PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES have attempted to summarize the perplexities which young people are likely to feel in face of the variety of views held by Christians with whom a widening experience brings them into contact. Whilst sharing the exercise of those who long to see these differences reconciled, we have sought to show the difficulties which attempts to foster unity will encounter, unless by mutual consent the Word of God is taken as our guide.
Some will say that such a stipulation rules out the hope of agreement because there is no prospect of such willingness, so that realism demands some other practical solution. It is surely very precarious, not to say presumptuous, to embark on a course which would take us beyond the guidance of Scripture; if they are satisfied they can steer a safe course through such dangerous waters we lay no claim to similar insight. It is not one of the lessons of history, that when servants of Christ, even with the very best of motives, have ventured into realms not contemplated by the Word of God the penalty has had to be paid sooner or later?
Though it may be interpreted in some quarters as lack of courage and enterprise, we think it simpler and safer to confine ourselves to those spheres of service which do not involve us in uneasy accommodation to unscriptural associations. In saying this, we would not for a moment overlook the devotion and earnestness of many sincere servants of Christ whose outlook is different, nor do we imagine that we shall by such a course avoid all difficulties and achieve perfect conditions. Human nature and human frailty are with us still!
Even if, unfortunately, it is true that such a course will close many doors of opportunity it is surely enough to reply that our responsibility is to obey the Lord and leave the results to Him. In any case, every servant of Christ, whatever his outlook, has to draw the line somewhere. No one can enter every door of opportunity – some selection has to be made, if not by conviction, then from sheer necessity. Since a choice has to be made, why not choose the best? Certainly genuine love should characterize our attitude, but let us remember that when Paul prayed that the Philippians’ love might abound yet more and more, he added ‘in knowledge and all discernment’ so that they might ‘approve things that are excellent’. It is not at all improbable that the ardent Philippians were facing conditions which threatened the unity of the assembly, conditions which, in principle, were very similar to those we are considering. Things, good in themselves, were occupying the believers in such a way as to lead to a dispersion of effort. The solution which the apostle prayed for was that amid the competing claims of things good in themselves, the believers might be able to discern what was best, so that they could ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind (soul) striving for the faith of the gospel’.
Even from a purely practical point of view (and our friends urge us to be ‘practical’) we contend that if we strive to consolidate assembly life, ever reaching out after the divine ideal, more will in fact be accomplished, in the final analysis, than by the bewildering dispersion of effort we see today with all its weakening effect on assembly life and testimony. When Paul spoke of having laid the foundation upon which others were to build, he was referring to the foundation of the assembly at Corinth and urging others to take heed how they built thereupon. The criterion was ‘if any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon’.
If young people can be helped to see the force of this, then we must be ready to show them from the Scripture, what a New Testament church should be like. But, as we have always emphasized, it is not sufficient to justify our convictions theoretically. Let us be thankful we are living in a realistic generation and if we are to be any real help to earnest young Christians we must not only satisfy them that our convictions are scriptural, but we must seek so to walk with God and carry out His will in the spirit of Christ, that the assembly becomes a real spiritual home and the life of the assembly displays the warmth and vitality of the Spirit’s power.
It will now be useful to indicate some of the leading features of a New Testament church, although fuller con¬sideration of these points will have to be deferred. May we suggest that in preparation for later studies our readers view the general religious situation against this background.
1. The unity of the body recognized by the acceptance of only those titles which belong alike to all Christians.
2. Fellowship in the local church confined to believers.
3. The Lordship of Christ acknowledged.
4. The maintenance of sound doctrine.
5. The observance of the two scriptural ordinances -believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
6. No federation of assemblies.
7. Plurality of elders.
8. No political entanglement.
9. Freedom for the exercise of God-given gifts.