The rapid growth of the Church in the early centuries of per-secution was due largely, under God’s preserving grace, to the vital power and the flexibility of the local assembly. Where the” two or three” were found gathered round the Person of Christ there was a local church in being or, at least:, in germ. Personal witness soon brought more believers to the Centre of gathering and, before long, gifts, unhindered by ‘ organisations ‘ and ministerial monopolies, were manifested to the building–up of the local gather-ing. The appearance of” elders” maintained order and provided for pastoral care, without putting the church into the ‘ straight jacket ‘ of organized hierarchies. The ‘ living cell,’ when it reached a certain natural point of development, could ‘divide’ for the formation of other living cells. The churches had full fellowship one with the other, bat they derived their power from Heaven, and owed their guidance to the Holy Spirit through the Word. Text-books of Church history generally point to the growth of ecclesiasticism and organization as the means whereby the Church with-stood the onslaught of the later pagan persecutions. Actually the reverse is true, for the “Bishops,” “Patriarchs” etc., of the now” organized Church” were an easy target for the wrath of the enemy, whereas the simple leaders of the early days were often passed by unnoticed.
The vital power and energy as the New Testament local chinch are clearly manifested in limes of peace and liberty so long as the easy conditions do not produce those deadly enemies of spiritual testimony–sloth, complacency and traditionalism. But the divine wisdom o£ the great principles are much more in evidence in times of difficulty and persecution, and this has been seen clearly in recent years in Spain. Examples might be chosen from various parts of the Peninsula, but it is only possible now to give a brief account of what has been Seen in the city of Barcelona.
The labours of servants of the Lord, such as Messrs. Lawrence, Payne and Rubio, were fruitful in the conversion of souls during the time of the Monarchy, and an assembly of considerable size was formed in the Gracia district. During the Republic there was no great advance of the Lord’s Work in Spain except in a new dis-trict of Barcelona, round the Plaza de Espana, which was opened–up by the labours of Messrs. White and Haselden. The testimony was blessed and, by the time the storm of the Civil War burst upon us in 1936, a new assembly had been formed of’ nearly 200 souls. During that war there were periods when the halls were closed because of Anarchist activities, and lit other times they were open under the laws of the Republic.
With the entry of the Nationalist forces all Protestant places of worship were dosed, and remained closed from January, 1639, until late in 1945. This was the great testing time. Without wishing to say anything in the least derogatory to the witness of faithful brethren who labour in denominations and missions, one may be allowed to analyse the position of the ordinary church–member is such cases. Ho would naturally say to himself: ”My church (cleaning the building) is closed; my minister has had to leave. I must read my Bible when I can, and pray for this condition of things to end.” The reaction of the believers in the New Testa-ment churches was quite different. They were not all well–taught, and not all equally keen, but the general reaction was something as follows:” It is trite that the halls are closed, and that workers, in the main, have had to leave. But we have the Word of God and the power of the Spirit, and we will meet when and how we can: in houses, in flats and in the country.” instead of two meetings, there were scores of gatherings for the breaking of bread and the preaching of the Word daring the time of closure, so that the number of believers did not diminish but grew, and, necessarily, gifts were developed, as the messages bad to Lie given in a large number of places to smaller groups of people. Houses were some-times raided, and fines imposed, but there were always others available where the work could lie carried on.
In 1945 the Falangist ”Bill of Rights” was proclaimed and, thanks to the victory of the Western Powers, clause Six, which allows a minimum, of toleration for n on–Catholics, was fairly liberally interpreted for a time (there has been a strong reaction since) and the churches and halls were re–opened without much difficulty. Despite serious internal difficulties in the assemblies, the blessing continued in the re–opened halls. The historic assembly had been re–vitalized, and there had been a great increase of gift in the new and rather crude one. There are now five assemblies in thee city, three of them from 250 to over 300 strong, as well as other points of witness in and around the city, and the blessing still continues. The secrets, which may well he re–learnt by British assemblies, are these: (1) A direct and simple approach to Scripture; (2) A clear, straightforward, heart–to–heart preaching of the gospel; (3) A high level of personal witness; (4) A simple gathering of the local church for the breaking of bread and the edification of the saints; (5) The vital and spiritual power of the church which can give rise to other points of witness, which in turn become assem-blies.
Assembly testimony has been blessed in various parts of Spain, but, hi order to avoid misconceptions, we must perhaps add that only a tiny part of the country is evangelized, and the growth we have spoken of has taken place in the midst of deep spiritual dark-ness. Pray that the Lord may help all our brethren to treasure the great principles which have given such fruit, and that we may see further and greater manifestations of spiritual power in 3 country” where Satan’s seat is.”
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