A CHURCH PREMISE FOR THE CHRISTIAN PATH
Thoughts By R. L. DeWitt
We need to speak plainly about God's testimony in the world, and know how the Church should comport itself until the Lord returns. Surely it should be obedient and faithful. This paper is not about something new, but sets forth THE FOUNDATION from the Word of God. It also speaks of that revival of early 1800 AD, when church truth was recovered and raised up out of the denominated sects and systems that prevailed. Some believers have continued the testimony from that time to maintain that good work, and this paper speaks some on that universal testimony of BIBLE-ONLY for God's honor and glory, and our profit.
Some believers often agree with general principles in God's Word, but fail to apply them. They fail in this, it appears, because the principle seems too inconvenient or limiting to receive or follow. The hindrance is often loyalty to family and friends; or comfort and familiarity with their present place and routines; or prefer having a priestly office to think for them; or worldliness; and lack of appreciation of what is honoring and pleasing to God.
The Christian path encompasses more than preaching the gospel and going to church meetings, and INCLUDES such as separation from worldliness, devotion to the Lord Jesus, desire to honor and worship Him, and be in accord with "all the counsel of God"; and it calls faithful "born again" saints to exercise their "Holy" and "Royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2), and maintain God's testimony in the world, rather than religious ideas.
The first question each Christian ought to be asking self, is whether I am willing to "lay aside every weight" and "take up (my) cross and follow (my Lord)" (as Matt. 16:24). These are hard questions, but seeking an easy path will close our minds to truth and forfeit much blessing now and for eternity.
The church is presented to us as 1) The Bride of Christ; 2) The body of Christ; 3) The house of God; 4) The candlestick testimony. One should not add innovative ideas, but seek to view the church as God intends. The reader may contact the writer about any questions on these. Church is the word translated in the New Testament from the Greek word "ecclesia"---meaning ASSEMBLY; but was rendered church by the translators from "kuriakos"
(which was commonly called kirk and later church), and means pertaining to God. The change may have been to avoid confusion with civil assemblies. In practice we generally understand the Bible to describe the "called out assembly pertaining to God", which seems what the translators had in mind.
The Church (or Assembly locally) is a gathering of "born again" believers in Christ to honor, worship, and obey Him; and for ministry, study, prayers and fellowship. We can be thankful for every child of God and their desire to be faithful. Visitors may come to get acquainted, learn, and enjoy the ministry and praise, but the assembly is by definition a gathering of the "saints of God"; and to be joined to the fellowship one needs to be in accord with it. The assembly in a locality must judge who is truly of God and are ready to be received at the Lord's table, though visitors are also welcome to observe. The function of the assembly must be in accord with Acts 2:41-42 and the Epistles.
Now, let us look at some aspects of the church:
1. The Unity: All the saints of God should be together in unity as we will be in heaven (though each may also have his/her own conscience); and laying aside all reasoning and rationale to support independency, Christians ought to work towards this universal unity. The Word of God always speaks of unity for the saints (Phil.2:2; Eph.2:19-22; I Cor. 1:2; I Cor.12:12-27) ---and this is not merely a union or merger of Christians. The New Testament church in the beginning was a universal fellowship of assemblies in various localities, with no thought of independence from other believers. They were concerned about the testimony of the "one body" in all places (note 1 Cor. 12:25), and the Apostles labored to maintain it.
2. The Order: The beginning of the church and the form and order are found in Acts 2:42 and in the epistles, and there is no thought of all the entertainment, programs, rituals, and other innovations we see today in Christian gatherings. God surely knows what He wants in His church. One should not go beyond the Word and practice religious ideas and devise means to entertain and attract members, or merge together all sects with their diverse doctrines.
3. The Foundation: The scriptural foundation for the assembly must be understood and appreciated or a gathering cannot honor God. He told Moses about the tabernacle to "See that thou make all things according to the pattern" (Heb.8:5), and He expects the same care for the church today:
a) Gathering to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone (Matt.18:20), not to personalities, sectarian systems, emotional experiences, programs, rituals, etc., which usurp the Lord;
b) Receiving "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15), not traditions, entertainment, creeds and pledges, religious ideas and unscriptural things which are for the flesh;
c) Expressing the oneness of the body of Christ in the world (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:25), not independency, nor mergers and unions, organizational membership, etc., which is the deceit of Satan to divide the saints and compromise the truth. One worldwide fellowship is essential, and believers ought to appreciate that.
d) Acknowledging the priesthood of believers (I Pet.2:5,9), not titles, offices, hierarchy, dominion over the saints with selected ministers to lead, preach, and manage ("nicolaitanism", Rev.2:6), etc., which denies liberty.
e) Trusting the Lord and His Word as the only way---authority and path for the Christian faith.
f) Worshipping collectively as is pleasing to God, rather than innovations for the flesh.
g) Appreciating the assembly and maintaining God's government, rather than the ideas and governmental ways of men with their rules.
h) Yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit as in the early church (II Cor.3:17), not to ceremonies, schedules, arrangements quenching the Spirit (I Thess.5:19), which dishonors God.
4. The Government: Local elders in the earliest assemblies were the approved judges (under the Apostles) for the assembly government, recognizing the Lord "in the midst". The assembly together considered matters, but there was no vote for "majority rule". The Elders (seniors), who were appointed by God, concluded the discussion in due time for the pathway. This was always to be in accord with the truth, and the Apostles were then the authority. Today we do not have Apostles, but we have the Holy Spirit which can bind us all together, and the Elders in other assemblies (not a hierarchy or organizational head) can help to guide and encourage the local gathering. We surely need others to help at times in discerning the mind of God, but the final decision is made in the local assembly. Every individual may share thoughts in a Godly manner, but one should not rebel against the overseers and God's government; and it needs to be emphasized here that this is in reference to the Assembly and not government of individual lives and conscience. The gifts of pastors (shepherds), teachers, and evangelists (in the plural) were gifts found in each assembly; and they were not titles and formal offices and assignments, but works by the Spirit. Man has invented a hierarchy to exalt self and give them control over the priesthood of all believers ---note that God hates that (see Rev. 2:15 about "rulers over the laity". That is evil, and all evil must be judged by all saints everywhere.
5. The Assembly: There is no such teaching in the Word about a "church (or assembly) of your choice", as many people think, for God did not give us a choice; and God does not approve independency, but always speaks of unity in the universal testimony. The local assembly should be the scriptural testimony of the universal church in a geographical place, and not allowing evil. This is important. It stands apart from the various religious sects of men. The saints gathered there should only be separated from other gathered saints in the world by distance, and not doctrines or practices or attitudes, etc. Judgments in one place by an assembly known to be sound among the fellowship worldwide, are rightfully honored in all gatherings, for the Lord is there; yet, notable evil allowed must be judged by other assemblies in the fellowship. Some choices that man affords self is to please the flesh (see I Kings 12:25-33) ---that is not of God.
Let us ever seek to hold fast that which is committed to us, and honor our Lord. - R.L.D.: CF09; 2003; add 1/06
ADDENDUM: Some other writings are available on the nature of the church (assembly), and sincere questions about any item in this paper are encouraged. It is important to hold that our responsibility is to maintain God's testimony as described, not try to manage it by reasonings; and this speaks of proper church government and the unity God intends. We are called to "...keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science" ('false-named knowledge' -JND transl.), which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee." (1 Tim. 6:20-21). - RLD, from www.biblecounsel.homestead.com.