Our Collective Testimony from F E Raven

Last Lord’s Day the Lord took our brother Mark Lemon of Sevenoaks to be with Himself.  Many readers will have known Mark, not least as editor of the magazine ‘Living Water’, and also for managing the Stone Publishing Trust, a distributor of bibles, tracts and current and old ministry.  I knew Mark for over 60 years:  he was a very dear brother for whom I have had much affection and esteem, who served the Lord well.  He will be sorely missed by his dear wife Monica (they celebrated their golden wedding recently), the gathering in Sevenoaks and many throughout the world who received encouragement from him.

Handing on the Torch

In 1994 Mark Lemon compiled a book entitled ‘Handing on the Torch[i]’ comprising extracts from the Ministry of F E Raven.  I know some readers of A Day of Small Things have problems with certain aspects of F E Raven’s ministry, and I do not want to get into a discussion about other subjects here. I just ask my readers to consider without prejudice some of the things he said as to the church and collective Christian experience.  He was very much set against claiming positions – something that brought him into conflict with big-B Brethren.

Some Selections from Mark’s Book.

Here are some selections from Mark’s book.

Frederick Raven

The church is in ruins; and I am sure we ought to be more under the burden of this than we are. I have felt how little sense I have of the defection of the church, of how far the church is from the mind of God in regard to it. . . . The fact is we have had far too much in our thoughts the idea of setting up an expression of the original, and have been pretty much contented with it. That means that we are losing sight of the ruin of the church. From F E Raven: Fellowship, Privilege and Testimony[ii]

The tendency with man, if he has any sense of the failure of the church, is to begin again, to try and set up a sort of pattern of what the church originally was. It has been said that if we are a testimony to anything it is to the ruin of the church, but people do not quite like that, they want to be ‘a local expression’ of something. . . . If you have apprehended the ruin you can stand apart from what is contrary to the Lord, and be guided by the light which was from the beginning, without making any pretension to ecclesiastical order.  F E Raven: Notes of Readings on Romans – Chapter 8[iii]

We cannot return to the power, to that which was at the beginning; but even in recognising that the Holy Spirit is still here, we get great good. The remnant in Malachi could not go back to the Solomon state of things. If Christianity could be set up as at the beginning, it would only fail again. It is a great assumption to imagine that we can set up a representation of the church, From ‘The Divine Side of “in Christ” and its Effect in the Saints’[iv]

I decline altogether the idea of attaching any peculiar value to a particular company because that company holds something distinctive. The only value of any company in the present dispensation is that they return to what was from the outset; that is that they represent morally the church as before Christ.   From The Holy City Jerusalem[v]

If you ask me what Christianity really is, I should say it is Christ formed in the saints by the Spirit. It is not holding a certain system of doctrine.  . . .  I cannot conceive of anything more wonderful than to be able to say that the spiritual constitution of the believer is really derived from the heavenly, so that it can really be said,‘As is the heavenly, such are they also which are heavenly’. From The Last Adam[vi]

 

Conclusions

From the above, there are a number of significant points.

  1. The church is in ruins and we are to feel our own part in it.
  2. We cannot correct it by setting up a new representation as to what was from the beginning (I personally have recently got help as to this one)
  3. If we did it would fail again, and we would fall back into sectarianism with its structure and formality
  4. We should not claim to have anything distinctive, setting us apart from other believers
  5. We need to recognise that we derive from what is heavenly, so our gathering should reflect that.

Increasingly, I have come to the conclusion that, if the Lord has, in His goodness and wisdom has put a few simple believers together enjoying assembly privilege, they are to reflect Christians in testimony, valuing all believers equally.  As the Lord said, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’John 13:35

 

Affectionately in our Lord

Daniel Roberts (a.k.a Sosthenes)

 

 

[i]Available from Stone Publishing Trust, or Bibles Etc,

[ii]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 1 page61, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[iii]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 9 page 449, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[iv]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 14 page 248, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[v]Ministry of F E Raven Vol 8 page 149, available from Kingston Bible Trust

[vi]Ministry of F E Raven vol 19 page 55, available from Kingston Bible Trust

What is the Heavenly Vision or Call of the Church?

Recently a brother wrote to me needing to answer the following question:
What is the heavenly vision or call of the church?   People I speak to want to know what is the purpose of the church?  I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking about this question, but what is the best approach or angle to take when answering?  I believe it’s a very important question that I should be able to answer when I’m asked.
This question affects a lot of things. What should be our focus as a local church? The gospel, soup kitchens, ending poverty (social gospel), trying to change culture, etc.

My answer: The true Church – and what it is in the Sight of Men

I have been giving more thought to this question.  We need to see what the church is in the sight of Christ – which is the true Church – and what it is in the sight of men – a religion here.
Before starting, Christians must realise that their calling is a heavenly one.  ‘Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus’ (Heb 3:1).
The Greek word ἐκκλησίᾳ /ekklēsia/Strong 1577 .  The word implies people called out from the world and to God, the outcome being the Church or assembly comprised of all believers formed into one by the Holy Spirit. It is viewed as the body of Christ and also the habitation of God.  In a more general sense. it meant simply assembly – e.g. calling together for a civil function.  Incidentally, the English word ‘church’ or German ‘Kirche’ comes from the Greek word κυριακός/kyriakos/Strong 2960, ‘belonging to the Lord’ (kyrios), the French ‘église’ from ‘ekklēsia’.  The Hebrew word ‘קָהָל/qahal/Strong H6951’ has a similar meaning.
We must recognise the direct role of the Spirit of God.  It has been said that the Holy Spirit ‘is here; but He has taken a lowly place, . . .and has been here on earth for over 1,900 years in that lowliness. He maintains what is due to God according to what God is in heaven; there is a perfect answer to that in the presence of the Spirit down here, and the Spirit is here in the assembly; and that brings out the greatness of the assembly’s place too, but nevertheless the assembly is never part of the Deity.’  and ‘The assembly is nearest to Deity in the whole realm. What is sovereign is seen in the assembly.’ [*]  That being the case what has the assembly to do with the things of this world?

The Church in the Sight of Christ

The church is a perfect vessel (for the want of a better word), formed exclusively of saints worked on by the Spirit of God, apart from sin.  It has been said that it is of heaven in origin and destiny.  It is here in the body of Christ and its hope is totally towards Jesus – as a bride is towards her bridegroom.  Her desire is to be with Him – and therefore has no part here.  But she does care for His interests here.  His interests are what is for Him, His glory and to worship the Father, and for the members of His body to point to Him.  The church’s view is God-ward, not man-ward.
Ministry is for those of the church universally (as there is only one church) – ‘we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness’. (Romans 12:5-7)
The fact that it is ‘called out’ is important.  If it is ‘called out’ it cannot be ‘part of’.  Over the centuries Christians have been called out of every other religious organisation – in the earliest days Judaism and paganism, later Catholicism, later nationally established churches, later clericalism, and more recently social liberalism, charismatic Christendom or systematic legalism.  Importantly, if we are called out of something, we cannot reform it.  It is in the attempt to reform the old lump that Christians have become unstuck.
2 Corinthians 6:14-17 makes this clear ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.’
This brings me to:

The Church in the Sight of Man

This is something different, and different people will have different ideas.
1.     A group of disparate organisations with common central beliefs and many interpretations, grouped together loosely for example in the World Council of Churches – sometimes preaching the gospel.
2 A humanitarian force for good, seeking to make the world a better place, while preaching a gospel, but not always the gospel.
3.     A place of religious exhilaration and excitement with rousing music – usually with the gospel but this is sometimes distorted – or a liberal ‘inclusive’ community – no matter what the bible says.