Friday, January 10, 2014

Spiritual Gathering Center (Part 8)

The Divine Way of Ministry
Realizing that the statements of divine truth we have just given, which are so little known or believed, are just the opposite of the central principle of church organizations of our day, and are quite different from what is taught, practiced, and commonly accepted as right in Christendom, we would enlarge upon this subject, seeking to help the perplexed or exercised reader. Our desire is to clearly set forth from the Scriptures God's way of ministry in the Assembly, so that the divine way to carry on a testimony for Christ may be plainly seen in contrast to man's way. Perhaps some readers are saying, "How can these things be? How can meetings or services ever be carried on without having some man in charge?"

A careful study of the New Testament will answer these questions and all others that may arise. But if we would be helped and guided aright in this matter, we must turn our eyes and thoughts away from all that man is doing and saying and consider only what God has written for our instruction in His Word. We would urge our readers to search the Scriptures and to see whether these things are so, as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11.

Luke 22:7-13
Let us turn to this passage and notice a few things typified for us here. We especially desire to point out one point in particular which bears upon our immediate subject, but we shall dwell a little on the whole passage while these verses are before us since they are helpful in our present consideration of the local aspect of the Church.

When the Lord told Peter and John to prepare the Passover supper they asked, "Where wilt thou that we prepare?" So we may ask also today, "Where shall we go to worship?" The Lord then told them to go into the city and follow a man with a pitcher of water whom they would meet. This man may typify for us the Holy Spirit and the pitcher of water the Word of God. We are to go where the Spirit and the Word of God would lead us. Peter and John were then to go into the house into which the man went and to say to the goodman of the house, "The Master saith unto thee, where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?" The Lord further told them that they would be shown a large upper room furnished and there they should make ready (v. 12). So they went and found as He had said and ate the Passover supper with the Lord in this room; therein the new institution, the Lord's supper, for the Church was also instituted following the Passover meal.

All this is full of meaning for us. The Lord met with His disciples and celebrated the Passover in a separate upper room in the house. So now it is true spiritually that the place where the Lord meets with His own is a separated place-separated from all that grieves and dishonors Him in Christendom as stated in II Tim. 2:21. It is also a large upper room. So also the Assembly of the living God, where the Lord is in the midst, should meet in an heavenly atmosphere as members of the Body of Christ with a large heart that makes room for all the members of that body, who wish to come as such in all sincerity, purity, and truth. When Christians meet thus in simple dependence around the Lord as their center and leader, He will furnish them with all that is needed to carry on a testimony for His name. He who is in the midst is the head of the Church and has given gifts unto men for the work of ministry, as we quite fully considered in our previous study on gifts and ministry. He is presented to the Church at Philadelphia as the One who has the key of David to open and shut (Rev. 3:7). He also has the key of the treasure and storehouse of God and can richly supply His people who depend upon Him in simple faith.

Christ Provides
The Lord furnishes His people with ministerial gifts (Eph. 4:11-16), and where the Holy Spirit is depended upon and free to act, He will call forth. energize, and use the gifts that are present in each local Assembly for the edification and care of the saints and for the preaching of the Gospel to the unsaved. There is no need to go out and hire a preacher, etc. Whereever believers come together around the Lord, there He has given talents and provided some ability for ministry. Though it may be given forth in all simplicity and feebleness, it is of the Lord, for five words in the Spirit are better than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, or of man's eloquence and not of the Spirit (I Cor. 2:1-4; 14:19).

The gifts of the Lord are various and each believer has a gift of some kind and a function to perform as a particular member of the Body of Christ. "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Eph. 4:7). These gifts may need to be discovered, stirred up, and developed by use, but they are there and are given for the help and blessing of all. When believers meet in the name of the Lord alone, recognizing the liberty of the Spirit to use whom He will, each believer is made to feel his responsibility to do his part in maintaining a testimony for the Lord, and so gifts and abilities are discovered, called into activity, and developed. Whereas, when one man is appointed to take over the entire responsibility of ministry, there is not this activity and development of all the gifts which may be present in the Assembly. The Scriptural path, then, for the Lord's people is for them to gather together around the Lord simply as Christians in dependence upon the Holy Spirit to use the gifts in their midst and to raise up others. He may also send some gifted servant of God to them on a visit, whoever and whenever He chooses, for their building up, for the preaching of the Gospel, or for any special spiritual help which may be needed.

The Lord nourishes and cherishes His Church, and, as its Head and Bridegroom, He will furnish every local gathering with all that is needed if He is depended upon. This we have seen again and again and many have proven it to be true. Thus it was with the New Testament Assemblies. They met together as believers, edifying one another and receiving whatever servants of the Lord were sent to them by Him. Search the book of Acts and the Epistles and see if this is not so.

Teaching and Admonishing One Another
Paul wrote to the Assembly at Rome: "I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another" (Rom. 15:14). He also desired to visit them to impart unto them some spiritual gift (Rom. 1:11) . To the Assembly at Colosse he wrote: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another" (Col. 3:16, New Trans.). This they, as brethren in Christ, were able for, and so also are brethren in the Lord today. Even though no distinctive gifts may be present in a small Assembly, this simple service of teaching and admonishing one another as the Spirit of God directs and enables is always possible for Christians who will meet in all simplicity around the Lord to study His Word. The great failure of the Church has been that of which the apostle warned the Colossians, "not holding fast the head, from whom all the body, ministered to and united together by the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God" (Col. 2:19, New Trans.). Joints and bands are not great members of the body, but they minister to and unite the members and thus the body increases. If Christians will only hold fast the Head, keep their eyes on Christ, and lean on Him, they will be edified and blessed in meeting together. If this is not done, they will not be thus blessed and human means will be resorted to, as one can see has occurred all about us today.

Necessary Gifts not all in One Person
This is further emphasized for us in Romans 12:5-8. "Thus we, (being) many, are one body in Christ, and each one members one of the other. But having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us, whether (it be) prophecy, (let us prophecy) according to the proportion of faith; or service, (let us occupy ourselves) in service; or he that teaches, in teaching; or he that exhorts, in exhortation; he that gives, in simplicity; he that leads, with diligence; he that shews mercy, with cheerfulness" (New Trans.). Different gifts are given to different ones and all are needed for the edification of the saints and the carrying on of an Assembly testimony. Let each one do the work which he is gifted for; this is God's way for ministry in the Church. So Peter also writes: "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another" (I Peter 4:10). When the Corinthians were making parties around various servants of the Lord, choosing one gifted man as their favorite, Paul wrote them: "all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas ... all are yours" (I Cor. 3:21, 22). They would shut themselves up to one gift, whereas the Lord had given them all these gifted brothers with their different gifts for their blessing. So we should desire the ministry of all the various gifts which the Lord has given us and not choose one gift to be our "minister" to the exclusion of others. Scriptures speaks of "a minister" in the Church at large, but never of "the minister" in a local Church; the difference is apparent. The Assembly is bound to receive Christ's ministers that may be sent to them and to recognize them with thankfulness, that is, when all is in godly order.

That there are leaders and chief men in the Church and local gatherings, whom God uses for the blessing and guiding of His people, Scripture assures us. Acts 15:22 speaks of Judas and Silas as "chief men among the brethren," and Hebrews 13:7 exhorts: "Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God" (New Trans.) But notice that they are in the plural and that they were not officially appointed as leaders, but were those whom the Holy Spirit was using as such. The Holy Spirit must ever be the leader and must be left free to use whomsoever He will.

Distinction Between Meetings
We refer to the difference between meetings of the Assembly as such (for worship and the Lord's Supper, for prayer, or for any other purpose for which we may call Assembly meetings) and meetings in which Christ's servants exercise their ministry on their own personal responsibility, (Gospel meetings, Sunday Schools, and special meetings where addresses are given for teaching and ministering to the Lord's people). These last named meetings, which are convened or carried on by those individuals who have such work laid upon their hearts and are gifted by the Lord for such services, are of a different character from reunions of the Assembly and are under the responsibility of those who undertake them. Such meetings may be conducted by one person or several working together, while meetings of the Assembly for worship, prayer and Bible readings, or open meetings for ministry are open for any to take part whom the Spirit would use.

All God's people are priests and can draw nigh into the holiest for worship and prayer, therefore any brother (the women are exhorted to be silent in the Church-I Cor. 14: 34; I Tim. 2:11, 12-that is, they are not to speak), can praise the Lord audibly and thus lead the saints in worship or prayer. Peter tells us that believers are "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," and also "a royal priesthood" (I Peter 2: 5, 9). We trust these lines may help our readers to see more clearly God's way of ministry in the Church. If any should ask, "Is it practical? Will it work?" we answer, "Assuredly so. It worked in the New Testament Assemblies and it works today bringing blessing in thousands of Assemblies throughout the world where these Scriptural principles are acted upon."

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