letters to surfers

Question : When a church becomes apostate, is it time for us to leave it?

by Robert Brow  (www.brow.on.ca)

Before answering that question we have to settle what is the Lord's church. It is the Lord who is building his world-wide church (Matthew 16:18). And it is easy to see that the New Testament writers without exception pictured him building only one church in each city:

Acts 8:1 JERUSALEM, 11:25-26 ANTIOCH,, 18:22 CAESAREA, Romans 16:1 CENCHRAEA, 1 Corinthians 1:2 CORINTH, Colossians 4:15-16 LAODICEA, 1 Thessalonians 1:1 THESSALONICA, Revelation 2:1 EPHESUS, 2:8 SMYRNA, 2:12 PERGAMUM, 2:18 THYATIRA, 3:1 SARDIS, 3:7 PHILADELPHIA, 3:14 LAODICEA

Where a region or racial grouping is mentioned, there is a plurality of churches in the various city centers:

Acts 15:41 SYRIA and CILICIA, Romans 16:14 GENTILES, 16:16 OF THE MESSIAH, 1 Corinthians 14:33, SAINTS, 16:19 ASIA, 2 Corinthians 8:1 MACEDONIA, Galatians 1:22 JUDEA

When a church began to be planted in a city there was only one location for meeting. But soon there would be local congregations of the one church mushrooming all over a huge city like Ephesus (see Romans 16:3-15).

In our day often there is the objection that in a big city like Sydney, London, Los Angeles, Toronto there is no way all the various congregations can meet together. But these congregations can still recognize one another as one church without ever meeting in one place. The citizens of New York have one mayor and they view themselves as citizens of one city. In a small town there could be an annual convention to demonstrate their oneness, but this is not an essential. What is essential is that no congregation or denominational grouping of congregations presume to view themselves as the true church and exclude all others.

When I visited Madras in 1962 I attended Jehovah Shammah, which was founded by Bakht Singh based on the ideas of Watchman Nee. Unfortunately Bakht Singh insisted there could only be one meeting place in that huge city, which meant that people had to walk two or three hours to get to his assembly. No other "true church" meeting places were allowed by definition. More serious was the idea that only the Christians meeting at Jehovah Shammah were the church of Madras.

If we picture the Lord as a gardener tending his church in each city, he obviously delights in a wide variety of flowers each with its own type of organization. In a big garden (Kew Gardens near London, England) there are hundred of clumps of different flowers, but only one head gardener. This means there can be dozens of different groupings of Christians in one city, each with an identifying name and in some cases grouped under denominations. But no denomination can be a church.

When things begin to go wrong in one part of the church in our city (as in Revelation 2:9, 15, 20, 24, 3:9) our task is to repent of what we ourselves are doing wrong (2:5, 16, 3:19), hold fast (2:10, 25), and welcome the Lord to our communion services (3:20). It is not us but the Lord who comes to deal with false teaching and apostasy (2:5, 16, 3:3, 11).

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