A must read to all “Brethren” people,
especially the new generation should read this paper
written by J Van Dijk,
The Editor of “Come and See” Bible Study Magazine.
(A Nathanael Publication)
Who Are We?
by J Van Dijk
More than ever the question must be raised: Who are we? We call ourselves brethren while refusing any name, for we want to be non-denominational. But on account of the ever-present need for explaining who we are, what we are doing, and the character of our meetings, we have out of what we term “necessity” resorted to referring to ourselves as “Brethren”—with a capital B. at an early stage of our way of gathering, when God gave a real revival in Plymouth, England, others often referred to us as “Plymouth Brethren.”
As years went by, many, even among us, made use of this name, although by now it encompasses a great variety of groups. Today a few among us even refer to themselves as: “The Brethren Church.” But any such references really deny what our early brethren sought to do, for from the beginning they wanted to be nothing. As John the Baptist could not or would not identify himself other than by saying: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the path of the Lord,” so we should not identify ourselves other than to say: “We want to walk as God intended the Church to walk.” Those who initially gathered in the manner we do wanted to be nothing but Christians.We call ourselves Brethren while refusing any name. Then Who are we? Click To Tweet
To Be or Not to Be
The Bible speaks of only one Church with its local expressions referred to as churches. Yet in their character and actions, these local churches are to be but the expression of the one Church, the body of Christ, with Christ as it’s only Head. This consideration alone is a contrast to what is seen today in Christianity, for today there are many “churches,” i.e., many denominations, a situation that is not of God. Obviously, that which God intended to be a testimony to His name is now in ruin.
Yet, even today, God sees only one Church, but in that Church He sees men doing their own thing, and the testimony in this world is marred. This was realized by those who, in the early 1800s began simply to meet as Christians. They asked themselves what to do in the midst of such confusion; could they begin a new “church”? That would merely add one more to the many already there. Could they strive to bring about a reasonable amount of agreement among the many “churches”? This would, at best, join together that which was clearly not of God. What should they do then? All they could do was act simply on the principles found in God’s Word for the Church. This would not cause them to be anything; they would just be Christians who acted according to the principles of God’s Word. It was not a matter of being but of doing. Consequently, the adoption of any name at all would in itself be a denial of what they were setting out to do.
It is obvious that the Christians who began to gather on that basis had the same flesh, and therefore the same tendencies, as those around them. The fact that they did not initiate a screening process—which would have been totally in conflict with God’s Word—but received all true Christians caused their company to contain the same variety of frailties, the same tendencies found in Christianity at large. For, though the first ones to gather in this way did so out of conviction, many joined them only because they recognized the atmosphere of love and affection, not because they really understood why this group gathered in such a distinct manner. These latter tended to introduce human ideas, disregarding the principles of God’s Word. This of course was noted by some among them who had come among them out of conviction. Thus the desire arose to stem the tide. In their hearts, some began to make distinctions among brethren. Those doing so banded together and in the end became a dictating force exercising a central control and setting up requirements. They forgot, however, that bringing in control is just as much an activity of the flesh as disregarding the principles found in God’s Word.
Ever since, among these so-called “Brethren” there have been those who have tended to control matters by legal requirements, as well as those who have tended to take a more open stand. Since conflicts between these distinct attitudes cannot be avoided, many among them have adopted the position that each assembly is independent of, though not indifferent about, the others. Others correctly have maintained that since all local assemblies are but the local expression of the one Church under one Head, assemblies must never be viewed as independent of each other, but rather an interdependent, since all are dependent on the one Head. The Head will not decide in one way in one local assembly and in a different way in another. As long as all are submissive to the one Head—and this is the crucial point as to whether a group of Christians is really gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus (Luke. 6:46)—they will all speak the same thing. Conflicting decisions in local assemblies are indicative of either one or both no longer being subject to Christ.
Among those who gather unto the name of the Lord Jesus alone, teachers often deal with the subject “The Assembly.” The fact that they refer to their congregations as “assemblies,” and to the sum total of those congregations which express fellowship with each other as “The Assembly,” has given rise to confusion. When speaking about the Assembly as found in God’s Word, as seen in God’s eye, one can only display its beauty and blessings—its perfections. Many hearers, however, not sensitive to the distinction, “hear” the speaker expressing the beauties and blessings of all the congregations that walk in fellowship with each other. Sad to say, even some teachers among them have become ensnared by this confusion, as is evident from some publications. We should always remember that, when speaking of the beauties of the Assembly, we are dealing with the Assembly as God sees it, not with the company with whom we fellowship.
Is there not beauty in the latter? Perhaps, but it is marred by what is of man. The relationship with what we find in God’s Word and what is practiced by us is best described by similitude. A children’s coloring book may show a beautifully colored ball than the child may copy on the empty page beside it. You know what happens on that page. If the child’s ball looks better than a potato, the child is doing well. So it is with the fellowship to which we belong when we compare it to the Assembly as found in God’s Word. Ours is but a poor attempt to bring into practice what God’s Word displays. Let us never forget that! We are nothing; we only seek in a feeble way to act as God intended His Church to act.
As mentioned above, the confounding of what God’s Word teaches and the practical demonstration of it has not only been found among learners but also with some teachers. Though in itself this thinking could be considered a mere error of thought, it evolved into an evil doctrine that equates the practical expression with the truth found in God’s Word. It led some to say: “We are the Assembly; we are the church.” Soon they began to despise Christians who were affiliated with groups not walking with them. On the basis of their pretension, they developed theories why those still attending denominations can never be received to the breaking of bread. Forgetting that brethren began to gather unto the name of the Lord Jesus for the very reason that denominational boundaries hindered true-hearted Christians to fellowship together, they now began to refuse those who did not first separate from the denomination they belonged to. It is true that today many denominations allow doctrinal or moral evil in their midst, but they began to consider the denominations themselves to be defiling iniquity rather than just error. They claimed to have Scripture for their position, leaving unanswered the question why God gave such abundant blessing to those who first gathered in this way while no such theories had been adopted.
We too hold denominationalism to be an error, but God never declared all error to be evil and defiling. Though in the Old Testament mere error was never declared to be defiling, those who wanted to walk in obedience to God knew they should not practice error and refrained from doing so. So we wish to do, without thereby declaring that we have become special.
Another subject of pretension concerns the question of “the remnant.” We are fully convinced that at all times God has had a remnant for Himself and that He has one today. It is quite another thing, however, to consider oneself to be that remnant. We ought to have learned in this respect from Elijah, who in his moment of weakness spoke of himself as all that was left for God—he considered himself to be “the remnant” (1 King 19:10,14). God had to put him straight. And God will put straight all who consider themselves to be today’s remnant. Let it be known that the true remnant will never consider itself to be anything, it just wants to obey God and be nothing; it is satisfied with being unknown (2 Cor. 6:9). God blows on all pretension!
Perhaps the question as to who is Philadelphia ought to be mentioned as well. Doubtless, when God caused brethren to rediscover the truth regarding the Assembly, those who sought to practice this truth displayed in many respects as Philadelphia character. Scripture shows that Laodicea develops out of Philadelphia; we are the offspring of those earlier brethren. It ought to be obvious, then, that we have become Laodicea. Do we not often hear it said that there is much knowledge among “us” (cf. Rev. 3:17)? The truth of the matter is that it is largely on our bookshelves, little in our heads, and even less in our hearts, for if it were in our hearts we would not hear such pretentious remarks as referred to above. Sadly, such remarks are heard among some leaders—too often to be ignored, but thankfully not from all.
A practical example as to where such pretensions can lead is found in the following account. A young girl, who had a good report from faithful Christians. Regularly attended meetings, though not yet breaking bread. When the collection came around one day, she gave some of her money to the Lord. A brother, noticing this and knowing that she was not yet breaking bread, went to her, asking: What did you put in? When she answered, he told her to take it out. No doubt the brother felt justified doing so, for I was told this was done on the basis that “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah” (Prov. 15:8). Would not the brother’s prayer have sanctified the gift (Prov. 15:8) was the young girl wicked? It seems a better Scripture to apply here is this “Whosoever shall be a snare to one of the little ones who believe in Me, it was better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he cast into the sea (Mark. 9:42). It hardly needs to be said that through this event this young girl and her family were effectively hindered from going on in the pattern in which the Lord wanted them to walk. Pretension leads to sectarian or even cult-like attitudes such as described in this account.
These things have their result! Many who have a genuine heart for the Lord sense this attitude and evaluate it for what it is: objectionable, fleshly. In short, they reject it. Several, not knowing where to turn, have left. There are persistent reports that upon their departure some have been declared by their brethren to be evil, not to be associated with, like the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5 or the false teacher in 2 John merely for their no longer attending meetings. Wherever this has occurred it is evident that the spirit of Diotrephes has taken hold of that assembly and that there was good reason for the separation. Sadly, however, many who reject such fleshly attitudes do so in a fleshly way. Countering flesh with flesh, rendering themselves incapable of dealing with the evil they encounter.
Now, because of our sad condition, many who have walked with us on the same path not only reject these ungodly attitudes but also reject the path as it is found in Scripture. Not surprisingly, they tend to resort to solutions from years gone by. They resort to institutionalizing their congregations. They find comfort in the organization, in declaring assemblies to be independent, in bringing in ideas found in the denominations and which have there proven to lead to great “blessing” (i.e. numbers). They have seen how those who have said they wanted to stay as close to Scripture as possible have become legalistic and sectarian, and consequently, they cast aside the entire idea of staying close to Scripture. Perceiving how such serious misuse has been made of Scripture, many ask: who know what Scripture means, anyway? Also, some now advocate that we follow our hearts, forgetting that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Instead of a oneness according to Scripture we find those who advocate ecumenism of the heart—and it seems to work: their numbers grow! But is it of God? We don’t think so.
What is to be done by those who want to stay close to Scripture but who have recognized their failure? As in all situations in which failure is recognized, the first thing to do is to bow in confession before the Lord. Rather than coming before the Lord with an attitude of: “all that the Lord says we will do!” (cf. Exodus 19:8), we need to come acknowledging our failure, declaring to Him that, Yes we want to do His will, but we have shown ourselves wholly incapable of doing so consistently. We cannot! From this foundation of weakness we can rise up in His strength and once more walk in the path He has shown us in His Word.
Will we then indiscriminately receive all who seek to break bread with us? No, this we cannot do. True, one should not be refused to the breaking of bread merely for belonging to one of the denominations. Yet, we need to take account of the person’s conscience in the matter. This does not mean that one saying: “I have a good conscience about this or that,” will be acceptable. No, it may very well be that we have to say: “Your lack of conscience about this or that shows insensitivity to God’s claims, and for that reason, we are not at liberty to receive you.” However, those who walk carefully with their God and refrain from, and are not in fellowship with evil, such may well be received, regardless of their denominational affiliation. The Lord will teach the honest and upright soul. Those who know that their denomination allows evil to go undisciplined will, on the basis of their association in that denomination, first have to separate from it, but such are not to be refused merely because of their membership in a denomination, but because of their association with evil. Though on the basis of our understanding of Scripture, we regard the denominational set up an error we cannot walk in; yet, in itself, it is not a defiling iniquity.
Will we continue to allow in our midst expressions of pretension without dealing with them as we do with other evils? We surely need to seek the Lord’s help that we may know how to discipline such excesses. Perhaps our greatest failure has been in that area, for these things make the precious things of the Lord odious to many, and this is a worse evil than a faulty path walked into ignorance. The former defiles, the latter does not!
May the Lord help us to keep our bearings straight, keeping us in the realization that, although the path we seek to walk before the Lord is precious to Him:
We ourselves are nothing!
“The Lord is near!” (Philippians 4:5).
“Already the ax is applied to the root of the trees: every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
“Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of My mouth… I rebuke and discipline as many as I love: be zealous therefore and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and am knocking; if anyone hear My voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:16, 19-20).
A closing word to our readers who do not walk in fellowship with us.
We apologize for this exercise in self-examination. We hope that it will nevertheless be instructive to you. We wish you to know that there is a path for the Christian walk that is according to God’s Word, yet those who seek to walk in it will ever again discover that their own flesh greatly hinders them to walk in what they know is right. We ourselves have nothing to be proud of, and much to be ashamed of. May this, however, not keep you from realizing that what we seek to follow is indeed according to God’s Word. If our failure has become a stumbling block to you, we humbly ask your forgiveness. May the Lord be merciful to us if by our practice we have failed to make that which is precious to Him precious to you.
An adaptation from “Come and See” Bible Study Magazine. Nathanael Publication. Used by permission.