WHAT IS WRONG WITH EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN ?
A review by one reared among them
It was at the home of one of the leading brothers that a statement was made that there were only two truly universal Christian bodies - the Roman Catholic Church and "our Brethren". No doubt he felt this was something of merit; but In fact It points to just what is wrong with Exclusive Brethren - and anyone judging the tree by Its fruits must admit something is wrong.
The Reformation left In place much more of Romanism than was discarded; and unwittingly the various denominations and non-conformist sects continue to promote its error in teaching and hymns. The removal of Transubstantiation from the Mass did not turn error into truth; It was still the Mass when renamed the Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Those four pioneers of the Brethren Movement who met In Dublin 170 years ago sought to partake of what was really the Mass, even though simplified. They were not exercised to test from Scripture its validity, which they took for granted. Their concern was only to disallow celebration by an ordained priest, since they claimed all believers are priests - a claims that is disputable,
Calling a simple form of the Mass the "breaking of bread" does not turn it into a sound Bible teaching; it only misuses a common idiom for taking a meal, which the disciples did every day, not once a week. No doubt they did what the Lord had asked them to do, as oft as they did It, which was once a year at the Passover, a feast for those to whom belonged the Covenants, both Old and New.
It is clear that Darby regarded the Catholic Church as the false pattern of what the true Church should have been; and this obsession lay behind how he interpreted Scripture, and also how Exclusivism developed over the years. It is to be found in the early ministry of James Taylor when he asserted Salvation was to be found only within the Assembly, which is a restated RC doctrine. "The fallacy of Mr Darby's reasoning", wrote G.H.Lang on p.273 of his biography of A.N.Groves, "began in his major premise, that there ever was a corporate visible system of Christianity". Exactly ! There has been no public failure of what had never existed. In brief, the Exclusive error arises from attempting to fuse together the Pauline teaching of first Corinthians with that of Ephesians, two Epistles applying to different settings and times.
Was there never a voice raised to correct this error ? Yes, there was; It was that of C.H.Mackintosh, well known as writing on the Pentateuch. In 1850 he wrote a study on The Life and Times of Elijah, to which he appended an epilogue entitled "Concluding Remarks on the Doctrine of the Church". It clearly has little to do with Elijah, but was a subject so pressing on his spirit that he felt he had to express it somewhere. In closing he states, "I am deeply conscious of how feebly and incoherently I have developed what I have in mind concerning the doctrine of the church, but I have no doubt of its real importance, and feel assured that as the time draws near much light will be communicated to believers about It". It is unknown if his testimony was ever responded to by Brethren; but much light certainty has been given since to believers about it, even if not to Brethren.
What CHM plainly saw, and what JND failed to see, was the far reaching effect of Paul's dismissal of the Jews at Rome at the end of Acts, both as to what was thereby terminated and what was thereafter to be introduced. It marked the setting aside of the House of Judah - as the House of Israel had been a few centuries before; the prospect of the emerging Kingdom of Heaven was curtailed; the miraculous spiritual gifts ceased; the flow of the Weeks of Daniel was interrupted; and the early apostles' teaching, which Included Paul's, became largely inapplicable to the ongoing situation.
Following this unforeseen and momentous event at Acts 28.28. we depend entirety on the subsequent seven epistles of Paul for knowledge and teaching of what was now to be. Neither the OT nor the early NT writings provide any clue.
Paul tells us the hiatus in the seventy weeks due to the stopping of the prophetic clock is to be occupied by an administration (dispensation) of the fulness (fitting out) of the times (seasons) Eph.1.10.; called also "God's dispensation which is in faith" lTim.1.4.; and "the administration of the grace of God" Eph.3.2...or "the administration of the mystery" Eph.3.9.. Cot.1.25-26.
The notion of there being a series of successive dispensations has been held by theologians over the centuries, and because of this concept it has been too readily assumed that Eph.1.10. refers to some future event. That is to deny that Christ's exaltation has taken place, which Scripture affirms. A universal acknowledgement of that supremacy has yet to occur, of course. In fact there is one and only one dispensation of God mentioned in Scripture - the one in which we now find ourselves. Yet the word oikonomia can have the more restricted sense of "stewardship" as In Luke 16 and lCor.9.17..
"The Assembly of God" is/was a scriptural term for one associated with a city, as at Corinth; and it was the Assembly of God at Jerusalem that Paul persecuted. The designation never then applied to any other setting, and since then none have existed - note that Paul never addressed later letters to The Assembly of God. The plural "assemblies" In Acts 9.31. Is correct.
The AV and many other versions give 1Tim.3.l5. as "the church? of the living God". This is wrong: It should read "how to conduct thyself in a house of God (or godly household), which is an ecclesia of a living God, a pillar and base of the truth." Such Is the only category of ecclesia visible to and witnessing to mankind in this administration of grace to-day.
The word "assembly" is not ideal to translate ekklEsia, because the convening of its members need not be an essential feature. Such members are called out to perform a duty, service or witness, just as in the case of a jury. These members acquire no added status by belonging to an ecclesia; the ecclesia (or jury) it is that acquires its dignity from its members.
A principal feature of the Administration of the Mystery Is that Christ Is "head of the body, the ecclesia" Col.1.18,24..Eph.l.22.,4.15/16. Is this body visible or invisible? Darby and his followers arrived at a wrong conclusion on this point. Yes, an ecclesia is aways visible to those to whom its witness is directed. The ecclesia which is the body of Christ is unseen by the world of humanity because its testimony is to angelic beings, those principalities and powers among the heavenlies, the realm over above which Christ has been exalted, Eph.3.10. The heavenlies are not places but beings.
Though there is a close relationship between them, the Mystery of the Christ, also called the Mystery of the gospel, requires to be distinguished from the Mystery uniquely committed to Paul. The former had been known in a limited way previously but "as to which silence has been kept" In eonian times. Rom. 16.25., and in other generations had "not been made known to the sons of men as (= to the same extent) it has now been revealed" [the sons of God were aware of it] Eph.3.5/6/7.; the latter Mystery was unknown to both the sons of men and the sons of God, -since It had been "hidden away from the Eons In God" Eph.3.9., and again, "hidden from Eons (sons of God) and from generations (sons of men) but has now been manifest to his saints" Col.1.26.
It is of importance to recognise that at Acts 28.28. the salvation of God was sent not to gentiles but to the nations, so not excluding any Jew. It needs to be noted also that Eph.3.6. deals not with Jews and Gentiles but all of the nations, the insertion of [they who are of] by JND is not needed.
This then is the testimony of one, who is both a searcher for and a finder of the truth. No new apostolic teacher has to be followed, nor is there any fresh independent light from the Holy Spirit. The truth is just where it has always been, complete in the written Word of God, accessible by faith and confirmed to the reader by the Holy Spirit.
May all who read these lines discover "the way of God more exactly"
Maurice Lloyd, Glasgow, 1999
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