THE CHURCH OF GOD
by Ronald D. Lesley
This work is based on the book "The Assembly of God, or The All Sufficiency of The Name of Jesus" by C. H. Mackintosh.
IN this day almost every new idea becomes the center or focus point of some new Christian movement or organization. We must have divinely formed convictions as to what the Church of God really is. We live in a time of unusual mental and spiritual activity. Not every spirit is of God. We must try the spirits whether they are of God. (1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.) Therefore, we need urgent, calm, and prayerful study of the word of God to establish Truth.
The Word, blessed be its Author, is the Rock amid the ocean of religious human thought. There it stands, the Bible, unmoved, withstanding the raging of the storm and the ceaseless lashing of the waves of philosophy, religion and evil. And not only does stand unmoved itself, but it imparts its own stability to all who simply take their stand upon it by faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. What a mercy to make one's escape from the heaving and tossing of the stormy ocean, and find a calm resting place on that everlasting Rock of Ages.
Truly , this is a mercy from God. Were it not that we have the Word of God preserved and inspired where should we be? Whither should we go? What should we do? What darkness! What confusion! What perplexity! Without the Bible, God's Word we have no hope.
From pulpits voices fall upon the ear, and each voice seems to speak with such authority. If one is not well taught and grounded in the Word, there is great danger of being drawn away, or, at least, sadly unhinged from the true foundation of Jesus Christ and His Church. One man will tell you that this is right; another will tell you that is right; a third will tell you that everything is right; and a fourth will tell you that nothing is right. With reference to the question of church position, you will meet with some who go here; some who go there; some who go everywhere; and some who go nowhere.
What is one to do? All cannot possibly be right. And yet, surely, there is right. It cannot be that we are compelled to live in the gray of the mixed error of men. There is a "path" that be of God. A path that God desires us to stay upon and walk while in this world. This path is blessed of God. There no "fowl" knoweth it, and the vulture's eye hath not seen it. The lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. This "path" is safe and blessed.
Let us, therefore, in the fear of the Lord and in the light of His infallible truth, in humble dependence upon the teaching of the Holy Spirit, proceed to the examination of the Church. May we have grace to abandon all confidence in our own thoughts, and the thoughts of others, so that we may heartily and honestly yield ourselves up to be taught only of God's Word by the Holy Spirit.
I. The FACT. There is a Church of the living God on this Earth.
The word, Church, comes from two Greek words "kuriakon" meaning "the house of the Lord," found in Mat.18:17 and the word "ekklesia" meaning "assembly."
The Church is not of man's invention. Nor is the Church of mere human organization such as the Greek Orthodox Church; the Roman Catholic Church ; the Church of England; the Church of Scotland; or to any of the various protestant systems which have sprung from these. These systems were framed and fashioned by man s hand, and carried on by man's resources. The Church to which I refer is that assembly which is gathered by God the Holy Ghost, round the person of God the Son, to worship and hold fellowship with God the Father founded upon the foundation of the Word, the Bible.
Dogma, tradition, and organization will certainly grow as we study and are taught by the Holy Spirit from His word. But one thing must be... Jesus Christ is the center and His word the final authority. To recognize God's assembly, we must be exclusively taught by God's Word, and led by God's Spirit. This is true of God's assembly, His individual children.
If we are in any wise, governed by the spirit of the world; if we desire to exalt man; if we seek to commend ourselves to the thoughts of men; we will not succeed in establishing God's Church.
If we only desire to be in an assembly where God's Word is preached and where people of God are found, this can be done easily. But if we desire to meet with Him Who is all together lovely, Who is Christ Jesus the Lord, we must meet for His name sake alone.
Finally, if we merely aim at doing all the good we can, without any question as to how we do it; if Perfas aut nefas, "right or wrong," be our motto in whatever we undertake; if we are prepared to reverse those weighty words of Samuel, and say that, "To sacrifice is better than to obey, and the fat of rams better than to hearken," then it is worse than vain for us to pursue our search for the Church of God, inasmuch as that assembly can only be discovered and approved by one who has been taught to flee from the thousand flowery pathways of human expediency, and to submit his conscience, his heart, his understanding, his whole moral being to the supreme authority of "Thus saith the Lord."
In one word, then, the obedient disciple knows that there is such a thing as God's Church. This believing disciple also knows that he is enabled, through the grace of God, to understand what is a true expression of the Church. The sincere student of Scripture knows, full well, the difference between that which is founded, formed, and governed by the wisdom, and the will of God. That True Church is gathered around, and governed by Christ the Lord. How vast is the difference between that which is of man and that which is of God!
We must ask for the Scripture proofs of our fact that there is such a thing on the earth as the Church of God, and we shall furnish these facts. Without the authority of the Word of God, all statements are utterly valueless. What, therefore, does the Scripture say?
Our first proof shall be Matthew 16.
Here our blessed Lord suggests His purpose is to build His Church. And HE sets forth the true foundation of that assembly, namely, "Christ, the Son of the living God." This is an all-important point in our pursuit of Truth. The building is founded on the Rock, and that Rock is not the poor failing, stumbling, erring Peter, but CHRIST, the eternal Son of the living God. Every stone in that building partakes of that Rock Christ Jesus. His life given to it is victorious over all the power of the enemy, and is indestructible.
Again, in Matthew's Gospel, we come to an equally familiar passage:
It is here introduced merely as a link in the chain of Scripture evidence of the fact that there is such a thing as the Church (assembly) of God on the earth. This assembly is not a name, a form, a pretence, an assumption. It is a divine reality. the Church is an institution of God, possessing His seal and sanction. This assembly may consist of only "two or three@ in any particular place. Two or three isthe smallest number of a congregation. But if these two or three are gathered in Jesus' name He is in the midst. God is there in presence.
Now, we are not to be scared away from the truth on this subject, by the fact that the church of Rome has attempted to base her monstrous pretensions on the two passages which we have just quoted. That church is not Godís assembly, built on the Rock Christ, and gathered in the name of Jesus. It is a human apostasy, founded on a failing mortal, and governed by the traditions and doctrines of men. We must not, therefore, suffer ourselves to be deprived of Godís reality by reason of Satanís counterfeit. God has His assembly on the earth, and we are responsible to confess the truth of it, and to be a practical expression of it. This may be difficult, in a day of confusion like the present. It will demand a single eye,a subject will, a mortified mind. But let the reader be assured of this, that it is his privilege to possess as divine certainty as to what is a true expression of the assembly of God, as surely as the truth concerning his own salvation through the blood of the Lamb is a fact. I should not be content to go on for an hour without the assurance that I am, in the spirit and principle, associated with those whose ground of gathering is purely their common membership in the Church of Jesus Christ. And that assembly which consists of all "born again" members, the saints.
We should not be satisfied to just be in an assembly with some born again saints, where the gospel is preached, and the ordinances are administered, but we must meet with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. He should always be in our midst.
Sectarian or denominational gathering should not be the basis of our meeting. It must be Christ and His name. It must be His presence that is preeminent.
If God has an assembly Cand Scripture says He has C then let me be with those who maintain its principles, and nowhere else. It is not a matter of number or entertainment but Truth and His presence that is the center and foundation for our gathering. Remember the gathering can be two or three for His names sake.
It may sound and seem like liberality to be ready to sanction and go with everything and everybody. It may appear very easy and very pleasant to be in a place A where everybodyís will is indulged, and nobodyís conscience is exercised C where we may hold what we like, and say what we like, and do what we like, and go where we like. All this may seem very delightful C very plausible C very popular C very attractive; but oh !!! it will be barrenness and bitterness in the end. In the day of the Lord, it will assuredly be burnt up as so much wood, hay, and stubble, that cannot stand the action of His judgment,
In the Acts of the Apostles, or rather, the Acts of the Holy Ghost, we find the assembly formally set up. A passage or two will suffice:
Such was the original, simple apostolic order. When a person was converted, he thereby belonged to the assembly and took his place in it: there was no difficulty in the matter, there were no sects or parties, each claiming to be considered a church, a cause, or an interest. There was just the one thing, and that was the assembly of Christ. Where He dwelt, acted, and ruled. It was not a system formed according to the will, the judgment, or even the conscience of man. Man had not, as yet, entered upon the business of church-making or building. This was Godís work. It was just as exclusively Godís province and prerogative to baptize the saved into one body by one Spirit, as to save the scattered.
When a person was converted, he thereby belonged to the assembly and took his place in it. What God had cleansed was sufficient. There was no difficulty in the matter, there were no sects or parties, each claiming to be considered a church, a cause, or an interest.
There is no such thing in Scripture as being a member of a church. Every true believer is placed in the body of Christ. Each born again believer is a member of that body described in the Word of God.
It is true that there are many assemblies in the Word that are referred to as "the Church at" or "of" a certain places. Churches plural are mentioned in the Word. Therefore it is a fact of Scripture that assemblies of believers differing from each other existed and were addressed as "Church."
The letter of introduction for standing in a Church was practiced in the early Church. This is seen in history and in:
The Bible says:
The practice of membership is based on the practical teaching of Scriptures. We are to know them that labor among us. The ordination Presbytery that lays hands on a candidate for service is a Bible fact. We are commanded not to lay hands on a person quickly in I Timothy 5:22. Those of the ministry are not to be a novice or unskilled person in the Word. The Presbytery The Church separated Barnabas and Paul to the ministry.
The laying on of hands was the action of a council of elders. These elders that laid hands on Barnabas and Saul were of that church body at Antioch. This act is clearly a demonstration of ordination by the presbytery of a local Church. This is a part of the practice of the membership of a local assembly. This practice of laying on of hands by the local Church was carried forth in the History of the Church. It is a check and balance that keeps the Church pure and sound in doctrine. Ordination is a means of establishing credibility.
What ever the given number of believers in any given place that is called the body of Christ, "or the assembly of God" yet, whatever the number, they should be gathered on the grounds of the name of Jesus Christ and on no other. This fact has been true ever since the day of Pentecost. It is true at this moment. And it shall be true until the Church is taken up to meet her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the clouds. "There is one body." All believers belong to that body and they should meet on the foundation of the name of Jesus Christ, and on no other.
It is true that failure, ruin, and apostasy have come into the local church. We see the failing result of manís wisdom, his will, or reason, his judgment, and his misguided conscience. The results appear before us in the almost numberless and nameless sects, denominations, and parties of the religious organizations present today.
Still, we are bold to say, that the grounds of assembling as at the beginning is simply being "regenerated believers" gathered in the name of Jesus Christ. This is a true assembly of God. This remains the truth in spite of all the failure represented in religion. The error, and the confusion, which have come into many churches should not keep the TRUE BELIEVER from the grounds of God's Word, and a true assembly of God, the local Church gathered in the name of Jesus.
The dark background of the lost world, false religion and the ungodly practices of men should be a backdrop of great contrast to the local Church body led by the Holy Ghost. Christ Jesus' presence in the Church should be such a contrast to the darkness which collects mankind of ruin in false assemblies, that while in the presence of the real and true a clear distinction can be recognized by even the lost of this world. It was impossible to mistake the Church; there it stands, a grand reality! a company of living believers gathered, indwelt, ruled and regulated by the Holy Ghost. If so that the unbeliever coming into the Church, the contrast should convince all to acknowledge that God is there present.
The local Church is historically presented to us in the Book of Acts. Then, when we turn to the Epistles of Paul, we find him addressing the local Church in distinct places, namely, Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. Finally, in the opening of the book of Revelation we have addresses to seven distinct churches. Now, in all these places, the assembly of God is plain. It is a palpable, real thing established by God Himself. It is not a human invention, but a divine institution, a light bearer for God, in each place of its existence.
Our Scripture proofs reveal that God has an assembly on the earth. The Church is gathered, indwelt, and governed by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the true and Revealer of Christ upon earth. The Spirit through the believer in the world reveals Jesus Christ, teaches the believer, establishes the local New Testament Church.
The Gospel prophetically intimates the assembly; the Acts historically presents the assembly; and the Epistles formally address and organize the assembly. All this is plain.
If we can find no such assembly as described in the Word of God. We are to gather together with another "born again" believer on the grounds of the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God and worship. He has promised to meet in our midst. He will build His Church. Let us be careful to have His leadership in all that is done on this ground, the local Church.
And let it be carefully noted that we will listen to nothing on this subject but the voice of Holy Scripture. Let not reason speak, for we are built upon the Word. Let not man's tradition lift her voice, for we wholly disregard it in favor of "thus saith God's Word.". Let not expediency thrust itself upon us, for we shall give it no place whatever. We believe in the all-sufficiency of Holy Scripture that it is sufficient to furnish the man of God thoroughly, to equip him perfectly for all good works (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
The Word of God is either sufficient or it is not. The King James Bible proves itself sufficient to answer all the needs of mankind in all matters of life in the direction of the Holy Ghost. We believe Scripture to be amply sufficient for every urgent need of Godís assembly the local Church. It cannot be otherwise if God be its author, we must either deny the Word, or admit to the sufficiency of the Holy Bible. There is not a single hairís breadth of middle ground. It is impossible that God could have written an imperfect, or insufficient book.
This is a very grave principle. The final authority is the Bible, God's Holy Word.
There are many things in religion adopted and practiced in the churches which have no sanction in the Word of God. Many maintain that the Bible is the inspired foundation on which they build, but when practices and behavior are questioned they take no place upon Scripture. Our life that we practice and live at home, in the community, and in the Church must be founded upon "Thus saith God's Word." Plainly! we are to live and conduct ourselves by the authority of the Bible, God's Word.
If we be allowed to depart from Scripture at all, how far are we to go? If we allow practices in the local Church that are not a part of the plain teaching of Scripture, where do we draw the line establishing what is right. What ever we do, it must never contradict, or disobey any part of the Word of God that is clearly and plainly stated. The rules of our English language gain the Mind of Scripture. The interpretation of the Bible must come from within itself. We must compare Scripture with Scripture, here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept rightly dividing Scripture to understand the meaning and interpretation. The Bible must interpret itself!