Are Our Local Churches Really Biblical?
Dr. Brian F. Tatford is Director of “L’Eau Vive-Provence” located near Aix-en-Provence, France. “L’Eau Vive-Provence” is an evangelical youth fellowship providing organized Bible camps, evangelistic youth outreach, and a Bible Training Center for youth leaders.
The editor’s first recollection of meeting Brian goes back to Guelph, Ontario in the 1950’s.
If you have any questions or comments regarding his current article, kindly send them to the editor and we will refer them to Dr. Tatford, knowing that he will be happy to answer them.
Brian, by the way, is the son of Dr. Frederick A. Tatford of England who is an internationally known Bible teacher, author of over sixty books, and editor of a monthly magazine.
“And God hath set some in the church…” (1 Corinthians 12:28). One is saddened to discover that many assemblies are departing from the dynamic clarity of Biblical practice and teaching to hide under fundamental misconceptions which are “another Gospel.” “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). No longer has the testimony the stamp of apostolic freshness; it has sunk into tradition in the way that gravestones disappear into the moss of a cemetery over the years.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). Returning from abroad, one is confronted with a frequent disorder reigning insofar as the gift of teacher is concerned. Any brother is considered to be fitted to teach the assembly, whether it be in ministry during the Sunday morning gathering, following the hour of worship, or else in the weekly edification meeting. But the Word of God expressly states: “If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?” (1 Corinthians 12:17b-19).
In the assembly where I worshipped as a boy, if a brother had sought to minister when he had no evident gift in that direction, the result would have been a sharp word of reproof from the elders. All love and no discipline in the bringing up of children results in an unruly family, and so it is the same with the assembly, the family of God.
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Each member of the assembly has a gift and calling from the Lord, and the assembly life suffers when that gift is wrongly exercised, used elsewhere to the deprivation of the assembly, or is silenced.
The Lord may see fit to give the gift of teacher to one, two or three brethren in the assembly, but the New Testament nowhere gives evidence of its being given to all. In one assembly in which I fellowshipped for several years, the brethren felt that no one had such a gift, and so they prayed to the Lord for its manifestation. When the Lord answered, the three brethren recognized by the assembly dealt with all the ministry, unless the Lord sent along a visiting brother with a very evident gift. These three brethren were able to bring ministry which replied to evident needs discussed through “feed back” in their regular visitations.
A very prevalent wrong is that of twitching ears, the desire to hear the same things said in another way rather than to obey it the first time it is said. This leads to a game of “Musical chairs” on Sunday and mid-week meetings when speakers from different assemblies exchange pulpits, wasting time and money in useless travelling, in order to satisfy the whims of assembly correspondents who anxiously fill in the blank dates in their notebooks. Such practice is in contradiction to the teaching of God’s Word and suggests that God made a mistake when He gave gifts to brethren who joined a local assembly. Writing of our dearly beloved brother J.B. Watson, for many years the editor of The Witness, it was said “he recognized that his first responsibility was to the assembly at Leytonstone where he lived, then to the London meetings, and further to a wider sphere of ministry throughout the country.”
Although “this do” was applied to the breaking of bread each Lord’s Day, no clear-cut injunctions were given to the local assembly concerning the preaching of the Gospel. On July 31st, 1905, Mr. Watson wrote in his diary words which have the same significance nearly three quarters of a century later as he deplored the ineffectiveness of Gospel testimony.
“This is how the matter has appealed to me… Every assembly should be a centre from which radiates an active living testimony to the saving power of Christ… The smug Gospel meetings where we sing pretty hymns and listen to a popular preacher from a distance have none of the true rings of testimony from Christ. We get much too narrowed into ourselves and our own comforts, we forget too often in our own safety that all around us are thousands—teeming thousands—going heedless to endless woe… We need to bestir ourselves and no longer sit in our comfortable seats praying God to condone our laziness by sending sinners in to the message, but be up and with holy zeal carry out the message of life to the sinner. What saith the Scripture? ‘GO, work in my vineyard.’ ‘A sower went forth to sow.’”
The Lord’s Example
The Lord Himself did not sit in the temple, or in the place of the scribes to deliver His message. He was concerned enough to mingle with worldly crowds. He spoke a language they could understand, and spoke it better than they did. The Palestinian Aramaic was the people’s language, Hebrew being limited to purely religious and academic occupations. One assembly of which we know meets at an early hour in the morning for the breaking of bread and edification of the believers (the day of rest not being synonymous with laziness), and opens its doors at 11:00 A.M. for the preaching of the Word. The preaching of the Word implies straightforward regular exposition of the Bible in order “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:31). If God uses a man on account of his gift and his clarity in exposition, it would seem permissible for us to use him too, and to book him for two or three weeks at a stretch.
If the unsaved won’t come into the local assembly, when one realizes that most successful evangelistic work is carried out among the young, it would seem most efficacious to go where and when they are found. This may be coffee-bars, among cinema-goers at midnight on Saturday and Sunday, as was practiced at Lausanne, Switzerland, during a recent campaign, or it may be by dropping all normal evangelistic work for a few months and concentrating on door-to-door visitation. Our French young people sometimes study a Biblical answer to problems of a secular film such as “familylife”, and then prepare an appropriate tract which they distribute to cinema-goers as they leave after the film. A recent effort of this kind led to many scores of contacts and to many decisions.
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel” is a commandment, yet thoroughly disobeyed by a majority of the comfort-loving believers in the assemblies. If a young person hasn’t had a clear call to serve at home, it is evident from the commandment that he or she should be overseas. The missionary term may, in very many cases, be only one of four or five years in one’s own profession though exercising it elsewhere, or by a specialist using his technical skill in building, printing, or other fields to help the missionary to be free for the preaching of the Word. The fruits will be reaped not only by the overseas lands but by the young people themselves as they gain invaluable experience both in the missionary and local assembly spheres. Let no one talk of robbing the assemblies of their young folk, for many of them are given so little responsibility at home that they never develop beyond the infant stage of Christians.
The “Eau Vive Provence” Bible training community situated near Aix-en-Provence, in France, is developing practical short courses for those who wish to study the Word of God within a French context and are willing to turn their hands to all kinds of practical service and occupations. Each week a different Bible teacher will be in residence to share the Word with those present, and to encourage them as they get down to practical work in personal Biblical research. The purpose is that the participants might become fully committed members of their local Christian communities.
“Now ye are the body of Christ.” What a privilege, but what a sacred, solemn responsibility lies upon us all to act as becomes our individual calling. If we return to the Word itself, the true New Testament church is a wonderful concept as it displays the fullness of the reign of Christ.