Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
This ARTICLE is written with two distinct groups of young Christians in mind.
First, there are those who have to fate the question, "Which company of Christians should I join?". This issue is particularly relevant to those who are required to move away from home on account of employment or courses at university or college.
Second, there are those who are happy enough to continue in fellowship in a local assembly but who have no real reason for doing so other than that of friendship or family links. Do you regard the assembly as being no different to any other evangelical church?
The present article aims to stimulate some serious thought about these matters by young people in both groups. As a means to this I am going to give my own reasons for wishing to remain in a local assembly.
Some introductory comments are necessary. Let me say at the outset that 1 am not claiming that assemblies as we know them are without their faults or that they have a monopoly of truth. Nor do I mean that they are composed of "better" Christians than other evangelical churches. Often, sadly, the converse is true. Nothing which follows is intended to encourage a "Laodicean" attitude of spiritual pride, smugness and complacency. Make no mistake, God still dwells with those "of a contrite and humble spirit", Isa. 57. 15.
Leaving aside all personal factors (such as happy past associations and present friendships), I believe that the local assembly is the right spiritual home for me. My reasons for this are that there I find:—
(i) A strict and uncompromising adherence lo the fundamentals of the Christian faith. These include such doctrines as the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Holy Trinity, the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
(ii) The preaching of a full and sound gospel. It is true that varying emphases are placed on divine election and human responsibility. It is also true that opinions differ as to the appropriate methods which should be used in communicating the message. Yet always there is a common desire to maintain and promote the truth of the gospel. Associated with this is (a) the requirement that those who profess conversion must live a consistent, holy Christian life and (b) the attempt to limit assembly fellowship to true believers only.
(iii) An acknowledgement of the importance of Christian baptism. This involves the demand that all converts ought to be baptized — and nobody else! The correct mode (immersion) of baptism is practised as a suitable picture of death, burial and resurrection.
(iv) Regular and frequent meetings of the church to eat "the Lord's supper". Acts 20. 7-12 may indicate that the early church "broke bread" on the first day of each week — the "resurrection" day. Note should be taken of the expression used by both Paul and the Lord Himself, "as often as", 1 Cor. 11. 25, 26 lit. Clearly, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup represent the central focus of the meeting rather than something just tagged on to the end of a sermon.
(v) A strong emphasis on the individual responsibilities and gifts of all in the assembly. Spiritual gifts are recognized and opportunities exist for their development. The situation where the church leadership, preaching and Bible teaching are in the hands of one man is contrary to God's Word. It may be attractive to some to have a church with a single "Pastor" or "Minister", where others can simply sit back and take things easy, but it is neither healthy nor scriptural. Remember that the Lord Jesus explicitly condemned the taking of fancy religious titles by leaders among His people, Matt. 23. 8-10.
(vi) No pretence to the possession of spectacular "sign" gifts or miracle-working gifts today. While we should expect the assembly to be a place of spiritual joy, warmth and praise, we also look for the exercise of sell-control and a freedom from excess and hysteria.
(vii) No central organisation is accepted. Although enjoying fellowship with other companies of similar convictions, there exists no earthly headquarters. Each local church is independent and self-governing. Each answers directly, and only, to the Lord Him self; see Rev. 1. 12 to 3. 22.
(viii) A recognition of the differing (God-given) roles of men and women whenever they meet together for Christian service. Whereas sisters are to be encouraged in appropriate spir itual work (e.g. Tit. 2. 4-5), God's Word is to be obeyed which commands them to be silent in the church and to avoid exercising authority over the men.
(ix) An appreciation of the distinctive Christian hope of the Lord's coming. We relish the prospect of that occasion when the Lord Himself will descend from heaven to unite and "snatch away" His whole church to be with Him for ever.
Without wishing to perpetuate the denominational barriers which divide Christians, I have outlined the factors which have largely influenced me in deciding to which type of church I should belong.
Even if you happen to be in the "right" place, it is important for you to know why you are there. Do you?