A Collective Fallacy
The position to be occupied by a faithful believer in a day of ecclesiastical confusion and outward breakdown is a very straightforward and simple one: to speak humbly and to act humbly. Claims are made as to being gathered to ‘the divine centre’, while others harbour secret thoughts of being Philadelphian in character. However, any public claims we may make, or any private thoughts we may have, are really of little consequence. What matters, is reality. Philadelphia was marked by a little power, keeping the Lord’s Word, and not denying His name (see Rev. 3: 8). They were going on in the things of Christ in a quiet and unpretentious way; it was Laodicea that is characterised by “thou sayest …” (v17).
Many Christians have the impression that the company with whom they meet has some ecclesiastical standing with God. But what is this corporate denominational position (or the more nebulous concept of ‘the meetings’) to which they desire other Christians to join? The answer, painful though it may be to some, is that it is nothing—nothing at all! In the present dispensation, Israel being temporarily set aside, there is only one collective entity that the Lord recognises and that is His own Assembly or Church (see Matt. 16: 18). The public ruin of what is ecclesiastical makes no difference whatsoever to this fact, and those who naively imagine that they can set themselves up as a new corporate position on the foundation of the old are guilty of the most dreadful arrogance. The Church remains, it is all that God recognises, and “hades’ gates shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16: 18). Certainly two or three may gather to the Lord’s name (see Matt. 18: 20), but they remain two or three.
It is utterly vain to quote Scriptures that talk about those who joined themselves to the disciples (see Acts 9: 26; 17: 4, 34). Then, there was a public position or body to join—it was called the Church. Now, unless we are claiming to be that Church (whether in its local or its universal aspect), there is nothing that can be joined. Rome may boast to be catholic, but the reality is that nowhere can you point out a public body and say that is the Church. As having faith in Christ, we are all living stones in the divine building, whether we meet collectively with many or few or none, but there is no visible expression of that one true Church that we can identify ourselves with. Things in the NT were much more straightforward. There was then a clearly defined “within” and “without” (1 Cor. 5: 12, 13) and there was no denominational choice. If you were a Christian you were in the Church, and if you were outside, you were in the place of unbelief. Scripture recognises three groups of people: Jews, Greeks and the Assembly of God (see 1 Cor. 10: 32). Schools of opinion (see Gal. 5: 20)—which is essentially what many of todays ‘churches’ are—were roundly condemned.
Fellowship today is a question not of joining, but of coming together in a reciprocal way. If links are made, it is because we are like–minded in pursuing what is right (see 2 Tim. 2: 22). One is not the supplicant who defers to the other, and nor does an imbalance of numbers on one side compared to the other make any difference. Many do not understand this and expect others to unilaterally sign up to their ‘statement of faith’ (whether written or unwritten)—thereby betraying that, at heart, they think that they are something which others should join. The fact is, if real, fellowship is mutual. We are only so many individuals seeking to walk according to the principles of the one true fellowship (see 1 Cor. 1: 9)—even if not all are available to us, or we to them. In earlier days, those who desired to be received would have been examined by those who occupied the public position. Now, we must examine each other (and ourselves) in a spirit of deep humility. It is the only fitting response to the humbling circumstances of the present day.