All the peoples of the earth are now divided, by God's arrangement, into three divisions, according to 1 Corinthians 10:32. "Giving none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God." Not to observe this distinction is to fail to apprehend a Divine plan working out a great purpose. A most important law, in the study of the Holy Scriptures, is "rightly dividing the Word of Truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). The idea is seen in Leviticus 1:6, concerning the burnt-offering, "cut it into his pieces."
We shall now consider together this Divine partition of the human race.
We find in the Bible the use of such words as "nations," "peoples," and "heathen"; but wherever found it is the Gentiles the writers have in view. Our present use of the word "heathen " is to distinguish between so-called Christian countries, and non-Christian; but the term properly applies to all nations outside the Jews. "Christian countries" is an expression unknown in Scripture; while a little thought will reveal the fallacy of it. The Father's decree concerning the Son, "Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance " (Psa. 2:8), correctly means the nations, and is not limited to "heathen," as we understand it.
After the Flood the descendants of Noah and his three sons took a definite form as nations, on the Plain of Shinar (Genesis 11). There God confounded the language of the people, that He might bring to naught their evil purposes to build a city, and a tower whose top should reach unto heaven, and to make themselves a name lest they should be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. God's plan was the re-population of the world, and with this end in view to scatter the new race abroad everywhere. Men in attempting to frustrate the will of God, had their language confounded, and they ceased to build, for they could no longer understand one another, and so became scattered, as intended. It occurred about 100 years from the Deluge. From this point each group, speaking its own new tongue, went forth to seek its territory. But as time sped on, generation succeeding generation, the nations got further and further from God, and wickedness increased in the earth.
When Noah and his family emerged from the ark they were verily given a new start.
They had the awful remembrance of the Flood as a solemn warning of the consequences of sinning. Surely such people, with such a warning, would do better than the sinners who were overthrown and perished in the waters of judgment. No, they did not; and for this reason, "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21). There is not, and never can be, a moral evolution-a gradual evolving from a present inferior state to a better state, and so onward. Human history, all through the ages, definitely proves evolution to be impossible; the tendency is always from good to bad, from better to worse. Therefore our Saviour declares, "Ye must be born again " (John 3 :7). A "new creature " is what alone will suffice for one lost and ruined in the Fall (2 Cor. 5:17).
From the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, we read how that the Gentiles did not like to retain God in their knowledge, and were given over to a mind void of judgment; becoming filled with all unrighteousness and reaching a seven-fold apostasy, by the time of the advent of Christ (verses 21-23). Despite all subsequent efforts of so-called civilisation, with a christianising influence, the present position of the Gentile nations is that of being "without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). But during this present period of time, from the Cross to the second coining of our Lord, God is visiting the Gentiles through the preaching of the Gospel, to take out of them a people for His name (Acts 15 :14). Of this we shall speak further on.
This ancient and unique people had their origin in the Divine call of Abram from the land of the Chaldeans, about B.C. 1921, as far as available chronology can guide us. Their present number was said to be 16 millions, before the world-war.
We read in Genesis 12, " Now the Lord had said unto Abram, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
At the time of Abram's call idolatry had then established itself in the earth, with all that it involves. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things" (Rom. 1:22-23). Four hundred years from the Deluge had witnessed a lamentable departure of men from the only true God. They fast became as evil as the race which He destroyed in Noah's day. But God who is "long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3 :9), now purposed a new thing. He would set up in the world a true testimony to Himself among the false gods, namely, a redeemed people who should be an example of worshipping the Supreme Being "in the beauty of holiness," and be teachers of the true knowledge of the Most High. Those people were the Hebrews, commonly called the Jews.
We pass by the going down into Egypt of the then small company of Abram's descendants, the 400 years' sojourn there; the people's increase and bondage under Pharoah; the mighty deliverance from Egypt and the 40 years' wandering in the wilderness; the great conquest of Canaan and the establishment of God's people in the promised land; their multiplication and enrichment with every earthly blessing; and in due course the setting up of Solomon's magnificent Temple, the most beautiful and costly building the world has ever seen, with a priesthood and worship of Divine institution and order.
All the world heard of this new people whom God had chosen for Himself, and heard of His mighty acts in the plagues brought upon Egypt; the Exodus and the dividing of the Red Sea and the complete overthrow of Pharoah and his pursuing host in its mighty waters; the daily manna from heaven for the chosen people; the water from the smitten rock which followed them; the cloud by day to lead them and the pillar of fire by night; the Tabernacle wherein the "God of Glory" dwelt among them; the giving of the Law from Sinai; the holding back of the River Jordan to let the people over; the extraordinary battles in Canaan, with the standing still of the sun at the command of Joshua.
Here let us note a very remarkable seven-fold privilege appertaining to the Jews, recorded in Romans 9:4-5.
In this foregoing exceptional manner did God mark off the Jews from all the rest of mankind; established them as His chosen witness in the earth; that through them the Gentiles might learn the true knowledge of God; might see what blessings accompany obedience to His laws; and that in the light of heaven they might forsake every false way and turn to Him.
The Hews failed badly in their testimony for God; reminding us that man in responsibility, under the most favourable circumstances, is an unreliable creature. Chastisements and deliverances; apostasies and captivities; and a final dispersion to every quarter under heaven (as at the present time), marks the course of this people, once so highly privileged and so greatly responsible.
Yet all was not failure. Out of Israel's ruin did God make His name to be feared among the nations, and glorified Himself, notwithstanding all.
But God has not done forever with that people of His covenant. In His unalterable purpose He will bring to pass their repentance and restoration to His favour, with their re-establishment as His witness in all the world, and during the thousand years of the coming Millennium. This time, through them, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters shall cover the sea " (Isa. 11 9). Never again shall their name be tarnished with failure. The purposes of God, though meanwhile frustrated, must, ere long, be gloriously consummated. "Who hath resisted His will? " (Rom. 9:19). Hebrew prophets and New Testament writers have spoken of these things, which must now shortly come to pass.
Meantime are all under sin; "all the world have become guilty before God" (Rom. 3). The salvation of God, without distinction, is now offered to Jews and Gentiles, and all who believe are "justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"; thus constituting a new people for God's possession - "the Church." Well may we add, "oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11.33).
After the rejection and crucifixion by the Jews of their Messiah, involving their temporary casting off and world-wide dispersion, there was brought to light a marvellous thing hitherto kept secret. It was that it had been purposed in the Divine counsels, in eternity past, that a people should be taken out from Jews and Gentiles ("all under sin," Rom. 3 :9), and made a " new creation " by grace. This people to be formed as a beautiful bride for the Son of God.
A glorious recompense for His unspeakable humiliation and infinite suffering on the Cross for our sins. God "bath chosen us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4)
With this object before our Saviour, we read, " For the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2). When formed and perfected it will appear in heaven "a glorious Church" (Eph. 5:27). As the Son is "the brightness of His (the Father's) glory, and the express image of His person" (Heb. 1:3); so "whom He did foreknow (the Church) He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). How appropriately do the following words fit in here: "The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints & the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all " (Eph. 1:18-23). Think of it: a host like the stars of heaven in multitude, every one of them "like Him" (1 John 3:2).
Meanwhile on earth the Church is seen as "a pilgrim band in a stranger land"; sharing with Christ rejection reproach, and loss; treading the path which He trod ir, fellowship with the Father; in the world, but not of it; taken out, yet sent into it as an ambassador for Christ (John 17:14, 18; 2 Cor. 5:20).
"Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). "For He is our peace, who hath made both (from Jews and Gentiles) one; to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the Cross" (Eph. 2:14-16). "God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name " (Acts 15:14). "The Gospel ... to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16).
From these quotations we see what is the purpose of God concerning the Church. Through the preaching of the Gospel of His salvation and grace, He would save sinners of Jews and Gentiles, making them one in Christ; all former distinctions being now at an end. The believing Jew ceases to be a Jew; the saved Gentile is no more a Gentile. They are united as "one new man," to be henceforth known as "the Church of God." The position is that of a " called-out " and " separated people unto the Lord, who bought them for Himself alone, at the price of His blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
It is important to note that the meaning of the Greek word "ekklesia," translated "church," means a "called-out" company. In Acts 7 :38 the Israelites are described as "the Church in the wilderness," exactly stating their position as "called-out" of Egypt; but otherwise they have no connection with the Church of God, the "called-out" company from this present evil world.
Concerning the Son of God who is the Head of the Church, we read in Matthew 2:15, That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt have I called My Son." His flight in infancy to Egypt (type of the world) was ordered that this Scripture might be fulfilled in Him, and afterward in all who are His. Christ and His members are one in their out-calling from a world which "lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5:19, R.V.). Any mingling and friendship of the Church with the world is a grave departure from the purpose of God, and is unfaithfulness to Christ. It is solemnly rebuked in James 4:4. How careful should we be in keeping ourselves "unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
The Lord asked his disciples the question "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" (Matt. 16:13-19). On hearing their reply, He said to them, "But whom say ye that I am? " Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." To this statement our Lord responded, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, thou art Peter (Greek, petros; meaning a stone or piece of rock) ; and upon this rock (Greek, petra; that is a rock, meaning Himself) I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
There is a play on the words used by the Lord that is seen in the Greek text from which we have our translation, and may be rendered, "Thou art petros, and upon this petra I will build My Church." Peter in his first Epistle (chap. 2:5) shows that all saints, he among them, are "living stones ... built up a spiritual house and Paul declares, "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ " (1 Cor. 3:11). The Roman Catholics have greatly erred in teaching that upon Peter is the Church built. No, it is indeed built on Christ the Rock of Ages
"On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand."
Christ Himself is stated to be the Church's foundation; yet we elsewhere read it is built on "the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:20); also the apostle Paul affirms, "I have laid the foundation" (1 Cor. 3:10). Now Scripture never contradicts itself, for it is perfect like its Divine Author; all is in perfect harmony.
The explanation is quite simple: Christ laid the foundation of our salvation by His death on the Cross, and to that work nothing can be added. But the saved soul, resting securely on what Christ has done, yet needs spiritual building up; and for this purpose there is laid a foundation of doctrine. Here comes in the teaching, first by word of mouth of the apostles and New Testament prophets (Acts 2.42); then added to and finalised in written form by the Epistles of Paul. On Christ and His salvation, and on His doctrines communicated through apostles and prophets, the rapidly growing spiritual house rests; and the " gates of hell (signifying the powers of hell) shall not prevail against it; never have, and never shall. Praise the Lord!
We observe from Christ's own statement that the church was then in the future;
The church had not existed before; was to be something quite new. It could not possibly be until there had taken place the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ, followed by the descent to earth of the Holy Spirit to form the Church by means of the Gospel preached through human instrumentality. His is the power induing the messenger (Acts 1:8); He the Convincer of sin, righteousness and judgment; and He the Revealer of Christ (John 16:8-14), without Whom none can be saved. Equally can it be said of the Spirit as of the Son, "Without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15 :5).
To the convicted sinner the message is, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). The look by faith at Him crucified, and the belief in the heart that "He hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust" (1 Pet. 3:18), is the justification of that sinner before God (Rom. 3:23-26). Blessed salvation!
That they form no part of the Church, we may say definitely. They are, however, redeemed by the blood of Christ and in possession of eternal life, and will share in common with the Church much that God has laid up for them that love Him. Perhaps they come in with John the Baptist, as "the friends of the Bridegroom" (John 3 :29), and are the honoured guests "called to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9), that surpassingly glorious celebration connected with Christ and His chosen Bride? There are some things about which God has not spoken particularly; but all things will be made clear hereafter (John 13:7).
There is another point to make plain: nowhere does God apply the word "church" to a building made with human hands. By common usage we often so apply it, and is one of many mistakes we make about Divine things. Scripture shows that the Church has "ears" (Acts 11:22); it can "pray" (Acts 12:5); it can be "persecuted" (1 Cor. 15:9), and more besides; clearly showing that people and not buildings are meant.
Seven special festivals are mentioned in Leviticus 23, ordained for Israel of old time, kept at intervals through the year. These feasts were prophetic of the unfolding of God's purposes with the Jews, and in them also are concealed truths respecting the Church; not discerned then, but now revealed in the light of the New Testament.
Such, in outline, are the wonderful purposes of God for His earthly people, the Jews; in which also are revealed very precious things for the Church, that heavenly people.
The second chapter of Acts opens with these words "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come. God's prophetic clock keeps exact time. God is never behind His appointed season, nor before. He is punctual. Christ rose from the tomb on the morrow after the Jewish sabbath, which is the first day of the week, or eighth day. Fifty days from that sabbath brings us again to the first day of the week, which was Pentecost, exactly fulfilling the type in Leviticus 23. It was the dawning of a new dispensation.
This dispensation which is "the ministration of the Spirit"; it was the passing of the old as given through Moses, termed "the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones" (2 Cor. 3:6-18). That which was ordained to life ("this do and thou shalt live "), was found, in experience, to be unto death, as the apostle Paul declared, "The commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9). Further, we read, "The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did" (Heb. 7:19); "it was a shadow of good things to come" (Heb. 10:1), which things are now fulfilled in Christ.
The resurrection had been attested by over 500 reputable witnesses (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Our Lord had shown Himself alive by "many infallible proofs," and had bidden the disciples "tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be indued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:3). By this He meant the coming of the Holy Spirit, the induing power for testimony.
Quite clearly does the word "until" imply that after the Spirit had come there would be no more tarrying.
No more waiting for another "baptism of the Spirit." All such is out of Divine order now. The third Person of the Trinity has come. He is both "with" and "in" the Church, and in each member of it (John 14:9-17). Faith recognises the fact. The manifestation of the Spirit's power in and through us, is just in the same proportion as we "yield ourselves unto God" (Rom. 6:13), and "grieve not the Holy Spirit" (Eph. 4:30).
To be filled with the Spirit is needful as much for the home-life, the daily occupation, the trade or business, as it is for preaching and teaching, perhaps more so. The proof of this filling of the Spirit, is its fruit, namely, "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22-23). By this we know who is filled, and who is not. Many people greatly err by not seeing this, and also by a mistaken idea that "filling" means simply a power to do wonderful things with great results. That unless you are doing such things you are not one who is "filled."
Devout Jews, out of every nation under heaven, had assembled in Jerusalem to keep the old Feast of Pentecost, little knowing what was in store. The apostles and other disciples "were all with one accord in one place". When "suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2 :2-4)
When the news of this spread, "the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in his own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:6-8).
Evidently some 15 different languages were spoken that day, and by men who before could only speak their own. God who suddenly gave new tongues at Babel (Gen. 11), to the confounding and dispersion of the people; now, in a moment, imparts to these disciples other languages to proclaim "the wonderful works of God." The first led to division and scattering; the second to unity and gathering together; the first was in judgment, the second in grace.
Since apostolic times it has not been known that a man was given a new language without learning it. Missionaries know that right well. This gift was peculiar to the bringing in of the Church period, and a necessary sign that the new movement was from heaven; likewise the power to perform miracles. The present-day claim by some cults to the gift of tongues, is simply a travesty of what happened at Pentecost, an hysterical chatter, understood neither by the speaker nor by the foreign listener.
The Lord had given to Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Keys are for opening doors. Two were given him. The first, he used on the day of Pentecost; opening the door of the kingdom of heaven to that great audience of Jews who stood listening as he preached to them '' Christ and Him crucified with such convicting and converting power of the Holy Spirit, that 3000 believing Jews entered in through the open door of God's salvation, the same day. Shortly afterward the total reached 5000 men, and after that so great was the number passing in, that it is simply recorded "multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14).
Thus far, not a Gentile had been added to the Church, but Jews only, for the reason that the Gospel must be given first to them (Rom. 1:16).
Eight years later, according to the dates in our Bibles, Peter had a vision of a great sheet let down from heaven, in which were four-footed beasts of the earth and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. A voice said, "Arise, Peter, slay and eat". "Not so, Lord," said he, "for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth". But the voice answered, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:9-16). Three times was this done; thus thoroughly impressing it upon his mind, so filled with Jewish prejudice; "and all were drawn up again into heaven."
The sheet represented God's Gospel of salvation; and the creatures Peter saw, meant Gentiles of all sorts and conditions, from the noble down to the things debased; hut every one in the sheet was now no longer "common and unclean " - all were fit for Heaven. How marvellous the grace and transforming power of God!
While Peter doubted in Himself what this vision should mean, messengers from a Roman centurion at Caesarea had come to fetch him to see this man; who had also had a vision, in which he was told to send for Peter, "who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (Acts 11:14).
Peter, persuaded, arose and went; and coming to the centurion, found he had called to his house his kinsmen and near friends. All were Gentiles. After fully explaining the reason he had sent for Peter, he concluded by saying, "Now therefore we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." Then Peter preached the Gospel to that Gentile audience, the whole of them believing his words and receiving the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44). Thus Peter made use of his second key; opening the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles, as he had done to the Jews at Pentecost.
The Church having now been formed of Jews and Gentiles, and having received the Lord's commission to preach the Gospel among all nations (Matt. 28:18-20); and a persecution after the stoning of Stephen having scattered the Church centralised in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1); the believers "went everywhere preaching the Word" (verse 4). Thus they were "Ambassadors for Christ "(2 Cor. 5:20).
Let us notice the nature of this Commission, as given in Matthew 28:18-20.
This did the early Christians carry out faithfully. But this Commission has long since been departed from, more or less; also there has been much laxity in carrying out orders. When at last the harvest is fully gathered in, then the Lord will reckon with all His servants concerning the Commission He gave them. Rewards will be based on faithfulness, not on apparent success. The work of the Evangelist should not be considered as complete until the saved ones are baptised and in Church fellowship. When his part is done, then the Pastor and Teacher come in, to shepherd and instruct the flock. This, at least, was how things were done at the start, when the ambassadors went forth into all the world; and it was abundantly blessed. All pioneer work, to this very day, should still follow the Divine order originally laid down.
Let us also notice the true nature of an ambassador. He is a person sent from one country to another, in time of peace; through whom all State matters of his country are communicated to the foreign Court. His business is to worthily and faithfully represent his Sovereign and country, and by all manner of means to give the most favourable impression possible to the foreign State. During the time of his sojourn there, he abstains from any participation in politics, for not being a naturalised subject of those parts he has no qualification to exercise a vote. His political interest is elsewhere. Yet he must not violate the laws of the land where he is. As a sojourner he is free to do good to all men, and any kindnesses and courtesies shown will be appreciated. Should trouble arise between the two countries, leading to war, the last act prior to hostilities is the withdrawal of the ambassador.
How sadly the Church has failed to act up to this characteristic of ambassadors for
Christ. Sent of Him into the world with the Gospel of peace; a stranger and sojourner
without earthly standing; not a reformer of men nor having a vote in the country, but subject
to "the powers that be," yet enjoined to do good unto all men. Trouble has long been between
earth and heaven. The ambassadors are likely soon to be withdrawn; then war will be declared,
and the judgments of God will follow" (2 Cor. 5:18-21; John 17:14-16; John 18:36; 1 Pet.
2:11-17; Phil. 3 :20 - "citizenship", R.V.).
"Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee" (1 Kings 8:27). The question was raised long ago, and the marvel is that the Great God, who inhabits eternity, should condescend to dwell with men. Yes, He has done so in past time; is dwelling now by His Spirit in the Church; will again have a dwelling in the Millennium; and finally in the Eternal State will He tabernacle among men (Rev. 21:3).
To Moses and the children of Israel the Lord said, "Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them, after the pattern of the Tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it" (Ex. 25:8-9). So particular was God to have everything just to His mind, that He further said, "Look that thou make them (the items) after their pattern which was showed thee in the mount" (verse 40). Nothing was left to man 5 ingenuity or suggestions; for what does he know about the fitness of God's dwelling?
This Tabernacle was made with human hands under Divine guidance. Its construction, furniture and vessels bearing wonderful symbolical teaching, unfolding in the light of New Testament revelation. Every whit of it uttered God's glory; all being precious symbols of Christ and the Church, to all who have eyes to see. When all the work was finished and carefully examined, to the smallest details, and found to be in perfect order, "then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exo. 40:34). This may well lead us to compare the order of our assemblies with the unalterable requirements laid down for the Church, and make adjustments where needful, that we may have God's realised presence among us. He is holy and very particular.
When the wilderness experiences of the people of God were over, and they were settled in the land of promise, then a temple was built in Canaan for God to dwell in. The pattern of all had been revealed to David by the Spirit, and given to his son Solomon who was commissioned to erect it. Nothing was left to be added by the wisdom of Solomon, the wisest of all men. "All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the words of this pattern" (1 Chron. 28). For magnificence of construction, and costliness, this Temple has been unsurpassed.
When all was completed and dedicated, according to plan, "then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:13-14).
Why is it that the Lord is not among us in power and blessing, as in the early days of the Church? Is it not because of our disorderly condition of things?
We will now leave Old Testament times, all written for our learning (Rom. 15:4), and pass on to the New. Has the "Lord of All" a dwelling now among men? Yes, verily. Yet it is not a " temple made with hands (Acts 17 :24). All these fine cathedrals and churches, with their beautiful designs, carvings, stained glass windows, organs and other embellishments, are only imitations of a former age, long since set aside, and unauthorised now. Of course a great religious zeal is manifest in all this outward show, but "not according to knowledge " (Rom. 10:2); therefore failing in acceptance with God.
We read, "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in
truth" (John 4:24). Before the coming of Christ worship was associated with material objects
that appealed to the senses - an imposing ritual of symbolical meaning. It was ordained for
the time then present, and, having served its purpose, has ceased. Now it is decreed from
heaven, "The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." Not in that
beautiful building yonder, often called "the house of God," but in a place remote from earth,
" inside the veil "; that is, into heaven itself (Heb. 10:19-22). Consequently, it must be
in spirit we enter there. The building in which the redeemed assemble contributes nothing
whatever to worship, and is merely for our convenience. Moreover, worship must be " in
truth," otherwise it is unacceptable. What is truth? The answer is, "Thy Word is truth "
(John 17:17). Therefore must we carefully see that all things in our worship are in accord
with the New Testament revelation given the Church.
In the former dispensation of law, there was a centre of worship for all Israel, even Jerusalem, and none other could be recognised. "The place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come " (Deut. 12 :5). Six times in this chapter do we get the words, "The place which the Lord shall choose"; thus definitely impressing upon the minds of His people that He alone had chosen the place, and to this centre must they bring their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices, their tithes and freewill offerings. There they must eat before the Lord their God, and rejoice in all that they put their hands unto, wherein the Lord had blessed them. He would not accept them in any place of their own choosing.
Though Jerusalem is no longer the place where men ought to worship (John 4:21), nor has Deuteronomy 12 a literal application now, nevertheless Divine principles remain unchanged. There is a Place in heaven ("into the holiest by the blood of Jesus," Heb. 10:19) that we enter by faith as worshippers; and a Name on earth given, unto which we gather, "For where two or three are gathered together in (or unto) My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20).
God has ordained that in every city, town, locality or community, wherever the Gospel is blessed in the conversion of sinners, that the converts should be formed into companies, by faith gathered around the Lord Jesus Christ. Beginning at the lowest number for fellowship and testimony, 2 or 3, such may increase to 20 or 30, to 200 or 300, and so on. Thus it was at the beginning, and continued as long as men held to God's arrangements.
Alas for what is now seen everywhere! State churches; huge organised systems of religion; blends of Judaism and Christianity; the world in the Church and the Church in the world. How un-apostolic it all is! We cannot change things; the roots are too firmly embedded in man's own will. But all who love the Lord are responsible to "come out from among them, and be ye separate"; and to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God " (2 Cor. 6:17; 7:1).
It may be truly said - No blood, no worship! There never has been, nor can there be approach to God's holy presence without a recognition of sin, and the bringing of that which only can put it away. Hence all the sacrifices and shedding of animal blood, from Adam's day to the offering of "the Lamb of God" and the pouring forth of His precious blood. Life given for life forfeited by sin, is the underlying thought in the sacrifice. Christ also bath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). On this truth is the worship of God based. One must be in the good of Divine redemption, and all it implies, or intelligent worship is impossible.
In the former system established by God, there existed a separate priesthood who offered sacrifices, attended to the ordinances of worship, and approached the Lord on behalf of the people. These were attired in a distinctive dress, each part having a religious significance. All this has now given place to something better, and more to God's grace and glory.
All believers are now priests, and all have equal right and privilege to approach God as worshippers, and to offer sacrifices . "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people (different to all other); that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God" (1 Pet. 2:9-10). "By Him (our High Priest) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15).
There is no distinctive dress to be worn now, but that spiritual clothing of Christian graces, such as we read of in Colossians 3 :12-17. "Clergy" and "laity", and their equivalents, is all out of date and belonging to the far past. Quite a new arrangement has been brought in by the same One who introduced the first. Oh, how it must grieve Him to see so many of His people perpetuating what He has done with, long ago, and not embracing their new and fuller privileges!
Moreover, there are no longer special religious festivals, nor holy days, to be observed; not even the Jewish Sabbath, nor the Law as a rule of life (Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 5:4). There is one day only that has any significance for the Christian, namely, the first day of the week, called the Lord's day. It marks the beginning of a new dispensation; is the day our Lord rose from the dead; and the day on which believers meet to keep the Lord's Supper in remembrance of Him. Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Saint Days, are merely imposed by the will of man and have no sanction in Scripture. The Lord never requested His people to observe the anniversaries of His birth and death; in fact it is well known that we have not the correct dates observed. Yet He did request a certain thing to be done in remembrance of Him till He comes. See 1 Cor. 11:24-26. These special days originated with the Church of Rome.
Such ordinances as Circumcision, the Passover, and various ceremonials, are not for our observance now. Two new ordinances only have been given us - Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Instrumental music was cultivated and devoted of old to the service of God, as the Book of Psalms abundantly shows, and it was intimately connected with the Temple worship. This was in accordance with the dispensation that then was. But in the New Testament there is no mention of music when the Church is come together, in keeping with the new order of worship, which is entirely spiritual. There is, however, singing "in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also "(1 Cor. 14:15). Twice in this latter verse we have the word "sing", and is the translation of a Greek word "psallo," which in this case means "singing with an accompaniment." What is it then that we are to sing "with"? "I will sing with the spirit and with the understanding." This is the accompaniment implied, and not a musical instrument. In Hebrews 2:12 we read, "In the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto Thee." The reference is to our Lord leading the praise of His people. Here the Greek word is not "psallo" but "humneo," used simply for singing, implying no accompaniment.
There is a high priest over the house of God ("whose house are we," Heb. 3 :6), even Christ Jesus. His office is
summed up in these words, "Ordained for men in things pertaining to God" (Heb. 5:1). The
High Priest of old, as has been well said, "Stood for the people to God: he offered up the
sacrifices which put the people in relation with God (Lev. 9), also those on the day of
atonement (Lev. 16), and he blessed them as from God. He as taken from men, was one who
could have compassion on, or forbearance toward, the ignorant and the erring; for that he
himself was compassed with infirmity (Heb. 5:1-2). Aaron did not take the honour upon
himself, nor did Christ (Heb. 5:4-5). Having accomplished redemption by the offering of
Himself, He passed through the heavens and sat down on the right hand of God. He is touched
with the feeling of our infirmities, having been Himself tempted (tested) like as we are,
apart from sin. He ever lives to make intercession for us. He is also the minister of the
sanctuary - He appears in the presence of God for us, and is the great Priest over the house
of God" (Heb. 4:14-15; chap. 5:1-10; chap. 8:1; chap. 9:11-28).
Let us note two references to the Church. First, "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5 :25-27). Second-God "gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all " (Eph. 1:22-23).
This is the complete Church, embracing every member from the first to the last, from Pentecost to the Lord's coming, irrespective of human creed or denomination. Nearly the whole of it is already with Christ in heaven.
It is entered by the new birth (John 3 :5-7); each believer is added to it, at conversion, by the sovereign act of God (1 Cor. 12:13); it is not approachable, so that a person may join it; it is not a religious organisation with an elective body having power tu legislate, control or guide, as the Roman Church; it has no human head; it cannot come together as a whole, nor can it be appealed to. Had all this been recognised in the past, it would have saved from endless confusion of Church practice and testimony.
This brings us now to three expressions in the New Testament, namely, "the churches of God" (1 Cor. 11-16), "the churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16) and "churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33), in each case in the plural-many churches, not differing denominations. But why so named? It sets forth a precious threefold aspect of these assembled churches (1) as to their origin: it is of God, not of man; (2) as to their possessor: they are Christ's, purchased with His own blood; (3) as to their composition: they are composed of saints only.
Seeing that the Church, in its broad aspect, has no present jurisdiction on earth, not being an organised body, how then is it to be a witness amongst men? Answer: by local churches, otherwise called "churches of the saints."
The order is: first the preaching of the Gospel; then the forming of the converts into called-out-of-the-world companies, gathered unto the Name of the Lord, with "the faith (whole range of doctrine) delivered to them. Each local church, designed so by the Head, is to be an exact representation of the greater Church. The Epistles of Paul are addressed to such local churches, they being the responsible witnesses in the world. Separately are the seven churches of Asia addressed, by the apostle John (Rev. 2 and 3).
Now we have something tangible. Such a church can come together in one place; it may be approached and appealed to; it is authorised to receive people (Rom. 16), and also to put away, if need be; it can exercise discipline - can "bind" and "loose"; in short, it can act for the Lord in carrying out every function of "the Church which is His body."
Each local church stands by itself, and is directly responsible to its Head in heaven, whom it is to "hold fast" (Col. 2:19, R.V.). There is no other authority than Christ. Neither is there any "confederation of churches" of a country, province or district, binding themselves by the joint rule of their respective overseers. Elders, guides, overseers, bishops (all meaning the same) are appointed by the Holy Spirit for local churches only, and have no official power or control outside their own assembly. The Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), where the apostles and elders decided a matter of Christian liberty for the Gentile believers, has no counterpart today; for we have the New Testament Scriptures complete, as our guide on all questions, which they had not; therefore the court of appeal is now the written Word; with the Holy Spirit to guide us thereby into all truth.
Whilst there is no indication, in apostolic times, of any amalgamation of Churches, under heads of control; yet there is a "unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3), which is quite a different thing. Wherever true "churches of the saints" were formed, seven truths were held in common, namely, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father; producing a wonderful fellowship of saints. This will continue as long as believers cleave to "God and the Word of His grace" (Acts 20:32). We do not form a unity; there is one formed already we are to keep it in the "bond (uniting bond) of peace"; and this calls for the constant and patient exercise of "all lowliness, and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:1-3).
Matters are complicated nowadays and very perplexing to simple souls. There is a Babel of religious persuasions. What is right? To find at the present day a city or town wherein all Christians meet in one united testimony, may still be searched for in vain. What really concerns us is whether there is a company of believers meeting similarly to the New Testament churches, gathered simply to the Name of the Lord. Thank God, there are such companies, acknowledging no sectarian name, humbly walking in the truth.
What then are the marks whereby we shall be able to recognise a church of the New Testament order? The following will help us:
This is not a complete statement, but leading marks of a New Testament church. Such a testimony can only be of a "remnant" character now; in weakness and reproach, far below the glory of apostolic days when "all that believed were together, and had all things common"; when with "great power" they gave witness, and "great grace " was upon them all (Acts 2:44; chap. 4:33). Our duty in these "last days" is to cleave to the Lord in humility of heart, avoiding all boastful pretensions, keeping His Word, not denying His name, and holding fast what we have, till He comes (Rev. 3:8,11).
Let us enter a company of redeemed ones gathered to the Lord's Name, owning the Lordship of Christ and the liberty of the Spirit of God. It is the first day of the week, and they are gathered to " show the Lord's death till He come," according to His expressed wish, "This do in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor. 11:23-26). There is no man occupying pulpit or platform here, nor a presiding elder; for they are all a "holy priesthood," to "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:5).
They are seated round a table upon which is a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, emblems of the body and blood of the Lord. There is nothing in their surroundings to appeal to the natural senses; they are worshipping in spirit within the veil. One or another will give out a hymn of worship or praise, not selected beforehand, hut freshly laid upon the heart of him who gives it out. Several will engage in prayer, not making petitions of God but uttering words of adoration and thanksgiving. Some one may have a portion of Scripture, directing the minds of the worshippers to the Lamb of God in His sufferings and death on the Cross. And all this as led of the Holy Spirit. The bread is broken and partaken of, and the cup is drunk, and the worshippers bow in heart before the great Redeemer. Other ministry of the Word may be given after the Supper to meet the need of those present, and other prayer and praise ascend to God.
When such a time of worship in the presence of the Lord is experienced, the heart which is truly devoted to Him can have no taste for what is so mixed with human arrangement, and in which is lacking the spirit of real adoration.
Lord Jesus, I remember well
The years I trod the way to hell;
And now but for Thy wondrous grace
I ne'er in heaven had found a place.
But with what joy I show today
The death that took my sins away;
The death that Thou did'st die for me,
That death my only hope and plea.
I gaze into each radiant face,
And see lost sinners saved by grace;
My heart leaps up and bounds to greet
The One whom "in the midst" we meet.
I look upon the bread and see
The body that was bruised for me;
And in the cup I see the sign
Of blood that flowed for sins of mine."
The apostle Paul when taking farewell of the elders of the church at Ephesus, mentioned the two great essentials for the Church of God for all time, namely, God and His Word. At once this sets aside man and his arranged creeds, articles of faith, statements of doctrine, etc., which are designed to bind together and guide the saints of God. But God in His infinite wisdom places Himself and His Word before the Church, and this meets every requirement. Had the Church been satisfied with this blessedly simple, yet fully sufficient provision for all purposes, how differently would Church history have been written!
A creed is a summary of doctrines believed by a church, selected and arranged by a Committee of her leading men. All creeds vary, more or less. Creeds are merely a selection of apostolic teaching, and not all of it. When any controversy or matter of discipline arises, then the appeal is to the creed as the authority, and not to the Word itself. Should any case be taken to a court of law (quite out of order, 1 Cor. 6:1), the learned Judge gives his decision on the creed, not on the Scriptures. Moreover, creeds keep up the divisions in the Church, and also foster that pernicious notion of "essentials and non-essentials." Imagine, say, six opposing sects drawing up creeds and deciding what is essential or not for our faith and conduct; selecting from a Book whose Author declares that all He has written is binding upon His people (2 Tim. 3:16-17)!
Meddlesome man cannot leave alone what is Divine and perfect in its simplicity and sufficiency, and must needs improve (?) upon it; with the result that there is confusion and much evil, whereas the Word keeps us to God and to one another. No Christian is bound to subscribe to any creed or confession of faith, though drawn up with the best of intentions.
The elders at Ephesus were warned by Paul that grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock; also of their own selves should men arise, speaking perverse things (Acts 20). Here was surely the urgent need for framing a statement of the Church's faith, and all to sign it; that all who depart therefrom shall be excommunicated; thus preserving the purity and soundness of the Church's doctrine, and maintaining unity and peace among themselves. No; the Apostle casts them upon God and His Word alone. Nothing else will meet the need.
Two Scripture references, without quoting more, prove clearly that the Church needs a Head. That Head has been duly appointed of God, and is fulfilling His office. We read in Eph. 1:22, "And gave Him (Christ) to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body"; and in Col. 2:19, "Holding (holding fast, R.V.) the Head (Christ) from which all the body (Church) by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God."
This Head is in heaven, and the body is on earth. Though He is not seen, being at the right hand of God, yet there is a real connection between both. The mind of man cannot understand that the Church can get on at all without having a human head, together with ecclesiastical officials.
It is argued by men that a nation must have a sovereign or ruler; a parliament a premier; a business a manager; an army a general; a ship a captain; a meeting a chairman, and so on. Is it not equally essential that the Church should have some visible head, with a properly established organisation? So we have the great systems of Christendom, each with its head and controlling body, from the Pope downwards. All this despite the fact that a Head has already been appointed, with a full complement of heaven-gifted men for the Church's edification, energised by the Holy Spirit. Such "gifts" are not of men, neither by men (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; Gal. 1:1). All else is simply an ignoring of the Divine right and arrangement. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him" (1 Cor. 2:14).
Let no one say we have Old Testament support for heads and organisation. That system God has finished with, and has introduced a new order, as we have already shown.
Can it work having no visible head? Indeed it can. Each "church of the saints," large or small, wherever located on earth, is in direct communication with heaven, apart from any inter-medium, Pope or priest. At all times it may reach the Head by prayer and supplication, bringing all matters before Him. Does God hear and answer prayer? Every Christian knows the answer. Praise God!
The written Word is the guide to all we are to be, or to do. What we need is the reading and meditation therein, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with obedient hearts. In this way we shall be able to carry out all the commandments and instructions of our Head.
n the apostolic days during seasons of difficulty, danger, persecution, or need, prayer was made of the Church unto God, without recognition of any human authority, not even that of apostles. Upon prayer reaching heaven, the Head acts according to His will, and meets graciously the situation, whatever it is.
When God alone was Israel's king, there could have been no better provision; but they wanted to have a visible king, like the nations, and they got one, much to their disadvantage and loss. The saints of God are for ever in danger of the unspiritual ones wishing to introduce into the assemblies things that are customary in the denominations, even things positively opposed by the Word, just that we may be like others.
In his first epistle to the Church at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment . . . Every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:10-13).
This is the great passage of Scripture condemning division and all sectarian names. The people of God who should have been one in mind and judgment, have been rent in pieces by strong-minded men; each section developing into an organised system; each separated by creeds and traditions. Thus division is systematised and perpetuated.
But even nominally religious people can now see the huge mistake and positive evil of this divided state, and they believe that the Church, in the best interests of the world, should sink the differences and he united. So there is a world-wide movement for a union of the churches. It will probably meet with success, ultimately bringing all to the fold of the Church of Rome, acclaimed as one of the greatest achievements of the age.
Let the reader clearly discern that such a union of churches is only reached on the basis of an all-round compromise of principles and modification of doctrines, something suitable to all creeds! That faithful and great preacher, Mr. C. H. Spurgeon, once said, regarding this subject, that he could only see one way for Church union, and that was a union by way of the Bible. This testimony is true.
Our responsibility is not to assist in an attempt to unite the many divisions, wholly or partially, but "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3). It is our duty, as well as privilege, to take our stand on the true ground, as taught in apostolic days: owning no name or body but the Lord's; no rules but the Word; recognising the spiritual unity all true believers have in the "one body"; and ready to receive any fellow-Christian whom the Word of God would not disqualify for the fellowship of saints. This position is unsectarian, and is the only one to take in face of the religious confusion around. The Divine principle is, "Let them return unto thee, but return not thou unto them." (Jer. 15:19)
Human names make for division; Scriptural names make for unity. At Corinth were found the seeds of sectarianism, which have produced a universal party-spirit, as is seen to-day. Men drawing away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30). John the Baptist was not so. He so testified of the Lamb of God, that we read, "Two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus " (John 1:36-37); also John declared, "He must increase, hut I must decrease " (chap. 3 :30). Most noble John!
Some at Corinth said, "I am of Paul." Was not he pre-eminently "the apostle of the Gentiles "? Being also the chief writer of the New Testament, had he not a great claim for leadership? May be; but he had not died for them; they belonged to Another.
Others said, "I am of Apollos." Now he was an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and much people through him were added to the Lord. The Corinthians were not his: they were Christ's.
A third party said, "I am of Cephas (Peter)." Ah, he had a unique claim. To him the Lord had given the keys of the kingdom of heaven"; one to open the door of salvation to the Jews, the other to open the door to the Gentiles. Again they were wrong in their choice Peter was only a man and not their Lord.
A fourth company said, "I am of Christ".
This was true: for "Ye are Christ's" (1 Cor. 3 :23). All were His, purchased by His blood. Had all at Corinth said, "I am of Christ," it would have been a united, blessed testimony for the truth, glorifying to God. Any other name was the glorification of men, and detracting from the honour due alone to the Son. "There is none other name under heaven given among men," and that is the name of Jesus Christ, the crucified but now the risen and the anointed One of the Father. Christ for me!
Five names are given in the Word to describe the people of God, and they fit each one of them, and are uniting names. They are Christians, Believers, Brethren (brothers), Saints, Disciples.
You meet a stranger and to your joy he says, "I am a Christian." You respond, "So am I." Sweet is the fellowship as you converse. The name has united you both; not a breath of division comes in; you are one in Christ. But let this stranger after a while tell you, "I am an Anglican," or mention some other name, then at once both are aware a human name has come between you, and fellowship is restricted, though not wholly hindered. Take the other four names in the same manner, and we have the same results.
Human names distinctly declare there are more bodies than the one of God's formation, and that creeds govern instead of the Word alone. Thus man mars the unity the Lord has made. Let us be of them who keep His Word, do not deny His name, holding fast to what we have, till the coming of the Lord.
There are three portions of Scripture bearing directly upon this subject, which we here quote for the reader's careful consideration:
Of God it is written, "Holy and reverend is His name" (Psa. 111:9). Our Lord speaking to His disciples, said, "Be not ye called Rabbi (Teacher) ; for one is your Master (Teacher), even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters (leaders), for one is your Master (Leader), even Christ" (Matt. 23:8-11). Going as far back as the days of Job, it is written, "Let me not, I pray thee, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my Maker would soon take me away." (Job 32:21-22).
In the face of these Divine statements, it is astonishing the extent to which the professing Church has adopted the use of flattering titles; thus transgressing flagrantly the will of the Lord. The use of such titles has become so general, and is so familiar to us, that most Christians use them without a thought of it mattering at all. This familiarity with an evil thing has deadened the conscience.
But the heart of man is naturally bent on departure from the commands of God. For instance: the Lord plainly told His ancient people, Israel, not to make to themselves to worship any graven image (Exod. 20); yet in course of time they filled the land with their idols (Isa. 2:8). Our Lord has clearly said, "Be ye not called Rabbi," etc.; yet the Church has adopted and multiplied these flattering titles. There are titles given to men that apply to God alone, and when used they become blasphemous, such as, "His Holiness", "Holy Father", and "The Right Reverend the Lord". Then there are more modified titles, as "The Reverend", with the prefixes "Very" and "Most Reverend", and "Father", "Doctor", "Pastor", etc. These are samples, not all.
The Church of Rome! Not a trace of them is found in the ritual of the Old Testament. Fancy Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, or any of the prophets, priests and Levites, having such distinguishing labels! How much more out of place for Paul, Peter, John, Barnabas, Epaphras, or other worthies of the early Church, the followers of the rejected and crucified Saviour! Certainly men gave them titles, but of an abusive nature, such as given to our Lord (Matt. 10:25).
While some people repudiate most of the titles in vogue, yet they tolerate "Doctor", "Reverend", "Father", "Pastor". But how can this be justified in the face of Matt. 23:8-10? Impossible! Oh, but we read of "Father Abraham" in Luke 16 :24. Yes, we do; but remember it came from a man in hell! What is wrong with "Doctor" and "Pastor"? "Doctor of Divinity" was never given by the Holy Spirit to any man, though none was more entitled to it than Paul. Though we do find the word pastor (small p), it only describes the nature of one of the gifts from the ascended Lord, and may he a farmer or carpenter by occupation. "Reverend" has no justification in view of Psalm 111:9.
Please note the following references: "And He (Jesus) goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto Him whom He would; and they come unto Him. And He ordained (appointed, R.V.) twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach," (Mark 3 :13-14). Also note: "Now when they (learned Council in Jerusalem) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned (learning of the schools) and ignorant men (mere fishermen), they marvelled, and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Lastly: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).
of the Gospel, or other service, comes from the Lord Himself, as truly today as when He called the twelve. The fact of His being now in heaven makes no difference whatever to us. A disciple in this our day will (1) be fully conscious in his own soul of the Divine call to service, and (2) his preparation and fitness depends, largely, upon his being "with Jesus" in the solitude of his chamber, in prayer and meditation over the Word. From the secret place he goes forth in the energy of the indwelling Spirit of God, to be a witness for Christ to men, as opportunities arise.
Gifts are given by the Head of the Church (Eph. 4:11), not fully perfected, hut are developed in a long and steady growth. The school is
No college of human device, with its staff of paid teachers; but an education that comes by learning at the Master's feet, and in the daily contact with men for their salvation. The hard road of life is a great teacher of experiences, and strengthens spiritual bone and muscle, as nothing else can. Training colleges were never established of God, neither in the Old or New Testaments. He chose men with just what they possessed, and by His Spirit and the Word did the rest.
Does this imply an uneducated and ignorant ministry? Not at all. Trust the Head for more wisdom than that. All classes of society need the Gospel, or will die in their sins. All believers, each in the place where called of God, are the chosen witnesses, and are found in every rank of society. We then shall have a Divinely-constituted ministry, taken from the ranks of the highest to the lowest in the land (without the aid of a religious college), thus reaching all sorts and conditions of men. We shall have the greatest intellects expounding the Word as they learned it on their knees; and simple ones spelling out the message as they have learned it too. We cannot improve on God's way.
But when men will ignore the priesthood of all believers, and believe in a clergy and laity, then they must build their costly colleges and educate their clergy; where the maximum of human learning is imparted, with the minimum of Bible teaching. What have we to-day? Nearly all these colleges are turning out a generation of "Modernists," flooding the countries with teaching that will land souls in perdition! Such is one result of introducing human methods.
When Timothy was instructed by Paul to commit the things he had heard to faithful men, who should teach others also; he merely had in view the elders in the various churches Timothy was to visit, in delivering the decrees of the Apostle. In no case can it be construed as referring to the students of a college, the future teachers; because there existed then no such institutes. Local Churches, with their elders, is God's provision for our growth and training.
Do we not read that the apostle Paul himself was "brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers?" (Acts 22:3). Was not this a college training? It was a training in "the law given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). This took place, however, before his conversion. Philippians 3 :5-8 shows what Paul himself thought of it all - "loss for Christ". Now he says, "That I may know Him" (verse 10), and refers to the "excellency" of such knowledge.
is God's way, outlined above. It is easily workable; is inexpensive and simple; has been tried out with excellent results; saves from "swelled heads" and self-opinionation; and it glorifies the Lord. It is like what David said of Goliath's sword, "There is none like that; give it me "(1 Sam, 21:9).
Paul is the pattern servant of Christ. His ordination came "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father" (Gal. 1:1). The same, in principle, holds good still. Also we read, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth" (1 Pet. 4:11). And, "Let him that heareth say, Come" (Rev. 22:17).
God is the direct giver of all abilities. To whomsoever He has given, much or little, it is given for exercise in fellowship with Him. Every redeemed soul is authorised to say, "Come." Upon the stoning of Stephen the Church was scattered, and they went everywhere preaching the Word, apart from any human official sanction (Acts 8:1-4).
No man may forbid anyone to "preach Christ and Him crucified." Imagine a body of ecclesiastics forbidding a man to "hold services whom they had not ordained! Who delegated to them this authority? Ah, thank God for the blessed freedom from man's interference, though we are in subjection to the Spirit and the Word.
We know none other ordination than that which one has touchingly described as, "The ordination of the Pierced Hands." That only counts with God; all else is pure assumption. The laying on of hands, where mentioned in the New Testament, is simply the mark of fellowship by the "presbytery" (that is, elders), with one whom God has already called and fitted for special service; as for instance, the case of Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14) and of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1-4). No gift was imparted through the hands of the elders; nor had they appointed these men to their service; nor is it said they were sent forth by the Church, but by the Holy Spirit. It was simply a linking together, in the bond of happy fellowship, of the elders and the servants of Christ.
Should a local church appoint to themselves a pastor or minister? Pastors of the flock and ministers of Christ are certainly found in the New Testament; but by no means are they given the place present custom assigns them. When a church has increased beyond the "two or three" in number, and become a fair size, we read of "bishops and deacons"; that is, overseers and servants of the Church (Phil. 1:1). The names are in the plural. The Lord is a liberal Giver of men to care for His flock; and He does not impose a heavy burden upon one pair of shoulders. How different to the way of man. How much better is several pastors for a church than one. Besides, we have no instance of a one-man ministry.
When an assembly has gathered for worship, it is out of order for one person to assume charge, and he alone to give out hymns, lead in prayer, read and preach; when the saints present are a "holy priesthood," with equal right to offer "spiritual sacrifices."
The service of God is not a profession which a man may take up, as the law, school teaching, or a medical profession. It is not something with a good living" or ample salary attached. To enter Divine service as a means of livelihood (as many do), degrades the nature of such service; and the man becomes, in many instances, a "hireling," who is denounced by our Lord in John 10:12-13.
Man must not hire God's Servant, he is in the service of a higher Master. When a man is hired, he becomes servant to them who hire him, and must serve so as to please them. The apostle Paul, and others, referred to themselves as "servants of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1 :1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1). And being bought by Him at the great price of His blood, we are therefore admonished, " Be not ye the servants of men (1 Cor. 7:23).
The Lord Himself engages His own servants, and He guarantees their pay. He has many ways and divers means of sustaining His servants, "who walk by faith and not by sight." The records of Scripture, in this respect, afford most interesting reading. The servant's path is one of sunshine and shadow; ample store and scant fare; smooth sailing and tempestuous seas; having nothing and yet possessing all things; but never forsaken of his Master!
Let us note an important fact: the Lord's servants are not a distinct class among His people. It is not a monopoly held by a few. All redeemed souls, according to their capacity and in their own sphere, are "servants to God" (Rom. 6:20-23). Most serve under ordinary conditions of life, while filling every known calling. Some who have occupied situations, have therein rendered the Lord great service. Evangelists, pastors and teachers are not necessarily men wholly given up to their work. The gifts enumerated in 1 Cor. 12:4-11; and verses 28-31; Eph. 4:11-16; and Rom. 12:4-8; cover a very wide range of service, and chiefly rendered by persons who must work for their living.
But some are called to devote their whole time to certain work, and the very nature of the service requires the relinquishment of all other work. For this the Lord has made provision, but not in the way common among men. Of such labourers for God, we read, "For His name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles" (3 John 7); which expression implies the receiving of remuneration for services rendered, from those who know not God. "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8).
All Divine favours and blessings are conferred "without money and without price" (Isa. 55:1). Common kindnesses may be thankfully accepted from an unconverted person, if given without the thought of supporting the work of God. But to solicit money from the world, for His service or cause, is altogether wrong; for how shall Satan assist God in His work against the kingdom of darkness!
How does the Lord support His labourers? The apostle Paul puts the case thus: "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things" (things for the body). "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel shall live of the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:7, 14). Also our Lord said to His disciples, "In the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give you for the labourer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7). This gives no support to a " hire " system; but on the same sort of principle His servants are entitled to what is given them. Spiritual service is not performed for the sake of gain (2 Cor. 12 :17-18).
On the other hand, the needs of the Lord's servants are met through the freewill offerings of the saints, upon whose hearts the Lord has laid the care of them. This is not the same thing as a system of salaries.
There were occasions when Paul, for very good reasons, would not take gifts as at Corinth and Ephesus, preferring to work with his hands (1 Cor. 9:15-18; Acts 20:33-35); yet he took the offerings of the church at Philippi, esteeming it as "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God"; and this he declared would abound to their account (Phil. 4:10-18). This church sent their gifts "once and again," while labouring in other parts.
Only to have fellowship with a worker at the time he pays a visit, savours somewhat of mere payment for services given; on the other hand, the worker should avoid the habit of looking for an offering at every place visited. Both habits are not in accord with Scripture example.
To his Master alone does the man of faith look, and not to his brethren; yet the Church has a responsibility to minister to such who "labour in the Word and doctrine". For the Scripture saith, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn" (1 Tim. 5:17-18). When channels of supply fail, as they do, then from other sources, perhaps most unlooked for, the Lord provides. He is never at an end of His resources.
There have been cases of very worthy workers for God, who have accepted stated salaries, without thinking it was at all inconsistent with their heavenly calling. We do not judge them. They acted up to the light they had. Still we take our stand with the Apostle, and say, "Yet show I unto you a more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:31). "Have faith in God," and the path will be found to be the best one, and the right one (Mark 11:22).
God's saints compose His house (Heb. 3:6). His presence among them demands holiness, and subjection to His will (Psa. 93:5; Jas. 4:7). Where the will ceases to bow to Divine rule, then things go to pieces, spiritually. The Book of Judges reveals the sad failure of Israel from this cause. It is a solemn record of apostasy and chastisement, with instances of God's merciful deliverances. The last chapter gives the root of all the evil: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (verse 25). In other words: there was no recognised rule or authority, hence a spirit of democracy and lawlessness.
Rule is of God and most essential to man's well-being; whether viewed as among nations (1 Pet. 2:13-15); in the Church of God (1 Cor. 16:16); or in the family (Eph. 6:1). As to the first, submission is required to the " powers that be "; as to the second, the elders or overseers are to be yielded to, and in the third place, obedience to parents is enjoined.
Elders are the Lord's provision for the care of local churches, and they are held responsible to the Head to maintain a godly order, according to the Word and to see that the saints keep the faith that has been delivered to them (Jude 3). They are to guard the flock from the inroads of "grievous wolves" and teachers of "perverse things", who would draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30). Specially are they instructed to "feed the flock" (1 Pet. 3:2). In short, they must watch for the souls of the flock as men who shall give an account to God (Heb. 13:17).
Elders are not a body of men to impose their own will or rule, hut to rule for God. They are "guides" of the flock and living "examples" of what they teach guides and flock alike being subject to the Word; all together holding the Head (Col. 2:19). True overseers are to be submitted to, in the fear of the Lord (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17).
If elders are to he appointed, who must do it? There are no apostles now who could appoint. They laid the foundations of Church doctrine (Acts 2:42; Eph. 2 :20); and this their special service has ceased. They, and the prophets, are required no longer for the Church, now that the New Testament Scriptures are complete. What remain are evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11), and these are named in their correct order. The evangelist gets out the "stones" from the "quarry", so to speak, and places them in God's building the pastors now care for the saved souls, otherwise named "living stones"; and then the teachers build them up on their most holy faith, according to the foundation principles laid down by the apostles. This is Divine order.
Not only are there no apostles now, but we have no apostolic succession; there is no delegated authority, like Paul's to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1) to appoint elders. As there is also no New Testament evidence of an organised group of churches, of a district or province, with some sort of executive with superintending powers; then there is no outside body or persons with the right to appoint elders. Much less right has a local church to select its own elders. Shall sheep choose their shepherds?
But some may say, why then is the Church given the precise qualifications of an elder in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Tit. 1:5-9, if not intended to guide her in their appointment?
Let it be noted that the Holy Spirit is He who appoints overseers or elders in the Church, as definitely stated in Acts 20:28; and that such gifts (gifted men) are given by the Head in heaven, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12).
We read in 1 Tim. 3 :1, "If a man desire (Spirit-begotten desire) the office of a bishop (overseer or elder), he desireth a good work." Such a man will manifest a godly care for the flock; by exercise his gift grows and "maketh room for him" (Prov. 18:16). Not only is he "known" and "esteemed" for His "work's sake" (1 Thess. 5:12-13); he is recognised by those very qualifications stated in the epistles to Timothy and Titus.
A double purpose is served by the qualifications: they not only assist the flock in "knowing" the right man; but the man himself is given thereby a standard to keep himself up to, by the grace of God. Such elders, made by the Holy Spirit, should be submitted to, in the fear of God. "Ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder; yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility" (1 Pet. 5:5).
"Overseership" (a more correct word than "office") is a work - a lowly, patient, arduous, oft misjudged service. Great will be the reward however. "And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Pet. 5:4). Let us get away from the idea of "officialism" in the Church; keeping in mind the image of a healthy body, each member fulfilling his or her designed part, with the Lord Himself the controlling Head.
We may lay it down as a principle that the elders (meaning the same as overseers and bishops) deal with all matters calling for discipline. The result of their judgment is brought before the Church for their information and acquiescence; the judgment then becomes the action not only of the elders but of the whole Church. Even "nature itself would teach us" (1 Cor. 11:14) that it is unseemly to discuss matters of discipline before the whole Church, largely composed of inexperienced people.
Let us consider some sample cases, calling for differing treatment. There is the case of Gal. 6:1. "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself lest thou also be tempted." To "restore" is to put in order again, especially of what is broken; to refit, repair. The word "fault", in this verse, means a misfall, mishap; a failing aside from duty, with special reference to the weakness of the person, rather than the sin. Now he needs raising up again; in some measure he has "gone to pieces", and his conduct requires "repairing". Who are to do the work? - "ye which are spiritual". How? - "in the spirit of meekness". What should be the uppermost thought in the mind? - it might have been me! A visit and kindly talk; an application of the Word to the one at fault; as water to the feet (John 13 :14), and done in meekness, will doubtless restore the soul of the weak one. Confessing his failure, and all present seeking grace for the future, no discipline may be needful.
We come to serious cases calling for extreme measures. Read 1 Cor. 5:4-l3. Here is a case of immorality, and cannot be tolerated. It is a scandal and filthiness and must be put away. "Holiness becometh Thine house, 0 Lord, for ever" (Psa. 93:5). Yet the mercy of God, which is as high as the heaven is above the earth (Psa. 103:11), forbids the thought of permanent exclusion; but has in view repentance, restoration of soul, with ultimate reception back to fellowship (2 Cor. 2:6). There is pointed out in 1 Cor. 5:11, six sins of a serious nature; namely, fornication, covetousness, idolatry, railing, drunkenness and extortion. With such we are told not to keep company, neither are we to eat with them. They are unfit, meantime, to sit with us at the Lord's Table, or at our own table. This does not imply the refusing of food, if needed; for "if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink" (Rom. 12:20); but we are to withold any expression of fellowship with the one under discipline.
There are cases of doctrinal error. Paul cites Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who were charged with blasphemy. The first two had taught that the resurrection was past already, and overthrown the faith of some. The third person had greatly withstood Paul's words (preachings). See 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 4:14-15. These, together with the fornicator of 1 Cor. 5, received extreme discipline - were delivered unto Satan (as chastiser) for the destruction of the flesh; yet note the further statement, " that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (ver. 5). For all such serious cases, the Divine injunction is, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (ver. 13). As "a little leaven leaventh the whole lump", so the retention among us of unjudged definite evil, will tend to corrupt the whole local church; therefore we are admonished, "Purge out the old leaven" (verses 6 and 7).
Apart from all the foregoing, there are trespasses one against another, not calling for settlement by the Church, unless all else tails. Read Matthew 18:15-17. If a brother shall trespass against me, then I must go and tell him his fault, privately, seeking to gain my brother, not to scold him and give him a piece of my mind. And a good thing is to pray before paying the visit. If unsuccessful, then I am to take one or two more with me, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. Please note how the attempt is made to keep the unsavoury thing in as small a circle as possible, that nothing may get abroad, as brotherly love would suggest. Only when the second attempt is fruitless is it time to appeal to the Church, in the person of its elders. Should the offender stubbornly refuse the last appeal, then for the present he must be reckoned not as a Christian (though he may be one) but as "a heathen man and a publican"; and no assembly of saints allows a heathen or a publican at the Lord's Table.
(1) Persons who cause divisions and offences (occasions of stumbling) contrary to the doctrine which we have learned; are to be avoided (Rom. 16:17).
(2) We are to withdraw ourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the apostolic teaching; also to withdraw from them who don't work and are lazy and are busybodies, refusing to be admonished; yea, we are forbidden to have company with them, that they may be ashamed (2 Thess. 3 :6-14).
(3) Then we have unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, teaching things they should not, giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men. The mouths of all such must be stopped (Titus 1 :10-14).
(4) Them in the Church that sin (persist in sin) must be rebuked before all, that others may fear. Probably referring to some who have often been reproved by elders and still take no notice (1 Tim. 5:20).
There are matters that never come before the Church, and which have no place in its discipline. We refer to personal sins between the believer and God, but which cannot be permitted to pass without discipline at His hands. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He received" (Heb. 12:5-11). Grievous as the experience of the rod is, nevertheless, "afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby".
We must not overlook a certain solemn fact, namely, if a church fails by indifference to exercise discipline, where needed; or should it shield an offender because of giving offence to influential parties; doth not the Lord take notice? Will He not take action sooner or later? Will He not withold His blessing and prosperity from that Church, for His holy Name's sake?
The receiving or welcoming of the children of God is a very happy thing, and the fellowship of saints is most sweet, and it is of God. Every right facility for its accomplishment should be used, but with care to have everything in order, lest any abuse should be made of it.
Fellowship is a partnership, the sharing of things in common. One who is welcomed to an assembly of saints is received to all that pertains to them; to a share in the privileges, the testimony, the responsibilities, etc. Let our conception of the idea be enlarged. The partnership is not partial; it is complete; it is just as God would have it. Fellowship is like what we see exemplified in a human body (1 Cor. 12:12-27). We see a wonderful joint action and relationship. Each member has a place; is necessary, is indispensable. All act together. Each one contributes something to the welfare of the whole. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one is honoured, all rejoice. All members are joined one to another, and there is no schism in the body. Each member is controlled by the Head. It has never been known that a hand or foot in our body, when functioning normally, has refused our will. Always prompt obedience. What a lesson for the members of Christ!
To such a blessed fellowship a child of God is welcomed, with the hope that it is permanent. It was so at the beginning. When Judaism, or some other religion, was left for Christ, it was considered as final; should there be a relapse it was an occasion of sorrow to the believers. There was a separation in those days, and that produced persecution; but it kept the Church healthy, and true to the Lord. What is called "Occasional fellowship" would have seemed a strange thing to the early Church. Moreover, the phrase "receiving to the Lord's Table" is not used in the Scriptures : reception is to Church fellowship, which embraces everything that that implies, including the "breaking of bread."
"Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God" (Rom. 15:5-7). In reception it must, first of all, be quite certain that the person is really the Lord's; has Christ received this one? Secondly, is he or she free from doctrinal error of a fundamental nature. Thirdly, the moral character must be above reproach. These are main considerations, and in no case may they be set aside. Should all things now seem satisfactory, then the question might be asked, "Have you been baptized (immersed) as a believer in Christ?" According to the Lord's Commission, this act of obedience and identification with Him follows conversion, and the records in the Book of Acts show that the disciples obeyed their instructions. In the early Church there were no unbaptized believers. Baptism, of course, is neither necessary to salvation nor is it the door into the Church, as some affirm. We are saved through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9), and Christ is the door (John 10:9). Yet this ordinance is essential to obedience, and it follows conversion.
Apart from controversy, it is a wise thing to follow the simple order and connection of Scripture, as undoubtedly observed by the early Church. In Acts 2:41, we read, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptised, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls". Conversion, baptism and adding are joined, and "what therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder".
Elders are not only guides of the flock, they are also guardians. They are to guard the churches of the saints from those who would creep in unawares (Jude 4) and make no end of mischief; from mere professors; from any whose life is a bad testimony. We are bidden to do everything "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40); therefore sufficient time and godly care must needs be exercised in the receiving of a professed Christian, concerning whom little or nothing is known.
While it would be very nice to receive Christians on the simple basis of being in the "one body", yet the present condition of things makes it increasingly difficult to do so. We deprecate a spirit of hardness toward any believer in the systems around; yea we would cherish a love for them and a desire to welcome them to what is better far; still we realize that a right exercise of care increases as the days go by.
In the case of new converts, all is fairly simple and happy, and in the case of one bearing a letter from an assembly elsewhere, known to us, this too is generally quite satisfactory. The letter is read to the church, and the stranger-believer is accorded a welcome.
All cases of reception come before the elders, and on their commendation the church receives. So reception, strictly speaking, is not by the elders, but is by the whole Church. No one has a personal right to bring another to the Lord's Table, nor has any one the liberty to tell some one not to come. Reasonable time, also, should be allowed for any member to produce evidence, if such exists, that may bar the reception meantime. Often has the wisdom of such a course been seen, in the case of a total stranger.
We cannot lay down a uniform rule to fit all cases; for there arises at times one which is exceptional, and must be considered on its own merit. But what we have sought to do is to state general guiding principles, rather than details over which there has been much controversy.
If some should think we are leaning to the "close side of fellowship"; to such we say, our remarks should only be taken as implying an urge for more care in the face of increasing perils, with no wish to exclude any whom the Lord would have us welcome. "Lay hands suddenly on no man" (1 Tim. 5 :22) is what we wish to emphasize.
The same spirit of change and lawlessness that characterizes the world in these "last days" is fast spreading in what professes to be the Church of God. The woman is leaving the place God assigned her. She is claiming equal right with man to enter any position she may desire, regardless of what Scripture says about it. Ecclesiastically the limit is reached when a woman assumes the office of pastor or minister of a church. Such cases are not rare. Women preachers, teachers and lecturers on the public platform, are increasing greatly. There are women "elders" and "deacons". Women will pray at prayer meetings before men; and at other church gatherings their voices are heard.
Because a woman may possess a better gift of speech than many men who speak in public, it does not justify her taking a place God did not give her, even though some blessing may come of it. When Moses struck the rock instead of simply speaking to it, as commanded, though the waters gushed forth for the thirsting Israelites, the result did not justify his action ; nay, but he incurred the Lord's displeasure, so that he and Aaron his brother forfeited the honour of bringing the people into the promised land. They had not believed God nor sanctified Him in the eyes of Israel (Num. 20:7-12). Let sisters in Christ take warning. and not miss a full reward.
Let us see what the Word teaches concerning the woman's place.
"The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3-16). No words could more definitely state this three-fold headship. Surely all believers of Holy Scripture will bow to this Divine statement. When God Himself says that the head of the woman is the man, it is improper to dispute and discuss.
The man praying or prophesying with covered head, dishonours his head, even Christ; the woman praying or prophesying with uncovered head, dishonours her head, even man. Man is the image and glory of God; woman is the glory of the man. The man is not of the woman; the woman is of the man (referring to the original act of creation). Man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man. Therefore we read, "For this cause ought the woman to have
on her head because of the angels " (1 Cor. 11:10, R.V.). Her veil, or head-covering, is the sign of her husband's authority, and which is an object lesson to angels. Her long hair is given her for a covering. It is a shame for her to he shorn or shaven. Yet Christian women take off the hair in the sight of angels (what must angelic beings think!), and break the Lord's commandment! Cannot saved women, for Christ's sake, keep their hair on? What has fashion to do with it?
The man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man. The woman is of the man, yet the man is by the woman. "But all things are of God." Woman is subject to man, hut man is dependent on the woman. If a man assumes the air of superiority and looks down upon a woman, he acts as one devoid of sense and knowledge. Man was made to fill the prominent and responsible place, woman the unobtrusive and quieter position. Man is not meant to be alone, woman is a help meet for him. Home is her chief, but not her only, sphere; in this she does worthily and Shines to best advantage. The wife is to submit to her husband, as unto the Lord; the husband is to love, nourish and cherish his wife, as the Lord the Church (Eph. 5 :22-33). Beautiful is that home-life where such is the case.
Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak (1 Cor. 14:34-35). The Greek word translated "speak" is used in verses 19, 21, 28, 29, 34 and 35 of this chapter. Every translation of the New Testament gives " speak " in each verse. Nobody needs a dictionary to know the meaning of the word; even a child understands when told not to speak.
Some who chafe under this restriction of speaking in the Church, have said that this particular Greek word means "speak" in the first four instances, and means "chatter" in the last two; that the Spirit through the Apostle did not mean to stop a woman "speaking", but she must not "chatter"! But this is against scholarly translation; is against the context of the chapter; besides it is a gross reflection on a Christian woman's character to infer she is given to chattering when the church is assembled. We shall not be guilty of this absurd interpretation, and throw it out.
(1) No woman was used to write any of the 66 books of the Bible, though some of her utterances are recorded;
(2) no woman priest was appointed in the Old Testament;
(3) there was no woman official in the Tabernacle or the Temple;
(4) no woman was chosen by our Lord as one of the twelve apostles;
(5) no woman evangelist, pastor, or teacher (in public sense) in the New Testament;
(6) no woman is mentioned as performing a public miracle;
(7) no woman is named in 1 Cor. 15:5-9 as a public witness of the resurrection, though the Lord appeared first to women after He rose.
Why all this? Simply, that to woman, the "weaker vessel" (1 Pet. 3:7), is not assigned the place of responsibility and public witness, in the Church and in the world.
1 Timothy, chap. 2, deals with prayer and the Divine order of the sexes. Verse 8, Revised Version, reads, "I desire, therefore, that the men pray in every place"; that takes in every place where prayer is made publicly, or where men and women are together. Emphasis is laid on the words "the men", implying not the women. The men pray, uncovered; the women are silent, covered. After the Apostle mentions men, the women are next addressed (verses 9-14), enjoining upon them modesty, silence and subjection; advancing the reason for this arrangement, "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, hut the woman being deceived, was in the transgression".
Does all this mean that a woman has no part in worship and prayer, when the Church is assembled? By no means. Our hymns form a good part of our meetings. Brethren and sisters unite together in singing their thoughts of adoration, praise, thanksgiving. Whilst singing nobody comes into prominence; this is quite in order. All brethren present don't lead in prayer; but he who does so leads forth the worship of the rest, and at the close we all respond with Amen. All were worshipping, the silent brethren and the silent sisters. A little ministry is given; again every silent listener, brother and sister, is affected. There are pauses when no sound is heard in the company; yet nevertheless worship is rising from all hearts, sisters equally with brethren.
Take the prayer meeting: just the same thing may be said of it. But here, let us say, sisters may pray, they are not debarred. Refer to 1 Sam. 1:9-17. This godly woman, Hannah, continued praying before the Lord, when she was up at the house of the Lord, where worshippers were assembled. It says she prayed, she poured out her soul; she was heard in heaven; God answered her prayer. But notice: "Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard" (verse 13). To have audibly prayed in that mixed company was not permissible; yet no woman was prohibited from praying in her heart," and that was just as effective with God.
Galatians 3:28. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." This has no application to conduct or order in the Church, for in it the Word definitely declares there are differences between the sexes. But in the redeemed family of God there is no distinction whatever as to salvation and grace bestowed; all are in the one body; all have the same Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father, whether male or female; " all are one in Christ Jesus." The reference bears no other meaning.
Matthew 28:7. "Go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen." Thus did the angel address the two women. They did not publish the news in the streets of Jerusalem, nor in the temple area where people congregated; but were sent to tell the disciples privately. They were not public witnesses, hence their names are not included in the names in 1 Cor. 15:5-8.
Luke 2:36-38. This woman, Anna, was a prophetess of the Old Testament order. Such were raised up at times of declension, and their messages were given privately to men in responsibility (Jud. 4:14; 2 Chron. 34:22-28). Anna served God with "fastings and prayers" ; this was her service. She "spake of Him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" - not in a public concourse (that would not be permitted), but to individuals.
John 4:28-29. This woman of Samaria did not publidy preach; but she invited the men of the city to "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did". Any woman may invite others to come and hear the Gospel.
Acts 1:14. "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women". Assuming for the moment that women prayed, Jewish custom would prohibit them praying aloud before men, they must pray aloud apart. Note Zech. 12:10-14, which is much to the point. If not apart, then would they pray like Hannah, "her lips moved, but her voice was not heard" (1 Sam. 1:13). Furthermore, the Church was not then formed, nor the regulation given for silence, so Acts 1:14 is no guide for the Church period.
Acts 18:24-28. Priscilla and her husband expounded the Scriptures to Apollos the preacher, but it was privately in their own home. Any Christian woman may help her husband in the same manner.
Acts 21:9. Philip the evangelist "had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy". Being of a godly home, they would not act unseemly but would keep to the limit for women, and their messages would be of a private nature, say, when callers came or when they visited their neighbours.
Philippians 4:3. Here certain women are named who "laboured" with Paul in the Gospel. He who definitely laid it down that a woman is not suffered to speak (1 Cor. 14:34), could hardly have women preaching on the platform with him! We must think of other ways in which they "laboured"; such as telling people about the meetings; visiting and dealing with women; attending to Paul himself-hard toil, but all this is in the woman's sphere.
Acts 2:17-18. "In the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy ... and on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit, and they shall phophesy." This prophecy relates to Israel's exaltation and blessing in the "last days" of their history, and differs from the teaching to the Church concerning women speaking (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
Women ministered to the Lord of their substance, and may do so still in the person of those who belong to Him (Luke 8:2-3).
From Rom. 16:1-12 we see women serving the Church; succouring many; helping Christ's servants; besides performing other noble deeds.
In 1 Tim. 5:5-14, we find women continuing in prayers; reported of for good works; bringing up children; lodging strangers; washing the saints' feet; and relieving the afflicted.
In Titus 2:3-5, she is seen living as an example before her own sex, and teaching them good things.
None are so fitted to train the young as women. What a person ultimately becomes in life, is more the result of the mother's patient training than the father's.
Women can do very important work in the mission field. In Mohammedan lands, and in other instances, she only may enter the homes to speak to the women.
In nursing, visiting and entertaining, women excel men altogether.
Half the human race are females, therefore what scope have women for every kind of service. Men are often awkwardly placed in approaching females; women never are.
Any woman may speak to a man about his soul, when given an appropriate occasion.
In two great respects has God honoured the woman beyond the man, and they are unique. Christ was born of a woman, the virgin Mary. Our Lord, after His resurrection, appeared first to a woman, Mary Magdalene.
O woman, keep the place infinite wisdom has assigned you. It is not the place of head; that belongs to man, and is his responsibility to God. The public part is not yours, but his. The Lord has willed it so. Your sphere is wonderful. Don't mar it by intruding into man's province. Let both keep in their proper places, in the fear of the Lord. The world-wide cry of "woman's rights," is against God; it is rebellion and an evil sign of the "last days".
Like redemption, this is an important and great theme running through the Bible, from the first chapter to the last. All the chastening that has fallen upon the people of God, in all ages, has been because they have not taken forth the precious from the vile (Jer. 15:19); but they would persist in having fellowship with works of darkness.
God's nature demands separation from sin. In Isaiah 6:1-5, is seen the Lord sitting upon an exalted throne, before whose spotless and glorious presence the seraphims cover with their wings their faces and feet; crying one to another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts." The prophet, beholding the vision, becomes so impressed by a comparison of his own condition with such unsullied holiness, that he exclaims, " Woe is me, for I am undone!" Ranking as a prophet among men, yet such a vision compels him to say, "I am a man of unclean lips! " Such was the revelation made to Israel of old time.
From 1 John 1:5-10, we get a very important message for this our own day. First, it is announced, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ "; then further, " God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another (Father, Son, and walkers in the light), and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
Though this Divine fellowship is certainly extended to " all saints," it is limited to those who " walk in the light as He is in the light." If any lay claim to this fellowship, and "walk in darkness" (as many Christians undoubtedly do), they "lie and do not the truth." The prophet Amos writes, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed? " (chap. 3 :3); therefore, how shall we walk in fellowship with God, if our lives are not in agreement " with Him?
Our clear duty in view of the holiness of God, is set before us in 2 Tim. 2:19-26," Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity"; and to "purge" ourselves from evil; and to "flee youthful lusts," etc. To do so is to become "a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." What an honour to be such a vessel!
For the lack of separation from sin, the old world perished by a flood; Sodom and her sister cities were consumed by fire from heaven; the children of Israel lost their inheritance and are dispersed among the nations; the Canaanites, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Assyria are ~l no more; world-empires such as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome fell and are merely matters of history
Through sin the present nations are heading to their final doom at Armageddon; and the professing Church, becoming apostate, is to be "burned with fire " (Rev. 18:8). From the Great White Throne all the wicked dead will be cast into the Lake of Fire-an everlasting separation between God and sin (Rev. 20:14-15; Mark 9:43-50).
Why all this? "Because light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3 :19).
"The whole world lieth in wickedness" (the evil one, R.V.). Satan is its god (2 Cor. 4:4); it is controlled and led by its god (Eph. 2:2); it is enmity with God, not subject to His law, nor can please Him (Rom. 8:6-8). Both Jews and Gentiles are under condemnation for killing the Prince of Life (Acts 3:15; 1 Cor. 2:8). Still, God's attitude is one of infinite love and pity to a lost world, with an offer of forgiveness and salvation, "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3 :9). Nevertheless, "the acceptable year of the Lord" will be followed by "the day of vengeance of our God" (Isa. 61:2).
The world will hate those who are Christ's, if they take up the position of separation from it, as He did (John 17:14-18). The Christian is not to love the world (this great world-system), neither the things that are in it (1 John 2:15-17). The whole system stands opposed to the Father, and is to pass away finally in judgment.
The world caters for every lust of the flesh within us, whatever our tastes, refined or gross. Its fashions, pleasure, sports, amusements, and pastimes are abundantly provided, regardless of labour and cost. By the "wireless" can be brought into our very dwellings the speeches of the great of the earth; the news of the world; the progress of sports and fights and wrestling; sermons and comic recitals; business quotations and betting odds; music from afar; morning devotions and evening frivolities; choice speech and uncouth slang. In short, saint and sinner; holy and profane; professor or business man; master and servant; old and young; male and female - everything and everybody catered for!
There is the picture palace, another huge worldly entertainment, sweeping into itself all grades of society. Drink ruins its thousands; this its tens of thousands. Its morals are those of Sodom; its performers are the men and women of Gomorrah. The packed audiences view, with hideous familiarity, fast and indelicate scenes; men with women doing that which is unseemly; the thinly veiled corruption brings no blush to the cheek, nor prick to the conscience. Is the performance all of this sort? By no means. That would never do. The educational, the beautiful, the instructive-all are there. It is a clever mixture; but in the bottom of the cup are the soul-destroying dregs, and many of its victims are in the depths of hell!
Enough! Why need we proceed further? God and the world are poles apart; and presently He will destroy it, with all that is therein. Let us keep separate.
The true separation is not that of the hermit or the monastry, to shut up ourselves wholly from people. This the Lord never did. He came freely into touch with all sorts and conditions of men, but only for their salvation. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners " (Heb. 7 :26, R.V.); separated by His very nature, from their evil ways, sinful pleasures, earthly schemes, and politics. He was a heavenly Stranger in a hostile world, witnessing for His Father. He has left us an example, that we should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2.21).
The foretold apostasy of the Church is rapidly setting in coming to a full head when Antichrist appears. All denominations are affected. But before the climax will the Lord "descend to the air" to receive to Himself His true Bride (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The mass of merely religious people never "born again", will be left behind. Scripture reveals that there is no remedy for apostasy - the deliberate giving up of the foundation truths of the Word, once held (Heb. 6:4-8). It is impossible to change the religious systems so leavened with "Modernism"; all that can be done is simply to leave them. "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4). In coming out it is not to start something new; but just to go back to God's order and arrangement for the Church, as at the first.
Let us turn to Heb. 13 :10-16. The Jews to whom had been committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3 :2), and ordinances of Divine service (Heb. 9:1), rejected their Messiah, saying, "Away with Him, crucify Him!" Their house of worship, with all its ritual, was now to be left unto them desolate (Matt. 23:38). They had cast out the Son of God and would have none of His teaching. They led Him without their city to Calvary and there crucified Him, in ignominy and shame. As the sin-offering of old was burned without the camp (Lev. 6:30; 16:27), 50 Jesus also suffered without the gate.
Inside that apostate city, the temple worship went on, as usual, with all its beautiful display; but where was the Christ of God? Outside, rejected, slain! Could that temple - worship be now acceptable to God? Impossible Would Christ be any more acceptable to Christendom to-day, if so be that He came? The leaders are denying His deity, His virgin-birth, His atoning blood. Could they more definitely reject Mini ? Yet they continue their ornate services in their chased architectural edifices, professedly worshipping God. Does He accept it? Nay! The true worshipper must turn his back on this religious delusion, and "go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach". Crucifixion is a reproach, and the Cross a shame and offence, to this day. This is the time for the true disciple to identify himself with the despised and rejected Son of God.
Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing," is the clear duty of every child of God (2 Cor. 6:17). And when, at His command, we have separated ourselves from it all, not in a pharasaical spirit, but in the fear of the Lord, how can we be justified in returning, even for an hour, to the thing we have left? In the words of the inspired apostle, " If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor " (Gal. 2:18).
Does separation from religious evil and the systems of men curtail one's usefulness? No, it does not. To the obedient one a blessed encouragement is given by the Lord: "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My Word, and hast not denied My Name" (Rev. 3:8).
One bright hope has been before the Church, ever since the Lord's ascension to heaven, namely, His promised return to receive from the world His own: "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3).
The meeting-place of Christ and the Church will be in the air." He will descend from heaven, and the saved shall be " caught up " to meet Him, as a magnet would raise needles from a dish of pins. The redeemed already in heaven, will come with Him to receive their glorified bodies. First of all is the resurrection of the dead bodies, raised and fashioned like the Lord's body of glory, no more to see corruption. Next, the changing of the bodies of all living believers into the same glorious condition as the others, no longer subject to death. Then all together transported to the meeting-place above, clouds receiving the Church out of sight. All this will take place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." No Christian will be left behind for the "great tribulation" purgatory; all will go like the Israelites when called out of Egypt (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:23).
Following the Lord's Coming will be the Judgment-seat of Christ, where the Church's service and testimony on earth will be manifested of what sort it is; when individual rewards will be given and losses suffered; everything finalised to God's glory and praise (1 Cor. 3:10-15; Chap. 4:1-5).
Afterward comes the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at which the Church will be arrayed in unblemished righteousness, with the beauty of her Lord upon her. And now, at last, conformed to the image of God's Son - perfect Bride for the glorious Bridegroom; meet companion for Him; to be sharer of all His glory, and that for ever and for ever! (Rev. 19:7-9; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 5:27; Rom. 8:17; John 17:24).
| Home | Assembly Literature |