Let me say it again: Jesus is truly rather than nominally Head of His church when the Spirit is sovereign in the assemblies.
And how can we know that the Spirit is sovereign in the assemblies? Answer: when there is no "order of service." Answer: when there is no "liturgy." Answer: when men allow the Spirit to work.
Either the Spirit is sovereign in the assemblies, or He is not. There is simply no middle ground. If He is "partly sovereign," that is a contradiction in terms. It is an oxymoron. So how is it, exactly, that the Spirit is sovereign over the assemblies as constituted?
Does the Spirit work through men's planning? Certainly. I do not question that. But a planned meeting makes the Spirit subordinate to the planners at the time of the actual meeting. Thus the Spirit may be sovereign over the planners' meeting but not over the church meeting itself. The meeting is already planned. It is hard to distinguish from a scheduled performance.
I do not say there is no praise of God or godliness in these planned meetings. I do not say there is no sincerity or encouragement in these meetings. Neither do I say the believers in these meetings have not the Spirit of God. Of course they do. All we believers are sealed in the Spirit, Eph. 1:13. But I do say there is no sovereignty of the Spirit over these meetings.
All believers on Jesus are temples of God both individually and corporately. The Spirit of God leads us individually and He is to lead us corporately. But of course we may grieve the Spirit either individually or corporately. And I tell you the Spirit is not given His due in our meetings.
So am I making a rule? The rule being "no planning?" No, I am following the practice indicated in the New Testament, and in I Corinthians 14 in particular. The rule is not "no planning," the "rule," if you want to call it that, is that the Spirit plans the meeting and carries it out as He sees fit.
Our perspective on this says everything about our view of the church meeting. "Why, the sovereignty of the Spirit means disorder! It means anarchy in the churches! Men will say whatever they want; doctrine will be ruined; long-winded men will dominate the proceedings. And we will not be entertained very well."
I fully realize that the churches as organized today cannot "put the cat back in the bag." You cannot reorganize churches with their pulpits and pews fastened to the floor, and with congregations which consider these sacrosanct, and with their age-old expectations for what a church meeting should be, and expect something positive to happen.
The only churches which can enable the Spirit to work in them are smaller meetings or new meetings in which the old traditions are not held sacrosanct. Godly shepherds (elders) are necessary. An overseer is, first of all, an overseer of order in the church meetings. "Overseer" is not some vague job description. It first of all pertains to oversight of the meetings, and the teachings and prophesyings that occur there. Ruling, in Romans 12:8, means in part the kind of intervention required in church meetings in the event of mistaken or unbiblical teaching. It is very straightforward. Anarchy is not inevitable. The spread of false doctrine is not inevitable. But the question is, do we have a godly and wise eldership equipped for oversight? Do we have confidence in these men? Or do we prefer professionals, and put our trust in them?
You see, the churches have added insult to injury. Problems are created by disobedience to the New Testament teachings and practices, and the remedy for these is more disobedience to New Testament teachings and practices. Long ago elders ceased shepherding and we yielded to, and in fact clamored for, professionals.
I say that men can indeed frustrate the Spirit of God, that men can indeed overrule the Spirit of God, and that, though the Spirit may overrule men whenever He pleases, He also refrains from overruling them as He pleases. Thus Paul's words to the church in Thessalonica, "Quench not the Spirit."
We are to understand that the Spirit is not a power-monger. He is no bully. He does indeed accomplish whatever He pleases, but He prefers the willing acquiescence of God's children, both individually and corporately.
A meeting led by the Spirit may allow for lengthy teaching by one man, as occasion requires. No doubt this must be planned ahead of the meeting. But any meeting built around a sermon, by the same man or men, every week, in perpetuity, is nowhere indicated, whereas "the work of the ministry" of the mature saints is indeed indicated as regular practice. See Eph. 4:12; Rom. 12:3-8, I Cor. 14, Heb. 10:25, along with myriad "one another" passages that have application, not solely in the meeting, but first and foremost in the meeting.
Some students of church history will say that the Plymouth Brethren tried the open meetings and failed. They did not all fail. Some of these churches succeeded for decades in the middle and latter part of the nineteenth century. Then most of these reverted to the worldly arrangement of planned meetings and sermons. But Jesus builds His church wherever and whenever He wishes, placing and removing lampstands as He wishes. Lampstands are churches that are testimonies of God's truth to the world; churches which have had their lampstands removed are no longer testimonies of God's truth to the world. His church is not a collection of churches in buildings, but simply a collection of all the true believers found in these churches. Are the denominations "successful" because they continue? whereas the former churches that endeavored to be led by the Spirit in their meetings were unsuccessful because they can no longer be found anywhere? It is the utmost foolishness to judge the success of churches on whether or not their denomination continues, or on the condition of their buildings and grounds. No one except the old Brethren, along with current house church Christians, are judged by these empty, artificial, and unbiblical standards.