Few Bible-studying believers will deny that we appear to be living in the last days of the church age, the days of Revelation 3. 14-22. It seems to be a time of superficiality and of lack of reality. At a recent local conference a brother made a striking remark. He said he believed that, if the Lord had not returned within the next ten years, there would be no New Testament testimony on earth. He later qualified this statement, saying that he believed the Lord will return before that time.
Whether this is true or not, it does seem that we have lost the vision, in the scriptural usage of the term. We read in Proverbs 29. 18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. That this vision is closely linked with the Word of God is implied in the words that follow, “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he".
In view of the vision appearing to have been lost, the words of Habakkuk 2. 1, 2 seem very appropriate, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it”. It seems that the vision must be spelled out, so that we can get into the will of God.
Have we lost the vision in regard to the great commission of the Lord ?, Matt. 28. 19. As we analyse this com-mission we are certainly challenged afresh ! “Go” suggests motion – not waiting in a hall, hoping people will come into a gospel meeting; “ye” makes it very personal indeed, involv-ing every believer; into all the world means everywhere, open air meetings, house-to-house visitation, and all other forms of evangelism ; disciple all nations involves, not just getting a lip-profession of faith, but seeking to get people to follow the Lord also; “baptizing them” is also not just an option – we are to present the truth of baptism to those who believe on the Lord Jesus; “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. So we must continue teaching them concerning the truth I
Discipleship – what is involved in this? W. E. Vine wrote that the word for disciple comes from a root indicating thought accompanied by endea-vour ; also that a disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent. Surely discipleship involves self-surrender. It means to become Christ-centred, and to know the fulness of the Holy Spirit. It also demands separation from the world, from evil, and more particularly, separation unto the Lord. We find this taught in 1 Peter 1.14. In this verse there are two imperatives for true dis-cipleship. Firstly we must be as obed-ient children. We are the children of God through faith in Christ; we must manifest this great fact by seeking to obey God. Secondly, this obedience is to be evident by our separation – we must not fashion ourselves according to the former lusts, for these things belong to the time of our ignorance of God I This means there must not be conformity to the world, its fashions, pleasures and ambitions! We ought not to fashion ourselves in outward appearance to that which is of the world. Remember, separation must be from evil. As children of God we ought to separate ourselves from all evil things, whether they be social, busi-ness, or ethical.
Again, have we lost the vision as to what a true believer ought to be ? That is, a believer is not merely one who makes a profession of faith, but one who is truly the possessor of eternal life! The raising of a hand when an emotional appeal is given is not the guarantee that there has been a true work of the Holy Spirit in the heart! It has been said that sometimes there are imitation believers, imitation elders and imitation assemblies! How we need to return to spiritual reality !
Have we lost the vision in regard to elders? What are the scriptural re-quirements for an elder? Who may, or may not be, an elder? Sometimes brethren are accepted as elders be-cause they are older men ! Success in business, academic qualifications and suchlike are often used as the only necessary qualifications. Often, attend-ance at a monthly “business meeting” seems to be the sum total of responsi-bility. The New Testament concept of an elder is completely different. He must be godly in life, sound in doctrine, able to teach, and always ready to put himself out on behalf of the Lord’s people. Perhaps we need to re-consider the fact that an elder must be a pastor-teacher. To act as an under-shepherd is no easy matter, and much could be learned from John 10. 1-18 and 1 Peter 5. 1-4 in this regard. An elder should know each believer by name, and seek to watch over and care for each one. He must see that those in the assembly are taught in the right way. He must be prepared to visit, and to go after those who have gone astray. As one has written, “an elder must have the wisdom of Solo-mon, the patience of Job, the love of a mother, the discipline of a father, and the skin of a rhinoceros”. Much of an elder’s work has to be done privately. All of it must be done prayerfully and properly.
Finally, have we lost the vision of the New Testament church? It would seem that there is a gradual drift back to the errors of Christendom. Some-times today, we condone those very errors which were the reasons for the recovering of the truth of the New Testament assembly. As a result, we might ask ourselves some questions: Do we really believe in the reality of the power of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings? Do we wait on His lead-ing, depend on His ministry? Do we really own the Headship of Christ, and recognize the gifts that He has given ? Do we have and use the teachers and evangelists He raises up among us? Do we accept and practice God’s order in headship?, – in regard to the place and service of brethren and sisters ? Do we practice spiritual worship? Does the Holy Spirit have liberty at the Lord’s table? Is the ministry Christ-centred, and does it exalt God ? Are we really conscious of the presence of the Lord Jesus in our midst, or do we look upon the Lord’s supper as just another service ?
Let us be honest with ourselves. Have we lost the vision? Is it not rather that we are content to drift away from the vision so as to make ourselves more acceptable with the movements of Christendom ?
In regard to true evangelism, how many of us have brought people under the sound of the gospel in the last year? How many of us have led any souls to the Lord this year? Many believers have the idea that if there is a weekly gospel meeting, then they have fully discharged all their obliga-tions in the gospel. But a gospel meet-ing is only valid if we bring in the un-saved to the meeting, and see that the gospel is truly and faithfully presented. An “intellectual message”, which leaves out the very foundation facts of the gospel, is not the preaching of the gospel. The great truths found in the New Testament, such as the fact of sin, the need for repentance, the death and shedding of blood of the Lord Jesus, His resurrection, faith, forgiveness of sins, must be preached and stressed, as must the new birth.
Oh that God may help us, and enable us to recover the vision, so that we, as local assemblies, do not perish by being unuseable in the divine hands.