Blurring the Distinctives

the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to
dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to
yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them . . . You shall not
worship the Lord your God in that way . . . Whatever I command you, be
careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it',
Deut. 12. 29-32.

was a constant tendency in Israel to conform to the practices of the
nations around them. There was not an outright rejection of their
Jehovah God but an introduction of heathen customs and practices. This
the prophets warned against throughout Israel's history. Israel was to
be different and distinct from the nations surrounding them.

church has had the same tendency throughout the centuries. The cry of
the apostle Paul was, 'Come out from among them and be separate, says
the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you', 2 Cor.
6. 17.

the first century, the churches as a whole began to slide into
conformity with the world, adopting heathen practices into their
worship and doctrine. This corruption accelerated after the conversion
of Constantine and the legalisation of Christianity.

the time of the Reformation the gospel of grace was buried under
ritualism and perverted church dogma. Salvation was viewed as a
life-long process of keeping the rules of the church and at death one
went to Purgatory to atone for the rest of his sins. The gospel of
God's grace had been forgotten except for small, scattered pockets of
devout believers.

Reformation rediscovered the gospel of God's grace and proclaimed it
faithfully. Unfortunately, many of those reformers did not make a clean
break with all Romish practices. They carried over into their churches
the teaching of infant baptism, the clergy-laity concept and the desire
to have a state church.

church history there have been repeated movements to return to the
simplicity of the early church. Such have believed the teaching and
example of the apostolic church should be emulated. This example was
viewed not as an historical oddity but as the norm for churches in
every age.

dealing with many matters of church conduct, Paul wrote, 'If anyone
thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that
the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord', 1
Cor. 14. 37. Paul did not say that these things were suggestions or his
opinions, but the Lord's commandments. They are still in force today.

the British Isles in the early 1800's there was a revival of interest
in following the simplicity of the apostolic church. This movement has
since spread throughout the world. There was a rejection of
denominationalism with all of its divisions and an insistence that the
church is one, made up of all true Christians, Rom. 12. 4-5. The
clergy/laity distinction was denied; all believers are priests and are
gifted by God, 1 Pet. 2. 5, 9; Rom. 12. 6-8. The Lord's Supper was seen
as central to worship, with opportunity for the believer’s priesthood
to function, 1 Cor. 11. 23-34. All believers were expected to be
witnessing to the gospel. Those who were called of God to 'full time
work' went out in faith and were supported by the generous giving of
God's people in accordance with such scriptures as Philippians 4. 15-16.

was a radical movement, radical in its desire to obey God's word,
radical in its faith and fervency. God has blessed this movement over
the past 175 years. But it is difficult to maintain fervent purity and
scriptural simplicity. Spiritual zeal tends to cool and men try to
compensate with organisation and ritual. Worldliness can drain
spiritual enthusiasm.

assemblies having origins from the movement begun in the 1800's may be
tempted to look at today's large churches with many members and become
envious. Perhaps they should be our model now? People are used to
having a 'pastor' who is hired and can be fired. Why not hire a good
preacher to lead the church? Perhaps we should stop emphasising the
importance of the Lord's Supper; it is not appreciated by all church
members. Perhaps have it as an optional service in a smaller room for
those who are more 'traditional'.

feminist movement is strong. Should we now adopt an egalitarian
approach to our services, letting women lead in the meetings. Some
would also suggest women elders. This will make us more acceptable to
the world around. And so, some assemblies are becoming more and more
like Bible churches or community churches. They are not that different
or distinctive any more. They may hire a preacher and call him
'pastor’. The Lord's Supper is minimised and women take more leadership.

this happens the assembly has become just another nice, evangelical
church. Now you are competing with all the other churches for members.
Unless you have better facilities and a more polished programme, why
should anyone come to your church? You are not offering a different
product. Would it not be simpler for you to join one of the established
churches and strengthen it?

maybe it is time to restudy the scriptures and to renew your
convictions about principles for the church from God's holy word and
just trust Him for the results.