There is at least one other respect in which some saints in assemblies imitate denominationalism. We refer to the use and acceptance of names to distinguish such companies of Christians from other children of God. That all humanly devised names are unscriptural is clear from 1Cor. 1:12,13. It has well been said that it would be as wrong to attach an adjective to the term "Christian” as it would be to the Name "Christ.” This was one of the convictions which caused brethren of over 100 years ago to secede from the systems of Christendom, and it is because we heartily share in it that we refuse to own such appellations as "The Brethren,” "Open Brethren,” “Christian Brethren,” or "Plymouth Brethren.” Some, however, describe themselves as "Separated Christians,” and “Gathered-out Christians." Now. thank God we are "gathered-out” and "separated” from the confusion of Babylon. There is no Scriptural warrant, however, for acknowledging these or any other names not common to all God's children. To do so is nothing but sectarianism. It is just as contrary to New Testament teaching to describe ourselves by these names as it would be to accept the title, "Baptist Christians.”
Many may not be aware that the great Missionary movement in fellowship with assemblies, which has been so signally owned of God, is known to-day as "Christian Missions in Many Lands." This name was first coined to satisfy Government departments. It has been used now for many years to represent assemblies and servants of Christ connected therewith, and it is recognised by the Authorities in different lands. It will be appreciated by all that missionaries who were not represented by any ecclesiastical council and who were associated with insignificant companies of saints which had no social status, local centre, or headquarters, experienced much difficulty and embarrassment in obtaining passports, visas, etc. Further, it could be regarded only as a service to the Lord that brethren who were in a position to do so, should render these assistance by facilitating their approach, and explaining their position, to Government and Shipping Agents. That brethren, however, should form a corporation bearing the name. “Christian Missions in Many Lands.” in order to satisfy state officials is quite a different matter. We do not judge their motives. That “C.M.M.L.,” as it is now commonly called, has done much to assist God's servants and further the Lord’s work, no one will deny Does this, however, justify its formation? The same can be said about many Missionary Societies, which do not even profess to adhere to New Testament principles of service. That the original set-up was purely to satisfy the Government that brethren who sponsored it would have been opposed to its name ever becoming a sectarian badge, and that, indeed, their personal godly influence temporarily hindered such a development, we verily believe. Nevertheless, its inception was without Scriptural support, and now that it is passing from under the immediate control of its founders, and is yearly assuming greater proportions as an organisation, its name is being used increasingly in some parts of the world as a label to distinguish certain companies of believers from other children of God. In light of this, one heartily appreciates the saying of an old writer: “Oh. how careful ‘chief men among the brethren' should be in what they introduce and allow!" Yes. indeed, for mighty issues often hang upon slender threads. It certainly is astounding that men who have gone from home assemblies to preach the Gespel. and who profess to maintain New Testament Church teaching, should lend their support to such sectarianism. Yet. alas, some do. In an article which appeared a few years ago, a denominational missionary, referring to assemblies of God in a certain district, said, “C.M.M.L. in — — — have about twenty centres where believers gather each Lord's Day morning for the Breaking of Bread without mission-station elder or missionary present. This is in harmony with the principles of the C.M.M.L. group of missions.’" Here plainly churches of saints are described by a sectarian title. It may be objected that this was written from the viewpoint of a denominational Christian. True, but by his statement it is tacitly understood that the assemblies in question are known by the name he uses. Moreover, a missionary in assembly fellowship, commenting upon this article in a well-known magazine, far from taking exception to the sectarian appellation, said that the paper "shows clearly that other Christian missionaries quite understand the attitude we take.” Think of it! "Other Christian missionaries quite understand the attitude we take,” when they describe assemblies which break bread each Lord’s Day without any presiding minister, as the "C.M.M.L. group of missions”! Is this not amazing?
We refer to at least one other case. According to the 1947 Annual Report of the Christian Council of N. Rhodesia, those who attended the Council meetings included representatives from the Anglican, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist denominations, and from “Christian Missions in Many Lands.” For the present we refrain from making any comment upon this unholy amalgamation, except to point out that in the Report assemblies of the Lord’s people are officially described as “C.M.M.L.” Here surely is fullblown sectarianism. Could departure from the Divine pattern and the simplicity of gathering unto our Lord’s Name alone (Matt. 18:20) be more glaring and barefaced ? Let us hasten to say that many servants of Christ in N. Rhodesia refused to have any fellowship with such an unscriptural association. All honour to them.
That this sectarianism will spread is only to be expected. Indeed, a "Bulletin" has recently been published in Canada, setting forth amongst other things, the work of "Christian Missions in Many Lands (Canada) Inc.,” and including the names of the “Members of the Corporation.” Thus the tendency towards organisation develops, the name becomes more established, the declension deepens and spreads, and thus what was originally intended to facilitate missionary brethren is becoming, by reason of its sectarian connotation, a positive embarrassment to servants of Christ who still desire conscientiously to adhere to Scriptural principles.
Much more might be written. What has been penned leaves no doubt at all as to the present-day trend. Modern Innovations in assembly life, the long-term plan of Engagements, the Closed Platform, the undue prominence of Sisters, Popular Preaching, the existence of Bible Schools and Committees, the Central Fund system, and the use of a Sectarian Name, all indicate that we are gradually moving back to the very position from which God by His Spirit once delivered us. Let it be remembered, too. that these pages only corroborate what many wise and spiritual brethren have written. Shortly before passing away, a few years ago. an aged and honoured missionary wrote: "Thee is widespread abandonment of Scriptural method and principle in the work of the Lord and a return to denominational practices in the government of the churches, not only amongst us in the mission field, but in the assemblies in the home-lands.”
It may be argued, however, that we are not to be critical of the methods of others, that such judgment is uncharitable, and that frequently those criticised do the Lord’s work more efficiently than their critics. About this last point we shall not quarrel, and though we have said plain things, we would lovingly assure our readers that we have not done so out of any spirit of detraction or fault-finding. We trust we can appreciate every trait of Christ exhibited by His beloved people, even by those with whom we may differ in certain matters. Nevertheless, it is a duty enjoined upon us by the Holy Spirit to “prove all things and hold fast that which is good”; and we must not forget that the great lesson which David learned in the bringing up of the ark was that God’s work should be done in God’s way. It is this lesson we wish to inculcate.
Again, some claim that as times and circumstances change, it may be necessary for our methods to change, too. After all, they ask, what Scripture have we for Sunday Schools, for tract distribution, etc.? Now, it is true that there are matters about which God has not specifically legislated, and about which we are free to act as our spiritual judgment directs. God, however, has given us in His Word priniciples which abide for all time, and any practice which violates one of these is plainly wrong. Sunday School work and tract distribution, which are forms of Gospel activity, are perfectly consistent with the teaching of Scripture, but the methods and practices which we have discussed certainly are not. They are departures from New Testament Church principles, and concerning the seriousness of such departures, the following lines by another are pertinent: “There is no intimation in the Scriptures ... that under any changing circumstances of later times some modifications of the instructions already given might be required. To adopt expedients of human devising in order to meet any contingency is to tamper with the Divine arrangements and mar God’s handiwork. To alter the plan there laid down, to modify it either by addition or omission, is to be guilty of impugning the Divine sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and to stand convicted of presumptuous impiety.” These weighty words are worthy of our sober consideration.
It is with genuine sorrow of heart that we pen these lines. We do so only because it is our profound conviction that it is high time to put our house in order. It ever has been God's way in times of spiritual weakness to arouse His people to a sense of their departure from His Word, in order that they might seek restoration. To those who object to our plain ministry, we would ask to what length must the present declension spread ere it will be permissible to speak about it? May it not become irremediable ? Remember, there comes a time when recovery is impossible. “I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say.” Thank God. what we have written is not a picture of assemblies in general. Most of the practices touched upon are almost non-existent in the province where this paper is penned, and we praise the Lord for many other parts where loyal-hearted companies of saints are content to walk in the “old paths” of Christian obedience. May all such be preserved till the end, holding fast to the faithful Word, and walking in lowliness of heart and mind before the Lord.
In conclusion, we would say to our own hearts, and would lovingly plead with dear fellow-saints everywhere, “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord” (Lams. 3 : 40). This is the only road to recovery and blessing. Lord, raise up men as of old, who “know what Israel ought to do.”
I now wish to deal with “strange doctrine.” The warning in Proverbs was “to be delivered from the strange woman”; here the warning is, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.” Then the apostle adds, “For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.”
In Acts 2 we learn that the early believers “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine.” It is the “doctrine” that forms the character of the assembly. We read in Rom. 6:17, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” The “form of doctrine” is to be regarded as a mould or pattern after which they were to be fashioned. Mr. Newberry renders it: “whereto ye were delivered,” the thought being, “pressed into”—just as the soft concrete is delivered into the form, and so takes its shape from it. In contrast to this, we read in Eph. 4:4, “Be no more carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” In the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, where we have much truth for the assembly to-day, we find the “doctrine” referred to no less than sixteen times. “Sound doctrine” is mentioned four times, and “good doctrine” twice. Timothy was exhorted to "give attendance to doctrine,” and to “take heed to the doctrine”; to “preach the Word with all long suffering and doctrine,” etc. What is needed in these days is “doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3).
The question may be asked, “What is this strange doctrine ?” We know well what it is in the sects of men. It is the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of Nicolaitanes. Alas, this very thing is finding its way into the assemblies of God's people — teaching for which there is no “chapter and verse,” and a mixing up of things. While the Scriptures certainly are read, in some cases they are so presented that the tendency is toward a lowering of God’s standard, and the bringing in of things that belong to the “strange woman.” The time has come when the people of God, in some instances, “will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts, they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears ; and they turn away their ears from the truth, and are turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3,4). It is said, and I believe with a good deal of Scripture authority for it, that the second Epistles apply in a special way to the last days, and is not this condition mentioned here in the second Epistle to Timothy, just what we find to-day? Let a man get up, who has a nice voice, and can tell some new thing that never was heard before; or tell some wonderful stories to make the people laugh, or laugh and cry at the same time ; and not say anything that will hurt their feelings or reach their conscience, or interfere with some wrong practice in their lives: and that man will get a good following. Nothing is said about the wrong things that are creeping into the assemblies, no word about the walls being broken down, and of course the secret sins in the life are never alluded to: and the general comment is, “Wasn’t that a wonderful address?” “We never heard the like of that before,” But let a servant of the Lord get up and preach the Word, giving out sound doctrine, instant in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine; and some will soon show their antipathy. Whether it be in the ministering the glories of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, or whether sound teaching in connection with the Assembly in its many aspects, or good practical words pertaining to our every day walk and life ; the man who so ministers is not likely to be encouraged by the many to carry on a series of meetings.
“Strange doctrine” is the order with the “strange woman.” It belongs to her house, but not to the house of God. In the day in which we are living, we hear of strange doctrine in connection with Matt. 18:20, our gathering together in the Name of the Lord ; also in connection with believers’ baptism as being non-essential. Separation as taught in 2 Cor. 6 is said to have no application now, and so is ignored or smoothed over. “Truth” is being changed to “love,” and “grace" to "grease." The Lord's table is being called the Father's table, and teaching in connection with the Church in its local aspect is being set aside. All this, and much more, is strange doctrine. The remark is often heard. “What Scripture is there against it, anyway?” To such I would reply, “What Scripture is there for it?"
Then in the preaching of the Gospel, too, strange doctrine is heard. The clear sounding out of man's ruin and original sin is sadly missing. Eternal punishment and the Lake of Fire are mentioned, almost with an apology. As in the Apostle’s day, there were those who would pervert the Gospel of Christ and preach another gospel, so we find to-day "strange doctrine” in connection with God’s way of salvation. Instead of making disciples, it is a making of converts ; the trumpet gives an uncertain sound; the conscience is never reached although an intellectual grasp of things may have been obtained. Ignoring the fact that conversion is a Divine revelation, it is presented as though it were like a little sum of arithmetic ; and there you have it. Brethren, this is some of the “strange doctrine” of to-day. May the Lord deliver us from it.
REVELATION 4 is the chapter of the “Throne." which word occurs in it twelve times in all. This is the climax of a very humble beginning. In Luke's Gospel we read: “And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and answering them questions,” chapter 2:46. Here we see Jesus as a Boy of twelve, sitting among the doctors of the law. That is. He takes the place of a Learner and this produced the due effect: "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature." At the feast He was not interested in the natural things which entertained the giddy multitude, and perhaps, his own kinsfolk. What an example He gives to the young Christian to seek the company of the old and experienced in the Word, so as to learn the things of God. We cannot tell how much we owe to the old-time weekly Bible Reading in the assembly. Elders helped as they were able; and it was a privilege to have one or other of the ministering brethren present at times. Questions were asked, difficulties expressed, and a profitable exchange of thoughts followed. We cannot overestimate the far-reaching results of the assembly's Bible Reading.
Matthew 5 opens by telling us that “He went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him.” Here again we have our Lord sitting, this time that He might teach His disciples. He Who sat among the doctors is now Himself in a position to “teach.” Many to-day wish to teach who have never sat down to learn. No Christian is “a born teacher" in the sense that he was able to teach immediately after being saved. The ability to teach is the result of a slow and often hard process which many to-day would shun by adopting the methods of “ the schools." One such told us that he could learn more in a course in the “Bible school” than we had learned in 38 years of experience in Venezuela. Truly such knowledge "puffeth up.”
Now turn to Luke 5:3: “ And he sat down and taught the people out of the ship." Our Lord here identified Himself with the people. He "got down to them" as we say. There was nothing stand-offish, there were no superiority in His holy demeanour. Is there not the danger to-day of some thinking that because they have a letter of commendation from an assembly that they are thereby placed in a higher category? We fear that often the Bible-bag, the camera, the typewriter and the car give the Lord’s servant the appearance of a "professional preacher" and thus estrange him from direct contact with the down and out.
Next, look at John 4:6, "Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat on the well.” What an example the Lord here gives of personal work! He was weary. He had walked a long way under the hot sun to reach just one sinner, and she a Samaritan at that. There is too little personal evangelism amongst us today. We mimic the high-pressure age. Preaching in prepared halls, preaching by radio, preaching by Press, preaching by pressure, is the order of the day. What a field, however, there is for the worker who will walk until tired, weary and hungry, to seek contact with the lone Samaritan ! This work requires real grace and tact. The Lord had to send away the disciples ere He could deal with this soul. Then He led her on step by step until she exclaimed: "Is this not the Christ?” Some time ago we were having meeting in Jacura with a Venezuelan farmer who took a few weeks off the farm to accompany us. We had visited all morning, walking many miles among the hills. At ten a.m. we met a man who looked daggers at us. But as we sang a hymn we could see his expression change. We wished to know where a certain woman who had a Christian relative away in another part of the state lived. At first we thought it was too far to go as the day was hot and we were thirsty and tired. Then the thought came to our mind about “the second mile,” and we said to Jose that we would try it. He was ready, and on we went. About an hour later we came to a group of huts. A real white woman greeted us at the first house. She said: "Are you the Lord’s servants?" Rather astonished at her query we told her we were the messengers of the Gospel. “Well,” she replied. "I just knew that you would come. Some time ago my relation sent me a Bible, which I have been reading, and I have found out that I am a lost sinner, but what to do about it I cannot tell. I have been praying for a long time that God would send His servants to me with the message, and when I saw you coming up the path I thought that this was the answer to my prayer. Now. I will gather in the neighbours and you will explain to us the message." No sooner said than done. Before we left, the dear woman seemed to have trusted Christ. Her life proved the reality of it. She was baptized and received into an assembly, but she lives far away and is now very feeble: yet she is still rejoicing in Christ. We remarked as we trudged back to Pacura: “Thank God, Jose, that we went the last mile.”
We now come to our chapter in Revelation: “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” (verse 2). This will be the grand climax of all that we have considered of our Lord in the Gospels. It is said that, “on His head were many crowns.” All the attributes of Deity are His: but we believe there are crowns on His blessed head which He acquired as the obedient Servant of Jehovah He who
sat as a Learner, as a Teacher, as a Preacher, as a Friend of sinners, then “on an ass and a colt the foal of an ass,” has now reached the zenith. He has won the mead and crown, and thrice worthy He is. “And One sat on the throne.” It is not necessary to name Him. There is only One Who can sit on that throne. “Yes, there’s One, only One, the blessed Jesus He’s the One.” If we, too, would reign, dear fellow-Christian. let us follow His steps, let us learn of Him, let us lay all on the altar for our adorable Lord.
Some time since, when travelling by rail, we were thrown into the company of a clergyman of the Established Church. We soon found him to be a simple child of God, and we enjoyed some happy intercourse together. In the course of conversation, he made the following remark: “I never try to drive people to church. I often say to my parishioners that they should do about spiritual things as they do about their groceries—go where they get best served. If the Methodist parson does them more good than I do, let them go to him by all means." We replied that, while that was certainly very liberal from his point of view, yet it appeared to us to be very wrong. “If what you are doing at church,” we said, “is what the Lord has commanded, then they ought all to be there, if they are God’s children. But if it is contrary to Scripture, then, however much they might like it, neither you nor they have any business there.” “Oh,” he said, “ I do not think God has given us any direct instructions as to such things. I believe He leaves us considerable liberty to follow what we find most suitable to our own particular case, and that we are quite justified in choosing accordingly.” We told him that, on the contrary, we found the Word of God just as explicit about these things as it is with regard to the way a sinner must be saved. “I should like you very much to show me where," was his answer; and most willingly we took out our Bible and turned from passage to passage. We saw how those who gladly received the gospel were baptised, and how they continued stedfastly in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2:41, 42); how the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7); how, when the saints were gathered together, all might prophesy one by one, that all might learn and all might be comforted, and yet that all must be subject one to another (1 Cor. 14:31, 32); how elder ones in each assembly were to feed the flock and take the oversight thereof, looking for their reward when the Chief Shepherd shall appear (1 Pet. 5:1-4), and much more. At last, as our journey was drawing to a close, he said: “I have been deeply interested in all you have been saying. It is very beautiful; indeed, as a theory it looks perfect, but it seems to me that in practice it would need some sort of supernatural power to make it work.”
“Undoubtedly," we replied, “that is just what it does want; and what do you suppose the Holy Ghost was given for?” “Oh,” he replied in astonishment, “I never thought of that.”