What is the current state of things?
Are we agreed that the gathering together in one all the children of God is according to God's will as expressed in His word? Can any one believe that “churches” have attained to this end, or are at all likely to attain to it?
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
2 Timothy 3:1–5
Having fully recognized these truths:
- the union of all the children of God
- the union of all the children of God in each locality
This state of things, appearing in God's word, has ceased to exist. The question to be solved is this:
How ought the Christian to judge and act when a condition of things set before us in the word no longer exists?
Are we to restore it? This supposes that there is power to do so. No let's listen to the word and obey it. To restore it takes for granted two things. Firstly, that it is according to the will of God to re-establish the economy or dispensation on its original footing after it has failed. Secondly, that we are both able and authorized to restore it. Is this scriptural ground to take?
We all acknowledge that God established churches; we confess that Christians have sadly departed from this original establishment by God. To undertake to re-establish it all on its first footing is an effect of the working of that same spirit which leads us to seek our own righteousness by works.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
Have we had our thoughts so fully engaged in our churches that we have almost lost sight of the church? According to Scripture the whole sum of the Christians in those churches here on earth compose the church. There is no idea of any such distinction between the churches of God in any given place, and the church as a whole. Each person was of some church, if one existed where they were, and so in the church, but no one imagined to be in the church if they were separated from it in the place they lived. The practice of churches as we see them today has almost obliterated the idea of God's church, by making partial voluntary churches in different places.
When a person’s conscience has been touched and received life through the Spirit of God, what will be the effect? First it will be to make him acknowledge our ruined state in consequence of sin, and the absence of all resources, any innocence, and righteousness of our own. The next result will be a feeling of entire dependence on God, and submission of our heart to the judgment of God on such a state. Apply this to the church and the whole dispensation. The church is in a state of ruin, immersed and buried in the world, invisible. We ought to be a candlestick, the light of God. We must confess this ruin, this apostasy, this departure from its primitive standing.
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
The parable of the tares of the field is the Lord's judgment on this point - that the evil wrought by Satan in the field where the good seed had been sown should not be remedied, but should continue until the harvest. Note that the parable has nothing to do with discipline among God's children or the church, but relates to the remedy for evil brought in by Satan into the dispensation itself “whilst men slept,” and to the restoration of the dispensation on its primitive footing. This question is decided in the negative by the authority of the Lord. We see throughout the duration of the dispensation no remedy shall be applied to the evil. At the time of harvest, in other words the judgment, should eradicate it. Until that period the evil should go on.
Our desire should be a separation from that evil, the ruin of the dispensation itself. Our enjoyment of the presence of Christ with the “two or three” is altogether a different thing from the pretension to set up the dispensation again. The former is at once a duty and a privilege; the latter is the fruit of pride and disregard of the directions of the word.
What is the responsibility of the Christian today?
We must realize the ruin. Acknowledge it, confess it as our own, have it before our conscience, and be humbled as a consequence. Next, we need to watch for those that sow tares and practice self judgement so we are not sowing tares ourselves. Finally, we should “Avoid such men as these.” To separate from evil, we can not be sleeping.
Shall we, who are guilty of this state of things, pretend we should set about and fix it? The attempt would only prove that we are not humbled. Let us rather search in humility what God says to us in His word of such a condition of things. Let us not, like foolish children who have broken a precious vase, attempt to join together its broken fragments, and to set it up in hopes to hide the damage from the notice of others.
The Spirit of God, foreseeing all that would happen in the church, has, in the word, given warnings, and at the same time, the needful assistance.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
2 Corinthians 6:14
Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:17
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
I have for comfort that the Lord knows them that are His, but for my own direction, that he that names the name of Christ should depart from iniquity: where I find this established, I must leave it. But there is more; I learn that in a great house, such as the professing church is become, there are vessels to dishonor, and that if a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel made to honor, fit for the master's use. And the man of God is exhorted to follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Our own assembling together
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10: 23–25
We have looked at the ruin of the state of the current dispensation, the fact that we should separate ourselves from evil, and that we should not attempt to attain to what is lost in the primitive state of the church. Then what do we do?
We must not forsake our own assembling together. The passage in Hebrews makes that clear.
So where do I go? I will not presume to give you an exercise about where the Lord is calling you to be. Let us look at the gathering in Scripture and on what ground we are gathered.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Christ being the center and head is the great principle of gathering that has governed those intelligent in God's ways from the beginning. I add intelligent, because a person may be recently converted, and be sealed and of the body and so have title to be there, though they may not yet have knowledge about it.
We cannot meet as being the one assembly, because a great number of Christians are outside of us, but we meet on the principle of that unity. What a new believer is introduced into, is that unity which unquestionably existed in the beginning, and which we seek to realize, not reestablish, as far as we can. Unity with the Head by the Holy Spirit is the only bond of union. That produces the unity of the body of which we are thus all members. We meet with the conviction that the gathered saints were at the beginning the body of Christ, and members one of another, and as such all one on earth, and that we ought to seek to realize it.
The object to be desired is the gathering of all God's children. This will be fulfilled ultimately by Christ returning for His saints.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:15–17
The power of the Holy Ghost can alone effect this.
Any number of believers have no need to wait till that power produces the union of all (provided they act in the spirit of unity, which, if carried out, would unite the whole body of Christ), because they have the promise that, where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, He will be in the midst of them, and two or three may act in reliance upon this promise.
The necessity of ordination for the administration of the Supper nowhere appears in the New Testament, and it is clear that it was to break bread that Christians came together on the Lord's Day.
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread,...
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
1 Corinthians 11:20–26
A commission from man to preach the gospel is a thing unknown in the New Testament.
The choosing of presidents or pastors by the church is also altogether without warrant in the New Testament. The election of a president is a mere act of man, entirely unauthorized. It is a mere intervention of our willfulness in the concerns of God's church, an action that so often will eventually bring forth evil consequences. The choosing of pastors is an encroachment on the authority of the Holy Spirit, who distributes gifts according to His will.
Where elders were appointed, it was either by the apostles or else by those sent by the apostles to the churches. If the church is in ruins, God is sufficient even for that state of ruin. God will lead and guide His children, if they walk in humility and obedience, without setting about a work that God has not called them to.
It is the duty of a believer to separate himself from every act that he sees to be not according to the word, though bearing with him who ignorantly does the act, and our duty to unity requires this of us. Even if this faithfulness should cause us to stand alone. Like Abraham we should be obliged to go out without knowing where we are going.