In a preceding article we made a brief reference to some of the earmarks of a local New Testament church. In this and succeeding articles we would like to deal in some detail with five of those earmarks.
Will Permit of Believers Only
This point need not be argued, for it goes without saying, believers, and believers only, compose the Church which is the body of Christ. We note three things said of them, who are the “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:5). (1) They are “redeemed”; (2) they are “born again”; (3) they are “the saved ones.” Cf. 1 Peter 1:18, 23; Acts 2:42 (Nby.).
No church, no matter what may be commendable from a scriptural viewpoint, can claim New Testament ground where believers and unbelievers meet together, no distinctions being made. Surely the teaching of 2 Cor. 6:14-17, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” needs no explanation at this point. The clarion cry is, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”
It is not assumed that those groups of saints who would seek New Testament ground are free in this. Paul feared for them in this very thing, so his warning to the elders in Ephesus was given. He spoke of “grievous wolves” entering in among the flock, so wisely exhorted them, “take heed” … and “watch” (Acts 20:28-31). David feared something like this in his day, and cried to the Lord, “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children” (Psalm 144:11).
Gathered Unto the Name of the Lord Jesus
The preposition “in” (A.V.) implies the use of the preposition we have used, “unto” (Nby.). We hear the Apostle urge the Hebrews, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp” (Heb. 13:13). Jacob on his deathbed picks out Judah and predicts for us that the Messiah will come through him, so he cries, “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10). God Himself commands, “Gather My saints together unto Me” (Psalm 50:5). And we must not fail to mention the picture of David and his men in the cave of Adullam; we read, “they… gathered themselves unto him” (1 Sam. 22:2).
The Lord Jesus attracted us as sinners; “lifted up” He “drew” us unto Himself. And today as His saints we forsake all others for His precious Name alone. Gathered “in” His Name, we recognize His authority; gathered “unto” His Name, we recognize His attraction. As the bride gladly gives up her own name for the name of her beloved, we can exultingly sing,
“Thy Name we own, Lord Jesus And lowly bow before Thee.”
The multitude of sobriquets and designations of Christendom’s nomenclature we refuse. How dare we mention in the same breath any name with that precious Name of Jesus, now made Lord and Christ?
We are often asked, “Who are you?” I fancy many of our readers will manage a wry smile at that! Let us try to identify ourselves from Scripture.
We call ourselves “brethren”, thus indicating our relationship as children in the family of God (Heb. 2:11). We are “Christians,” declaring thereby that we are identified with the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26). (Here we would like to interpolate: recently in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary we found that he explains the term “Christian” can be used to designate a “sect called Plymouth Brethren”!). We are “believers”, and thus we show our faith in all the Bible doctrines (Acts 5:14). We are “saints” which implies our character (1 Cor. 1:2). We are “disciples” for we seek to follow the pathway the blessed Lord has clearly marked for His own.
If we can state positively what we are, let us state what we are not. (And may we be positive in our negatives!).
We are not Roman Catholics, but most definitely would be Catholic in spirit. (Check that word, please, and you will never use the term for the big religious system whose headquarters are in Rome). We are neither Episcopalians nor Presbyterians although we claim the bishops (episkopos, Gr.) and the elders (presbyter L.L.). We are not Baptists, but feel baptism should be the initial step in the pilgrim path. We are not Methodists, but hope we have some methods in our service for God. We are not Congregationalists, but we do have congregations. Finally, we have already said, we are “brethren”, (and without any capital, please!).
Since a New Testament assembly’s fellowship is but an expression (not just a part) of the fellowship of that which is the Body of Christ —the Church as a whole — it stands to reason the basis upon which one must be received into the local church fellowship is known fellowship with the Lord.
In New Testament days a saint in fellowship in the assembly in Philippi learned that he was in fellowship in the assembly in Jerusalem, and in every other place where the saints met to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord in their midst; in short, fellowship in one assembly meant fellowship in all assemblies. Alas! a certain Diotrephes appears to blot an otherwise beautiful landscape! (3 John).
A good question for us today to ask in this matter of reception is, to what was a believer received? We speak of “reception to the Lord’s Supper.” Let us think of this (Supper) and its kindred expression, “the Lord’s Table.”
A sinner trusts Christ as his Saviour, and immediately becomes eligible for the enjoyment of a fellowship of saint with saint and their Lord; this fellowship is styled in the word of God as “the Lord’s Table.” From time to time (week to week-Cf. Acts 20:7) the first century Christians gave expression to this fellowship in their observance of “the Lord’s Supper.” Nowhere can we findin Scripture any believer ever being received to the Lord’s Supper. When any of the local churches (assemblies) received a believer they received him to enjoy participation in all phases of that fellowship (The Lord’s Table), “apostles’ doctrine breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). In those early days, we note that it says, “they continued.” Consequently, we regret the use of the disquieting expression heard on many sides today, “occasional fellowship.” Certainly, we search in vain for it in the Word.
Another question we would like to ask: is Laodicean (present day) practice to be desired above Ephesian (first century) practice? Again, have we learned more today than the saintly and spiritual brethren of one hundred years ago?
Is it not incongruous today to behold many sitting at the Lord’s Supper who deny the Lord’s Table (fellowship)? How can they give expression to the fellowship they deny? Paul made the situation perfectly clear for us in 1 Corinthians; he writes: “For we being many are one bread, and one Body: for we are all partakers of that one Body” (Chap. 10:17). Surely sectarianism in any form nulifies in testimony the precious truth of the oneness of the Body of Christ, so beautifully expressed in the believers sharing the one loaf. Why then should we encourage (Note: we do not say permit, allow) participation in the Lord’s Supper on the part of those, who, while so doing, cling to an unscriptural sectarianism?
God’s people under Solomon’s reign were as many “as the sand which is by the sea.” And Solomon’s heart was just as large. The one expression is used to describe both the people and his heart. (1 Kings 4:20, 29). Oh! to have such a heart for God’s dear people today. Let us entreat them; let us deal with them gently while we remain firm to the principles of the New Testament assembly. Can we not explain to them that it is their birthright privilege to enjoy with us the fullness of fellowship we enjoy in seeking to meet in the simplicity of the first days? We should, as graciously as we know how, explain to them that to refuse to disclaim all names for the honour of that blessed Name we love is to virtually deny that precious Name; that is, in relation to the place that Name should hold in His Church here on earth. We are agreed, no doubt, that many otherwise loyal and devoted saints do unwittingly thus deny Him.