The Church

“All the way around the spacious room sat, or stood, about 100 people.  Some were black, some were white, some were half-white, others were red.  Another Person was there too.  He was not visible but His presence was mightily felt.  We call His name Jesus for He still saves people from their sins... On a table in the centre of the room was placed the simple bread and the wine.  There was a holy hush.  They said to themselves, ‘Is this really true?’  After 24 years it seemed like a dream and not a reality, but no, it was true, for there they sat -- Colorado Indians, with bowed read heads remembering the Lord’s death -- father, son and three beautiful daughters.  All one in Christ Jesus with the rest of them who had gathered to adore His Holy Name.

So “Echoes of Service” described the beginning of the first assembly of Colorado Indians in Equador in June, 1970.  That’s what has been happening around the world for a century now.  That’s what was happening all over these Islands last century.  That’s what happened in in the wake of the Apostles’ missionary journeys in the 1st Century.  There was nothing elaborate, nothing pretentious, nothing organised.  This is the very nature of New Testament churches.  

This word ‘church’ is an unfortunate one.  In the whole of our history it has been associated with a building and usually an elaborate, ornate one at that.  It was never used in the New Testament with that meaning at all. “The Church was God’s assembly, God’s muster and the convener was God.” (Deissman quoted by Barclay.)  Hort rightly points out that originally the word (ecclesia) does not mean, as is often stated, a body of people who have been ‘picked out’ from the world.  It means a body of people who have been ‘summoned out’ of their homes to come and meet with God.”  Is that not what happened among those Colorado Indians in Equador?  The meeting-place didn’t matter: it was merely a convenience.  Summoned by God those young believers met and their very meeting constituted them a Christian church in the New Testament sense.  

That bread which those Colorado Indians broke was to have two meanings for them.  First, it was the symbol of the physical body of the Lord Jesus in which He suffered and died.  Secondly, it was to become the symbol of the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus, His Church.  No wonder some call it a “communion service,” for first and foremost it demonstrate that “Our fellowship (communion) is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” and then it demonstrates our fellowship with our fellow Christians.

If there was nothing elaborate about the surroundings of those first and subsequent churches, there was nothing elaborate about the procedure.  Look around and you’ll see no president or chairman.  There is no visible person in charge.  But the Invisible Guest of the Colorado Indian church is not merely a Guest but also the President.  And He is the resident President.  This function He performs by His Spirit.

Shortly after that first Colorado Indian assembly began in Equador a local R.C. priest visited a meeting of a West of Scotland assembly.  He stayed to chat with some of the brethren and his questions were: “Who told him to take part?” and, “How did he know when to get up?” etc.  Don’t we wish to preserve this invisible yet be autifully harmonious control?  As with the various instruments in a great orchestra, each contributing the command of the great Invisible Conductor.

Eventually certain men will emerge as leaders in such churches.  The apostles called them elders (See Acts 14.23).  They assumed the same name as the associates of the apostles in the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:30).  Their duties are “to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28).  They are said to have “the rule” (Heb. 13: 7,17).

Such little assemblies were completely independent of each other.  Naturally they acknowledged the existence of similar groups in other towns and provinces but there was no attempt to organise them into a union or federation.  1st Corinthians 16 reveals that they had fellowship with each other, sending gifts to help each other in their needs, greeting each other by letters and receiving ministry from the same preachers, Paul, Timothy, A;polls, etc.  Otherwise each represented their Lord in their respective localities.

Far from this lack of organisation being a weakness it has been a source of strength and the explanation of survival during the centuries.  E. H. Broadbent’s book, “The Pilgrim Church” traces their existence down through the centuries quite separately from the organised national churches.  Unlike Exclusivism, they have consistently rejected the idea of a fixed human leadership issuing new decrees from time to time.  Their only acknowledged leader is their risen Lord whose word contains their only marching orders.  This has placed them above the changing conditions of the world and the changing opinions of men.  This helps to explain why in the twentieth century when everything Christian is declining they have declined less than most.  This leaves the movement, not at the mercy of a leadership and organisation, but in dependence upon the zeal of the individual members who thus express their devotion to the Lord.  It was to such that Paul said, “Ye are the body of Christ and members in particular” (1st Cor. 12:27)

The writer was most gratified as a teenager to hear his history teacher when dealing with she early Christian church say that the nearest thing to it in Christendom today was the little assembles of “Christian Brethren” dotted around the countryside.  May the lord give us the grace and courage to maintain this resemblance by our simple devotion to the scriptures.  It was never the divine intention that Christian churches should take any other shape.  It was the imitation of the power structures of men that mad them different.  It was such worldly organisations so far removed from New Testament simplicity that made the early ‘Brethren’ long for something different.  That’s why a little group of sincere Christians were found in Dublin in 1828 behaving in almost identical manner to those Colorado Indians in 1970.

It was the intention then and now to embrace all Christians.  Let them leave the establishments of Christendom and return to New Testament simplicity and we’ll all be meeting on common ground.  Let them give up what has grown up without scriptural authority during the centuries and we’ll all be where God wants us to be.  This way unscriptural divisions will be automatically removed and we’ll all be on the happiest of terms with all the true Christians in our own localities.  How good and how pleasant it would be for brethren to dwell together in such unity!


© Douglas Carr 2021