Let's Hear It for the Assemblies

There is a reasonable doubt whether any Christian fellowship suffers so much self-criticism as the assemblies.


They are not unlike the soldier who shoots himself in the leg, quite oblivious of the enemy who lurks outside. We are living on a “range” where, unlike the song, “seldom is heard an encouraging word.” And even more seldom a word of appreciation. Why is it that critics who have had a rich heritage in assemblies now turn and bite the hand that fed them? Why don’t they balance their faultfinding with gratitude? David J. Hesselgrave, a missionary-author, had his roots in the Pentecostal movement. He subsequently changed his church affiliation but had enough class to express public thanks for what the Pentecostal fellowship had meant to him. He wrote: “Although my present identification is not with that denomination, I have through the years counted some of my most committed family members and friends within that same communion of the Pentecostal movement. And I am happy to do so. For even though my affiliation has changed I still owe a debt to my Pentecostal upbringing that will never be fully repaid.”

In his early Christian life, Dr. Ironside was with the Salvation Army. Subsequently he left to fellowship in the assemblies. I have been told that throughout his ministry, he carried a Bible bound with red leather – red first and foremost for the blood of Christ, but also red for the Salvation Army. Then, of course, he went on to become pastor of Moody Church, but in all my contacts with him, I never heard him say a disloyal word about the assemblies. He consistently encouraged me to continue to fellowship with them.

 It is not that our fellowships are above criticism. It is not that we are in no great need of revival. Of course, we are. But can’t we hear a word of appreciation for the monumental contribution that the assemblies have made to the evangelical movement, especially in the area of literature. Someone described the early Christians as a huddled flock whose only crime was Christ. When I think of the internal pummeling that many assembly Christians are taking today, I think of them as a huddled flock whose only crime is trying to stay as close to the Scriptures as possible. It is not only the assemblies as they are today. The attacks go back to the early assembly leaders.

 The sharpest criticism is levelled against John Nelson Darby. Many of those who launch the attacks have, at the same time, glowing words of appreciation for a more modern assembly scholar who denied the inerrancy of the Scriptures. No one ever accused Darby of that! He knew that if the Bible contains error, it is not divinely inspired. Sure, we do not agree with everthing Darby taught. But doesn’t he deserve a salute for his accomplishments? He tramped for months on end over the Wicklow mountains of Ireland and saw hundreds of Roman Catholics won to Christ. Then he moved to the Continent and ministered for twenty-six years without unpacking his suitcase. He often subsisted for days at a time on acorns and milk. New Testament assemblies were established wherever he went; he was an authentic church planter. One day he sat in a cheap Italian boarding house, cupped his chin in his hands, and sang, “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.” It was true. Darby translated the Bible into English, French, and German. One such translation would normally be considered a life-time work. His collected writings fill thirty-four volumes. His Synopsis of the Books of the Bible has been used far beyond the confines of the assemblies. And even some of his most ardent critics have been known to sing his hymns – songs of spiritual depth and worship. The entire evangelical world is indebted to him for his monumental contribution to the restoration of dispensational truth, the truth of the New Testament church, the pre-tribulation rapture, and the pre-millennial return of Christ. Does a man like that not deserve an occasional kind word along with the vilification that is heaped on him? It is time to fire the wrecking crew and call in the builders.

It is time to balance criticism with appreciation and gratitude. It is time to avoid the stigma of the saying, “If you can’t do, critique.” We should all remember Spurgeon’s words: “Blame comes best on the back of praise.”