Are you still in fellowship?
A. N. Other
This article is the substance of an email sent to a young believer who has been questioning whether to remain in assembly fellowship or not.The sentiments expressed above are the writer’s personal opinions, but have been reproduced here as they express in forthright, conversational and contemporary style, his conviction that, despite the undeniable problems and weaknesses that come when we feebly attempt to obey the Scriptures,New Testament principles of gathering are still the ideal for which we strive.We may not all share the writer’s views of our weaknesses, but we cannot deny the importance of facing up to our failings. Sometimes young believers are stumbled by our refusal to be honest with ourselves, and it is often our pride and arrogance that drives youngsters away. ED.
‘Dear Steve, You asked me why I chose to come into the asssemblies and why I am still in fellowship in them. Here are some of my reasons.’
Shortly after I was saved, I went to two churches in Cambridge, one a Baptist church and the other an assembly of Christians with no denominational name. I had a number of reasons for moving to this Hall, reasons I would still have now. My views, which have changed very little since then, were developed when I was travelling round the world over that summer. I'm not very succinct when trying to explain stuff so I apologise in advance if this seems long winded.
There have been, so far, two key stages in my faith, and two realisations. In becoming a Christian I had realised that much of Christendom was fake,and that the real Lord Jesus was not the one I had perceived Him to be. Consequently I accepted the true Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The second stage, while I travelled, and read, was the realisation that there was a disparity between the Christians of the Bible, and evangelical Christianity today. The Christianity of the Bible was about 'living' faith, and about a 'community' of believers.
This notion of 'living' faith meant a number of things to me as I travelled. It meant communicating with God, through seriously studying the Bible and seriously praying. It didn’t mean relying on being spoon-fed Bible teaching by a ‘minister’ and relying on others to lead me in prayer. It also meant using worship as a means to reflect my feelings, not to create feelings in me. This meant, as far as church membership was concerned, that I wasn't looking for somewhere where people relied on one man to teach them and did nothing for themselves. Equally, I wasn't looking for somewhere where I would be led in prayer. I was looking for somewhere I could be free to pray. Finally, I wasn't looking for somewhere that would create in me a feeling, or excite me, but somewhere that I could express my feelings in worship.
The notion of a 'community' of believers meant a body whose head was Christ. I saw throughout God's history that His people were often corrupted by their leaders, and that He wanted us to gather around Him and not any one individual.This is, perhaps, still my greatest passion. I rejected the principle, so ingrained in Christendom, of one-man leadership by Pastors, Vicars, Bishops etc.God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are sometimes described as the community of the Godhead. I wanted the church to be like that – a community on earth - and I believe that is what it should be. Therefore, feeling very much like the original brethren, I had an ideal in which Christians would be a real priesthood of believers, gathered only to Christ, truly free in their worship and taught by God directly through His word, with other believers as guides and teachers.
What I found was the assemblies. An imperfect, and shrinking sect, some may say? Well, I disagree with many things in these assemblies. I feel they often place too much stress on prophetic teaching of the End Times. I disagree with them about the wishywashy role they often give to the Holy Spirit – His unique ministry should be given far-greater prominence than it often is (and I am by no means charismatic when I say that). I don’t think they give women enough opportunity to teach children and other women. I often disagree with them about the way they evangelize. So why do I still go? and why could I not go anywhere else? Because I feel free to be there, and I believe at the fundamental level they are right.
In the first place, I can go to the Lord's Supper, the highlight of my week, and I can worship the Lord Jesus in freedom. I went to that Hall in Cambridge on that first Sunday and I said nothing, but I have never felt so free to worship. It was only a small meeting of 17 people. If I wasn't there my absence would be noticed. In larger churches there is no sense of a community. In the second place, in the assemblies any one of us can make a difference. I believe God saves everyone not for any merit in them but for His purpose, and if we don't make a difference where we are we aren't fulfilling one of our purposes. I think that some people in the assemblies have too much influence, so that they can become like pastors or vicars. I think the assemblies fail when they move too much towards the rest of Christendom; when doctrines are created and set in stone as if we have nothing else to learn, and traditions of our own become muddled with Bible truth. In Christendom I feel helpless to change anything or to make a real difference; in the assemblies I feel able to do something.
Being a Christian in the assemblies is hard work. That is why it is so unattractive to many. It means being involved. It means taking responsibility for your own faith, and it means learning to worship without aids. I ended up in the assemblies not by accident but because I made the decision to take the hard, but rewarding route. The assemblies are full of people who have grown up in them. Many don't really want to be there. Perhaps they should leave, if they don't appreciate the freedom they have to worship and pray, if they don't want to take responsibility for their own faith and worship. If they don't believe they can make a difference, then they won't.
I know that, to many, the assemblies are an unattractive place to be. Many seem dead, they seem sexist, they seem to stick to out-dated traditions, and they often appear to be closed and unwelcoming. What I have experienced is a place where people are sometimes lacking belief, where women are sometimes lacking confidence, where people hang on to the familiar and where people are scared of strangers. These are things we can change, just by being there and showing faith, giving women confidence to work for Christ within the constraints of New Testament teaching, introducing the new but testing it to be true, and welcoming the stranger. Perhaps we can change things by our example.
I believe that in Christendom the core is rotten even though the outside looks good to eat, while in the assemblies the core is right but the outside is sometimes unattractive. But I also believe passionately that you can clean up a dirty apple but you can do nothing about a rotten one.
In Christendom I feel helpless to change anything or to make a real difference; in the assemblies I feel able to do something.