My Responsibility to the Local Church
Ken Rudge, St. Austell, England
Coming as I did from a Church of England background, there was a lot for me to come to terms with when I was first introduced to a local Christian assembly. In some ways, however, I did not find the change difficult to make; the vicar's robes and the ornate altar had never made much sense to me anyway.
Probably the first thing really to impress me as a young man of sixteen was the concern and care of the believers. Their reality in prayer and Knowledge of the Scriptures were other factors which made these people "different", i quickly learnt the truth of believers' baptism, and soon found myself present at the Lord's Supper and in what we commonly refer to as "fellowship".
Attending Meetings. An older brother carefully took me in hand and, as a result, I attended the meetings on the Lord's Day, the two midweek meetings and the Saturday Rally as a matter of course. An additional enticement was that I belonged to a group of young believers whom the Lord had saved about the same time, and together we found the meetings an opportunity for enjoying each other's company and fellowship. I must confess that sometimes the meetings would seem long and dreary to me. The hard seats and rather long-winded brethren didn't help matters, but I still went. I know now how valuable those meetings proved for my spiritual growth and advancement towards maturity.
My reason for behaving as I did was not consciously to imitate the early disciples who "continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers", Acts 2. 42. But, for whatever motive, I followed that very pattern, and I believe that it was the forming of such habits early in my Christian experience that has made them lasting. They are habits I have never regretted. At the time I was taking my "0" levels, but my examinations did not have prior claim on my time and interest—the Lord did! I know a young man who said some time ago that he would get down to studying the Word of God, but only after his examinations were all over. He openly admits now that he has never yet started and, sadly, it seems that he is never going to.
For me to have deliberately missed the meetings would have meant my disobeying the scriptural command, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is", Heb. 10. 25. I find it sad that, today, instead of such absenteeism being "the manner of some", it can often be said to be the custom of many. In some places the Breaking of Bread meeting is regularly full and the Gospel meeting nearly so, but the prayer meeting, the ministry meeting and the Bible Reading are very poorly supported. Young Christian, I plead with you, put the Lord and His things first.
Making a Contribution. I shall never forget the prod in my side (from my brother and not the Holy Spirit!) that moved me to get up and read the scripture passage for the first time in the assembly Bible Reading. On another occasion I sat with jellied legs for a whole prayer meeting, wondering if I should get up and pray or not. When I finally did rise and give vent to my small concerns, what joy it gave to the elderly saints around me. It was just the beginning. The next time it was much easier. Now I have to watch that I don't go on for too long, or stray wildly from the point!
It was my brother who also introduced me to the need for a personal gospel witness. "We are going to invite the neighbours to the meeting", he declared. Very kindly he gave me the opposite side of the road to our own house but then I realized to my horror that all my lifelong buddies lived on that side! Each house path seemed a marathon, and each door knock a shuddering earthquake. Each step was bathed in prayer and perspiration. Nevertheless, my feeble invitation was given and my testimony declared. From that small start it was a natural graduation to the weekly open-air witness in the city, and to the Saturday gospel visits to the villages around. So began my involvement in the witness of the assembly, and it all formed part of the training which the Lord provided for the future.
I suppose it was when I moved to a very young and small assembly on the outskirts of the city that I really learned the wisdom of "continuing steadfastly". The move increased my realization of how precious the times spent together with God's people were to me. Though I was still young in the faith, my share of the responsibility had to be taken because there were so few of us. There were just a dozen of us who sat to remember the Lord. Was there a large estate around to evangelize? Well, nobody else was going to knock at those doors if we didn't. So we did. With sympathetic and helpful brethren there, one had all the encouragement that one needed to start opening the Bible Reading and taking part in the Gospel Meeting. I found the Scripture true, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth". Lam. 3. 27.
But what if I had not bothered to go? What if I had not taken part? The other believers would have missed me of course but, far more important than that, they needed my contribution just as I needed theirs. The same holds true whatever the size of the assembly.
A Sense of Commitment. For three years I was at Teachers' Training College. The course I took was very demanding, particularly as I had not taken any "A" levels, and had had three years of work experience—away from an academic environment. There was a thriving Christian Union at the College and a good number of believers in my year, whereas the assembly to which I went for fellowship was three miles away from the College.
From the beginning I decided that the assembly would have my full commitment and so I duly went to the two midweek meetings and the Saturday Rallies and threw my lot in with the work among young people. Just to add to my responsibilities it was at that time that I decided to get engaged. I still do not understand why the Lord willed it, hut I know that out of a year's group of over 1 00 students I was one of only two who gained three distinctions. I proved the truth of the divine promise, "them that honour me, I will honour". It is as well, however, to record the end of the verse, "they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed", 1 Sam. 2. 30.
I have often said that if I could find a group of believers meeting more in line with New Testament church order than those I am associated with then I should have no alternative but to join them. I have failed to find such a group yet. What I have found is that the more I centre my life around the Lord Jesus and around the life and testimony of those who meet in His name, the fuller and more satisfying my life becomes. What a great joy it is today to see young people finding a like commitment. I can tell you, young brother or young sister, that there is no greater privilege, no better training ground and no heavier responsibility in any generation.