"Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where [is] the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk [therein]." Jeremiah 6:16
"Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." Proverbs 22:28
"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned [them];" 2 Timothy 3:14
We live in the distressing times of the last days, during which the power of godliness would be enfeebled to the profit of external forms (2 Tim 3:1, 5). The danger for us lies in doing everyone that which is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25), in neglecting the testimony that God has confided to His assembly on earth (1 Timothy 3:15).
The lines that follow recall some of the things that we have learned, in order to exhort us to walk together in the old paths for the rest of our souls and for the joy of Christ.
1. THE AUTHORITY OF THE WORD
The complete expression of the thought of God, the inspired Scripture has an absolute authority. The rule of our Christian life as of the life of the assembly, it is the word of the grace of God; by it God builds us up (Acts 20:32). Obedience to the Word is the sole road of blessing. There does not exist a formal text to answer every one of our circumstannces; but the thought of the Saviour is always known by the heart (Prov 2:10) and the conscience, in submission to the Scriptures.
2. THE BELIEVER AND THE TWO NATURES
Every human being born into this world is a lost sinner (Romans 5:12); the evil is neither in the material itself, nor in the human organism and its faculties. But in a man, descendant of Adam, all is misery and filthiness (Isaiah 1:6). God declares that that state is hopeless (Isaiah 2:22).
By faith in Christ and His work, the believer receives as a gift of God eternal life, which is Christ himself (1 John 5:11). Having put off the "old man", the believer puts on the "new man" (Ephesians 4:23). He becomes a child of God (John 1:12), and is made part of the family
of God (1 John 3:1).
From that point on, the human being of the believer (spirit, soul and body), with all its faculties, carries in him two natures, that which is "spirit" and that which is "flesh" (John 3:6). The coexistence of the two natures in the believer involves an internal conflict between the flesh and the Spirit (of which the body of the believer is the temple).
If he is negligent, he can produce the sad "works of the flesh", instead of offering to God "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:19, 22).
3. THE HOUSE OF GOD ON EARTH AND THE BODY OF CHRIST
Each believer (born anew and sealed with the Holy Spirit) is a living stone in the house of God on earth (1 Peter 2:5), as well as a member of the body of Christ. That vital link of the body of Christ can not be broken, or even altered. On the other hand, the initial thought of God with regard to His house on the earth has been lost by the unfaithfulness of man. Christendom has become a great house where only "the Lord knows them that are His" (2 Timothy 2:19).
The first characteristic of the house of God, temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) is holiness (Psalm 93:5; 1 Peter 1:15, 16). Now that which is holy does not do away with defilement, and defilement always profanes that which is holy (Haggai 2:12, 13). Leaven (figure of moral or doctrinal evil) corrupts the whole mass (1 Corinthians 5.6; Galatians 5:9).
Thus all believers who desire to be faithful to their Lord are called to separate themselves for Him (2 Timothy 2:19, 21, 22) and to go forth unto Him (Hebrews 13:13). Those who call upon Him out of a pure heart then find themselves together in order to realize the promise of the Lord to be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).
4. THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY — ITS NATURE AND ITS RESPONSIBILITIES
In a locality, those Christians, separated from iniquity and gathered to the name of the Lord, are — if they realize the thought of God with regard to His assembly — the local expression of the assembly, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27). Such gatherings of believers are not independent one of the other: their unity is that of the body of Christ, represented locally by each one of them.
Christ is the source of all the activity of the saints, Who works through the Holy Spirit, for the edification of the body, the assembly.
All the believers, members one of the other, are exhorted to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).
The local assembly is the sphere of the collective life of the saints.
It is there where worship is rendered to the Father and to the Son, there where is presented the prayer of the assembly. There also the spiritual nourishment of Christ for His body is received (through the gifts). Any activity exercised in a spirit of independence vis-a-vis the assembly can be blessed in the long run, even if it appears useful for a time.
The assembly possesses furthermore the prerogative of binding or loosing on earth (Matthew 18:18). An assembly decision, taken in the name of the Lord, in one place, by those who are gathered around Him, is ratified in heaven; all the gatherings who represent the body of Christ
recognise it. This practical solidarity of the assemblies is an essential truth. It flows from their very existence.
5. THE TWO MINISTRIES OF THE GOSPEL AND THE ASSEMBLY
During the present period of grace, God calls (out of the world) a people for His name (Acts 15:14). The thought of Christ is of realizing the "increase of His body to the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16. To this end, He gives some evangelists for bringing souls to Him, joining them to His body which grows in number. He gives also some pastors and teachers in the assembly, for the perfecting of the saints; the body thus grows in the knowledge of Christ.
The apostle Paul was a servant of the gospel and servant of the assembly (Colossians 1:23, 25); his two minitries were exercised in harmony in order to accomplish the design of God. In turn, we are invited to cooperate together in the two aspects of this work, "according to the effectual working by which every part does its share" (Ephesians 4:16).
6. DISCIPLINE IN THE ASSEMBLY
The responsibility of the assembly is exercised in the sphere that the Word calls the "within" (1 Corinthians 5:12), there where effectively the rights of the Lord are recognised, that is to say at His table. The solemn authority conferred by the Lord to His assembly on earth ought to be exercised with fear, in seeking the mind of the Lord, and the profound conviction of His approval. The assembly is not infallible; a decision, even if taken by the many (2 Corinthians 2:6), can be erroneous. He who feels himself to be the object of an injustice ought to commit his cause with confidence to the Lord (Psalm 37:5, 6).
Humility, patience and softness of spirit are necessary for all. The Lord will not fail to intervene when our "obedience has been fulfilled" (2 Corinthians 10:6).
An assembly that refuses to judge evil by discipline looses its character as an assembly of God. On the other hand, grace alone wins souls and picks up the fallen; and discipline (where the purpose is always the healing of plagues) is precisely the prerogative of love.
The Word invites us to moderation in our judgements. With regard to believers, the term "evildoer" is only employed for one who is in a persistant state of grave evil, moral or doctrinal. The table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:21) characterizes idolatry and cannot be applied to any Christian gathering. The expression is applied by the apostle (with regard to things sacrificed to idols) to illustrate a very important general principle: to participate in a table involves communion with all that is in fellowship with that table. Thus, many pious Christians are connected ecclesiastically with errors, without presenting the character of evildoer, and even less participating in a table of demons. Still, despite the vital link that unites us in Christ, we cannot have communion with them at the table of the Lord.
7. THE SUPPER AND TABLE OF THE LORD
The supper is the precious remembrance of the death of the Lord during His absence (1 Corinthians 11:26). Each Christian ought to respond from his heart to the touching invitation of His Saviour. At the same time, to partake of the one broken bread (symbol of the death of Christ, Man, in His body given for us) expresses on the earth the unity of the body (spiritual) of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17).
The supper (the memorial) and the table of the Lord (the communion) are distinguished in Scripture but are inseparably tied together. To respond to the desire of the Lord (in participating of the supper) implies the recognition of His rights over our personal life (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) and in the assembly (at the table of the Lord).
There, the believers are subject to the discipline of the assembly under its various forms; they are in practise "submitting to one another in the fear of Christ" (Ephesians 5:21).
8. THE TABLE OF THE LORD AND THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
To take the supper of the Lord in being gathered at His table is a collective act done in the consciousness that the saints gathered in assembly are a local expression of the entire body of Christ.
The Lord invites us then to receive at His table every believer sound in his walk and in the doctrine of Christ. He who desires to approach ought nevertheless to be conscious of the path to which he commits himself, as also of the character of the collective testimony. He enters into the domain where the discipline of the assembly is exercised.
This same truth of the unity of the body involves other practical consequences:
(a) No Christian can participate in the supper on his individual responsibility alone in evaluating his own state. He is not free to break bread at his own will in any Christian place of his choice.
One brother alone has no authority for deciding who can participate in the supper.
(b) To receive a believer occasionally at the table of the Lord cannot be done except with great prudence, under the profound conviction of engaging the conscience. This ought never to be the deliberate sanction of a state of independence of one who desires to keep liberty to come and go.
(c)Finally, an assembly gathered to the name of the Lord may not allow that the supper be taken by a person who presents himself on his testimony alone. The letter of commendation (2 Corinthians 3:1) is the scriptural means of maintaining in practise fellowship among the assemblies.
9. THE GOOD OF THE FLOCK OF THE LORD
In times of decline, separation from evil remains the divine principle of the unity realized around Christ. Gates to the city of Jerusalem were missing in the times of Nehemiah, as were also watchmen on the walls (Isaiah 62:6). Applying all to us in realizing this separation with sorrow and humiliation, let us think of the good of the Lord's flock; let us preach grace, which attaches our souls to Christ, and directs the desire of our hearts toward Him, in awaiting His coming.
10. AN APPEAL TO OUR HEARTS
Well-beloved brothers and sisters, the Lord has revealed to us His thought with regard to the heavenly destiny of His assembly, but also with regard to its walk and its testimony on earth. To keep the good deposit of these truths (2 Timothy 1:14) is a charge that we are together invited to maintain (Malachi 3:14). Contrary to the thought expressed in the time of the prophet, there is profit in walking mournfully before God, and it is not vain to serve Him in fearing Him.
Have we not abandoned our "first love" (Revelation 2:4) for Christ? He calls us to repent, to "strengthen that which remains" (Revelation 3:2), in keeping His word and in not denying His name (Revelation 3:8).
Together, then, may we hear His voice, with a tender heart (2 Chronicles 34:27), with a broken and humble heart (Psalm 51:17), but confident in the resources of His grace and the full sufficiency of His name that gathers.
Translated from the French by Richard K Gorgas and taken from the January 1994 issue of "le messager Evangelique," a monthly publication now in its 135th year. Used by the author's permission.