A recent article in a current assembly magazine suggests that Christians who meet in a building architecturally attractive for which they use the descriptive appellation “chapel” are participating in the general apostasy of Christendom. Furthermore, the same article intimates that there are assemblies (“Those who should know better, but evidently do not”) which, because they now possess better and more attractive halls, no longer preach the clear Gospel of divine grace. Instead of preaching regeneration, they preach messages which are merely a “moral uplift for a while… religious ideals, fitting into the world’s concept of what religion should produce.”
These solemn insinuations provoke deep and serious reflections. The honest mind confronted by such grave statements must make some enquiries. It must examine what place an assembly-owned public building had in the apostolic days; it must discover through the Word of God what apostasy is and whether or not true Christians can become apostates; and, likewise, it must settle whether such assertions are justified by factual evidence and if they are made in the commendable mood of mind alluded to by Peter, “Finally brethren, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous (1 Pet. 3:8).
Days of apostasy have gripped the religious world about us; there is a general denial of the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). It is obvious that if the founders of most of the Protestant denominations found in Christendom were to return and preach as once they did, they would not be acceptable to the governing bodies of their respective organizations. They would, without doubt, be made welcome by individual Christians who despite conditions remain in these systems.
To all true Christians the Word of God is plain, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17).
A period of sad declension has come upon the testimony and administration of the assemblies of God. There has been a leaving of first love, a forsaking of early loyalties, a loss of primitive power, and also a departure from the scriptural witness to the oneness of the Body of Christ. Conditions among assemblies call for confession of sin and an adherence to New Testament principles of simplicity toward Christ. Thank God for every brother who raises his voice against the tendencies of the flesh.
Notwithstanding the influence of Laodiceanism that is among us, fleshly zeal for tradition, as every other fomentation of the flesh, must be reckoned dead (Rom. 6:11) lest we lift a carnal hand to steady the ark of the testimony which God alone, in the final analysis of things, can sustain; and lest we suffer for our unholy act the stern discipline of the Lord.
In the inspired history of apostolic churches, we fail to find any allusion whatever to an assembly-owned building. The churches in the different localities met in the homes of believers. Paul sent greetings to Priscilla and Aquila at Rome, and to the church that was in their house (Rom. 16:5). The same Apostle addressed a short letter to Philemon, and to the church in his house (Phil. 1-2). Similarly, he sent salutations to the brethren which were in Laodicea and Nymphas, and to the church in his house (Col. 4:15).
It seemed to be the common practice in apostolic days to meet in church capacity at the home of a local brother. Such practice sustained the blessed simplicity which should characterize a New Testament church. It contributed to the informality, brotherly fellowship, and spiritual warmth of those early gatherings.
A review of the history of church buildings and ecclesiastical architecture might not prove profitable. Nevertheless, one does not need to draw much upon the imagination to conjecture that when local churches of post-apostolic times began to erect edifices, some of the devout Christians would decide that their brethren had forsaken “the old paths.” The new building would be accepted by some well-meaning believers as an indication of departure. Something new had been introduced; something that had not formerly existed, consequently, it would be considered wrong.
Our thinking must be characterized by realism in this matter, and if it is, we must accept that a building used exclusively for the convenience of a local church, whether rented or owned, is only a part of special commodities which the saints have purchased for their own comfort. Such a building is not a part of the plan and purpose of God for any church.
The Lord has not been pleased to legislate in regard to special buildings, their architecture, location, or name.
Since an assembly-owned hall or chapel is only the product of man’s organizational tendencies, it is a grave question with some as to whether or not the raising of a building can actually and technically be called the “work of the Lord.” Furthermore, in the light of this, there are those who believe that in the weekly offering of the assembly, nothing is contributed to the work of the Lord until the rental of all modern conveniences used by the church has been paid.
As with families so with assemblies, there are some who can afford more conveniences than others. Consequently, a small and humble building is not necessarily the proof of great spirituality, nor is a more ornate building the sign of apostasy.
The original classical use of the word “apostasy” which means “a falling away,” indicates a political defection. The word was so used by the translators of the Septuagent Version of the Old Testament. Genesis 14:4 was rendered by them, “Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they apostatized.” 2 Chronicles 13:6 was similarly rendered, “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, … is risen up, and hath apostatized against his lord.”
One must differentiate among error, heresy, and apostasy. Doctrinal error may be the result of ignorance. The disciples met by Paul at Ephesus were in error through their ignorance of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Instruction by Paul corrected them (Acts 19:1-7).
Heresy is the result of falling into the snare of the devil. Hymenaeus and Alexander, concerning the faith had made shipwreck. Paul, therefore, delivered them to Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme, for they were true believers (2 Tim. 1:19-20). In this connection, the Apostle says of the servant of the Lord that he must not strive; but “be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves (set themselves in opposition); if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Through submission to spiritual instruction there may be restoration from doctrinal evil and even heresy.
Apostasy is the act of one who merely professes to have embraced Christianity, one who knowingly and deliberately rejects revealed truth regarding the Deity of Christ (1 John 4:1-3) and redemption through His atoning death (Phil. 3:18; 2 Pet. 2:1).
The Apostle Paul gives us a description of the apostasy of these last days. It is characterized by a secession from the faith, the body of revealed truth; a heeding to deceptive spirits and doctrines of demons; a hypocritical perversion of facts; a searing of the conscience; a forbidding to marry; an abstinence from certain foods; a form of godliness with an open denial of its power (1 Tim. 4:1-4).
From such apostasy there is no recovery: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and bath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:26-29). Apostasy is probably the “sin unto death” in John’s epistle (1 John 5:16-17).
To compare in anywise, directly or indirectly, a company of believers who, in spite of much weakness seeks to witness for Christ, to apostasy, or to suggest that there is “an element of apostasy” about them is a flagrant discourtesy to be met at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Social Gospel
We realize from what we hear that there is a social gospel being preached throughout Christendom, and many thereby are being deceived. Although we may disagree with methods used in some of the assemblies of God’s people, we attest that assemblies small and great of every description preach the Gospel of Redemption.
A very eminent leader among Fundamentalists who is accustomed to the conflict with modernism, on meeting at a luncheon five brethren from different assemblies, said as he greeted them, “Brethren, when I learned that you were here, inwardly I said, Thank God! Here are men who come from a group that is doctrinally sound.”
In making statements concerning brethren and assemblies with which we may differ, there is the need to remember the exhortations: “Speak every man truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). “Speak not evil one of another. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law” (Jas. 4:11). We must constantly remind ourselves of the word, “Grudge (complain) not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the Judge standeth before the door” (Jas. 5:9).