Brethren Archive
February 1910

What is the Real Fellowship of the Church of God?

by R. Elliott

Tom said ...

Have you secluded yourself behind party walls so that no one can have fellowship with you unless he consents to come within those walls? Have you practically made a fellowship of your own by acknowledging none—with rare exceptions.—but those who assemble at particular meetings? When a Christian comes to one of your meetings and would like to remember the Lord with you, and is known to some in your midst, do you give him or her a back seat because there is a difference of view as to baptism, or because he does not frequent one of your meeting rooms, or for some other reason not mentioned in the scriptures we have been considering?

I am no advocate for the slipshod way that would dispense with all barriers, and allow anybody, whether known or unknown, who claimed the right to partake of the Lord's Supper, to come and do so unquestioned, and unchallenged. Such carelessness, if not utter indifference to the Lord's honour, is inexcusable, living as we do in a day when evil men and seducers are on every hand. But where an individual is known, and his whole bearing and speech gain our confidence at once, to refuse such an one is simply to proclaim ourselves a sect. Scripture knows nothing of membership of your meeting. If you meet as Christians, the visitor in question takes his or her place as one of you.

To receive such is to own the truth of the "one body," to keep the unity of the Spirit, and at the same time raise the strongest protest possible against all sectarianism. 

Dear brethren, what does all this mean but that certain meetings have become everything to certain believers. There is a church within a church; and half a dozen of them; a fellowship within a fellowship; as well as a membership ab extra to the body of Christ. And, worse and more terrible in its consequences than anything, belonging to your meetings becomes the allimportant thing. Church fellowship with all its privileges, as well as keeping the unity of the Spirit, become identified in your minds with a certain set of meetings. Every single thing is judged from that standpoint. You have a group of meetings before you and your estimate of every person and all that relates to them is according to whether he or she belongs to that group. A more false, misleading, illusory criterion could hardly be imagined 

The fact is, brethren do not seem to see that the claim of any one of these "circles" to represent the fellowship of the Church of God exclusively, and to express the unity of the Spirit, is nothing short, when stripped to its naked meaning, of a claim to be the Church. Everyone must come to them to be in fellowship, and everyone who does not is denying the unity.Was there then no fellowship before, and no unity of the Spirit ? If there was not, by what marks can we distinguish the right fellowship from the wrong, among the multitude of different aspirants to this unique honour of having at last, after sixteen centuries of darkness and chaos, rescued these precious and glorious realities, and made them facts-once more? But surely every thoughtful and intelligent mind will admit that there has always been Christian fellowship and the unity of the Spirit, however dimly apprehended and imperfectly realised. 

It may be asked, What, then, were Brethren raised up for ? Is not the answer simple ? Not to form any new fellowship, or any new Church, but to make it possible for Church fellowship and the true unity of the children of God to find some more real expression.

When a company in any locality refuses to recognise another company of Christians who call upon the Lord, and seek to walk in obedience to His commands, as far as they have light—this is independency. When you see six or more companies of the Lord's people standing apart in rigid isolation, one from the other, this is independency. Independency, according to scripture, is to treat other members as if they were not of the body, and to say, "I have no need of thee." I know people who are guilty of this, quibble, and say, We embrace all the children of God, and would like them to be with us. Yes, of course you would, and a very big "us" it would make. "An available mount of communion," and you the mount. But this is putting something in place of the Church, and worse still, in place of Christ.

Wednesday, Feb 12, 2020 : 01:41
Richard said ...
Hello Tom,
Thank you very much for the large amount of material uploaded to the site, and especially for this pamphlet about the communion that I have wished to read along with other pamphlets of this author for a long time.
Thank you and may God abundantly bless this selfless service for the Lord and His own.
Wednesday, Feb 12, 2020 : 07:40
Tom said ...
Thank you Richard, though others deserve the credit for this item 🙂
Wednesday, Feb 12, 2020 : 15:21
André said ...
Tom, the author seems to disagree with both "circle of fellowship" of the exclusives and "[local] assembly independency/membership" of the opens (see his thoughts about John Ritchie's views). So, I think it would be better to put this work on the section "Former Exclusives" instead of Open Brethren.
Friday, Jun 26, 2020 : 12:41
Tom said ...
Yep, agreed.
Saturday, Jun 27, 2020 : 16:06
Syd said ...
R. Rlliot raises some relevant points—still manifest today—although, I believe, he sometimes unfairly criticises John Richie, not representing him rightly.

But here is the point some brethren might like to comment on—the so-called “visible and invisible church” which is taught today. Elliott correctly emphasises the true one Church; the one Body. Local assemblies are an expression of the one Body. Reception is not to a local assembly, although a believer is admitted and takes his place there, but to the one Body (baptised of the Spirit into the Body).

But Elliott does distinguish between the local assembly and the Body—“Two things need to be remembered; (1) We are in the Church by the baptism of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 12:13): this is by God's work, and is invisible; (2) there is a reception into the outward and visible Church by those already in it—this is by water baptism (Acts 2:41 and 47; 10:47). Here we have people added to a visible company.” In arguing a point, he also remarks—” If our dear brethren who talk so much about the distinction between the body of Christ and the local gathering, would substitute for this the ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ church, some of their remarks would, in my opinion, at least, be nearer the truth.”

There is also reference by some to “the mystical” church or body. But this is a different thought, is it?; something quite inexplicable? One wrote: “The two, Christ in heaven, and His members on earth, in this mystic unity are so identified as that one name, that is “the Christ,” covers and denominates both. Now this, though spiritual and mystic, is surely not invisible. Each of its members, great or small, has its own place to fill in the whole, each is a ‘member in particular’ and none can fulfil the functions, or do the work of another.” Now this is biblical and makes sense. JND said: “It (church) is become what is called the invisible church. It is invisible: though if it was to be the light of the world, it is hard to tell the value of an invisible light.” He did not agree with the concept of an invisible church. Kelly said the expression “invisible church” is never used in Scripture; indeed, nothing even remotely approaching it is found there. Many of those early brethren affirm that the unity of the Church was not to be invisible.

From where have the more recent brethren gleaned the “visible and invisible church” and why do they hold to it? The Bible Treasury (1857) suggests that Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, introduced the term in the fourth century, but this is not verifiable. However, some of the church fathers said that the visible church on earth had become so broken and defiled, that one must speak of the invisible true Church. Is that a good reason? What saith the Scriptures?
Friday, Feb 3, 2023 : 17:41

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