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Many dear brethren have understandably been troubled at the expression “the ruin of the church”. They jealously hold that the church cannot fail, and in one sense this is correct. However, we must distinguish between God’s purposes and the present situation where a man is placed in responsibility. As regards the purpose of God the church cannot be ruined, a testimony for God on earth it is in ruin.
We may ask, ‘Is there a church now on earth or not?’
Well, we may say ‘Is there an army or not?’ Suppose an army is not destroyed but scattered to the four winds, there is still an army, but also there is not an army: it has lost its corporate character.
We might think that we cannot do anything about the ruin: we should just ignore it, satisfied that we are saved by grace. We are content to live in the ruin. That demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s promises. I should feel it to be a very sad effect if the expression “ruin of the church” were to dishearten a soul about the operation of the Spirit in bringing blessing to the church.
God’s purpose is unfailing, so the Church cannot fail as it exists in God’s purpose. It follows that there are the resources in God to meet the circumstances of every Christian. Knowing this we can look beyond our failure and the simple application of faith to the working of God’s power and blessing to glorify Christ. Having the Spirit of Christ I cannot rest in the thought that a Christian is secure in Christ, with a present relationship with Him: I must and endeavour to instruct and exhort him and lead him on.
Thankfully, the Lord is awakening in the souls of many saints everywhere the question – “What is the church of God, and what is its relationship with Christ?” At the same time they are being awakened as to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan opposes this using past testimony to hinder the present. We get tired; our minds get distracted but the Lord always has the upper hand.
There are many saints, sound in the faith, who are not prepared to accept what the church of God is as set forth in the word of God. If it is meant that all the saints ever saved will in the end be in company in glory, in redemption and life through Him, and they call that the Assembly of God, I have no objection. The second Adam will have all around Him in glory, as the first Adam had all around him in sin. In our place we have both privileges and responsibilities. The Church of the living God is brought into the testimony by the Spirit of God and has a special relationship to God.
The church of the living God is the body of saints formed on earth in unity with Christ in heaven as the Head, by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to form them into unity with Christ at the right hand of God. Some say that this includes all saints since Adam. But the Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my church’ (Matt 16:18). If there is to be a testimony the church must be visible, so now it is formed of those who are alive at the present time.
We read in Ephesians that God has set Christ above all principality and power in the heavenly places, consequent on his death and humiliation. The church is in association with him in heaven. Christ is the righteous One in glory. God has set up a people in union with Christ as their head by the power of the Holy Spirit, formed of Jew and Gentile. We now have to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
When I look at the Church in glory, I look at it as a body securely and infallibly perfect in God. When man fails, God brings in an alternative. Adam failed; God brought in Christ. Israel failed; God brought in the assembly. The Jewish priesthood failed and we see the same thing in the public church. But God fulfils his thoughts in a kingly priesthood. In the Church I see the bride of Christ engaging an affectionate relationship.
So what do we mean by the ruin of the church? Who will shew me the manifestation of the unity of the body of Christ? I cannot find it; but I can find saints that will be saved, manifest tokens of His faithfulness, ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst’ (Matt 18:20) – what blessing! Israel failed before and after the captivity. Nevertheless, His attitude towards His people never changed. He said, ‘Fear ye not’ (Isa 44:8).
Now bringing it down to our day we find divisions and disagreements among Christians. Does this mean that Christ loves the church less, or is less powerful? That sorrows us, but we are not to be discouraged. A truly humble man is not discouraged because he knows his nothingness.
Some years after my conversion I looked around to find where the church was, but I could not find it. I could find plenty of saints better than myself, but not the church set up with power on the earth. Then I say the church as thus set up is ruined: I could not find a better word for it. The church was founded on the earth in the spirit of the new covenant, and if it fails, there is no judgment as there was with Israel as a nation. No judgment has been executed on the Church of God: we must not confound ruin with cutting off.
Obedience is the only thing in which a Christian should be rigid, it would keep us from latitudinarianism; and there should be nearness to Christ which would keep us from sectarianism. Sectarianism is getting an interest in a little circle round ourselves
At home and abroad I find this question, What is the church of God? One says, The church is visible. What is its testimony? Is it to Christ its heavenly Head, separate from sinners? Another says, It is invisible. It is only invisible because in sin. The false church is visible; the true one invisible.
When in the early 1800s, a few exercised Christians separated from mainline churches, they did not take any official standing.” Blessing followed and numbers increased. Then trouble came in, and so that their little group became their circle, not the church of the living God. People say, we have been too narrow, we must mix up a little. I cannot be that. ‘If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor’ (Gal 2:18). I desire the Church’s entire separation to Christ to whom she belongs – espoused as a chaste virgin. My feet in the narrow way – my heart as large as Christ’s.
The Church of God is responsible in walk and affection towards God, the conscience acknowledging the ruin. ‘I remember thee, the love of thine espousals’ (Jer 2:2). Note that this is not love for Israel but the love of the state of the people. We have one sole object before our souls, Christ’s coming. If I have the spirit of the bride I shall desire the Bridegroom. ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17).
The question arises as to how much one should labour and pray for the restoration of the public church. Ministry is not reconstruction. I should feel disappointment at the thought of reconstruction: if I have the Spirit of Christ I should be sensible of the loss of suitability in the bride to Him, and wish to become fitted for Him. The bride is looking for the Bridegroom and will seek to be purified for Him through “the washing of water by the word” (Eph 5:26), as she ought to ne. We are for Him alone.
Reconstruction is not the object of pursuit. E man might have a desire to be in God’s service. Howeever, if he has not entirely God’s object, he will succeed, but it will be something else, like the real thing, but quite another thing. Paul had to admit that he did not succeed when he said, ‘All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s’ (Phil 2:21). When a man has God’s object, and is thoroughly working for God, he must be a man of sorrows. Paul never got the faith of his fellow labourers nor the church up to his own.
Now I must guard against any thought that I undervalue order. Subjection to the Spirit of God is shown in subjection to what the Spirit of God gives. I am not pursuing that as an object; I am looking for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Still, I do not doubt but that all my service to the saints down here will come in as ministry.
Our affection for Christ is very much proved by the regard we (Christians) have for one another. Love is not put as a test in regard of God but in our relationships with one another. It is no use talking about loving Christ unless you love one another. Righteousness comes out in love one to another—it is the necessary sequence. You have to recognise the brethren as kindred to Christ.
Golden Nugget Number 360
(F E Raven, NS 13 p131)
Golden Nuggets are published by Saville Street Distribution, Venture, Princes Esplanade, Walton-on-the-Naze, CO14 8QD UK
This booklet by Malcolm W. Biggs (1875-1941) was referred to, in some meetings in Northern Ireland, published in my ‘Today if ye will hear His Voice’ series (Not yet on-line). Also referred to was a book by the same author ‘Fellowship, its Nature and Possibilities’. Neither are available on-line. The former is published by Kingston Bible Trust – 2015 Catalogue .
The latter is out of print, and unavailable through normal channels.
As neither of these publications are on line, I have digitised the shorter one, and it is beliv made available here. I would value an offer of assistance to digitise the other.
PRINCIPLES RELATING TO CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
If a path of a collective character pleasing to the Lord is to be taken by us, not only must the moral features consistent therewith be maintained—such as righteousness, holiness, faith and love—but the principles carried out in practice. It will be profitable, therefore, to consider some of these principles and note their practical application.
No believer has a right to regard himself purely as an individual. He has been called to the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord; and if we seek to walk in the path pleasing to the Lord, the Christian’s path, it is imperative that we regard our relations one with another. We have been called into the great partnership of Christian fellowship.
The principles therefore, to which we shall first refer are those which govern Christian fellowship. From 1 Corinthians 1:9, it is clear that all believers are called to the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Hence in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the epistle is addressed not only to the assembly which is at Corinth, but to ‘all that in every place call the name of Jesus Christ our Lord both all theirs and ours’. Whether all have responded to, or answered to the responsibilities is another matter, but from the passage quoted it is evident that all believers are called to it
The fellowship being that of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Lord Himself is the bond of our fellowship. To us Christians there Is one Lord. We must be true to his name. This is a matter of immense importance. We must ever remember the necessity of confessing Christ as our Lord and owning His authority over every department of our lives. If the reader knows of anything of his own life, his personal conduct, habits, etc., business or domestic which does not please the Lord, let him judge himself, for until he does so it is useless, indeed damaging, for him to attempt to take up the question we are about to consider. To discuss church questions when we know there is something in our lives individually that is not pleasing to the Lord, is damaging to a degree. If we are to speak about ‘our Lord’, and His will for us, each of us must recognise Him as Lord, and do His will in our personal lives individually. We cannot be right collectively, unless we are right individually; but in addition to our individual history with the Lord, we have a collective responsibility as forming part of the assembly which He loved and for which He gave Himself. It is to this side of our spiritual exercises, obviously, that our inquiry applies.
TO US THERE IS ONE LORD
It is very evident that anyone whose life is moulded on the On the principles inculcated by the word of God, of obeying the Lord Jesus, will find little real companionship with those whose life is fashioned according to the world; the whole principle of life is different, and practically there will little or nothing in common. The believer, however, is by no means to lead a life of isolation. He may find himself very isolated from the mere worldling, from worldly-minded Christians also. They may separate him from their company; he may be despised and rejected, as was his Master before him. But although isolated as to the world, the believer can say, as the Psalmist did, ‘I am a companion of all them that fear thee’ Psalm 119:63. It is here that fellowship comes in.
There is no part between him that believeth and an unbeliever; but there is a very great deal in common, and a very real and vital bond between all believers, and if our lives are what they should be in practice, we shall find real companionship in those that do the will of God. The One we obey is the One they obey ; and obedience to that one Lord will blend our lives together. Not only does each individual believer know Jesus as Lord, but as together in the same path of obedience to His will we can say, ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’. To us there is ‘to us there is … one Lord, Jesus Christ’,(1 Cor 8:6). The fact of every believer owning the same Lord, establishes a bond between them. We are called into the Fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We must be true to this bond and His fellowship. Fellowship is only practically realised as we recognise in our conduct and in our associations what is in keeping with the Lord’s name.
Hence, before fellowship becomes realisable the believer must be true to the name of the Lord not only in his personal conduct, but in all his associations. It is important to see that we may be defiled by our associations as well as by actual conduct. Numbers 19:22, makes this very clear : ‘And whatever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even’ See also Lev 13 & 14 and Hag 2:11-14 This same principle of defilement by association is seen in the New Testament: see Gal 5:9, 1 Cor 5:6-7, 2 John v.10-11.
If a believer’s personal conduct is inconsistent with the name of the Lord, who is the Holy and the True—he is by that very fact morally, or spiritually, unclean. It is not always seen, however, that if others associate with such a one, that is to say, if he ‘touches’ them, or they ‘touch’ him, they also unclean. Further, if a believer, whose personal conduct may be otherwise consistent, identifies himself with those who are associating with the unclean person, he also becomes unclean This fact is very exercising and sobering. We may have opportunity again to refer to this important matter.
Each of us is to own the Lord and be consistent with His name in every sphere of our lives. If we own Him thus, fellowship ceases to be a mere term, and becomes a practical reality. Clearly, if things are otherwise, and man does what is right in his own eyes, fellowship is impossible. One Lord is to control all. What is consistent with His name is to be recognised by each of us. So only can the expression, ‘To usThere is one Lord’ (1 Cor 8:6), have vital meaning.
THE COMMUNION OF THE BLOOD OF CHRIST
Christian fellowship is also the fellowship of Christ’s death, the communion of the blood of Christ, of which the Lord’s supper is the repeated expression, and to which we commit ourselves by partaking of the Supper, by drinking of that one cup.
As an Israelite who ate of the sacrifices was professedly in communion with the altar of Jehovah, so a believer who partakes of the Lord’s supper avows his communion, or fellowship, with the death of Christ. Nothing inconsistent with the death of Christ can ever be allowed. Christ in His death has become our altar—the basis of fellowship for all believers—at once severing us Judaism, or that which answers to it today; that is, any system of worship of a material or formal kind, and from idolatry, whether in its past or present-day forms. How really exclusive Christian fellowship is! The more we consider the communion of the death of Christ, the more we shall see how necessarily it shuts out all that is of the world, religious or profane
We may well speak of the cup as ‘the cup of blessing which we bless’, but we must remember equally that it is the communion of the blood of Christ. If we are partakers of the benefit secured by the death of Christ, we must be true to that which that death witnesses, and to which we are committed. The death of Christ forbids any link with the world. This is involved in our baptism. It is again forced upon our attention, as we partake of the Lord’s supper. He who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God. To be one with the world would be virtually to deny the death of Christ of which the blood of Christ ” is the witness. The cup of blessing is the communion of the blood of Christ. How great the blessing secured thereby! How great the love expressed therein! It was a love that gave up all for us, so that endless and measureless blessing might be ours. We are sharers together in that cup of blessing; we must together, as one, refuse the world. Any worldliness would provoke the Lord to jealousy. His love is so great He can have no rival, no idol in our hearts. We must not allow another to share our hearts with Christ. To do this after committing ourselves to such a bond of fellowship, would provoke Him to jealousy, and we should find ourselves, typically speaking, under the curse (See Numbers 5). here is a suggestion of this type in 1 Corinthians 10:22 and 16:22. Worldliness among God’s people is very serious
The world has a religious form as well as a profane one. Judaism has its present-day features in much that is current in the professed circles of Christianity. ‘Sodom and Egypt’ are typical of the profane world; ‘where also our Lord was crucified’ speaks of the religious world. See (Revelation 11:8). Worldliness is most seductive when it wears religious clothing. Idolatry is most deceptive when linked with a feast to the Lord. (See Exodus 32:4,5). May the Lord keep us clear of such unholy associations, ever remembering that by the Lord’s s upper we are professedly in the ‘communion of the blood of Christ’.
THE COMMUNION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
‘The communion of the Holy Spirit’ is a remarkable expression ; it is found in 2 Corinthians 13:14. We have been baptised by one Spirit into one body. We may have occasion to develop this side of our subject a little later on. Here we may remark that, since the Holy Spirit is the power of Christian fellowship, anything of the world or the flesh, anything in the way of mere human arrangements in the assembly of God, or maintenance of merely social links one with another, must necessarily greatly hinder the fellowship. It need scarcely be remarked that the setting aside practically of the liberty of Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 by appointment of a minister, or any attempt to arrange the service or of God, must greatly grieve the Holy Spirit and thus hinder and prevent what is normal to our collective experience. Moreover, in the measure in which we in our assembly life, friendships on basis of what is merely natural, links of social kind, etc., in that measure fellowship is hindered, yea, it is impossible.
Our links as Christians are not in the flesh or according to what we are naturally, socially, nationally or racially, but according to what we are ‘in (the) Spirit.’ Here we have a power, the Holy Spirit, that binds us all together, that gives us spiritual tastes in common one with another, spiritual sensibilities and perception. And in the measure in which we recognise what is of the Spirit in a practical way, we shall prove what is ‘the communion of the Holy Spirit’. Many practical considerations flow from these facts. May we not each ask himself the questions:
Am I minding the things of the Spirit?
Am I walking in the Spirit?
Am I endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit?
To do these things we must, surely, refuse the flesh in its many subtle forms, and make room for the Holy Spirit and for what is spiritual. To the Corinthians the apostle had to write, ‘I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal’ (1 Cor 3:1). Were he writing to us now would he have to say the same thing? Are there not schools of thought? Are there not some Christians who are definitely boasting in following the ideas propounded by some Christian leader of so-called thought? Let abandon those fleshly habits, dear reader, and seek only to be led by the Spirit, and thus answer to the beautiful type of Rebecca of whom it is written, ‘the servant [a type of the Holy Spirit] took Rebecca, and went his way’ (Gen 24:61)
To summarise, then, what has been before us: the Lord is the bond of Christian fellowship, the death of Christ is the basis thereof, and the Holy Spirit is the power of this fellowship, making it subjectively real.
Now it is obvious that the character of Christian fellowship being such, it must of necessity be universal in its bearing.
THE UNIVERSAL CHARACTER OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
The universal character of fellowship is a fact of wide and practical bearing. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, America or Australasia, the fellowship is one, and wherever we are we must be true to it. Conduct suitable to it in one place, is suitable to it in any other place; and what is unsuitable to it in one place is unsuitable to it in any other. Locality can make no difference in a matter of this kind, for the considerations are moral, and therefore universal, in their application. Let us ever remember this fact.
Moreover, the same principle has its application to persons. If anyone is suitable or fellowship in one locality, he is obviously suitable for it in any other locality. Hence, in the early days of the assembly, letters of commendation were customary, which enabled a believer going from one place to another to be received suitably by those into whose district he might going. See 2 Cor 3:1, Rom 16:1, Acts 18:27. Similarly, if the conduct or associations of anyone are such that he is rendered unfit for fellowship in one place, he is unfit for it in any other place. If we seek to be true to Christian fellowship, we must always and everywhere recognise this principle. How often it is, and has been, overlooked by believers. To do so is to deny the character of fellowship.
The principle applies equally to actions of a collective nature. If evil exist in one locality, unless dealt with according to God, those in any other locality acknowledging bonds of fellowship with those allowing such evil are identified therewith and are responsible as to the matter, as being involved in the evil by association. Any discipline that might be necessary as to dealing with evil, would have to be exercised in the locality in which it is, as the apostle shows in 1 Corinthians 5; but nevertheless, the acknowledgment of the bonds of fellowship carries with it all that fellowship implies, which is complete association, and, let us remember, association with evil defiles.
Moreover, fellowship being universal, nothing relating thereto can have a purely local character or effect. This fact entirely forbids anything in the nature of an independent or local fellowship. Hence, in like manner this principle necessitates that the action of any one gathering walking consistently with Christian fellowship involves every other gathering acknowledging the bonds of fellowship therewith; and similarly, if a gathering refuse to judge evil in their midst, this involves in its guilt those in fellowship with it. No action can be purely local in its character or effect.
We would ask the thoughtful reader to consider how seriously these principles have been overlooked or ignored by many Christians, however unwittingly. It is not uncommon to find believers meeting together in a place to take the Lord’s supper and maintaining that their fellowship is purely local, and that they are an independent local company of Christians. This is, in practice, to deny the very fellowship professedly expressed in their assumed action of taking the Supper. The Supper cannot rightly be taken apart from recognising the fact of ‘one body’ being here on earth, and nothing is clearer than the apostle’s words in the 1 Corinthians 10:17, ’Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf’. This ‘we’ is what may termed the Christian ‘we’, that is to say it embraces the universal ‘one body’ of all believers, the one fellowship of which is normally expressed in taking the Lord’s supper. To attempt to take the Lord’s supper and at the same time profess to be an independent local company, is to deny the first principle of Christian fellowship; for Christian fellowship is universal. It may be replied, however,’ But we are in fellowship with all Christians!’ Yet this, surely, cannot really meant. Do such mean to that they are in fellowship with every professing Christian, whatever his conduct or associations, be he immoral or a blasphemer or in fellowship with such, or be he linked with some antichristian, or religious system, which they who so speak would denounce as wrong? If so, this is evil indeed! It is true that all Christians are called to Christian fellowship, the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and we should be true to this fellowship, as we have already seen. But are all Christians true to it? If not we cannot say we are in fellowship with them. Were the Corinthians in fellowship with the man whom they were told to remove from among themselves? Clearly not. They had to cut their links of fellowship and not even to eat with the incestuous person. No, dear reader, fellowship means partnership, and this involves identification, and for any to be identified with evil means that they are evil too.
Now that the assembly, so far as its outward profession is concerned, is in confusion, and all manner of evil exists in the sphere of Christian profession, it becomes increasingly necessary to adhere to divine principles. we are to take a path of a collective character, the Christian’s path in days of difficulty, we must recognise the principles governing Christian fellowship; we must also constantly remind ourselves that, as believers on our Lord Jesus, we are not merely so many individuals.
THERE IS ONE BODY
However separate from evil and from evil associations we each must be individually, since we have received the Holy Spirit, we are vitally linked with all believers on earth; ‘We all have been baptised by one Spirit into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13). Therefore, in addition to the principles already considered as governing Christian fellowship, we must also consider the principles governing the assembly as ‘one body’.
The fact of assembly being one body has both a local and a universal application. Though local assemblies are recognised, Scripture makes it abundantly plain that the assembly is one universally. Those who composed local assemblies, as having been baptised with all other believers by ‘one Spirit’, made but ‘one body’; though the local assembly was to have the character of Christ’s body as we may see farther on.
Whatever breakdown may have taken place in the public profession of Christianity, the assembly Of God, as already remarked, has in no way ceased or changed in its vital existence and character. The apostle addresses Christians thus in 1 Corinthians 1. Let the reader pay attention to this epistle. The manner of address shows that although the epistle was written to the particular assembly in Corinth, its bearing was universal. Hence we find such expressions as, ‘so ordain Iin all churches’ (1 Cor 7:17). ‘We haveno such custom, neither the churches of God(ch. 11:16), and again, ‘as in allchurches of the saints’ (ch. 14:33).
Moreover, the manner in which the apostle addressed the assembly in Corinth also shows it was identified, or associated with ‘all that in every place upon the name Of Jesus Christ our Lord,’ (1 Cor 1:2) who, indeed, was Lord both to them and to all other believers; for to us, Christians, there is but one Lord
THE BODY ONE UNIVERSALLY
Other scriptures show equally that the assembly as ‘one body’ is considered as one whole existing on earth at any given time. Ephesians 4:4 tells us that there is ‘one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling’. For there to be the hope of our calling, the one body must be here. Ephesians 4:15-16 again speaks of the assembly as the ‘whole body’ increasing and growing, Christ being the Head. To increase and grow the body must be here. Then again in Colossians 3:15 we read that ‘we are called in one body’. From the nature of the exhortations given in these passages, it is clear that they could not possibly apply to us when we are in heaven; they refer to us here and speak about what has been brought about on earth. Jew and Gentile have been formed into one body, which clearly refers to what has taken place on earth; and this is confirmed by exhortation in Ephesians 4:3-4, to maintain the unity of the Spirit, because ‘Thereand one Spirit, even as ye have been called in one hope of your calling’.
1 Corinthians 12:13, however, very emphatically asserts this unity as existing on earth, having been brought about by all believers having been baptised by ‘one Spirit’. The ‘we’ of verse 13 is clearly a universal ‘we’, and include every believer on earth, since all have been baptised by ‘one Spirit’. Whereas the ‘ye’ of verse 27, refers to those in Corinthian assembly. ‘Now ye are Christ’s body, and members in particular’. Let the reader carefully note this fact : the assembly is one body on earth at this present time: one body universally. Fellowship is one, and the assembly is one: ‘one body’.
Yet we must equally observe that local assemblies existed. We have seen this to be so in Corinth. Those who composed each local assembly were not only ‘one body’ with all other believers on earth, as we have already seen, but local assembly which they composed was to have the character of the whole; characteristically it was ‘Christ’s body’, as seen from 1 Corinthians 12:27. Notice the change of pronoun: ‘we all’ (verse 13), ‘ye’ in verse 27.
The writer of the of book of Acts refers to many such local assemblies as having been established by Barnabas and the apostle Paul, chapters 14:23, and 16:5, as well as those previously existing in Judea, ch. 9:31. These local assemblies, however, were not independent bodies, but were bound together by the common bond of Christian fellowship, and by the fact that all believers had been baptised by ‘one Spirit into one body’;hence, as remarked, the ‘we’ of 1 Corinthians 12:13, is undoubtedly a universal ‘we’. The local assemblies were to have the features of the whole. ‘Now ye are Christ’s body, and members in particular’ (verse 27).
It is to be regretted that a great number of believers are allowing the idea of independent assemblies. It is difficult to conceive anything more contrary to the teaching of the epistles. We scarcely imagine the apostle Paul, who insists so strongly on the unity ofthe assembly as one body on earth in his epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians, establishing local assemblies and teaching them that they were not
independent. The assembly is not an aggregate of a number of independent bodies; It is not a confederation of a multitude of local assemblies; it is one whole, as Scripture most plainly asserts, ‘There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling’(Eph 4:4).
However, it is necessary to see that the administration of the assembly is not carried out universally; that is to say, by any central body or authority governing the whole, but is out in the several localities, bearing in mind that their actions have a universal effect, inasmuch as their bonds of fellowship are universal.
This being the case, it is necessary that we take up our places locally in the recognition of what we are as forming with all other Christians ‘one body’ universally. In other words, we approach our local exercises from a universal standpoint. As already remarked, it was God’s desire that the assembly should not be a universal organisation governed by some metropolitan centre such as Jerusalem was, or such as, alas, Rome assumes to be. It was His will that though one universally, it should find characteristic local expression in whatever place believers might be. It was to be truly catholic, that is ‘universal’ (for word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’), a vital organism, ‘one body’ universally; yet to have administrative powers locally, which were to be exercised in the consideration of what was universal. Hence, as we have noticed, the address at the beginning of the epistle to the Corinthians is not ‘unto the church of God which is at Corinth with all that call upon the name Of Jesus Christ our Lord’, but ‘with all that in every place call the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. That is to say, there was the definite recognition of locality in regard of believers as constituting the assembly in the place in which they lived; yet they were not independent, for they were all bound together in the bonds of one universal fellowship, and by the fact that all believers form but ‘one body’ on earth.
The Lord has greatly helped of His beloved people, not only to recognise that dry are vitally linked with every believer on earth as forming with them one body, but to recognise equally their place locally, and to seek to carry out in their own localityprinciples which govern the assembly universally.
THE EFFECT OF ACTION OF ASSEMBLY CHARACTER
From the foregoing remarks it is evident that action of any one assembly in the early days of the Christian epoch would not have had a purely local bearing. If the command of the Lord was carried out in Corinth it would necessarily have to regarded by all who in place called on the name of that Lord. Moreover, the ‘body’ being one universally, those who composed the local assembly were part of the one whole; therefore, their action in carrying out administration in their locality; that is to say, the action of the local assembly, affected the whole, and had a universal bearing
This principle is of the utmost importance, but, it is to be feared, very much overlooked. If we would seek to walk in a path pleasing to the Lord in this day of difficulty, if we today seek to walk in the light that Scripture affords us regarding the assembly, and to depart from all that is contrary to divine principles, we must recognise, at least, that the assembly is one universally, ‘one body’.
The action of any local gathering of such who so walk, therefore cannot have only a local bearing. If today an individual is under discipline as an evildoer, and is so judged by those who act in their locality in the light that Scripture affords regarding the assembly, so that he cannot be allowed to partake of the Lord’s with them, he cannot rightly be received anywhere else. For another gathering to receive him would be an act of independence, and a denial of Christian fellowship and of the fact that the assembly is one universally. As another has said, ‘If a person is to be received in one place when he is rejected in another, it is evident there is an end to unity and common action. The assembly being ‘one body’ universally, and fellowship being universal also, the action of any one gathering of believers walking in the light that Scripture affords regarding the assembly and acting on divine principles, involves all others who are also walking in the bonds of fellowship.
Similarly, if a gathering refuses to judge evil in its midst, it involves in its guilt those in the bonds of fellowship with it. There is no warrant in Scripture for independent assemblies or purely local fellowship. The assembly is one body universally.
It may be added here that owning these great spiritual realities and principles, would lead us to recognise that a believer is local in the place where he resides. Hence if anyone were under discipline by an assembly and were, while in that state, to move into another locality, if or when the Lord graciously brings about recovery, his case would have to be dealt with by saints in the gathering in the locality in which he is at the time of his recovery. If he is living in Corinth, so to speak, he is local there; if in Colosse, he is local there.
All administration, whether of discipline or recovery, must be carried out locally.
‘Now ye (Corinthians) are (the) body of Christ.’ (1 Cor 12:27)
‘Do not ye judge them that are within?’ (1 Cor 5:12)
These passages put this question beyond controversy. The person is recovered in the place where he resides at the time of recovery.
In dealing with such a case, the few who desire to act according to principles proper to the assembly, would rightly get all the help they could from those who had to deal with the person when the discipline was exercised; they could in the Lord’s name call upon any one anywhere to give evidence to them; but clearly those in the locality Where the person resides would have the responsibility of handling the matter, and the Lord would support them in the discharge of their responsibility. It is well that this fact should ever be remembered. The present state of a person is only known in the place where he lives; and the Lord supports those in that place in discerning matters, for it is their responsibility.
The essence of my current view of fellowship is that it is experience and not a membership system. I seem to discern believers amongst ban elaboration of Paul’s statement that the Corinthians had been called into the fellowship of God’s Son with which I am uncomfortable. It suggests that this is a calling, which is additional to the call in the gospel, and that there are those who have responded to the call in the gospel but have failed to respond to the call into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I don’t accept this. It implies a division in the body of Christ between those who have entered into this fellowship and those who have failed to do so.
The essence of my current view of Christian fellowship is that it is experience and not a membership system.
Paul went to Corinth in Acts 18 and, as was his custom, made his way to the synagogue. When it was finally clear that his message was firmly rejected by the Jews, he said that he would go to the nations. However, he was received by Justus; Crispus believed with all his house and many of the Corinthians, who had heard and believed, were baptised.
These people, from diverse backgrounds, now had the things relating to the faith of Jesus Christ in common in every circumstance of life. Whether they met together by arrangement or bumped into one another in the street, they had a link, related to their common faith, which they had with no others. This was Christian fellowship. It was known to them before Paul wrote his first letter to them. In chapter 1 of his first letter, he refers to this known link and enlightens them as to its exalted level – it is the fellowship of God’s Son. FER refers to having the things before we have the words and I think that this applies here.
I seem to discern believers amongst ban elaboration of Paul’s statement that the Corinthians had been called into the fellowship of God’s Son with which I am uncomfortable. It suggests that this is a calling, which is additional to the call in the gospel, and that there are those who have responded to the call in the gospel but have failed to respond to the call into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I don’t accept this. It implies a division in the body of Christ between those who have entered into this fellowship and those who have failed to do so.
There is the intimation, in this point of view, that fellowship is a membership system which is narrower than membership of the body of Christ. It has been ministered that ‘we form an association and all the members of the association are governed by the same thoughts and feelings and ‘All those breaking bread form part of the association, as we all partake of one loaf.’ An inescapable conclusion from these statements is that those members of the body of Christ not breaking bread have no part in this membership system. Fellowship is thus defined as a membership system which is narrower than membership of the body of Christ. This is the definition of a sect.
There is no higher expression of that which Christians have in common, i.e. Christian fellowship, than participation in the breaking of bread but I think that it must be borne in mind that that we do this for a calling of Him to mind, according to His request. To make the breaking of bread the confirmation ritual of membership of a fellowship, which is narrower than membership of the body of Christ, is to degrade it from what was instituted by the Lord.
If, as I believe, fellowship is experience, expressions such as ‘a fellowship’, ‘the fellowship’, ‘in fellowship’ and ‘out of fellowship’ lose their force; they all seem to me to imply membership. We, very simply, walk with others and find fellowship with them as we do so. The scriptural warrant for this, which includes moral and spiritual requirements, is in 2 Tim 2 and 1 John 1.
You refer to FE Raven Vol. 17 p40-41. Also are relevant is Vol. 18, p.63: ‘I have nothing to do with anybody else save to walk with them’ and so on. I have the impression from his ministry in the USA in 1902 that FER had become increasingly concerned with the way in which brethren were institutionalising. My view is that this concern about “brethrenism” was disregarded and accounts for the development of corporatist views of fellowship.
Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:
There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit,.
The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of God.
The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
The Father in His love has sent the Son to accomplish the work of redemption and grace towards men. Jesus, the Son, finished the work on earth which the Father gave Him to do. He made propitiation for our sins, and ascended into heaven. Now He is the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
As to the brethren, nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated. They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God.
‘After These Things’ Chapter 3.3 What did John Nelson Darby and the Brethren hold?
From our book ‘After These Things – Summaries of John Nelson Darby’s Papers on Prophecy – and more…’ Compiled by Daniel Roberts. For more about this book click on the picture or CLICK HERE
The following is a summary of a letter entitled ‘A letter to the Editor of Le Français’ – published in J N D’s Letters Volume 2 page 431.
In 1878 the editor of ‘Le Français’, a catholic newspaper wrote to J N Darby asking him about what he and the brethren held. Although he did not like writing articles for newspapers, believing that they were not compatible with the Christian’s heavenly calling, Darby said, ‘I have given him in all simplicity what he asked for. He avowed himself a Catholic and devoted to Catholicism. His letter was simple and honest: I replied to him as a Christian.’
Darby’s Reply to ‘Le Français’
Darby and the brethren held to all the fundamentals of the Christian faith:
There is one God, eternally blessed – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus was and is human and divine. He was born of a virgin. Having made propitiation for our sins, He was raised from the dead and is now glorified the great High Priest, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The Holy Spirit, having descended on the day of Pentecost, dwells in believers who are waiting for the promised return of the Lord Jesus.
Darby’s early Christian Days
Following his accident (see Chapter 3.2 above), God gave him to understand that he was in Christ, united to Him by the Holy Spirit. Though he had always accepted that the word of God was the absolute authority as to faith and practice, God had now implanted in his heart the conviction of it. Scriptures which bore on that were:
‘At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I inyou’ (John 14:20)
‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:17)
‘Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost who is in you’ (1 Corinthians 6:19)
‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1)
‘I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3)
‘Having believed, ye have been sealed for the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 1:13)
‘For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body’ (1 Corinthians 12:13)
‘Even when we were dead in sins, he hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)’ ( 2:5)
‘Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory’ (Phil 3:20-21)
From the above scriptures, he deduced that the Holy Spirit had given us as believers the full assurance of salvation. We have been set apart from this world, sealed to do God’s will here. We are citizens of another world, awaiting the return of our Lord and Saviour.
The body of Christ is composed of those who are united by the Holy Spirit to the Head – Christ in heaven. We are seated in the heavenly places in Christ, and are already there in spirit, just waiting to be taken there, our bodies changed.
The Public Church
This brings us to the thought of the church and of its unity.
Let us look around! We see how far we as Christians have got from what God had set up on the earth. Where is the church? Darby said it was not the national churches ( Anglicanism in Britian etc.). In his early days, he had been attracted to Rome. But then he realised that the idea of a sacrificing priesthood down here was inconsistent with Hebrews 10:14-18 ‘For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified… . Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin’. Rome pretended to be the whole, but excluded half or more of Christendom. Protestant sects were divided amongst themselves – unity was not possible. In fact, most of those who call themselves Christians were as much of the world as atheists or pagans.
The Fall of the early Church
The Church was formed on the earth at the descent of the Holy Spirit. It ought to have been clearly identifiable, distinct, separate from the world. Alas, this has not been the case. The Lord foresaw this: ‘The wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep’ (John 10:12) but, thank God the same faithful Shepherd also said, ‘No one shall catch them out of my hand’ (v.28).
In the beginning, ‘the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved’ (Acts 2:47). Soon false brethren crept in, tares were sown, the house was filled with unholy vessels, from which the faithful were to purge themselves. These were persons with a form of godliness without the power, from which the faithful were to turn away (See 2 Timothy 2:20-22 and ch. 3:1-5)
The apostle Paul, bidding farewell to the faithful of Asia, said, ‘I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, and of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:29-30). Moreover, Jude noted that deceitful men had crept in among the Christians, ‘Certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men’ (Jude v.4). This would lead to apostasy, those inside the public confession entirely abandoning the Christian faith. John continued this line in his epistles.
What the Faithful should understand
Paul tells us, ‘Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work’ (2 Timothy 2:19-21).
The public church is a great house with vessels of all kinds: a call comes to the faithful man to purify himself from the vessels to dishonour. In the next chapter, he speaks of perilous times. Men will be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud etc., but also ‘Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:5). They were evidently in the professing church, not pagans as in Romans 1. And it goes on, ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse’ (2 Timothy 3:12, 13); but true believers have assurance through the scriptures, given by inspiration of God, making them wise to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
However, Satan will not destroy what Christ has built, the house made of living stones, and the holy temple in the Lord (See 1 Peter 2:5 and Ephesians 2:21). The Word declares that where two or three are gathered to the name of Jesus, He would be in their midst. (See Matthew 18:20).
The early Brethren
This is what Darby recognised. Initially, only four met together, not in a spirit of pride or presumption, but deeply grieved at seeing the state of that which surrounded them and praying earnestly about it. Darby said they were not thinking of forming a new sect. Indeed, they did not believe that the thing would have gone any further. They were just satisfying the need of their souls according to the word of God and found the promised presence of the Lord.
As the Holy Spirit stirred up the consciences of exercised believers, similar gatherings sprung up. The work extended in a way they did not expect – in throughout most of Europe, the British Colonies, the United States, and elsewhere. As the gospel was preached, the Spirit of God acted and produced soul yearnings that the established religious systems could not meet.
Those brethren rested on the authority of the word of God. They saw our Saviour:
first as accomplishing redemption on the cross,
then as seated at the Father’s right hand, the Holy Ghost being down here,
and finally, as coming back to take His own to be with Himself.
Nobody would be received into fellowship who denied any of these fundamental truths, and any who undermined them would be excommunicated. They are essential to living faith and salvation, and to the life which all Christians live as born of God
These Christians had the full assurance of their salvation They had faith in the efficacy of Christ’s redemption, and being sealed with the Holy Spirit, were waiting for the Son of God to come from heaven without knowing when it would happen. Bought with a high price, they felt bound to regard themselves as no longer belonging to themselves, but to please the Lord Jesus in everything, and to live only for Him.
The Brethren’s Walk
While Darby had to admit that not all the brethren walked at the full height of the heavenly calling, they acknowledged the obligation to do so. Brethren walked in a morally right way, excluding any who held heresy or engaged in immorality. They abstained from the pleasures and amusements of the world. Evening parties would be occasions of encouraging one another and discussing the word. Brethren did not vote or get involved in politics. They submitted to the established authorities, whatever political colour they may be, so long as they were not called upon to act contrary to the will of Christ. They took the Lord’s supper every Sunday, and those who had gift taught from the scriptures and preached the gospel of salvation to sinners. Everyone felt bound to seek the salvation or good of his or her neighbour, as they were able. Feeling that Christendom was corrupt, they were not of the church-world.
Asked as to how many such believers followed this course, Darby had no idea. Brethren did not number themselves, wishing to remain in the littleness which becomes Christians. In any case, they reckoned as a brother or sister in Christ, every person who had the Spirit of Christ.
Darby stated, ‘What is the advantage of this course? We acknowledge Christ as the Son of God and know that we have been saved by Him. In obeying Him, despite our weakness, faults and failures, we have Him as an indescribable source of joy. Looking ahead, we have an earnest or advance of eternal happiness, with no failures, where our Lord will be fully glorified in all believers’
It is over 140 years since the letter referred to above was written. Much has transpired and most readers of this book will be aware of, or be associated with, ‘brethren’ in one form other. This is not the place to go into the history of ‘brethrenism’, with its many sad divisions. Amongst ‘so-called’ brethren (who should eschew sectarianism or any claim to ecclesiastical status), there are thousands of true lovers of our Lord Jesus who seek to please Him, serve Him and praise Him for who He is and what He has done. Human ambition and politics, a state of loveless exactitude (Ephesus) or lukewarm self-satisfaction (Laodicea) has resulted in scattering. Darby noted that when things were left in man’s hands they always fail. But the Lord knows those who are His. (see 2 Timothy 2:19). One of the hymns brethren use goes:
What will it be when all life’s toil is finished,
And we have entered our eternal rest;
When past for ever is the night of weeping,
And with Thee, Lord, we are for ever blest!
What will it be when all the strife is over,
And all Thy saints, now scattered far and wide,
Shall be without one shade of variation,
All like Thee, Lord, united by Thy side!