All Preaching should be Lay Preaching

All preaching should be lay preaching, since scripture does not allow anything else. All men who are able, should speak in church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Women have other ways of exercising their spiritual gifts.

On Lay Preaching

A summary of John Nelson Darby’s article On Lay Preaching – click for original.  Collected Writings Volume 1 (Ecclesiastical 1)

 

Summary

lay-preachingAll preaching should be lay preaching, since scripture does not allow anything else.  All men who are able, should speak in church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Women have other ways of exercising their spiritual gifts.

The Effect of the Gift of God’s Spirit

If God give His Spirit to laymen in order to preach, if the use of this gift is hindered, there is general loss and the Spirit of God is grieved.  Those who oppose lay preaching must maintain either that no laymen can have the Spirit of God in testimony, or if they have it, the sanction of man is necessary before it can be exercised.  No sanction can be proved to be necessary from Scripture; therefore, no such sanction can be granted.

The question is not, whether a layman might be qualified; but, whether as a layman he is disqualified, unless he has been, what is commonly called, ordained.   No such ordination was a qualification to preach in the early days of the church.

The question only arises as to their speaking in the church.  The only prohibition is . “Let your women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34).  Not “Let your unordained keep silence”.  Paul says,  , “Every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” (v.26).   Does he say nobody ought to speak except one who has been ordained? No!  He says, “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn” (v.31).   So, women are not permitted to speak, and the rest are.   This is God’s plan of decency and order.  They are not to all speak at once, or every day, as God leads them, and gives them ability, for the edifying of the church.

Women have spiritual gifts, and directions are given for their exercise; but they are not to use them in the church.  That is out of order, and not comely.

The Early Church

It may be asserted that these were times of extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, but this is a false argument.   The Spirit of God does not break the own order that He has established.   It would be most mischievous to say He did.  Ordination breaks that order.   Indeed, I believe that the laity is the only real instrument for building up of the church:  “The Head, Christ, from whom the whole body, fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, to the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16)

It was clear that in Corinth there were many teachers, all teachers in fact.  The Corinthians were warned about that, not belittling the office of teaching, but rather the effect of the imbalance; it would result in ‘greater condemnation’.  However, it was clearly not necessary to be ordained in order to teach.  Aptness to teach may be an important qualification for an elder or overseer; but it cannot be said from Scripture to be disorderly for a layman to teach in the church, if God have given him ability.

In the early days of Christianity the gospel spread rapidly.  All the Christians preached: they went everywhere preaching the word; Acts 8:4.  It was not just speaking, it was evangelising the word.” And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:21).  There was no consideration as to whether they were ordained or not.  They were all lay preachers; there were no others.

Later Apollos preached.  Far from being ordained before beginning to preach, he knew only the baptism of John.  Only later, Aquila and Priscilla took him, and expounded to him the way of God more perfectly.   In Rome, many of the brethren preached the word without fear.  And there were itinerant preachers in  2 and 3 John.

Darby said he was not attacking ordination, only the assertion that laymen ought not to speak in or preach out of the church.   He challenged any one to produce any scripture positively, or on principle, forbidding laymen to preach without episcopal, or equivalent ordination.

Even in the tabernacle system, where priestly authority was established, Joshua objected to Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, though they had not come up to the door of the tabernacle.  The Spirit rested upon them.  Moses said, “Would God, that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Num 11:29).   Subsequently, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram desired the kingship of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron.  This was their fault.   These things are typical of our dispensation.  In one sense Christ is alone as priest; in another we are all priests.  This is the dispensation of the outpouring of the Spirit, qualifying for preaching any who can do so – in a word, speaking of Jesus.

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on the one hundred and twenty, who were assembled together, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance.    Peter explained to the Jews, that it was the thing spoken of by Joel, the undistinguished pouring-out of the Spirit upon all flesh – upon people of all classes, servants and handmaidens, and their sons and their daughters prophesying.  And what has been the subsequent history?  The denial and loss of the only power of the dispensation.   The power of the Spirit, in which God would give competency to restrain evil, has been slighted; and human office has been relied on.  There has been the assumption of power, which had not been given to the church at all.   Episcopal appointment came in in order to protect orthodoxy.   However, if evil teaching exists, the remedy is not by hindering or rejecting lay preaching, but by the cordial co-operation of those who hold the truth; energetically sustained against those who do not hold the truth, whatever their office.   Thus the distinction is between truth and error, not between human office and the Spirit.  This is the most mischievous thing that the human mind could have devised.  Thankfully there are those who have been ordained who recognize the Holy Spirit, rather than their office in pursuing their ministry and do not prohibit those not ordained from exercising theirs.

Replacing the Spirit by Human Office is the most Mischievous Thing that the Human Mind could have Devised

The times call for decision; and the only thing which will withstand evil and error, is truth.  We, as saints acting under the Spirit, need to wield the truth as a common cause against error and self-will.   Then God can be with us. He must justify His own, when it is to His glory, and their blessing.   May He by His Spirit guide us into all truth!

 

 

ADOSS Newsletter – No. 8 – May 2014

Walking in the Light of the Assembly
Theological Seminaries
Baptism
Money, Money, Money,

Σωσθένης Ὁἀδελφὸς – Sosthenes the Brother

sosthenes@adayofsmallthings.com – 

ADOSS Newsletter No 8 – May 2014

Dear Christian Friends

Here is the latest ADOSS Newsletter

Walking in the Light of the Assembly

Special Note

Since writing this newsletter in 2014, I have come to it that much of what I had written was faulty. The biblical principles are of course right, but in the application of them we need to avoid what is sectarian.  In seeking to judge one, it is easy to slip into another.  In 2017, my wife and I had to leave the company of Christians we had met with for over 40 years – that was sad,  We have continued to seek to walk in the Light of the Assembly – but that does not need another book.  Hence I have withdrawn this publication,  Please feel free to contact me sosthenes@adayofsmallthings.com.

This subject has engaged me a lot recently, not least because Satan is doing his best to spoil what is closest to the heart of our blessed Lord.  As soon as man’s mind, with its politics and organisational ability, starts to get involved the result is sorrowful.  The service of praise continues; believers still enjoy bible readings and preachings, but is the Lord still the centre of everything?

Some years ago I was on a plane from San Francisco to Sydney.  Across the aisle from me there was a family of Taylorite Exclusives.  I cried to the Lord for a word for them.  In my bag I happened to have a volume of James Taylor Sr’s ministry (that is the older JT – not his infamous son!).  I found there something I have never found since, though I have tried with the ministry search engine.  It read ‘There comes a time when we realise that the Lord is the centre, not the system’.  So often we make the system the centre, our own sect, our little meeting, our circle of Christian friends or whatever, and we protect it in every way we can.

I am producing another booklet including a paper I have written Walking in the Light of the Assembly.  It is still a draft, so I would appreciate yourcomments and suggestions before putting it forward for publication.  I also include three helpful letters by Charles Coates, and one by J N Darby on the ‘Bethesda’ (ie Open) matter.

May we all have a greater appreciation of the infinite resources available to the Church of Christ, and be filled with grace.  We have been forgiven so much, so we are to be ‘kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’  (Eph 4:32).

Theological Seminaries – Do we need them?

There are many sincere believers, and sound teachers who work in these institutions.  There are many earnest young Christians, men and women, desirous of serving the Lord, who attend them, and have gone on to serve Him faithfully.  But is there any scriptural basis for them?

I have looked at a few websites recently and there are some noble statements.  The Dallas Theological Seminary, for example, is very much influenced by the ministry of John Nelson Darby, and has produced some worthy alumni, such as my friend Paul Wilkinson.  It states, ‘The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders for the proclamation of His Word and the building up of the body of Christ worldwide.’  Nobody could criticise that – in fact the church needs more and more workmen.  But what do many desire?  A Doctor of Ministry degree?  A wonderful graduation ceremony in robes?  And how much does it cost?  not that a degree should be without cost, of course.  Timothy was told ‘for those who shall have ministered well obtain for themselves a good degree, and much boldness in faith which [is] in Christ Jesus.’ (I Tim 3:13 JND).  They get their degree by ministering; they do not get their degree in order to minister.

Furthermore, like any college, it is a social institution with sports, clubs etc., and you only need to look at Facebook to see that.  Nothing wrong, of course, with sport and social activities, but are they part of the church?

There was the School of Tyrannus in Corinth.  It was a place to read and discuss the word, and for interested persons to come to the Lord.  If it was a formal school, I don’t think it was more than a place of convenience for Paul.  Then there was the home of Aquila and Priscilla.  I don’t think either had a doctorate, but they were able to take Apollos (who maybe had one) expound unto him the way of God more perfectly (Acts 18:26).

So, maybe the best place to learn is in the assembly.  We are to learn in the school of God.  There is a good book by James Butler Stoney  (1814-1897) – Discipline in the School of GodMaybe this is a good place to start.  Though we had best start on our knees first.

Baptism

This is a subject which creates quite a bit of debate.  Believers’ baptism, infant baptism, household baptism – which is right?  Baptism by water puts us on Christian ground; it puts us into the house.  It does not confer salvation on us.  It does not put us into the assembly (or church) – By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body  (1 Cor 12:13) – That is because of God’s work, and our faith, which itself is God-given.   In an earlier project, I translated a very helpful letter, which I have put on ADOSS – see Why I could not be a Baptist. – Believers’ Baptism – Infant Baptism – Household Baptism – the House and the Assembly.

ADOSS Website

Even after a few months, the ADOSS website is getting a bit unwieldy.  I am therefore reorganising it, using ‘posts’ rather than ‘pages’ and indexing using categories.  Hopefully I shall avoid dead links, but apologies if you find some.

Money, Money, Money

A song of the world, by Abba, I think!  But I really get upset when I receive messages, some in heart-breaking terms, asking for money.  Maybe there is a genuine need; I don’t know, and cannot judge.  I am happy to help a known individual who I have met, and shared Christian experiences together who have a need.  Other than that there are organisations who know what local needs are, and are worthy of financial support.

I don’t like saying ‘No’, so please do not ask.  I will just point you to our heavenly Father who knows what we need and will give us everything necessary to prove His goodness.   Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.3But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:31-33)

May you be blessed

Greetings in our Lord’s name.

Sosthenes

 

 

 Simplified Darby on the Evil of Clericalism – One Man should not Run a Church or Assembly

When John Nelson Darby, a former clergyman himself, published ‘The Notion of a Clergyman, dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost.’ with its understandably provocative title, it was said that he was accusing every clergyman or appointed leader of committing the sin against the Holy Spirit. He was at pains to show that this was far from the truth.

Darby’s issue was that any human appointment, whether by delegation or election, substituted the direct sovereign action of the Holy Spirit, by that of man. This is the notion of a clergyman. The system is wrong. It substitutes man for God. True ministry is by the gift and the power of God’s Spirit, not by man’s appointment.

If the authority of the clergy is derived from man, it follows that anything that is of God, by the Holy Spirit must be condemned by the system and classed as evil. This, then, is the sin against the Holy Spirit in this dispensation.

A summary by Sosthenes of John Nelson Darby’s 

“The Notion of a Clergyman, Dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost”

J N Darby

When John Nelson Darby, a former clergyman himself, published ‘The Notion of a Clergyman, dispensationally the sin against the Holy Ghost.’ with its understandably provocative title, it was said that he was accusing every clergyman or appointed leader of committing the sin against the Holy Spirit.  He was at pains to show that this was far from the truth.

Darby’s issue was that any human appointment, whether by delegation or election, substituted the direct sovereign action of the Holy Spirit, by that of man. This is the notion of a clergyman.  The system is wrong.  It substitutes man for God.  True ministry is by the gift and the power of God’s Spirit, not by man’s appointment.

If the authority of the clergy is derived from man, it follows that anything that is of God, by the Holy Spirit must be condemned by the system and classed as evil.  This, then, is the sin against the Holy Spirit in this dispensation.

To view the complete paper – The Notion of a Clergyman, Dispensationally the Sin against the Holy Ghost – Click here

To download book (JND Collected Writings – Vol 1 Ecclesiastical 1 – p36) containing this article click here

The Church as a Worldly Institution

The word ‘clergy’, or the clerical principle, has the characteristic mark of apostasy in it – that is the substitution of man’s privileged order on God’s Church.   This has resulted in the Holy Spirit’s being despised in the Church.  Instead of those who had the lot of being instructors or spiritual overseers, ministers have now made themselves lords over the people and even the very Church itself.  So people speak of “going into the Church”.

Because this power is attached to the ministry, it has become the Church itself in the eyes of the world.  The world can therefore save itself the trouble of being religious by throwing all on to the clergy, so that irreligious people can regard religion is the clergy’s business, not theirs.  The substitution of the clergy for the Church is essentially apostasy.

It may be asked whether this is not really the sin against the Holy Spirit, merely resistance to Him.  However anything that interferes with the Holy Spirit’s vicarship of Christ in the world is a direct sin against Him is pure, dreadful, and destructive evil.  It is the very cause of destruction to the church.   Alas, even if not knowingly or willingly, every clergyman is contributing to this.

The Exclusive Authority of the Clergy

The Holy Spirit gives the word by whoever and whenever He choses.  But if clergymen have the exclusive privilege of preaching, teaching, and ministering communion, which is what they claim, then in their eyes anything else must be disorder and schism.

This accusation is therefore levelled directly against the sovereign operations of the Spirit of God.  That is ascribing to the power of evil that which comes from the Holy Spirit.  This is the sin (or blasphemy) against the Holy Spirit.  – This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils…whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him (Matthew 12:24,32).

God’s truth is always profitable, and by it the testimony is maintained in the world.  But the principles of the truth were established before their being subjugated by the papal power.  Believers have now to rest on the Lord, or sink into the system.  But dependence on the Lord is by the work of the Holy Spirit.  That is not resting on the official church, so it is condemned by the clerical system.  Hence, the very notion of a clergyman is effectively apostasy and rebellion against God.

 

Appointment of Clergymen and Bishops

Are all clergymen and bishops, occupying a humanly appointed office, converted themselves?  Whilst many are truly godly, there are some who are even haters of God.  If so why are they in that position in the church?  It must be that there is honour attached to the position and that they are authorised to confer honour on others.

Most godly clergymen and bishops will admit that their appointment is not by God. Accordingly, in their position of being clergymen, they are forced either to resist God in the Holy Spirit or to resist the bishops and higher authorities from whom they derive their authority.  Darby ventured to say that the most successful clergymen were the blindest, darkest and most ignorant in the external practice of religion.

And what about the bishops?  Their appointment varies, but they may receive Letters Patent, in Britain by the Sovereign, with the support of the secular authorities.  They, with their invested authority, are not appointed by God at all, but often by godless, worldly politicians.  And if they are honest they will recognise it, even though the system must charge anybody who does not accept their authority with dissention and schism.

Resistance to the Gospel

When the gospel is preached, there is witness to the Redeemer’s love: people are bought into the communion of the Lord’s love, to bear witness to their sole dependence on His dying love.  This witness is by ordinary lay persons.  But their testimony is not accepted because they are not, nor have been brought together by – clergymen!

It will therefore be observed that where there is lay evangelical activity, which is blessed of God, opposition will come from the clergy. Some will even condemn it as evil.  In Britain this will be from the vicars and bishops, in American from the presiding bishops and clergy, in Southern Europe, Latin America and Egypt from the Catholic and Coptic priests, in the Greek church from the papas – even if their numbers fall.

Darby cited a movement at that time in Ireland known as the Home Mission.  Opposition from the Establishment was so strong that meetings were forcibly broken up, and those involved were excommunicated.  This is despite the fact that thousands flocked to hear and enjoy the gospel.  No doubt the clergy thought that it was their exclusive prerogative to preach, and therefore they should hinder any who were not ordained.

The situation is the same whether in Protestantism or Roman Catholicism.  Indeed the status is the same; they are mutually respected,  [witness the 21st century ordinariate].  If one is bound to acknowledge the one, he is bound to acknowledge the other in the same title and office. They are their own witnesses that there is no difference between them in title as clergymen.  The only difference is that one authority is passed down from the Pope, the other from the Sovereign.  In either religion, this is the notion that meets you, as the barrier to God’s truth and work.

The Clergy in the Dark Ages and Afterwards

As Christianity became the imperial religion, the church sunk into worldliness and embraced the world’s methods and standards.  The world therefore became its head.  The world cannot manage a spiritual office, but it can manage global, national, regional and local authorities.  So it set up these authorities to minister, guide and manage the church.

For a long time, due to ignorance and superstition, ecclesiastical offices wielded more power than kings and the secular nobility.   Later secular power reassumed supremacy, but the ecclesiastical structure remained the same.  The world’s geographical secular powers used the church as an instrument to manage the mass of people.  Those who desired to put themselves in Christ’s hand would be regarded as rebellious, because people were taught to rely on the Church rather than on Christ’s hand by the Holy Spirit.  Meanwhile the official church’s – not the true Church of God’s – influence declined.  The church, bound up with the world, has become merely a compound of secular influence and remaining superstition, where spiritual energies are cramped.

The Clergy in the Reformation

The reformation introduced a statement of individual faith, and broke off from the power of Rome and Popery.  But it did not separate the Church from the world.  Outward signs changed, but Christ and His Spirit did not rule.  Darby said he believed that eventually the principle of the clergyman would result in the re-introduction of the power of Popery, since in all cases the religion is based on a doctrine of succession, not on the presence of the Holy Spirit.  No Protestant minister, as a clergyman, can prove his title any more than the Pope can.  It is not a question of what doctrine is held, though in a great number of instances the clergy do not preach the truth, and many would question whether some are even Christians.

The Influence of the Clergy

As a position, the rank of clergyman has an amazing pernicious influence on the minds of people.  This has grown up though its association with the world, and a hindrance the operation of God’s Spirit.  Indeed, it charges the operations of the Spirit of God with evil, as rebellion to its authority, because it does not act within its defined territorial limits, or conform to its secular and ceremonial arrangements. Nor too does the true Church recognize ecclesiastical hierarchy.   Their godly and faithful brethren, acting under the Spirit of God are rejected, and branded divisive schismatics.

The Gifts to the Church

There are gifts: He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:5711); so in 1 Corinthians 12To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit But these are known only as gifts. The notion of a Clergyman substitutes something which cannot be said to be of God at all in the place of all these.  And is not found in Scripture either.

Not being Lords over God’s Heritage

Peter spoke of those who were elders or instructors: Neither as being lords over God’s heritage (κλήρων, kleron), but being ensamples to the flock(1 Peter 5:3).  That is the real meaning of the word kleros or lot.  The only use therefore of the word ‘clergy’ in Scripture is, as applied to the laity, contrasted with ministers, charging them to assume no lordship.

Speaking of “My flock”

How often have we heard that expression from the mouth of a minister or clergyman – “My flock,” as if it were a virtue to think of the congregation as such.  To claim that is a shocking blasphemy, even if not done so knowingly or wilfully.  Not even an apostle would have dared to claim the flock as his own. It was God’s flock which they might be given to oversee – Christ’s sheep – which they might be entrusted with a portion of, a lot (kleros), to feed and guide.  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)

Vicars, pastors or ministers who talk about their sheep, or their flock, put themselves in the place of God or His Christ.  They do so because they are clergy: they count it their title as clergy – they would effectively be as gods.  What will they say before the Righteous Judge?

The Clerical System vs. Individual Clergymen

Nevertheless, Darby, having been a clergyman once himself, had high esteem for many individuals amongst the clergy, and he did not doubt that there were many others as worthy that he did not know.  But it is not an individual question, but one affecting God’s glory and the whole order of the Church.  For the official church publicly has departed from God, and has become what it is, both in name and title.  It has become the concentration of that which, by its denial of the Holy Ghost and gratuitous blasphemy against Him, brings destruction on all to which it is attached.

Conclusion – The clergy identifies the Church with the world, not God with the Church

The clerical system identifies the church with the world, not God with the Church.  Being of the world it is of Satan, and the world denies, rejects, and even blasphemes the Holy Ghost.

JND concludes: What is the remedy? It must be the recognition of God’s Spirit wherever He operates, personally bowing to His guidance and direction.  The Christian will see as the hand of God, in the Comforter who has been sent to abide with us, and works in us by obedience.  As a result we can possess its joy in boldness, against all that grieves Him.  This we do against joining the world, which cannot own or receive Him, and which denies the truth, of which He is the witness.

May the Lord give us to discern things that are not of the Holy Spirit, and to separate the precious from the vile.

J.N. Darby (1800-1882) – Dublin 1828.

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an Anglo-Irish evangelist, was led to the fierce conclusion that all churches, as man-made institutions, were bound to fail. The believer’s true hope was the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. With others Darby gathered in a less formal way, free of clergy and human structure, founded on a desire to be separate from unholy organisations.

Darby, after resigning his curacy in the Church of Ireland, became a tireless traveller, talented linguist and Bible translator. His influence is still felt in evangelical Christianity.

For more on this servant of the Lord please see JN Darby – Biographical Note

A summary by Sosthenes – September 2013 

Simplified Darby – on the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as the Habitation of God, and Local Churches

In this paper, JN Darby introduced the thought of the local assembly and its function.

Most people, Christians included, think of churches in terms of the Anglican Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church etc., and the structures, church organisations and buildings associated with them. However, scripturally the Church is the Body of Christ, and churches the expression of that body in a place. Teachers, shepherds, evangelists and other gifts apply to the whole Church. Elders (or overseers) are local. The idea of a single person, appointed or voted into a professional position is totally of man’s order and sets aside the Spirit of God.

A summary by Sosthenes of John Nelson Darby’s

Churches and the Church

J N Darby

In this paper,  JN Darby introduced the thought of the local assembly and its function.

Most people, Christians included, think of churches in terms of the Anglican Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church etc., and the structures, church organisations and buildings associated with them.  However, scripturally the Church is the Body of Christ, and churches the expression of that body in a place.  Teachers, shepherds, evangelists and other gifts apply to the whole Church.  Elders (or overseers) are local.  The idea of a single person, appointed or voted into a professional position is totally of man’s order and sets aside the Spirit of God.

If we believe that the public church is ruined, and governed by man, not the Holy Spirit, then we should humbly cry to the Lord.  He will meet us in our need.

To view the complete paper – Churches and the Church – Click here

To download book (JND Collected Writings – Vol 20 Ecclesiastical 4 – p318) containing this 

What is the Church?

The Greek word ἐκκλησίᾳ / ekklēsia simply means assembly – generally of citizens or privileged persons.  God’s Church or assembly comprised all believers formed into one by the Holy Spirit. It is viewed as the Body of Christ and also the Habitation of God.

The Church as the Body of Christ

The assembly is the Body of Christ; – his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:23).  It is by one Spirit we are baptised into one body.  The church is still being formed, and it will only be complete in heaven.

Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it“  (Matthew 16:18).  Peter understood this and spoke of unto whom coming, as unto a living stone, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4), and Paul “in whom the whole building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:21).  The Lord continues to add to the church those that are to be saved  (Acts 2:47), and He will have it in perfection.   This has resulted in what some call ‘the invisible church’.

When Christ ascended up on high, He gave gifts to men: apostles and prophets were the foundation (Ephesians 2:20); then there were evangelists, shepherds and teachers.  These were set in the whole church or assembly according to 1 Corinthians 12.  So a teacher in Corinth could teach in Ephesus.  A man with a gift of tongues spoke wherever he was, it was a gift to the whole body, to the perfecting of the saints and edifying of the body till we all grow to the stature of Christ  (Ephesians 4-12:13).  Christians were to wait on one another in prophesying or exhorting.  Women were to keep silent in the assemblies.

The Church as the House (or Habitation) of God

There is another view of the Church, that is the House, a habitation of God, but built by people in responsibility.  God did not dwell with Adam or Abraham, but  He did with Israel after it was redeemed out of Egypt.  He now dwells in the house of the living God, by the Holy Spirit, consequent on Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, His resurrection and ascension.   The house is where the Holy Spirit dwells –  a habitation of God through the Spirit,” (Ephesians 2:22).

That is in spite of the fact that man has built a lot that is not of God.  Paul says “As a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon (1 Corinthians 3:10)That means that there can be a lot of things which were not sound structurally – wood and hay and stubble, fit only to be burned.  However, God has not yet executed judgment, but this is why, when He does judgment must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17)

That is how the church or assembly is depicted in scripture.

What are Churches or Assemblies?

In New Testament times, Churches were local.  Believers could not meet all in one place so there were assemblies in each town or city, each forming God’s assembly, the unity of the body, in that place.  There was one church in Corinth, one in Thessalonica, Jerusalem or Ephesus; in Galatia, a province, there were several.  Wherever there was an assembly it could be addressed as such.  Paul could write a letter unto the church of God which is at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), and that was to the whole assembly in that city.  It could be small or large, from ‘two or three’ to hundreds or thousands.  Elders or overseers looked after God’s flock.

They did not have church buildings – they met in houses.  The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48).  Many houses must have been used, but there was just one assembly in the place and elders related to the whole assembly in the place.  The Christians that composed it were members of the whole body, not the local one, the only membership seen in scripture being of the whole of Christ’s body.

Elders (called bishops in KJV, but the word means ‘overseer’) were local.  Qualifications were needed:  blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) , Gift was not essential, though the ability to teach was desirable.   They were elders in the one assembly of God, in the place in which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers (Acts 14:23Titus 1; Acts 20:28

The State of Churches Now

Churches are totally different now.  Although the Lord still speaks, and those who have been raised up may minister as God has given them the word, man has organized them according to his fancy. The thought of Church of God has been forgotten save for owning some ‘invisible church’ to which the Lord is faithful.  This is sad, because if it is to be the light of the world, how can it be invisible?  It may be more visible when persecuted for there people give their testimony under extreme conditions.

Publicly the church has sunk into popery, or eastern orthodoxy, or Protestantism.  In the latter governments have set up national churches.  For some time after the reformation people were coerced into certain churches, but later there was religious liberty.  This led to the setting up of independent or non-conformist churches, but nobody thought of anything other than systems of organized churches, humanly united.  The unity of the body of which we were all members and that the Holy Spirit was here, the gifts being given by Christ, and those with them bearing responsibility for the whole church; all this was wholly forgotten and left aside.  Truth as contained in scripture as to the Church and the presence of the Holy Spirit was ignored.

In the establishment, episcopal authority is deemed to be passed on by succession.  Furthermore, they claim to make people members of Christ by baptism of water – totally unscriptural, instead of  seeing that one Spirit are we all baptized into one body(1 Corinthians 12:13).  Baptism is to the death of Christ.

Even outside the episcopal system assemblies are formed by men who appointe or vote for a man, or woman, at their head.   Sometimes this causes a division.  People regard themselves as members of this so-formed church or assembly – a body organised by man and acting humanly.  They may be members of Christ or not: what counts is that they are members of a particular assembly.  The way this is done varies but the Holy Spirit is totally left out of consideration.  From beginning to end, all action is of man.

What is more, the assembly has a single church leader, be it a vicar, pastor or minister.  That person, often salaried, will think of it has his flock, not the flock of God.  If gifted, he may be a preacher,  but he preaches in his church; his gift is constrained to one place.  He may even not even be converted, but he has been educated for the ministerial profession and ordained.   His object is to increase the congregation, especially of well-to-do people who can contribute to the church’s funds and influence.  If he does not succeed he may be dismissed or forced to resign.  God’s constitution for the church has ben substituted by man’s and the Holy Spirit’s power and order is ignored, if it is believed on at all.  The results – let us not even talk about them!  The miserable consequences are well known in the church and in the world too.

The Scriptural View of Churches

In scripture there is no thought of a membership of a particular church, or a vicar, minister or pastor of a flock peculiar to him, and no thought of a voluntary assembly with its own policies or principles.  There is God’s church or assembly, not man’s churches.  If Paul wrote a letter “To the assembly of God in x”, where would it be delivered now?  No such body exists because churches have set aside the Word, the church of God and the Holy Spirit.

There are evangelists, shepherds and teachers.  But they should exercise their God given talents wherever they happen to be, not in a nominated church where they are appointed or chosen, and certainly not amongst ‘their flock’.  Gifts are for the whole church.

How should a Christian view the State of Christian Churches?

When questioned, the answer from Christians who appreciate what is right is often, ‘That is how it is’.  Godly, conscientious people are conversant with the state of things, and may acknowledge the principles that we have seen.  Their groans are heard.  But the system makes them powerless. They are hindered by the fear of man, and the desire to be pleasing to men.  Paul said if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:10).  Exercised souls need to act in faith trusting God, by His Spirit, to rule and bless His own house.

2 Timothy 2 and 3 clearly point out the condition of the church in the last days, and the pathway for the believer who acknowledges that condition.

Darby asks the simple question:  Is the existing order of things scriptural or anti-scriptural? … Happy is he who follows the word, and owns the Spirit, if he be alone in doing so. The word of the Lord abides for ever, as does he who does His will.

J.N. Darby (1800-1882)

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an Anglo-Irish evangelist, was led to the fierce conclusion that all churches, as man-made institutions, were bound to fail. The believer’s true hope was  the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. With others Darby gathered in a less formal way, free of clergy and human structure, founded on a desire to be separate from unholy organisations.

Darby, after resigning his curacy in the Church of Ireland, became a tireless traveller, talented linguist and Bible translator. His influence is still felt in evangelical Christianity.

For more on this servant of the Lord please see JN Darby – Biographical Note

 

 

Small Numbers are Often due to Want of Evangelical Activity

The churches are becoming empty: I am alluding to what is common and current around us; that is to say, apostasy is at work, most deplorably so. One has no pleasure at all in the churches, so called, becoming empty, because one knows such emptying is simply apostasy, the devil’s work. But what about the house of God? Is it not being added to? It is, indeed; and that is the positive thing to which one turns with the deepest satisfaction, that the matter is proceeding, the house is being filled with people, but not with such as are unsuitable. Let us never be deceived by the thought of mere numbers. Not that we should not be ashamed of very small numbers where there might be larger ones: for the truth is that small numbers are often due to want of evangelical activity

Whilst we say rightly that it is “the day of small things” Zechariah 4: 10, let us remember and own that our laziness, our indolence, our want of evangelical activity, is the cause of the smallness of numbers in many cases. Let us take this to heart; for this is a great evangelical chapter, and also the next one (Luke 15).

Ministry of J Taylor Volume 47 p 357-358

A Day of Small Things – Not drawing on Divine Resources

Who Hath Despised the Day of Small Things? – Zech 4:10

I speak of this [the feeding of the 5000], dear brethren, lest there may be any assumption or self-satisfaction with us. The position we are in, is a very, very humbling one — externally small, and weak. It is not, however, to be despised, for “who hath despised the day of small things?” Zechariah 4:10. Divine resources are unlimited, but there is very little drawing upon them. The thing is to know how to draw upon them; to be in the secret of the Lord, and know what He will do.

Ministry of James Taylor Volume 19 p 424