The Assembly in Function)

Having invited correspondence we consider it only right that our readers should have the benefit, if any, that may arise from it. It is with some hesitation, however, that an endeavour has been made to meet the difficulties raised in the following letter; but as they are, alas, very common difficulties, they cannot be ignored, and it may amount to moral cowardice to shirk them. Others may be able to give clearer and more definite help; if so, the pages of the "Supplement" are open.

"Dear Bro, — I have recently received a copy of "Scripture Truth" with the "Supplement" No. 5. I am delighted with these papers, the teaching is so clear and Scriptural. They arrived at a very opportune moment, for it is not long since I found my way outside the religious systems of men, and I have since been through much exercise of soul in seeking to walk in the right path for God's people. I therefore gladly accept your invitation to send questions to your magazine. There are some questions which are troubling me greatly. I wish now I could express myself plainly enough for you to understand my difficulties. However, I will try to do so."

Divisions

"First, with reference to fellowship. I found in this city three different companies of believers claiming to be gathered to the Name of the Lord, but each in separation from the other, inter-communion being strictly forbidden."

It is plain that in apostolic times only one assembly was recognized in one city, or to put it more correctly, the assembly in each city was viewed and addressed in its unity and oneness. When cliques and sects began to spring up in any one of these assemblies, as at Corinth, they were unsparingly condemned by the Holy Spirit in the Word (see 1 Corinthians). They were an evidence of a rampant carnality and not of a higher spirituality as the sectarians thought. If the germ or bud of division met with God's rebuke at the beginning, the fully developed and vicious fruit cannot have His sanction now. Hence we have no difficulty in concluding that the state of things which you deplore in your city is wrong, radically wrong; it is contrary to the truth and Christ dishonouring; it could never have been if there had not been disobedience to the Word. There may, of course, be just cause for separation. If a company of believers in any place refused to judge known evil, either in morals or doctrine, as directed by the Word, it would be, we believe, incumbent upon those who desired to be faithful to the Lord, after due patience, to separate from them, for to do otherwise would be to say holiness and truth are of little account; consequently the name of "the Holy and the True" would be denied and His Word not kept. But such separation would be the last resource, after all efforts to exercise the consciences of the company had failed. Cases of this kind have arisen in the history of the truth, and it would not be right to characterize those who so separated as sectarian, they have simply stood for holiness and truth against complicity with evil and error. "Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity . . . but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:19-22) would be sufficient warrant for such action, and enough also for the guidance of all who in every place call on the Name of the Lord, for what is done according to the truth and in the Name of the Lord in one place, would surely satisfy all who love the truth and hold to that Name wherever they are found. The one Head will direct all His members in unison, and there is one body and one Spirit.

We need not say that such a course must always be deeply serious, to cause a separation where one heart and one mind should prevail at the bidding of some leader, or because of some difference of judgment, or of the interpretation of some passage of Scripture is to be guilty of the gravest of sins, because it is sin committed in the holy circle of the Lord's interests. This we know has been done, causing widespread confusion, and stumbling many of the saints of God. The condition of things spiritually that made this possible is our common shame; but those directly responsible for these difficulties will have to answer to the Lord for their self-will and independence of Him. All who would walk in the truth must surely decline to recognize separations of this sort, for they are contrary to the truth. You may say that all this does not help you in your difficulties, but it will, we trust, at least, direct your exercises in the right channel, so that you will not waste your time weighing the claims of one company against another, but weigh all in the light the Word gives for such conditions, and that may result in many others being exercised about a state of things that must be displeasing to the Lord.

Independence

"I walked alone for some time, then was received into the fellowship of so-called Brethren. I longed for an expression of the unity of the church, but here I learned that although there were three meetings of these Brethren within a radius of a few miles, they were not in fellowship with each other; the City meeting had separated from the other two meetings some years ago, and the breach was not healed. This caused much confusion. The meetings would not receive from each other locally, yet the assemblies in the Eastern States received brethren from all of the assemblies here. A case actually occurred where two brethren from the meetings at variance here were on a visit to the Eastern States, and were both received on the same Lord's Day in one assembly, but returning home they could remain in separation from each other. I was much concerned on the question of unity in discipline and other matters, and soon withdrew from this meeting."

Do not let the desire for an "expression of the unity of the church" control you. That unity exists and will be fully expressed when the New Jerusalem — the bride of the Lamb — comes out of heaven having the glory of God. Meanwhile it is not expressed, though we may act in the faith that it is no mere doctrine but a reality — "There is one body and one Spirit." If an expression of the unity of the church is your one thought, Rome will claim to express it, but she is the great harlot.

But an expression of unity, or to more correctly express our thought, unison is much to be desired, but if it is gained at the expense of the truth the gain is an incalculable loss.

But while we cannot find a full expression of this unity in these broken days, it is altogether another matter to deny it in practice, and the state of things that you describe is clearly a denial of it, and confusion. It all arises from the idea of independent assemblies, that each must act for itself regardless of what may happen elsewhere, and this is the principle of congregationalism, and not of the church of God.

One Scripture that would prove that all who are subject to the truth would act in unison is 1 Corinthians 1:2. The directions and commands that the Lord sent through Paul to the assembly at Corinth were for "all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." Hence unity of discipline would be secured, for no one would assert that the Lord would direct an assembly in one place to act in one way, and direct another somewhere else in the opposite. As Head of the body He will move all who are subject to Him in one direction, and the one Spirit is here to give force to that direction. The one Lord administering in each assembly will produce one mind in all. Hence there will be unity in discipline and in everything else. It does not follow from this that one assembly must have the approval of all assemblies before it takes any necessary action. But that what it does is so clearly according to the Word that all who are subject to the Word will recognize the leading of the Lord and gladly acquiesce.

Official Oversight

I was afterwards received into the fellowship of another company which I learn was once in fellowship with what was called the 'Needed Truth' party. The principles of that party are still practically maintained in this meeting. Your article on 'Apostolic Fellowship,' in "Supplement" 5 has caused me to think very much. I have fears that I might have swung to an extreme, and that 'Needed Truth' principles are but a reflex of the Romish Metropolitanism mentioned in your article. Could you therefore enlighten me as to whether there is Scriptural ground for the assertion that all meetings in a city should form the one local assembly? In all cases of discipline, etc., these meetings act as one, and they have one united oversight."

It is clear, we believe, from Scripture, that all saints in any given place are looked upon as one assembly, even though through difficulties as to distance, etc., they were not able always to meet in one place. The Epistle to the Galatians was written to assemblies in a province, and they are addressed as one. They had come under the influence of error and were being swept away as one, and the apostolic letter was to call them back as one to the truth.

There is no Scripture for an official oversight today. Bishops, elders and deacons were appointed when the church in the house character was in order. But these were not appointed by the assemblies, that is another principle of congregationalism, but by the apostle or his delegates. No word is given to us as to the continuation of this, and the apostle, in his farewell to the saints, did not commit them to the oversight but to God and the Word of His grace. The Lord is faithful and will raise up and maintain faithful men who shall have the moral qualities that fit them to care for the saints and their needs, and such will be recognized by all who are subject to the Word. But the appointing of an oversight is going beyond the Word. We must look for what is moral and not official in these days.

The Use Of The Word "Church"

"Again, when in Scripture we read the expression 'The Church of God,' does it only refer to the local assembly or has it a more comprehensive meaning?"

The designation "church," or "assembly" as it should be, is used in the Word for the local assembly and also for the whole body of Christ upon earth. The first time it is used (Matt. 16:38) it has in view the whole assembly without any reference to locality, and every time that it occurs in the Epistle to the Ephesians it is used in this way.

It is of the greatest importance that the truth as to its oneness and completeness should be understood, otherwise it will not be possible to act in the truth of it in the local assembly.

Worship

"I would like further to mention the question of worship. In this city there is a large meeting. I have always felt strangely attracted to this meeting, but withheld from seeking fellowship because of several things that I cannot get clear about. The order of the worship meeting drew me very much. These brethren maintain that there is certainly a Divine order in the worship meeting. Could you tell me, therefore, if it is a mistake to address our God and Father in prayer before the breaking of the bread? It is maintained that the Lord Jesus should be addressed personally until the act of remembrance is past. It is then He conducts the assembly in Spirit to the Father's presence in the Father's House, sings praises in the midst of the assembly, and declares His Father's Name to His Brethren. It is claimed there is no worship until we come to this phase in the meeting; that other meetings that do not maintain this order, only keep the Passover and cannot rise to the height of privilege there really is in the Lord's Supper."

To have rules and regulations in the conduct of meetings for which there is not Scriptural warrant is the sure badge of a party, no matter how intelligent those who compose it may be. Moreover it means that the authority of the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are set aside, and you will be able to realize the seriousness of that. Further, since the standard set is a high one, and must be attained to regardless of the state of the assembly, nothing but insincerity can ensue, and true worship — worship in spirit and in truth ceases, for that cannot be arranged and directed by us, it must be spontaneous and free.

Nevertheless we believe that where the Lord leads there will be order, and since the object of the coming together is to break bread in the remembrance of the Lord in His death, this should be, and will be, where things are right, the first and chief thing. The heart and mind of the assembly, as guided by the Holy Ghost, will certainly dwell upon the Lord in death, with accompanying adoration to Him, but it would be a bold thing to say that the Father has no part in this, and no note of praise or word of worship should ascend to Him in connection with it. To whom did the Lord give thanks when He instituted the Supper? To the Father, surely. Then the Father may be addressed before the Supper.

The expression, "The act of remembrance is past," jars upon our mind. It is well that no time should be wasted, and that the Lord's Supper should be eaten early in the meeting, since it is for this we come together; but even here the principle contained in the words, "Tarry one of another," would prevent undue haste. Yet the whole meeting is a remembrance of that that we shall never forget even in heaven, and there is no true worship that is separated from the death of Christ. The blood was ever in the Holiest.

We believe it is utterly wrong to say that not until the Supper is eaten does the Lord lead us into the Father's presence. The expression itself is unscriptural. What is said is, "I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren in the midst of the assembly will I sing praises to Thee." We are in the presence of the Father when we assemble, if we do it rightly, for His presence is the home of the brethren of Christ. And the Lord is there to make the Father a reality as the Father to us, for this is what declaring His name means. We should have from the beginning a sense of the Father's love and favour in our hearts, and it is thus that we look back into death, the death of Christ, and there learn the greatness of His love (1 John 4:9-19). To say there is no worship until after the bread is broken is to say what is not true, you may worship individually in your own room, and there may be assembly worship in any meeting of the assembly. No one can keep the passover now. The Christian feast is the Lord's Supper, and to make a certain standard of intelligence necessary for this, as these friends of yours are doing, is to spoil it. Love is the quality needed. Love to the One Who died for us, though the more intelligent we are the better, if love is maintained.

Light

"I do earnestly hope you will enlighten me on this question, having observed the order mentioned I sometimes feel distressed in our worship meeting at what appears to be confusion. I know the Holy Spirit will lead the assembly in that order which is pleasing to the Lord. But it is thought by these brethren, who really seem to have remarkable intelligence in the mind of the Lord, that those meetings which do not observe this order are not according to the Truth. They say the Lord will only give light to that which is according to His Name, and this question of order is light given for these closing days."

We should advise you to beware of those who talk much about "fresh light," and "light for closing days." We must remember that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and we may be easily deceived. The Word is enough. To that Word of grace we are commended by the great apostle of the Gentiles, and John said, "He that is of God heareth us."

Baptism

"One more question as to baptism. Is an assembly right in refusing fellowship to any who have not received believers' baptism?"

To make believers' baptism — by which is meant the immersion of believers — a test of fellowship, is to make a narrower test than the Word and to form a Baptist sect.

"Dear brother, I do hope you will help me with these questions. At present I am away in the loneliness of the Australian bush, many miles from the address given at the head of this letter. I have been away some weeks now from the fellowship of meetings. But these questions have given me much thought, and after receiving the "Scripture Truth" direct from England, I felt impelled to write to you. You may not have time to answer me personally, but I am assured a little ministry on these questions would be very helpful." A.G.K.

It will be a great joy if we are able to help you and your earnest friends who are searching the Word. One closing word we would say. In avoiding all error and all sectarianism, and in taking the separate path that the Word indicates, be sure and walk in love towards all the saints.