Satan and God’s Assemblies
Gleanings from Acts 20
In the Assembly
By WILLIAM BUNTING
CLOSELY linked with Satan’s present-day attempt to make God’s people worldly, which was the subject of our last paper, is his endeavour
(3) TO BLIND OUR MINDS TO THE EVILS OK CLERISY AND SECTARIANISM.
It was the fervent prayer of our Lord that His beloved people should “be one” (John 17:11, 21, 23), and so far as their standing in grace is concerned, we thank God, His desire is gloriously fulfilled. All His children are bound together in the bonds of an indissoluble union. Since, however, the purpose of this desired unity was “that the world may believe,” our Lord’s wish obviously included the giving of public expression to this oneness. Paul also longed for the same thing, hence to the Corinthians he said, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Alas, not for long was this ideal realised in the early Church. The seeds of sectarianism were already beginning to bear fruit at Corinth even in the Apostle’s day. Instead of manifesting the unity he enjoins, they were dividing over their favourite teachers. “Now this I say, that every one of you saith. I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (I Cor. 1:12). A little later the Ephesian elders are warned that “men would arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30)—a prophecy to the truthfulness of which the passage of time has borne eloquent testimony. To-day, in the multitudinous divisions of Christendom, sectarianism is seen in full bloom.
Now. what presently concerns us is:what is God’s estimate of this conglomeration? Some would have us believe that He views it much in the same way as a general views the various units under his command as they strive for a common cause. But what saith the Scriptures? “Factions” and “divisions” are termed “works of the flesh” in Gal. 5:19, 20 (R.V.). In other words, denominationalism is sin. Admittedly, there are excellent Christians in some religious systems. Nevertheless, the very existence of sectarianism is evil in God’s sight. It is a defiance of that unity for which, as we have seen, our blessed Lord prayed in John 17. Its many names— “Wesleyan.” “Presbyterian.” “Baptist.” etc.—displace that worthy Name unto which alone saints ought to gather (Matt. 18:20). and are a contradiction of Paul’s teaching in I Cor. 1. Denominationalism is an open denial of the “one body” of 1Cor. 12; and in addition, it fosters the many God-dishonouring practices of Christendom. It is entirely lacking of Scriptural authority, being, like Jeroboam’s false worship of old. the devising of man’s heart (1Kings 12:33). Moreover, the traditions of the various systems make void the Word of God. As for their forms of worship, they are a mixture of Christianity, obsolete Judaism, and corrupt Roman Catholicism; while their tenets of Baptismal Regeneration, Confirmation, the Sacrament. Ordination, etc., are entirely foreign to Scripture. What is still worse, these systems are all more or less permeated with Modernism (some of them are real hot-beds of it), which blatantly denies the cardinal truths of our Faith, and is nought but a stepping-stone to Agnosticism and Infidelity.
Inseparably associated with Sectarianism is Clerisy. Men, few of whom know anything of God’s saving grace, take up “the ministry” as a profession. Having qualified in a religious seminary, the curriculum of which usually consists of the maximum of worldly philosophy and the minimum of Biblical knowledge, they are “ordained.” and receive “a call” to some congregation. Here they are responsible for all public ministry. They “christen” the infants, pray, preach, “administer the Sacraments,” none but an “ordained minister” being permitted to perform these functions. Thus clerisy completely sets aside the Apostle’s teaching regarding the exercise of gifts as found in 1 Cor. 12 and 14, and this, too, despite the fact that the injunctions of these two chapters are expressly stated to be “the commandments of the Lord ‘ (ch. 14:37). Could self-will be more arrogant ! Clerics rarely make any distinction between the saved and the unsaved. In most congregations all good church members, whether or not they have experienced the new birth, are encouraged to “receive the Sacrament”; while the deceased, righteous and wicked alike, are buried “in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” Further, these men do not hesitate to accept the most “flattering titles” (Job 32:21, 22). The fact that our Lord strictly forbade this in Matt. 23; 8—11 does not evidently trouble their consciences. Some of these titles, such as “Doctor” and “Pastor.” are more moderate than others, but for mortals to allow their fellows to address them as “The Reverend,” “The Most Reverend,” “The Right Reverend the Lord . . is. to say the least, utterly blasphemous. All such titles, as well as the clerical garb and Infant Sprinkling, originated in Rome, which is spiritual Babylon. Clerisy, in a word, is a denial of the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, and the priesthood of all believers. The love of money, desire for honour, and lust for power lie at the root of it; and there is good reason to believe that it is this system which is represented by the term “Nicolaitanism.” in Rev. 2:6, 15, “which thing”, we are expressly told, “the Lord hates.”
It may be argued, however, that the denominations differ widely in the extent of their departure from God and His Word. This certainly is the case, and it should always be borne in mind. Individual congregations also differ. In some of them, particularly those that have saved parsons, many true children of God are to be found, and the simple gospel is proclaimed. To these saints we should manifest our love, and for them we should unceasingly and earnestly pray. Nevertheless, sectarianism, irrespective of where it may exist, is a contradiction of New Testament church principles. Not a sect in Christendom owns the Word of God as its sole court of appeal. The best of them are but branches of the tree of Matt. 13:32, which has grown to such prodigious dimensions, and in which “the birds of the air” (the servants of Satan, according to verses 4, 19, cf. also Rev. 18:2, “every unclean and hateful bird”) feel quite at home. What semblance, if any. can be found between the systems of Protestantism to-day, whether modernistic or evangelical, and the assemblies which Paul planted ? Can any contrast be greater to an unbiased mind than that which exists between the godly simplicity of the churches of the New Testament, on the one hand, and the vain-glorious show, gorgeous ritual, stately edifices, rich vestments, and grand organs of Christendom, on the other? Moreover, the line of demarcation, once so broad and distinct, which separated the Church from the world, is now scarcely discernible. The murderer of Christ and His professed bride have become united:
- “The expectant bride of a heavenly Lord
- Has married a godless world.”
Yea, the Name par excellence is dishonoured and dragged in the gutter by the shameful performances and tomfoolery of congregations that have but “a form of godliness.” Think of the raffles, shows, dances, theatrical plays, etc., that are held under the auspices of so-called churches, and patronised by men who claim to be the servants of the Lord.
The Word of God leaves us in no doubt at all as to what the end of these systems of Protestantism will be. They will eventually unite with, and be headed up by, Rome, and chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation describe in graphic and fearful language, not only the character of that unholy confederacy as viewed by God, but also its eternal doom. In the light of these things, what is to be the attitude of saints who own no name but that of the Lord Jesus Christ, towards the sects of Christendom ? Since we profess to adhere to New Testament church principles, are we at liberty to fraternise with those who flout these principles ? Is our attitude to be Amalgamation or Separation?
(The remainder of this article is held over to next issue owing to lack of space)
By Mr. JAMES GILPIN (Bangor)
A LL the people of God thank Him for the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, and rightly so. Our prayer daily should be for help to value it more, since this would result in our lives being spent in adoring worship and in willing, joyful service. There is, however, the great danger of failing to appreciate His unfinished work carried on for us now upon the throne, as our High Priest with God—our righteous Advocate with the Father. It has been said, “I cannot keep from sinning; I cannot help it,” but the Word of God never contemplates such a thing. There is no such thought in Scripture. It is true that God has made provision for us in case we should sin. This, however, must not be made an excuse for our doing what we know to be wrong.
On board ship one is struck by the fact that a life-belt is provided for each person. But the fact of the life-belt being there is no reason why one should throw oneself into the sea. Now. in 1st John 2:1 we find the provision God has made for us. “If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This gracious provision, however, does not justify one for throwing oneself into sin. or being careless about one’s walk. John’s Epistle was never given for such a purpose; quite the contrary, for “These things write I unto you that ye sin not” If a Christian sets no higher mark before him than sinning and confessing, his life will rise no higher than that mark, but the Lord has not called His people to such a life. He has called us to holiness, and to victory over sin. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “My little children, these things write I unto you. that ye sin not. And if any man sin. we have an advocate with the Father. Jesus Christ the righteous.”
- “Our times are in Thy hand.
- O Lord, our Advocate !
- Nor is that hand outstretched in vain.
- For us to supplicate.”
By Mr. J. K. DUFF (Belfast)
PAUL is upon his final journey to Jerusalem in Acts chapter 20. It closely resembles our Lord’s last journey to the same city made some years previously, “when the time was come that He should be received up.” In his ministry to those whom he loved and was about to leave, Paul, like his Master, manifests a very tender care for the “little flock,” and strengthens them with words of loving counsel, interspersed with solemn and serious warnings. Another point of similarity, worthy of notice, is that both our Lord and Paul lay special emphasis on their example. (Compare John 13:15 with Acts 20:35.)
When the Apostle was about to leave Ephesus to go into Macedonia, after three years of unremitting labours, during which time many were saved and the assembly planted, he called for the disciples and embraced them (ch. 20:1). But when returning later en route to Jerusalem, and his ship put in at Miletus, some thirty miles from Ephesus, it was the elders of the church for whom he called. This desire to see and speak with them would suggest the importance of the work of overseers, as the blessing and prosperity of the assembly largely depends upon their spiritual condition and labours. It is evident from the history of God’s people in all ages, that those who had the rule over them, exerted a big influence in their lives either for good or ill. So that while it is a work of dignity and privilege to shepherd the sheep, it is fraught with heavy responsibility, and should only be undertaken in the fear of God.
Paul’s address to the elders of Ephesus can be divided into four parts:—
- His own personal example (vv. 18—27).
- His. charge to them to take heed unto themselves and to feed the flock (v. 28).
- His prophetic warning concerning ravenous wolves and perverse men (vv. 29—31).
- The never-failing resources to which he commended them, viz.: God and the Word of His grace (vv. 32—35).
In the Epistle to the Ephesians we learn something of the Apostle’s profound knowledge in the mystery of Christ, as he states in ch. 3 :4; but when we listen to him addressing the elders here we seem to see into his very soul. Perhaps nowhere else have we such a disclosure of the man Paul as in this self-portrait. We see, passing in review, his integrity, humility, faithfulness, steadfast purpose, watchfulness, unselfishness, and affection. Surely we have here the features of a true leader of God’s people, and an example that all who desire to help the saints should imitate.
In his charge to them in verse 28, we notice the interesting and important fact that elders in the assembly are neither self-appointed nor co-opted, but set as overseers by the Holy Spirit. Also, the flock is the Lord’s assembly, “which He has purchased with His own blood.” (Many of the authorities read “the Lord,” instead of “God.”) So that, being “the flock for which He bled,” every lamb is very precious and dear to His heart. It is likely that this thought was also in Peter’s mind when he wrote in 1 Peter 5:“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, . . . Feed the flock.” Again, the responsibility of the elders is to take heed unto, and shepherd all the flock, which would mean that not only should they watch for their souls, but also feed and guide them. To do these things effectually, it would be of the utmost importance for them, first of all, to “take heed unto themselves,” as he enjoins them, so as to keep their own souls in a good spiritual condition.
In writing to the Ephesians concerning the gifts of the risen Head, the Apostle states that “He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints.” Here in Acts 20 we observe that all these gifts were realized in Paul himself. As an evangelist he had preached the gospel of the grace of God, testifying to all “repentance towards God. and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ”; as a pastor he had cared for them, giving his time, talents and energy to help all. and to “support the weak,” remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”; as a teacher he had “taught them publicly and from house to house”; as an apostle he had now called them to him; and as a prophet he here tells them what will befall them after his departure. The first danger, referred to as “wolves entering in and not sparing the flock,” would suggest the fierce attacks of enemies from without, but the more subtle danger was the one from within, when men of their “own selves would arise speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.” Behind both forms of attack on the assembly we can discern the hand of Satan, and Christendom to-day, with all its denominations. cults and parties is a sad commentary on how successful has been the strategy of our enemy.
Having duly assessed the gravity of the dangers to which they were exposed, and their own inherent weakness to meet those perils (for do not the metaphors employed—wolves and sheep—suggest an unequal contest ?). he now “commends them to God and to the Word of His grace.” Paul could speak in the confidence of faith, for these had been his own unfailing resources in seasons of pressure and difficulty. It is well for us to remember that God has been the refuge and strength of His people in all ages, a help ready found in time of trouble, and if we in sincerity call upon Him and make His Word the man of our counsel, there will be growth, progress and victory, despite all the opposition of the Devil. For. “if God be for us. who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Our real danger lies not so much in the power and subtlety of our enemies, but rather in our failure to take advantage of the spiritual equipment and boundless resources that God has put at our disposal.
“And when he had thus spoken he kneeled down and prayed with them all” (verse 36). How fitting this last act of the beloved Apostle, as in reverence and humility he kneeled down and prayer with them, and how touching their reaction when “they all wept sore, and feel on Paul’s neck and kissed him”!
If in Acts 20 we have the responsibility of the elders to the assembly, in the closing chapter of Hebrews, which is complementary, the writer stresses the responsibility of the saints to their guides. They are enjoined to “salute them,” they are commanded to “obey them” and “submit themselves,” since they “watch for their souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy. and not with grief”; also they are to “remember” them after they have gone to be with Christ, and “considering the issue of their lives, to imitate their faith.”
Happy are those assemblies in which there are godly elders, who, constrained only by the love of Christ, feed the lambs and shepherd the sheep, and in which the saints, duly recognizing such, give them the love and respect which they deserve.
By Mr. ROBERT STOREY (Belfast)
A CHRISTIAN young lady who was a worker in a certain Mission Hall in Belfast was employed in a biscuit factory in that city. When upon a tour of inspection one day, the manager noticed that her hair was long. He thereupon reminded her that for hygienic reasons it was the firm’s rule that all female employees’ hair should be cut short, and added that he must request her to respect this rule. All the other girls had done so. In compliance with this order, our young friend left “her glory” at the hairdresser’s feet. The result was that she lost her place in the Mission’s Tract Band. and. what she felt more keenly, her Sunday School class was taken from her.
About a year elapsed. The girl’s hair by this time had grown again, and her forfeited place in the Tract Band and Sunday School had, much to her joy, been restored to her. Then a severe test, which was not quite unexpected, came to her. The manager one day entered her room. Seeing her long hair, he told her to report at his office at 10.30 the next morning, which she did.
“I see your hair is again long, and you know what that means.” said the manager. “Yes,” replied the girl, ”I am liable to be dismissed.” “You are not only liable to be. but you are now dismissed.” retorted the former. He then asked her why she had disobeyed his order. “Because,” answered the young lady, “when I got my hair cut a year ago, I lost a channel of service, and more. I could not pray. Now all that has been restored to me. and I would rather lose my job than forfeit it again.” Upon inquiry as to how much she was earning, how many were in her home, and what were her future prospects, the manager learned that his employee’s pay was £3 per week, that she was the sole support of her mother, that she did not know how she would face the future, but that she was satisfied that God would help her. The girl’s firmness and confidence seemed deeply to impress the head of the firm. Turning to the two office hands, he requested them to withdraw for a time, which they immediately did. Then, much to the surprise of the young lady, he proceeded:“You are coming out of that job at £3 per week, and to-day you commence in my office at £4. and you may feel assured of employment here as long as I live.” This, however, was not all. “I wish.” he went on, “I wish I had what you have got.” Then unburdening his soul, he told her how he longed to be saved. Gladly she related to him how she herself had found Christ, and producing her Bible, read to him the way of life. God blessed her testimony, for before the interview had ended the manager was rejoicing in the Lord Jesus as his Saviour.
Truly it pays to put God first “THEM THAT HONOUR ME ” He says, “I WILL HONOUR.”
What, however, about those in assemblies who seem to have no conscience about having their hair cut? One wonders how much they pray.
(1 Timothy 3:15)
By Mr. W. E. EARL (Norwich)
- Holiness becometh Thine house. O Lord, for ever -whose house are we (Heb. 3:6).
- Those only with clean hands and a pure heart see God there (Ps. 24:3, 4).
- Remember to use the Laver of the Word before entering (1 Cor. 11:28).
- Do not bring your vessel empty—enter into His courts with praise (Deu. 16:16; Heb. 13:15).
- Dispense the elements with reverence- they arc symbols of your Lord’s love unto death for you (Luke 22:19. 20).
- Do not presume to address God, or sing to Him. with one hand in pocket -angels veil their faces in His presence (Isaiah 6).
- Do not come prepared to give out a favourite hymn or address—it is the Spirit’s prerogative to lead (1 Cor. 12).
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly and He will use your store as wanted treasures both new and old (Matt. 13:52).
- We cannot be worldly six days of the week, and be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).
- Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory it is better to do nothing at all (Phil. 2:3).
- Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt —not mustard or vinegar (Col. 4:6).
- We must get down low to wash one another’s feet—true greatness is seen in humility (John 13:5).
- Beloved, If God so loved us—we ought to love one another (1 John 4:11).
- Experienced elders should be at the helm -and youth at the oars (1 Tim. 5:17)
- The Assembly is the Lord’s—not man’s.
- The safest place for a saint is on his knees.
- To foster and build up the work of your own Assembly is of the first importance (Eph. 4).
- Don’t disappear after the Lord’s Day for the rest of the week — that is not fellowship (Acts 2:42).
- What our characters are—the Assembly will be.
- Don’t pray without ceasing at the prayer-meeting -give others an opportunity.
- Paul’s first prayer was, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do” (Acts 9:6).
- Make the Hall bright and cheerful for the Gospel—be there to welcome strangers in.
- Don’t preach in a sports garb—it does not commend the Gospel (2 Cor. 2:6). Watch for souls.
- Articulate clearly. Stick to your subjects, Finish when you have done.
- He emptied my hands of their treasured store.
- And His covenant love revealed.
- There was not a wound in my aching heart.
- But the balm of His breath hath healed.
- Oh. tender and true was the chastening sore.
- In wisdom that taught and tried.
- Till the soul that He sought was trusting in Him, And nothing on earth beside.
- There is light for me on the trackless wild.
- As the wonders of old I trace.
- When the God of the whole earth went before.
- To search me a resting place.
- Has He changed for me Nay. He changes not.
- He will lead me by some new way.
- Through fire and flood and each crafty foe.
- As safely as yesterday.
- And if to warfare He calls me forth.
- He buckles my armour on;
- He greets me with smiles and a word of cheer.
- For battles His sword hath won.
- He wipes my brow as I droop and faint.
- He blesses my hand to toil;
- Faithful is He as He washes my feet From the trace of the earthly soil.
… is the most beautiful word in the Bible, because it kindles the most beautiful light in the face of God. or in the countenance of man. It is the most beautiful word because it is the costliest word. Before God would pronounce it. Christ had to die on the cross. It is the word that is dearest to every true believer. It is the word that will awaken the music of the redeemed in heaven, for that is what they sing about up there—the forgiveness of God. Forgiven according to the riches of His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.