The Young Convert's Enquiry as to where He should go.

James. If you can spare a little time, I wish to speak with you on a subject of great importance to me. I have through the mercy of God been brought to know the Lord, and I am greatly perplexed to know where to go. Everybody seems to think himself right, but really I cannot find any sect or national church that I am quite sure is according to the word of God.

John. I shall be most ready to hear all your difficulties, and to help, as the Lord helps me to do so. I have sought to know the mind of the Lord on this I subject for many years. Why have you not joined some of the so-called churches? The church of Rome? the church of England? or some denomination

James. This is what puzzles me. I see so many centres. The Pope or the Conference, Wesley or Baptism. And then the world is called the church, with state, or worldly authority and a King or Queen as head and centre, so that really I do not know what is right.

John. But where do you see all these centres of sects? Not in the scripture, but amongst men. In the scripture there is only one church: the church of God. There is only one centre, and that is Christ. He is the only Head of the church. Now let us take fast hold of this great truth: even if it prove everything that is of man to be wrong. There is only one true centre — Christ. He says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20.)

James. Your statement that Christ is the only true centre to which Christians should be gathered, has caused me very serious thoughts. I find others beside myself are also exercised about these questions; and if you have no objection I shall be glad to state what difficulties have been raised: and I should much like to hear, if you have time, what you have to say from the word of God.

John. So far as this can be done to real profit, and not for mere controversy, nothing would give me greater pleasure. As I grow older, James, I have less and less desire for controversy. But where the truth of God is in question, one must not be silent.

James. Certainly not. Well, I find one objection, if not the chief one, against Christians being gathered to Christ the only Head and centre, is this: It is admitted there is much evil, many unconverted persons in the national churches (indeed it owns itself to be the world), and in denominations; but that is said to be no reason why Christians should separate from them, and be gathered only to Christ: as there was much evil in the professing church, even in the days when the epistles were written. There was carnality at Corinth, and gross evil; false doctrine leavening the assembly in Galatia: enemies of the cross named in the Epistle to the Philippians, &c.

And yet the apostle never once exhorted the true Christians to separate from these assemblies, and form another one around a new centre. Yet surely if it had been right, the Holy Spirit would have guided them to do so. The difficulty is this, John: if it would have been wrong then, to have separated from the church of God because evil had come in, can it be right now to separate from the various churches because of the evil that abounds?

John. Well put, James. It would not be very easy, however, for persons holding such a view of the matter, to tell us why they are not in the church of Rome. Let us put it thus: there was much evil in the professing church of God in the apostolic days, but it would have been wrong to separate from the church of God: true. There was much evil in the church of Rome, therefore it was wrong for the Reformers to separate from her, at the cost of their lives. Is it not such confusion as this, that is leading souls to Rome every day? I say, James, if it is wrong to separate from evil, why are not you and I in Rome? Anyway we should have evil enough there.

James. Really, John, I do not see through it, will you try to explain?

John. I think you will have seen that separation from evil alone is not sufficient to guide us in this matter. The above reasoning is based on the fallacy that supposes the church of God (as seen in scripture) and the church of Rome are equally right; and that therefore to separate from them would be equally wrong. The same fallacy would apply to the church of England, or any denomination.

Now what is the church of God, or assembly of God, as found in scripture? Who is its head; and who is its centre? Is it a nation? Nowhere. Or a number of nations? No. Who then were its members? Every believer on earth. Who its Head, and centre? Christ in heaven. This assembly is the joint body of Christ, whilst still on earth, gathered to the name of Christ, yet joined to Him by the Spirit, in heaven. As seen in the hands of man, evil and leaven and failure appeared. But whilst gathered to Christ it would have been wrong to separate from it, and form another body. That would evidently have been to separate from Christ. Whilst the true Christ was held as the true centre, there could not have been a thought of separation. We might just as soon talk of the members of the human body separating from the head, to form a new body.

And more, while Christ was thus owned as Head and Lord, there was His power to deal with evil in the assembly of God. “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together … with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one to Satan,” &c. (1 Cor. 5:4.) “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (Ver. 13.) Surely it would have been monstrous to separate from Christ because evil came in, and had to be dealt with in discipline, in the power of Christ.

James. Then why separate from Rome?

John. Why? Because, after some centuries, Rome set up another centre. The church having lost its heavenly character, became entirely earthly, and gradually owned another Head and centre of its own liking. It became an earthly institution with an earthly, human head and centre, the pope.

And now for the first time in the seven stages of the church’s history, a distinct remnant is recognised by the Lord Jesus. (Rev. 2:24.) Now, James, is it not evident to you that to separate from the church of God was one thing; that is, it would have been utterly wrong: but to separate from the church of Rome is quite another thing? In the one case it would be to separate from Christ; in the other case it would be to separate from the pope, who has taken the place of Christ as head. The Holy Ghost did not set up another head: there is no pope at Rome to be found in scripture. Not the shadow of a thought either that Peter was ever at Rome, or that there was a bishop of Rome. The two things are totally distinct. The church of Christ is not of this world. The church of Rome is of this world. The Head of the church of God is Christ in heaven. The head of the church of Rome is the pope at Rome. It would have been wrong to separate from Christ: it is perfectly right and most blessed to separate from the pope.

James. I do not think I ever saw the distinction before, of the two centres — Christ, and the pope.

John. There is no doubt we have been too much occupied with details of evil, instead of looking at the foundation principles. I trust there are many dear Christians in the church of Rome, but it is clear they are not gathered to Christ, the only Head and centre, as the church of God was in the beginning. It is a very serious thing to displace the authority of Christ as Lord, acting by the Spirit.

James. There seems a very distinct reason for leaving Rome, and returning to the ground of the church of God, gathered by the Holy Spirit to Christ alone. But is there the same reason so to be gathered from the so-called evangelical churches?

John. It is painful to me to answer this question. But as so many are beginning to inquire into these things (and more, as the inquiry seems to lead many, even the professed ministers of Christ, to go back to Rome), I judge it will be real love to souls to look this matter fairly in the face. We have seen that whilst the church held Christ the true centre and Head, it was impossible to separate from it, without separating from Him. We have also seen that it was quite another thing when the church of Rome set up another centre. In this case, separation from Rome would be faithfulness to Christ as the only Lord. We might dwell on the awful wickedness of these popes. And certainly this would show the sin of owning such a centre, instead of the Holy, Holy One.

James. How then can a minister of the church of England go back to such a centre — to such a head?

John. I will tell you. He reflects; and he reads; and he sees in history, about three hundred years ago, this country owned the pope as head of the church, the centre around which a great part of Christendom was gathered. He finds a very wicked king in England, determined to be the head and centre of the so-called church of England. He says, can this be right for a man whom all history abhors as a wife-murderer, to be the head of the church? If any man refused to own this man as head of the church, he must be put to a cruel death as a traitor. He passes on to the daughters of this man. One is on the throne of England, head of the church, and death to all who refuse to own her the head of the church. Another queen is in Sheffield Castle, ever plotting with the most wicked men of the day, to invade England, and restore the pope as head of the church. I would not dwell on the end of this terrible struggle for earthly ambition, and headship of the church. The inquirer gets perplexed. His choice lies between a bishop or pope, and a king or queen: and no wonder he prefers the bishop and goes to Rome. He says, how can it be right for an earthly sovereign to be the head of the church? You notice, James, he has lost all knowledge of the only true Head and centre of the church; and he is perplexed with two false centres. It was a terrible struggle for the honoured Reformers: but we cannot overlook the fact, that they never got back to Christ, the Head and only centre. They saw the pope was a wrong centre, but set up another. Was not this fundamentally wrong? It is not a question then of separating from the evils in the church of England, and trying to form a true church: to write thus, shows total ignorance of what the church is. There is no such idea in scripture as “a church,” except in the sense that all believers in any given place formed the assembly in that place. “One body.” “One Spirit.” “One Lord.” This is the language of scripture. It would be as scriptural to say the English Lord Jesus, as the church of England, or a church of any other kind. As truly as there is one Lord, so truly do all believers form the one body, the one assembly of God. Let this great foundation truth be seen, and all becomes simple.

James. How do you mean? I see clearly now from scripture, that there was only one Head and centre of the church in the beginning. Now I see two other earthly centres: the pope and the queen — long may she live and be increasingly honoured as queen! but it does seem a sad mistake to put her in the place of Christ as head of the church; and an earthly government to usurp the authority of Christ. What I should like to ask is, Is this true of all denominations?

John. Let everything be tested by the word of God. Let us cling to nothing that will not bear that test. Sectarianism cannot exist if Christ is owned as the centre, the only Head. “And he is the head of the body, the church [not a church], who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” (Col. 1:18.) Yes, even to make Christ a centre amongst other centres, is condemned as carnality. “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas and I of Christ.” “For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4.) If we thus discover that we have been utterly wrong in making churches: if it be unscriptural to say I am of Wesley, and I of Calvin, and I of Baptism, nay, if men have set up a hundred other centres, what is to be done? What is the path of every Christian on earth, but to own Christ, the only true centre?

James. I see this is quite another matter than merely separation from evil; important as that is: but if Christians will not give up their other centres, what is to be done then?

John. I hope you see it is the privilege of all believers to be gathered to Christ alone: just as it was at the beginning. He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Oh! that every perplexed Christian knew this, and returned to Him alone, from every sect! But if all will not obey Him, yet is it still most true, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” What can the heart that knows Him desire more? He, present as Lord, and acting by the Spirit. Yea, even at the very last, when Christendom has come to its worst, and is about to be utterly rejected, as a witness on earth; yet still He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20.)

James. Pardon me, John, just one more question on this subject. I now understand where the true Christ is owned as the only centre and Head, and there is His power to deal with evil; and therefore it would be wrong to separate from Him. I am young in the faith, but I am told that after God had by His Spirit gathered many believers together to the one centre — Christ; that some, yea, the bulk, separated from them, especially at Plymouth. Was this right? As you went through that struggle, will you explain it in keeping with all you have just now said?

John. I was just now thinking about it. If the Lord will, we will take up that wide-spread difficulty.

James. I do assure you it is very hindering to many young converts. They say, how can this be, that a something which happened before we were born, nearly forty years ago, should still separate Christians: yea, even Christians who have professedly separated from all the centres that have been set up by men? And I assure you, John, I have heard those who have separated from their brethren spoken about with great bitterness.

John. I am sorry for that, that is indeed sad: we need to approach the sad subject with meekness and lowliness of mind, instead of bitterness and hatred, which is sin. To me, James, the whole question is most simple: and I desire to speak for the glory of Christ and the real good of all persons concerned. Bearing in mind what we have said, then, was it not long before we were born (any of us) that Rome set up another centre, and head of the church? The pope in the place of Christ as head of the church? Was it not before we were born that England set up a king, or a queen, as head of a worldly system called the church? Yea, even so of a Wesley, &c., &c. Now because it happened before we were born, or converted, that the glorious pre-eminence of Christ, the Head of His church, was set aside, and His administration by the Holy Spirit also set aside, for the varied church governments of men: does it follow that we should also give up the holy and true centre of gathering, and join any of these, simply because the thing happened before we were born?

James. Stay, John, I fail to see what this has to do with the inquiry. Why are those separated who profess to have left all these false centres? Now do keep to the point. Why did you separate, for you were one of the many who did?

John. Quite true, James; and now in a few words I will tell you, and I think you will see its connection with all that has been said. Would you think it, James? Satan had succeeded in introducing amongst us at Plymouth not only a false centre, but a false Christ was that false centre!

This was why God in His mercy separated us from that false centre; that we might still in these last days be gathered to Him that is holy, and Him that is true. We did not see this at first, but God did. We failed, many of us at least, both in spiritual discernment and action. God did not fail to separate us, and to gather us to Christ the Holy and the True. Now, where there is a true centre, Foundation, Head — even Christ, He acts by the Holy Ghost; and thus there is the liberty and action of the Spirit, seen in the assembly. On the other hand, wherever there is a false centre, and head, the action of the Spirit is never seen in the assembly, but clericalism displacing the Spirit, and resisting the full truth of the Lord’s return. I need not give the history in detail: but first the most determined clericalism appeared, resisting the action of the Holy Ghost. Then one, now with the Lord, to his deep grief discovered that a false Christ had been introduced into the teaching and writings. A Christ born at a distance from God, and having to make His way to God. In fact a Christ that needed a Saviour himself. From that false Christ, and therefore false centre, God separated many; and from those who preached or taught, or sympathised with those who held such a false centre.

James. Tell me how is it possible that any could hesitate. Why, there is nothing so bad as that amongst the evangelical sects. Is there? Do you think they who remained understood it?

John. I do not think they did, and many do not even now. Indeed, I trust if they did, they would give up their neutrality at once. There is not a single evangelical denomination that owns a false Christ as its centre. The foundations were gone. The danger was far greater than Unitarianism; there it is manifest that the Son of God is utterly denied. But at Plymouth as yet there was much precious truth; mixed up with a false Christ as the very centre. The truth is, James, if God had not come in, and separated His children from it, do you not see the present blessed testimony to the Lordship of Christ, acting by the Spirit in the assembly, would have been impossible? Could the Holy Ghost have borne witness to a false Christ? And no one can deny that this was a false Christ. Thus long ago those separated from every false centre, and systems of men, would themselves have been far the worst system on earth, and gathered around the worst centre, a false Christ. Now, James, what do you say, if it be right to separate from the false centre of the pope, a king, and all the various centres of so many sects; and all the clericalism flowing from each of those false centres: would it not be sadly wrong to remain with a false Christ as a centre?

James, I am amazed that any did, or that any could talk of being neutral about it. How was it?

John. Many had not seen the blessed fact, that all Christians form the one body of Christ. They had never known Him as the Head of that one body, the assembly. They thought that, as they were independent assemblies, though Christ might be attacked at Plymouth, it did not affect them at a distance. They saw much evil in the sects, and they hoped to gather together and make something better. But that which produced such sad divisions was tolerating persons coming from under the teaching of a heretic.

James. Did you go through all this? It really shocks me. What is the remedy?

John. God brought me through it all in His mercy, I am sure of that. We are all poor things. But God is God, and Satan is Satan, and it is no little matter to know what is of God. The remedy is very simple, if we are only in a truly broken, humble state of soul. Let us have no bickering about details. Cannot all who desire the glory of Christ agree that it was a great mercy, that God was pleased to give grace to judge the evil, and to separate from the false Christ as a centre? If any have failed and used bitterness against those whom God did so separate, can they not confess this to God and to their brethren? If we are not led of the Spirit we shall be sure to err. Is it not most blessed to be gathered to Christ, the true centre, and truly own the action of the Holy Spirit in the assembly? If our brethren really desire this, why then do they not own their past mistake, and be with those who do? Why continue in this sad neutrality?

James. I think I now see how this was, many years ago; but many tell me that they abhor the doctrines then held by some, and that now they would not have fellowship with any coming from places where it is held, just as they would neither receive a Unitarian who denied the Lord, or one from the Unitarians, who maintained they did not deny the Lord, or His true atoning death. Why then are you still separate?

John. I am glad you put the case so simply and clearly. If this is true now, in uprightness and the fear of the Lord, they now judge this evil doctrine, and those linked with it, just as they would Unitarian infidelity, why not take their places with us at the table of the Lord? For this is exactly what we did forty years ago. Why continue to blame us for what they now see to be right to do themselves?

James. Surely that must be so, if it is right to judge such evil doctrine now, it must have been wrong to refuse to judge it then. It does seem to me that this refusal was the chief cause of so much division. They knew it to be poison, but would not allow it to be labelled poison.

John. Exactly so. Now the author of the fearful doctrine was, and still is, under the illusion that it is not poison. I saw a copy of a letter very lately, in which he declares he never held the very doctrines that are in his tracts. Surely those who knew it was poison, and would not have it so labelled, were if possible more to blame than he was.

James. Oh what a mercy it would be, if they saw this and truly owned it, and instead of this long-continued division, so sad and grieving to the Lord, all came together who truly own the Lordship of Christ and the presence and unity of the Spirit.

John. The Lord grant it may be so; nothing is too hard for the Lord. I do not see why all who desire truly to own Christ the only Head and centre of the one church of God, should not even yet be together.

James. Just another word before we part. Is it true that amongst those who do desire truly to own Christ as the only centre, men arise amongst them seeking pre-eminence, and speaking perverse things to lead away disciples after them? Some trying to make a party about this, and others the opposite? I have been told this is the case.

John. Quite true at this very moment. Sorrowfully so, as bad or worse than it was in apostolic days. There is scarcely a thing by which Satan sought to mar and destroy the testimony then, that he is not trying now. But now in spite of all the devil could do, the only right thing on earth then, was to be gathered to Christ in dependence on the Holy Ghost. It is just equally so now, Can we not say with Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” It is an amazing principle to be gathered to Christ as at the beginning. How little is it understood! Is there any marvel Satan should use every effort to destroy this testimony? feeble as it is, he hates it. Did the Lord promise that all should flow smoothly here, to those who are His? Was it so with the beloved and honoured apostle? Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. He could say, “But none of these things moved me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy,” &c. (Acts 20:24.) Truly we need the whole armour of God. What prayer, what watchfulness, what diligence! There may be constant conflict with false profession without, and false brethren within; but if we know what it is to be gathered to Christ, I do not see, James, that these things should move us.

James. I am thankful for this conversation. I see now the only right thing on this earth is to be gathered to Christ, owning Him the only true centre, and come what storms and tempests there may, it is still the only right thing. Every “ism” disappears if the glorious pre-eminence of Christ be truly owned. This was evidently the ground on which all believers were gathered in the beginning; it must therefore be the only basis on which all believers could be gathered now.

John. That certainly is so. And if you will search the scriptures, you will find that whilst the church owned Christ as the only Foundation, Head, and Lord, all ministry flowed from Him and was used by the Spirit as He would. (Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12, 14.) But if you examine the ecclesiastical organisation of all the so-called churches of this world, you will find them in direct contrast with the church of God as found in scripture. It is no use, however, trying to reform these: they would still be gathered to a false centre. There is no remedy possible in the present confusion and apostasy, but individual believers being gathered to Christ alone. Then if but two or three are gathered to Him, He is in their midst. Is not this enough? may not they count on Him? Oh! look to Him, to be taught by the Holy Spirit. Look not to the traditions of men, but to the word of God.

James. I thank you: surely my place is where “two or three are gathered” in His name. C. S.