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Podcast: The Church As The Temple

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

A Brief meditation on 1 Cor. 3:16 & 2 Chron. 2:1; to listen, click on: krkpodcastchurch_as_temple1

Who Killed The Bible Reading?

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Believers that seek to meet according to the New Testament pattern for assembly gathering have been blessed with a long succession of gifted teachers over the past one hundred and eighty years. Men like John Nelson Darby, William Kelly, C.A. Coates, Henry Soltau, Edward Dennett, John Gifford Bellett, Frederick W. Grant, and Charles Henry Mackintosh helped their own generation, as well as subsequent generations through their spiritually sound writings. Many of their works originated in public “conversational Bible readings” that were held throughout the English-speaking world. These meetings consisted of a gifted brother leading the study, coupled with the contributions of other exercised brethren. The study leader would typically introduce the passage to be studied, and then allow time for questions and comments by other Christians. While there are many other viable formats for corporate Bible studies, this method allows for different believers to exercise their gifts (in keeping with the spirit of passages like 1 Cor.14:26-35.) Furthermore, it generates interesting and edifying discussion, bringing out the many faceted depth of the scriptures. Bible readings were once a fixture in the meetings of God’s assemblies throughout North America. In recent times, however, many assemblies have abandoned them in favor of regular preaching services. While these preaching meetings are biblical and valuable, it is the author’s firm conviction that there is still a valid place for the Bible reading in our gatherings. It would no doubt be instructive to ask ourselves why the Bible readings have been forsaken by numerous assemblies. Certainly part of the reason must be that the discussions among the participating brethren often degenerated into meaningless debates on various controversial subjects; alas, in many cases this has been the case. Two solutions would help avert such theological quagmires. First, the brother who leads the study should ideally be a seasoned man of God, adept in the Word and diplomatic in his dealings with others. With such a leader, arguments could quickly be dispensed with, and the study could be kept moving at a decent pace. Secondly, if a brother is a consistent disruption to the study, he could be gently approached about refraining from controversial subjects that would hurt the saints (if he refuses this admonition, Scripture gives clear instructions for how he is to be dealt with. E.g. 2 Tim.2:24-26; Titus 3:10.)
The ill-preparedness of the brethren of the assembly is another malady that has aided in the near extinction of the Bible reading.1 Long pauses, disjointed comments, and tangents that are unrelated to the text are all symptoms of the failure of many of the brethren to come prepared for the study. In some instances, brothers read lengthy sections from commentaries in lieu of making their own comments. While commentaries are helpful tools, they are no replacement for informed remarks from Christians who have diligently studied a passage. It is evident that not all brethren are gifted in teaching. Nevertheless, there are some brothers who do have this gift, but choose not to develop or exercise it as they should. Perhaps the most troubling factor of the death of the Bible reading is that it indicates a low appreciation for the Word and failure to seriously study it among the brethren of the assemblies. Let us pray for wisdom and diligence in studying the Scriptures that meetings such as the useful Bible reading may be recovered and revitalized in our gatherings.
1 Undoubtedly the prayers of the sisters also go along way in preparing the assembly for the Bible reading.

To download the rest of the article in PDF: Who Killed The Bible Reading?

The Indispensable Widows

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

If one were asked to make up a list of the most important people in our world today, the names would probably be culled from the ranks of the famous statesmen and policy makers in the various regimes of the globe. Doubtless, numerous brilliant scientists and scholars would be listed among the ranks of the great; other people would include immensely talented artists, writers, and musicians. Still others would discuss great business leaders, who help shape the economies of the world. On such a list of the ‘Who’s who’, would we find people who are commonly called widows? Striking a bit closer to home, would we choose to build a new assembly around a core group of widows? Most church planters would probably prefer to begin a new local testimony with young individuals or couples, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such a desire. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the assembly has a desperately needed role for the widows to play. They are especially useful to God, and need to exercise their ministry among His people. Widows in the Old Testament In appreciating the value of the godly widow, it would be helpful to study the history of God’s concern for these ladies. The Old Testament is filled with admonitions to care for the widow (such instructions are frequently coupled with instructions to help the fatherless and the stranger.) Consider the fact that the Mosaic Law commanded Israel to care for the widows. In Exodus 22.21 to 24 the Lord says: ‘Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry, and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless’. Deuteronomy 10.18 assures us that ‘He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment’. Widows and orphans were to be fed from the obligatory tithes that Israelites paid, Deut.14.29, and they were to be included in the festivities accompanying the Feasts of the LORD, Deut.16.11, 14.
In ancient times, widows were in most cases unprotected and destitute. If she did not have family to care for her, no one looked out for the widow’s rights, or made sure that she was sustained. In some societies to this day, widows are forced to eke out whatsoever living that they may find. Such poverty and need found an answer in the Word of the One who described Himself as ‘A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation’, Ps.68.5.1 Clearly God is devoted to the widow’s defense and provision. His scathing indictment of the failure of Israel’s leaders in the days of Isaiah includes the fact that ‘…they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them’, Isa.1.23. Years later, the Lord assured Israel that such oppression
1 . In this verse, the word ‘Judge’ is being used to describe one who makes sure that a person is protected and that their rights are maintained; that is to say, the widow’s sins are not in view in this verse.
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would result in Divine judgment, Mal.3.5. These are but a few of the many Old Testament references to God’s unceasing love and concern for widows.
Widows in the New Testament
The Lord Jesus’ ministry shows us that God’s interest in the widow was not confined to Old Testament days. Repeatedly, He condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their abuse of widows, e.g. Matt.23.14 & Luke 20.46-47. Furthermore, on seeing a mourning widow following the bier of her only son, the Lord intervened and restored the boy’s life, Luke 7.11-17. At the time of the crucifixion, it is highly possible that Mary was a widow. The Lord’s compassionate desire to have her protected is seen in His statement from the Cross, ‘Woman behold thy son…son behold thy mother’, John 19.26-27. In both the Old and New Testaments it is apparent that the Lord loves the widow.
Widows as providers
Having established God’s ongoing interest in the widow, one may inquire, ‘What then is the importance of the widow to the assembly’? Firstly, the Lord has used widows to provide for His servants. In the Old Testament, He used a Gentile widow to shelter Elijah during part of the famine, 1 Kgs.17.8-24. During the church age, He has likewise used many widows to house and help His people. Among the marks of a godly widow in 1 Tim.5:10 is that ‘…she [has] lodged strangers…[and] washed saints’ feet’. At the Judgment Seat of Christ many widows will undoubtedly be honored for using their modest homes and meager possessions to further the work of God. Widows are also indispensable for the assembly, because they were used by the Lord Jesus to set the standard for selfless giving. On one occasion He observed many affluent worshippers casting large sums of money into the Temple treasury. Rather than single out some huge financial contribution as an example of giving, the Lord Jesus focused on a poor widow, who threw in two mites–a paltry amount in comparison to the gifts of the wealthy contributors. Nevertheless, the Lord affirmed that she set the standard on sacrificial giving by throwing in all that she had. One has noted that she had two mites, and therefore, could have kept one for herself. (Who could blame her?) Instead, she gave all that she had. God affords the widows the honorable place of contributing out of their poverty, a privilege that many with large bank accounts will never know, Luke 21.1-4. Widows: An example of faith
Thirdly, widows set an example for the assembly in their life of faith. 1 Tim.5.5 reminds us that ‘she who is really a widow and left alone, trusts in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day’. (NKJV) It is all too easy to mechanically give thanks for one’s daily food without really being grateful for it. For the widow with little or no means of visible support, procuring food and clothing is a repeated exercise in dependence on Jehovah Jireh’s faithful provision. It is likely that the reluctance of many young people to devote all of their time and energy to the Lord’s work on the foreign and domestic mission fields results from their lack of understanding God’s ability to provide for His workers ‘on faith.’ Although such questions naturally occur to the human mind,
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such believers would do well to study the pious widows, who depend on the Lord without ‘letters of commendation’.2 The assembly desperately needs faithful widows to remind it of God’s generosity toward His children. Widows: A barometer of piety Another vital function that the widows play in the Lord’s assemblies is as a gauge of the piety of believers. James phrases this aspect of widowhood well, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world’, Jas.1.27. How a believer responds to those who are less fortunate than himself is an excellent barometer for our love, sympathy, & selflessness. If left to themselves, Christians often get wrapped up in their own problems and needs. The presence of needy saints like widows serves to remind Christians to care for the weak and show the love of Christ in practical ways.
God remembers the widows
Widows also demonstrate God’s faithfulness and mercy. Though widows are sometimes forgotten by humans, the Lord never neglects them. He affords them the inestimable privilege of being the objects of His special affection and compassion. To the theologian, God is academically merciful; to the widow, His mercy is known in every day experience.
Widows as servants
Any assessment of the widow, would not be complete without noting their remarkable contribution to the work of the Lord. The distinguished history of widows’ service takes us back to Anna, who ‘…departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the LORD, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem’, Luke 2.37-38. Anna has her modern counterparts in the church. Many widows faithfully serve the Lord around the globe as missionaries.3 Likewise, in North America and the United Kingdom
2 The author certainly supports the biblical use of letters of commendation; it is feared, however, that in some quarters, they are seen to be a guarantee of financing from the Lord’s people. On being commended, a wise servant of God counseled me: ‘Look to the Lord for your support, not to the assemblies’. I have found this to be good advice. God doesn’t need ‘a letter’ to support those who do His business. J. Hudson Taylor’s famous axiom bears repeating: ‘God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply’. Widows show the ability of the Lord to provide for His own, apart from all human conventions.
3 Along with single sisters, widows compose a large segment of active servants in Gospel work and other ministries on the mission field; for verification of this, one may consult the CMML Missionary handbook or the Echoes of Service handbook. It is easy to forget the widows of missionaries/fulltime workers once their husbands have past off the scene.
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the efforts of widows have a strong impact on the character of the work of the Lord. Often it is still ‘the widow’s mite’ that supports the work of the Lord. Similarly, in their prayer lives and worship, many widows are the backbone of the local assembly. Anna was a woman of prayer; likewise, only heaven will accurately tell the distinguished history of the widows who waged spiritual warfare through prayer. Often times critics of biblical principles of gathering accuse women of having a nonfunctioning role in the meetings of the assembly because they are silent. On the contrary, God hears the silent worship of the sisters (including the widows), and is pleased by it. Having scanned the long history of the Lord’s appreciation for and usage of widows, one must conclude that they play a vital role in the work of God. Rather than overlooking the widows, local assemblies need to practically care for them, pray for them, and tap into their piety in the testimony of the fellowship. May the Lord teach us the value of widows, and the significant role that they play in His plans. Furthermore, may we like the Lord, love them and help them in their quest to bring glory to the Almighty God. Many of the principles that are mentioned in this article also apply to widowers, single elderly sisters or brothers, and ‘shut-ins’. God remembers them, and will reward them in a coming day at the Judgement Seat of Christ.
Let us continue to financially support the widows on the field, who are in many cases neglected.

To download the article in PDF: The Indispensable Widows

The Search For Talent

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Recently the British newsmagazine The Economist ran a major story on the difficulty of finding “talent” in the business sector. With the technological advancements of the past twenty years, the need for science-savvy employees has exploded. What is more, middle and upper management is suffering from a dearth of creative minds. As the world scene becomes more economically interdependent, companies are scrambling to find dependable and capable workers to perform the skilled and innovative tasks that fuel mercantile growth. The need is so pressing, that among large American firms, the human resources manager is frequently among the highest paid executives. Similarly, the Church is in dire need of many spiritually talented people to step forward for service to the Lord.
An old problem
The need for Christian talent is nothing new. Proverbs 20:6 asks: “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” (NAS.) Elijah lamented the lack of prophets in his day, but was assured by the Lord that he was not alone (1 Kgs. 19:18.) Later there was no one found to step into the gap between Judah and the Lord’s judgment during the time of Ezekiel (Ezek. 22:30.) The Lord Jesus Himself said that “the harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Mat. 9:37.) Not much has changed on the contemporary scene. In many assemblies, the lion share of the service rests on the shoulders of a few dedicated – and often overworked – individuals.
There are numerous reasons for the chronic labor shortage among New Testament-style assemblies. For one, the materialistic climate of North America often saps the time and energies of otherwise capable Christians. Sadly, in some believing families more emphasis is put on academic achievement and business success than upon spiritual growth and development of gift. In other places, the older generation is reluctant to include their younger brothers in bearing the responsibilities of the local fellowship. Having long borne the yoke and faced many battles, they find it difficult to cede authority to less experienced believers. Still in other places, modern assemblies suffer the ongoing effects of divisions among them in the past. The people who left in the seventies, eighties, or nineties have not returned, and consequently their children and grandchildren are a total loss to the assembly.
The Great Supplier of Talent
In addressing the talent shortage, one must remember the Lord Jesus’ instruction: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38.) Prayer is a vital component to the raising up of capable servants. The New Testament uses the metaphor of a body to describe the church, and repeatedly calls the Lord Jesus its “Head” (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19.) Since the Head is the intelligence center and control room of the body, the example naturally points to the need for the members of the body of Christ – also known as the Church – to go to the head for the supply of their needs. He is able to give the Body whatever it needs, when it requires
it. What is more, prayer expresses dependence on God, and gives Him glory when it is answered. To our shame, our prayer meetings are often the least attended and least interesting meetings. The needs of our time demand that the Church bestirs itself to supplication that is focused, sustained, and passionate.
Talent needs to be developed biblically. Timothy was instructed: “…the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2.) He was well-aware of what this entailed, for he himself had been taught by Paul. The venerable apostle spent time teaching Timothy, as well as including him in his service on his second missionary journey. As he matured and gained experience, Paul sent him on important missions to Macedonia, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19; 1 Thes. 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:3.) Paul was a firm believer in systematic teaching, as is evidenced by his practice in Ephesus. Out of his regular Bible teaching, the Holy Spirit raised up elders in that city. Paul’s influence was also felt in the lives of Titus, Philemon, and numerous believers listed in Romans 16.
Training the next generation of servants
In passing truth on to less experienced saints, Paul was merely following the practice of the Lord Jesus, who spent approximately three years training the twelve disciples. Other key servants of God followed the same pattern. For example, Barnabas spent time with John Mark, who according to church tradition was also mentored by Peter in later years. Elijah trained Elisha. Moses guided the young Joshua. Samuel prepared David for his kingly duties, and young King Joash was taught by Jehoiada the priest.
As well as training men and women who are already in the assembly, believers ought to be seeking to win the lost. Upon conversion their talents and spiritual gifts can then be developed for the Lord’s usage. Christ commands us to preach the gospel to every creature (Mk.16:15.) If done with prayer and zeal, Christian witness is bound to deepen the labor pool of the assembly.
In considering the labor shortage in many assemblies, it should be noted that talented believers are also lost to the local fellowship because the mature saints do not take a loving interest in them. In the modern fast-paced world it is easy to fall into the pattern of only seeing our brothers and sisters at the meetings once or twice a week. If co-laborers in the Lord’s work are to be developed and encouraged, then relationships must be assiduously cultivated. In short, modern Christians need to rediscover true fellowship. This necessitates a serious investment of time, resources, and love for one another. There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Like anything else of value, talent will cost a great deal to increase. Eternity will reveal that it was worth the effort to assist God is His great work of building the Church.

To download the article in PDF: The Search For Talent

Proper Body Function

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Most people take their physical and mental well-being for granted. Until there is a problem, we seldom think about ordinary tasks like putting on our clothes, brushing our teeth, or feeding ourselves. It is only when there is a health crisis that we become mindful of how wonderfully made we really are. Recently my father suffered two “mini-strokes,” which had debilitating effects on his health and movements. (Calling them “mini-strokes” reminds me of a cynical definition I once heard for the phrase “minor surgery”: Minor surgery is surgery performed on someone other than the person dubbing it “minor.” Whoever prefixed the term “stroke” with “mini” obviously never had one!) In all seriousness, the strokes could have been much worse. By the grace of God my father retains his faculties and has an excellent prognosis to recover most, if not all, of his normal abilities. In viewing the aftermath of this episode, it has turned my thoughts toward the common biblical metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ.
The brain is an amazingly complex thing. It is more sophisticated than any computer that man has developed, and scientists are still probing its mysterious workings. It is capable of doing an astonishing array of tasks and is involved in all of the intricate workings of the human body. When a clot or arterial blockage cuts off the flow of blood to the brain, however, severe repercussions follow for this multifaceted organ. Due to brain damage, what had been easy tasks suddenly become difficult or nearly impossible. As traumatic as this is in the human physical body, this can happen to “the Church which is His Body” as well.
Ephesians 5, Colossians 1, and 1 Corinthians 12 all use the body to describe the functioning of the Church. Not surprisingly, Col. 1:24 & Ephesians 1:23 call it “His body,” informing us in no uncertain terms that it belongs to the one who “purchased it with His own blood” (Acts 20:28.) He has the right to tell it how to conduct itself. What is more, as the Head of the Church, He is its intelligence center and life source, giving guidance and direction to the members. These truths practically motivate the Christian to live holy lives, as well as to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6.) When he arose, He gave gifts to men, and has the Holy Spirit sovereignly distribute them to the Church (Eph. 4:8-13; cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11.) These gifts are to be employed under the Spirit’s direction in the up building of the saints for the glory of God. 1 Cor. 12 ably develops the comparison with the human body, showing the interdependence of the various members. When it submits itself to the control of the Head the body functions efficiently, glorifying the Lord and ministering to the needs of the believers.
Happily, Christians never need fear that their Head will suffer any impairment or inability to function. Our Head is in Heaven, invulnerable to injury, and sovereignly able to bring about His will. Nevertheless, it is possible for there to be a breakdown in cooperation between the Head and the members; this results from the failure of the latter, not the former. Regrettably, believers sometimes live heedless of their Head’s wishes, not
bothering to spend time delving into His wishes for them through Bible study and prayer. Others attend the meetings of the local assembly sporadically, and do not get involved with the activities of the saints. Like the man in the parable of the talents, some “bury” their gifts and abilities rather than lay them at the feet of the Master for His usage. Still others are just too busy with the affairs of this life, to engage in activities that pertain to the age to come. These Christians are “absent without leave.” Just as the human body suffers when a kidney or a lung ceases to function, so the spiritual body often struggles in the absence of members who were designed to work for the glory of God. If you are such a one, dear reader, please repent, submit yourself to the Lord, and ask Him to restore you to viable service in the Church.
Through the ordeal of my father’s stroke, our family has discovered something wonderful about the brain – after being damaged it “rewires” itself, by delegating tasks to other parts of itself. The part of the brain that used to control my dad’s right side is currently impaired, so other sections are picking up the slack, and his movement is slowly returning (with the aid of rigorous physical therapy.) In like manner, when some parts of the Body of Christ refuse or fail to heed the Head’s direction, He still performs His work. He simply uses other members of the body to do it. Those who should have been serving Him will account for their failure at the Judgment Seat of Christ; while their counterparts who stepped in to fulfill the Lord’s desires will be rewarded. This does not excuse a failure to listen to the Head, but it does give us the confidence that our Lord will build His Church (Mat. 16:18.)

To download the article in PDF:  Proper Body Function

Why Be Interested In The Lord’s Supper?

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The modern landscape in Christendom presents a wide variety of churches. Some of them bear little resemblance to the character or teachings of the biblical Christ. Many others, however, hold to the major “fundamentals of the faith,” believing that Christ is God, the only Savior, & that He will return one day. It is not difficult in North America to find congregations that believe in the saving power of the Lord Jesus by grace through faith alone. Many of these groups aggressively evangelize by a variety of methods. Furthermore, the majority of them believe in imparting sound principles for Christian living, the family, and other ethical issues. They are morally and doctrinally conservative, and genuinely praise God for their standing in Christ. Given that so many of these fundamental churches are similar in doctrine and practice, how is one to choose where they should attend?
While many churches preach the true Gospel and uphold the major doctrines of biblical Christianity, very few hold to the New Testament pattern for government and weekly function. The one-pastor system, absence of biblically operating elders, lack of opportunity for the functioning of the gifts within the church and other nonscriptural innovations all contribute to the local meeting of saints falling short of God’s intention for it. Often times, believers who meet in local churches that try to follow the New Testament way of gathering find themselves on the defensive when conversing with brothers and sisters in more mainstream congregations. Rather than major on modern, unscriptural corruptions of the biblical blueprint, it would be more constructive to focus on the beauty of New Testament principles themselves. Chief among these distinctives must be the remembrance feast, known by the biblical name “the Lord’s Supper.”
Unfortunately, many believers today who regularly attend New Testament assemblies do not themselves think that the Lord’s Supper is important—let alone the “chief meeting of the Church,” as someone once described it. They indicate this by their failure to be present at the meeting. This is disturbing! The Lord Jesus plainly told His followers on the night in which He was betrayed: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” What does our absence say about the Lord’s authority and importance in our lives? Surely it indicates that other things take precedence over the Lord Jesus’ wishes. Extra sleep, recreation, business, family concerns all pale in importance when compared with our Savior’s devotion to us and what He has done for us. Of God it is said: “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all…”; therefore, believers owe Him an immense debt of gratitude. Moreover, eternal life itself is defined by knowing Christ (not just momentary conversion, but also relationship to Him.) John 17:3 shows this clearly: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 1 John 1:2 and 3 adds: “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” The Father seeks those who will worship Him “in spirit and in truth.”
(Jn.4:22) Worship is something that God both deserves and desires. The fact that it is not a priority among many believers does not speak well for their spiritual condition

To download the article in PDF: Why Be Interested In The Lord’s Supper?

Commission Minded Assemblies

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

From the beginning of Creation God has disclosed Himself to mankind. He wants to manifest Himself to the world, even if humans are unwilling to hear from Him. The Christian faith is the capstone of the Almighty’s revelation to His creatures. In engaging in missions, the Church shares in the Lord’s commitment to reach the world with the Gospel. There are numerous benefits to local churches when they are involved in foreign missionary endeavour. Believers profit from these activities, for in supporting the witness of Christ worldwide, they enjoy greater unity of purpose, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and love for the lost. The Church and Missions The Church was designed to permeate the globe. Among the last instructions that Christ gave to His followers before the ascension was the command to ‘Go [therefore] and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, Matt. 28. 19, JND. Acts 1. 8 adds: ‘But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth’. Clearly, the Lord wants His Church to be witness minded and evangelistically oriented. Christ’s message is meant to be shared, and includes all people irrespective of race, language, or socio-economic status. The dynamic replicating nature of the Church is especially highlighted in the book of Acts. After early successes in the presentation of the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, the apostles began to face entrenched Jewish opposition. In chapter six the gifted apologist Stephen gained notoriety for his ability to confound the Jews in theological debate. His impassioned rhetoric finally led him to a confrontation with the Sanhedrin. After masterfully retracing the history of God’s dealings with Israel, he delivered a caustic indictment of the self-righteous ruling body; this brought about the great preacher’s martyrdom, see Acts 7. Triumph Out of Tragedy
The death of such a prominent spokesman for the Way struck a blow to the early Christians. Rather than hinder the progress of the Gospel, however, Stephen’s killing actually helped spread the faith. His murder touched off persecution in Judea and Jerusalem, subsequently scattering the believers across the Near East, Acts 8. 1-4.1 These refugee witnesses ‘gossiped the Gospel’ to those that they encountered, and the seed that they sowed eventually bore fruit as far away as modern Syria, Acts 11. 19-21. Tertullian’s axiom ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’ was vindicated by the experience of these harried saints. Stephen’s death indirectly led to the establishment
1 The word ‘scattered abroad’ in vss. 1 and 4 is diaspeiro: ‘to scatter like grain, to disperse.’ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament.
of the stalwart assembly of Antioch in the midst of Gentile territory. The Lord Jesus’ promise to build His Church is backed up by His sovereign ability to employ even tragic circumstances for the accomplishment of His will, Matt. 16. 18; Rom. 8. 28-39; Eph. 1. 11. In 1956, the murders of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian were the catalyst for the Gospel penetrating the hostile Auca tribe, as well as being the impetus for many people leaving the English-speaking world for mission work around the globe.2 Therefore, one sees that God still uses martyrdom to accomplish His purposes. Antioch: A Template for the Commission-Minded Assembly The assembly in Antioch became the springboard for the first major foreign missionary offensive of the early Church. Acts chapter 13 verse 1 describes the varied composition of the fellowship in this manner: ‘Now there were in Antioch, in the assembly which was [there], prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenian, and Manaen, foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul’, JND. It was an assembly that had been blessed with much spiritual gift. Like many modern congregations it had a diverse membership with able men of both privileged and humble origins. The Lord saves people out of different ethnic, educational, and social backgrounds; furthermore, He unites them and uses them in His service. What other group would include an arrogant ex-Pharisee and a decadent Herodian courtier? Yet these men cooperated in the building up of the local assembly. They became the launch pad for the first modern-style pioneer evangelistic team. What Does a Missionary Look Like? As far as the type of messengers that the Holy Spirit chooses, one sees that He elected men who were already active in prophecy and teaching. God calls those who are already engaged in His work – not those who are indolent or inactive. Barnabas and Saul were integral members of the local assembly. The Antiochen Christians might have been tempted to argue that they could not spare these valuable servants. Nevertheless, the Lord handpicked these indefatigable ministers to carry the Gospel to new territory. As the brethren ministered before the Lord, it became apparent that He was selecting the two aforementioned labourers to go forth into the harvest fields, Acts 13. 2. The commending assembly was blessed, because they followed the Spirit’s leading. In so doing, they were drawn closer to God, and participated in what was dear to His heart. The sending forth of the missionaries was preceded by activities like prayer and fasting, which indicated a strong dependence on the leading of the Holy Spirit, verse 3. In evaluating the Lord’s leading of missionary candidates, the assembly and the prospective worker are united in prayerful seeking of God’s will. It goes beyond a mere analysis of the need of a particular country to a careful inquiry: ‘Is the Lord calling this brother or sister to go to a foreign field? What can the assembly do to facilitate them getting to the field and carrying out the Great Commission?’
2 The Aucas are now known as the Huaoranis.
The Missionary Contribution to the Home Assembly
When Barnabas and Saul returned from their first missionary journey they called the assembly together to hear what the Lord had performed through them, Acts 14. 27. Both before and after their mission, the assembly was linked with them by mutual interest and prayer. The assembly was interested in the mission and the workers were concerned for their home church. Upon returning, the intrepid pioneers kept the assembly enthralled with tales of God’s grace to the Gentiles. One assumes that this would move the believers to praise the Lord for His dealings with the lost who heard the Gospel through their missionaries.
As a further benefit to the assemblies on the home front, the experiences of the missionaries from the foreign field were used to help sort out a doctrinal dispute in Jerusalem. Acts chapter 15 tells of Paul and Barnabas’ crucial role in clarifying the position of Gentile believers and their relationship to the Law. Coupled with Peter and James’ testimonies, the Divine blessing that accompanied the missionaries’ labours proved that the Lord had received Gentiles on the basis of Christ’s work without any need for circumcision, observing Jewish customs, or any other ritual. The missionary endeavour upheld the integrity of the Gospel by showing how the Lord dealt with the new converts.
Principles for Modern Commission-Minded Assemblies
Like their ancient counterpart in Antioch, modern assemblies stand to benefit from engagement in foreign missions. The following are activities that should be prayerfully considered by assemblies in the United Kingdom and North America:
-In praying for and financially supporting labourers overseas, Christians in the homeland participate in the work of God all over the world; thereby, reaping eternal rewards. By sending material support to missionaries and praying for their efforts, local believers cooperate in the common purpose of spreading the Gospel worldwide; moreover, this unity of purpose draws them closer together in their own fellowship. Both the universal and the local aspects of the church count towards ‘church growth’.
-By corresponding with missionaries the local saints are encouraged in their personal witness to emulate the foreign worker in ‘enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’, 2 Tim. 2. 3.
-Establishing missionary classes where young people study the needs of different countries, as well as write to workers, is a boon to their spiritual interest. Numerous veteran missionaries first developed an interest in doing the Lord’s work in such classes; others were attracted to foreign service by attending missionary prayer meetings or listening to missionary reports in the local assembly.
-Supporting missions in the home assembly helps believers cultivate their love for the lost. As they pray for specific countries, cities, foreign assemblies, and the like, the Holy Spirit develops their interest in souls.
There are many advantages to being a commission-minded assembly, not the least of which, is emulating the ultimate missionary, the Lord Jesus. He left heaven ‘…to seek and to save that which was lost’, Luke 19. 10. No worker has ever gone farther or done more to reach the unsaved. Even today our Lord continues to guide His church in the accomplishment of the Great Commission globally.

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Commission Minded Assemblies