

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 20 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 21 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 22 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 23 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 24 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10.19 -25

The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of God will endure forever.Let us pray:O Lord let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Introduction to the Sermon

I am a man with two mortgages. I very much want to be a man with one mortgage. And Lord willing, that will come soon. But transitions are like that.Transitions are very difficult for me, and just because of the selling and buying part of it. But really the two mortgages tells the story of life in transitions. My heart usually does not catch up with my luggage. Thus, as I accepted this call at RTS and moved, I found that my life, overcome with unopened boxes, and scheduling an appointment with Time-Warner cable, and Union gas and trying to find my socks in the dark, was torn between those struggles and memories of the old life, Now this is not to be compared to Israel craving the idols of Egypt over the hardships of sojourning to a Promised Land. For I came from a godly place and I have been called to a godly place. I am saying, rather, that I miss some people I grew to love. I miss the comforts of a home that was familiar to me. I miss my yard, and all of the trees on the mountain where we lived. But more than anything I miss giving a Call to Worship to a particular community of God’s people. In a word, I missed sacred assembly.When we read God’s Word we read a lot about sacred assembly, and that is what it is called: the gathering of God’s people into an assembly for the purposes of worship.In everyday times, as in the passage from Exodus and Deuteronomy and Hebrews, and in special times, as in Joel, every believer is called center his life in the sacred assembly of the Church.My focus, then, is simply this: God’s purposes are fulfilled through the assembly of His people. In these sacred assemblies, in worship, in times of teaching the Word of God, the Spirit of God moves through worship and preaching to change hearts, equip the saints, and move them out into this world as His ambassadors of redemption and renewal. Each of these messages is related to that greater theme. All of the work of the vision and ministry plan for a local church comes together at that centering point: sacred assembly.This is not to say that small groups are unimportant. It is not to say that community studies and other acts of discipleship are to be treated as tangent to the work of the Kingdom of God. But it is to say that, according to the model of Scripture, God does not want us to forget the assembling of ourselves together on the Lord’s Day because during that sacred time, in sacred places of worship, God meets with His people. And we come to know that we are not just individuals. We are a part of the one, true people of God, the “Israel of God” extending throughout all of the ages.When we look at the charge from the Bible to hold sacred assemblies we come to understand God’s will:

Sacred assemblies are a command of God

The Old Testament calls to assembly, for regular and special times in the life of the people, were not done away with in the New Testament. Indeed, our Savior worshipped each Sabbath in synagogue. And the Writer to the Book of Hebrews calls us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” This being so, the ministry of that time is preeminent in the life of God’s people. Thus our pastors must be trained for that task. The exegesis and exposition of Scripture, becoming repositories for the sacred words, the special acts, the legacies of those who have gone before, and the gifts and training of speaking and leading in sacred assembly become preeminent. The purpose for theological seminaries has been up for grabs in the minds of many. But for me, I see our seminaries not only preparing men and women for service as missionaries and teachers and other vocations, but preeminently preparing pastors to lead in sacred assembly. Thus, the study of systematic theology and Old Testament and New Testament and Church History and the BIblical languages must ultimately be funneled through the narrow pastoral theological channel of leading in sacred assembly. If we do not do this, who will?Another truth.

Sacred assemblies are focused on teaching

We sing. We pray. We preach. We receive the gifts of others. We take vows. We administer the Sacrament. But in all of these things, we are learning “to fear the Lord.” That is, all of our sacred assembly, our worship services, are focused, in one way or another, on being renewed in our minds, being committed in our hearts, to knowing God, loving God and trusting God. Thus, I am praying that our seminary will continue to be a place where men and women, but especially men for the pastorate, are equipped to teach the Word of God, with a theological conviction of the victorious kingdom of God in the presence of all opposition, and with a commitment to equip the saints for the work of ministry through the ordinary means of grace, but clearly through preaching.

Sacred assemblies are a place where revival begins

When there was sin, when there was trouble, when there was apostasy in the land, God called the leaders to call the people back to Him in sacred assembly and cry out to Him. That is the command in Joel. Assembly yourselves and cry out to Me. Our nation is desperate for revival. And I am convicted and convinced that revival from on high will not come from the latest program or the hottest new book. And those have their places in discipleship and evangelism. But I look at God’s Word and I look through church history and I see revival and renewal of God’s people coming through sacred assembly. Thus it was to be when God called Joel to announce this to Israel. And in the ministry of the New Testament church. And thus it has always been with rare exceptions.I studied in Wales. And there you can still hear of the remnants of the Welsh revival at the turn of the Twentieth century. Once I journeyed to the little village chapel where Evan Roberts, a coal miner preacher, came to preach and the sacred assembly there lasted for weeks and weeks before it was over. And from there, a sacred fired that had come down from heaven into the hearts of about 100 people in that chapel spread through the land. It has been written that God used that revival to raise up many, and eventually we would see the likes of a Martyn Lloyd Jones arising from the afterglow of that sacred assembly.My beloved, I am praying, as you are, for revival in our land. I hear of it in Africa when I hosted the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, in my pulpit at First Presbyterian, Chattanooga. I hear of it from our missionaries in China. I hear of it even in small pockets around the world. And every time I hear of it, I pray, O Lord come down here in this place!And my hope is in a God who tells us to call a sacred assembly, and call on me. My beloved, that call burns upon my heart. And my personal mission is to see young men arising to answer that call.In writing about old Princeton, my friend Dr. David Calhoun wrote about how Charles Hodge’s living room, at Princeton, became the incubator for a movement of world missions. From that place where those students were shown hospitality by the Hodges, taught the Word of God by Charles, sung the songs of Zion, and were given the sacred words and hymns and ways and methods of two millennia, becoming stewards of the mystery of grace, they were sent to the ends of the earth. And a world missions movement was fueled from the living room of Charles Hodge.I desire that RTS Charlotte, along with our other schools of the prophets in this nation, become like the living room of Charles Hodge. And that from this place, where godly pastor-teachers-scholars give students a vision of the coming kingdom of God, they will go out, and they will plant, and they will revitalize, and they will teach, and they will lead in worship, and they will, in Bangkok but also in Boston, in London but also in Los Angeles, in Montreal but also in Monroe, in Chennai but also in Charlotte, call for a sacred assembly. And cry out to the Savior of the World, who came that we might have life, who came to redeem us from the fall, who came to open up a new way of life, and ratify with HIs own life and blood, a covenant of grace, even Jesus Christ of whom Peter preached and said:And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Acts 2.21Let us pray.Our Father, whose very nature is to forgive, to save, to redeem, and who through Your Son Jesus Christ, has initiated a universal work of redemption through repentance and faith in His name, raise up preachers of the Gospel, and encourage and bless these who proclaim, and these who govern Your Church, to the end that the whole world will come to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our generation, and even here in this nation, people will gather in assembly to bless your name, and call upon Your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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