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Reading 2 Cor 8:5. ‘And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God’. , I ventured to suggest we have in the past put things the wrong way round. It came to me that we have been relying on all that good teaching, the meetings and our relationships with our brethren – and then we have attached the Lord to what we have set up. He has been gracious and supported us, but is He saying.
First to the Lord, and to us
– Have we had it the Wrong Way Round?
If we desire to walk in the light of the assembly, we must always be mindful as to the One whose assembly it is. I look over some of the things I have written over the past few years, even on ADOSS, and see how much I have been governed by a mind-set, structured in accordance with right scriptural teaching, but without the Lord Himself as my prime object. What the Lord is looking for? Soundness of teaching is important, but it is not the most important thing. Being close to our Lord Jesus, and being true to Him, surely is. Many true believers without the teaching have a much closer relationship with our Lord and Saviour than I do.
A couple of weeks ago, I was writing to a brother, and the scripture came to mind in 2 Cor 8:5. ‘And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God’. Interesting: ‘not as we hoped’. Paul commended them for putting the Lord before them. Paul would not have wanted them to be in a subservient position, so ‘to us’, I take to mean Paul’s teaching and the practical fellowship and service to the Lord. That Saturday afternoon, a nearby gathering arranged a meeting for prayer to seek the Lord’s guidance, and I gave a short word, reading this scripture, and ventured to suggest we have in the past put things the wrong way round. It came to me that we have been relying on all that good teaching, the meetings and our relationships with our brethren – and then we have attached the Lord to what we have set up. He has been gracious and supported us, but is He saying ‘Put me first’
The Lord has given us an Opportunity.
It has been a very turbulent year amongst the Christians with whom we have been gathering. I do not want to go into details, other than to say we concluded that the ground of their gathering was sectarian. Many readers will be fully aware of what I am referring to. Whereas we had been in an average-sized company my wife and I are now breaking bread with just one elderly sister. Sadly, we felt we had to leave the gathering where we had been for 42 years and the brethren that we still love. Having been found in the situation, we broke bread simply, in answer to our Lord’s request, based on two-or-three gathered together to the Lord’s Name, and seeking to call on the Lord out of a pure heart (Matthew 18:20 and 2 Timothy 2:22).
Next, were there others with whom we could share full Christian fellowship? There are many gatherings nearby with sincere devoted lovers of the Lord Jesus, but are they gather on a sectarian basis, or are they run by human clerical organisation, or are they follow an open or independent path, not recognising the unity of the body. We can share experiences with individuals there, but cannot have part with them collectively. Thank God, we found three other gatherings, within an hour’s drive, with whom we can share full fellowship. They may be small, and we are having to travel more, but we are learning to work things out in love, above all putting our Lord Jesus first.
As to the future, who knows? God does of course, and it is for us to be with Him, and we are sure that Satan will attack. In the early 1800’s, many believers in small gatherings were moved to leave the organised denominations, where clericalism and established form has impeded the operations of the Holy Spirit. They did not know what the Lord was going to do, and that it would lead to a worldwide movement. It was said at a recent meeting, ‘When we come to practical fellowship, it is not for us to make rules, but to test everything – Is it in accord with the death of Christ?’ It is for us, first individually, and then as we find others, to seek to be faithful to Christ in the power of the Spirit, to walk simply as believers. Then let us see where the Lord leads.’
It is not an easy path. We have not been promised it. But it is a blessed one – and the Lord’s coming is very, very near!
‘Today if ye will hear His Voice’
My wife and I with some who had been through similar experiences (and a few others) met in Northern Ireland in October. I believe the Lord showed clearly in those meetings that there is ‘another way’. Accordingly, I have taken on the exercise of publishing these and other meetings. Under the title, ‘Today if you will hear His Voice’. if you would like a to receive this by email to you please click on the heading below. The first issue was distributed last month – on ‘Seven – what is Perfect, and what is Maintained in a Day of Reduction’: seven months, seven bullocks, seven loaves, seven baskets, seven lamps, seven stars, seven assemblies and seven overcomers (Word by Martin Cook). Two more issues are in the works.
I don’t spend much time on social media, but going for a walk yesterday I sat down and logged into Twitter on my iPhone. Correspondence between two brothers with whom I correspond came up:
The first sign that Moses did was to turn water into blood – judgment (see Exodus 7:20). The first sign that Jesus did was turn water into wine – grace (see John 2:10-11). ‘For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17).
And … 3,000 die at the giving of the law, the first Pentecost (see Exodus 32:28); 3,000 given new life at the giving of the Spirit, the second Pentecost (see Acts 2:41). ‘For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Cor 3:6).
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.
In a brief article entitled ‘What is a Sect’ – Collected Writings Volume 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) p. 362, John Nelson Darby distinguishes those who gather to the Lord’s Name in the light of the One Body, and those who are members of a sect, or church, or ecclesiastical corporation. The latter is based on held opinions.
J N Darby – Sect or One Body
In a brief article entitled ‘What is a Sect’ – Collected Writings Volume 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) p. 362, John Nelson Darby distinguishes those who gather to the Lord’s Name in the light of the One Body, from those who are members of a sect, or church, or ecclesiastical corporation. The latter is based on held opinions.
J N Darby – Sect or One Body
The Greek word for ‘sect’ is αἵρεσις/hairesis/Strong 139. Strong says that the word signifies a strong, distinctive opinion and was used in the New Testament to differentiate parties (sects) in Judaism. The term stresses the personal aspect of choice – Sadducees and Pharisees were such by choice (See Acts 23:8). In Acts 24:14, Christianity was described by some as a Jewish sect. Of course, Paul did not own this.
Darby defines the word as signifying adherence to a doctrine or system of philosophy or religion. It is used as describe Christians departing from the truth – ‘There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies’ (2 Peter 2:1). ‘There must also be sects among you, that the approved may become manifest among you’ (1 Cor 11:19 DBY). The Catholics assumed what they held to be ‘universal’, and censured all other believers by branding them as ‘sects’.
The Unity of the Body
The unity of the Church of Christ is seen in the Lord’s prayer in John 17 – ‘that they all may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (v 21). When the Holy Spirit came (see Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12:13), Christians became onein thought, word, and deed. And in this there was testimony to the unity. Satan spoilt that. In the scriptures the Holy Spirit compares the church on the earth to the human body, Christ being the Head (see Col 1:18). So if ‘one member suffer, all the members suffer with it’. (1 Cor 12:13). We members of Christ’s body.
When Christians unite outside this of unity, around a particular opinion, their unity is not founded on the principle of the unity of the body. They form an ecclesiastical corporation, and recognise each other as members of that corporation. This constitutes a sect. The communion service becomes an expression of the union of a church’s members. When a corporation of Christians assumes a right to admit members to it, it forms a unity opposed to the unity of the body of Christ. Being a member of a such a church is not according to scripture.
Of course, many pious Christians find themselves ignorantly in sectarian positions: they have never truly apprehended the unity of the body. They believe they are in that position through the will of God. But, in fact they are in a sect, a denial of the unity of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor 10:17).
Calling on the Lord’s Name
Darby said that his desire was to recognise all Christians as members of the body of Christ, and from an enlarged heart, ‘receive them, from an enlarged heart, even to the Supper, supposing that they are walking in holiness and truth, calling upon the name of the Lord out of a pure heart’ (see 2 Tim 2:19-22). He would join with other brethren to take the Lord’s supper as members of nothing else but of the body of Christ, not as members of a church or sect. Unfortunately though, he could not gather with all the children of God, because not all were walking according to the principle of this unity of the body of Christ. They were sectarian.
Although the practical difficulties may appear great by reason of the state of the Church of God, the principle is very simple. However, Christ is sufficient for all. If we are content to be little in the eyes of men, things will not be so difficult. We can cite Matt 18:20 – ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’. This is a precious encouragement in these sad times of dispersion. We are told ‘Youthful lusts flee, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart’ ( 2 Tim 2:22 DBY). This directs us in the path of the Lord’s will, despite the confusion around us.
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!
People confuse what Christ builds with what man builds, physically and metaphorically. Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He would build the Church and that the gates of hell (Satan’s deadly power) would not prevail against it. Resurrection was the proof of that. Peter’s confession, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (v. 16), was the rock on which Christ would build his church. Peter was the first stone in importance, but he was not the builder.
The word ‘church’ means different things to different people:
The Established Church (in Britain the Church of England)
Those who are enrolled members by baptism etc.
What is being built spiritually
Christendom in general
The body of Christ here
What the Lord will present to Himself without spot or blemish
Baptism and the Church
No 2, above (enrolled members), is at the base of Romanism and much of Protestantism. A person becomes a Christian by being baptised into the church, whether as an adult or a young child. It is taught that one is saved because one is a member of the church, not that one is a member of the church because one is saved. Immediately after Pentecost, of course, everybody in the church were true believers. But soon the likes of Simon Magus got in, and introduced formality and other Jewish sacraments. They may have been baptised and enjoyed the privileges of the church. But they did not have eternal life, and were not members of the body of Christ. As described in the epistle of Jude, they were ‘ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Jude v 4).
To say we are members of Christ by baptism is a falsification of the truth of God. Alas, many of the early Church fathers, such Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement and later Augustine, espoused this heresy. They may have been clear as to the Person and divinity of Christ, but they regarded the outward body as the Church, and its privileges was attributed to all who were baptised. This has continued. The (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer says ‘baptism wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven’.
Much of this confusion comes about by taking what the Lord said literally when in fact He was talking figuratively. He could say, ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1), ‘I am the door’ (John 10:7), etc. He is not a vine nor a door. The outward act is confused with true life from God. Life and membership of Christ are by the Holy Spirit. We are born of the Spirit, and by one Spirit baptised into one body (see 1 Cor 12:13).
Man fell and was driven away from God. If there is to be a remedy, there must be new birth. We are born of God and receive the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. As we become conscious of the sinfulness of the flesh, and say ‘O wretched man that I am!’ (Rom 7:24), we need a change of place, position or standing – reconciled to God. Baptism is that change of place.
We are baptised to His death, buried with Him unto death. Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, therefore we are alive, risen and quickened together with Him. Death has totally taken us out of our old place; we have died out of it, as Christ died out of the world we are alive with Him – walking in newness of life (see Romans 8).
The Lord’s Supper
There were many sacraments in Judaism. Some have been carried over into the public church, whereas only two are scriptural. We have looked at baptism. The other scriptural sacrament, the supper, demonstrates the unity of the body. The Lord’s supper is received in common – the assembly or Church participate. Hence we have (Eph. 4:4-5), ‘one Spirit, one body, one hope of your calling’ (belonging to the Spirit and spiritual persons, and), ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (the outward profession of faith and the recognition of Christ as Lord). Again there is a misinterpretation here: partaking of the Lord’s supper involves eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood. The true meaning of that is lost. (I hope to address this in a later article – see Address to his Roman Catholic brethren by a minister of the Gospel. and Second Address to his Roman Catholic brethren).
What is being Built
See Nos 3 & 4, above. People confuse what Christ builds with what man builds, physically and metaphorically. Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He would build the Church and that the gates of hell (Satan’s deadly power) would not prevail against it. Resurrection was the proof of that. Peter’s confession, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (v. 16), was the rock on which Christ would build his church. Peter was the first stone in importance, but he was not the builder. In his epistle Peter addresses other stones coming to Jesus, ‘To whom coming, a living stone disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:4). They come by faith and are built up. There are no human rules or ordinances; there is no literal building, only faith. Man’s building has no part in this. And nothing prevails against it.
Paul amplifies this, developing the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ. But Paul does not build either. He says, ‘Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph 2:21-22). Only in Corinthians, where it is a matter of responsibility, does he write about our building. ‘Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon’ (1 Cor 3:10). Wood, hay and stubble are not compatible with gold, silver and precious stones. Man’s work will be burned up; Christ’s work never will.
Puseyism, the high church movement, does not distinguish between the perfect building which Christ builds, where living stones grow to a holy temple in the Lord, and what man has built and continues to build. The professing church may have a good foundation, but its superstructure is questionable. It has been built of wood and stubble, which will be burned up in the day of judgment. Those who corrupt the temple of God dishonour Him by assuming that what they build has His seal of approval – in effect that God sanctions evil – what wickedness! That is why Paul writes, ‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Cor 3:17).
Paul tells us in 2 Tim 2 what our path should be. But that is another subject[*]. May we distinguish between those admitted by baptism and the body, and between the Church which Christ builds, and the sham that man builds. All man has put his hand to has failed. But God has put His hand in first, by the Man who never fails.
So when we come together for the breaking of bread who should we thank? Who died for us? Who shed His blood? Whom are we remembering? – Jesus. Then I think it is best to address Him personally. He loves to hear us
Some time ago I was talking to some Christian friends. The meeting that they had been going to closed, and they started to break bread at another Christian assembly nearby. They enjoyed the fellowship. The people there were committed (I know that because I know a few who go there), the gospel was preached, and in general they were well taught. But what upset them was the fact that the worship service on Lord’s Day mornings was limited to thanking the Father for His giving the Lord, and for His mercies. They did not even address the Lord Himself.
Admittedly they broke bread at the end of the meeting, whereas our friends were accustomed to breaking bread near the beginning, as we do at our meeting. We come together to break bread. We are to examine ourselves and then eat – that should be beforehand. So we should do it straight away (we just have a hymn to the Lord before doing so, to set us together). I know that in Troas Paul discoursed for hours beforehand, but I guess that was an exception. Paul was not a regular visitor!
So when we come together for the breaking of bread who should we thank? Who died for us? Who shed His blood? Whom are we remembering? – Jesus. Then I think it is best to address Him personally. He loves to hear us. Is it wrong to address the Father? A couple of years ago an elderly, and somewhat senile brother – but absolutely clear in the Lord’s things gave thanks to the Lord before the loaf and to the Father before the cup. That is what they did when he was young. We had a good meting. But I would not do that.
Then after the supper what? Is it not a time to express our love for God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
We can speak to the Lord about what He is, and what He has done – a completed work. He did it in view of the joy lying before Him (See Heb 2:12). We can enter into His joy. The first thing the Lord said after the resurrection was ‘Go tell my brethren’ (John 20:17). We can enjoy that relationship. Then He delights in His assembly. The marriage of the Lamb is future, but she is His wife now. And she can commune with Him.
His glory is in the praise of His Father. ‘The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:23). Clearly the Father is the object of worship in the Service of praise, and that involves the Holy Spirit.
This brings me to the question of worship to the Spirit. Some have difficulty about it, as there is no direct reference to worshipping the Spirit. Scriptures like ‘Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it’ (Num 21:17) help. Also in Philippians ‘For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit’ (ch. 3:3). Darby says ‘To worship “in spirit” is to worship according to the true nature of God, and in the power of that communion which the Spirit of God gives.’(Collected Writings vol 7- Doctrinal 2 p100 ‘On Worship’). James Taylor Sr. said, ‘If we worship God we worship the Spirit. He has part in the Godhead, and thus it is very simple and very practical, but very true, that the blessed Spirit, as having part in the Godhead, is worshipped’(Ministry – Vol. 67 page 515). It has been said that if you have a best Friend here, surely you can say ‘thank you’ to Him.
Worship should be spontaneous, springing up by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately we all know so many good phrases and it is easy to string them together forming a well turned out part. Which gives God the most pleasure – the erudite composition, or the simple ‘Thank You Lord’ from a sincere heart?
There has been much good ministry, leading to an orderly progression in the service. But the order is not the thing. There is no liturgy; there are no rules. After all, who is the Minister of the sanctuary? (See Heb 8:2)
PS I have refrained from using the expression’Holy communion’. It is that, but the expression is often associated with book-read formality.
Summary of a Reading on Matthew 13, Led by Frederick Raven
In Matt 13:31-46 we have two parables as to the kingdom of heaven, the mustard tree and the leaven.
The Mustard Tree
The mustard tree represents a conspicuous, hierarchical system. People shelter under it. It is a false kingdom, ruling over the kings of the earth, a religious system dominating the political, and its end is Babylon. Christ never intended the church to be like that, with clergy, sacramentalism and the like. When Christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin.
The Leaven represents a mass corrupted by wrong doctrine and the adaptation of Christianity to human ideas. It is what the Colossians were warned of: ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ’ (Col 2:8). It is also like the fig tree in Matthew 21:19. The fig tree has been cut down for good: it represents man’s culture, and it is cursed.
Where we stand
Raven felt that we are apt to hanker after both of these, but we are to be apart from them morally. Every one who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin, which has come upon Christianity as a whole. When asked whether our collective position is a witness to the ruin, Raven replied, ‘I do not understand a collective position. I do not mind who it is, it is anybody who calls on the Lord out of a pure heart… If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together.’ Somebody in ‘Bethesda’ (Open Brethrenism) cannot be said to be in the fellowship of the truth. A lawless man cannot be a witness to the ruin, he is in the ruin. The mystery of lawlessness already works, and it is only as we are apart from it that we can be a witness to the ruin.
People speak about ‘our fellowship’. Our fellowship can only be the whole Christian fellowship. We must go on without any pretension or any idea of a ‘corporate witness’. We cannot claim to be an ecclesiastical company in any sense. When someone said, ‘We are in danger of becoming a tree,’ FER’s reply was, ‘Well, a small tree!’ I am sure that produced some smiles!
The truth is our bond. We are not an association of like-minded Christians operating on scriptural lines. As we stand aside and, through grace, we find others who are waiting too, and we can break bread together, not forming anything.
When asked whether there was any company who could act with authority, Raven answered ‘No!’ We cannot put away, we can only depart from evil. We cannot act as the assembly, only according to the principle of it. Two or three acting in Christ’s name cannot claim to be the assembly.
FER said ‘I cannot recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, “To none”.’
Summary by Sosthenes
The original reading is in ‘Ministry by F.E. Raven, Volume 15 – page 357’. This may be obtained from Kingston Bible trust or downloaded by clicking here.
Frederick Edward Raven
Frederick Edward Raven was born September 9, 1837 at Saffron Walden, Essex. His parents were active members of the Church of England. In 1865 when he was 28, FER left the Church of England and broke bread at the Priory meeting in north London, where J N Darby was also local.
Among other matters, FER’s valuable ministry opened up the truth as to eternal life and the Person of Christ – which made him the object of attack to this day.
He worked at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, becoming Secretary in 1873. It is understood that he was offered, but refused, a knighthood for services rendered to the British Admiralty.
Mr. Raven departed to be with Christ on Lord’s Day, August 16, 1903.
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.
A 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.
Do what the Lord would have done
Glorify the Lord yourself
Cause others to glorify the Lord
Go by scripture
Do not cause offence
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).
It would be out of keeping with the Lord’s mind if we should assume to be the collective thing; it would not be according to the truth. We are on individual lines now, in the public aspect; but after all, the principles hold – they are always workable; and the “two or three” of Matthew answers our position. But if we lose sight of the whole church, failing to own the dreadful breakdown, we shall be only a sect, and we shall not have the Lord.
(J. Taylor New Series volume 29, p. 300)
Submitted as a Golden Nugget by:-
Saville Street Distribution
Venture, Princes Esplanade,
Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex CO14 8QD