Dear Brother E.S.
Your attempt to help with the problem of church fellowship is valued, but your reply to B.N. appearing in the Forum of Food for the Flock, March issue, gives the impression that each assembly is a separate unit, that each is completely autonomous. Can this inference be substantiated by Scripture?
From Church history we know that there were other churches in Asia Minor. See, for example, Colossians 4:13. Would the fact that the Lord chose out these seven assemblies from among the rest prove that He did have a circle of fellowship nearer to Himself than that formed by the others which He omitted, purposely no doubt, from the picture in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, to which you referred?
Is there not a point here that would lend support to the discrimination made by some when they speak of “our assemblies” and “other meetings”? Furthermore, would not a decision made by any one in that limited circle of assemblies toward those other gatherings excluded from the seven not be binding upon all?
The problem stated by B.N. confronts many of God’s people; he is not the only one confused. A number of us have discussed it, and we look to you for further guidance.
Yours in Christ,
Dear Brother G.
In reply to the letter from J.A.S., received in response to the March issue of Food for the Flock, the reference to the seven churches in Asia, in Revelation 2 and 3, would support the argument that each assembly is in itself a distinct unit.
They are described as seven lamp-stands, not seven branches attached to one common base. This is in contrast to the golden candlestick of the tabernacle, with its three branches coming out of each side. Each church in Asia stood on its own foundation and was wholly responsible to the Risen Head.
It would be difficult to classify them in any way, apart from their association with Christ, because of such evident differences between them. For example, Pergamos held doctrine which was hated by Ephesus; Thyatira permitted a false prophetess to teach, while Ephesus had tried the false prophets and found them liars; Smyrna was marked by poverty and affliction, while Laodicea boasted of being rich and in need of nothing.
One would hesitate to agree that these seven churches were nearer or dearer to the Lord than others. His denunciation was so stern, as He threatened to remove the lampstand of one, while He depicted Himself as outside another.
The only apparent circle joining these seven is a geographic one, formed by drawing a line between each locality. My map shows that such a line would not include in its regular circumference any church apart from the seven mentioned. This would hardly be comparable to the “circles of fellowship” of which some Christians now speak.
Nor would we be justified in assuming that these seven churches were specially favored of the Lord, and so received a special message from Him. Paul wrote seven church epistles, but not because they were the only groups with which he had fellowship. The Inspired Word contains no epistle to Jerusalem, the church that received Saul as a young convert and to which he later returned. Nor is there an epistle to Antioch, even though the saints from that assembly commended him to the work of the Lord. The seven church Epistles of Paul were written because the Holy Spirit wished to send through Paul doctrinal or corrective ministry which these believers needed.
Similarly, the Lord had a definite and urgent message to meet the apparent need of each of the seven Asian churches. Paul had written, “All they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15). Quite likely they would not have welcomed his ministry, whether oral or written. This may be the reason that the Lord spoke to them through the pen of the aged and beloved John.
Each of the seven churches was sent a personal and distinctive message, not an all-inclusive epistle to be jointly shared; compare 1 Peter 1:1. Nor are any of these seven assemblies held accountable for the deeds or doctrines of any other. Each church is a distinctive unit, responsible to Christ, the declared Head.
One would not, however, wish to give the impression that assemblies are to remain isolated from one another. There will be a drawing toward others of like precious faith because of the common love for Christ and a kindred recognition of His lordship. There is evidence of mutual commendation and reception of members (Acts 11:22, Roan. 16:1, 2 Cor. 16:19).
We also have the example of two churches discussing problems that were affecting fellowship between them, as seen in Acts 15. This, however, does not alter the principle that each church is responsible to Christ,
Yours in Him,