Are Things Ready To Die? - And If So What Then?
THIS magazine was commenced just over two years ago in the conviction that there was a need to reemphasize the teaching of the New Testament with regard to the local church. Nothing has happened to weaken that conviction (rather the reverse), but if confirmation had been needed it would have come from the uninterrupted flow of appreciations from all parts of these Islands and from other countries. We are thankful for evidence that the Lord has seen fit to bless this simple witness and we go forward counting on His continued help.
Let it be clear that we do not pursue this policy in slavish devotion to a tradition but because we believe, not only that the church order found in the Scriptures is still God’s will for His people, but that in consequence, it will still be found to be, as in the past, the most effective method of accomplishing God’s purposes.
The companies who take this stand (which, for convenience are usually referred to as “the Assemblies”) have been subjected to a good deal of severe criticism for some considerable time. Resentment at this would be a very unhealthy sign—sober and constructive criticism should be welcomed with the idea of benefitting from it, for no sane person imagines that any community is free from the weaknesses inseparable from human nature. We could, nevertheless, say a good deal in defence of our brethren, but we will refrain partly from lack of space, and partly because exposures of human frailty can do no harm.
We have never imagined that correctness of form can compensate for lack of spiritual vitality and we heartily appreciate any call to increased concern and exercise of heart.
What we do protest against is the implied suggestion that these weaknesses go to prove that the principles which have guided these companies have failed in practice. We are told that assemblies are dying out and that unless they abandon these principles and (compromising with their convictions) link up with unscriptural associations, their effective witness is doomed. Now a faith which fears to face facts is not of much account—so what are the facts?
ARE ASSEMBLIES DYING OUT?
Yes—some are. They always did—even in the “good old days,” but this is a process by no means confined to the assemblies. Let it be remembered, too, that though a very small proportion die out, others continue through the years strong and vigorous, many which looked like dying out in the “good old days” have revived, and new ones have sprung up.
Far from accepting the dismal picture some would paint for us, we believe there are distinct signs that the Lord, Who has entrusted the assemblies with a great work, intends to make further use of them, and although we do well to weigh criticisms we must be careful that they do not dishearten us. On the other hand we trust the critics will make sure that their criticisms are well founded and advanced with respect for the genuine convictions of others. Failure to exercise restraint may be used of the Adversary to make breaches of fellowship, when the situation calls for a closing up of our ranks to meet the magnificent opportunities which are being offered to us.
A great deal could be written in vindication of the policy of adhering to our Scriptural convictions, but the reader should be sufficiently well informed of the great worldwide work the Lord has carried on through the assemblies to make discussion of it unnecessary. Unless it should later appear necessary to meet the critics on their own ground we prefer not to prolong the discussion on these lines, because this ground comes precariously near to a denominational outlook in contrast to the Scriptural standpoint, which does not recognise a federation of churches but regards the local church as a unit. In consequence, the vital question is not “Are the assemblies dying out?” but
“IS YOUR ASSEMBLY DYING OUT?”
We are glad to think that in the great majority of cases the very question will cause thankfulness to rise in the heart as readers think of how service for Christ has been enjoyed in the happy fellowship of their brethren. If, however, you have cause to fear that in your assembly things are ready to die, your duty is quite plain, for it was in these very circumstances that the Lord commanded His people to “be watchful and strengthen the things which; remain, which are ready to die.” This is so obviously the remedy, that we cannot help wondering whether some fail to adopt it because they would lose their popularity in other quarters if they gave themselves wholeheartedly to the building up of a simple company who are under reproach because they will not compromise with unsound religious teachings and practices. Although many have made the weakness of their local assembly the excuse for throwing in their lot with unscriptural associations, we are inclined to ask, “Which is cause, and which is effect?”
Searching of heart as to our real motives would do good, but it is well to remember that even if we are quite sincere, it is possible to be sincere and mistaken, as Saul of Tarsus discovered to his amazement. We think wistfully of assemblies which could be strong and vigorous if brethren and sisters would devote to them the zeal and energy they divide among various efforts, which often do but duplicate the proper functions of the assembly, and which, given their support, the assembly could carry out more economically and effectively. We believe, too, that these brethren and sisters would really be happier because it is difficult to believe that their activities do not sometimes conflict with their inner convictions.
Some will reply that working heartily with their brethren in assembly fellowship is not always so easy as it appears. If this is true it does not necessarily follow that the fault is all on one side. Since this is undoubtedly the more excellent way we may expect the devil to make it as difficult as possible, but before we conclude that the obstacles are insurmountable let us bring to bear the resources of prayer, let us manifest the grace and patience which will cultivate fellowship, with a genuine desire to see what God can and will do, instead of making a half-hearted gesture which assumes that failure is a foregone conclusion.
With every desire to respect the honest convictions of those who differ from us, we are perfectly sure that concentration on building up the local assembly on sound lines, and strengthening its witness by wholehearted co-operation is the ideal solution of the problems which undoubtedly beset Christian service in these perplexing days—and a solution which offers the surest prospects of abiding results. One needs only to read the Epistle to the Philippians to be assured of this. If this course were pursued with real earnestness there would be little inclination and less occasion to talk of “dwindling assemblies” and no need to talk of your dwindling assembly.
Undoubtedly the foregoing will raise many questions which cannot be treated within the limits of a short article, but if we find that it has been read with patience we will go into greater detail at another time.