Chapter VII. The Order, by Thomas Hughes Milner
CHAPTER VII. THE ORDER.
This, I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words, for though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ, Col. ii. 4, 5.
This, I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words, for though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ, Col. ii. 4, 5.
- THE Lord’s people have been beguiled with the enticing words of those who affirm that there is no divinely specified order in the church of Christ. Some will have it that there is no order indicated in Scripture whatever, some that it is merely circumstantial, and, therefore, various, that it is merely human, and is not to be imitated, and others that there is a divine order intimated, but that it was not intended to be permanent. Let us view these assertions in the light of the following facts.
- That an order is indicated appears from the application of terms of order of the churches. There is taxis, order, and tasso, diatasso, tithemi, and kathistemi, to set, ordain, appoint, place, institute or constitute. If there be no order, it is not from want of terms indicative of it.
- That order is intimated is unquestionable from the apostle’s expressed gladness in beholding that of the church in Colosse, and from his commanding the disorderly disciples in Corinth to “do all things decently, and in order.” Now, this word taxis is a most express term. It denotes not merely the absence of confusion, but order in series, course, or succession. Luke i. 8, 9 contains it in saying that “Zacharius executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office.” And Heb. v. 10 names that Jesus was “called of God a high priest, after the order of Melchisedec.” It is well known that a particular rank or course is thus meant, and that in the doing of the priestly work there was an exact order in the service. Note, then, that the Corinthian church was commanded to let all things be done in order––that is, one thing after another, in due course. The liberty of ministry obtaining among the brethren had been so far abused as that they required to be told to “prophecy one by one.” When the church came together, “every one had a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation;” the apostle interposed no objection to this; he only said that all was to be done decently and peacefully, to edification, and in order, 1 Cor. xiv. 26-40.
- That the order of the churches was divine appears from 1 Cor. xii. 18-28, where the apostle says that “God hath set every one of the members in the body as it hath pleased him,” and carries the analogy to the body of Christ, affirming each disciple “a member in particular,” and that “God hath set in the church first apostles, secondarily, prophets, thirdly, teachers, after that, miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” This same word the apostle uses with respect to himself in 1 Tim. i. 12; ii. 7; 2 Tim. i. 11, where he says the Lord put him into the ministry, ordained him, appointed him a preacher and teacher. And so also we find it in Acts xx. 28, where the elders are said to have been made overseers by the Holy Spirit. The placing, appointing, and constituting of the members of the body we thus see to be of God. This order, then, is divine.
- That this divine order was established by the apostles is also apparent from Acts vi. 3, where, in the case of the appointment of the table-servers, the order was given, and the kathistemi––the setting was performed by the eleven. Agreeably to this we find diatasso in 1 Cor. vii. 17; ix. 14; xi. 34; and xvi. 1, where we read in Paul’s words: As God hath distributed to every man, as God hath called every one, so let him walk, and so ordain I in all the churches. Again, the apostle says, ‘so hath the Lord ordained” as himself had taught respecting the support of the evangelists. Things still deficient in the church, he said he would set in order when he came. Concerning the collection for the saints, as he had given order to the churches of Galatia, so were the Corinthians to do.
- That the order was uniform and universal is educed from the statement that the apostle ordained so in all the churches. The order given to the disciples in Galatia was to be the rule for those in Corinth. 1 Cor. iv. 17 intimates that Timothy was sent to bring the brethren into remembrance of the apostle’s ways, which were “in Christ,” “as he taught everywhere in every church.” For these reasons, the only answer given to the objector to the apostle’s teaching or action was, Let him know that we have no such custom, neither the churches of God, 1 Cor. xi. 16. This was an end of all controversy; it was the answer to all cavillers.
- That the order established was permanent is demonstrated, first, by the commands given to the evangelists, such as Timothy and Titus, to teach, ordain, and set in order as instructed by Paul, 1 Tim. i. 3; Tit. i. 5; and, second, by the injunctions given to the churches to keep the ordinances as received, i Cor. xi. 2; 2 Thess. ii. 15; iii. 6. And it is to be recollected that when Paul says: I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you, or when he commands them to stand fast, and hold the traditions which they had been taught, whether by apostolic word or letter, matters of faith and practice are alike included. A paradosis is simply a deliverance. In one of these quotations our translators have rendered the word, “ordinance,” and in the other, “tradition,” the meaning being that which is handed down or ordained. And this is very clear when in contrast with these injunctions respecting the observance of the apostolic traditions, the express commands as to the non-regard of all non-apostolic traditions are borne in mind. The Saviour told the Jews that by the traditions of their elders they made void the commands of God, and Paul cautioned the Colossians to beware, lest any man might spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. By this twofold class of injunctions, one enjoining the non-observance of mere human traditions or ordinances, and the other authoritatively commanding the keeping of the apostolic, it is unquestionably proved that the order first established was intended to be permanent.
- But, notwithstanding that it is thus established, that the Scriptures intimate church order, divine in its origin, apostolical in its institution, universal in practice, and perpetual in obligation, yet it may still be asked how far does this order go. What are its particular prescriptions? Does it extend to all the ordinances? Is it stated with such formal exactness as was the order of the first economy? Does it not leave arrangements to the wisdom of the brethren? To this our reply is, that arrangements under the strict law of the first institution were left to the wisdom of the administrators; only they were to shew their wisdom in arranging according to order. So, now, the order cannot be kept unless the priesthood––the brotherhood arrange, so as to observe the “all things commanded.” That the order is not formulated in the New Testament with such repetition as in the Old, is evident, but that it is less clear or exact, we do now allow. But, indeed, the like plan of institution was observed in both cases; a pattern, tupos, type, was shewn, and specifications were given, conjointly with the command, See that thou make all things according to the pattern, Heb. viii. 5. So with the law, but not less so with the faith; for a model church was planted at Jerusalem; from it members elsewhere were multiplied, so that it was said to the brethren in remote regions, “You became followers, mimeetees, imitators of the churches of God, which in Judea are in Christ Jesus,” 1 Thess. ii. 14. And with the example of the first ecclesia for their imitation, they had also from the apostles the form, the pattern, the type of doctrine--tupos didache, so that with these, and the injunction to observe all things whatsoever the Messiah had commanded his apostles to teach his disciples to observe, precisely the same mode of institution was adopted in both economies. If the apostles’ manner of stating their deliverances differ from that of Moses, their style is certainly not less clear, and the difference otherwise arises from the number of ordinances being much smaller, the ritual less cumbrous, but still there are ordinances, and all particulars are given as to their names, number, meaning, subjects, and administration. That the order enjoined extends to the whole of them is plain from the injunctions to remember the apostle in all things, and keep the ordinances––not some of them only––as delivered, but to let all things be done “to edification”––”decently and in order.” As to what the particular prescriptions of order are—as to the how the order goes, the apostolic prescriptions respecting each ordinance must, of course, be noted, and this will fall to be done in next chapter.
- But, meantime, it is proper to observe, that while there is no liberty granted the churches to deviate from the apostolic order in the slightest degree, none to change the ordinances, none to leave them unobserved, none to institute others, and none to adopt such a form of worship or ministry as would in any respect prevent the due fulfilling of the divine commands by the brethren, yet there is a freedom of action permitted in the new institution which did not obtain in the old, arising, of course, from the fact that the ancient economy was a yoke of bondage, while the service of the present is one of freedom. But the liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free is not liberty to disobey himself. This were absurd, though this is very much the prevailing notion of Christian freedom. Calvin himself is witness when he approvingly says on Acts viii. 35, &c., that “the church did since the beginning grant unto herself the liberty to change the ordinances somewhat.”
- Generally, then, in this place we may note the order of ministry and worship as respects both entrance and practice––the obedient and the disobedient. Observe then, first, that the Christian ministry is entered in conversion. Conversion, in the Christian acceptation of the term, is a turning from one service to another; it is a change of masters. The Messiah, in giving Saul his commission as apostle, expressed it not only as having for its object the turning of men from darkness to light, but from the dominion of Satan unto God. The apostle never lost sight of this. Conversion with him ever was of this practical kind. To the converts in Rome he wrote enquiring––Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that though ye were the servants of sin, ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men, because of the infirmity of your flesh; for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. The conversion of the Thessalonians is more briefly, but not less emphatically, stated as likewise a change of service and of masters––for they themselves, says Paul, shew of us what manner of entering we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven. The service of God––the divine service—the serving of God with the Spirit in the gospel of his Son, is the practical sum total of gospel conversion. Before the transition the converts were the servants of sin––they did service to those who by nature were no gods; but by obeying from the heart the form or type of doctrine delivered them, or to which they delivered themselves, they were committed, they were given up, they were consecrated to the service of the living and true God. Thus yielding themselves up, they were taught to consider themselves so much, so fully, so absolutely the servants of the Lord, as that they were no longer their own. They were his as he was theirs. As they confessed him as their Master, their Lord, so were they, of course, to regard themselves as his servants, subjects, slaves. Henceforth his will was their rule, his word their law. Rule was his sole prerogative; obedience to him their one universal duty.
- In conversion they were enlisted as the soldiers of the cross. Before a man can serve as a solder he must enlist, but on enlistment he becomes a solder. So with the followers of the Messiah, the apostles addressed them as enlisted combatants. They were exhorted to take to them, and put on the whole armour of God, that they might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, that they might be able to withstand in the evil day, and having overcome all, still to stand. They were therefore enjoined to stand, having their loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and their feet shod with the prepared gospel of peace, and above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith they would be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Once enlisted, they had but to obey the marching orders of their commander. His service or army entered by enlistment, it was theirs forthwith to exercise, to learn, to serve, and to fight. A new enlistment never could be needed. Fidelity became the one thing needful after the enlistment, which took effect in their conversion. They could not enter the royal service before, or without this; but having thus entered it, another entrance was only a thing of supererogation––a work having no existence in the orders of the prince Messiah––one which, if acknowledged, could not fail to throw into confusion and disuse the imperial discipline.
- It thus becomes needful not merely to indicate this much, but also to point out distinctly the facts and conditions of entrance upon the Christian service. Like every other service, that of Christ has its appropriate and peculiar terms of admission, and to these we solicit particular notice. Hearing, or attention is itself the preliminary requisite. Unheard, unheeded, the conditions cannot be fulfilled. “Men and brethren, hearken,” were the opening words of Peter’s first and ever-memorable gospel oration. That to which attention is called is presented as the object of faith. Jesus of Nazareth, as the Lord Messiah, formed the theme of apostolic preaching; and faith in this their grand proposition was their imperative requirement of every unbelieving hearer. Jesus being set forth as the Son and Christ of God, the apostles required their hearers to believe upon him as such. And this implied their personal recognition of him as their Saviour––their prophet, priest, and king––their deliverer from ignorance, guilt, and disobedience. No faith, no salvation. No faith, no service. But when faith was produced in the mind––when the truth of the gospel was believed as presented, and when as on Pentecost its operation in the heart led to the cry––”What must we do,” the next item of conversion named was repentance. Hearers were called to believe, and believers or convicted hearers were called to repent. An entire revolution of mind, feeling, and action, was demanded of them respecting the Messiah. They were to treat his claims with indifferency no more. God had exalted him to his own right hand, a Prince and a Saviour––he had constituted him Lord of all––he had set him on the throne, there to reign till all his foes be made his footstool. Nothing short, therefore, of an immediate and unconditional surrender could suffice. This included a change of mind, of heart, and of action. It manifested itself in those overt acts of submission which the Lord Messiah had by his imperial authority ordained in the acknowledgment of the rebellious as his subjects. The first open act of submission appointed is the confession of the Lordship of Jesus with the lips. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved, for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation...See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized, said the Ethiopian to the evangelist. If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest, replied the latter; to which the response was, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This confession being made, the confessor was immersed. In baptism conversion terminates. It is the terminating or ratifying rite. It is the discipling ordinance. The commission to the eleven enjoined them to disciple the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever the Messiah had commanded. Thus are men inducted into the service of the Lord Jesus. They become his ministers in this way. They are his disciples, brethren, followers, servants, henceforth. There is no other way of entering the Christian ministry. This is the one authorized divine method. All who thus gave themselves to the Lord, and to his people, by the will of God became the ministers of Christ. Their Christian duties and privileges dated from their immersion into the divine name. Human services are entered according to human laws; but the divine service––that of the Lord Jesus, according to his own laws. It is altogether futile for men to attempt the institution of a divine service, or to admit men thereto by laws of their own. Their own ordinances can introduce to no ministry other than that of which they are the authors. It is an utter incongruity for men to act in a service whose very threshold terms they have not obeyed. Fancy the incongruousness of men who refuse to give heed, calling upon their fellows to attend! Men who believe not, demanding that others do believe! Men who are still impenitent, calling those in like position with themselves to repentance! Men who have not made the good confession, impressing its necessity on others! Men who refuse to be baptized into the name of Jesus, immersing others into Christ! Such things were a violation of all propriety.
- Now this order is disregarded in two ways: first, by the addition of mere human terms of ministry; and, second, by the omission of certain of the Messiah’s terms. Respecting the former, there is a curriculum enjoined, not only unmentioned in scripture, but which is utterly subversive of the simplicity that is in Christ, and of the liberty of his servants to serve him as he commands them. “A course of study,” “a license to preach,” and an “election to pastorate,” are enforced, which have for their express object the preventing of others from venturing upon the ministry. These inventions, as all know, have only been too successful in hindering the great body of believers from realizing their liberty and responsibility to serve the Lord without the leave or hindrance of men. Then, respecting the omission of certain of the Messiah’s laws of ministry, in some cases even conversion to God is altogether ignored. “A little Latin, and less Greek;” a smattering of knowledge of those fables and endless genealogies of the Jewish traditions, and the Gentile mythology, regarding which Paul enjoined Timothy to charge the teachers in the church of Ephesus to give no heed; some acquaintance with the scripturally unauthorized “standards of the church;” the answering of a few metaphysical questions, and the delivery of a carefully prepared “trial sermon,” put the man, who is still in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, into the “holy orders” of “the holy ministry!” But others, though perceiving the wickedness of such systems, yet fail to enforce the Saviour’s law of ministry. Though conversion to God is not utterly disregarded, yet it is partially so by the admission of the unbaptized into the church and service. “Open communion,” as it is called, is simply a human device to make entrance into the ecclesia and service easier than the Lord has made it. It is supposed to be charity to do so; the defection is dignified with the name of “Christian forbearance,” as if, forsooth, the Messiah were a hard master, requiring what he should have dispensed with; or as if his servants were wiser and more charitable than he, knowing better what the law of admission ought to be, and generously surrendering that which should never have been made “a term of communion;” or as if the apostles did not make immersion into Christ such, as if they did not require faith first, baptism next, and fellowship and service third; or as if Christian forbearance consisted not in the suffering and forgiving of personal injury, but in agreement to disregard certain of the laws of Christ. In these respects the order of Christian fellowship and ministry is transgressed. Rom. xv. 7 is appealed to in favour of open communion, but it is forgotten that when the apostle says, “receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God,” he is not urging the non-essentiality of baptism or of any of Christ’s commands, but the duty of the brotherhood to receive those weak in the faith, not to judge their doubtful thoughts, but to bear their infirmities. And it is forgotten also that the rule of reception itself rather includes baptism than otherwise. The phrase, “as Christ also received us,” implies manner of reception. As if a father were first to do something for his eldest son, and, having given him to know his plan, were to say, Now, my boy, do this for your brothers, as I also have done it for you. Everyone sees that the father’s meaning would be, not that his son was to dispense with any item in his own procedure toward him, but expressly to follow, as a rule, what he had first done; the boy would understand that he was simply to act according to the example set before him. So, here: The rule is, as Christ hath received us. This includes baptism.
- Then, in the fulfilling of ministry and worship all the brethren took part, all went everywhere preaching the word. They addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, that is, (as tasso is elsewhere rendered, appointed, ordained, determined), they disposed themselves to the ministry. Compare 1 Cor. xvi. 15, with Acts xiii. 48; xv. 2; and xxii. 10. Theirs was a voluntary service. It was said to them, Ye may all prophesy, that all may learn, and all may be comforted...They were earnestly to desire the best gifts,...to seek to excel to the upbuilding of the Church. Each according to gift, talent, ability, opportunity, was to serve. Such was the free order of preaching, teaching, oversight and worship. But this order is set aside when ministry is confined to a class of humanly elected preachers, teachers, or bishops; it is violated when these elect persons assume, as they do, to prescribe to the brethren what service they are to perform. Even in congregations where the preposterous absurdity of the one-man system has to some extent given way, there is yet a trenching upon the free order of the house of God when the brother presiding takes upon him to “call upon brother so and so to pray.” Often enough the brother named is not in the spirit, and declines, while another is quite prepared, and desirous, were he in possession of his birthright freedom. So also do presiding brethren go beyond order, when, by their sole direction, or by any mere human agreement, they restrict the acts of service to an order not specified in Scripture. We have seen that order is apostolically intimated, that it consists in things being done in due course: that is, one thing after another; not two things or more at once so as to create confusion. But we have not said that it consists in, or that it is consistent with, a humanly prescribed, or understood ritual, under the rule of which the same series of action must always be observed. We do not say that there is such a ritual of worship in the word of God; we do not say there should be first, praise; second, reading; third, prayer; fourth, praise; fifth, preaching; sixth, prayer; seventh, praise; and lastly, benediction. We say that this ritual in particular is a series of blunders. The brethren are to do all things by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving: prayer is therefore unquestionably their first duty, always, whether in individual or collective action: but by this ritual the service is half through before prayer is offered! Preaching is for the unconverted, teaching for the church; but here the church is preached to as if it had not received the gospel! Worship is for the church, but here the public worship as if they had received Christ Jesus as the Lord! The disciples met on the first of the week to break the commemorative loaf, but here the feast is not observed at all, except at distant periods! We say that this, or any such prescription of worship, is entirely human as respects its order. Series there must be to have order, and to prevent confusion, but always the same series is not required. Here it is that the ritualistic forms of the present day impinge upon the liberty and spirituality of the ecclesia. The brethren know what ordinances they are to observe, that they are to observe them one by one, that no brother is to assume the performance of them all; that no one brother is to prescribe to another what he must do. There is thus express order, but there is as express liberty to this extent, that when the whole church is come together into one place, and the gathering is constituted by prayer, there is no rule as to whether praise, or reading, or teaching, or the contribution, or the feast shall occur in the same series as on the preceding day. So that all be done––and “all decently and in order,”––all “to the edifying of the church“—all “in love,” all according to the precepts that “each esteem other better than himself”––”each in honour preferring one another,”––so that this be done the order ordained is observed, and the truth is experienced that is written––”Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Abortive attempts to make out a ritual that has no existence in Scripture have led to the opposite extreme of the denial that any order is prescribed; it is ours therefore to perceive where the order and liberty divinely ordained coalesce, so that we may not on the one hand contend for a serial of observance which interferes with the individual liberty of the brotherhood, nor, on the other hand, claim a liberty that is subversive of order.
- Whatever order contravenes any apostolic law is to be deprecated. We object to the popular orders of worship and service as all more or less subversive of the law of liberty and the law of holiness. If by them the believers are prevented from fulfilling the service incumbent upon them, the unbelieving are induced to venture on a service in which they have no scriptural right. In the New Testament we have account of two distinctly different classes of meetings under the action of the apostles; first, those of the public for preaching; and, second, those of the disciples for worship. In respect to the former, the apostles and their coadjutors never treated their auditors as Christian worshippers; they appeared before them simply as speakers, preachers, evangelists, proclaimers of the gospel. If their audience were Jews, they alleged Jesus to be the Messiah, and opened their Scriptures, and proved therefrom their proposition. If Gentiles, they took a text from any familiar object, as that of the altar to the unknown God at Athens, and argued their way to the glad tidings. As to asking Jews to sing hymns of praise to that Jesus in whom they believed not, or Gentiles to pray to a God whom as yet they knew not, the apostles would as soon themselves have bowed to stocks and stones. But when they made converts of any, whether Jews or heathen, “they gathered the disciples together,” formed an ecclesia of them, so that “all who believed were together,” to whose number from time to time the saved were added––and to whom none else dared to join, see Acts ii., xvii., xviii., and xix. There was such order in the method of their instruction as did not make men false professors, as did not give them a form of godliness without the power, as did not lead them to pray and sing lies to God in hypocrisy. They led men to know and to love the Lord before attempting to serve or worship him. The service desiderated was an intelligent one––the worship that of the spirit––this could only be had of those who had received the truth in the love of it. The presentation of the truth, therefore, was their one work in regard to the unconverted, whether young or old. The gospel received and obeyed, the recipients became Christian disciples, ministers, worshippers; none else were treated as such.
- There is a time for everything. In the fulness of the time the Messiah came, lived, taught, suffered, died, revived, and ascended. On the first of the week he rose from the dead; that same day he met with his disciples; again, on the next first day he was with them; and for six weeks he continued in their presence, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. On the next first day after his ascension, while the disciples were assembled together in Jerusalem, agreeably to his command, the Holy Spirit descended and divinely illumined the apostles, who thereupon came forth, and for the first time proclaimed the accomplished gospel of the ascended Monarch, announced the conditions of salvation through his name, received the submission of three thousand willing subjects, and constituted them into the Christian ecclesia. From that day the disciples continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of the loaf, and in the prayers. So that in Acts xx. 7, the primitive practice is given in the words, Upon the first of the week the disciples came together to break bread. The first day of the week thus, by fact, became the birthday of the Lord from the dead, the birthday of the hopes of his disciples, the birthday of the first converts to the new reign, and the birthday of the church. That the disciples thereafter recognized it as the Lord’s day––that it became their memorial, their gathering, their sacred feast-day, scripture and history concur in testifying. But that they did not keep the Sabbath––the seventh day of Moses––the Sabbatto of the Italians––our Saturday––that they did not pretend to keep it––that the apostles did not command them to keep it––that they never taught the disciples that they were under the law of the Mosaic Sabbath is all perfectly plain. The apostles told them that they were not under law to Moses, but to Christ; and, therefore, that no man was to judge them in respect of meat, or drink, or a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath, which were but shadows of the future substance, which they had realized in the body of Christ, Col. ii. 13-17.
- But while the apostles thus unequivocally gave the faithful to realize their freedom from the ordinances of the law, they most strictly charged them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some was. This assembling of themselves together––this coming of the whole church into one place––this coming together on the first of the week was expressly for the attending to the ordinances peculiar to the ecclesia of God, and particularly for the breaking of the loaf, and the exhorting of one another. We say these two particularly, because they are particularized as the object of gathering. It is objected in regard to Heb. x. 23-25 that the apostle does not enjoin the disciples to come together to exhort one another, but to exhort one another to come together. But this objection, however clever, is not correct. For, observe, the apostle’s opening exhortation is, Let us hold fast the confession of the hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised, and let us consider one another to incite unto love and to good works––How? By forsaking the assembling of ourselves together after the manner of some? Certainly not. How, then? Answer––by exhorting one another. The duty enjoined was to be done not by forsaking the assembling, but by exhorting, when assembled, to love and good works. They were to hold fast the confession of the hope; in order to this they were to incite one another to love and good works, and in order to this they were to assemble together. With this agrees the liberty of ministry of 1 Cor. xiv, when the whole church is come together into one place, and each has a psalm, a doctrine, an interpretation, &c., and with the fact of Acts xx. 7, that when the disciples came together on the first of the week to break the loaf, Paul did not preach to them, as our version says, but discoursed. The verb is not evangelizo, to announce glad tidings; but dialego, to speak to and fro. He was paying the brethren a passing visit; never expecting to see them again, and they, of course, had many things to hear and say; hence the word dialogue here used, and hence the meeting till midnight.
- The Scriptures do not furnish us with “a programme” of meeting. A fixed ritual were inconsistent with the family and spiritual liberty of the brotherhood. The ordinances delivered, it is theirs faithfully to observe, and that in due order, that is, without confusion or interruption: in series, but not necessarily always in the same series. On one occasion there may be more prayer, or praise, or reading, or teaching, than on another, and no law is violated, so that all be done decently, orderly, edifyingly. This forbids that any of the ordinances be pushed into a corner––especially, that the principal one, the breaking of the loaf, be so, as is done by those churches which make it only a monthly, quarterly, or still more remotely observed service, and those that give a fag-end quarter of an hour to it “after the congregation is dismissed!” This phrase, and these other household words, “Communion Sabbath,” ‘sacramental Sunday,” &c., betray the utter unscripturalness of the usage which they designate. Where find we the apostles so speaking? How unmistakably different their phraseology: On the first of the week the disciples came together to break the loaf;...Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together. This was the primitive mode of observing the Lord’s day; there is no other scriptural method of doing it; a birth-day in families is always kept as a feast-day; so the first Christians met around the Lord’s table to keep the Lord’s feast on the Lord’s day. How amazingly inconsistent for those who preach so vehemently for ‘sabbath observance,” never themselves to keep either the Sabbath according to the law, nor the Lord’s day according to the gospel! The gathering of the faithful on the first of the week being for the keeping of the feast, we note that it was not left to the close of the meeting, for at its institution the Saviour taught the disciples after its celebration, and so afterwards, as appears from Acts xx. when Paul discoursed with the brethren till midnight.
- There is no fixed hour of meeting. The week was commenced with the hallowed gathering. The Jewish day began in the evening; the evening and the morning were the first day. But with us the day begins with the morn, and, therefore, the same propriety that led the Jews into an evening celebration, leads us to a morning observance; it is the finest and most fitting inauguration of the week. There is no law as to hour: it is simply a matter of convenience.
- As we find order prescribed regarding the obedient, so find we it respecting the disobedient. The law of Christ has reference to both descriptions of character, for the Master knew his servants would have to deal with both. He knew too well what is in man, too perfectly the deceitfulness of the heart, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the wiles of the adversary, to leave his apostles without the expectation to have to deal with offences; therefore the warning, It must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom offence cometh. But offences are of two kinds,––personal and public. Respecting the former, the order is for the brother feeling himself aggrieved, freely to forgive, as in the injunctions of Col. iii. 13; Eph. iv. 32; Mark xi. 25, Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a complaint against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye...And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you...Forgive, if ye have ought against any, that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses; but if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father, who is in heaven, forgive your trespasses. But this free extension of forgiveness does not imply the absence of endeavour for the reconciliation and reclamation of the offender; with this view, therefore, Mat. xviii. 15-18, prescribes thus, If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault (reprove, convince, convict, as John iii. 20, viii. 9-46, &c.), between thee and him alone; if he shall hear, then thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established; and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. The church is the chief court; there is no appeal beyond it: its decisions arrived at according to the law of Christ, are ratified in heaven. But, before any cause of personal complaint is brought into the ecclesia, it must previously be dealt with, first, by the private personal endeavour of the complainant to convince and gain the offending brother; and, second, on failure of this step, by the adoption of the farther measure of taking one or two others with like design as before, and as witnesses, to establish the case before the church, if need be. Were this order faithfully adhered to, how entirely would murmuring and complaining, biting and worrying, backbiting and talebearing, be abolished among Christians! How much more of that noble fidelity exemplified by Paul, when, respecting the erring Peter, he could say, “I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.” Yet, he who disregards this law, makes himself a transgressor, and it becomes the duty of the faithful to see that it is adhered to among them. Accordingly, it is prescribed in Rom. xvi. 17, that the brethren mark and avoid those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine received. To fail in proceeding according to the teaching delivered, causes divisions and offences; the harmony of the church is disturbed, and the otherwise innocent are led into sin and fall. Therefore the avoidance enjoined respecting the disorderly, both here and in 2 Thess. iii. 6, We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. Fellowship with the disobedient to the law of Christ is unlawful. He who refuses to submit to the application of that law makes himself an outlaw, and it therefore becomes unlawful in the faithful to hold intercourse with him. He who is a heretic after the first and second admonition is to be rejected, Titus iii. 10. A heretic, as the word hairetikos, imports, is a factious person––one who persists in dissent from the apostolic law, and such, after two admonitions, is to be rejected as an outlaw. All are of this class who “resign membership” without scripture warrant, who do so rather than submit to the application of discipline as provided in the apostolic writings. As there is no authority for a Christian remaining in the fellowship of an unscripturally constituted church, as he, by so doing, breaks the law of Christ, so does he likewise, by resigning his place in a church of scriptural organization, except on the ground of its proceeding unscripturally, and refusing to be brought back to apostolic rule; then, but only then, the command is, Come out and be separate.
- The order is equally explicit, and the law equally strict, as respects offences against Christian morals. 1 Cor. v. 4-11 ordains that no society is to be kept with any one called a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; such leaven manifesting itself in the church is to be purged out; the church is when gathered together in the name of the Lord Jesus, by his authority, to deliver such an one over to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved. Extreme as this order is, it is the law of love; it is needful to the purity of the church, and that which is most likely to lead the offender to reformation.
- But there are less heinous transgressions which require a milder regimen, as when one is overtaken in a fault, and manifests by his repentance, by confession of his sin, and readiness to submit to the law, as provided in respect to such cases. Here the rule is expressed in Gal. vi. 1, Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourselves lest ye also be tempted. But all sin is to be rebuked, and he, therefore, who sins is to be rebuked before all, that others seeing may fear. In this way a brother is to be restored to the confidence of the church. 1 Tim. v. 20.
- Still further, there are congregational questions which occasionally arise that cannot be amicably determined by the church immediately interested. Reference to another church is the rule here. It is quite possible that from prejudice, interest, feeling, ignorance, or other causes a church may not be able to arrive at an impartial decision, whereas, by reference to another congregation of the faithful, containing, it might be, brethren of greater knowledge and experience, a true and satisfactory deliverance would be thereby reached. This is what was done by the church in Antioch when unable to determine whether converts from among the Gentiles should be circumcised, and required to keep the law. Reference was made to the church in Jerusalem, as, without question, the most likely to be able to decide the point. It was the church whence the Judaising teachers had come: it was composed principally of Jews; certain of the apostles were still there, and it was the oldest and the model church. Acts xv. reports that when the messengers presented themselves, the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter, and that after much disputing, one after another of the apostles delivered his verdict, so that when this was done, it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen brethren to Antioch, &c., with letters setting forth that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to them, to lay no such burden upon the believers. Here it must be observed, first, that it was a voluntary reference; and, second, that the deliverance had the sanction of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, that this is no precedent whatever for the human establishment of church courts, to which particular congregations are bound to refer their causes, and to the decision of which they must submit. All that brethren to whom a cause is referred have a right to do, is, to point out the will of the Lord respecting it.
- Most important it is to observe that the Scriptures do not allow for the determination of matters by the division of the church into majority and minority. This practice is contrary to the most express laws of the New Testament. In 1 Cor. i. 10, Paul beseeches in the name of the Lord Jesus that all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among the brethren, but that they be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. But this is nullified whenever questions are decided by majority. Schism, i.e., division or rent is the sure consequence of this unscriptural procedure.
- Equally unlawful is it for brethren to carry their cause into law courts. Dare any of you,” asks the apostle, “having a matter against another go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If, then, ye have cognizance of such matters, why set those to judge who are of no account in the church? I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? Not even one who shall be able to decide between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers! Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, that you go to law, one with another. Why do ye not rather suffer wrong? Why do ye not rather be defrauded? 1 Cor. vi. 1-7. Avenge not yourselves––vengeance is mine, I repay, saith the Lord, is the law of Christ. A brother is rather to suffer a personal wrong than take a brother to law. Yet what is more common than for ecclesiastics to implead one another by hired lawyers in their own and in courts of law!