A Response to Assembly Distinctives: Part 1
This was written in response to Are Assembly Distinctives a Good Thing?
I want to thank Crawford so much for identifying a troublesome matter that can sometimes be swept under the rug and shoulders shrugged when it rears its head.
I love the statement “It would be far better for each local church to search the scriptures themselves and follow those convictions than adhere simply to an established list of the ‘Brethren’”.
That the scriptures are our only authority is so plainly obvious. Sadly there is a tendency to artificially blanket-label groups as being either acceptable or not (and mostly not) based on these artificial labels.
In extreme cases, great sweeping strokes have been made at the expense of other groups on hear-say or casual interactions at best. Proverbs 14:15 tells us to “look well into a matter”.
Philippians 2:3 say to esteem others better than ourselves, in context, on the basis of unity in the estimation of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, His deity, His manhood, His death and His resurrection. There is no other qualifier mentioned in this passage for esteeming others better than ourselves.
This as opposed to preemptively separating ourselves from other parts of the body of Christ based on the latest social media news about this group or that, or what so-and-so says about other believers.
God’s Word is the final authority
There is no other cornerstone, nor authority under heaven whereby we must be saved, Acts 4:11-12. And so it is for the head of the body of Christ AND local churches, Jesus Christ! His Word is sufficient and provides all authority for each local church regardless of its “label” to rightly divide the Word.
It is not good to have drive-by negative proclamations about other believers within the body of Christ, while inferring our own superiority… Speak evil of no man (never mind entire cross-sections of the body of Christ). Titus 2:3
Do the assemblies perfect doctrine?
Can any group claim with absolute certainty that they are doctrinally perfect? The moment we do, we become proud of something that is not true. No matter what our angle is at doctrine or to what degree we feel we are doctrinally true — if we ascribe purity, confidence, perfection and righteousness to anyone — or any group(s) — other than Christ, we also are in danger of heresy.
Jesus is our only gathering centre. He is our only object of affection. And it is by His power and righteousness alone, that we have any standing with God, either personally or collectively. Any bit of obedience we feel we may have been blessed with, comes from Christ, not from us nor any other group or label. 1 Cor. 3:5-6 and Hebrews 12:2 establish these principles sufficiently.
Accountable to Christ alone
And yes absolutely we aspire to more rightly divide the Word of Truth and more carefully attend to God’s Word… each assembly or local church is accountable for sure… but to Christ alone.
The problem with creating artificial categories of believers, is that yes, it does divide (and fosters an US & THEM attitude) and creates a basis for fellowship that is extra-Biblical. That does not mean we give up the authority of the Scriptures, quite the opposite.
We need to rely all the more on what God’s Word says, rightly dividing and paying attention to whatever it says, no matter who speaks upon it. Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4).
Let the Word speak and challenge us, and thank those faithful believers who would carefully open the Word of God, even if our pre-conceived notions are challenged by the same Word. Let us be like the believers in Berea, looking into it for themselves from God’s Word.
Us verses them
This kind of artificial separation happened before of course. Just read Acts 11:1-18 where Peter took flack for fellowshipping with believers of a different background.
It was so important to God to correct Peter’s THEM & US attitude, that He had to give Peter a special vision 3 times and repeated the message in plain language.
Peter tried to defend himself to the Lord (can you imagine) by siting his keeping of the law. But the Lord rebuked Peter, “Don’t make a distinction between my people that I have cleaned. They are all clean!”
Dropping man-made categories
Man-made categories of believers are just that… man-made… only God’s Word is the arbiter of truth and each case must be examined carefully to avoid anything unscriptural within the church.
However, our basis for fellowship within the body of Christ, is a person. Christ is not divided against himself, a wise man said, thus there is no division in terms of fellowship, within the body of Christ.
We may have to have respectful discussions seeking understanding first, if there are disagreements, and then let God’s Word have the final say. But our basis for fellowship, according to God’s Word, is the person, the wonderful Lord Jesus! Emmanuel… God with us!