Our Heritage

“I have a goodly heritage” (Psalm 18:6)

Are younger folks in the Assemblies today aware of their inheritance?  Do they value it, or are they prepared to let it go lightly?  Admittedly, as in all histories, there are things which we ought to be ashamed, but basically the inheritance is a valuable one.  It cost its founders much.  And Christendom has never really acknowledged its debt to it.

Every revival of religion in history is based on the cry of “Back to the Bible”.  So it was with the Reformation.  Basically the truth of the Gospel that salvation is simply and solely available to faith was recovered from the mists by which Romanism had enshrouded it.  Needless to say, this recovery was accompanied by the study of the New Testament from the Greek text and by its translation into the languages of the people of Europe.

Since Rome resisted the new movement the reformers were either squeezed out, or they cleared out.  They were, therefore, under the necessity of organising new churches.  Some where happy to preserve the episcopal form of church government with which they had been familiar; others were much more impressed by the fact that New Testament churches were presbyterian in character and adopted such a form.

Neither group was willing to give any prominence in their systems to laymen.  Perhaps it was too early in history to expect that.  Therefore the clerical system was preserved.

Neither did either group pay attention to the fact that New Testament Christians were immersed.  The Greek word “baptise” meant ‘immersion’ or ‘dipping’.  The Roman church hadn’t finally abandoned immersion till the 11th or 12th centuries.  The Greek Orthodox Church still practised it, although on infants.  Yet the reformers of all persuasions continued with the comparatively new and indefensible infant sprinkling.

Eventually the lustre of the Reformation movement was lost.  The new churches became as worldly as the old had been.  Society is usually a reflection of its churches.  If the light shines dim the darkness must be correspondingly dense.  If the salt has lost its savour then corruption must be rampant.

Into such a situation the Wesleys came.  Indirectly from the Moravians they learned about the necessity of conversion  Zealously they preached such necessity through England and Wales in particular into certain parts of Scotland.  The Church of England didn’t like their preachers, their gospel or their methods and squeezed them out.  They adopted a simpler form of church government but still could not break free from the ordination of clergymen who alone could conduct services, nor from infant baptism.

Here and there godly woulds disagreed and commenced to worship and serve in simpler fashion.  There was an Irishman called James Buchanan and Scotsmen called the Haldane brothers.  There must have been many others.

But the main movement began both in England and Ireland in the 1820’s.  The newest religious group wen the revival of 1859-60 broke out, it stood to gain most.  Probably most older assemblies stemmed from that period.

Almost like wildfire the movement spread.  Very soon it belted the globe.  Admittedly its leaders were energetic.  John Nelson Darby travelled more extensively even than John Wesley in the spreading of this faith.  Anthony Norris Groves set out overland for Iraq and eventually settled in India to preach the Gospel.  But this was a movement of God’s Spirit.  It sprang up in many a new place without physical contact with other groups.  Simple Christians rejected the unscriptural practices of Christendom and revived New Testament simplicity.  Before the 19th century was over it was firmly planted on the five continents.  And this took place without human direction or control.  In some places local assemblies just sprang up.  Elsewhere they were planted by missionaries following the tradition set by Groves.  They “bored” into the New Africa.  They crossed the world’s oceans. 

Almost for the first time since New Testament days the Christian layman came into his own.  He was given the opportunity to expend his life and energies in the service of God.  Ordination was not the gate to preaching, but conversion and the reception of spiritual gifts direct from the risen Christ were.

The immersion of believers became standard practice.  The Lord’s Supper became a simple remembrance of the Lord.  Bible racing became the daily practice of believers.  Christian homes became noted for the unworldliness.  Saints gave their lives to the service of their fellows.

But probably the main recovery was that of New Testament church truth.  If the Reformers rescued the truth of the Gospel from the jungle of Rome, “early brethren” recovered the truth of the church from the labyrinths of Christendom.  The meeting place didn’t matter: the living stones did.  Without human chairmanship such simple churches or assemblies began to meet “With Jesus in the midst.”  What precious times they had!  It was this kind of church which was planted around the globe.

Aren’t you proud of your heritage?  Or are you saying to your fathers, “I don’t want it, dad.  I prefer something more elaborate, more sophisticated?”  Or, worse still, are you saying to your Father, “It doesn’t matter where I worship or how I serve?”

Remember the story of the opening chapters of Judges.  The tribes of Canaan were steadily encroaching on the Israelites heritage.  The new generation of Israelites didn’t value it and were poor at defending it.  The reasons are given -- “The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work which the Lord had done for Israel.  And Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years... And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel”

Is this the stage we have reached in the history of Assemblies?  A third generation who have an inheritance that cost them nothing?  Shame on us if we value lightly what godly men accepted at the cost of their livelihoods, their homes, their social status and their friendships.


© Douglas Carr 2021