WE CAN WELL IMAGINE that as some have read the preceding articles in this series, their reaction has been ‘Do these things really matter very much?’. The proper question to ask is ‘Are they in accord with the Word of God?’. If the answer has to be in the affirmative then we need no further justification for our insistence on them, and we do not intend now to pursue the point any further, except to ask those who are inclined to by-pass them, whether they have sufficiently considered the likely effects of their action on the next generation. In this final article of the series we are more concerned with some of the practical issues facing those who wish to maintain what they believe to be the scriptural order of things in the assembly. Perhaps the most obvious danger is complacency.
If, in the face of comparative unfruitfulness, we take refuge in the oft-repeated sentiment ‘It is not “Well done, good and successful servant”, but “Well done, good and faithful servant" ‘, it raises doubt as to our faithfulness. No one can question that it is faithfulness which counts with the Lord, but because the servants were faithful they were successful, and in normal circumstances we should expect the same. The unsuccessful servant certainly guarded the pound entrusted to him, but he did not use it, preferring a life of ease, not willing to risk unpopularity as a servant of an absent and rejected master. If faithfulness consists merely in maintaining outward forms, we could understand Israel’s surprise in Malachi’s day that the Lord had found fault with them. Perhaps one of the most terrible dangers to which we are exposed is self-deception, the tragedy being that in the very nature of the case, those who are deceived are incapable of realizing it. Religionists have sometimes acted as though they thought they could hoodwink God; let us be sure of this, that if we substitute formality for reality we hoodwink only ourselves.
We nevertheless maintain, that given the right conditions (please observe the qualifying clause) the effectiveness of a church’s witness will be proportionate to its conformity to the Word of God. Failure to appreciate the divine conception of a church has often hindered the achievement of right conditions, and this even where there has been much talk of ‘church truth’. It is, for example, one thing to accept as a technicality that an assembly is a temple of God but it is quite another thing to be gripped by the truth of it. It is no exaggeration to say that no words can adequately convey the solemn implications of this tremendous fact – they can be appreciated only by those who are willing to allow the Spirit of God to apply this overwhelming truth in power to their hearts and consciences. It is almost superfluous to say that any person who has been taught of God to regard an assembly of His people as His temple, will be characterized by due awe and reverence in all his dealing with an assembly. This will have far-reaching effects, but we can stay now to notice only a few.
Once an assembly is regarded in the right light, it will at once become obvious that the work of God calls for spiritual men. A man is not necessarily spiritual because he has a nimble mind which can readily grasp theological niceties, and a nimble tongue to expound them. Many arc puzzled at the havoc such men can cause, but the simple explanation is that anything short of genuine spirituality, consisting of a true knowledge of, and a humble walk with God, can only introduce confusion into a temple of God. Nothing, we repeat, nothing in a temple of God is trivial – every detail calls for consecrated and devoted men. The apostles when confronted with the need of appointing men to administer assembly funds called for ‘men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom’. We are far from belittling accurate scriptural knowledge, or efficiency, but no qualifications, however desirable in themselves, can compensate for the lack of godliness. Assembly affairs call for men who walk with God and work under the conviction of the transcendent importance and dignity of eternal realities.
But a truly spiritual man will be efficient, realizing that any service for God or for His people calls for his best. If it grieves the spirits of sensitive Christians to see assembly affairs muddled, how much more must it grieve the Lord, who is a God of order. No one expects men who have not had any business training to organize affairs on the lines of an electronically equipped office, but if they are spiritual men they will do things properly; if a man fails in thoroughness it is difficult to believe he realizes that he is handling the affairs of God’s house. There is a kind of spirituality which affects contempt for detail, but the care which God bestows on detail effectively exposes its false pretensions. Certainly some matters are weightier than others and we turn from incidental things to the public ministry of the assembly.
If elders are men of God living in the power of an ungrieved Spirit and in the enjoyment of fellowship with Christ, it will be evident by their vital contribution to the assembly’s worship. Indeed it is not too much to say that every activity will be conducted in the spirit of worship. The man who is constantly on his feet in fleshly energy can be a plague, but we can draw only sorrowful conclusions if there is an obvious poverty of spirit, marked by barren silences because men have nothing to offer to God. In saying this, we have the greatest sympathy with good men who are harassed by the unnatural life of the present day, especially when in addition an unfair burden of assembly detail falls on them because of the apathy of others. In that case it becomes a matter of resolutely giving precedence to the more important; and who will deny that the worship of an assembly influences its character?
The prayer meeting has aptly been termed the assembly power-house, but we may be allowed to remark that a power-house is intended to generate energy. We admire regular attendance at prayer meetings, but if it is to be effective there must be prior exercise of heart. To come with nothing more than an amiable willingness to ‘say one’s piece’ is not likely to accomplish much. The inwrought prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and the impact of a virile prayer meeting where people are conscious of getting through to God is immense.
We need to speak to God, but God needs to speak to us. We have cause to be very thankful if the teaching we receive is scripturally sound, and we ought to appreciate brethren who despite the demands of a busy life are prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to help the saints. Many addresses are models of scriptural accuracy and clear thinking and this is an immense benefit, but true ministry is much more than instructing people’s minds; it should be the means by which something of spiritual value is imparted by the power of the Spirit of God.
How are we discharging our responsibility to the Gospel? If folk come into our services to hear the Gospel it is cause for rejoicing, but what warrant have we to expect it? The emphasis in Scripture seems to be in the other direction -‘Go ye’. Are we enterprising enough in our efforts to reach the unconverted with the Gospel? Assemblies are often presented with magnificent opportunities but these have to be seized promptly or they are lost beyond recall.
Some will say that this is idealistic; and others might say that it is easy to talk but not so easy to accomplish. We admit both. But are we therefore to be content to take the path of least resistance? In the end it comes down to the individual, and if every member of an assembly is ready to pull his weight, in the power of the Spirit of God, there can be no doubt that the Lord will be ready to bless. Let those young believers whom we have specially in mind weigh up the possibilities, and if they are prepared to employ their youthful zeal in the cause of Christ let them approach their ciders desiring their leadership and counsel. This would be such a stimulus to many disheartened men that they would rise to the occasion with renewed spirit.
J. H. L.
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