Previous articles in this section have drawn our attention to some of the difficulties and dangers faced by the servant of the Lord as he arrives in a foreign land in obedience to Gods call. He could find himself in a very different climate, a different culture where a different scale of moral and spiritual values is observed, and could very likely be amongst a people who speak a different language. He might feel the truth of Pauls words: “I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.” If the place to which God has called him is one where no assemblies exist and there are no fellow-believers, the loneliness will be very keenly felt. These difficulties are real. They can be overwhelming and intimidating, yet in a scene where all is so different, there is something very familiar. The need of these people is just the same as that of those amongst whom this God-sent preacher was born and brought up. This difference in the people is really not so different. The differences are all apparent and superficial. In reality, these people are just the same as his own people “back home.” They are sinners by nature and by practice. And the message they need to hear is the same old message he has loved to preach since he was saved. He is there to tell them of their ruin brought about by Adams sin, and to announce the remedy provided by the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. His aim is just the same as it was at home – that God might be glorified in the preaching of the gospel, whether these people believe the message or not. But he hopes and prays that sinners, convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit, and saved by the grace of God, might be gathered by that same Spirit to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forming assemblies. Then, looking ahead, he will see that if and when these assemblies are planted, they will be just the same as the ones he has known since he was saved; there will be no need for adaptation to culture, customs. or circumstances.
This is reassuring. In spite of all the differences that strike the newcomer like a lightning bolt, the realization of Gods purpose will soon make him feel that he is on well-known ground. This strengthens Gods servant, and drives away the initial doubt and trepidation. He might be in a strange land amongst a strange people, but the work he is there to do is very familiar. He might feel very much alone, yet will know the reality of the promise: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.”
A Greater Difficulty
If many and great difficulties attend the beginning of any work in a new area, the Lords servant will later discover that when he has the joy of seeing an assembly planted, difficulties and dangers will not be a thing of the past. Much care is needed to ensure that there is no deviation from the pattern given in the Word. It isso easy to argue that these are young believers, in a strange country, and there must of necessity be some tolerance until they become more mature. It may seem correct to tolerate the molding of Scriptural principles by local customs, at least in part, and for a time, unifi more knowledge and maturity are acquired. Yet, it is essential that the pioneer remembers from the very outset the wise counsel given by the Spirit through Paul to Timothy; “The same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). This allows for no adaptation. The very same principles that applied in Ephesus or Thessalonica, must be implanted today in every newly planted assembly, and preserved with dedication and faithfulness from generation to generation.
Of necessity, the servant of God will have to do everything in the early days in a new area. He will find a place for meetings, arrange the seating, clean the meeting-place, open the doors, receive those who come (if any), open the meeting, pray and preach and close the meeting. Also, all decisions will be his alone – there are no others with whom to consult. But when God gives the increase and souls are saved and an assembly planted, problems of a different nature appear. There is the danger that the pioneer would still exercise an undue authority, and become virtually the local “Pastor” without the title or agreed remuneration. There is the need to actively encourage the newly saved ones to develop the gifts they have received from the Risen Head and to provide opportunity for this. Much spiritual discernment is required and much waiting on God. The recognizing of elders that the Holy Spirit will be raising up is of the utmost importance, and mistakes at this stage can be disastrous.
This is a period fraught with difficulties, not only for the brother who first took the gospel there, but also for the local believers, still young in the faith and called upon by God to shoulder solemn responsibilities in His assembly it is also fraught with the gravest dangers for the continuance of the testimony The wrong men can get into positions of leadership and cause much heartbreak and sorrow. Many a Diotrophes has arisen since John wrote his third epistle.
This is usually the time when most disappointments occur. Men who seemed most promising can settle down like Demas, and, loving this present age, opt for an easier path, causing much sorrow and pain. Men who worked well together in the early days of the testimony can allow something trivial to come between them, and strife can result that could even destroy the assembly.
But we would not write only of difficulties, dangers, and disappointments. The one who has traveled this road, and seen Gods blessing attend his efforts, can testify to the unspeakable joy of seeing saints recently come from darkness, now clothed with a righteousness not their own, in soundness of mind, sitting around a table with bread and wine to remember their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There is no greater joy on earth.
John could testify: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” And still there are greater blessings in store. Not only is his joy multiplied, but his convictions are deepened as he sees in practice that the principles of a New Testament assembly operate with equal perfection in any country and in any culture. It is written indelibly on his heart that assembly principles and practice need not and should not suffer any change, no matter what the customs of the country where he is found.
May God stir in all our hearts a greater love for perishing souls, before it is too late, and, with that, an ever-deepening appreciation of the uniqueness and wonder of a local assembly before we leave to gather unto Him in the air.