IN OUR PREVIOUS ISSUE we referred to our responsibility to give constructive help to young believers in the perplexity they feel when faced with the many divisions among Christians.
It seems to us that it is of the greatest possible importance to get the right perspective. Instinctively viewing the problem from our own standpoint we are apt to assume that the issue is between the companies we call the assemblies, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, those communities which do not share our convictions. A Little reflection will show that this attitude smacks of denominationalism – the very thing which accentuates the problem we are discussing. We must seek to make a realistic assessment of how we, as well as others, stand, and not in relation to each other, but in relation to the divine ideal. As we suggested earlier, perhaps it would help if we tried to imagine how a first century Christian from, say the church at Philippi, would re-act if he were suddenly transported to a large town in Britain. Having grown up amidst this long standing confusion we can hardly realize how bewildered and appalled such a man would be. With the apostles’ teaching in mind, and especially Paul’s letter to his own assembly, he would, no doubt, seek to ascertain the Lord’s will for him in such strange surroundings. It would be well for us if we could, in thought, stand clear from all involvement in the present situation and try to view the scene from the Lord’s standpoint.
Some believers, happy in the conviction that they have found their right place in assembly fellowship, seem indifferent to conditions elsewhere. ‘It is no concern of ours’ they would say. But even if we had no share in the blame, surely no mature Christian could remain indifferent to that which so dishonours the Lord, proves a stumbling-block to the unconverted and robs so many of the Lord’s people of the enjoyment of their rightful heritage in Christ.
If all believers are members of the one body of Christ, conditions which reflect on any part of the body reflect on all the members. If we realized this we should feel the shame of it as Ezra, though personally blameless in the matter, felt the shame of Israel’s failure.‘O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens’, Ezra 9. 6. Think too, of Daniel, who equally innocent, prayed, ‘O Lord … we have sinned and have committed iniquity … even by departing from thy precepts …’, Dan. 9. 4.
Surely none of us imagines that we have so perfectly carried out the will of God that we can afford to be complacent. Even more absurd is the idea that we alone stand for God and that God works through no others. The pathetic fall of such a spiritual giant as Elijah should warn us of the ultimate effect of such a delusion. Embittered by the seeming failure of his mission he interceded against those who were his own people and still the people of God, Rom. 11.2. Twice he exposed then-failures and twice asserted that he had been very jealous for the Lord and now was the only one left who stood for God, I Kings 19. 10 and 14. How astonished he must have been to be told by God that far from being the only one left, God had seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. We all admire this great man’s brave and resolute stand against Israel’s disloyalty to God, but when we have made every allowance for his peculiar difficulties it is cause for wonder that he could have remained unaware of those in Israel who brought God some pleasure, even if, alas, they were not prepared to share in his uncompromising stand for God.
Any who are acquainted with the real state of Christendom and the complexity of the resultant problems will, at least, be able to understand why some who have been genuinely exercised have become so discouraged that they have concluded the position is hopeless. In so far as the realm of mere profession is concerned we are bound to agree – we believe the Scriptures indicate that the history of the professing church (as distinct from the true church) will end in complete apostasy, and we do well to be aware of the danger of getting involved in the present subtle trend in that direction. We shall have more to say on this point later, but we are not prepared to adopt the defeatist attitude that implies that the Lord has lost control of the situation. We believe that, given the right perspective and the right state of heart, we can pursue a path which will enable us to exert an influence for the Lord’s glory and the blessing of His people. Only in the measure that this is true of us are we likely to be able to give effective guidance and leadership to young believers. In our next article we will consider what can be done in this direction. J. H. L.