RECOVERY TO THE TRUTH
What is its Basis ?
The truth of God was never entrusted to any church, denomination, sect or organised group of persons of any kind. Those who are searching for some approved society of devout Christians whom they can join are unlikely by such means to discover the truth, for their objective is misguided. The truth of God is embodied in the sacred scriptures, whence the Holy Spirit reveals the living words of God to the individual. It is through faithful individuals that the truth has been promoted and borne witness to; it is by the failure of individuals that the testimony of the truth has been lost: it is through the concern of individuals that the truth has been and will be recovered.
The pattern for the faith of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and for his manner of life, both personally and relative to others of like faith, is undoubtedly to be found in the writings of the New Testament. It is evident, however, that that pattern has been lost - even if it ever was fully embraced - during the course of the history of Christianity from New Testament times onward. The truth as it was understood and practised within what we now call the early Christian church was gradually eroded both by the assimilation of pagan rites and by the stultifying influence of creeds and dogmas introduced, from the best of human motives, to counter so-called heresies, these latter often being only commendable attempts to elucidate the truth which did not fully succeed. Thus evolved that system known as Christendom, particularly exemplified in the Roman Catholic Church, with its undeniable claim to direct descent from primitive Christianity, but characterising also the entire range of established and dissenting ecclesiastical organisations.
The Reformation was a reaction against the more serious errors of Romanism, rather than a search for primitive truth. So from the Protestant establishment in turn there emerged Non-Conformist sects, likewise merely modifying ecclesiastical tradition instead of returning to the revealed biblical truth applying to the times - though certainly the Puritans went further than most in the right direction. For it is a sad and sober fact that most Christians are not minded to earnestly seek for the truth; they merely want to find a position of undisturbed equilibrium free from the constant challenge that such an active quest most certainly involves.
The 19th and 20th Centuries have seen the emergence from among evangelical Christians of two quite distinct movements each claiming to be returning to New Testament principles, both now similarly fragmented into divisions and parties. These are the Plymouth Brethren on the one hand, and the Pentecostalists, the younger movement, on the other. Numbered among them undoubtedly are devout people purchased by the Saviour's blood, chosen by grace and beloved of God the Father; yet to the extent that they believe their communal activities to be the manifest working of the Holy Spirit they are deluded by the Deceiver, for these are no more than human in character, so partaking of human weakness. No organised religious society to-day can claim a divine basis; all have human origins, hut are not thereby to be condemned or classed as worthless.
Believers in both these movements would equally insist that their beliefs and practices are biblically based ; and so, of course, they are, if one takes the liberty of appropriating (or rather misappropriating) the scripture passages of one's choice, disregarding their contexts and not recognising the present purpose of God in His administration of grace. It will become apparent that the Bible really does not hold the place of absolute authority for any of these Christians by challenging one of them with the declarations of Scripture. This indeed is a startling assertion, but it should be put to the test. Most likely the standard interpretation of an acknowledged teacher, or the so-called evidence of subjective experience, will be adduced to bolster ideas which could not be sustained by Scripture alone. This is to relegate the Bible to a place of secondary authority. It differs not at all from Rome which holds the tradition of 'The Church' to be the authoritative interpreter of the Bible.
The ancient saying of Solomon that "there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death", is one that aptly relates to this consideration. There is that which "seems right to a man ", but which is derived from human feelings, and is deceptive. It seems right to accept the opinions and judgment a man whose ministry is blessed of God, but that is not the way of faith. God uses men who are inherently fallible: for how else could He use anyone in His service ? It has been a master stroke of the Arch-Deceiver to persuade Christians that the voice of the Holy Spirit to-day comes through the utterances of any man. This has deluded some Brethren in one way, and most Pentecostalists in another. The Spirit's voice emanates only from the very letter of the inspired writings, and a ministry of the truth is seen to be so only by virtue of its basis in the written Word of God. The appropriation of the truth demands the individuals active faith in Scripture; for acceptance of the minister's message of itself only promotes dogma, not truth. Faith in the written Word IS faith in the Holy Spirit.
The fundamental error of Brethren, indeed of many other evangelicals also, has been to accord to any human vessel an authority above or (what is more subtle) merely alongside that of the sacred writings. Yet it was one of them, C.H. Mackintosh who, in his Notes on Numbers, wrote on p.6 - "If God's Word is not sufficient without human interpretation, then it cannot be God's Word at all - - - There is no neutral ground in reference to this question. Has God given us a revelation ? Infidelity says, 'No'. Superstition (an undoubted allusion by C.H.M. to Rome) says, 'Yes', but you cannot understand it without human authority". Earlier, D'Aubigne had written on p.171 of Vol.2 of his History of the Reformation - "To attribute more to the word of man than to the Word of God was, in fact, the heresy of montanists, as it is still that of the pope and of all who place the Church's hierarchical authority, or the inward suggestions of mysticism, above the positive declarations of holy Writ".
The key to the New Testament, and therefore to the Truth of God, lies in discerning that the historical period covered by the Acts was a unique and distinct stage in God's dealing with His covenanted people, the remnant House of Judah, that is the Jews. It is widely supposed that Luke's second treatise sets out the pattern of social life, the form of witness and association with others, and the outline of teaching ideally to be embraced by Christians to-day; but this supposition is unsound and doubly violates the truth. Not only is the Pauline message for our present times obscured, but the real import of the Acts Period is not discerned as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy and marking the advent of the Kingdom of the Heavens, which both John the Baptist and the Teacher from Nazareth had heralded to Jewish hearers as being at hand.
"Back to Pentecost" is a slogan that the sensual believer, swayed by his feelings and experiences, may find appealing. But the spiritual man, in contrast with the soulish or sensual man, will discern the false note in this popular catch-phrase. For what kind of intelligence is it that requires Gentiles to return to that which was never theirs, namely, Israel's Feast of Weeks ?
As a devout Jew, the keeping of the Feast of Pentecost at Jerusalem was a sacred duty for the Apostle Paul during the Acts Period. (Acts 20:16. ). At this time Paul's preaching and ministry were always "to the Jew first", and of that which he told the Ephesian elders at that time was "all the counsel of God", he could soon afterwards claim was "nothing else than those things which both the prophets and Moses have said should happen". The Pauline teaching during the Acts Period, with its emphasis on the New Covenant, is embodied in the epistles written in his name in those days, viz. Galations, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans and Hebrews. Significantly they comprise a co-related set of seven.
The Acts Period is fundamentally concerned with providing evidential signs to the Jews, as a mediatorial nation, and Gentiles are introduced solely "to provoke them to jealousy". Thus the signs of speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, raising of the dead and the operation of summary judgment against offenders characterise those days of testimony to the House of Judah. The book of Acts virtually opens with the proclamation by Peter of Jesus as the Christ, and his offer of "this salvation" to the Jews at Jerusalem; the book closes with the final rejection by the Jews at Rome of the offered Salvation and with Paul's proclamation that "this salvation" is sent to the nations.
The rejection of God's salvation by the Jews at Rome, and the consequent disowning by Jehovah of the House of Judah, left a hiatus in the prophetic programme unforeseen by the Apostles and as to which the prophets were silent. All generations of men, and even all the created spirit beings, were entirely in the dark as to the Divine Purpose in such an eventuality, for it was a secret "hidden in God". The making known of this secret purpose or mystery was a commission given to Paul, and to him only, by means of a special grace (added to that grace previously given him as to the Gospel ) so as "to enlighten all (i.e. nations) as to what is the administration of the mystery". Briefly, the dispensation of the secret, the administration of grace, under which we to-day still find ourselves, came into being only after the dismissal by their God of the people of the Old and the New Covenants at Acts 28. 28.. In the few years yet remaining to Paul following this momentous event his subsequent seven epistles were penned to set forth the new revelation of truth ~ truth which is relevant to the times in which we now live.
The purpose of God pertaining to the Kingdom of the Heavens that was in effect during the Acts was interrupted, rather than ended, and it will be again in operation when the time comes for it to proceed to its goal. Meanwhile, no longer has the Jew any priority; no longer are there miraculous signs given of God; no longer is the governmental judgment of God active, as it had been for Ananias and Sapphira : "for the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared", says Paul to Titus. It is not Gentiles, but all nations universally that God is now dealing with in grace, and the status or the Jew is neither higher nor lower than that of other men. Paul had advocated celibacy during the Acts Period, but this is now reversed, the marriage of one man to one woman being presented as the ideal state, even a requirement as in Titus 1:6.
The primary cause of failure to get a clear perception of the truth of God is the misplacing of the book of Acts ; but a secondary factor arises from the meanings associated with biblical words. It must be admitted that we all are prone to attach to theological words a meaning based on sentiment or tradition, and then to import such a meaning into scripture, blurring the truth still further by texts taken out of context. This practice tends to deceive the reader of scripture as to exactly what the Word of God states. Words that have particularly suffered in this way are those commonly translated "church" and "body". For there - is no single precise meaning for either word except as governed by or coloured by the context, a fact which is universally true of all Bible words.
The ever looming shadow of the Catholic Church has continued to influence the thinking, no doubt unwittingly, of those rejecting its more blatant principles, even from the time of the Reformation and right on to the, Evangelicalism of to-day. The idea of THE CHURCH commonly accepted is borrowed from Christendom, even if it is adapted to scripture, and such importing of a traditional meaning from outside into a biblical word leads to distortion or loss of the truth of God. The word Assembly is not a fully adequate substitute for Church as representing the Greek ekklEsia (and its Hebrew equivalent QAHAL) which basically means a group of persons called out or summoned by the voice of one in authority to effect a service, duty or witness. The rather more neutral word from the Latin, Ecclesia, or 'out-calling' which is a transliteration, may be preferred. But an 'out-calling' need not be ecclesiastical ; it can be in a military context as in Gen. 49:6.; it can have a political connotation as in Acts 19:41. In scripture then, a specific 'out-calling' requires to be defined by context or terminology, as invariably it is.
Now, "The church of God" is a defined meaningful scriptural term not to be haphazardly applied at the whim of the reader, for it designated the local Assembly of Christian brethren, or disciples, in a given city during the Acts Period. There is no valid scriptural basis for any company of persons nowadays to appropriate either term to themselves. It should be understood that in those days there was no concept of a single universal church or assembly; the church of God that Paul had once persecuted was that of Jerusalem, one of the churches of Judea. Then Paul had been arrested by grace and become the bondslave of the Master, "then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria" Acts 9:31. There is no reason to reject the plural reading here of the Received Greek Text, as it fits the facts of Scripture in the context of the Acts Period. Later editors have been influenced by the singular "church" in the three notable Codices, which may well reflect the emerging philosophy of the catholicity of the church of the 4th Century.
In his writings during the Acts Period the Apostle Paul speaks of "the churches of Judea", "the churches of the Gentiles", "the churches of Galatia", and notably does he address himself "unto the church of God which is at Corinth". Then, each church in its locality set forth a united witness to its own community of what, the Holy Spirit was doing visibly. One of the formative theologians of the Brethren movement, John Nelson Darby (who we shall later see came near to apprehending the uniqueness of the Acts Period), in seeking to solve his difficulties in trying to relate Corinthian and Ephesian teaching, propounded the theory of a public failure of a one time perfect visible catholic church, now supposed to be in ruins. But, as has been indicated, a single universal Church, either publicly seen or mystical, was no part of the revelation of God during the Acts Period. So what never had any existence, could never have failed !
With the closing of the Acts Period the interruption of God's active purpose through His chosen race meant the cessation of the Holy Spirit's operations focused in local assemblies associated with cities. It follows that, from the divine point of view, "the church of God" at Antioch, or at Corinth, or anywhere else, ceased to exist as such forthwith. If this is difficult to grasp it will be because the meaning of ekklEsia is wrongly conceived. These churches of God had no more reality after this time than did that "assembly" in Acts 19:41 after it had been "dismissed" by the Ephesian townclerk. This made no difference to the promise of life in Christ for these believers, but it did affect their collective position and the character of their testimony. To-day there is no corporate witness of God to mankind, not because it has failed but because it is not in His purpose for there to be one. But this by no means precludes the testimony of individuals to their fellow men now, or during the Acts, or even in O.T. times.
A group of believers now who meet for mutual Christian activity can claim no Divinely recognised unity or status, and their gathering is merely a convenient human arrangement; for however spiritually beneficial their fellowship, it still does not become an outcalling of God. The designation of ecclesia however, is rightly applicable to a to a household dedicated to the Will of God, as in the instances of Nymphas and of Philemon. [incomplete]
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