When Thy Son Asketh Thee
J. H. Large
MOSES KNEW THAT THE TIME WOULD COME when the rising generation would ask questions and he wisely prepared the people to deal with them. 'When thy son asketh thee . . . then thou shalt say .. .' We believe that children ask questions just when it is appropriate that information should be imparted and the wise parent will be equipped in advance, so as to anticipate the question and be ready with an answer which will satisfy the child's mind at that particular stage in his development.
The same situation arises in the assembly which in many aspects resembles a family. Years ago, perhaps, the assembly position was, to a large extent, taken for granted, but the position is different today. More and more young people are leaving home to go to college or to situations where they necessarily enter a wider sphere than they have been accustomed to at home. They come into close contact with Christians from other communities whose constitution is quite contrary to those assembly principles these young people have previously accepted, more or less as a matter of course. In some cases they come across a thriving work where there is warm Christian fellowship and where souls are blessed despite the presence of much which is contrary to the scriptural pattern. This, understandably enough, perplexes inexperienced youth and naturally they return home full of questions.
Had these young people been given wise and balanced instruction before they left home they might have been better prepared to adopt the right attitude to the conditions with which they came face to face, but unfortunately, during recent years, there has been a noticeable decline of oral ministry regarding the scriptural constitution and functions of the local assembly. This has been due, in part at least, to a weak yielding to the invalid objection that such teaching involves uncharitable reflection on believers who do not accept this standpoint. Unhappily, it may be true in isolated instances that negative and sterile criticism of others has caused genuine grief to sincere hearers who know how to admire devotion to the Lord wherever it is found. We have no inclination to defend such an abuse of ministry, usually by those who have simply imbibed (and that very imperfectly) the traditions of a former generation, but without personal exercise or God-given conviction. On the other hand we fear that too often the objection comes from men who desire to be popular everywhere and who resent scriptural teaching regarding the assembly because it is unacceptable in the circles where they are anxious to be well regarded. But as was the case with the Nicolaitanes (compare 'deeds' in Rev. 2. 6 with 'doctrine' in v. 15) what men venture to practice they are soon emboldened to teach and we have noticed that men who begin to practice what is inconsistent with a scriptural position, gradually get bolder and infer that charity should close our mouths with regard to scriptural teaching on the Church. Eventually they sec no inconsistency in advancing in their own assemblies views which grieve their own brethren.
The unfortunate effect of all this is that some are growing up among us with very little understanding of the reasons for the distinctive position taken by assemblies. They are further confused when some who take the position of being leaders of young people allow the impression to grow that assemblies simply form another denomination among many, and that one's church position is largely a matter of personal preference. One wonders why they themselves seem to prefer to stay where they are, but it is hardly cause for wonder if when the young people they have influenced come to leave home, they go in a confused state of mind.
It will not do to give vague and unsatisfactory answers to young eager minds trained to inquire into the reason for things. It is regrettable if some elders who ought to be 'able by sound doctrine (healthful teaching) both to exhort and convince the gainsayers' can only fall back on the unconvincing argument that 'this is how things have always been done'. Equally useless is the evasive and slightly offended manner which seems to suggest that such questions ought not to be asked. They will be asked and if we do not give the answers then answers will be sought elsewhere. Surely if the Christian is exhorted to 'be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (reverence)', i Pet. 3. 15, those who take the position of being guides to the flock ought to be able to give guidance to the lambs.
What then is the right attitude to the questions which are bound to rise in the minds of those who are genuinely perplexed as they weigh the stand we take, in the light of devotion and zeal found elsewhere? It is a mistake to rush into the arena determined to prove that 'we' are right and all others are wrong - even if we could succeed in this we might only encourage a self-righteous complacency nauseous to God and man. Our responsibility is not to prove that 'we' are right - our business is to help young people to discern the mind of God.
A CLEAR CONCEPTION
The first necessity is that we ourselves have a clear conception of the glory of the Church and then of God's gracious ideal for its local expression in the assembly. This will call for much more than a theoretical acquaintance with certain 'proof texts' - there must be such exercise of heart as will imbibe the atmosphere and capture the spirit as well as the form. Important as it is that the assembly should be scripturally constituted, it is equally important that the form be instinct with and animated by the life of the Spirit - a life of holiness and love. Once we have a clear conception of the ideal for ourselves, and not before, we shall be able to instruct others in a positive and constructive way, not asking them to believe what, in any case, is not true, namely that 'we arc the people' but saying, 'Here is God's ideal - judge everything by that. Given the right conditions we believe that nothing will be so effective for God, and so by His grace we are striving after it'. If we can encourage a reverent resolve to adhere to the scriptural way, rejection of all that is a contradiction to it will naturally follow. Those who cherish the truth in the spirit of Christ will remember that it is for all of God's people, and when they see that truth neglected they will not preen themselves on their adherence to it but will rather grieve at the deprivation God's people suffer, and the lamentable divisions which have resulted.
We all have to render account to our one Lord, and if the judgment scat of Christ is a reality to us we shall be sufficiently sobered at the thought of our own shortcoming not to presume to sit in judgment on others. Even those who may be in the happy state of 'knowing nothing against themselves' are not thereby justified - He that judges us is the Lord and we would be wise to wait His verdict.
This is quite a different thing from condoning unscriptural associations, but we will best serve the cause of Christ and the interests of our brethren by positive presentation of the truth whilst earnestly seeking help from God to live up to it ourselves.
What if we are asked concerning those cases where blessing attends the labours of others whose position involves a contradiction of what we believe to be the Lord's mind? Our concern for the glory of Christ and for the souls of men will surely enable us to rejoice and if we do not experience the same blessing we will not seek to appease our consciences by specious excuses but will honestly ask whether the cause is in us. But we will be far from drawing the foolish conclusion that adherence to the Word of God has been proved to be of no consequence. Although, quite possibly, there may be other explanations which only 'That Day' will reveal (God is sovereign and not accountable to us) it will be more charitable to conclude that even if the 'position' has been wrong, conditions have been right and that has enabled God to bless. The lesson for us will not be to follow others where they have been wrong but to learn from them where they have been right. Unwillingness to learn on the part of those who have deluded themselves into thinking that they have implemented the whole mind of God has been at the root of much failure. We have always stressed the importance of taking the Word of God for our guide but we have never fostered the false notion that conformity to a pattern will, in itself, serve the purpose of God if divorced from the spirit of love to Christ and our fellows. If we have got the right perspective here we shall then be able to ask perplexed young people to view the position fairly and realistically. For example, a thriving denominational work in a big centre, where a certain community may enjoy many advantages, including abundant help, cannot fairly be compared to a small isolated assembly where a faithful few at considerable personal sacrifice struggle on against formidable odds. It is so easy, but also so misleading, to draw general conclusions from particular cases.
But although it is important to look at the whole picture it is a mistake to seek to judge the mind of God from circumstances. Nothing absolves us from the responsibility to seek God's mind and to do it, but it is to be ascertained only from His Word.
We believe that if we can explain our attitude on these lines most young believers will be found amenable to instruction given in a constructive and realistic way.
Well - what are the principles in which we must instruct them? In our next issue we will, D.V., commence a series of articles in which we shall seek to set out those features which should characterize a church according to the New Testament, in the conviction that if believers can be encouraged to strive after the ideal they will instinctively recognize and reject what is inconsistent with it. J. B. L.