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.
4.     Beautiful buildings, ornate robes and trained choirs, with or without the gospel
5.     A system of contention and oppression, having a form of piety but denying the power of it.
Many Christians see their role and that of their ‘local church’ in terms of no 2 above, preaching the gospel, having a good church community engaged in the support of local and other needs.  But think of it – it is an earthly Christianity.  Whilst there are many genuine believers, sorry to say that in some places the gospel has been corrupted to salvation (if such a thought exists) through works and presenting Jesus just a Model.  This is hardly Christian. I see it differently, as should all true lovers of our Lord Jesus.

So where does that leave true Christians?

Christians should do good works – towards the Lord, towards each other and towards their fellow human beings.  They do this because they love their Lord and that is what He would have them to do.  They are not interested in politics – national politics, charity politics or church politics. They do what the Lord gives them to do:  However, they don’t do this as part of the Church, they do it as individuals.
Admittedly, Christians can work with others (informally or in registered charities) to humanitarian ends – the relief of poverty, helping those who are sick or mentally unstable, being of support to victims of crime or raising funds for such activities.  Some of those with whom they might co-operate with may not be believers – so this cannot be part of the Church activity.  Some might be shocked at the thought, but if it is the function of a church community, it might be a misguided one or not even a Christian one.  It is not a function of the body of Christ.
Of course, it is better if those who are working together have confidence in one another.  If they gather regularly from the same Christian assembly, they will no doubt know one another well and be able to work together better.  They may even use their meeting hall (what is a building anyway? – a person or a trust has provided a place for saints to gather)– but this is not the local assembly doing it, and should never be thought of as such,
I could go further, and this might be a bit difficult to grasp. When it comes to testimony the church’s service is heavenward, not earthward (indeed if we look at the testimony of the public church it is ruin and confusion).  Paul wrote ’in order that now to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the assembly the all-various wisdom of God’ (Ephesians 3:10 Darby).  It follows that preaching the gospel, or teaching (indeed what I am doing now) comes into the individual service – the Lord commissioned His disciples to out individually.  As they did the church grew.
The church doesn’t preach; the church doesn’t teach.  Christians do both.
I trust this helps.  I am conscious that not all will agree totally with what I have written.  However I do believe sincerely that it is accordance with scripture (which is infallible), and also the teachings of that servant of God, John Nelson Darby (not infallible) please feel free to write your comments below (or email me directly if you prefer). sosthenes@adayofsmallthings.com  or my personal email.

Recent Website Additions

The Disappointments of Life – Golden Nugget
Follow Thou Me ‘Today if ye will hear His Voice’
The Church with No Name Sosthenes Letter
Dear Christian Friend
I really would like to get A Day of Small Things out to a wider audience.  Please feel free to pass this on – better still give me a name and email address and I will write to them and invite them to be on our emailing list.  Tell me if you want me to mention your name (and give any background that you feel would be of use in writing individually).
In our Lord’s service
Sosthenes
November 2018
[*] Quotations from the Ministry of James Taylor (1870-1953) Volume 36 page 409 and Volume 61 page 176

A Church with No Name

The question comes up. ‘Who do you meet with?’  –
Answer – ‘We don’t have a name’.
Question ‘I see, so which of the many groups of Brethren are you?’ 
However much we try, it seems as we cannot get away from that label. 

Why do we like to Fall Back on Labels?

I am guilty of a serious thing.  This week I met a fellow believer and we enjoyed a happy conversation.  Then came up the inevitable question ‘Who do you meet with?’. My friend said something indirectly pointing to a group of Christians.  Immediately I pigeonholed him into a division of that united vessel (I wish I could think of another word) and associated this with preconceived negative thoughts and doctrinal differences.  The result – our warm and happy conversation was marred, and we went away thinking of differences, not of our Saviour, His glory and His return to rapture His saints.  I owe that brother an apology.

Why do I do such a thing?  Doubtless, Satan has us resting on this or that group of Christians.  We are comfortable with the fellowship, the structure and the part we can play.

This is so different from what we have been taught.  There is only one church – the assembly of the living God, purchased with the blood of our Lord Jesus; there is only one fellowship – the fellowship of God’s Son.  We have confused the true function of the church – something perfect, with its origin and destiny in heaven with what we as Christians can and should do down here.  In God’s grace, we may have been led to reject human organisation and church leadership, sectarianism, the building up of things here.

The question comes up. ‘Who do you meet with?’  –

Answer – ‘We don’t have a name’.

Question ‘I see, so which of the many groups of Brethren are you?’

However much we try, it seems as we cannot get away from that label.

A Church with No Name

The Church with No Name

Here is a picture of a little chapel or meeting room, about an hour’s drive from where I live.  Formerly an evangelical church, it was disused and in a bad state when a few lovers of our Lord bought it and painstakingly renovated it.  When finished they invited many from the area to join in prayer – not to bless the room or any group, but to seek the Lord’s guidance as to what they should do.  I was led to give a little word from 2 Cor 8:5 – ‘They gave them selves first to the Lord, and to us by God’s will.’ (Darby).  (See ‘Have we had it the Wrong Way Round?’)

.

There is no name.  All you can say that is where there is a gathering of a few simple Christians who seek to be true to our Lord in very confused circumstances.  They break bread in obedience to the Lord’s request ‘This do in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19).  Those who go there regularly know the certainty of their eternal salvation and have received the Holy Spirit.  They are not connected with any humanly organised sect – nor are they in that meeting by membership.  Collectively, they do not know who they are, apart from a collection of lovers of the Lord Jesus, and, though bound for glory, do not know where the Lord is leading them in their testimonial pathway. May it remain that way!

May you be encouraged

In God’s grace

Sosthenes

October 2018

Praying for our Leaders – Mrs Theresa May as new British Prime Minister

, ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:1-4).

In July 2016 our country, the United Kingdom, had a new government.  There were also terrorist atrocities in France and Germany, and an attempted coup in Turkey. With the Islamist president and government there, things do not bode well for Christians in that country.  But this we can leave with God.  There was also a political party conference in the USA with the Christian runner-up, clearly out-of-tune with the powerful billionaire who is bidding to be the next president.

There were also meetings of the Church of England Synod, the Canadian church, the Methodists and the United Reformed Church, all of which have been pointing towards rejection of the Word of God and accepting of ‘same-sex’ marriage.

Indeed as lovers of the Lord Jesus, who will yet reign in righteousness, we can be restful.  I was talking to a brother the other day.  He has a high powered job bringing him into contact with chief executives of leading companies.  He told me that there was a state of panic amongst many top people on 24 June, the day after the Brexit referendum.  As the result was not what they were expecting: it seemed as if they were anchorless and rudderless.  It gave him opportunity to witness that God was in control.  So if in the next few lines I cite some areas of concern, we can be restful that for Christians there is always a way through.  ‘Seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up’ (1 Cor 4:8 Darby), or ‘perplexed, but not in despair’ (1 Cor 4:8 KJV).

Theresa_MayAs to the United Kingdom, Mrs Theresa May is now in charge.  On the face of it she should be a practical leader, supported by some good ministers and civil servants.  She should do well for the country, especially with all the ramifications of leaving the European Union.  We need to pray for her in this regard.

Is she a true Christian?  We would hope so.  Certainly she goes to church, and is the daughter of a Church of England vicar.  She admits that her Christian faith has influenced her politics and one of her favourite hymns is ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’.  However, she supported David Cameron in the introduction of same sex marriage, something abhorrent to any bible-loving believer.

Her rival in the race to become prime minister was far more open about her love for the Lord Jesus, as was another contender who withdrew earlier.  Both Andrea Leadsom and Stephen Crabb opposed this and other ‘liberal’ moves.  Thankfully Mrs Leadsom is still in the government as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

There is, however an area of concern, for which we need to pray.  The Cameron government had been working on measures to curb extremism, especially in Islam.  Radical teachers have infiltrated schools and universities, with dire consequences.  This would appear to be a wise move.  However some secularists, especially in the judiciary, have regarded adherence to the gospel as being extreme.  As is the case in English law, wording is often deliberately vague, it being left to the courts to interpret it, and sadly many judges would appear to be set against the gospel and true Christian teaching.  Christians are under pressure, with threats of losing their employment and worse.  There is a danger that ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ could be used to silence preachers, constrain Christian youth groups and even close churches.

Why I highlight this, is that as Home Secretary, Mrs May would have been the architect of this policy.  We must pray that she modifies and clarifies her intentions as Prime Minister, protecting normal Christian activities.  Significantly earlier in her political career (2000-2002) she voted against the promotion of homosexual practices and opposed children being placed for adoption by same-sex couples.  Pressure to confirm to this world must have caused her to change her position on these matters.

Another legal attack on our young people is in Scotland.  The nationalist government under Nicola Sturgeon proposed that every child in Scotland was to be assigned a named state guardian to monitor their ‘wellbeing or happiness’.  In this way the rights and responsibilities of parents would be seriously undermined, and the state would have a right to obtain the closest family secrets.  Moreover, these proposals would promote an anit-Christian secularist agenda.  It was opposed by many Christian organisations.  Mercifully the Supreme Court has deemed this unconstitutional and contravening article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Supreme Court justices observed: ‘The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world.’  We can expect the Scottish government to continue is line in a modified form.

Another area of concern is in the area of education.  There is a proposal that Sunday schools and other gatherings where young people are taught need to be registered and may be inspected by the British Government’s agency OFSTED.  ‘Unacceptable’ teaching such as the exclusivity of the gospel, the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, and creation could be attacked.  It could even be envisaged that this could extend to Bible readings too.  But let’s be calm, with God and pray about this.

Our hope is that with the pressure of work caused by Brexit, these measures will not progress.  But there is always the danger of their being quietly slipped through.  Evil workers abound.  As Christians we are to ‘walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man’ (Col 4:5-6).

As Paul wrote, ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:1-4).

 

Note – for much of this I am grateful to Colin Hart of the Christian Institute – Please pray that Theresa May will protect religious liberty and from Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, Theresa May, our new Prime Minister

 

Indeed Christian Concern says, ‘We as believers can draw spiritual encouragement from Psalm 46:10, in the wake of uncertainty following the decision to leave the EU. ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ (Darby and others).

As ever in times of uncertainty and change, the Word of God offers us profound reassurance. In the wake of the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union, let us turn to Psalm 46 and draw encouragement and wisdom from our Lord.’

How are we to regard other Christians

We are called to stand apart from what is evil. But how do we act practically when it comes to our fellow believers, whatever their background or history. I believe that there are several considerations.
1. Do what the Lord would have done
2. Glorify the Lord yourself
3. Cause others to glorify the Lord
4. Go by scripture
5. Do not cause offence
6. Do not get into a dangerous situation – physically, mentally or spiritually.

walking-in-assemblyA most important part of our Christian life is the testimony that we give to others, believers or not. As to other Christians, Paul tells us ‘Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves’ (Phil 2:3). That applies to all – to one strong in the faith and well taught, down to one who, though the Lord’s, is not even sure of salvation.

It has been said that Christians who seek to be faithful to the Lord should be the humblest people in Christendom, especially if they have been well taught, but have failed in their practical Christianity. The writer can look back to times when he has flaunted his superior knowledge of Christian doctrine and possibly the scriptures, giving the impression of being a ‘superior’, even if not a ‘better’ Christian. He was no better than a Pharisee in the Lord’s time, and even a hypocrite. Indeed, on occasions, he was rebuked by simple believers for what he said or did.

It is not for this booklet to say what one should, or should not do, whether as to general relationships or as to specific instances such as social, family or religious events. To do so would be legality. It will, I trust give the reader some thoughts to consider prayerfully before being confirmed as to what the Lord’s mind is. One of the scriptures that should be considered is 1 Cor 10:28, ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: … Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: … If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?

Of course the guidance that Paul gives us in scripture is in relation to unbelievers. Our fellow believers are different, and it is wonderful if we can share our common appreciation of the Lord and God’s goodness with them, even if there are differences of interpretation and practice. In apostolic times there were no denominations or sects, as we know them today. But these thoughts should be relevant to all our relationships with our fellow human beings, believers or unbelievers.

We are called to stand apart from what is evil. But how do we act practically when it comes to our fellow believers, whatever their background or history. I believe that there are several considerations.

  1. Do what the Lord would have done
  2. Glorify the Lord yourself
  3. Cause others to glorify the Lord
  4. Go by scripture
  5. Do not cause offence
  6. Do not get into a dangerous situation – physically, mentally or spiritually.

The Lord’s actions are well known. He went to a wedding, and it was clear that the hosts did not appreciate whom He was. A tax gatherer was a ‘child of Abraham’ and when the Lord accepted his hospitality, He was criticised for it. ‘The Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them’ (Luke 15:2). Put simply the Lord socialised with others, but was totally undefiled by the environment.

We are told to do all things to the glory of God. That is a simple test. Can I glorify God in the company or place where I am invited? If so then I will affect others – wherever you are. On this line is the help I can be to others – practically as well as spiritually. We are told, ‘Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith’ (Gal 6:10). Such help can take many forms.

Scripture does not give us rules, but 1 Cor 10 above is a guide. Some might ask, ‘Why would you be minded to go?’ I would be cautious about going to something religious, where I might be found in a position that I would find compromising. My friend or relative who invited me would understand it if you said, for example, ‘I do not feel I should go because I would be expected to take communion.’ But if I said, ‘I cannot go because the Christians I meet with don’t do this’, then I shouldn’t be surprised to receive the answer, ‘So you think you’re better than us!’   My friend could well have pre-conceived ideas of the sad history of the company I am with, and sees me as marked by the same attitude, even if less extreme than others. One is never going to help others as to the truth of the assembly if one behaves in a supeior way. It is not the Lord’s way. Do not give offence.

I can also give offence to those I meet with. I might feel free to go to something, but know that others would be offended. This is what Paul talked about in Romans 14. This was on the subject of vegetarianism, but it can apply to many situations. ‘Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’ (v.13-16).

Finally we should not put ourselves in a situation where we might suffer harm – even in the company of other Christians. I guess in this I am mainly addressing myself to my younger brethren. Sadly there are able teachers who teach false doctrine. They might start with what is outwardly the gospel, but are really intent on getting a personal following ‘speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them’ (Acts 20:30) – you will find them calling for money, promising a better life here, telling you what to do to be a better person or a better Christian, or being carried away by emotional responses, not of the Holy Spirit. So if you are being invited to something like this (you can easily find out what they are like from the internet), you can respond with a polite, inoffensive, ‘No’. Your Christian friend will respect your feelings, especially if you can explain, using scripture, why you cannot go the way he or she would like you to go.

See that there be no one who shall lead you away as a prey through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the teaching of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ’ (Col 2:8 Darby).

 

 

Sosthenes

 

July 2015

Adoss Newsletter – No 12 – September 2014

 

Zech 4:10
By Σωσθένης Ὁἀδελφὸς – Sosthenes the Brother

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord

Will He find Faith on the Earth?

I am writing this on our way back from a few days vacation in the Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. They were interesting places, having come a long way since they escaped from Soviet domination around 1990. Estonia is the most prosperous, very much like its neighbour Finland; Roman Catholic Lithuania is the nicest; Latvia has further to go to catch up with Western Europe. But what is sad is that I could not establish a spiritual link with anybody – taxi drivers, waitresses or even a family connection – I saw no peaceful faces. Yes, a lot of big churches, but where is there the knowledge of true salvation? In Lithuania we saw the Hill of Crosses – 400,000 of them in 2006. It was weird. Lithuania is RC but in 1840’s Russians tried to force them to go Orthodox . So this started as a protest movement . Now doubtless, it is a money earner for the church!

There must be many there who truly knew The Lord, but we didn’t meet any despite praying for it. May God work mightily in these three little countries.

Before then, however, we spent a happy long weekend with our dear Christian friends in Gothenburg, Sweden. On the Saturday we were on one of the islands, and on the boat we saw a group of young people from the self-styled Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. Getting off the boat I waved towards them, and one young lady waved back cheerily. Later we were having a snack outside at a café, when the same young person came by ostensibly to buy some mineral water. As she came out our friend greeted her, and she chatted happily for several minutes. She was an English girl, married to a brother from Sweden. Our friend knew the family well, and they lived close by. He spoke of the Lord’s coming and our being together, to which she responded well. As she was going our friend said to her ‘May The Lord richly bless you’. Her reply: ‘May He bless you too’. That encounter was a highlight of our holiday.

God has His reserves everywhere. Just because we have had to judge a system as evil, that does not mean that it is void of true believers who have peace with God, especially those who never went through the turmoil of the 1960’s.

 

Scotland

There were many prayers about the Scottish referendum, so I am sure God’s hand was over the result. Personally I was a bit ‘pro-yes’, so I have to be humble! Scotland has had a major part in the testimony of our Lord. Men like John Knox, groups like the Covenanters come to mind. It has also been a land where party and personal feeling run deep: Rangers vs. Celtic, Campbells vs. McDonalds, Wee Frees vs. Wee-wee Frees etc. Sadly these divisions have affected God’s people. They will be together in glory.

 

Are ‘Brethren’ Special?

I came across an interesting piece from a letter written by JN Darby in 1875 (click here for my lightly edited version).  By then he had become rather disillusioned with sectarian brethrenism, but still felt there was something special amongst so-called Plymouth Brethren. But what was special was what the brethren possessed from the Lord, not the brethren themselves. God could take what they had from them and give it to others.

It is blessed to gather with a few simple Christians, assembling themselves to the Lord’s name, outside the camp (He rejected here), having no name or organisation. Brethren with a small ‘B’.  May that always be the case.  It is indeed a day of small things

 

Bible Outline

I have nearly finished lightly editing JND’s Outline of the Books of the Bible, providing a concise overview of each book, briefer than the ‘Synopsis’.   My plan is to put it into an e-book.  For the original outline click here.

 

It will all be right in the end

A worldly expression, ‘Karma’ they say.  But what does the Christian say?

‘I have strength for all things in him that gives me power!’ (Phil 4:13)  All things?  If the Bible says all things, then it means all things.   I doesn’t say I can DO all things.  Indeed, I feel very weak even for the simplest thing.  But with Jesus all things are possible.  Have I faith?

 

Your exercises

Forgive me, that’s a ‘brethren’ expression.  What are your concerns about the group of Christians you gather with?  We can share one another’s burdens. There may be something that you are linked with, that I would feel is not according to scripture – ordained ministry in any form, for example.  There may be things that you would point out in my conduct that does not befit a Christian.  That is how we help one another.

The Lord is coming soon.  May He be with you

God’s blessings, your brother,

Sosthenes Hoadelphos

 

 

Establishing, or Planting Churches

The object to be desired is the gathering of all God’s children.

2. The power of the Holy Spirit can alone effect this.

3. There is no need to wait till that power produces the union of all, because we have the promise that, where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, He will be in the midst. Two or three may act in reliance upon this promise.

4. The idea of ordination for the administration of the Supper appears nowhere in the New Testament. Christians came together on the Lord’s Day to break bread; – see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 23.

 

Based on a Paper by J N Darby – ‘On the Formation of Churches’

JND Collected Writings Volume 1 (Ecclesiastical 1) p 138 –

For the original Click Here 

churchIn the town where I live there are several churches – three Church of England, one Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Salvation Army. There is a Gospel Hall, a ‘Free Evangelical’, a ‘Gospel Mission Church’ as well as evangelical groups gathering one in a shop and another in a local school. There may be more. Then an old CofE church was taken over by mostly Afro-Caribbean believers, and you can hear their music when we come from our meeting on Lord’s Day morning 150 yards away! They must take Psalm 150 literally. Then on Sunday mornings there is a sign outside of a community hall – ‘Peace and Love Assembly’ – whatever that is. Of course there may be more. And of course there is the little meeting room where I go.   I am sure there are many devout Christians in each one.

Were these assemblies formed as a result of Godly concern as to evil working in a gathering from which it was necessary to separate, and to find other believers with whom to walk, or were they formed through Christians uniting behind a particular cause or person?

In his essay, summarised below, John Nelson Darby looked at the various church organisations amid the confusion that is Christendom. Many churches have adopted the title ‘Church of God’ formally or informally, seeking to strike a balance between keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3), and separating the precious from the vile (see Jer. 15:19).

The Lord’s Purpose in the Gathering of the Saints on Earth

The gathering together of saints into one was the immediate object on earth of Christ’s death. Salvation had always been in place; saints of the old dispensation were saved through the death of Christ. Now by the Spirit we are gathered as well as saved. That is what forms the church.

Hypocrites and evil men have crept into the church, but for that there must have been a church for them to creep into.

National Systems

National churches ensued from the Reformation. Whilst the Reformation brought out more clearly the doctrine of salvation, it did not touch the question of the true character of God’s church. Instead of restoring things to their original state, it made the state the supreme authority, replacing the pope.   By definition, all citizens of a country were regarded as Christians, and automatically members of the national church.

Any serious believer must realise that a national church (the Church of England for example) cannot be regarded as the complete assembly of God. People refer to a visible and an invisible church, the national church being the former and the true church encompassing all believers the latter.   But scripture says, Ye are the light of the world. A city set on an hill cannot be hid. (Matt 5:14).   Of what use is an invisible light?   To say that the true church is invisible, is to say that it has lost its original standing and departed from the purpose of God.

Non-Conformist, or Dissenting Congregations

Can any of the dissenting Protestant churches (Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal etc) attain to what God has in mind in the gathering together in one of His children – universally or locally?

In scripture, believers were gathered in various localities. The Christians in each town or city formed one body:- the Assembly of God in ‘X’. At Corinth, for example, a letter addressed to the church of God would have found its way to a known body. There may have been many physical gatherings in private homes and other places, but they formed one body in the place. God raised up shepherds and teachers in the assembly, but they served the whole. So we have the union of all the children of God universally, and the union of all the children of God in each city or town.

According to Scripture the sum of all the churches here on earth composed the whole church; and the church in any given place was no other than the regular association together of whatever formed part of the entire body of the church on earth; and he who was not a member of the church in that place , was not a member of Christ’s church at all.

Now the unified state that we see in the Bible has ceased to exist. What should Christians do when the condition of things set before us in the word no longer exists?

Maybe we should reform it?  That presupposes:

  1. That it is God’s will.
  2. That we are capable and authorised to restore it.

We recognise that we have sinned. If we set about doing what was right, by being upright out of a sense of duty, that would be self-righteousness, and not pleasing to God. Apply the same logic to the church. We, as Christians, have departed from the original state, and are guilty of that sin. If we undertake to re-establish it ourselves, it would be in the same spirit of self-righteousness, and we would not have God’s support.

Now if we set up another body, taking the name of the church of God, by definition, we would have to regard all non-members of that body as schismatic strangers to God’s church.   So what we now have is a large number of partial voluntary churches in different places, with tight hierarchical centralised organisations at one end of the spectrum and loose affiliations of independent assemblies at the other. The practice of making churches with various forms, has in itself led to the separation of the thoughts of universal and local church. The idea of God’s complete church, has been lost sight of.

 

Can Man Restore the Fallen Condition?

The church cannot fail. The Lord said, The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Matt 16:18). The salvation of the elect is secure; the glory of the church will be seen in resurrection, with Satan defeated. Meanwhile God will maintain the confession of Jesus here on earth until the church has been taken away. That is not in question. Popery would maintain that it has not failed publicly, and that it is the whole church. But that line is leading to apostasy.

Publicly, the dispensation is in ruins, and in a condition of entire departure from its original standing. Persons are trying to set it up again, without any warrant to do so.

Because of man’s sin, believers have been scattered. Has there been anybody who has undertaken the apostolic office of re-establishing things on their original footing, and in so doing, re-establish the entire dispensation, apprehending the divine will, having by the Holy Spirit the power to accomplish the task? Of course not. He may have desired to, but like David in building the house was not able to do so.

What can be Done?

Bless God that the Word and the Spirit still remain in the church. May the church lean on that.

I do not have the competency to re-establish the first condition of the church. I humbly feel the real condition of the church, and this preserves me from activities which are unauthorised by the word.

I have to accept that the condition of the dispensation at its close will be just the reverse of what it was at its opening. Sadly, the wild olive tree which had been grafted in, has now been cut out (See Rom. 11:22). But there can be a revival. Nehemiah saw the fallen condition of Israel, and that they were in great distress. He did what he was authorised to do – not more. He did not re-make the Ark or the Urim and Thummim, or imitate the Shekinah. Neverthless we are told in that he had blessing such as had not been ‘since the days of Joshua’; (Neh. 8:17) because he was faithful to God in the circumstances in which he stood.

God has left faithful Christians sufficient directions for us to follow. And the Spirit of God is with us to strengthen us in the path of true obedience.

 

How it Can be Done.

The Spirit of God, foreseeing all that would happen in the church, has given us help and warnings. He tells us that there would be perilous times, and tells us that we should turn away from certain men. (See 2 Tim 3:1-5) We cannot break bread with all – maybe just with two or three gathered to His name. Indeed the Spirit gives us even more precise directions: he that names the name of Christ should depart from iniquity. Where I find iniquity, I must leave it – I am in the great house (the Christian profession) but I must purge myself from vessels to dishonour so as to be a vessel made to honour, fit for the master’s use. And the man of God is exhorted to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. See (2 Tim 2:19-22)

 

Planting of Churches

There is an expression that is current now (not in Darby’s time) as to the planting of churches. Those involved draw on Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus as to church order and see it in terms of choosing elders, deacons etc, even buildings. Pastors, teachers, and evangelists are gifts which have their places in the unity of the body, and are exercised wherever God has graciously given them.

So a ‘planted church’ from another nearby one presumes that there was no assembly of God in the target locality. This is almost never the case.

 

How are we to meet then?

To do nothing is not an option. But before doing anything we must feel deeply the ruined state of the church, and act with less presumption and more diffidence.

You say , ‘I have separated myself from evil , because my conscience disapproves what is at variance with the word’ That is good: now assemble together. Jesus aaid, ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matt.18:20). However, if you organise a church, choosing a president or a pastor, and by implication claim to be the Church of God of the place where you live, I question your commission to do this. I see no trace in scripture of the churches having elected presidents or pastors. It is said that such appointments are necessary to maintain order. Such order, being constituted by the will of man, will soon be seen to be disorder in the sight of God. If there are but two or three who meet together in the name of Jesus, He will be there. Otherwise the appropriate scripture is, ‘He that gathereth not with me scattereth’ (Matt 12:30). If God raises up pastors (that is persons who shepherd, not an official position), it is a blessing. But ever since the day when the Holy Spirit formed the church, we have no record of the church choosing pastors.

We must acknowledge our weakness and dependence upon God. God is sufficient for His church. Despite the ruin, power is available. Call upon Him. He can raise up whatever is needed for the blessing of the saints. He will do that – have no doubt about it. Acknowledge the authority of Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep. He rules as Son over His house, whose house are we, and the Spirit of God is the sole power in the church. Anything else is pretence, and is under the domination of man. There is no promise in favour of the system by which men organise churches, but there is the promise of the Lord’s presence for those who ‘assemble together’.

We need to humble ourselves before the Lord, as we separate from that which we know to be evil, bearing with those persons who continue ignorantly as to the evil, though I may have to leave them.   We must lean upon Him who is able to do all that is necessary, without assuming to do more, ourselves, than the word authorises us to do. Such is the position, humble it may be, but it is blessed by God, even if it is despised by men

 

Conclusions

1. The object to be desired is the gathering of all God’s children.

2. The power of the Holy Spirit can alone effect this.

3. There is no need to wait till that power produces the union of all, because we have the promise that, where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, He will be in the midst. Two or three may act in reliance upon this promise.

4. The idea of ordination for the administration of the Supper appears nowhere in the New Testament. Christians came together on the Lord’s Day to break bread; – see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 23.

5. A commission from man to preach the gospel is a thing unknown in the New Testament.

6. The choosing of presidents or pastors by the church is also altogether without warrant in the New Testament. The choosing of pastors is an encroachment on the authority of the Holy Ghost, who distributes gifts according to His will.

7. It is clearly the duty of a believer to separate himself from every act that he sees to be not according to the word.

Adoss Newsletter No 10 July 2014

Sinner, see thy God beside thee,

In a servant’s form come near,

Sitting, walking, talking with thee!

Sinai’s mount no longer fear.

Zech 4:10
Who hath despised the day of small things

Adoss Newsletter No 9

June 2014

A Day of Small Things

By Σωσθένης Ὁἀδελφὸς – Sosthenes the Brother

 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

 

Where is Heaven?

A brother said in our bible reading yesterday ‘Heaven is where Jesus is’.   Paul said And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:’ (Eph. 2:6). We tend to think of heaven as a long way away – beyond the millions of light-years of the observable universe. In one sense it is – to the unbeliever it is an infinite distance away. But for us it is so close.

Sinner, see thy God beside thee,

In a servant’s form come near,

Sitting, walking, talking with thee!

Sinai’s mount no longer fear.
A.P. Cecil (1841-1889

Little Flock Hymn Book (1962, 1973) No 112

He came close to us. We can be close to Him.

walking-in-assembly-cover_edited-1
Walking in the Light of the Assembly

Last month I wrote about this publication. Since then I have received quite a number of valuable suggestions from persons whose judgment I value. The result has been numerous changes. There will be more. Click here for the latest download version

Accordingly we are not going to print, for the foreseeable future at any rate. Please feel free to distribute it by e-mail

 

Whom do we promote?

I get some very encouraging mail. For example a sister in Pakistan has translated Walking in the Light of the Assembly into Urdu and is having it printed. I look forward to corresponding more with her, and others she might meet with.

I get some mail from people after money. I guess this is to be expected. I do acknowledge them, but tell them that a church does not need any building, supplies or funds to operate.

But I had one from a gentleman who claimed to be ‘Prime Minister of Jesus’ and one of the two witnesses in Rev 11! Who does he think he is? I sent him the verse:

Lord! let me wait for Thee alone:
My life be only this –
To serve Thee here on earth, unknown;
Then share Thy heavenly bliss.
 
J N Darby 1800-82

Our Visit to Scotland

We have just returned from Scotland where we were able to enjoy fellowship with a number in Glasgow and in two meetings on the Moray Firth   We stayed in Gardenstown. It is sad that the general spirit of these places has changed, these villages largely populated by newcomers and the owners of second homes. When we were on holiday up there when I was a boy, there were 250 in the meeting in Gardenstown alone – now there are 2 or 3 tiny gatherings of souls not in fellowship with one another, or those we break bread with.

But we had an encouraging conversation with an Australian Free Prebyterian (Wee-wee-free) Minister who we met on a train.

 

And a Tragedy

 

Bruce Pye d. 2014
Bruce Pye d. 201

Many readers will be sorrowing over the sad home-going of Bruce Pye, a young man killed in a bike accident last Saturday in New York. Two sisters from our gathering have gone to the funeral. It is easy to say ‘with Christ which is far better’ when we are talking about a demented person in their nineties. When it comes to a young man of 34, do we really believe it? I hear he gave a word that week on being ready to see Jesus. He was ready; are we?

 

God’s blessings

Sosthenes Hoadelphos

The Spirit in which we should be when the Church is Forced to Exercise Discipline

We ought to remember what we are in ourselves, when we talk about exercising discipline – it is an amazingly solemn thing. When I reflect, that I am a poor sinner, saved by mere mercy, standing only in Jesus Christ for acceptance, in myself vile, it is, evidently, an awful thing to take discipline into my own hands.

Excerpts from a Paper by J N Darby entitled ‘On Discipline’

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

We ought to remember what we are in ourselves, when we talk about exercising discipline – it is an amazingly solemn thing. When I reflect, that I am a poor sinner, saved by mere mercy, standing only in Jesus Christ for acceptance, in myself vile, it is, evidently, an awful thing to take discipline into my own hands.

But the church may be forced to exercise discipline, as in the case of the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 5. I believe there is never a case of church discipline but to the shame of the whole body. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul says, “Ye have not mourned,” etc.: they all were identified with it. Like some sore on a man’s body, it tells of the disease of the body, of the constitutional condition. The assembly is never prepared, or in the place to exercise discipline, unless having first identified itself with the sin of the individual. If it does not do it in that way, it takes a judicial form, which will not be the ministration of the grace of Christ. Its priestly character in the present dispensation is one of grace.

All discipline until the last act is restorative. The act of putting outside, of excommunication, is not (properly speaking) discipline, but the saying that discipline is ineffective, and there is an end of it; the church says, “I can do no more.”

As to the nature of all this, the spirit in which it should be conducted, it is priestly; and the priests ate the sin-offering within the holy place, Lev. 10. I do not think any person or body of Christians can exercise discipline, unless as having the conscience clear, as having felt the power of the evil and sin before God, as if he had himself committed it. If that which is done is not done in the power of the Holy Ghost, it is nothing.

It is a terrible thing to hear sinners talking about judging another sinner, sinners judging sinners, but a blessed thing to see them exercised in conscience about sin come in among themselves. It must be in grace. I no more dare act, save in grace, than I could wish judgment to myself. “Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again,” Matt. 7:1, 2. If we go to exercise judgment, we shall get it.

 

The full paper is published in JND’s Collected Writings Vol. 1 Ecclesiastical 1 page 338.

 

J N Darby – Nearness to Christ and Its Effect (Humility)

We need to watch ourselves, lest, after having been preserved from the corruption of the age by the very precious truths revealed to us in our weakness, we should be taken in the net of presumption, or thrown into insubordination. These are things which God can never recognise or tolerate, since we are called to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

This article by John Nelson Darby was published in JND’s Collected Writings Miscellaneous 5.

This is a more recent collection of papers by JND, and is available from Bible Truth Publishers, Addison, IL 
Lightly edited by Sosthenes
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.’ (Psalm 126:5); ‘
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.(Matthew 18:20)

 

Man’s pretensions and energy manifest themselves strongly,  But to learn to be still in a clay of grace, and know that God is God, is completely above the education of the flesh.

The spirit of the age affects many Christians, who labour to restore old things for the service of God.  They should be broken before Him with the sense of their downfall.

To confess openly that which we are in the presence of that which God is, is always the way to peace and blessing.  Even when only two or three are together before God, there will be no disappointments nor deluded hopes.  God’s word for the remnant is, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”  (1 Peter 3:15)  He is the only centre of gathering.

The Holy Spirit does not gather saints around mere views, however true they may be.  It is not q question of what the church on the earth is, or has been,  or may yet be;  He always gathers saints around that blessed Person, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt. 18:20.

We need to be watchful against boasting, as people do in these days.  We need to be still, in the presence of God.  There is much independence and self-will almost everywhere.

If anyone speaks of separation from evil, without being humiliated, let him take care lest his position becomes simply sectarian, and produces doctrinal heresy. Sectarianism is the most natural weed of the human heart.  (Sectarianism is getting an interest in a little circle round ourselves.)   Nearness to Christ would keep us from that.

Now I know, at the present time, of no service which is worthy of Him, if it is not done in humiliation.  This is not the time to speak of a place for ourselves.  If the church of God, so dear to Christ, is dishonoured in this world; if it is scattered, ignorant, afflicted, the person who has the mind of Christ will always take the lowest place.  True service of love will seek to give according to the need, and because of the need, he will never think of slighting the objects of the Master’s love because of their necessity.

Men taught of God, for His service, go forth from a place of strength, where they have learned their own weakness and their own nothingness.  They find that Jesus is everything in the presence of God, and Jesus is everything for them in all things, and everywhere.  Such men, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, are real helps for the children of God, and they will not contend for a place, or a distinction, or for authority, among the scattered flock.   A man in communion with God about the church will show his willingness to be nothing in himself, and he rejoice in his heart to spend and to be spent.   He is faithful in the path of separation, in sorrow, and in the conflicts he is obliged to pass through.

When persons think of the church, they would rather think of the church in power.  We can learn from the conduct of Zerubbabel, recounted in the book of Ezra.  Also, despite the position Solomon had occupied, as heir,  in days of his prosperity and glory, he did not speak of either his birth or his rights.

If we speak of our testimony upon the earth, it will soon be evident that totally in weakness.   Like the seed by the wayside, the testimony will likewise ends in shame.

Neither the anger,  prudence, or pretensions of man can do anything, in the state of confusion in which the church is now.  I freely own that I have no hope in the efforts which many make to assure themselves an ecclesiastical position.  When the house is ruined in its foundations by an earthquake, it matters little how one tries to make it an agreeable dwelling place.  We had better remain where we first discovered of the ruin of things by man’s action – with our faces in the dust.  S uch is the place which belongs to us by right,  After all, it is the place of blessing.

I have read of a time when several were gathered together in such sorrow of heart, that for a long time they could not utter a single word; but the floor of the meeting room was wet with their tears. If the Lord would grant us such meetings again, it would be our wisdom to frequent these houses of tears. “They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy.” Psa. 126:5.

This is not just true for the earthly remnant;  it is also written for us.  I would willingly take a long journey to join these afflicted ones; but I would not go a step to to receive power from men, however excellent,  to overturn the present and reconstruct the future.

J.N.D.

Lightly edited by Sosthenes – May 2014

I am indebted to our brother Jeff in Illinois for bringing this article to my attention.  S.

Summaries and Light Editing

Here are a few note to bear in mind wen reading A Day of Small Things.

Some articles are shown in full – this applies to letters, poems and some articles, especially those not by J N Darby. If no indication is shown then you may assume that the article is reproduced in full and unedited.

Here are  a few note to bear in mind wen reading A Day of Small Things.

Some articles are shown in full – this applies to letters, poems and some articles, especially those not by J N Darby.  If no indication is shown then you may assume that the article is reproduced in full and unedited.

Light Editing

These articles have been subject to very minor editing.  Darby’s writings are often difficult to follow, especially for a 21st century reader.  There is archaic language, construction and spelling; words have been changed.  There are some very long sentences; these have been broken up, sometimes with changed sequence to make it easier for the modern reader.  Often he was writing for the benefit of learned academics or clerics, so additional references are given to ensure the item is intelligible.  It is still safe, in the author’s opinion, to quote from this, though you would be well advised to check with the original, generally on the Stem Publishing website.  We have kept the same titles and headings.

Summaries – Darby Simplified

Here, we have substantially rewritten articles.  With God’s help we trust we have preserved the meaning (comments always welcome!), and not left out anything significant, and kept to the same dignified style as the original.  However the length of the article will have been reduced by 60-70%, and the language simplified.  We try to keep to a consistent person and tense; Darby changes frequently from ‘we’ to ‘you’ and from past to present.  Sentences which are well written and clear may be reproduced unchanged.

The reader should use the utmost care in quoting from these summaries.  I have no objection to your doing so, but please make it clear that you are quoting from an ADOSS summary.  NEVER make it look as if you are quoting from the original.

It is for that reason that I change the tittle of a summary.  For example JND’s ‘The Faith once delivered to the Saints’ is rendered ‘Knowing where we are, and what God wants us to do, in the Confused State of Christendom’.

 

May you be blessed in reading ADOSS.  Whatever happens, keep near the Lord

Sosthenes

May 2014