Behaviour Becoming the House of God.
by L. Pilson
I. THE first epistle to Timothy contains apostolic instructions for the regulating and ordering of "the Churches" of which that at Ephesus was one, and where, too, Timothy was staying; and Paul writes this epistle to him while he was there, that he might know how he ought to behave himself in the House of God, which is "the" Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. iii. 14). He had previously sent him to Corinth, to bring the Church there into remembrance of his ways which were in Christ as he taught everywhere in every Church. Godly order is essential to God's House. The Church at Colosse was in good order and steadfast in the faith, which was a matter of joy to the apostle (Col. ii. 5).
"THE CHURCH OF GOD" AND "THE CHURCHES OF GOD."
We must carefully note the difference between the Church of God viewed universally, and the Churches of God viewed locally and congregationally. In the former aspect, the saints at Ephesus are viewed in the universal relations common to all saints (Eph. ii. 19; iii. 18; vi. 18), and in the latter as builded together for a particular local habitation of God (ii. 22), and also as compacted together for mutual edification (iv. 16). The expression "the Church of God" is applied to the universal Church (1 Cor. x. 32 ; Gal. i. 13; Acts xx. 28), and also to a particular local Church. Paul writes to "the Church of God" at Corinth, and although in the universal application of this designation, there is only one Church of God, yet in the local and congregational application, we have "the Churches of God," implying many such (1 Cor. xi. 16). So again we read "Christ loved the Church," which is the one universal Church (Eph. v. 25). While in 2 Cor. viii. 23, we read of "the Churches," meaning local assemblies of saints.
Now there are certain things that belong to the Church universal that do not belong to the Churches as congregations of saints, and vice versa. It is to "the Churches" generally and to each Church in particular that order and discipline attaches, because each Church is viewed as to its status, and should be as to its character, the pillar and ground of the truth; and therefore is responsible to maintain sound Christian doctrine and godliness of walk, and so must safe-guard itself against all that would obscure or deny this. The seven Churches in Asia were local congregations, and the great point was as to the conduct and doctrines thereof.
When the Church viewed universally is referred to in Scripture in its proper normal nature and status as "the Church," its actual practical state is not considered, but when "the Churches'" are referred to, their practical state is the main thing to be dealt with. Hence so much detail in the epistles to "the Churches" as to their order and behaviour. It is "the Churches" that need to be guarded and safe-guarded, in a way not called for as regards "the Church" (see Matt. xvi. 18). "The Churches" may increase or decrease, but "the Church" abides. It is Christ, too, Who brings sinners by conversion and the gift of the Spirit into the Church universal, and He never casts out those He brings in. On the other hand it is "the Churches" who receive saints, and even these saints so received, may have to be put away from "the Churches," if misconduct calls for it, but that is not putting away from "the Church" into which Christ has brought them. This distinction is essential, and much confusion has arisen and serious mistakes have been made by losing sight of what is a self-evident truth.
Inasmuch as the Churches are the public witness as to Christian doctrine and walk, such Churches must maintain their real status practically as the pillar and ground of the truth.
FELLOWSHIP IN AND WITH "THE CHURCHES" FIXED, NOT FLUID.
The constituents of "the Churches" are such saints only who, residing in the same locality, definitely associate themselves Church-wise in an orderly, fixed and continuous way according to Acts ii. 42. The "sine qua non" of such who so associate themselves in Church fellowship is their willingness to fulfil the responsibilities as well as enjoy the privileges of such fellowship. This clearly is something over and above being converted, as Acts ii. 42 proves. Conversion is individual, but fellowship is the association of the converted in Church relations and responsibilities.
Saints who form any particular local Church fellowship, do so on the mutual understanding that they will, one and all, right loyally submit to, and be governed by, the regulations and commandments of the Lord in regard to such fellowship. And where this is ignored, such fellowship is virtually dissolved, because its fundamental elements and conditions are lacking or refused.
We have, so to speak, the Articles of Church association or fellowship contained in the Scriptures of the New Testament, especially those of the apostle Paul, and each particular Church must be as it were, incorporated according to the terms and conditions of such articles, and any individual saints who ignore such articles or refuse to be bound by them ipso facto, forfeit their title to the Church fellowship based thereon; and inasmuch as the general articles of association must govern such particular Church incorporated thereunder, each such Church is bound thereby, and all administrative Church acts must be within the instructions and powers contained in the articles. All else is invalid. Were each particular Church to make the articles their constant and only guide, reference and authority, instead of the conduct and ways and decisions of other Churches, there would be in the main a unity and harmony of judgment which is sadly lacking now. Paul's "ways in Christ" were the articles of association which he taught and enforced everywhere in every Church (1 Cor. iv. 17, xiv. 37). He admonishes the Hebrew Christians "not to forsake the assembling of themselves together" (Heb. x. 25), as doing so was a drawing back. Such assembling together was the public congregational avowal and confession of their faith in Christ (see Heb. iii. 1; iv. 14; x. 23, 38), and Christians who are slack in this respect should bear this in mind. Saints who neglect the public re-unions of the Church assemblies are in a low spiritual condition, and are certainly on an inclined plane. The assembling of ourselves together and the Breaking of Bread in an orderly and regular way is the public congregational or Church-wise avowal by the disciples of their common and joint confession of and allegiance to Christ (see Acts ii. 42; xx. 7; 1 Cor. x. 15, 17; xi. 26).
Church fellowship, then, must be continuous and regular, fixed, not spasmodic or fluid. Each and all must continue steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers (Acts ii. 42). The Church at Colosse seems to be an example in this respect well worthy of our imitation (Col. ii. 5).
II. "THE CHURCHES" UNDER APOSTOLIC DOCTRINE AND ORDER.
During the apostle Paul's lifetime, "the Churches" were under his personal supervision and care (2 Cor. xi. 28; 2 Thess. ii. 15) either by visitation or epistolary communications. Since his departure, his writings are the sole directory and authority for the Churches, who are safe-guarded, and orderly, just in proportion to their being regulated by the doctrines, and duties detailed in such writings which are indeed the Magna Charta of "the Churches" in perpetuity until the Lord comes (1 Cor. i. 2; iv. 17; xi. 16).
In the nature of things, all Churches constituted according to the apostolic type and pattern will be homogeneous. How important that this should be maintained, yet how sadly it has been departed from.
The Churches of the New Testament were co-ordinate in rank, however, they varied spiritually, intelligently or numerically. Their relation to one another was fraternal, not paternal. The richer Churches were to help the poorer ones according to 2 Cor. viii. 14 and Lev. xxv. 25.
There was, however, no incorporation of Churches with Churches in the early history of the Acts, and hence there are no instructions in regard to this in the epistles. The notion, too, of a diocese of Churches under a Bishop—or of a synod or committee of presbyters or elders, is outside the apostolic order and writings, such things are of pure human invention and innovation.
Where a common danger affected certain Churches contiguous to one another in a district, such as Galatia, Paul wrote a circular epistle to correct them, but where difference of spiritual state and need and specific dangers existed, a suitable apostolic epistle was sent to a particular Church only, such as the epistles to the Church at Corinth, &c, also the epistles to the seven Churches in Asia.
Furthermore, no Churches have power to legislate. All Church laws are already made and are on the Statute Book of the inspired epistles, and remain unrepealed to this day, and any who speak not nor act according to them, have no light to guide them, and must walk in darkness.
The Church at Corinth was in danger of legislating for itself contrary to the custom of the Churches, and Paul demolishes this with a stroke of his apostolic pen. What? came the Word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?" (1 Cor. xiv. 36). What Paul wrote to the Churches were the commandments of the Lord, against which there can be no appeal (v. 37). How different this from Church Canon laws, Rubrics, Decrees and assembly judgments.
The incident contained in Acts xv. was apostolic as much as 1 Cor. xiv. 37. The brethren concurred truly in the same way that Paul sometimes associated some of the brethren with himself in his apostolic epistles to certain Churches (1 Cor. i. 1; 2 Cor. i. 1; Phil. i. 1; Col. i. 1; 1 Thess. i. 1; Gal. i. 2).
III. ADMINISTRATIVE FUNCTIONS OF "THE CHURCHES."
Although the Churches have no legislative qualification or power, they do possess certain administrative functions, but these are restricted by the apostolic epistles, and anything attempted beyond them is inoperative. The jurisdiction, too, of such functions in their exercise is confined within the borders of each particular Church, viewed in its House of God character only, and not as the Body of Christ, since discipline and order attach to the House only, while mutual co-operation of the members attaches to the Church, viewed as the body (see 1 Cor. xii. 14-27 for the latter, and 1 Cor. v. for the former). A particular local Church is viewed both as "God's House" and "Christ's Body." No particular local Church or Churches has any administrative jurisdiction over other like Churches. Putting away, is of an individual in a particular Church, hence the power of putting away is vested in and limited to a particular local Church, and not vested in a federated circle or diocese of Churches.*
* It follows, as a matter of course, as far as the abstract principle is concerned, that, if an individual is considered unfit for fellowship in one place, he is in all. (Ed. R. Elliott)
Furthermore, no particular local Church has even administrative jurisdiction over any one or more of the saints composing it in regard to the soul's invisible and eternal relations to the Lord. The Papal Church has indeed arrogated to herself such jurisdiction, called the power of the keys, claiming thereby authority over the bodies and souls of those in her communion in such wise as to bind or loose their sins in relation to their eternal destiny for heaven or hell.
Neither has any local Church power to create any inward spiritual relation of the saints either to God or to itself, either by Baptism or the Sacrament so called, neither can it vitiate any existing inward relations either by anathema or excommunication, in fact the former, that is, "anathema," is outside the jurisdiction and power of the Church altogether, whether viewed universally or locally. Paul had apostolic power from the Lord to deliver to Satan for disciplinary purposes (1 Cor. iv. 21; 1 Tim. i. 20); and in the case referred to in 1 Cor. v. 4, it was the Lord's power in the apostle, exercised concurrently with the Church, that gave effect to this form of discipline. No Church can claim or exercise this power, that is, delivering to Satan, now that she lacks the personal presence of the apostles. Paul also would pronounce anathema on the perverters of the Gospel (Gal. i. 7, 9); but this power has not been delegated to the Churches nor to individuals by the Lord or by His apostles.
The utmost administrative act vested in every local assembly is (1), to receive into its external fellowship or association those who can give reasonable evidence that they have been received by the Lord, and (2), to refuse such external fellowship to any applicants who cannot so satisfy the Church with whom fellowship is desired; and (3), to reject from such external fellowship any whom scripture enjoins should be so rejected, but in neither of the foregoing acts is there any absolute pronouncement as to the real spiritual relations of such to the Lord, Who alone can be final judge in such matters (2 Tim. ii. 19).
External Church fellowship is based upon the mutual recognition of the necessary antecedent possession and enjoyment of the spiritual relations to Christ and His people common to all saints (1 Cor. i. 2). Fellowship with the Churches assumes that such relations already exist. Experience, however, teaches us that it is possible for some to be externally in the fellowship of the Churches who are not truly in the Church of God, and on the other hand, there are not a few who certainly possess these spiritual relations and are truly in the Church of God, but who are not found in "the Churches of the saints." These, too, would stoutly maintain that the former class ought not to be in the Churches, and these on the other hand would say that the others ought to be in "the Churches."*
* It is well to note, in view of what some teach, that this fellowship with a local Church is not a different or even an additional fellowship to that which belongs to all Christians as members of "one body." The local is but the expression of the universal. (Ed.)
QUALIFICATIONS AND LIMITATIONS AS TO FELLOWSHIP WITH "THE CHURCHES."
The fundamental qualification is, as already stated, the vital relation to Christ—"them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. i., 1, 2). This must be antecedent to real fellowship with the Churches. Added to this, however, there must be the qualification of a godly life coupled with sound doctrine. Behaviour befitting the House of God in harmony with the true nature of that House as being "the Pillar and Base of the Truth."
Paul's apostleship was according to the faith of God's Elect and the acknowledging the truth which is after godliness (Titus i. 1); and this is what he taught everywhere in every Church (1 Cor. iv. 17). So that true Churches should be in moral and spiritual accord with the nature and character of such apostleship.
The maintaining the idea that being "in Christ" is the only qualification scripture requires for reception into the fellowship of "the Churches" is a mistake, because if that were so, those so received on that ground only would have to be retained also, no matter what their practical life or doctrines might be, and this would necessarily evade all discipline in the House of God (Ps. lxxxix. 7; xciii. 5).
The creeping into the Churches of certain men unawares (Jude 4) and the bringing into the Churches "false brethren" unawares (Gal. ii. 4) indicates that the doors of the Churches were well guarded so as to prevent as far as possible any getting in who ought not. These "creepers" could only get in or be brought in by stealth under cover of being true disciples. So Peter also refers to false teachers among "the Churches" who being there would privily introduce damnable heresies (2 Peter ii. 1). And their doing it "privily" is proof that had they done it publicly they would have been detected and checked. The super-added qualifications for external fellowship with the Churches are scripturally defined as godly walk, and soundness of doctrine, since "the Churches" are the pillar and base of the truth. The normal conditions of fellowship, Church-wise, are as stated in Acts ii. 42, and are supplemental to conversion. Such conditions were continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers. Three things they continued in, (1) apostolic doctrine and fellowship; (2) breaking of bread, i.e., the external expression of such fellowship (1 Cor. x. 16, 17); and (3) prayers; i.e., all spiritual devotions towards God as worshippers. (Compare Luke i. 6; ii. 36, 37). Paul writes in a commendatory way to and of those Churches who kept the ordinances he delivered to them, among which the Lord's Supper was a leading one (1 Cor. xi. 2, 23; 2 Thess. ii. 15); and where there was neglect or abuse, or departure from these, he reproves and admonishes (1 Cor. iv. 21; xi. 17-19).
Now the due insistence upon these Scriptural Church fellowship qualifications, conditions and limitations, must not be viewed as narrowness or sectarianism, because such things are essential to the very being, both of the Church of God and of the Churches of God as the pillar and ground of the truth. Doctrinal foundations must never be severed from the moral superstructure built upon them of godliness of walk (1 Cor. iii. 10-15), and this may be easily distinguished from mere sectarian elements or weaknesses in the faith that sadly divide the true from the true. "Great is the mystery of godliness." "God was manifest in the flesh" (what a contrast to sin being manifest in the flesh), "justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1 Tim. iii. 16). Christ Himself, so manifested, embodies, and is, the mystery of Godliness. He is the sum total of all ethics. He is the complete doctrinal and moral code of the faith of God's Elect (Titus i. 1), and the godliness of saints individually as well as of the Churches collectively, is inseparably connected and interwoven with and proceeds from the vital possession and true confession of the Christ of God (John i. 14, 16; Col. ii. 9, 10).
The Christian faith therefore includes (1), all that is befitting to man as a creature of God in his relation to God as his Creator (1 Tim. iv. 1-6); and (2), all that concerns man as a fallen and sinful creature in his relation to God as a Saviour God, as revealed in the Gospel of God's Son manifest in flesh (Titus ii. 11-13). To impugn or deny either of these is to depart from the faith (1 Tim. iv. 1). They are so organically connected as to be inseparable. Hence, a Christian who does not provide for his own, which as a mere man he ought to do, "denies the faith" (1 Tim. v. 8), and a Christian servant who does not purloin, a thing a mere man ought not to do, thereby "adorns the doctrine of God our Saviour" (Titus ii. 10). The Church, too, is God's Building (1 Cor. iii. 9). The Churches, indeed, are the Churches of God, because God dwells there and is worshipped there as the living and true God—the Creator. They are likewise the Churches of Christ, because the Christ of God—the Saviour of the world (John iv. 42), is owned there; and they are also the Churches of the saints, because holiness of walk is maintained there. So we read of the Church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. i. 9, 10) "they turned to God from idols," and thus their proper attitude to God was recovered so that they worshipped the living and true God—and there they were waiting for God's Son from heaven, even Jesus, their deliverer from the wrath to come, which was the recognition of their sin, and their need of redemption.
In view of the present broken up and dislocated condition of things in the professing Church, some may ask, is it possible or practicable to have Churches after the New Testament order at the present time? If not, then all Churches lack Scripture authority and are at best of human organization and constitution. Some adopting this view seek refuge and solace in individualism, and others again are satisfied with sectarianism, both of which are lacking Scripture recognition.
The epistles of Paul are addressed to the Churches of the New Testament, and if we have outlived their application, we have no such Churches, and are therefore without chart or compass to guide us, and that too at a time when we most need guidance. These epistles were written to actually existing Churches, and not certainly written to the sects, saving to condemn them.
The advocates of individualism can have no authority for meeting together, because any meetings of such would lack a Scriptural Church status, and so are devoid of helm, chart, and compass also. Discipline could not be exercised or insisted on, and confusion and anarchy must ultimately prevail. Cohesion could not subsist for long.
No doubt the existing state of things is deplorable, and is a loud call to repent, and with it seek to do the first works, which means a return to the original type of the Churches. This is exemplified in the return of Israel from Babylon, who were careful to read the Scriptures, and in a self-judged spirit, endeavoured to order their congregational relations according to the manner (Ezra iii. 2; Neh. viii. 4). So Malachi iv. 4 enjoins the remembrance of the Law of Moses, even at that late and ruinous period of Israel's history. Plainly shewing that they at least had not outlived the Law of Moses, and as an example, we have Zacharias and Elizabeth, who were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke i. 6). Surely if these two faithful ones could do this in their day, ought we to do less in our day?
Reviewing the present fallen down and shattered state of things, surely there must be a cause that has produced it, and that cause is not far to seek. We have failed to keep Christ Himself before us, and in place of this, we have tried to exemplify the One Body among ourselves as an objective, with the result that is painfully patent to all. The Staff "Beauty" was broken because Israel failed in their covenant relation to the Lord, and then the breaking of the Staff "Bands" soon followed—which indicated the ensuing dissolution of the brotherhood between the tribes. The binding of brethren together depends upon their being bound to the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord encourages "the poor of the flock," saying, "I will feed (or shepherd) the flock of slaughter" (viewing these as slaughtered by their oppressing brethren) such as we have in Zephaniah iii. 19. These afflicted ones—these "solitary" ones the Lord would set in families (Psalm lxviii. 6). Sheep are gregarious, they must go in flocks, formed up into "gatherings" or churches, without assuming to be anything, and such Churches will seek to be guided only by the Holy Scriptures as to their constitution and order, and will endeavour to carry out Jude 20-25, which will serve them, and safe-guard them from the baneful influences that abound on all hands, and then Acts ix. 31 will be made good.
If we take Scripture as our guide, we shall find that true edification depends upon saints acting on Scriptural lines according to proper Church order and constitution. (See Acts ii. 42; iv. 23; ix. 26, 28, 31; xi. 26; xiii. 1, 2; xiv. 26-28; xv. 22; xx. 7; 1 Cor. v. 4; xi. 17-20; xiv. 4, 5, 19, 23-35; Heb. x. 25). There is danger of this being disorganized or displaced or over-ridden by an over-doing of Conferences which possess no proper Church status or character, hence the apostolic rules applicable to the Churches cannot be applied to Conferences, and therefore cannot have the moral weight that belongs to the Churches, nor command the unqualified allegiance and fellowship of the saints. The idea of the Lord by His Spirit directing or controlling for the time being is effectually excluded, yea, so much so, that some of these conference meetings are under the control of a leader. Experience ought by this time to have taught us that it is not quantity nor even quality in itself that truly comforts and satisfies, but rather what really has the unctuous power of the present Spirit, Who if ungrieved and unquenched, will surely glorify Christ to the true comforting and edifying of the saints.
Concurrently with this, there has been and is a growing desire to hear great teachers, popular preachers, and noted evangelists, who often placard their own names to their missions in a most conspicuous and sometimes offensive way, often disfiguring their bills with portraits of themselves, &c, &c. If this is not glorying in men, what is? This kind of thing has done immense damage to the simple and ordinary and unassuming Gospel preachings on ordinary lines.
Some saints, too, only present themselves occasionally at the Breaking of Bread. They are never seen at a meeting for prayer nor at a Bible reading, nor even at a Gospel meeting. Such would not be reckoned by Paul in his day as my "helpers in Christ Jesus" (Rom. xvi. 3).
Now where this state of things dominates, there is not the slightest hope of the prosperity of any Church-gathering of saints. A sorrowful contrast to Acts ii. 42, where we read of the first Church at Jerusalem, "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers." This exemplifies how we "ought to behave ourselves in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." This ought to be true of each particular local Church, and where the divine conditions are observed divine results will surely follow. L. P.