We are happy to pass on to our readers one of the papers left by our brother, which so aptly reflects the ministry which made thousands his debtors.
Unity in local church life is formed and maintained by the Holy Spirit. Unity is not uniformity. Human regulations may achieve uniformity, but they do not produce unity. The unity effected by the Holy Spirit is characterized by variety, but it is a variety maintained in harmony. Harmony is the effect of the blending of differing sounds into concord. Variety itself may produce discord, and in the spiritual sphere this is inevitably the result of carnal efforts to combine differing elements into a spiritual unity.
The basic idea of the word “harmony” is that which is fitted. So in church capacity, saints are designed to be fitted together’ as the joints of a healthy human frame. This is true of the whole Church, the Body of Christ; “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4. 4-6, R.V.). Of that body, Christ is the Head.
The same figure of the human frame is applied to the local assembly in 1 Cor. 12, but with this important difference, that some members are there spoken of as an ear, an eye, and these are parts of the head; so that in this application of the figure the head is not described as distinct from the body, as in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Concerning the local aspect, the Apostle says to the saints at Corinth, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof” (1 Cor. 12. 27). There is no definite article before the word “body” in the original. This indicates that each local assembly is viewed as a body of Christ. Each assembly therefore is designed to be an expression of unity formed locally by the Spirit of God, Christ Himself acting in each member, including those represented by parts of the head. In this aspect of the local assembly as presented in 1 Corinthians, the divine purpose is that the members “should have the same care one for another” (v. 25). This is significantly and beautifully appropriate to local assembly conditions.
Whilst spiritual unity is the work of the Holy Spirit, the keeping of the unity is dependent upon the diligent response of those who are subject to His power. We are “to give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This can be done only as we behave towards one another “with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love,” so walking “worthily of the calling wherewith we were called,” Eph. 4. 1-3.
A change of locality on the part of the believer does not affect his membership of the whole body of Christ, the complete Church as mentioned in Eph. 1. 23, but a removal from one town to another does affect his membership locally. All that is involved in his membership of the body of which Christ is the Head remains true for him in every place where he may go. The changing circumstances of earth cannot effect that membership, for it will continue for ever when heaven and earth have passed away. To regard him, however, as a member of an assembly in two places because he is a member of the whole body of Christ is to confound things which differ. If a believer moved from Ephesus to Corinth, he would not have been a member of the local body in both places. The fact that, in addressing the church of God at Corinth, the Apostle adds “Called to be saints, with all that call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours” is not contradictory to this. There are certain facts and features which are essentially common to all the assemblies of God’s people, but local conditions involve the necessity of care to maintain the testimony of unity locally.
There is to be, for instance, the recognition of spiritual gifts as provided by the Lord in each assembly; the believers who form it are to fulfil the exhortation, “to know them that labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5. 12). Obedience to the connected commands to be at peace with one another, to exhort one another and build each other up (verses 11. 13), concern the circumstances of a local assembly.
These circumstances involve the functioning of spiritual gifts locally, in subjection to the prerogatives and guidance of the Spirit of God, and, above all, the exercise of the love as described in 1 Cor. 13. These and other similar exhortations show what the maintenance of unity in each assembly means, and what is the application of the figure of a body to local conditions, conditions which could not be fulfilled by believers in one assembly towards those of another assembly, say, in another land.
The unity of the Spirit, which is most precious in God’s sight (Psa. 133), is something which we are to “give diligence” to keep. Detailed instructions as to its maintenance are given in Col. 3. 12-14; “Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.” Where these things are fulfilled there is sure to be unity. Where differences of opinion or judgment arise (and such difference may not be unexpected while we are subject to the limitations of our present state), yet they should not be allowed to issue in division. It is not necessarily wrong to have different ways of looking at things. What is needed is the exercise of patience. No decision should be arrived at, no step should be taken, till oneness of view has been granted, and it will be granted in due time if we wait upon the Lord and seek His mind in the spirit of brotherly forbearance and mutual esteem. To attempt to lay down regulations where no specific commands are given in the Word of God, is to act in self-will and mar the unity which should be maintained. It is easy to lay down laws as a result of our inferences from certain texts, but that cannot meet the approval of God.
The passage just quoted from Colossians depicts love as the binding outer cloak. It is “the bond of perfectness.” Following this we are exhorted to let the “peace of Christ (R.V.) rule,” or rather arbitrate, “in our hearts.” His peace should be the deciding factor in all our differences. If Christ’s peace dwells in our hearts individually, it will find its expression in producing harmony of thought and action. To this peace we have been called “in one body,” and here, again, its exercise is obviously to be put into practice in the local assembly. Moreover, where the benign power of His peace is at work, it will produce that spirit which is inculcated in the immediately-following command, “be ye thankful.”
Your Basket Is Empty