A Situation we must face
As a new generation arises, assemblies are being subjected to subtle but relentless pressure to abandon some long-held convictions and to accept practices which have hitherto been regarded as inconsistent with Scriptural principles.
If we do not specify particular points at which pressure is being exerted, it is because we do not wish to divert attention from the over-all situation. To take up various questions which are arising might obscure our main concern, which is not to examine isolated problems (although that might come later) but to emphasize the urgent importance of being awake to the. challenge and how to meet it.
When long-cherished ideas are threatened some take refuge in a pose of offended infallibility, but this not merely avoids the issue but exasperates those who are genuinely seeking the truth. It shows a lamentable lack of confidence in the power of truth, and perhaps less love for truth than for our own reputation, if we are afraid to allow our views to be examined. Others react violently to any criticism and rush into the fray—never dreaming that they may be defending, not so much the truth as what they have accepted from others without ever having thrashed it out for themselves. The easy-going console themselves with the pleasant idea that the phase will pass and leave the Status quo undisturbed—things will continue happily as they always have done. Will they ? Unless we arc mistaken the pressure will increase. Amongst those who believe this, is a section which feels that the wisest course is to yield as much as possible under the impression that thereby the main position can be held more strongly. But every position abandoned exposes the next to attack. During a war it is common to hear the abandonment of a position not only excused as of little importance but even justified on the plea that thereby the line has been straightened and so strengthened. But it has been noticed that its recapture is hailed as a triumph because of its strategic importance.
Surely the first thing is to consider how this pressure comes to be exerted. Will it surprise the reader if we suggest that perhaps it has been allowed by God to challenge us? In the past, errors have been allowed to arise because the truth had been so long unchallenged that it was at last held in a formal and lifeless way—not as a matter of personal conviction, not as a vital force, but merely as a tradition. Again and again the emergence of error has aroused earnest souls to a re-examination and defence of the truth, with the happy result that the truth has been liberated from accretions and held with a new conviction and appreciation.
Might not the same principle apply when we find the stand we take in regard to assembly matters is challenged ? Might it not be that God is calling us to re-examine our ground, instead of taking things for granted ? But even though the situation be allowed of God, there must be reasons on the human level for the dissatisfaction which exists and we must try patiently to understand them. For a long while it was thought that the ostrich was foolish enough to bury its head in the sand under the delusion that because it could not see its pursuers it was no longer being pursued. We are glad for the ostrich's sake that it has been exonerated from this folly, but we wish we could feel as happy about some otherwise estimable men.
Obviously we must be quite sure that our convictions are Scripturally sound. If we discover that in some instances we have been mistaken (and remember, great men have been sincerely mistaken) we would be wise to acknowledge it and cease to strive for indefensible positions. But where it is clear that Scriptural principles are being assailed, yielding is both folly and cowardice.
It is important that elders should understand young people and take steps to establish mutual confidence. It is a lamentable fact that too often young believers ventilate their grievances among themselves, instead of approaching elders in a frank but respectful manner to put forward their difficulties and points of view. On the other hand elders are too often aloof, deploring among themselves the discontented and unsubmissive attitude of young people but by their very isolation allowing the discontent to be fostered by subversive elements. Young believers should come to the elders with their difficulties and, in a proper spirit, even with their criticisms. To encourage this, elders ought to be approachable. Moreover if they discern that young believers are imbibing unsound ideas or going in dubious directions, they should be able to approach them in a fatherly way and counsel them, instead of waiting until difficulties arise and when they arise simply deploring the way things are going.
It is our conviction that the great majority of young believers are ready, even eager, to learn provided their would-be instructors are able to show the Scriptural ground for their convictions instead of merely reiterating what they have imbibed from their predecessors. The situation calls for patient and lucid instruction in the teachings of Scripture. Young people in assemblies should not be left to turn for their spiritual education to men whose very position prevents them from giving Scriptural instruction as to the Church—indeed it is to be feared that our young people are sometimes encouraged to despise this line of truth.
Elders are expected to have the aptitude for teaching, the patience to instruct even the self-willed and the ability to convince the gainsayers. But- and this is the point we want to stress—the present generation is practically minded. If a thing is true they expect it to work out in practice. It is essential to teach—but it is not sufficient. Our assembly life must be a living example of God's gracious ideal. Is exposure of the evils of clerisy likely to have very much effect unless ministry within the assembly demonstrates the blessed effects of freedom for the exercise of God-given gifts ? If we want the young to believe that the Lord's way is to raise up shepherds in the flock, we shall need to see that souls are really fed in the luscious pastures of truth and not on the husks of controversy or the ashes of a burnt-out experience. People are more likely to be convinced that the principles we profess are the ways of God when they see those principles producing godly order and reverence. Will our protest against unscriptural associations have much effect if believers find there a zeal for the gospel and a love for souls which God blesses, whilst at the same time they find an assembly apathetic and lifeless? Is it altogether surprising if young men with gift and enterprise look elsewhere for outlets for their zeal if, in the assembly, there is no readiness to provide them with useful and realistic employment ? We need leaders, and we believe young men will follow leaders who are men of God, whose aim is Christ, who know what they believe and why they believe it, who are putting it into practice with grace and unction and inspiring others with their love for Christ and the souls of men. The remorseless logic of events is surely forcing home upon us the need to be aroused. Too many are suspicious of men with the gift of leadership, apparently oblivious of the fact that it is God's way to raise up leaders and then to stir up the spirits of others to follow them. If we deplore the influence of men who are leading the present generation in questionable directions, the remedy is obvious. Offer leadership in the right direction, and God will honour men who rise to the need.
We are firmly convinced that a Scripturally-constituted assembly, yielded to the Lord's will, manifesting the spirit of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, will always prove a far more effective instrument for the work of God, than any other association, but if we ever descend merely to clinging to a form bereft of life and power, we shall have no convincing answer to those who challenge the stand we take. That is not to say that the form may not be very attractive to us. The Shunammite's child no doubt looked fair even in death, but if she had continued to nurse him the result would have been tragic. She acted quickly in getting to the man of God. She realized that Gehazi with the rod would accomplish nothing - the child needed the warm touch of Elisha. Gehazi’s with their rods will not restore life and vitality to a dead form, but the love of Christ will restore the warmth and power without which a form, however accurate and fair, soon becomes corrupt.
Teach ? Certainly—but in the final analysis there is only one real answer. The love and power of God to make assemblies the homes of God's people, where they are cherished, fed, instructed and guided, and are effective centres of gospel witness where men and women arc won for Christ.
If this is to be, we shall not be able to go on in our old comfortable ways. Assemblies are presented with a golden opportunity, but self-sacrifice will be called for, a readiness to grasp the urgency of the situation and a willingness to place ourselves at the Lord's disposal. Shall it be said that we were not willing to pay the p