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1883 Ecclesial Guide

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41. -- Involved in another Ecclesia's trouble.

An ecclesia may be at peace in itself, but may get involved in the troubles of other ecclesias, through an incorrect mode of action. The simple law of Christ, to do to others as we would be done by, will greatly help us to take the right and wholesome course. Let us suppose, then, that some other ecclesia has withdrawn from a brother on grounds that have seemed just to the majority thereof, is it right that the brother so withdrawn from should be received by you? You can settle this by considering. How would you like the said ecclesia to act towards a brother or sister you have withdrawn from? Should you like them to receive such? There is only one answer -- No. And this yields this general rule that no ecclesia ought to receive into fellowship a brother or sister that has been withdrawn from elsewhere.

If you say "perhaps the brother or sister is unjustly withdrawn from," such a case is possible; and the door ought not to be shut against the consideration of such a possibility. But there is a right way of dealing with such a supposition. And the simple rule of Christ aforesaid will again be an all-sufficient help. Should you not like your decision in the case of a brother withdrawn from to be held good until it is proved a wrong one? There is only one answer -- Yes. We ought, therefore, to respect the withdrawals of other ecclesias until we have proved them unjustified.

But here again, we must be careful. There is a right way and a wrong way of trying such a case. Would you like the case of a brother you have withdrawn from to be tried behind your back? There is only one answer -- You would not. Therefore you ought not to hear the case of a brother who has been withdrawn from, without the presence of those, either actually or by representation, who have withdrawn from him. If a withdrawn-from brother comes to your ecclesia and alleges the injustice of the withdrawal, if you are disposed to listen to the case, your duty is (meanwhile withholding fellowship) to apprize the ecclesia that has withdrawn from him, that he applies for your fellowship on the ground of the withdrawal being unjust, and that you wish to investigate the cause concurrently with them. If the withdrawing ecclesia refuse to grant such an investigation, they place themselves in the wrong, and justify you in examining the case for yourselves, in their absence. But an enlightened ecclesia would not refuse. They would act on Christ's rule. They would do as they would like to be done by. If they were the withdrawn-from but demurring brother, or the doubtful ecclesia applying for re-examination, they would like to have the opportunity of judging for themselves, and would, therefore, grant that opportunity thus respectfully applied for. The result would tend to peace. The concurrent re-examination would either manifest the righteousness of the withdrawal, or the uncertainty and perhaps unjustifiableness of it. In either case, the course to be taken by the applying ecclesia would be freed from doubt.

 

42. -- Ecclesias in Relation One to Another.

If a careful attention is given to these reasonable rules of procedure between one ecclesia and another, there will be little danger of disagreement. The bond of union is the reception of the one faith, and submission to the commandments of the Lord. It is nothing less than a calamity when rupture on secondary issues sets in, where these other conditions of union exist. It is not only calamitous, but sinful somewhere.

There ought to be no interference of one ecclesia with another. At the same time, they have reciprocal rights. Ecclesial independence is a principle essential to be maintained. But, it is no part of that independence to say that no ecclesia shall consider a matter that another has decided upon, if that matter comes before the first ecclesia, and challenges their judgment, and, in fact, requires a decision. In the example already discussed, if a brother withdrawn from by one ecclesia is bound to consider the application, and it is no infringement of the independence of the first ecclesia, that it should be so, subject to the rules and attitudes indicated. It would, in fact, be a renunciation of its own independence, were it to refuse to do so. Respect for the first ecclesia requires that it accept its decision until it sees grounds for a different view; and in the investigation of these grounds, it ought to invite its co-operation, as already indicated. But the mere fact of the application imposes upon it the obligation to consider and investigate the matter, if there are prima facie grounds for doing so. The other ecclesia would make a mistake if it considered such a procedure an infringement of its independence. Such a view would, in reality, be a trammelling of the independence of every assembly; for it would then amount to this, that no assembly had the right to judge a case coming before them if that case happen to have already been adjudicated upon by another ecclesia. The judgment of one would thus be set up as a rule for all. An ecclesia has no right to judge except for itself. This is the independence not to be interfered with; but a similar right to judge must be conceded to all, and the exercise of it, if tempered with a respectful and proper procedure, would never offend an enlightened body anywhere. In the majority of cases, the withdrawal of one ecclesia is practically the withdrawal of all, since all will respect it till set aside, and since, in most cases a concurrent investigation would lead to its ratification. But there may be cases where a reasonable doubt exists, and where a second ecclesia will come to a different conclusion from the first. What is to be done then? Are the two ecclesias that are agreed in the basis of fellowship to fall out because they are of a different judgment on a question of fact? This would be a lamentable result -- a mistaken course every way. They have each exercised their prerogative of independent judgment: let each abide by its own decision, without interfering with each other. The one can fellowship a certain brother, the other cannot. Are they to aggravate the misery of a perhaps very trumpery and unworthy affair, by refusing to recognise each other, because they differ in judgment about one person? What sadder spectacle can there be than to see servants of the Lord Jesus frowning at each other, and denying each other the comfort of mutual friendship and help, because they cannot agree about a given action or speech of perhaps some unworthy person. The course of wisdom in such a case is certainly to agree to differ. An ecclesia acting otherwise -- demanding of another ecclesia, as a condition of fellowship, that they shall endorse their decision in a case that has become the business of both -- is in reality infringing that principle of ecclesial independence, which they desire to have recognised in their own case. It would be to impose what might be an intolerable tyranny upon the brethren; for suppose it were to happen, as it might happen, that a deserving brother or sister were withdrawn from on insufficient grounds by an assembly that might happen to be composed of persons not remarkable for breadth of judgment, to what hopeless injustice such a brother or sister would be subjected if other ecclesias were to be debarred from forming their own judgment in the event of application for their fellowship.

 

43. -- The True Secret of Success.

This lies in the rich indwelling of the word of Christ in each individual member of an ecclesia -- a state to be attained in our day only by the daily and systematic reading of the Scriptures. When every mind is influenced by the word, the worst rules work smoothly. When it is otherwise, the best will be miscarry. The system of daily reading, laid out in The Bible Companion, has for years been followed by thousands with increasing benefit. The brethren ought, above all things, to help one another in its observance. It is with a view to this that in more than one ecclesia, each new brother and sister is presented with a copy of The Bible Companion on their entrance.

In one ecclesia, a copy of The Commandments of Christ is also given to each new member. When the commandments of Christ are remembered and acted on (and Jesus says none who fail to do so are his brethren), it will be easy to carry out any system of rules. In fact, a small company where Christ is in the heart ascendant, can get on best without set rules. It is only because this is not universal and when members increase, that rules become necessary.

 

44. -- Fraternal Gatherings from Various Places.

These are beneficial when restricted to purely spiritual objects (i.e., let the brethren assemble anywhere from anywhere, and exhort, or worship, or have social intercourse together); but they become sources of evil if allowed to acquire a legislative character in the least degree. Ecclesial independence should be guarded with great jealousy, with the qualifications indicated in the foregoing sections. To form "unions" or "societies" of ecclesias, in which delegates should frame laws for the individual ecclesias, would be to lay the foundation of a collective despotism which would interfere with the free growth and the true objects of ecclesial life. Such collective machineries create fictitious importances, which tend to suffocate the truth. All ecclesiastical history illustrates this.

 

45. -- Marriage

Marriage is not what the ecclesiasticism of Christendom calls "one of the sacraments of the Church." Nevertheless, as a matter powerfully affecting the spiritual relations of brethren and sisters, it is an institution coming within the regulation of the law of Christ. Marriage with the alien is forbidden both by the general tenor or many precepts, and by express intimation of liberty to marry "only in the Lord" (1 Cor. vii. 39). The law of Christ thus follows the law of Moses (that other "law of the Lord," in most points superseded, but not in this). It was a strict injunction to Israel not to marry the heathen on either side of the house. It is fitting that such a restriction should extend to saints, because the reason dictating it in the case of Israel after the flesh, is more powerfully operative among Israel after the Spirit: "They will turn thee away from following me."

A brother ought not to marry a woman who is not a sister: a sister ought not to marry a man who is not a brother. The marriage of a believer ought to be "only in the Lord."

The truth may come to man or woman in the married state; in that case, the man or woman is not to leave the unbelieving wife or husband if there be willingness on the part of the partner to continue the association. This Paul plainly lays down (1 Cor. vii. 12-13). But if the unbelievers depart, he says, "Let them depart: a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: God hath called us to peace." This departing, however, does not release from the matrimonial bond. "Remain unmarried" is, in such a case, the apostolic command -- "verse 11). [See "What Saith The Spirit - 1 Cor. 7 Exposed" and "A Great Mystery" by Bro. John Thomas-- JBS]

But what is to be done in the case of an unmarried brother or sister who violates the apostolic law by marrying one not a believer (by which, of course, we are to understand, an obedient believer -- one baptised into the faith of the gospel). This is a difficult point to decide. Some are for taking no notice: others for withdrawing from the fellowship of the offender. Both courses are open to objection. "Taking no notice" is to wink at the breach of the law of Christ, and implicate ourselves therein: a breach which gradually leads to other breaches until there is, in most cases, a complete falling away of the truth. On the other hand, the marriage cannot be undone; and to refuse to have anything further to do with the offender is to say that he has committed an unpardonable sin. Should we be justified in taking this ground? If he defend his act as a Scriptural one, and contend for indiscriminate right of marriage on the part of believers with unbelievers, there would doubtless be no alternative but withdrawal, for we may not make ourselves responsible (by fellowship) for doctrines or maxims that are in opposition to the law of God. But suppose there is a recognition of the Scriptural law in the case, and an admission of wrong, extenuated by necessity of marriage, and inability to find a sister, or some such plea, should we be justified in for ever refusing such an offender, as if he were a habitual drunkard or a thief? There must be some middle ground in such a case, and it is doubtless to be found in the practice of the London brethren. Brother J.J. Andrew, at whose suggestion this paragraph is inserted, says: "You know our plan (in the case of marriage with an alien having taken place in our midst). We pass a resolution of disapproval, and send it to the brother or sister concerned. And, as a counter act, marriages in the faith are announced from the table on Sunday morning, as an expression of approval by the ecclesia of the principle on which they have taken place. It also serves, in a large ecclesia, as an introduction to all, instead of spreading gradually in a private manner."

 

46. -- Sunday School

It is a matter of apostolic command to bring up our children in the enlightenment of the truth (Eph. vi. 4; Col. iii. 21; 1 Tim. iii. 3-4), &c., and the apostolic precept is strengthened by every consideration of wisdom, benevolence, and expediency. Though the precept doubtless refers, in its primary application, to parental instruction, still it necessarily extends to every method by which it may be carried out. What we find to be true of secular education, is also true of higher education: we cannot effectually do all the work ourselves. We are greatly helped by the assistance of others. Private endeavour is greatly helped by the power that comes from co-operation in a collective capacity. The most eligible form of this co-operation, in the circumstances of modern society (indeed, almost the only available form), is the Sunday School. The idea of objecting to it, because it is a popular institution, will not retain its hold where reason reigns. We may as well give up the use of umbrellas, and a hundred other things, if we are to avoid everything that is used by the orthodox community. A Sunday School is a good thing, if the truth is taught in it. It is because the truth is not taught in the popular Sunday Schools that they are of no use to the brethren and sisters. Let them have Sunday Schools of their own, and the difficulty is removed. There will, in this, be an advantage both to the children and to the brethren and sisters who take part. It is a work requiring and calling into exercise benevolence and patience, almost more than any other form of work. One incentive to continue in it lies in the fact that it is one form of that well-doing upon patient continuance in which, our entrance into life everlasting is predicated. Another is to be found in the fact that, although the fruits of the work are slow in coming, yet they do come at last, in the acquaintance of the children with divine things, and in the improving effect which this acquaintance more or less ultimately produces.

The school should be under the auspices of the ecclesias. That is, it ought not to be left to the private initiative and responsibility of one or two brethren. It is a work that the brethren, in their collective capacity, should approve and encourage, and have control of, and which, at the same time, should be sufficiently in the hand of the teachers as to give them a complete interest in it. The control of the ecclesia should only be a power in reserve. The practical arrangements should be left with the teachers, with a power of appeal in case of anything wrong. The ecclesia sufficiently identifies itself with the work in recognising it, providing funds for it, and in appointing the superintendent, secretary, and treasurer. The teachers, on the other hand, who do the work, having the power to decide all the practical arrangements, subject to the reserve power of the ecclesia, will sufficiently feel that the work is theirs to be enabled to continue their interest in it from year to year. By this form of matters, we get all the good that the school is capable of yielding, while discharging our collective duty as the servants of the truth.

 

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