IN PREVIOUS ARTICLES WE have urged the importance of turning with heart and will to the scriptural ideal, convinced that ultimately more will be accomplished in this way than by any other means. Unfortunately the reverse process seems to be in favour in some quarters where there is a tendency to increasing conformity to the general religious set-up.
Owing to the fact that many of our young people are becoming accustomed to conditions like this, there is an increasing tendency to ask, rather impatiently, ‘Do these things matter?’. Once this easy-going attitude is taken the door is opened for the introduction of all kinds of things contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and it will not be long before the distinctive witness entrusted to assemblies will be lost, and they themselves re-absorbed into the established religious set-up out of which they originally emerged. It is just here that a grave responsibility rests upon all who take the position of being elders. Can it be that an amiable desire to be applauded as being broad-minded and tolerant makes some shrink from the risk of being unpopular if they stand for the scriptural way of things? We are most emphatic in our insistence that convictions need to be held in love and grace, but a weak yielding to popular trends is evidence of neither, and merely forfeits one’s right to be considered a leader by taking the position of being led.
Curiously enough it is not uncommon to meet earnest believers in denominational communions who see quite clearly that their situation is unscriptural and are unhappy about it. It is surely a great pity if our failure to implement in freshness and power the simple scriptural ideal, and a readiness to compromise with what they see to be wrong, provide the excuse to stay where they are. If only assemblies would stand graciously but firmly by their convictions, instead of being half-ashamed of being different, they might give an inspired lead to these perplexed souls. So we proceed to set before our readers what we believe to be the features of a scriptural church and we ask them to contrast these with the general religious situation.
The first point we take up is that
FELLOWSHIP SHOULD BE CONFINED TO BELIEVERS
It goes without saying that the true Church is composed only of those who have been born again by the Spirit of God -'…if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his’, Rom. 8. 9. In regard to the Church no mistake will be made: ‘The Lord knoweth them that arc his’, 2 Tim. 2.19, but in regard to fellowship in a local church we can only use such discernment as we have, remembering the words which follow the above: ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity’. Granting that mistakes are possible, it is nevertheless the responsibility of Christians to see that, as far as they are able to discern, only true be¬lievers are received into the fellowship of the local assembly. It is well known, and sometimes even acknowledged, that admission to the fellowship of most denominations cannot very well be made conditional upon a clear confession of faith in Christ and evidence of a life consistent with such a confession. Indeed the very constitution of some communities would invalidate such a condition, and in other cases the set-up would make it impracticable. It is often taken for granted that young people will become ‘church members’ as a matter of course, and others are urged to become members on quite inadequate grounds. We must not overlook the danger ourselves. It is probably not too much to say that such a condition of things is one of the reasons for the serious dilution of spiritual life and effectiveness in companies which once bore a clear testimony to the truth. The experience of Israel demonstrates the baneful influence of a ‘mixed multitude’ – what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? 2 Cor. 6. 15, R.V.
Ecclesiastics defend the mixture by quoting the parable of the tares: ‘Let both grow together until the harvest’. They say that efforts to create and maintain what they call ‘a pure communion’ have always proved futile and that the church will always include ‘good and bad’. But the parable has no such application. The Lord Himself interpreted it and He said quite distinctly that the ‘field’ in which both wheat and tares were sown was the ‘world’ – not the church. The harvest was ‘the end of the age’. When Ananias and Sapphira introduced sin into the church at Jerusalem in the early days, did Peter, who had heard the parable and the Lord’s explanation, say that tares and wheat must grow together ? When the hypocrisy of Simon the sorcerer came to light did Peter argue that mixture must be expected and must therefore be accepted? Let his words answer for themselves, ‘Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter’. Why did Paul say ‘Put away from among yourselves that wicked person'?, i Cor. 5. 13. Certainly if Christian perfection were the condition, none of us would be in fellowship. In that sense a ‘pure communion’ is impossible, but this does not relieve us of the responsibility of ensuring, as far as we are able, that the fellowship of the local church is open only to those who make a definite confession of faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour and who manifest a desire to walk in His ways. At the same time we should be most careful to see that any who are disposed to attend our gatherings are given a courteous welcome and shown the love and grace of Christ. What incalculable good would be done if conditions within the assembly were such that a visitor would ‘worship God declaring that God is among you indeed’, 1 Cor. 14. 25, R.V.
But this in no way detracts from the clear evidence that in apostolic days fellowship was confined to believers. ‘Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls’, Acts 2. 41. ‘And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved’, 2. 47, R.V. ‘But of the rest durst no man join himself to them’, 5. 13. ‘When he came and had seen the grace of God was glad, and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord’, 11. 23. ‘Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’, 10. 47.
The superscription of many of the epistles indicates the same thing: ‘To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints’, Rom. 1. 7. ‘Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints’, 1 Cor. 1.2. ‘To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus’, Eph. 1. 1. See also Phil. 1. 1, Col. 1. 2, 1 Thess. 1. 1.
Our defence of this scriptural principle implies no claim to have attained it – we do not see cause for complacency, but we see need for insistence on the recognition of this principle and for stressing our obligation to strive after it.
We consider it a grave weakness in many communities that membership is, in practice, open to almost anybody who expresses a wish for it, irrespective of whether they give evidence of having been born again.
In our next issue we shall consider some of the implications of the Lordship of Christ in relation to church matters.
J. H. L.