Does not the parable of the wheat and darnel (Matt. 13: 24–30, 36–43) teach that we go against the words of the Lord Himself if we remove what is bad and false from the Assembly?
The parable describes what has become of the profession of Christ: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man sowing good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel amongst the wheat, and went away” (vs24, 25). Now for evil to get an inroad amongst Christians there must be a lack of watchfulness on their part. They get into a careless state and sleep, and the enemy comes and sows darnel. This began at an early epoch of Christendom. We find the germs even in the Acts, and still more so in the epistles. 2 Thessalonians was one of the first epistles that Paul wrote, and yet he says that “the mystery of lawlessness already works” (2 Thess. 2: 7). The “mystery of lawlessness” seems related to the sowing of the darnel spoken of in Matthew in that “mystery” implies a secret working––just as in the enemy sowing while men slept. Some time after this, “when the blade shot up and produced fruit”––when Christianity began to make rapid strides on the earth––“then appeared the darnel also” (Matt. 13: 26). No matter what the work of God is, Satan is always close on its heels.
So the mischief is done in the field, and is not to be rectified until the Lord comes in judgement: “Suffer both to grow together unto the harvest” (v30). At the present moment, there is to be no rooting up, no judgement of the darnel––both wheat and darnel are left together in the field on the explicit instructions of the Lord (v28, 29). Does this mean then that to be in accord with the teaching of this parable we are to give up discipline and to leave what is bad and false in Assembly fellowship? This would indeed be the case if the kingdom of heaven meant the Assembly. Yet how could it be the Assembly of God if its holy nature was not to be maintained in a practical way?
What then is the meaning of the passage? The seed is sown in the field––which is the world (see v38). The plants that grow up are what can be seen in the world. They represent the scene of the confession of Christ, whether true or false. Note the wording of v24: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like ... ” (my emphasis). Originally it was just what was good, but the enemy came and sowed darnel, and thus the kingdom became a mixture. At the present moment therefore, the kingdom of the heavens is populated not only by real saints of God, but also by mere professors. Can we purify the kingdom of this evil? No, for the only way to remove the darnel is to root it up from the field––to take away its life. And this is precisely what some ignorant ecclesiastical authorities have done. The persecutions of Rome, for example, involved the burning of heretics. The true Christian position, is that whilst we may be surrounded by all kinds of bad and immoral persons who claim allegiance to Christ and have been baptised unto His name, we are to leave them alone. The Lord will judge them in His own time. We may protest against their words and their ways, but to put them out of the kingdom of the heavens is not an option open to us.
The Assembly is composed of the members of Christ’s body (Eph. 5: 29, 30)––real believers. These saints have been called into the fellowship of God’s Son (see 1 Cor. 1: 9), and in order to remain practically in that fellowship, they are not to touch what is unclean (see 2 Cor. 6: 17). Thus “if any one called brother be fornicator, or avaricious, or idolater, or abusive, or a drunkard, or rapacious, not to mix with [him] ... Remove the wicked person from amongst yourselves” (1 Cor. 5: 11, 13). If a person falling into open sin were in the communion of the Assembly, he ought to be put out of it. He would still be in the kingdom of the heavens––you cannot unbaptise such––but Assembly fellowship would be denied him.
We may see many around us professing to be Christian who at the same time profane the name of God, but we must leave them for God to deal with. This does not in any way destroy responsibility towards those who are in the fellowship of the Assembly. Where there are Christians guilty of sin such persons are not to be owned as members of Christ’s body while they are going on in that sin. A real saint may fall into open sin but the Assembly knowing it is obliged to intervene for the purpose of expressing God’s judgement about the sin. Were they deliberately to allow such a one to be in the communion of the Assembly they would in effect make the Lord a party to sin. Practically, this is also the effect of misinterpreting the parable before us––not only is holiness sacrificed, but dishonour brought on the Lord’s name.