“The Care of All the Churches”
Dear Mr. G.
Pleased to see F. W. S’s. article on the character of the local assembly, …
The remarks are very true, but I think characteristic of first century Church history. Because they do express the truth, they are that by which we govern ecclesiastically whether or not we assume corporate character to our gatherings.
But I feel that they lack in one regard, and that is they do not recognize the broken state of Christendom, and give no place in local church character to Christians who do not gather as we. Generally, the view taken of a local church is one that bears certain features, so we look for these features and judge accordingly.
When we hear of desires expressed concerning “unity,” are they not limited to those of brethren? Would that not be somewhat less than the Lord’s mind in regard to His own? Paul saw all twelve tribes serving God day and night, and were not those same tribes scattered as the Church is today?
Scripture speaks of the church of this and that city. (Romans 16 speaks of various companies, but only one the church). So all believers in a given locality are the local church, whether or not they meet together. If that be true, no one part can presume to be the assembly of that locality. My interest has not been in trying to define geographical limitations, merely acknowledging all believers, so giving some standing in the local church to them.
The question then is, are we seeking to maintain the faithfulness of Philadelphia in the midst of Laodiceanism (which the Lord has not yet set aside), and presume to nothing but that of only remnant character? Then, can that which has but remnant character have corporate statue?
With best regards,
Dear Brother K. S.
We do appreciate your most recent letter. The tone of sincerity and godly exercise is very commendable. Many thanks.
The first part of your closing paragraph arrests my attention; in fact, it deeply impresses me: “Are we seeking to maintain the faithfulness of Philadelphia in the midst of Laodiceanism (which the Lord has not yet set aside), and presume to nothing but only that of remnant character?”
While one may differ on certain points of interpretation involved in the doctrine of the Church, he would share the concern you have expressed.
Is not the opinion you state relative to Romans 16 too inductive to be thoroughly conclusive? If all believers in any given locality are at all times in the church local and form that church, from what did the saints at Corinth excommunicate the incestuous man (1 Cor. 5:13)? This guilty man, in the light of 2 Corinthians, was a Christian brother, therefore, definitely in the Church in its universal sense from which he could not be expelled, but outside the church in its local aspect.
The Apostle John wrote of Diotrephes, “Neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”
We agree that he could not cast them out of the Church in its comprehensive character. Out of what then did he cast them? Out of the church in its local aspect. Consequently, even for believers there is an outside and an inside to the local church.
There is a threefold concept of church in the New Testament: the Jewish, the pagan, and the Christian. Stephen made reference to “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). Surely the entire Jewish concept is not expressed only in Israel’s being called out of Egypt, but in the additional thought of her being brought to the Lord (Ex. 19:4).
Similarly, in Acts 19:39-41 we have the pagan concept; the town clerk dismissed the assembly (the church). He did not dismiss a crowd of persons who had merely been called from their homes, but a crowd of persons who had been called together (19:25), and it was this being together under the circumstances which made their assemblage unlawful.
The full concept expressed by the word church is that of calling out and gathering together. Is it not obvious that persons who have not been gathered together cannot express the New Testament conception of church. Technically speaking, unless God’s people are thus gathered together (Matt. 18:20), they do not form a geographic church.
Now, God’s ideal is that all His people should thus be gathered together, and He has revealed in His Word, particularly in the New Testament, the principles which will not only call His people out of the world, but call them together. It is at this point we have one common exercise and concern as to what we may do to gather together all God’s people in testimony, even although it be but a remnant testimony.
The lamented scattered condition of God’s beloved people today arises from grave failure; failure in those who do gather according to these divine principles, and failure in those who do not thus gather. That apparently is the only true premise upon which to rest our thinking.
In regard to those who do not gather accordingly, there may be various reasons; first, some may not understand what God has revealed in His Word, and their ignorance of His truth is the hindrance. Second, in certain cases there may be a knowledge of the Word of God and an unwillingness to obey. Third, there may be some who once did gather with God’s people in blessed simplicity, but who were offended by other saints in local churches, and so withdrew. In such a case we assume that weakness is the hindrance.
What should our attitude be to all God’s people irrespective of their affiliation in view of the increasing apostacy of Christendom and the remnant character of present day testimony?
Our attitude should be one of humility; and, frankly, it is not. An aged brother bemoaned in the prayer meeting “the ecclesiastical pride evinced by some in the assemblies.” The claims of superior light and knowledge made by certain are distasteful. Judged by the standard of the literature being produced by brethren in the assemblies today, these claims are untrue.
Nevertheless, our attitude to the Word of God must be one of complete submission. In your reference to the remarks by F. W. S. you say, “The remarks are very true, but I think characteristic of first century Church history. Because they do express truth, they are that by which we govern ecclesiastically.”
The principles stated in these remarks you accept as truth are taught by the Spirit of God through the Apostles, and as suggested, they did produce first century churches. We, therefore, must still submit to that teaching. We must submit to the same high standard, and refuse any substandard truth. God’s Word cannot be accommodated to meet our deficiencies. The Lord does not reveal one set of principles for the apostolic churches and another for the churches in remnant testimony.
Prayerful dependence upon the Lord becomes us rather than the spirit of self-complacency which characterizes not a few. Such dependence would make the place “outside the camp” much more attractive to devout souls.
The schismatic spirit once prevalent in Corinth, and even more prevalent today, must be judged in the presence of the Lord. “The unity of the Spirit” is made by the Holy Spirit Himself and therefore is perfect. The word by the Apostle to us, Gentiles, needs to be taken more seriously: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, …Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).
Your reference to Paul’s statement in Acts 26:7 is interesting: “Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come.” As you remind us, the twelve tribes in Paul’s day were sadly scattered, and any service for God and any testimony to Him were carried out by a very small remnant. Notwithstanding, Paul ascribes to that small remnant national status. Do you not think that Paul’s reference to this remnant gives the conception that it formed a corporate entity? Paul saw a united nation in a few, the majority of whom belonged only to Judah and Benjamin.
Our attitude toward all Christians ought to be that of love. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal. 5:13-14). The warmth of divine love will win the hearts of others, and it will heal the hurts, and remove the offences which have caused sincere ones to withdraw from local gatherings of the saints.
Furthermore, we should act in earnest solicitude toward all our fellow-believers rather than isolate ourselves from them. Aquila and Priscilla have left us an example (Acts 18:24-26). If we enjoy some of the truth of God in a deeper and fuller manner, we ought to be ready to share it with others whom we may consider less fortunate.
Surely, it would not be wrong to fit the words of the Apostle Peter into this very context, using them to direct our attitude to all God’s people: “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Pet. 3:8).
Sincerely in Christ,