by Ingimar DeRidder
Table of Contents
1. The brethren
In the upper room the Lord Jesus stooped to wash the disciple's feet. His Word had made them clean he said, but because of their journey through the dirty streets of Jerusalem their feet needed washing. Two thousand years has dirtied the disciples more than a little, but it is amazing what a little humility and clean water can do.
We believe in baptism, but we are not Baptists. We are almost sure Luther will be in heaven, but we are not Lutherans. We appreciate the presbytery, but are not Presbyterians, methods but are not Methodists, Pentecost but are not Pentecostals. We do not gather around the name of some great man who once lived in Geneva, Scotland, or Constantinople. We do not gather in the name of democracy and call ourselves Congregationalists. Neither do we rally around the flag of some school of thought, particular college, or charismatic gift.
We do not trace our heritage back to Plymouth, Bristol, or Barnstaple; neither do we find it in England or Ireland or Scotland. We trace it back to Christ and his simple formula, unsoiled by personal conflicts, altercations or alterations: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
1. Christ must build his own church. Matt. 16:18 (first mention)
"I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." When men feel it is their responsibility and duty to build, promote, and advance the church the result is at best a human organization rather than a living spiritual organism. When the Roman Empire embraced the church it crushed it with its cold embrace of worldliness. The Church adopted the mentality of politics and power, organization and authority. Men took over the building program of God and the result has been confusion, division and fragmentation. The bishops of different cities fought for supremacy and their disciples argued among themselves about "who was the greatest."
2. Christ gathers his church.
The middle voice is used. We do not gather as much as "we are gathered." The Church is not an organization, it is a living organism. "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." We do not gather ourselves on the basis of our preferences, persuasions, or pleasures. We are gathered by the Lord into a body of believers and become a local church or "assembly." We are all to be witnesses, but Christ does the gathering.
3. Christ is the center.
We do not gather to a form of government: Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational. Even if one of these could be proved to be correct, to gather unto it would be wrong. We gather unto
Christ. We do not gather unto, around, or for a Pentecostal gift. We wish not to erect memorials to mortals nor build tabernacles for great men, even if they be Moses or Elijah as Peter mistakenly attempted to do. We wish to see Jesus only and heed the heavenly voice "This is my beloved son, hear him."
4. No other name.
Since there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, we take no other. If those who are "gathered in his name" must be given a label, may it only be a title that is Biblical and appropriate. It was not until Christianity reached Antioch (some twenty years after the cross) that the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians." Before that they were simply referred to as believers, disciples, and brothers, and saints. There have been groups who have taken these words and adopted them as their own, but in so doing they have distorted them and sometimes defiled them in the process. There are Disciples of Christ, the Church of Christ, etc. Some groups call themselves Quakers, other were called Shakers. Some were Anabaptists, or Baptists until evolution made them Primitive, Free Will, General, American, Southern, or Independent Baptists.
Those who gather in his name are not Brethren but "brethren." Others have crowned the word with a capital "B" in an attempt to define and explain a movement. We too have used the capital when grammar begged for it, but we should be quick to explain that the title used by our Saviour is sufficient "Ye are called brethren" Matt. 23:11.
5. Sectarianism and party spirit is carnal at best.
"I am of Paul, I am of Apollos..." was the fleshly spirit of the carnal Christian in Corinth. Like so many artificial and political boundaries drawn upon a map, denominational distinctions have fragmented Christianity into a thousand pieces, where each group has its own flag and its own pledge of allegiance. Each has its own government, constitution, alliances and its exclusive constituency.
6. Where we are gathered, He is there.
By the middle ages, Christianity had been contained within the confines of the "sanctuary" and tightly administered and officiated by a professional priestly class or "clergy." A study of the Scriptures and a rediscovery of Christianity in its simplest form released believers to worship the Lord apart from any authorized buildings. For that reason, believers meet in rooms, halls, chapels, but never in what is commonly referred to as a Church. The building we meet in might take a name, but we take none but those graciously given by our Lord. We are "believers," we are "disciples," we are "brethren." We are Christians, non-denominational Christians, and we welcome all who desire, in faith, to gather in his name.
Do This. What must I do to be saved? The question was first asked in the ruins of a Philippian jail nearly two thousand years ago. While holding a torch in his trembling hand the jailor listened to God's servant give the answer that still illuminates every soul sincerely seeking to know. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved." It is faith and faith alone in Christ that saves. Some churches add seven sacraments to that first simple answer? Some two. Let all who add (or take away) from God's Word beware (Rev. 22:18-19). The orthodox Jew counted 614 commandments in the Pentateuch and each knotted tassel of his prayer shawl was a reminder that he was a child of the law.
There is only one law that Christ has given the church. Not 614, not ten, not one thousand (Mohammed left thousands of laws for his followers to meticulously obey). Jesus left one. Love. He who will be governed by this single word has all the decalogue on a miniature microchip of holy government: Love. Some laugh at the simplicity. Some rage at its seemingly lack of restraint. Some see the ocean, but never attempt to comprehend or even imagine its depth. But, love is the container that holds everything. It is the Christian ark of the covenant. The old ark, contained the law, the loaf, and the leader's rod. Love contains all that and more. But that is another lesson. It is only mentioned here because the "Do this" of Christ's memorial feast is not the "Don't do this" of Mt. Sinai. It is the "Do this" of Mt. Calvary. It is not legalism, it is love.
When Peter's mother-in-law was cured she arose and began to serve Jesus. When the man of Gadera was delivered from the demons of darkness, he sought to follow Christ. When the Master speaks, the winds obey. How curious that men should lay claim to salvation with their words, but balk and resist, or neglect Christ's most simple command. God may one day ask you to do some hard thing, or some fantastic thing, but first he asks all his children to do this simple thing. If we cannot keep this, the most simple of the Lord's commands, how shall we expect to discover and delight in any other aspect of his will. Some even pray "Thy will be done," and yet fail in doing this most simple of things.
1. THE PRESCRIPTION. "Do this"
Few things are more clear in the Scriptures than this. There are some teachings that are not easily understood. This is simple to understand. Believers find in these words, not a sacrament but an ordinance, not a requirement as much as a request. Salvation is by grace and not works, and since grace must be communicated "freely" and without cost, the Lord's Supper is not a means of grace or to grace. In Christ we have moved from the realm of law to love. One of the last requests of the Savior before he went to the cross, was "do this." If there was ever a prescription of Spiritual worship entrusted to the Church, this is it. There are no candles, no robes, no bells ringing, or incense rising in a curl of smoke from an altar. There is no kneeling or genuflecting, there is no ritualistic washings, or recitations. There is a simple meal, consisting of bread and wine. The "breaking of bread" is the worship of Christ in his own prescribed way.
THIS IS THE PRESCRIPTION.
2. THE PERSON. "In Remembrance of me"
In the ten commandments there is one commandment to "remember." The Jews were told to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The Sabbath day principle was started before Moses. On Sinai, God merely established its observation as a covenant and a memorial and a reminder of his awesome creative power. The law came by Moses but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ. He is our Sabbath. He is our Rest. He calls us to a New Covenant and asks us, not to remember a day, but to remember himself.
3. THE PRECEDENT. It demonstrates our love, loyalty, faith, devotion, and obedience to Christ. It is not without significance that it was inaugurated on the "night in which he was betrayed" (1Cor. 11:23). Paul speaks of this request as truth received in 1Cor. 11:23-34. "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you."
4. THE PICTURE. "Ye do show" Christ held up the bread and said "this is my body." What he meant was that it was a picture of his body. It was a visual aid, and a token left by the Savior before he went to the cross. When we partake of the elements (the bread and the cup) we remember his work of salvation and the price he had to pay for our sins. The elements remain what they seem to be. They are not changed into the actual flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus (transfiguration), nor do they take on some mystical, mysterious, spiritual aura of his presence (consubstantiation). They are simply pictures to remind us not to forget him and his sacrifice. What we show is the great cost of salvation and the awfulness of sin. What we show (in his death) is the depth of his love and the depravity of man. What we show is so vast and so deep so in-exhaustible that we shall never touch its full weight and significance.
5. THE PROFESSION. It is a testimony.
All who are born-again through saving faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus are welcome at this memorial feast. In this regard, it is an open meeting. All who are walking consistently with such a faith (according to their own conscience) and are not living in a state of open disobedience to God's Word are welcome. At the same time, it is a closed meeting to all who are unbelievers and are living in open disobedience to Christ. Because it is something "we show" unbelievers are not allowed to participate. They are permitted to observe and ponder. (v.29).
6. THE PROMISE. The church is asked to observe this memorial "till he come." Each time we remember his work, we also remember his words "I will come again to receive you unto myself." With this we look at ourselves, to see if we are in the faith and in fellowship in the present. We look back at the ministry of the Lord upon the cross by which he paid sins penalty for us. And we look to the future realizing that he purchased, by virtue of his death, a place in heaven for us.
7. THE PRIVILEGE "As often" Few dare to reject the Lord's Supper as much as they neglect it. The "often" would be better said "as seldom" in most circles.
8. THE PRACTICE. The early church "broke bread" on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). "And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them..." It is also clear that the Lord's Supper was an integral part of the church experience among the early believers. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," Acts 2:42.
The motive of gathering to "break bread," as the Lord's Supper was commonly called, was to "remember him." This is spiritual worship in the truest sense of the word. (Rev. 5:9). Worship is an act of praise, adoration, appreciation, and submission. It is most beautifully expressed in "remembering him." Anything that would hinder the act or atmosphere of worship should be carefully excluded from the memorial feast.
It is not a time to testify about the sweetness of the church fellowship, or discover deep doctrines of the Bible of which there are many. It is not a time to look upon Moses or on Elijah as Peter was tempted to do while upon the mount of transfiguration. If Moses speaks at this meeting, let him speak of Jesus. If Elijah or the prophets open their mouths as someone reads a text, let it only point to Jesus. Jesus, and Jesus alone is to be the center of attention. (Lk. 24:27).
It is not the time to marvel at the height of Goliath, nor the weight of the gates of Gaza if it calls attention away from Christ and his work for us upon the cross. It is not a time for great oratory, or personal testimonies. It is not a time of fellowship as in some Agape love feast. It is a time when everything should stop and the world becomes dead unto the saint, as every soul concentrates, meditates, and celebrates the death, burial and triumphal resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since music often calls attention to itself, it is usually absent from the breaking of bread. A special book of hymns is used as ordinary hymnals proved to be impoverished with themes appropriate to worship, and the Lord's Supper. It is not time to sing rousing gospel songs, it is not the time to sing of the "Faith of our Fathers" nor the joyous strains of "Bringing in the Sheaves."
The mechanics of the "breaking of bread" vary. Arguments, debates, and divisions should be unnecessary if it is remembered that the memorial is not a sacrament. Some use one cup others use individual glasses. Practicality, sanitation, and ceremony are all considered and agreed upon by those who partake. It is the Lord we hope to focus upon, and not the symbols. Some insist that the bread be un-leavened, but this reads too much into the historical record, and turns the Lord's Supper into a feast of the unleavened bread. Some still use wine, some because of convictions about the use of alcohol of any kind use grape juice. In times when neither were available, any suitable beverage may be substituted.
The meeting is most simple and most precious. Saints gather in a circle (where possible) about a simple table that hold the bread and cup. Men led by the Holy Spirit are not only permitted but encouraged to contribute to the worship of the Lord by offering up a Psalm, a hymn, or lifting up a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude. No ordained minister is necessary and no one individual officiates. Like the Greeks who came to Philip, we say "Sir, we would see Jesus" (Jn. 12:21). We are like the single leper who returned to say "Thank you." (Lk.17:17)
Any man may stand to read an appropriate text and make comments that might be edifying or beneficial to those present as they all seek to remember the Lord. After a brief season of such prayer, praise, and ministry of the Word, someone will give thanks for the bread and several men will arise to break and distribute that element. Next, another brother will give thanks for the cup and it too is passed among the believers.
As the Holy Spirit is the guide who will guide us into all truth there is usually a thread that interconnects the thoughts, verses, songs. Sometimes the theme is the cross, sometimes the crown. Sometimes his words, and sometimes his work, but always something that helps us to remember him. Sometimes we sit in silent awe as we consider the awful agony, sometime we are amazed at the depth of Christ's charity, but always, we remember him. There is no special order, but there is order.
Sometimes man gets in the way of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes a brother might offer a word that is neither insightful nor edifying. Apart from patiently waiting we must be careful not to seize control of the meeting, lead or lecture. Instead we must pray, or at times in a spirit of humility seek to guide and instruct those who may be "out of step" for the moment. All things should be done in love and charity, seeking to keep the unity of Spirit so we may truly say "we worship thee."
Jesus Said "Do this." It is a simple request. To all who somehow failed to catch the beauty, importance and significance we can only wonder at the words of the Master who said in another place, "Why do ye call me Lord, and do not the things which I say." (Lk. 6:46).
When Christ died on the cross he paid the final sacrifice for our sins upon the altar of holiness and satisfied forever the demands of a righteous God. When he called out from the cross "it is finished" he retired the necessity for any priesthood whose office was to stand between the offense and the offended. No more blood, no more bulls and no more goats upon the altar. No more basins, candles, smoke and incense. Jesus Christ our great high priest fully silenced forever the voices of earthly intercession and the need for the sons of Aaron to plead for the sons of Adam. Jesus Christ became the answer and the atonement. We look at the cross and see the final solution and our salvation.
At some precise moment the veil of the temple, that austere curtain of partition that separated the clean from the unclean, was rent in two. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ opened the gates for believers into the very presence of God. The middle wall of partition was broken down and the believer is bid to enter. To be sure, it is only by grace through faith and in our own brokenness and humbleness of heart that we can even presume to approach such a holy place, and we are conscious that we enter in over a sacred and holy threshold. Yet the door is open.
It was once that only by the administrations and intermediating of a priest that a sinner might approach God. Mount Sinai slew any that might cross its boundaries and touch it. Only those in the sacred robes of the priesthood might venture beyond certain lines and limits, and then again only the high priest and he alone dare enter into the holy of holies. Christ did away with all that.
We return to Egypt when we set up what God has knocked down. We are foolish to exchange gold for bronze. The temple has been destroyed. The need for a priesthood disappeared with it. The redevelopment of a priesthood in the form of a class of men known as the "clergy" amounted to the wholesale abandonment of our spiritual birthright. Jesus is the high priest and the only priest we need. (Heb. 8:1; 9:11,23; 10;14,16-18, 35-39).
While Aaron's robe may have had a place in some other dispensation, it has no place upon the saint who wears the robes of Christ's righteousness. The invention of a special class, or tribe known as the "clergy" is not only a step back towards Sinai, it is a link in the chain that once bound us.
Robes, clerical collars, miter hats, or satin beanies are patches which attempt to mend the curtain God has rent in two. They are foolish efforts to cover up the place where the veil hangs no more. "Foolish Galatians," said Paul, "why do you wish to return to such beggarly
things ." The ministry of the priesthood was a holy and important institution of God given to Israel as a witness and a school teacher. Its daily task in the temple was to stand before a holy God and make propitiation for the sins of the people. Peter and the apostles put to rest any idea of Christians needing to carry on any such traditions of temple worship. From the cross, Jesus announced, "It is finished."
Human nature, being what it is, soon looked for religious crutches and garments of distinction that set one apart from the other. Soon there were ranks and "titles" conferred when God never intended it to be so. Ranks of monks, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes formed a barrier that blocked out the free sunlight of heaven. We are to be called "brother" and "sister." No one is to be referred to as "Father" in a spiritual sense except God (Matt. 23:9). But Protestantism has no right to point out this speck in the Romanist's eye until they take the beam out of their own, for in like manner no one is to be called "Reverend" except God (Ps. 111:9).
The temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the armies of Titus. Not one stone was left upon another. Yet it seems that another temple has been erected complete with its own veil of partition. Once an imaginary line was drawn between the "laity" and the "clergy" other imaginations were necessarily invented in order to give them a priestcraft. The seven sacraments eventually became more than a curtain, it became a virtual wall between man and God. The clergy, (men ordained of men), took upon themselves the work of administering and maintaining that wall.
The clergy "catechized" and taught that grace (what was given freely of God at Calvary) was now to be parceled out in small religious doses. Baptism, holy Eucharist, extreme unction, marriage, confession, priesthood, became the means of grace. Without these, being properly officiated by an authorized official, a communicant was incapable, and unworthy of approaching God and without hope of salvation in the world to come. Any who challenged the authority of such a class was denounced as a heretic and "excommunicated" from the body of Christ.
Martin Luther unmasked the audacity of such doctrine once he re-discovered the doctrine of Grace and this light was a candle that illuminated the dark ages and ignited the fires of the Reformation. Not only was the fallacy of foolish priestcraft exposed, the outrageous practice of the sale of pardon (or indulgences) was exposed and condemned as well. Christianity was stripped of years of pagan and demonic tradition and practices. But as Lazarus still had the burial clothes wrapped about his body when he came out of the tomb into the light of day and needed to have someone "unloose" him, the Reformation left the church still with remnants and reminders of the tomb. The title "Reverend" is a little wall that separates one man from another. If not a wall, perhaps a pedestal that raises one up above another. Ordination is the conferring of undeserved titles by one sinner upon another (John 5:41-44). It is the trees of the forest once again seeking a king and all too often choosing a bramble bush to wear the crown. (Judges 9:8).
Do we need a clergy to confer the sacraments upon us? The answer is no. Do I not need some if not all of the sacraments to mediate between me and God? No. There is only one sacrament and that is the one that took place upon the cross. To add to that work one single work of your own is to insult the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and him crucified..
Don't we need to baptize our babies? Why? If you say it is in order for them to be saved you add to the work of Calvary and you do err.
What about the Lord's Supper? We come each week and remember the Lord, but there is nothing spiritually efficacious to communicate grace by such a practice. We may learn something, but we certainly do not earn something.
What about the sacrament of marriage? Marriage is truly a holy institution ordained by God. Marriage is the glue of any society and nation. In marriage a couple builds upon a promise they make to one another. It is superstition to think that a clergymen is necessary to officiate, bless, confer, or "tie the knot." The Lord knows that if clergy have been tieing the knots they have not done a very good job.
Marriage is a civil contract which for the Puritans, was never a church ceremony ,but rather a legal one. We join with the couple as they pledge their lives to one another and make promises we hope they keep, but we see no need for the clergy to place hands on the couple any more than we would ask a priest to bless the union.
In many ways the "clergy" has assumed the role of prophet, priest, or king. Even Israel insisted that it have a king as other worldly nations did. Their ambition grieved God and caused themselves much anguish. God wanted to be their king.
The modern day pastor often invokes this "divine right of kings" and assumes a spiritual authority by virtue of his "title," of ordination, or office. This is wrong. Sometimes he assumes the role of the only authorized priest and stands between God and God's people. This is wrong. In some circles he is considered the only holy voice. This too, is wrong. While it is quite clear that the church has been given the gift of pastors and teachers, it is no where to be found that God ever gave a pastor a church.
A flock needs a shepherd, not a king. When the clergy assumes a power and divine "right of kings" they take what God never gave. Such an idea of "a king" is foreign to the New Testament. The church has only one king: Jesus, and before him every knee shall bow. The church has no prophet other than Christ who not only can say "thus saith the Lord" but is that very same Word incarnate. The church has no priest other than Jesus who is our Great High Priest.
We are not against leadership, eldership, or spiritual and practical authority. We recognize and appreciate those men who have been pastors to us throughout out Christian experience. We are not against organization and order (1Cor.14:40) . Neither are we against pastors and teachers in the assembly. What we do question is any system that separates saints or exalts one men above another.
God is the one who raises up wise and mature counsel (Heb. 13:7,17). God is the only one who can ordain and send forth his servants. God is the only one who gives gifts unto men and does not require seminaries to produce a class of religious professionals in order to empower his church.
The true pastor recognizes that what God has given is not a title but a task, not a place as much as a grace; not a crown, but a cross. The church does not need clergymen, but humble men that will never presume the higher but rather the lower seat (Lk. 14:7-11) and never come between God and his people. The church was meant to enjoy the liberty that comes from allowing Jesus to be the only head and the Holy Spirit the only power. The voice the sheep need to hear is the voice of the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus.
There are those who are still called to preach, teach, and minister to the local assembly. God still gives gifts unto men (Eph. 4: 11-12). We pray for those in authority over us. We respect and give double honor to those who teach (1Tim. 5:17-18), but we do not venerate their persons nor delegate our responsibilities to them. Assemblies do not recognize titles, but they do recognize the gifts. Poor is the little flock that does not have such gifted men. Pastoring is the ministry of the Elders which God shall raise up in every assembly. Yet we are all called to minister to and care for one another. We believe in the priesthood of all believers and glorify only Christ and worship alone the one who died for us on Calvary.
The Scriptures teach us that "he that walketh with wise men will be wise." In this regard we realize that God has given good, wise, and gifted men to the church. We can learn much, even from those from whom we may differ. Christianity has its heros. Let us keep the grain while we blow the chaff away. Both Kempis and Knox would be welcomed in my home. I have learned from Francis as well as Luther, from Whitfield as well as Wesley. I have yet to meet the man I fully agreed with however.
Keeping this in mind, let those who would "gather" unto Christ do so with a spirit of charity, and humility. Let us never think "we are better than other men." Let us be careful of words like "cleresy" for it sounds too much like "heresy." We owe a debt to many men who worked in the light they were given or able to receive. There have been, and still are, many men who are considered "the pastor" of churches small and large who are good men, and who go about doing much good. Let us be gentle, and always "speak the truth in love." Let us not judge another man's servant (Rom. 14:4). Many men have been faithful to fulfill what they have deemed to be their calling and mission in life. We love them because Christ loves them.
We are not against one thing or the other as much as we are for something else. We see how dividing the people into "clergy" and "laity," how making the ministry a profession, controlling and restricting opportunities for preaching and teaching has its drawbacks. We chose a simpler form. The local assembly is made up of men and women who stand on level ground. All are equal before God. Brethren appreciate the gifts God has given, especially the pastor/teachers who are called unto a special ministry of the Word among them. Believers understand and appreciate and pray for those God has raised up for the "guiding" of the flock. But to those who look for "the" leader, or "the" pastor in the local assembly we reply, "The Lord is our Shepherd." .
The practice of women covering their heads during public worship becomes harder to understand the farther we are removed from the simple and early days of the church. It is the most offensive of practices to those who have embraced the spirit of self-achievement, self-sufficiency, and a self-centered identity. The lessons of the head covering are spiritual. They must be learned in the spirit.
The flesh cannot understand the spirit. This is why it is the greatest of amazements to the unsaved, and ungodly. That is why it is even an offense to believers who are thinking in terms of "rights" instead of "righteousness." Wearing the headcovering is not a requirement as much as a testament to a truth about headship. For those who wear it, it is a humble declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord. For those who wear it with little thought or consideration to its meaning it is a "rite" and a mindless ritual rather than a testimony to a spiritual reality.
Fashions change and times change. Nurses who once wore the white starched cap with a sense of dignity now refuse to wear it because they feel it is demeaning. Wearing or not wearing it does not make her a better nurse. Women are putting on helmets and climbing into fighter jets as they train for war. Women have left the restraints and constraints of tradition behind as in a pile of whalebone corsets. If the headcovering is merely a tradition then by all means let it go, but if it speaks more of a truth than a tradition pray for spiritual insight.
Did Paul waste a precious page of God's eternal word on a discussion of frivolous fashions? Did he squander holy ink with the superfluous? Has Paul pained every generation with cultural considerations that have nothing to do with a contemporary church? Are head coverings nothing more than the high buttoned shoes of our grandmothers, or the dark ribboned bonnets of the tambourine carrying lassies of the Salvation Army?
Paul was addressing what he considered a real problem in the Church at Corinth. The problem was far deeper than contemporary fashion. Paul was seeking to guide a people who were in danger of misusing their gifts and their liberty.
Let us not be judgmental. Let us not add burdens too heavy to be borne. Let each seek out and search for themselves what the will of the Lord is. "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way" Rom. 14:14. This is not an attempt to get every sister "under the veil." But since so many have come into the church bringing different ideas, prejudices, and preferences we here seek to explain what for some seems odd. Paul also said "let not your good be evil spoken of." Some have spoken evil of an attempt of another sister to do good. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind (Rom 14:5). "Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth : for God received him" (Rom 14:3). If a sister wears a head covering let her not despise the one who does not; and the one who does not, the one who does.
The Bible says that nature teaches that a woman's long hair is a glory to her, while long hair on a man is abnormal and even a shame unto him.
In ancient Greece it was common for men to attend the funeral of their parents with their heads covered, and young women to uncover their heads and allow their hair to flow down. Describing the picture, Plutarch said "To mourning belongs the extraordinary." In other words what was done on this occasion was the opposite of what was appropriate in the general sense.
In the Old Testament it was common for an adulterous to have her head shaved (Num. 5:18; Isa 3:17) as if to say her glory has been dishonored.
In the Greek society a man approached his religious duties with his head uncovered. The Roman, on the other hand covered his head. The Jewish High Priest wore a miter cap, and the male Jew today does not pray without his head being covered. For one saw himself in liberty, as the Greek before the gods of Olympus, and the other emphasized a religious attitude of servitude to a Roman deity, and the Jew assumed an attitude of humility and reverence.
What each did was more than decorum and mindless tradition, it was with the profoundest of religious feelings.
A study of First Corinthians chapter eleven is less about hair and suppers as it is about pride and mindless irreverence that threatened to pollute things that were most sacred and holy. This most misunderstood chapter is about the Lord's Supper; it is really about worship. When a man dares to approach God in pride, arrogance, irreverence, or in vainglory he dishonors the very God he claims to worship.
This is a consideration of the headcovering. Whatever a woman concludes, let it be the result of careful and reverent study. Whatever a woman decides is acceptable practice in this regard, may it be based not on convenience, nor modern convention, may it be calculated to conform with personal conviction to biblical truth and be received in the spirit in which it is given. And when a sister approaches God in public worship, may whatever she does be done with deep feeling of reverence and not mindless conformity.
The woman in Corinth were coming to worship with their heads uncovered. This was apparently considered to be a problem. The problem was important enough and significant enough to be addressed in the eternal Word of God. If attention is given to something in the holy Scripture it should not be dismissed as easily as it is by some. Some seem to think that whatever the problem was, it is irrelevant to the modern church. Nothing is irrelevant to those sensitive to spiritual truth. Unless the Spirit witnesses with your spirit you will not be able to understand the spiritual. Without the Spirit and the right spirit, chapter eleven will either be offensive, unintelligible, or simply a curious fragment of cultural antiquity that is nothing more than a fly encased in amber or a fossil frozen in time.
Three questions need to be answered when reading any Scripture. What does it say? What does it mean? How does it apply? As to the first, it is clear that the women in Corinth were dishonoring God by coming to worship in an irreverent manner. Their heads were uncovered. Paul pointed out that to come with heads uncovered was as shameful as a woman having her head shorn. God gave women a natural symbol of beauty, her hair. It was a glory. This fact was not debatable. It was an accepted fact.
A woman in mourning would let her glory go either unkept or uncovered. She might even cut off her glory in periods of heartbreaking lamentation and sorrow. On the other hand, a man in morning would let his hair grow. It was not normal.
Paul reaches beyond convention and social sensibilities. He points to order. He reminds the women that they came from man (Adam), and not the man from woman. Most pagan and heathen religions imagine the supreme being as a goddess - mother. The modern spirit of re-interpretation adopted by the same people who ridicule Paul as being a Chauvinist, seek to rewrite church liturgy, traditional hymns, and prayers, and to address God as "She." Paul goes on to say the "woman was made for the man and not man for the woman." It is all a matter of order, not equality. For the text also says that Christ is the head of the man, and God is the head of Christ. It is a matter of order, for Christ is equal with the Father. Woman is equal with the man, but as Christ was submissive to the Father, so the woman is to be submissive to the man. If a woman has not come to accept this it is pointless to expect her to understand any meaning in the headcovering. But if she can accept her place in God's order of things and understand that submission is an amazing grace, rather than a humiliating disgrace the headcovering becomes a beautiful symbol and token of worship.
There are objections being raised by some that the headcovering is a distracting influence and a hindrance in reaching the lost who seem to be puzzled and preoccupied with its presence in the place of worship. To these legitimate concerns I can only give my own opinion. First, any truly sensitive soul that is under conviction of sin is more preoccupied with its own need and heart condition than with any head covering. Second, there is something terribly wrong with anyone who would ridicule what is to another an act of reverence and devotion. Third, to eliminate the headcovering in an attempt to conform with fashion is the most frivolous and carnal of reasons. To those who are more concerned with showing others their hair than showing God their heart, nothing we could say would persuade them. Some hearts are like the wayside which have difficulty receiving the Word of God. The fowls of the air quickly carry away any seed that may have fallen on it. Some hearts are like the shallow ground that accept truth with a brief enthusiasm only to watch any conviction evaporate and die when the heat of ridicule or persecution arises upon it. A third kind of heart is that which is full of thorns. Worldly considerations and care for this world are of greater importance than any impractical or old fashioned beliefs. Some ground is ready for the seed; and what seems so difficult for some woman to receive,germinates, takes root, and springs up easily in another. In fairness it must be said that for some sincere and dear women, they find no seed on the subject. We do not wish to condemn them, but merely explain the practice.
What it is Not
It is not a requirement for salvation. It is not an ordinance or a means of grace. It is not a test of fellowship. It is not proof of spirituality, or any superiority. It seems strange that this simple quiet symbol should cause so much noise. It is sadder still that this simple token of humble submission should become a catalyst for stubbornness and rebelliousness in spirit.
What it Is
It is an Aid to Worship
Like the priest putting on his robe signifying to all that he is about to take up important business and assume a sacred role, so a woman who covers her head dons an aid which not only hides her glory, but shuts out the world and the things of the world. It is almost as if she, by pulling the veil over her head has entered into the holy place and shut the door as she has come into God's presence. It has its place. As the mother puts on her apron and takes it off when the last dish is put away and she has joyfully fulfilled her duty as "keeper of the home," what is appropriate in the kitchen might be out of place if it were to be worn in the street.
When the judge comes into the court room he is wearing a long black robe. He has put it on before he sits at the bench, and takes it off when he is finished. The judge's robe, the housewife's apron, and the woman's headcovering have their place. Can a woman wash her dishes without an apron? Of course. Can a judge try a case without his robe? Probably. Can a woman worship without having her head covered? Only she and God knows. The head covering is an aid to worship.
As the devout Jew pulled down his shades as Sabbath approached (as if to say to the world, "excuse me while I go and worship God") a woman who thoughtfully places a headcovering on her head is saying, "excuse me, while I go yonder and worship."
Pride was the problem in First Corinthians eleven. The spirit of liberty had so erupted that it crossed a line of irreverence. The angels in Isaiah's vision covered their feet as an act of humility. In some cultures a woman covers her mouth. The worshipper should never forget where they came from. If her hair is seen by God and the angels as her glory, then she humbly hides it in His and their presence during worship.
Admission to Lordship and Headship
While not on the level of the tokens of the Lord's Table (bread, and cup) the headcoving is a reminder that Jesus Christ is Lord. His authority is supreme. The Bible reminds her that submission to God's order is God's will and his wish. The headcovering is a symbol that says
God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the man, man is the head of the woman. It is a token of humble submission to those who wear it.
Attitude of Praise
Women are not to teach or usurp authority over the man, especially during worship. Women who insist in leading in worship ignore God's order (1Tim 2:11). They also dishonor Christ, their husbands (should they have one), and themselves. Men are to lead in worship in the home and in the assembly. The woman's role and the ministry of the godly woman is vast and important ( v. 12-15). Her role in worship is that of support, quietness, submission and reverence before God and the assembly. The very putting on of her headcovering is an anthem of praise to God for so great salvation. It is more eloquent than any sermon and is a witness to her family of her respect to God and His order. In as much as it sounds a note of a heart in harmony with God, it is a song most beautiful that joins in the spirit of worship. Does a sister want to praise God? Let her cover her head and add the hearty Amens in her quiet heart to the testimony of the elders, edification of God's Word, and prayers of thanksgiving. When it comes time to sing let her voice and heart truly enjoy the spirit of praise.
Agreement with God
Sometimes our experience has to catch up with our knowledge and our heart with our head. We accept many things by faith just because God's Word says it. God never asked our opinion about which sex should bear the children or if it is fair that fish swim while birds fly. The believer just agrees that God knows best. Many women struggle over things that grate against the flesh. The new Christian woman should study Genesis 3:16 as well as John 3:16. It is the memory of our sin that makes our salvation all the more glorious. The headcovering is an aberration to those who are accustomed to challenge things in the Bible that another will embrace upon first discovery. For some an admonition or a request is a burden to another it is a joy. Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind. There are many women who truly love God, and His Bible who see nothing in First Corinthians Eleven that is for them. It is only after we come to the place where we understand what God is saying that we are in grave danger of willfully rejecting it, and thus become rebellious. So when we speak of one woman wearing a headcovering because she agrees with God, we are not suggesting the one who sees nothing is necessarily in disagreement. Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind.
Attention to Details
A woman who pays attention to the little things makes her home most beautiful. Few women would think of coming to the worship service in her house coat or her bedroom slippers. Those who do not think worship is important enough to "dress up" for are hopeless to understand the significance of such little things. Those who for convenience insist that God cares little if they wear denim blue jeans (even when they save their better clothes for more important occasions), also cannot hope to understand something as seemingly insignificant as a headcovering. The headcovering is a little thing that says a lot.
Apparel of Modesty
While many refuse to read moral undertones into what Paul is speaking about it was obviously understood by the first century Christian in wicked Corinth. Moses took off his shoes when
he stood on holy ground. Paul encourages women in First Timothy 2:9-10 to dress in a certain way and avoid dressing in another. A woman should dress in a manner that becomes godliness. It is ridiculous to consider the thought of a woman dressing immodestly and then covering her head in worship. Women who cover their heads are remembering that they are women surrounded by a world of men. Nothing more need be said to a woman with spiritual discernment.
Armour of God
"For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels" 1Cor. 11:10. The headcovering is a covering that is likened to a symbol of power or being under authority. No woman is more powerful than one who is "under authority." No woman is at greater risk who throws it off.
Affirmation of Faith
The modern Jewish man wears his yarmulke as a badge and testimony. It should not surprise us that it has been the butt of jokes, ridicule, and derision by the ungodly. In the face of such persecution some have stopped wearing them. The Nazis made people of Jewish extraction wear arm bands that would mark them out for scorn and reproach. It would be a shame for a woman to stop wearing a headcovering because they were ashamed or embarrassed or would "feel silly" before the eyes of unbelievers or libertarians. To suggest that a headcovering would create an obstacle to someone seeking God is ridiculous. It would sooner convict the sinners heart the more as they wonder at another woman's faith and devotion. To discard the headcovering because it is no longer in fashion with the world is all the more reason to continue to wear it, for why are we to be in fashion with a world who crucified our Saviour?
In the same manner, for some woman to mindlessly and irrelevantly place a token scrap of fabric upon her head because of a tradition is to dishonor a truth. The sister who covers her hair in worship should do so with great thought and feeling. To do so carelessly, and flippantly brings honor to no one and becomes more of a hindrance to one truly entering into the presence of the one who died for us.
The Church has two ordinances not one. While the first, the Lord's supper speaks of Christ's death for us, the second (baptism) speaks of our death with him.
Christ was baptized. We cannot help but be impressed to see the sinless Son of God wade into the Jordan River and insist that John the Baptist "fulfil all the law" by performing the rite upon his own sinless person. Any idea that baptism washes sins away should be put to rest by such a sight. Jesus had and knew no sin. If baptism washed away sin, Jesus would never have engaged in such a ceremony. Neither is baptism a communication of grace, for Christ was filled to capacity with Grace and needed nothing that might be gained from baptism.
Jews entered the waters of the baptismal pool as a ritual of purification before religious ceremony. This act of purification was symbolic of separation in cleanliness unto God. The idea of approaching God in an unclean state would be incredible to the Jewish mind. Baptism was a ceremony that marked the end of one thing in anticipation of another. Those who responded to John's message identified with that message through the act of baptism. It marked a point of change in their life. It was a turning point. This change of heart and mind was for the Jewish population called "repentance." For Jesus it marked change by inaugurating the start of his public ministry, his identification with John's call upon all to prepare for the coming Kingdom of God. If the citizens of that kingdom were called to declare faith in such a kingdom, think it not strange that the King would identify with his own kingdom. John's baptism is similar to and not identical to the Christian believer's baptism. We are not called to identify with John, but with Christ as our king.
The call to believer's baptism is included in the great commission entrusted to the Church. "Go ye therefore, unto all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost." Matt. 28:19-20 We have been enjoined by the Master in practicing baptism . Should we be baptized? If so who, when, how, and why should we submit to such a practice. The Scriptures supply the only authoritative answers.
What it is.
Baptism is an outward act that testifies to an inward experience. It is a Spiritual object lesson and a sacred drama that declares to the world that a soul has been saved by God's Grace and by virtue of a faith in Jesus Christ has embarked on an experience of a new life. Baptism is not a sacrament. There is no grace communicated to the participant by a rite or ritual. The spiritual meaning of the practice is found in Romans 6. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?"
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God."
In baptism we act out and identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has been called by many "the first step of obedience." First or not, the public formula recited for centuries has been "In obedience to Christ's command, I baptize you . . ." Baptism is a matter of obedience to a command of Christ. Baptism has its roots and authority in Christ.
Who should be baptized? The only way the ceremony can hold meaning is in the willful submission and obedience of the candidate. For this reason only Believer's baptism is Scriptural. Each time baptism is performed it is always "after" not "before" one believes. "They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls" Acts 2:41. "But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" Acts 8:12
Another example of "believers" baptism is found in Acts 8:36-38. when the Ethiopian requested that he be baptized after he believed. Many Corinthians became believers and then were baptized as well Acts 18:8.
All other types of baptism should be measured by this scriptural example. Infant baptism certainly cannot be considered as a "believer's baptism" as they have no idea of what is being done. Baptism is not a dedication of babies. It is an outward act describing an inward experience. The infant has had no "inward experience." Infant baptism has been elevated to a divine sacrament by some and suggests (if not out-right teaches) "baptismal regeneration." This is to suggest that somehow baptism is the door of faith into the church of Christ. It is the act of new birth and insures deliverance from the penalty of hell, even if it does not insure the paradise of heaven. This is utterly folly and superstition. It is no where substantiated in Scripture. Some even draw a parallel between this Christian phenomenon and the Jewish rite of circumcision. Not only is the comparison incorrect, fact clearly shows that the Jewish rite followed genetic birth. Circumcision did not make a person a Jew, his genes took care of that.
The baptism of children should be as calculated and carefully done as with an adult. Children should not be encouraged to participate in a pretense. Only those who have been born-again should be candidates for baptism. Children can be saved at an early age. Baptism, the testimony of the death burial
and resurrection should not be enjoined upon those who are unable to explain, its meaning and significance. It is not a sacrament of the church performed on anyone. It is a personal and public testimony of a conversion and faith experience. Children who are eager to please parents, copy peers, or be "grown up" do not qualify as baptismal candidates who should be able to explain the significance and symbolism of the act. Parents and the Elders of the local assembly are to gently and carefully examine those who present themselves for believer's baptism. Only those who can give testimony to a new-birth, faith experience that is substantiated by either doctrine or deed should be baptized. Too many children, follow the herd instinct and imitate the behavior of their peers only to later admit that they either did not understand, or were never truly born-again at all. While we should not exclude children from the waters of baptism if they and their parents affirm the outward act is indeed a picture of an inward renewal or faith, the assembly should encourage young people to be "sure," for it should never be a social or mindless rite of passage, but a reverent and responsible decision and declaration.
Young children are not capable to thinking in the abstract. They see everything as concrete. A young child who explains to visiting adults that he or she "got saved" may be able to give the right answers to a small audience of friends and family as the proud and happy parents listen (sometimes coaxing, and coaching the correct answer, from the sidelines), but watch a blank look fill the child's eyes when questioned about the water representing the death and burial of Christ and our identity with that very same burial, death and resurrection. While a child can exercise saving faith and may truly transfer trust from self to Christ alone, perhaps we should not publicly announce such a life changing transformation at the mere profession of the bud, but wait for a little later in the spring when there is also the hint of a blossom.
Re-baptism. If a person was baptized as an infant or as a child before they were converted should they be baptized again? The Bible gives some insight on this question as well. It was discovered that a group of disciples in Ephesus knew nothing of "believers baptism" and their understanding and faith in Jesus was incomplete. They knew only the baptism of John, Acts 19:4-5. When they were led into the greater meaning faith in Christ, and the significance of identification with him they were re-baptized in the name of Jesus.
As to the mode of baptism, again we look at the Scriptures rather than to the baptismal founts of tradition. In John 3:23 we see that John baptized "in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there." In Acts 8:38 Philip took the Ethopian eunuch "went down into the water." The practice of the first century knew nothing of pouring or sprinkling water on heads. The baptism of the early church was that of immersion. The very word baptizo means to "immerse". The very word "baptizo" means to "wash by dunking." It was one of the few words left untranslated by the King James writers. Perhaps it was transliterated so as not to conflict with a common practice of sprinkling in the church of that age. That we cannot tell. We do know it means to immerse not sprinkle.
Sprinkling, in no way fits the description of Romans of the believer being "buried" with Christ.
A symbol must fit what it symbolizes. Pouring a little water on a head is a picture of nothing,
To be baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus" means to be baptized in association with, or identification with Christ. We are never baptized "into" the name of a particular church. Eph. 2:5-6 makes it clear that there is only "one" baptism. This refers to our actual identification and union with Christ by faith. That is the union in faith that unites us with the body of Christ and the universal church. The water, or believer's baptism is simply an outward, physical, and public enactment of the spiritual, inward, and private identification with Christ which occurs at the new birth.
Some insist that the only "baptism" that is important and necessary is a spiritual one in which we, at the new birth are immersed in Christ. While it is true that the true baptism is invisible and spiritual it is also true that Christ has left us an ordinance. We still are admonished to follow the Lord in the act of "believer's baptism" as it can be seen in Acts 10 where it states clearly: .
"And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Acts 10:45-48. Notice the word "commanded," and then obey.
How do we join an assembly? Sectarianism, because of its very nature has muddled the meaning of church membership. Too many think of it in terms of "joining" a church as one would join a club, or political party. Many falsely assume that they are members of the universal church because they are members of some local church. A baptismal record, or membership role in no way proves a person is indeed a member of Christ's church.
The Bible speaks of a membership as well as a fellowship. One concerns union with Christ and his body, the other embraces a communion with Christ and his church. One can never be broken, but the other is in danger everyday. It is in the context of membership and fellowship that we can understand that the church is a living thing, an organism rather than an organization. It is a miracle rather than a machine. The church is a spiritual body of which Jesus Christ is the head.
Paul wrote "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." Then he goes on to say "For the body is not one member, but many." (1Cor. 12:12,14). There is no idea in Christianity of the "Lone Ranger" or the lonely mystic sitting in his hermit's cave. Christianity is a community. Faith, Hope, and Love do not work in a vacuum, but only in the atmosphere of interaction and interdependency with others. "The body is not one member," should settle the question about church membership. If you are a Christian you are a member of the body of Christ, or what is commonly called the universal church. We do not "join" the body but are automatically "joined" to the universal church of Christ.
It is incumbent upon each member in yieldedness to the Spirit to discover just what place, function, and ministry he has to the body. It is not enough for a hand to know it is a hand. The hand must minister and serve the rest of the body. A body without all of its members is handicapped. A believer, though a hand, is little good to the body if it hangs limp and lifeless at its side. Each believer has at least one spiritual gift. This writer believes he has traces or graces of all, but one main spiritual gift. These seven gifts are listed in Romans chapter 12. Those gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 11:12). These seven gifts have been called the motivational gifts by some. There is another list of gifts found in Ephesians 4. These gifts are actually men or ministers that God has given to the Church. These may be rightly called the ministry gifts. The third list of gifts are manifestational gifts (1Cor 12). Some of these gifts were for a particular period and are no longer necessary, their work being complete. These are the gifts of illumination that cause God to be made manifest. On the number, place, and practice of spiritual gifts we all may differ. Some may disagree with the above description and we need not be dogmatic about these things. They are only mentioned in an attempt to explain our membership within the body.
When that member begins to minister we enter into the realm of fellowship. A hand therefore may be in membership (ie. part of the body) and fail to minister (lift a spoon to the lips).
Our Christian fellowship begins when we minister. When a man employes his ministry gift, by being the part of the body the Holy Spirit has meant him to be working in harmony with the rest of the body, then God is made manifest through a "word of wisdom" or "word of knowledge" (1Cor 12: 8). When a brother is rightly motivated and moved by the Holy Spirit to share a word of knowledge, wisdom, or interaction of truth so as to make Christ manifest everyone is aware of it and the whole body is encouraged. When a brother ministers the Word rightly, the whole body is blessed. "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." These are the fruits of ministry.
When we say we believe in "membership" we therefore are not talking about having our name on some church role. We are talking about being placed in the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:13) and thus becoming a member or part of that body. This involves our union with Christ which can never be broken. When we speak of fellowship we must consider something that is very fragile and must like any friendship be cultivated. While we need never fear being put out of God's family, we can find ourselves out of fellowship.
Christian fellowship goes beyond worldly and common interests. Some might have interests in common with men that place us in a society or circle. For example, the love of books might draw you into a reading circle in which you share ideas and interpretations. In this regard one might join a garden club, political club, pottery class, or a movement. In this respect, the circle of our lives overlaps the circle of another life at a point of common interest. This is not Christian fellowship or what is known as "being in fellowship."
Christian fellowship begins with fellowship with Christ. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1John 1:3). We cannot be "in fellowship with one another" and be out of fellowship with Christ. When we draw close to Christ, to know, worship, obey, and glorify him, we are in fellowship. When we draw close to Christ we draw close to the one who is the light. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." Sin spoils our fellowship with Christ and thus with each other. Fellowship can be broken, and fellowship can be restored. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1Jn. 1:9.
Likewise, if we hate our brother it is an indication that we are not in fellowship with Christ. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now." Membership is our link to one another. Fellowship is our love for one another. Membership is union. Fellowship is communion. Fellowship is physical (that is not to say it is not also spiritual at the same time). A brother "in fellowship" with Christ and His church will be seen ministering to someone, or being ministered to by someone as they are drawn to Christ for the purpose of worship. Fellowship can also be seen demonstrated in the practical and material. The early Christians shared their material wealth with each other. ":And all that believed were together, and had all things in common" Acts 4:44.
James spoke of fellowship in another way. "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works: Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?" James 2:14-16. Fellowship is caring and fellowship is giving. Fellowship was a New Testament euphemism for gifts and offerings. "Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" 1Cor. 8:4. It is in this regard that brethren speak of "having fellowship" with a servant of the Lord when they mean to make him a financial gift to provide for his material needs.
To be "in fellowship" with Christ means to be in his light having fellowship to all who likewise walk in that light. It is in this regard that fellowship with Christ must mean no fellowship with the world that rejected that light and still holds to the spirit that crucified him. Paul said, "What fellowship hath light with darkness?" 1Cor 6:14. We cannot have fellowship in two worlds. "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils" 1Cor. 10:20-21.
Fellowship is universal. While manifested in a most visible and practical way within the local assembly where believers in a local community gather, our fellowship goes out to all the believers of the world as we have opportunity to minister to them through our prayers, concern, and interest. One does not have to worship at our particular assembly in order for us to fellowship with him. The closer each believer gets to Christ (the center) the closer we get to one another. In this way believers from every assembly make up a blessed fellowship.
Fellowship is conditional. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" 1Jn. 2:19. Just because a person physically and regularly attends public worship at a particular assembly does not mean he is in fellowship. A persons body can be close while his heart is far away. Judas is the classic example. Our fellowship with each other is the result of our fellowship with Christ. Those who break fellowship with Christ, soon distance themselves from those who fellowship with him. No one can put us out of fellowship but ourselves.
If it becomes obvious that a person is walking in darkness and in disobedience to the light, church discipline may be necessary. That is a very painful, but sometimes necessary thing which will be examined later, but discipline is merely the recognition that someone has already broken the bonds of fellowship. When it becomes necessary, its goal should always be redemption or restoration.
Being part of an assembly is not optional as the Scriptures make clear. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching" Heb. 10:25.
If someone wants to become a "member" or "join" the church we direct him to Ephesians 4:16 "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Each Christian should seek to be fitly joined in membership as well as in fellowship with the body of Christ.
Order is the first law of creation. It is the first law of God. Where there is no order there is chaos, and confusion. "God is not the author of confusion." No issue has so divided the church on earth as much as that of church government.
Jesus Christ is the head of the church. Each believer is a member. The problem is not that each member has a mind of its own as much as each member does not have the mind of Christ. God does not want us to be mindless. That is a chemistry that leads to a cult where people can thoughtlessly follow a madman sometimes to death and destruction. On the other hand, when each member declares its "independence" from the body the only result is a body going through epileptic convulsions. God has a plan for the government of the local assembly. It is not found in church councils, but in the Bible.
Most have seen churches that run to one extreme or another. Beware of tyranny. Tyranny can be the rule by one or by a million and one, in the land of two million. Church government is neither a monarchy with a king, nor is it mob rule which can be measured by a majority plus one. Church history gives many examples of both errors. When Luther helped break the chains of papal rule, an anarchy erupted among the peasants who misunderstood Christian liberty. The ugliness of the peasant revolt was only exceeded by the ugliness of its suppression.
Power was one of the bargaining chips Satan used on the Mountain of Temptation. Politics can be a nasty game of greed, passion, and exploitation. The sickness is not necessarily found in any particular type of government, but rather in the human heart. Pure democracy in the hands of an ignorant, self indulgent, godless populous can be as evil as the most fascist dictatorship.
Passions run so hot in politics that some have sworn never to speak of that subject or of religion. The cattle rancher will always be at odds with the farmer. The free traders will always be opposed to tariffs. Politics invites polemics. And so it goes.
The church has not escaped the pains of politics. Even in the first century, Corinth was in danger of splitting into many denominations. One embraced Paul, another Peter. May the Lord deliver us from such a party spirit.
God never intended for politics to be the force of government within the local assembly. He wants "all things to be done decently and in order" 1Cor. 14:40. God has a plan. He has methods as well as miracles. Every type of government may be found in Scripture. There was the patriarchal rule of Abraham over the growing family of God. Later the people sought a king. For many years, Israel was ruled by judges, and once Moses alone seemed to hold the reigns of government. Saints have struggled with the mechanics of church government for ages. From Constaintine to Cromwell, from Calvin to the Plymouth Colonies, the visible church has found holding the scepter difficult.
The brethren assembly is not without government. While it holds to the priesthood of all believers, she is not of Antinomian spirit. How it is that so many can come away from the same book with so many different blue prints of government is a matter for another study. It will suffice here to say that the Bible is perfect truth, but unless one finds a proper center for the fulcrum the scale is out of balance. We must find the center if we are to "rightly divide the word of truth."
We see a balance of the power entrusted to the saints as a precious responsibility. Individual freedom must be balanced with the needs of the fellowship, and liberty must be balanced with love. Leaning too far in either direction will cause problems. Balance has always been the secret of the scale.
God has given gifts unto men, and God has given men as gifts. "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." God has entrusted his work on earth to his children, but the ark would never have been built without a Noah, and the wall would not have been restored without a Nehemiah. God is not against leadership. Having no authority is as deadly as having all authority. The key to good government is balance. Beware the man who chafes under the lightest yoke. Beware the spirit that sees the smallest link of loving leadership as some oppressive and heavy chain. Such a spirit belongs to the sons of Korah. Also beware of Diotrephes who loves the pre-eminence 3Jn. 9.
The Chief Shepherd has designed a plan of government in which the care of the local assembly has been entrusted to "under-shepherds". These men are to oversee the life, growth, and care of the local assembly. These men are called "overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters) pastors (shepherds). What ever they are they are God's ordained method of leadership in the church. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers" Acts 20:28. This is beautifully balanced with another admonition: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" 1 Pet. 5:2-3.
The qualifications of an elder are found in 1Tim. 3:1-7. They are to be innocent to charges of wrongdoing or as Paul wrote to Timothy "blameless." This should be the only commentary on the next qualification, "the husband of one wife." He should be a man of vigilance as well as diligence. He should be sober and not given to foolishness and buffonery. He should be always know how to behave. An elder should love to be with people, or as it is expressed in the KJV "given to hospitality." A recluse does not qualify as an elder, nor does the misanthrope.
Every elder should be able to teach. This is the heart of the calling. He does not necessarily have to possess public or pulpit skills, but he must be able to instruct, guide, and explain the message of Christ and communicate the vision of the church.
No man is an elder that is given to uncontrolled excess. Wine comes from many vineyards and any easily carried away and intoxicated by appetites and passionate interests has no place sitting among the elders. While one might limit the scope of this admonition to fermented grape juice, it should include any thing that clouds judgment, reason, or piety. When an elder dreams of "green pastures" he is not thinking about a golf course. While he is in the world, he is not of the world, and while he may enjoy the fruits found upon it's trees he does not set himself to buying the orchard.
An elder is not a violent, but rather a gentle man. He knows the value of material things, but can not be persuaded by greed or hope of gain. He does not love nor lust after that which has so deceived so many. Paul calls money "filthy lucre."
Patience is a virtue found in the bosom of the elder. This is a quite spirit. This patience should not be confused with indolence, or inertia. It is a heart capable of praying, and waiting on God.
The world is usually dominated by those who are the most aggressive. Fighting is the world's method. The church is in no need of the bully who is forever looking for someone to fight, or something to fight about. The elder is at peace with God, himself and with others. Some church leaders excuse their short comings by pointing to the weakest character traits of the kings and apostles as if they are the paridigms of greatness, or even the secret of their success. Moses' temper and Peter's sword were not the hallmarks of leadership, nor excusable type "A" personality traits. They were sin.
No man can give what he does not have. In this regard, the elder must rule his own house well. He must demonstrate qualities and character of leadership in the private arena before he is to be recognized in the public. David kept Jesse's sheep before he kept a seat in government. An elder's home is to reflect the very spirit that is desired in the local assembly. His family is to be an example of the reality of Christ in control.
An elder is a seasoned saint who has been tempered in the fires of experience. A novice is someone who has been recently converted and should be given time to prove himself to have a faithfulness to go along with his faith. Many a disciple has been stumbled by the Devil or have been caught in his evil snare because they were forced to lead before they first learned to follow.
An elder is a man at work. "He that desires to be a bishop desires of good work." The word "office" is not in the original text (1Tim. 3:1). Much confusion has come because many have seen "bishop" as a title and "pastor" as an office. Eldership is a ministry. This ministry is not a trade, career or profession. It is not something that can be conferred upon a man by men. It is not a title, trophy, or a crown. No congregation can make a man an elder. Only God can do that.
When a man is called and ordained of God to the work of an elder (shepherd, overseer) it will be evident in his work as well as in his words. He will be recognized as being gifted to minister to the people of God. His ministry will be seen as being of positive benefit to the body. His words will be those of edification, exhortation, and comfort (1Cor. 14:3). He will have both a calming effect on the sheep as well as an encouraging influence. He will be a man of faith, and a man of prayer.
Some elders are pastors, others teachers and some evangelists. When the saints are sick physically and spiritually, a man with a pastor's heart is there. When there is a need of prayer, a true pastor is the first upon his knees. When there is an opportunity to share in a public or private teaching ministry, he shares from an overflowing watershed of a continual worship and does not have to "work up" a sermon or "make" an outline. He is the first to give, the first to praise, he is the first to worship. He is the first to weep with you when you bury your dead. He is there to enjoy your success and is happy when you triumph. He has a tender heart, a tough skin, and a true dedication to the ministry of the word. He is not afraid to tell you when you are wrong, and will use the shepherd's crook when necessary to remind you when you are going astray. He respects your liberty, but never confuses it with license. He only seeks your good. He thinks not of himself, but of the sheep and never being jealous he is not afraid you might become more than he ever hoped to be.
A man is not elected to be an elder. He is raised up and recognized. He fits the qualifications and practices the administrations. He is afforded a measure of respect and said to hold a place of double honor. (1Tim 5:1, I Thes. 5:12-13)
As the church is not one member, so the elder is only one of a group of men that God had brought together to care for the people of God. The New Testament knows nothing of "one man rule." Each local assembly was guided by a plurality of elders. No one man can have all the gifts, wisdom, or strength necessary to meet the needs of so sacred a trust. More mischief has been born from the concept of "loyalty" to a single pastor than can be expanded in so short a study, but it will suffice to say that our loyalty is to be to Christ, our love given equally to all.
Godly men are not to "manage" the assembly, but "minister" to it. They are not to "lord" but to "lead." They are not to "reign" but to "train." They are to love, listen, and lend themselves to the cause of building up every believer in the church. They are never to become obstacles to worship like the Pharisees, nor are they to be "indulgent" like the Sadducees. Both were political parties that struggled for power and leadership. The "oversight" in the local assembly should not seek to control as much as to guide. They are not a governing board but a guiding influence. They help cultivate a climate that is conducive to spiritual growth and glorifying to God.
Shepherds, like the ones who first saw the Christ child , are usually found "abiding in the field." The elder who only sees the sheep on Sunday is no shepherd. The shepherd left to care for
the local assembly heeds the words to Peter "Feed my lambs." Actually there is a three-fold ministry of the shepherd: Breeding, feeding, and leading. Leading has to do with being an Overseer. Feeding has to do with being a pastor who knows where the green pastures are. Breeding has to do with caring for the new born and sometimes aiding in the miracle of the new birth. One ministry is In-reach (feeding), one is Out-reach (soul winning) and one is Up-reach (leading in worship). They are to be workmen who should be on the "cutting edge" of what God is doing rather than in the caboose. They are not to mistake the "past" for the "power." That is, they must be in the middle of what God is doing today, rather than day dreaming about what He did yesterday. They need to allow God to choose the tools of His choice. And while waiting for God to take up an instrument, they are to do everything possible to make sure they are sharp.
The room must have grown strangely quiet as Jesus moved from the place of honor at the table and assumed the posture of a servant. He "laid aside his garments" and washed the disciple's feet. They were amazed; they were embarrassed. There was silence until he came to Peter. "Lord, dost thou wash my feet?" said Simon. Peter was not about to allow his Master to stoop so low. "Thou shalt never wash my feet," he said. Jesus continued, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." The disciple must be clean.
John 13 is a lesson in Holy Communion. For some "Holy Communion" sounds too much like the Roman eucharist. We like to speak of the "Lord's Table" and the "Lord's Supper." Some like to dissect the two and ascribe one to the visible and the other invisible world, one to time and the other to eternity. This is unnecessary, for "communion" covers it all. While the Last Supper may be "ended"(vs.2) the communion had just begun. The Church is communion and there can be none without it. The saints are instructed to participate in a living memorial "till he come" (1Cor. 11:26). The Church has been given a blessed memorial service called the Lord's Supper. It is commonly called the "breaking of bread." The tokens of the memorial are a simple loaf and a common cup. These blessed symbols continue to this day upon the communion table. They were tokens of God's love and emblems of his grace. Jesus gave them to the Church as he was about to enter into the passion, as the Son of God was about to die for the sins of the world.
With the Last Supper Jesus would leave one more lesson of love before he left this life. He employed the lowly implements of a servant to teach the church about communion. Communion in some circles amounts to kneeling at a rail and receiving what is called the "host." Those who speak of "taking communion" mispronounce a Shibboleth of true communion, for communion is not something we "take" it is something we "have."
A Spirit filled assembly is more than strangers kneeling at a communion rail. It is more than a few saints sitting in a circle around two tokens. It is communion, communion with Christ and communion with one another. Communion is the birthright of the new birth. Yet many Essaus fail to appreciate its importance and significance.
When we remember the last supper, and consider the Lord's death; let us also consider the basin and the towel as a lesson for Christian living.
Some groups have added the basin and foot washing to the litany of worship. They insist that because Jesus did it, we must do it too. We must not be so intrigued with the practice that we
miss the principle. The picture is one of holy communion. Let us not try to immortalize it in dogma, stone, or religious ritual. Let us discover the eternal flaming spirit of the night in which he was betrayed, a spirit of love, fellowship and communion and pass its fire like a torch from generation to generation. Let us not lose the spirit of the moment by reducing it to tokens, to bowls and basins. What Jesus demonstrated that "night in which he was betrayed" was love, humility, submission, service and holiness. We cannot hope to experience the sweetness of true Christian Communion without them.
Communion in the local assembly is based on:
1. God's Love.
"Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." (John 13:1) Jesus is the demonstration and proof of God's love. He was about to fulfill the greatest law, the law of love, and die on the cross for our sins.
It is the love of God that gathers us into a sweet communion. It is the love of God that is the tie that binds. It is the love of God as embodied in Christ that makes a church a church. The Lord Jesus Christ is the center and sun of our spiritual solar system. His love is the gravitational force that is experienced by faith and which holds each planet in its orbit. It is love that holds a local assembly together. Take love out of the assembly and it falls apart. Our love for Christ is seen in our love for one another. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" 1Jn. 4:20-21. This love will be the hallmark of the church. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples" (v.35) When Christ is in his rightful place an invisible power of love unites us in holy communion. Not every one at the communion table is in communion. A single soul in that upper room felt a greater pull. It was the pull of darkness. Judas was present in body but far away in spirit. The gravity of greed was about to draw him away into the night.
2. Purity of Heart
True communion must be based on a pure heart. Judas came but he did not commune for he did not have a pure heart. Why we are present is as important as "if" we are present. Later, Jesus would ask Judas to take one long last look at his own heart when he spoke kindly to him saying, "Friend, why art thou come" Matt. 26:50. Had not Jesus said at the onset of his ministry, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God." Judas never saw God though he sat across the table from him.
If we have truly come to worship, if we would know true and holy communion, we must have pure motives and a pure heart. "Now the devil having now put into the heart of Judas..." We must all watch our hearts. If Satan can put some evil thing in your heart you will find it impossible to commune with God and fellowship with others. If an assembly is to discover and remain in communion it must be made up of pure hearts. The writer of Proverbs gave good advice when he warned "Keep thy heart with all diligence."
The third aspect of true communion is that of giving up one's rights. No one is an island. No man lives unto himself or dies unto himself. We live in families, groups, cities, and societies. The church is no different. As in any union of people or things we must surrender certain rights and prerogatives of the individual to accommodate the whole. If there is to be happiness and harmony in a home, country, marriage, or ministry each of the elements must at times defer and yield to the other.
There will never be true communion in the church without each member understanding what was happening when Jesus "laid aside his garments." In order to have full and complete communion each must learn to "lay aside" his or her individual rights for the good of the whole. If Jesus did it we must learn to do it as well. If we are to experience a true communion we must lay aside our differences, prejudices, our pride. We must be willing to give up the better seat in order to make way for another.
Was there no servant in the upper room to take this important place? Obviously not. The hastily organized meeting contained no women, and no servants it would seem. The thought never occurred to the disciples that in the absence of such an attendant, one of them should assume the role. Since none of them seemed to hear that the circumstances cried out for a servant, Jesus himself decided to leave them and Christianity a much needed lesson.
Many a sweet communion is broken when the disciples begin demanding their rights. Many an assembly fails when no one wishes to lay aside what they consider important rights in order to minister to the needs of others. Many reach for the crown, few for the basin. In order for a broken communion with God to be restored, Jesus had to leave the glories of heaven, lay aside the garments of splendor and take up a tabernacle of flesh. "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." Phil. 2:7 Happy is the assembly and sweet is the communion when men come to serve, rather than to be served. Which brings us to the next characteristic found in that upper room fellowship and the last supper.
4. Servant's Spirit
This fourth benchmark of true communion is found in the basin. It is found in service. Jesus said in another place "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant," and elsewhere, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister...even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:25,28; 23:11).
Communion is also based on cleanliness. Someone rightly said, "Cleanliness is not next to godliness; cleanliness is part of godliness." Peter did not understand how important this was until Jesus said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me" (vs. 8). He who approaches God must be clean. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Ps.66:18.
Even disciple's feet get dirty. We cannot pass through the streets of social contact and not become soiled or pick up some of the contagion. The answer is a continual cleansing. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us form all unrighteousness" 1Jn. 1:9
After he finished the living parable he said "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." (vs.13). Peter was gently rebuked by the Savior and taught the meaning of humility, service, love, and of cleansing. Sensing that the Lord was about to do something drastic, he asked the question "Lord, wither goest thou?" "Where I go," said Jesus, "you cannot follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards."
What did Jesus mean when he said, " you cannot follow me now?" Had he not invited Peter and the others to forsake all and follow him? Had they not followed him faithfully for over three years? How could Christ even think of such a thing? He even preached that whoever followed him would have eternal life. Are we not to follow him for time and all eternity?
"Peter said unto him, Lord why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake." Christ knew that flesh would fail and that Peter could never live up to his testimony. He knew even before Peter spoke that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. What Jesus was actually speaking about was the one place he was going where he must stand alone: Calvary. His disciples can stand with him in the city and in the country, but when he went to the cross he must go alone. That is why he said, "but ye shall follow me afterwards." There was no following of him to the cross. There would be no fellowship there, only judgment. There was room on that altar for only one precious lamb, Jesus. There for those dark hours there was no communion, only crucifixion. Even the communion and fellowship of the Father and the Son was broken there, and the world turned dark.
"But ye shall follow me afterwards." Because of the Cross we enjoy communion. We know something of that communion in the breaking of bread and the remembrance meeting as saints look on the tokens of loaf and cup. But the Lord's Supper is a living and breathing memorial. It is not a lifeless picture, icon, or hieroglyphic inscribed on eternal pyramids. It requires that someone be there to "break it," and share it with some other soul saved by the efficacy of the power it symbolizes. The Lord's Supper is not empty seats and places around an untouched table. The picture is not complete without people. It is a communion; first a communion with Christ and then also a communion with the trophies of his grace. The cross is God's call to communion. It is the only way a sinful, fallen humanity can hope to be near to God. "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ" Eph. 2:13. It is only because of the Cross that we can have communion. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" 1Jn. 1:3.
Communion is for those who want to be close to the Master. There is room at his table for all who would believe in him and worship him. There was room on Jesus' bosom enough for Judas as there was for John, but the son of perdition did not believe. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" 1Jn. 2:19.
John wrote a treatise on holy communion in what is commonly called First John. Holy communion is not the "rite" and "ritual" many have made it to be. Holy communion is the living body drawing close to Christ and close to one another.
When darkness would seek to invade the light it is quite obvious. Sin spoils the communion and soils the church. Times did and still come when the church must exercise discipline upon itself. There is a time when it is obvious an individual is not in communion with Christ and therefore not in communion with the rest of the body. Those are sad times, as sad and dark as when Judas went out into the night. But as the Master taught us "unless I wash you, you can have no part of me."
How much better for each sincere believer to "examine himself"(1Cor. 11:31) so they need not be judged by another. The church must be clean if it is to enjoy the presence of the Lord.
Into the upper room they came to break the memorial bread.
In just one day their dreams destroyed and their master would be dead.
And although the time was short, and the hour very late,
the twelve could only argue about which one of them was great.
None of the twelve sought to take the humble servant's place,
and so they ate with dusty feet and presumed upon God's grace.
So our Lord then took the basin, and a towel `round him gird,
he stooped to do what they would not, and taught them with his word.
"Ye call me master, and so I am," but learn from me this night,
"this is the way to greatness and don't forget this sight."
And so the Lord of glory bent down so very low,
and washed away the dirt and pride, and humility did show.
So remember, too, the basin, when cup and bread you see;
and show love to one another, and true humility.
The most important thing in the church is often the most ignored. It is often overlooked in all the excitement and ceremonies. I am amazed to see books on "the church" leave such a large vacuum in its table of contents. A book about the "local assembly" speaks about the importance of the body, and even the building. Should we call the place where we meet a chapel or a hall? Should we call ourselves a church or an assembly, etc. We discuss the officers and the offices of the church along with a lengthy defense of one particular polity over another. There is a discussion about money, and ministries, ministers and manners, and so it should be, for we must all know "how to behave in the house of God"(1Tim. 3:15). However, the one thing most attractive to this writer about the simple assembly was not principles or the practices (as important as they are); what I saw was the person. What I saw was Jesus.
Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered together in my name there I am in the midst." Christians spend too much time talking about the "where" of worship. Some focus on Cathedrals and others always seek out the catacombs. Where we meet with God is the least important aspect of Christian worship. A man can be as much absorbed and preoccupied with trying to keep the church in the living room as another is trying to get out of it. Both are equally misspending their energy.
Some are enamored with numbers and obsessed with size. "Where two or three," with some, is either the beginning or the end. Some insist that large numbers are the only real measure of God's pleasure, while others are convinced that any group larger than a handful of the "faithful few" is unbiblical. Once again, the church is not something that can be measured.
Neither should there be an inordinate amount of attention given to the "gathering." We should be almost unconscious of the drawing. It should be as natural as iron clinging to the magnet or a flower seeking the sun. "I will draw all men unto myself," said Jesus. It is only when men attempt to do the drawing or gathering that we are aware of it.
The most important aspect of the church or assembly is found in the words "there am I." Those who worship Him in spirit and in truth look for Him. It is the beauty of the assembly. It is the wonder of our worship.
Both in the Old and New Testaments, worship was the heart, reason, and purpose of the assembly. The Psalmist said, "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple." This is worship in spirit and in truth. This spirit was gone by the time the Savior visited Herod's temple in the year AD30. The building was there, it bustled with movement and activity, crowds spilled through its corridors and between the colonnades, yet it was all a vain show. Tradition had taken the place of truth and a shadow remained where the Shekinah had once been.
In another place David spoke with zeal and enthusiasm when he spoke of the temple and the assembly of God's people. "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD." He then went on to explain why the temple was such a wonderful place to him. A study of that psalm should describe the place we gather to worship as well. It speaks of happiness, our standing, our unity, and God's goodness for which we give thanks. This temple he spoke of was a place where the truth could be heard, and where peace could be found. It was also a place where real prosperity was measured, and where one found genuine love and care. Yet the only reason these elements were there was because they are the characteristics and attributes of God. Truth, justification, peace, and joy are only found in the Lord. For this reason it is Jesus that calls and gathers us to himself. It is his beauty that draws us, it is He that we look for when we are in the assembly.
"To behold the beauty of the Lord" is how the Psalmist put it. When the worshippers take their eyes off this only worthy one they not only cease to worship but begin to, like Peter, sink beneath the waves. The beauty of the assembly movement is found only in the Master.
"There is one God , and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim. 2:5). The spirit of the brethren movement was in removing anything that would somehow hinder access to this most Precious One. It sought to strip away layers of time honored tradition so that men might worship the one who is the Truth. The genius of the assembly is not in its simple meeting hall. It is not in instrumentless song service, nor in the loaf and the cup. It was in the spirit of those Greeks who said to Philip so long ago, "Sir, we would see Jesus" that our meeting has meaning (John 12:21). The simplicity of the assembly meeting enabled men to see Christ. Anything that should detract from that aim is an unwelcome invasion and detriment to true worship.
It is tempting to say worship is the heart of the assembly. It is not. The heart is the Lord Jesus. The homage we pay him is only the tribute that rightfully belongs to the king. Worship is the reflection, Jesus is the light. Worship is the moon, Jesus is the sun. Jesus is the head, yes, but he is also the heart. Worship is the way to Jesus and Jesus is the way to God, for Jesus is God.
If some denominations have lost their way, if some have lost the story, it is because they first lost the glory. Worship is the way back to glory.
No better picture of worship can be found than that of the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17).
No man is ever higher than when he is on the mountain of worship. A minority made the climb that day, Jesus and three of the twelve. Peter would later recall it as a high point of his Christian experience (2Pet. 1:18). It was called a "high" mountain. We are never nearer Christ than when we worship. The experience is described as one of coming "apart" from the world. This is a beautiful and positive separation for it is a separation "unto" Christ. The affairs and common concerns are laid aside and left at the foot of the mountain when the disciples come "apart" to worship, for they left the world below.
Some insist they can worship God better in the country than in the church. While it is true that God is everywhere, I cannot help but detect a touch of cynicism in their arguments. Those who claim they can worship in the solitude of a rowboat on Sunday morning misunderstand the word "apart" in as much as it refers to the things and affairs of the world. I might be convinced that a man can go just as far in divine worship while riding in his dinghy as he could in any assembly if he took his Bible along and left his fishing pole behind. The disciples were "apart" together.
There is an illumination and a transformation that accompanies worship. Peter saw a light that was as bright as the sun. Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes. The curtain of his humanity was rustled just enough by some unseen breeze as to reveal that the Shekinah filled the temple. Jesus spoke of his body as being the true temple. While Jesus was the one who was transfigured on the mountain, the disciples were the ones who were transformed. They were never the same. Worship changes us, it makes us new. He who leaves the hall, chapel or church building unchanged has somehow failed to climb above the clouds where one can see the sun. The majority of the disciples remained in the valley and struggled helplessly with problems that were too great for them. They were like Martha in the kitchen failing to comprehend what was the "greater part. "They could not imagine the glories that are being revealed to those who made the climb with the Master.
Peter, caught up in the uniqueness and specialness of the moment said, "It is good for us to be here." He was right. There is not a better place to be in all the world than in the place of worship at the time of worship.
Peter once again took his eyes off Jesus and almost missed the meaning of the experience. He was impressed with the appearance of Moses and Elijah. It is so easy to follow Peter's faulty footsteps. To talk of Wesley, Moody, Muller, or Knox is so tempting but it threatens the very core of faith. The voice from heaven quickly got the wandering worshipper back on course, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him." When our eyes or attention is taken off Jesus we have ceased to worship. Peter wanted to build booths for the Patriarchs and felt God's displeasure. After his blunder, and after the thunder the scriptures say, "and when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only." May it be so with us today when we worship.
Worship is an act in which we ascribe worth, value, and esteem upon some person, being, or object. Christian worship has rejected the claims of all others (Matt. 4:9-10) and bestows its
supreme allegiance, affection, adoration, and appreciation on the Lord alone. Today we hear of people who "worship" money or "worship" the ground someone walks on. What is meant by that is that the person "lives" for that object or person, and that thing is the most important thing in their life.
Worship is not found in some liturgical outline or order of service. It is not necessarily found in singing the Doxology or Handel's Messiah. It is not found in our businesses or the dizziness of religious euphoria. It is not found in rites, rituals, testimonies or traditions. Whether we worship in large congregations in public, or as a solitary soul in prison, worship is very personal and private.
True worship is that of a communicant ascribing the ultimate and supreme value and purpose of living in God and for God. Worship is like the river rushing into the sea. It returns to its source. The heat of the sun will again raise the water in a vapor, the wind will carry it across the face of the earth, and then it will drop from the sky and begin the process all over again. Worship is life going full cycle as the creature bows down in reverence before its creator.
Worship was the purpose that drew Abraham to Moriah. Worship was the picture painted by John of the elders in Revelations. Worship was the end of, and reason for, the journey of the Wise men who came to Bethlehem. Worship is the gaze of loving eyes, but Jesus is the object.
Let us not be so enthralled and occupied with the Magi that came from the Orient. Let us not be preoccupied by their presence or their posture. Let us not so marvel at the gold, frankincense, and myrrh as comprising some chemistry or condition for worship. Let us realize that it is not the people, not the practice, not the gifts that are important. Let us not be so intrigued by the commotion among the shepherds, nor the small crowd at the cradle as much as we are with the object that is in the cradle. Let us not argue about the appropriateness of a stable or the meagerness of the manger. Let us remember the nativity, the cross, and the empty tomb, but let us look beyond all that when we enter the assembly. Let us see Jesus.
"Our fathers worshipped in this mountain" These were the words of a Samaritan woman who was referring to Mt. Gerizim. It was the place she had learned Isaac was sacrificed by Abraham. She like the Jew proudly traced her faith back to the Patriarch who left Ur of the Chaldees. She had listened to and learned her creeds well. She, no doubt, had learned her Catechism. She considered herself part of the faithful remnant, but she had neither the Spirit or the Truth. She believed in the Messiah and in his coming, yet her spirit was sectarian and her theology flawed. Jesus told her she did not know what she worshipped. He talked to her of living water capturing her imagination, but he also dealt with her painful past; he dealt with her sin. He never questioned her sincerity for it was as real as that of any Pharisee. But before we shake our heads in judgment at this sinful Samaritan woman, it might do us well to realize that "there, but for the grace of God, go I." It might appear that she was born into the wrong family, for had she been of a different lineage she would have spoken fondly of Moriah rather than Gerizim; and no doubt while taking on self-righteous airs.
It was because of her lostness that Jesus felt compelled to meet her, keeping a divine appointment. He announced to his disciples "I must needs go through Samaria." Why the Messiah of the Jews would want to visit such a people was way beyond the scope of their imaginations. They were full aware of the fact that the Jews hated the Samaritans and the animosity was mutual. However, Christ's kingdom was larger than they thought.
The Father was seeking "such to worship him," as even this poor, pitiful, Samaritan woman. It is in the account of this divine occasion that we are left a valuable lesson about what is still today a nebulous concept for many, the concept of worship.
No sooner do we speak the word than ten different ideas stand up like so many authorities on the subject. "Our fathers worshipped in this [or that] mountain," we say. One is convinced it is one thing, and his neighbor another; and everyone is sure he is right.
One thinks he has worshipped when he has lit a candle, and another when he has recited the Apostle's creed. One thinks of silence and another speaks of clapping hands and offering God a "sacrifice of praise." Some say this mountain, and some build upon another. For some it is in a hushed sanctuary, and for another, his worship is punctuated with many hallelujahs. Some insist that they alone have faithfully "kept the faith."
I shall never forget the sight of several Catholic children coming home from Saturday catechism class. They were in a heated argument about genuflection, which to me was always a curiosity. One boy, in frustration, shoved the other and with absolute authority and righteous indignation then demonstrated the proper way to "cross oneself in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." To this day I am not sure if "Holy" is to the right and "Ghost" to the left, or visa versa.
Even then I thought such an argument was out of sorts with my own Protestant sensibilities, and I shook my head with a kind of self-righteous indignation. We Lutherans considered ourselves superior to these Samaritans anyway.
My ultimate conversion and ensuing spiritual odyssey would bring me within view of many more such religious arguments. And I have both witnessed and found myself taking sides in modern religious wars. When "believers" fight they will never admit that it is over things as trivial as the "firing order" of religious spark plugs. It is always over (we claim) more important things.
It seems everyone traces his faith back to some evangelist, chapel, or catalyst, or wells up with pride when they speak of certain schools, seminaries, or groups. They speak in terms of "us" and "them." They insist that they, and they alone, will hear the "well done, thou good and faithful servant" on judgment day.
My first exposure to Christianity was as sincere as the Samaritan woman's. I could quote from the authorized catechism, recite the Apostle's Creed, and pray the Lord's Prayer. I could tell you of the ninety-five theses at Wittenberg and one man's heroic stand at Worms. I could say, "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain." But heritage is not enough. As a matter of fact, heritage is hideous when it posses as faith. Heritage is always hearsay; it is always second hand. Heritage is a cut flower that soon wilts in the water glass. It is a sad substitute for the living plant that has roots, life and vitality.
Let us be careful not to pay homage to heritage. We are glad to own Muller, and Darby, and Ironside as our brothers, but never as our fathers. We are grateful to faithful servants of God and dedicated disciples. But woe to all who start to divide the world of Christianity up into "us" and "them." Woe to the Christian who sees himself as a child of Abraham and others as "Pseudo-Christians" and "sons of Hagar." Woe to those who look back no farther than Gerizim, Jerusalem, Plymouth England or Plymouth Rock.
Those who worship God "must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Truth was standing beside the well at Sychar. Truth is personified in Jesus. Woe to those who try to build on any other foundation. The Truth is a person not a practice. Truth is the Master, not the method. Truth is the living Word, not the liturgy.
Many are self-proclaimed authorities on worship. Men with and without clerical collars can convincingly defend their case (usually to their own constituency) and propagate their cause. When one adds to the words of Jesus and lays undue burdens on men and women they do God and man a grave injustice. We are to worship in spirit and in truth. We should be careful in breaking with those who are different, just because they are different.
The original spirit of the brethren movement was one of "spirit and of truth." Faith must be founded upon the Word of God, and that Word will always lead the reader to Christ not rites, rituals, or religion. Worship is personal. It is true that we draw apart from the world as a community of believers, but worship can never be something generated by a crowd. John was alone in a prison on the island of Patmos and yet no one ever worshipped God as he did. Abraham took his son to the top of the mountain with him, but it was the Patriarch that was on trial and not the lad. Abraham was as good as alone when he went to worship that day. He did not bring a son as much as he brought a sacrifice. And no sacrifice was too great.
Christianity is many things. It touches every area of our lives. It deals with our ministry, our marriage, and our market place. It touches our minds, our wills, and our emotions. It is praying, and praising, and building up and tearing down. It is giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, and loving our enemies as well as our friends. Let us not confuse any of that with worship.
Let us not be satisfied to have the generations that follow us to the communion table or the "breaking of bread" speak in terms of "our fathers worshipped on this mountain." Let us realize that God has no grandchildren. Each person and each generation must be born-again.
Let us not confuse the past with the power, or tradition with truth. Let us not pray because our fathers prayed, let us not break the bread in a certain number of pieces because that is the way we were taught. Let us not confuse the world that cannot help but watch us as we argue about things as silly as genuflection. Let us not break bread without broken hearts. Let us enjoy our light and our liberty, but let us not allow our light to become darkness.
In the days of Jesus, there were two political forces at work within the accepted world of Judaism. They were known as the Pharisees and the Sadducees, respectively. One group were traditionalists through and through. They saw themselves as the caretakers of Judaism and the defenders of the faith. They began with a movement during the days of John Maccabees and were born in a spirit of revival. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren inherited the heritage, but not the spirit. No mantle of tradition can warm a cold heart. They misunderstood holiness and substituted in its place legalism and laws of "separation" which they made into a sinister science.
The second group were the Sadducees. A Sadducee held the position of High Priest as long as the Romans were in power. The Sadducees prided themselves with being modern and
sophisticated. They considered themselves the intelligent, the rational, and the pragmatists of their day. They were the progressive party, and wasted little time mourning over the loss of "the good old days." They were "Hellenized Jews." The world changed and they changed with it. They dressed, acted like, and felt comfortable with using what the world had to offer. These two groups were at extreme ends of the religious scale. They despised and avoided each other, except when they joined forces to crucify Christ.
Extreme forces are always at work in any society, government, or group. The church will always have its Pharisees and its Saducees. One will have the unshaven locks of hair running down their temples as a badge of their orthodoxy. The other will wear Greek sandals and a Roman toga, and invite "state of the art" modernism into the temple. One will wear the black of mourning and lament the unfaithfulness and "apostasy" of their fellows. The other will never miss an opportunity to "tweak" the nose of tradition and seek to closely imitate the current fashion or rage.
As these two forces collide like the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific at Cape Horn , we soon learn that sailing through them can be treacherous. There was an age in maritime history when sailing through the straits at the tip of South America was the considered the "rite of passage" that made a man a true seaman. Until he experienced the icing of the canvas, and the blast of the Arctic, and the raging counter currents of these two mighty oceans, until he stood up against the gales, endured, survived and gained the victory, he was ever a novice. But once he made the turn and headed North again, he knew he would make it home.
The church is sometimes called the "old ship of Zion." We are glad to walk her decks, and ride with her across the waves. Let us never forget that, never sinks the ship in which the Master lies. Let us never forget who is Captain and who rules the sea. Let us ever look to the one who knows and is the Way. Let us seek to rescue those who would otherwise drown in a sea of sin. Let us throw out the life line to those bobbing amid the flotsam and jetsam of our generation and not argue about the shape and number of our sails. Let us remember that we ourselves are on board only because of the grace and goodness of God. Let us man our post and keep our watch until at last we reach the final port-of-call. Let us work, and let us worship.
The problem with mountains are they tend to stand too apart and too aloof. Mountain religion is fine for the Greeks with their Mount Olympus and for the Samaritans with their Mount Gerizim, but not for Christianity which is only discovered by faith and climbed in the spirit and in truth. The Catholics have their Rome and the Muslims have their Mecca, but like Abraham we still look for that heavenly city, "whose builder and maker is God." All attempts to establish that city in this world and set up borders has met with disappointment or disaster. From Calvin's Geneva, to Zwingli's Zurich, to Cromwell's England, we have seen only failure. Even the John Cotton's "city which is set on a hill" could not secure its religious battlements or insure its future. From Jamestown to Jonestown "that which is flesh, is flesh."
The problem with monuments is that they become tombstones to tradition. Monuments have
to be dusted off. Pigeons make them their perch. Church history is littered with monuments that are so weather beaten that they are barely legible. Communicants lay flowers upon the grave sites of great men of the faith and extol their virtues and attempt to remember their significance. Christ left no monuments or grave markers, he left an empty tomb.
If God cannot be confined to a mountain, or captured in a monument, neither is he to be contained in a movement. Just when we think his actions are predictable a bush bursts into flame in the desert. Moses would have been a fool had he attempted to build a tabernacle around that fire. All he could do was remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. The problem with movements is that they stop moving. Before the last tent stake is driven into the ground the "glory cloud" is likely to move again. Let us not mistake the burning bush for the fire. Movements are little more than the flare up of the coals upon the altar. From time to time the "wind bloweth where it listeth" and men have been warmed by the heat of revival. No sooner do the ambers retire to their calmer state than ministers come with their fans and bellows in an attempt to rekindle the ashes. Nadab and Abihu made the mistake of putting strange fire upon the altar. No fire kindled by man can substitute for heavenly fire whether it is in an upper room or on a mountain top, whether it touches Isaiah's lips or illuminates the Israelites through the night, it must be of God. Heavenly movements move. Don't become too comfortable in your tents, and don't drive your stakes too deep, because God moves also.
The mountains we climb are just as real as Aarat, and Moriah, and Hermon, but they are spiritual. Those who climb, carrying the wood, the knife, and the fire, those who are willing to offer their most precious things, always find that an altar has already been made, and upon it is God's final sacrifice, God's best, and God's amazing grace.
There is nothing else for us to do except to join together in unity and sing "Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain." Then, after we have worshipped, we must descend back into the valley for there is still work to be done. Christ is building his church, he is yet calling his bride. As brethren we visit the low lands of the earth and tell all who will listen of a hill called Mount Calvary.
"Go tell my brethren"
"Go and tell my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God , and your God" Jn. 20:17. Who were these "brethren" Jesus spoke of ? And who are they today? When I find someone who has faith in Jesus and wants to follow him, he is my brother, and I see him as such. I will not choose one group, segment, or society to the exclusion of others. I refuse to pay much attention to a peculiar practice, dress, or distinctive to decide who is my brother. I will not see Lutherans, or Methodists, or Baptists, only brothers. If my refusal to adopt a particular form of government, recognize an office, or submit to some rite of passage prevents them from giving me their right hand of fellowship, I will yet love them and own them as family.
I have tried to capture the simple spirit of brethren gathered together in local assemblies with finite words. I realize that in doing so I have had to briefly turn the attention of the reader for a few moments to the brethren. Now I encourage all to turn their eyes away from the worshipers to the one who is worshiped, to the one who has ascended on high, to the one who was not ashamed to call us brethren (Heb. 2:11).