Discipline and Unity of the Assembly: Part 2

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The other question to which I adverted at the commencement is the recognition of Christ's body on earth.
The first place the assembly is spoken of is in Matt. 16, “On this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it.” Now building the assembly is not even a mystical union of individuals with the Head in heaven. It supposes a system established on earth—a building—one assembly. The end of the clause is the plainest proof of this: a promise that the gates of hades should not prevail against mystical union with Christ in heaven, to the exclusion of the conditions of a church on earth, is an interpretation which condemns itself. The gates of hades have nothing to say to individual mystical union with Christ in heaven.
In Matt. 18, as we have seen, for the administrative authority of discipline, two or three gathered to Christ's name are sufficient.
I turn to the Acts. Here we see how the assembly was formed. As yet there was no difference between the assembly and assemblies. The Lord had declared He would build His assembly, and He was doing it, There was no idea of the duty of joining a man's self to a community of disciples. A Jew, or a heathen, as soon as Cornelius was called, was converted to have share in the promises and calling of God. He was introduced (I raise here no special questions on the subject) by baptism, most certainly not into any particular assembly. Into what then? Into THE assembly. He was publicly admitted among Christians. And now mark how it is as to the work itself spoken of: “The Lord added daily [to the assembly] such as should be saved.” The Lord added. It was His work, and He added to the assembly. That is what He did with the remnant, preserved according to the election of grace. He did not restore Israel; He added them to the assembly, the nation being about to he cut off. They were put upon earth into this new position; also it was evident that the assembly was upon earth. It was according to the saying, “He died to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” Now, if the unity were only the mystical one, if they were believers, they had no need of being gathered into one. They could not be scattered; their unity, as the tract tells us, was constant and unchangeable. Yet Jesus gave Himself to gather them together in one. The fact of baptism being the means of public admission makes the idea of joining a church impossible. The church had put its public sanction on them, and received them; and they had a place, and were bound to take it, wherever they went, in God's assembly.
We may now turn to the church's dealings with them when they were within. The First Epistle to the Corinthians will here afford us divine light.
In the First of Corinthians it is of moment to remark, because it is the epistle in which a local assembly is spoken of as practically in certain respects representing the whole assembly of God, that the epistle is addressed to all believers everywhere—all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. We get a church-character, but the apostle in his address is careful to associate all Christians with those at Corinth. Hence, if one was put out as a wicked person by the assembly at Corinth, he was “without,” that is, outside the whole church of God (not of the body of Christ vitally, but the assembly on earth). Nor can you indeed read the entire epistle without seeing that what was said by the apostle; and consequently done by the assembly at Corinth, was an et valid for the whole body—of saints on earth; that they are viewed as involved in it, as indeed they are expressly mentioned. To say he was only outside the particular assembly, when he was put out of it, is a monstrous and mischievous perversion. When the apostle says “them within,” and “them that are without,” to say that he only means within or without a particular body (“do ye not judge them that are within? them that are without God judgeth"); it is clearly “within,” or. “without,” on earth; and it is clearly not within or without a particular assembly; the difference is between Christians and men of the world. Within and without, that is, applies to the whole assembly of Christ on earth; they were the fornicators of this world, or one called a brother. In Corinth, to be of the assembly they must be of the local assembly, unless in schism; but if called “a brother,” they were of the assembly, not because they had joined that particular body, but because they were Christians not excluded by just discipline.
I now turn to chapter 12., which will make the matter as clear as possible; and, while it shows that a local assembly, viewed in association with all Christians everywhere on earth, practically represents and acts for all saints with the Lord's authority if gathered to His name, yet it shows that the apostle has in mind THE assembly, not an assembly. “But all these worketh one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will; for as the body is one, and there are many members, and all the members of that body being many are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
The subject of the chapter is spiritual gifts, and the figure of the body is not used in view of mere personal union with Christ (important, yea, yet more important, as that doctrine surely is), but of the Holy Ghost come down from heaven. The church universal is not viewed as in heaven in its Head, but as on earth in its members; they have all been baptized with that one Spirit to make one body: the members are the gifts.
All are members, and the Holy Ghost distributes as He will. Where are these gifts exercised, and to what do they belong? They are exercised, on earth, that is a clear case; there is no evangelizing nor healing of the sick in heaven. But they do not belong to a particular assembly, but to the assembly; and God hath set some in the assembly: first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healing, &c. Now nothing can be plainer or more positive than this. These gifts are exercised on earth; they are set in the assembly; they were not even all exercised in an assembly, as apostles might be preaching to the world. Miracles might be wrought in the world, or healing take place; but they were members of the body who wrought; they were set in the assembly.
This chapter shows in the distinctest manner possible that, while scripture clearly owns local assemblies whose responsibilities and acts we have already considered, the action of the Holy Ghost is viewed as forming and acting in one assembly on the earth, and is viewed only as on earth—to the exclusion of what it will be in heaven, as is evident from the exercise of the gifts, and their nature. The whole scriptural view of the Holy Ghost's operation is denied by the teaching of the tract, as indeed the true nature of a local assembly is also. If Apollos taught at Ephesus, he taught when he went to Corinth. He was a Christian, and thereby necessarily belonged to the assembly of Christians at Corinth, because it was the assembly of the Christians who were there. This does not hinder discipline, but makes the discipline valid as to the whole assembly of God.
If I turn to the Ephesians, more especially consecrated to the instruction of Christians in the highest privileges of individual saints, or of the church, I find the same truth. “Ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit;” that is, Jews and Gentiles were reconciled in one body to God by the cross. It was growing to its full result, but there was on earth a habitation of God through the Holy Ghost. Here unity is a great point—one body, one Spirit, one hope. But where is this? On earth. Gifts are given to every one according to the measure of the gift of Christ. When ascended, Christ gave gifts to men—apostles, prophets; evangelists, pastors and teachers, till we all come, &c.
Thus, again, the future heavenly state is excluded. Yet we are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, for there is one Spirit and one body. The Head being ascended, He has given gifts—not in a church; apostles and evangelists exercised their ministry, the first partly, the latter exclusively, in the world, and the apostles as such clearly belonged to no particular assembly. The idea of the members of an assembly is wholly unknown to scripture. It is used as a figure, and in reference to the human body. We are likened to a body, but that body is the body of Christ; an assembly is not His body, though it may locally represent it. I read, “The assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” 1
Now, that predicted confusion has come in I certainly am the last to deny; a confusion which makes one feel doubly the comfort of the promise, “Where two or three are gathered together to my name, there am I in the midst of them.” But this becomes a mere self-regulated voluntary association whenever the unity of the body on earth is not owned. They cannot take the scriptures for their guide; they have begun by denying them in the point which established their own position. We are God's husbandry, God's building. Alas! wood and hay and stubble have been built upon the foundation, and perverse men have crept in, and wolves have come, ordinances and legalism have perverted Christendom; but that does not alter God's truth. God has forseen all and provided the path of obedience in the word, and grace for it. And when we deny a scriptural truth, we may be sincere Christians, and do so from prejudice and ignorance; but we deprive ourselves of the blessing and character of sanctification attached to that truth. So where the unity of the assembly on earth is denied, the blessings attached to it are lost, as far as our personal profit goes, and these benefits are nothing less than the action of the Holy Ghost on earth, uniting us as members to Christ, and acting as He sees right in the members down here. To deny the defilement of the assembly by the allowance of sin, and the unity of the body on earth by the presence of the Holy Ghost, is to destroy all the responsibility of the one, and all the blessing of the other, and in these points to make void the word of God. J.N.D.