Its Center, Ordinances, Worship, and Ministry
By the late A. N. O'Brien
Edited and printed by J.B. Sparks
The night of the betrayal had come. The Lord and His eleven disciples were in the upper room. The last long, loving communion with His own before He suffered had been enjoyed, and before they go forth He lifts His heart to His Father. It is a prayer, not only for those within that upper room, but for all those who should believe on Him through their word. One prominent petition was, "That they all may be one.... that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17:21.
This is evidently a visible unity, for it is to be seen by the world, and is to convince the world that Jesus was sent of God. His desire was unquestionably that His people might be one on earth, and that while traveling through this wilderness they might, by that oneness, give corporate witness to Him. This unity was to be in Him and in the Father. "One in us." Not unity on the basis of a creed, nor yet because of indifference to truth, but in a Person. Undoubtedly there must be spiritual unity, but we should never forget that it was to be also a visible unity, even to the eyes of the world.
In what sad contrast to this is the spectacle of division around us! How it must wound Him to have His own so scattered! Born amidst this scene of confusion, our eyes perhaps have never been opened to its desolation, but how must it appear to Him! The world scoffs at this division, the heathen are perplexed by it, the heart of Christ is wounded and His honor trailed in the dust by it;. Only those who claim to be His own are insensible to it.
Yet there are, we are sure, amidst all this confusion, those whose hearts are crying out. They perhaps know not why they are unsatisfied, yet they are yearning for something their present surroundings do not give. In spite of false teaching, and more criminal, withholding of known truth, by those called their spiritual leaders, they instinctively feel that God provides something better for His own than they have yet discovered. It is with deep heart yearning for such that this pen is taken up, in His Name. The writer knows from experience what it is to be led out from that which sickened the heart, and burdened the spirit. Led from the tyranny of a man-made system, and from the oppression of an unscriptural and unspiritual ministry, into the position of true liberty. Liberty abiding rest and real growth--an obedient heart, John 7:17, that " If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine"; and a patient study of the Word, John 8:32, in order that the believer may be led on into liberty.
The statement is often made that the Bible gives no sufficient guidance in matters of church organization and worship. Was this the case it would be very strange. That a human father should give his child no instruction as to his walk is past belief. And that God, whose Son on the night before Calvary, prayed that they all might be one, should not give sufficient revelation of how they might attain and maintain this unity, is still more incredible. The difficulty lies, not in a lack of knowledge of what that word contains, but of obedience to truth already known. When Jeremiah said to the people, "see, and ask for the old paths, where [is] the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk [therein]." Jer. 6:16. This spirit lies at the root of all the present division. Reader, are you willing to learn and to obey God's Word, cost what it may? Stop and answer this question before you go on. We are told in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, that the Scripture is inspired, profitable and sufficient, so sufficient that through it "That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Let us search its pages and may the Spirit guide us into all truth, John 16:13.
The unity of the church is fully and clearly revealed in the word of God. We read of :
ONE FOUNDATION, 1Cor. 3:11; Matt. 16:18;
ONE BUILDING, Eph. 2:22; Heb. 3:6; 1Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16. Note the singular number in each of these Scriptures "A habitation," "House", not houses, "A spiritual house," "the temple."
ONE BODY, Eph. 4:4; 1Cor. 12:13, 27; Col. 1:18.
ONE BRIDE, John 3:29; Rev. 19:7.
For those thus united was given only one CENTER OF GATHERING, "In My Name" Matt. 18:20. Matt. 18:20. Matt. 18:20.
How beautifully was all this illustrated in the early church! We read in Acts 4:32, that the believers were of one heart and one soul. The Holy Spirit was neither grieved, nor quenched and was working mightily. Men were converted by the hundreds. Even the bitterest enemies of Christ were reached, for we read "The hand of the Lord was with them and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." As in the creation of the world, so now in the new creation, God saw that every thing was good. But alas! Just as man brought in ruin upon creation by his disobedience, so now when placed again in responsibility he fails as signally. False teachers draw away disciples after them-Acts 20:30, and bring in destructive heresies (or sects of perdition) 2Peter 2:1; and God's own people help on the division by grouping themselves around human leaders.
But no sooner do the germs of division manifest themselves than the Holy Spirit condemns them. "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you; but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [which are of the house] of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" 1Cor. 1:10-13.
Today we have this evil magnified many times. Instead of Paul, Apollo and Cephas, the names now are Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. Besides taking on the names of men, others have taken on the names of an ordinance (Baptist) or rallying around a phenomenon (Charismatics). Many others are gathered to a system of church government or to a creed or both; as Presbyterianism, Congregationalism or Episcopacy. Still, others are divided on ministerial training, secret societies, the use of Psalms or hymns, feet washing, and even whether the women shall wear buttons and button-holes or hooks and eyes. Over 160 Protestant sects are to be found in the United States alone. Not only are their names a Babylon, but their gospels are almost as numerous as their names. All shades of belief are not only permitted within them, but publicly taught by their leaders, till the curse of God (Gal. 1:6-9) justly rests upon them. Their gospels are often a sad mixture of grace and works, which can give no real security either to the living or to the dying. God only knows the awful condition of much that wears the name of Christian, and sooner or later He will manifest His righteous wrath against it. With a wrong center, evil doctrine, and a false gospel of works, the ranks of the sects are fast filling up with unsaved religionists, on the way to a burning Hell. The people are gathered to a creed, (to which the unsaved can assent) or to a man. God's center, the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, is set aside. The Word of God is divided into essentials and non-essentials. Souls are deluded, and in many cases whole congregations are being led on by their unsaved preachers into perdition. In some places things are not so bad, but in many, words fail to describe the utter ruin.
But, let us notice a further evil. "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [even] as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able [to bear it], neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas [there is] among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I [am] of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who [is] Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?" 1 Cor. 3:1-5. Here we see a second sad result of sectarianism. It keeps in a state of infancy. Such was the result in Corinth and such is the result today. Of course multitudes in the sects have never been born again, and so cannot be referred to here, but those who have been saved are necessarily dwarfed. No sect can have a whole Bible, and no child of God in a sect can hold or teach all the truth. Nay, much of it he cannot even learn for himself, because he is only able to receive the milk. No creed takes in all the truth. God's Word about the fall of man, salvation by grace, eternal security, the sovereignty of God, ministry, baptism, or some other precious and necessary truth must be omitted or perverted. The appalling spiritual poverty, and utter lack of grasp of God's Word exhibited by those who claim to be leaders in sect Christianity (even after years of college and seminary training), is manifest to every one whose eyes God has opened. The depravity of man, expiation of sin by the blood of Christ, and the absolute necessity of the new birth are often ridiculed by them. The plain simple teaching of the Word about the coming of the Lord is scouted. The two resurrections, the judgment seat of Christ, the judgment of the nations at His coming, and the judgment of the wicked at the Great White Throne, are hopelessly confounded by these would be expounders of the Word.
Much is said by those of the Lord's people in the sects, who know premillennial truth, about the central portion of this chapter (1Cor. 3), the judgment seat of Christ. But, they wholly and necessarily ignore its setting. The first part of the chapter condemns utterly their position in the sects, and the closing verses, 21-23, put all human leaders in their proper position. The chapter speaks of one building on one foundation, the Temple of God. Now, my dear reader, is your influence for spirituality or carnality, for God's unity, or for man's divisions? Remember that "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort (not how much) it is." What determines the sort? Does not the Word of God determine the sort? And are you disobeying the Word of God, and yet talking of the judgment seat of Christ, perhaps fondly hoping for His "Well done"? It is true, "The Lord looketh on the heart", and did you not know His Word in this matter, you would not have the same responsibility. But, you do know it now, at least sufficient of it to condemn a sectarian position. He would be false to His own Word were He to say "Well done" to you, if you continue in the sect-making or sect-fostering business. Remember, fire will try every man's work, and "wood, hay, and stubble" of sect-building will burn in that day of the manifestation of every man's work. What a conflagration that will be! Much, which is now looked upon with complacency, will be fuel for those flames. You cannot be faithful to God, to His Word, or to lost souls, while you are in your present false position.
Let us now turn our attention to sectarianism as it concerns the Lord's table. Here expecially should be manifested the unity of God's people. In 1 Cor. 10:16,17, the basis of this unity comes out clearly and strikingly. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we [being] many are one bread, [and] one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." (So, seeing that there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body) One loaf, or one body. How could the unity of the saved be more fully brought out? Surely, His table will bring them all together as nothing else would. But, what do we see? Union meetings (with much of God's truth embargoed it is true) for the gospel, but a sad, sad scattering of the flock when the Lord's table is approached. Behold how they dwell together in unity (though representing all shades of belief and unbelief) in the gospel meeting, presided over by the eminent Pastor So and So, but behold how they scatter, and seat themselves with the deluded unregenerate, the performer of dead works for salvation, and the openly ungodly to show forth the Lord's death.
But passing by for the present such associations with the unsaved, let us turn our attention to 1Cor. 11:17-19. "Now in this that I declare [unto you] I praise [you] not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." This, with the sins struck at in verses 20-22, hunger and gluttony, is given as a condition which made the Lord's table an injury to them instead of a blessing. We have the evil of divisions mentioned first. The tone of God's Word never changes as to this. Seditions (divisions), heresies (sects)" (Gal. 5:20) are catalogued among the works of the flesh, and in 2 Peter 2:1, they are called damnable heresies (sects of perdition).
What is heresy? The root of the Greek word is "choice". Let me illustrate. An evangelist is called by a group of denominations in a city, to conduct a series of meetings. A goodly number "get religion," or sign cards saying that they have decided to lead a Christian life. The night for closing the meetings has arrived and the various preachers representing the sects united in the meeting are present and on the platform. The evangelist announces that he does not try to build up any one denomination, and advises all the converts to join the church of their choice. This they proceed to do, some taking their place with one sect, and some with another. This is heresy. God never instructs one born again to join the church of his choice, but tells him explicitly what he is to do. He leaves the believer no choice of his own in the matter.
Heresies, however, are used of God to "manifest" the "approved." In His hand, divisions become a test of His people, and those who separate from all sectarianism to walk in "the old paths" have His approval.
But, let us go on with the Word. In Rev. 17:1-5, we have a description of the apostate Roman church, with her robes of royalty. She is decked with costly gems, and wields the scepter of kingdoms. The nations are drunk with the wine of her fornication. But, she is a mother and has daughters. Who are these daughters? I readily grant that the scene laid in this chapter is future. But, the mother (Rome) has existed for centuries already, and may not her daughters have been born before this? Who are they? The numerous sects of Protestantism. Rome substituted her own ideas for God's revealed will, and every sect has either adapted the Roman system as they came out of her, or made a system of their own. God calls it all harlotry. In James 4:4, we get another clue to the daughters, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." Where is the sect that is not seeking the friendship of the world? Its money is openly and unblushingly sought through direct subscriptions and if enough is not thus obtained to supplement the niggardly gifts of those who claim to be the Lord's, the church is turned into an amusement bureau or restaurant. Food, fun and frolic draw money from the unsaved, while souls, who ought to be awakened to their lost condition, are amused on their way to Hell. Even the solemn, searching truths of the Word must be softened down for the world's ear, and sin must be connived at, for the sake of popularity. She who claims to be the bride of Christ is fawning at the feet of the World, while Christ and His Word are set aside. This is spiritual adultery and marks the Protestant sects as the harlot daughters of Rome.
What then is the believer to do in view of all this? The answer of God is clear and unmistakable and the subject heart will have no difficulty in ascertaining His will. The system of spiritual harlotry already referred to has issued in the admission of the unsaved into the professing church. Multitudes have been enrolled as Christians, without even being asked whether they were born again. Discipline on the basis of the Word has become a thing of the past. The lust for numbers, the pride of great buildings, and the desire for a name have flooded the professing church with the ungodly. The Laodicean stage is upon us and while the boastful church is saying "I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing," the Lord is standing outside almost ready to spew her out of His mouth.
Believer, listen to His voice. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty," 2 Cor. 6:14-18. A sect teacher said, "I think this refers to marriage." But in 1 Cor. 7:12,13, it is said of the believer yoked in marriage with the unbeliever, "Let him not put her away." "Let her not leave him." The expression "Ye are the temple of the living God" marks this as God's "spiritual house," 1 Peter 2:5; the "habitation of God," Eph. 2:21,22. It is not singular - your body a temple - as in 1 Cor. 6:19, but "ye," plural, the corporate temple of God - His sacred people. But where are they found? Yoked with unbelievers, seeking fellowship with the dead, with Belial, with idols! What associations for the Bride of Christ! Yet some of them will even claim to be "wholly sanctified" while allied with this state of things. They will talk loftily about the "second blessing" and "the Higher Life," while they continue in sectarianism, and add to its corruptions. They talk about Annihilationism, Restorationism, and even the filthy doctrine of the carnality of Christ, - that even He was not wholly sanctified till Gethsemane, and that He atoned for His own sin on the cross as well as for the sins of others. These are only a part of the "abomination and filthiness" of the fornication of the sects. No wonder the clarion call rings out, "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord and touch not the unclean." May His voice in the Word reach your sleeping ear, and wake you from your sleep among the dead. Eph. 5:14.
But you say, "It will cost to obey this command." We do not deny this. It cost for the Israelites to go forth unto the tabernacle "outside the camp afar off from the camp," when God would no longer walk in the midst of apostate Israel, dancing around their man-made center, a golden calf. Ex. 32:7,8; 33:7. Some stood in their tent doors, 33:10. Those "That sought the Lord went out unto the Tabernacle." 33:7. It cost when the four hundred gathered to David in the cave Adullam and shared his years of hardship and rejection, 1 Sam. 22:1,2; cost so much that Jonathan would not pay the price, though he recognized David as God's man, 1 Sam. 23:17,18. How sad are his words, "I shall be next unto thee" in connection with "and Jonathan went unto his house," and the other sad statement in 1 Sam. 31:2, "And the Philistines slew Jonathan." It cost the many thousands of Jews that believed (Acts 21:20) to obey the call of the Holy Ghost in Heb. 13:13, "Let us go forth unto Him without the camp bearing His reproach." Cost them everything. And it will cost you to obey God in this matter.
But it will cost to disobey. It cost Jonathan not only the next place in the kingdom but also his life, not to take his place with David, and it may mean spiritual poverty and defeat for you, if you turn away from the truth. Our God cannot be trifled with. It is a fearfully solemn thing to close the ears and harden the heart against His truth. May He deliver you from such a sin. Besides it is only the truths which cost that are really our own. Creed truths, formulated by other generations are lifeless and valueless to us. Only that which has taken hold of us and compelled us to conform to it, is actually ours. "Buy the truth and sell it not," Prov. 23:23.
Perhaps you say "I will be cut off from men and will lose my influence." This is the argument of many who see that their position in the sects is wrong. But what is your influence doing? Building up that which God hates. And even if you do know Christ and preach His gospel, the sectarians associated with you will thwart you. They will urge those you seek to bring to Christ, to join some church, and will make your heart sick. You will be constantly recognizing as saved those who have never been born again, and bringing souls who are saved through your preaching, into fellowship with those who will blight and curse their spiritual life. Meanwhile, you will be robbing yourself of that which is most essential to growth, right relations to the Lord, His Word and His table. You cannot grow in sect soil as in God's soil, and you are meriting the rebuke given to Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." 1 Sam. 15:22. How shameful to say to Christ, "I can serve you better by disobeying, than by obeying your call to separation."
Do you ask, "What will I have outside?" You will not have great numbers with you, but you will have HIM: "I will receive you." Is not that enough? He well knows how few will hear and obey this call, and how weak, and despised, and unworthy they will be; but in infinite tenderness He says to such, "I will be a
Father unto you and ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord Almighty." You will never know the blessedness of that promise till you obey the call that precedes it, and "Come out." How tenderly He reveals Himself, healing every heartache, supplying every need, compensating every loss and satisfying every craving for fellowship. No doubt those who are His only in name, will "murmur," criticize and "go back" as in John 6:41, 60, 66. But as He turns His sorrowful, yearning eyes on you, His saved one, with the words spoken to the twelve, "Will ye also go away," will you too add to the sorrow of that unrequited heart, or will you in loving obedience "Go forth unto Him, without the camp bearing His reproach?" Heb. 13:13.
Again you say "Why do not the great and good men of God obey and teach these things? They tell us to stay where we are." Yes, but what scripture do they give for their counsel? Have you not noticed that in the matter of salvation they say, "thus saith the Lord," and unsparingly denounce the man who preaches any other way of forgiveness. As to the atonement, coming of the Lord, etc., their appeal is to the same source of infallible guidance. But behold, when they speak of church relations they give us their own reasonings. When did one of them give you a "thus saith the Lord" for church fellowship? How strange that those who stand uncompromisingly for the inerrant, infallible and sufficient Word of God would ask us to take their advice on this point while insisting that we take no man's advice elsewhere! Lame and puerile seems all their counsel when God has spoken. God's servants they are, but servants in wrong positions themselves, and therefore they cannot give you God's Word in this matter, for it would at once condemn them, and if obeyed, cost them their place and name. Hence, one line of truth must be kept from view. Reader, will you have a whole Bible? Will you be satisfied in any position unless you know that the unchanging Word of God is under you?
Separation from sectarianism is stigmatized by many of these men as narrowness and bigotry. God, on the contrary calls it enlargement, 2 Cor. 6:13, 14; "Be ye enlarged. Be ye not unequally yoked." He who refuses the unequal yoke is in the place to receive and to encourage all who will obey the Lord, and to love all saints, whether with Him or still refusing to obey the call to separation. Sectarianism, in the measure in which it has hold of the man, limits the spiritual affections to those of his party. Their proper motive is oneness in Christ, and they are naturally as wide as God's family, 1 John 5:1, "Every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him."
This going "forth unto Him" should be voluntary. Those who "sought the Lord" "went out." David's four hundred "gathered themselves unto him." "Those whose spirit God had raised" went up from Babylon, Ezra 1:5. "Let us go forth," not thou shalt. The call is an invitation from Him who is Himself outside, "Come out." Many say "if the Lord wants me out He will take me out, or the church will thrust me out." But we find no such scripture as "wait till you are thrust forth unto Him," nor would such a separation please Him. Must the system which God hates expel us, ere we answer the yearning of our Lord's heart and go forth unto Him? True love's relationships are those of choice not of compulsion.
The word of the Lord thus demands separation on three distinct lines:
First - From unbelievers, 2 Cor. 6:14-18.
Second - Out of Babylon, - mother or daughters, Rev. 18:4.
Third - Unto HIM, Heb. 13:13.
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