A Letter concerning Christian ground of fellowship during times of difficulty
________ and I had discussed last night after arriving home what we feel may be a "sticking point" in our conversation which is: what is it that constitutes according to Scripture proper conditions of fellowship and, reflexively, the Lord's approval of and presence with - or, conversely, His disapproval of and absence from - a Christian gathering if such conditions are not present.
I think we need a common agreement on what, by Scripture, constitutes scripturally approved ground for fellowship.
I see, myself, that a single scripture that defines the proper ground of fellowship is, in the Lord's own words in Matthew, "For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them."
The determining value here is His "Name". The question is, `What is represented in that Name?'; and, as a lateral consideration, `What is due to His Name?'
We know that "He has a Name above every name", that He is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners", that He is "a great King." We know that "He is of purer eyes than to behold evil." And, we know that "Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity."
The ground of fellowship involves, then, what is due to that Name in all its holy worth to Heaven and to us. The Lord keeps His Name inviolate - we are called upon to do the same. Paul writes that "if we are unfaithful, he abides faithful, for he cannot deny himself." The ground of our eternal place in Heaven involves absolute holiness - "nothing common, nor that maketh an abomination and a lie, shall at all enter into it" - and we, as a Heavenly people, are called upon while here to maintain the principles of that in our earthly sojourn. We are "a peculiar people, zealous for good works."
More can be said, of course - it is a great subject - although, simple in its inherent estate. In one sense, the Lord's Supper is the focal point - if we can carefully use that phrase - of our links with Himself and then, reflexively, with other Christians. Paul writes distinctly that each needs to "prove himself" lest he eat or drink unworthily and be "guilty" in respect of the body and of the blood of the Lord, and eat or drink judgment to ourselves. This becomes the practical expression of our Christian testimony, doesn't it?
Too, the key, ultimately, becomes the place of the Holy Spirit (Whose service is to always direct us to the Lord) in the walk of the Christian, and I have strongly felt for a long time that, out of this great failure of the last 50+ years, God is intent as a result in highlighting the Holy Spirit's great place and service. This involves our "state".
In 1st Corinthians 10 Paul writes that, "whatever ye do, do all things to God's glory." Certainly, if we continue in unjudged evil, this is not fulfilled.
In the Judges God apportioned bondage upon the children of Israel due to unfaithfulness. They sighed and cried under the pressures and He acted to deliver them under the judges. However, it says repeatedly that He was against them due to their unfaithfulness. He didn't abandon them; but, He not only allowed evil to come against them - He instituted it.
This, in like measure, is what is shown in the public history of the brethren in the last 50+ years. The fact that many found solace in the Lord in their grief and pressure is not, in itself, an evidence of right fellowship conditions. The Lord says that we judge a tree by its fruits, and it can certainly be said that the state of the brethren at any given time is an indicator of the nature of their relationship - or, the lack thereof - with the Lord.
The fellowship under the evil of JT, Jr. had become corrupt - a simple fact - and any who remained in it suffered not only in their practical circumstances as a result of the corruption but, suffered, also, morally as being linked in fellowship with what was avowedly unscriptural. The Lord didn't abandon them; but, He in no way was approving them. The brethren - as a body - had, in every, essential scriptural sense, ceased maintaining what was properly due to the Lord. The Holy Spirit was grieved and quenched - the extent of the allowed evil year after year was such that to say otherwise would be an affront to the holiness of His Person.
The final question, I think, is: at what point would the Lord cease His approbation of an assembly? JND said that he would not leave (immediately) for any evil; but, would leave for any amount of unjudged evil. It could be argued - and has been argued - that judgments had been made in the digraceful regime of JT, Jr. as to at least some of the evil; however, it is a worse sin to recognize an evil and then not separate from it if it remains unresolved. 2nd Timothy 2 speaks of those "who as to the truth have gone astray" and that "everyone who names the name of the Lord [is to] separate from iniquity." Only those that separate from the evil are viewed as sanctified and serviceable.
I just in the past few days was shown two small tracts by my Mom that I think are of interest in relation to our discussions on these points.
The first is by JB Stoney entitled "Exclusiveness: Its Ground and History" and the brother opens his tract by writing "The point of departure is the point of recovery, and that invariably is the point most difficult to reach. One will admit and confess anything but the motive. The motive exposes the nature. Self respect prevents me from allowing any eye to penetrate to my motive, simply because I know it will not bear the light..."
The second is by AA Elliott and is titled "The Pathway of Separation". In it he concludes, "The only ground to take is that of obedience; not to assume to be better than Christians in the systems of men; it is a matter of obedience to the word of God. When there is such a state in the assembly that it cannot or will not deal with evil, then the individual has to depart from the evil, and follow righteousness with those that do the same. In that path there is power to deal with any evil that may show itself."
We recognize fully that you have come into a locale here as to which you were unaware of the immediate, local issues. In a sense, it is like those in 2nd Samuel 15 - "they went in their simplicity, and they knew nothing." However, it is also a reality that we are your immediate, local brethren. If we are fit for fellowship, it is wrong and unscriptural that you would bypass us for the fellowship of others in __ (we understand that you did not know we are here).
However, in like manner, if we have been maintaining righteousness here locally - as you have indicated that you believe we have so been doing; then, it brings to the fore the reality that others in this area, including those with whom you currently have links in fellowship in __, have, over the years, steadily circumvented us in having formed links of fellowship among themselves in exclusion of us. This includes, in this immediate __ area, Mr. ____, Mr. _______, Mr. ___ ________ and others, and, in __, the __________, the ____ and others.
All these are important concerns to all of us. They are, since our Christian testimony in righteousness is involved, important to the Lord. Something was "bound" here locally in 1955/56, and, according to Scripture, it was commensurately bound in Heaven. It has never been properly resolved.
This letter has become longer than intended and enough has been said; so, I shall leave off writing. We think it provident and desirable, as you indicated, ____, to meet and speak with the other brethren from __ - the ____ and the __________ (my mother-in-law notes that the __________ had spoken to them of meeting together and she has been concerned that they never managed to do this) - and that you also have an opportunity to speak with my wife's parents (_____ and ____ ______) since we are in fellowship with them and they underwent the evil of JT, Jr.'s regime.
I'm not one for delay in matters - we are wondering if it is possible and acceptable to meet at my in-laws' house in ______ ______ this coming Saturday March 24th (kids included). I had thought of this location as being central to both the ______ brethren and to ourselves here in __ (it is no more than half an hour ride for any of us). We could meet around 7:00 pm - they would serve dessert, coffee, etc.
If this date is not acceptable; then, we could arrange another.
We have been here a very long time unreconciled with our local brethren - we are trusting in the Lord that His gracious hand is in our meeting together for blessing for us all.