The turn of a century and entry into a third millennium A.D. is an event that was hardly contemplated by many readers of these lines. We were confident that by this point in the world’s history, the Church would have been raptured to Glory, Christ would have subdued His foes, having taken up the scepter of universal dominion, and the earth would be enjoying its longed-for millennial rest.
It hasn’t happened. In spite of the predictions of the worldly futurists with their extravagant prognosis of a march toward an eventual utopia, humankind will go on from one crisis to another, moral darkness will deepen, and no son of Adam will be able to satisfactorily solve the planet’s mounting problems. The only remedy is the return of Christ; and for Him we are to wait, watch, and witness.
To review the past century of assembly testimony is a healthy exercise as we face the future. We readily acknowledge that we have not risen to the spiritual tone of many earlier brethren and sisters, but we do have so much for which to thank God. To us has been passed a goodly heritage.
In moving forward, we are now responsible for assembly testimony in our own day. Let us remember the message of Hebrews that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Divine resources lie at our disposal: (a) The Word of God is unchanging, (b) Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand to support and succor us, and (c) The Holy Spirit dwells within to empower us. Therefore, we must continue with courage, conviction, and confidence at this juncture of time while we await His return.
Not to learn from the past, though, would be to repeat errors that have caused division and heartache. Issues have arisen in each generation that were neither doctrinal nor moral, but became “shibboleths” by which a person was deemed spiritual or carnal, “tight or loose,” worldly or unworldly, “holding fast or departing from the truth.” Like the Corinthians, a party spirit prevailed, exacerbated by personalities and natural ties; wisdom and balance were discarded and much ground was lost for God. In effect, many believers were polarized by the position they took on such issues. Saints or assemblies were cut off. Some weakened Christians left the assembly for denominations or for the world. Some assemblies left the path of simple gathering outside the camp unto the Lord alone.
It would be like exhuming a corpse to recall these issues, but for illustration, let me refer to a formula-for-baptism issue that raged in the writer’s youth. In Ontario, a contention arose as to what Name we should baptize in: the one name, or three names (Acts 8:16 vs. Matt 28:19). Assemblies and servants of the Lord were judged as “tight” or “loose” according to their stand on the matter, and some were practically cut off as a result. There were matters of “worldliness” such as wearing a wedding band or, a feather in the hat.
As we go forward, there presently are issues that will cause sorrow and grief if thy are allowed to escalate. I believe the divorce/remarriage issue has the potential to seriously disrupt the fellowship of assembly testimony. The chronology of the creation is another. Home schooling vs. secular schooling has the possibility for contention. There are others of which some are contemporary and socio-political, and not a believer’s responsibility.
In many of these matters, equally devoted and able scholars of the Word of God have differed. We mustn’t then think that we have the monopoly on wisdom and understanding. So-called evangelical circles have politicized issues, and sometimes assembly Christians are swept into the arguments. Preachers are drawn into the contention, make statements publicly or privately, are misquoted and misjudged. The result is polarization of the people of God. And this is the path to division. In some cases, assemblies that turned to open principles could have been saved from departure had there been a spirit of consideration and respect shown when contentions arose. Many situations are Romans 14 revisited with complete agreement never possible, but which nevertheless demand Christ-like care for each other.
Beloved, let us remember that each believer and each individual assembly cost God the blood of His Son and therefore is precious to Him. We cannot afford to lose any of our assembly witness through division or “death.” There ought to be room for all the Word of God in every assembly. Godliness and sound doctrine were God’s twin standards for the Ephesian assembly, according to the Timothy epistles, and still apply to our testimony in 2000 and beyond. Such were to be maintained with the dignity befitting our high calling in the spirit of love and consideration as we fellowship one with another, and seek to strengthen the things that remain. The work is God’s, but may we exemplify a pattern of devotion to the Lord and His assembly that when our day is done, that work as far as we were responsible, will stand united, strong, and fruitful.