Who is in Control?
There are two major reasons, not unrelated, why there is so little spiritual power and life in the Church, (Assembly), today: The first is the failure to realise that the Church belongs to Christ; the second is the failure to recognise practically the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
In Matt. 16 the Lord announces the formation of His Church with these words: “Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v18). Now note the words carefully: He does not say the Church, but my Church. How is it then that many a believer speaks of “my church” or “our church” or others speak of the Methodist church or the Baptist church when there is only one Church and that Church is Christ’s. IT BLEONGS TO HIM. But even when the doctrine, as such, that the Church is Christ’s is loudly proclaimed, the behaviour of such in the Church show that they deny it has any practical force. Let us all ask ourselves how often we carry on as if it was our Church, and this precious doctrine of the Church being Christ’s is only claimed to be held in order to confer greater dignity upon what is, to all intents and purposes, controlled by us! Now these are strong words, and some will be inclined to reject them out of hand, but be honest my brethren and let us ask ourselves if our actions show that very often the doctrine is only theoretically held.
To be governed, in assembly, by the truth in Scripture concerning the Church is one thing, but to have the further understanding in the soul that it is His Church is quite another! If I take on this last truth with all its full practical force, I will not dare to do anything in the Church without His sanction. The moment I admit it is His Church, I must accept that I can do nothing in that Church without His approval. It is His Church, and He controls. Men speak much of “rights”, but the Christian has no rights in the Church of God. He is there for the pleasure of the One whose Church it is.
It is quite clear then, that we are not at liberty to speak or act in the Church as we like. (I am not denying that the Christian has liberty of course, but we must see that liberty, as taught in the Scripture, is not liberty to do as we see fit in Christ’s Church!) I may feel that I have just the right word for the moment, but I have not the right to speak unless instructed to do so of God. I might believe that the hymn I am about to give out, or the comment I am about to make, is most appropriate, yet unless the directions are from the Head in heaven, and my words in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is but an utterance of the flesh. Rather than, (as we sometimes think is necessary), a lot of activity, a little more of the spirit of the psalmist is to be desired: “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm, 46: 10).
If we examine the first gathering of the Church (Acts2), we see that there was a great deal of public speaking, yet it is carefully recorded that it was all “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v4). THEY WERE UNDER DIVINE CONTROL. If we hold the truth practically as to the Church being Christ’s, all our speaking that Church will be governed by God.. If it is His Church, who are we to speak in it without His authority? Christ is the Head of the Church (Col. 1: 18), and a head does not advise or guide, but dictates to its body, prompting the members to follow the Head’s directions, (The holy Spirit does not give instructions independently of the Head—see John 16: 13), we, as members, are there simply to obey.
That brings me to the second important failure. Consider carefully the fact just mentioned: that the Holy Spirit is there. As really as Christ was present with His disciples on earth, so really is the Holy Spirit now present in the assemblies of the saints. The presence of the Spirit of God is a fact, not merely a doctrine. And surely if in fact He be present—God Himself—when we are gathered together, no fact can compare in importance with this. It is surely the grand, the all–absorbing fact, from which everything besides in the meeting ought to derive its character. What one desires is that the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself should be so realised as that none should break silence except by His power, and under His direction; and that the sense of His presence should thus restrain us from all that is unworthy of Him, and of the name of the Lord Jesus in which we meet.
Take the worship of God. The Lord Jesus Himself clearly taught that it must be in spirit and truth (John 4: 24). “In truth” means simply that it is “true”, that is according to the mind of God. (This is no doubt in contrast to the false worship of the Samaritans to which the woman of John 4 adhered.) However, worship in “truth” on its own is not enough—witnessed to by the outwardly correct, yet spiritually barren, worship in Judaism. WORSHIP MUST ALSO BE IN “SPIRIT”! Let us not descend to a mere ceremonial form! It is not an optional matter: “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (v24). If we are to worship God there is only one way and that is in spirit and truth!
Spiritual worship cannot be manufactured, because man, any man, is incapable of forming right thoughts towards God. Take Hebrews 2: 12: “I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly will I sing thy praise”. Now it is commonly asserted that this is Christ leading the praise to the Father, but a closer inspection of the verse reveals that this is not only inaccurate, but completely lower the sense. What we have here is one person only singing praise to God, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Our praise is through Him, and if we really believed this, we would be extremely careful to see that all our utterances had their origin with God.
Furthermore, the matter of gift bears heavily upon what we do and say in Christ’s Church, yet very often Christians go on completely unaware of its importance. To illustrate this let us take a simple example from the world about us: if we look at politics we can see three basic principles operating, namely dictatorship, democracy and anarchy. Dictatorship is one man having absolute sway, democracy is the participation of all, and anarchy is the philosophy of every man for himself. NOW IF ANY OF THESE IDEAS CROSS OVER INTO THE CHURCH THERE MUST BE AT LEAST A PARTIAL PASSING BY OF GIFT. The counterpart of dictatorship in the ecclesiastical sphere is clericalism. There, though I many be gifted of God to teach for instance, I cannot do so unless I am “ordained” a “minister”, (or at the very best with the express permission of the clergy). On the other hand I may be “ordained” a “minister”, and thus expected to teach, yet in fact not have the gift! There is thus a definite hindering of the Spirit, an over–ruling of the headship of Christ, and a stunting of liberty.
How, under such a system, can Rom. 12; 5–8 be put into operation? “So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; of he that exhorteth on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness”? I cannot be done! We are to be under the control of the Giver of the gifts, not man!
Many, alas, whilst acknowledging the errors of clericalism have gone wrong in the opposite direction and allowed democracy in the Church, viz. the idea that we can all try our hands at anything. Gift is therefore completely overlooked, and the result is virtually a state of anarchy in God’s sight, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21: 25).
Granted, not all our actions in assembly are related to gift, but this does not mean we are at liberty to ignore the matter altogether! Scripture teaches that “all members have not the same office” (Rom. 12: 4), and it is imperative that we recognise this. The gifts are given for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4: 12), and so if we ignore this divine arrangement, and take on service for which we are not suited, it is quite likely that damage rather than edification will ensue! The hand cannot do the work of the eye, and neither can the eye do the work of the hand—they were never designed for it. Generally speaking, (for there could be exceptional circumstances in which this would no longer apply), I am to stick to the gift and the corresponding service that God has given me. The teacher is to teach, the shepherd to shepherd and so on. To do otherwise would be to be guilty of not holding fast the Head (Col. 1: 19).
Oh my brethren in Christ what a difference it would make to our assemblings together if we really believed that the Church belongs to Christ on the one hand and that the Holy Spirit is present in that Church on the other. The great need is not just to hold these truths doctrinally but to act as those who do believe them. The there would be spiritual life and power because God would be in control.