Is the Scriptural Assembly Possible Today?
W. E. Vine, Bath
THE FINALITY OF SCRIPTURE
IN 2 TIMOTHY 3. 16, 17, the apostle Paul declares that the Scriptures are God-breathed, and are 'profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works'. This provision 'for every good work' stamps the Scripture with completeness and finality. 'Those things', he says, to the church at Philippi, 'which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in mc, do', Phil. 4. 9, and to Timothy: 'Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned'. Timothy was to charge certain men 'not to teach a different doctrine', 1. 3. He was to commit what he had learned from the apostle among many witnesses 'to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also', a plain intimation that apostolic teaching was to be handed on from one generation of Christians to another, indefinitely. Jude states that Scripture comprises 'the faith once for all (hapax) delivered to the saints', Jude 3, R.v. The word hapax is noticeable; it is to be distinguished from pote 'once upon a time', and this the Revisers had in view when they substituted the phrase 'once for all' for the A.V., 'once'. How can that which is given 'once for all' necessitate or allow of modification, readjust¬ment, or addition?
THE PERMANENT REQUIREMENTS OF I CORINTHIANS
Certain instructions given in 1 Corinthians as to the conduct, worship, and testimony of a local church, are regarded by some as having been applicable merely to the church at Corinth. But the epistle is addressed not only to that church but to 'all that in every place call upon die name of Jesus Christ, our Lord', 1. 2. Many of its teachings are foundations of the faith, e.g., 15. 3-5, and what was of local application contains principles and injunctions essential for individual believers and for churches at all times.
What has been said thus far is sufficient of itself to show not only that it is possible to carry out apostolic teachings in these respects but that they are obligations for all true followers of Christ.
In view of the absolute claim of the Scriptures upon the obedience of God's people, many at different times and in various places throughout the present age, have been enabled to conform to the scriptural mode of gathering, in contrast to the variety of methods prevalent throughout apostate Christendom from early post-apostolic times onward.
APOSTASY AND INADEQUATE RECOVERY
It does not lie within the scope of this article to record the history of the apostasy by reason of which Popery became dominant, or to set forth the incomplete character of the work of the Protestant Reformation. The latter, while it effected in great measure the overthrow of the Papal system in certain countries, failed to lead back fully to the truth of the Scripture those who were freed from that system. Amidst the various sects that resulted there remained in general the prevalence of clericalism, and with it to a large extent the teaching of baptismal regeneration, and other errors.
A SIGNIFICANT MOVEMENT
Notwithstanding this, owing to the spread of the Scriptures, the light they afford, and the power of the Holy Spirit, there was in the early part of last century a widespread movement by which large numbers of God's people were able to free themselves from the shackles of human tradition and to meet together in conformity to those principles which the Scriptures set forth. That movement arose, not in one locality, nor from a single centre from which it spread. On the contrary, in various places Christians met together under the guidance of the Word of God, independently of any knowledge of what was simultaneously going on in other places, itself an evidence of the work of the Spirit of God, and of the absence of human propaganda and organization.
It is always possible for people to conform to the truth; and a deep significance lies in the fact that owing to the world-wide circulation of the Bible, companies of believers in different lands have been led by the Scriptures to return to apostolic teaching apart from human agency and instruction.
WHAT THE NEW TESTAMENT SETS FORTH
The New Testament makes clear that under apostolic teaching no single minister was appointed to conduct the worship of God's people, or to administer the sacraments. Such things are conspicuous by their absence. According to 1 Cor. 10. 16 it is 'the bread which we break . . . the cup of blessing which we bless'. There is no such paradoxical arrangement as the communion rail, no such ritual as the reception of the elements from a minister or priest. The Spirit of God acted in the churches to provide spiritual gifts of elders or overseers in a single gathering, to exercise oversight, Acts 20. 17, 28, and other spiritual gifts. The work of the Holy Spirit in this respect is set forth clearly in 1 Cor. 12. 4-11. He divides 'to each one severally even as he will'.
The teaching of 1 Cor. 14. 26-33 shows how a gathering should be open for one and another to lead in praise or to edify the company under the direction of the Spirit of God. To this the ministerial system is definitely opposed and constitutes a quenching of the Spirit. Many gifts which might edify the Church are rendered inactive. Numbers of believers are shut up in their pews week by week listening to sermons, and are like paralyzed members of a body. A veritable return to obedience to the revealed will of God would constitute a reformation that would revolutionize the denominations of Christendom.
THE QUESTION ANSWERED
That there are failures, imperfections, and delinquencies among those who are seeking to follow the Word of God affords no grounds for the supposition that it is impossible to get back to its teaching. The existence of evil only affords a ground for humiliation before God, and for a rectification according to the revealed mind of the Lord.
To endeavour to counteract failure by following the tradi¬tions of men is only to turn from one evil to another. Two blacks do not make a white. One error cannot be corrected by the pursuit of another.
Reprinted by kind permission of Light and Liberty.