The Gospel and the Church: 25. Order in the Church of God, Being the House

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 11
There is one thing which has greatly contributed to the Babylonian confusion in the professing church. I mean the confounding officials ordained by the Lord through His apostles, with the gifts given by the Spirit for the whole church. There were two kinds of the former: deacons, who served the tables; and elders and bishops, who cared for the spiritual welfare of the churches. Both were ordained by the apostles or their delegates, such as Timothy and Titus. Nowhere do we find in the New Testament an instance of their having been ordained by others than those just mentioned. Those offices had been ordained by the Lord through His apostles in the days of the building up of the church. Such nominations could therefore only be made on the ground of the authority of the apostles, and therefore ceased together with them.
It is quite different with those whom Christ, as the head of the church, has given to her. (Eph. 4:7-127But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:7‑12).) He had given them for the whole church and, with the exception of the apostles and prophets, for all ages, right on to the end, that is, even up to these last days of the deepest decline. Oh, and what a decline! If the Lord, addressing His once so flourishing church at Ephesus, was already in those early days obliged to address those solemn words of warning, “Remember therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works,” what would He say now? His awfully solemn words to Laodicea are the only possible answer to the present condition of the professing church. How sadly true are the lamentations of a well known writer about church truth. He says:
“Let us cast our eye, then, over this wide scene of ruin and desolation. There is absolutely nothing that God has instituted, which man has not perverted or destroyed. If God has set up the church as the body of Christ, man has converted it into a means of salvation, by which a person may be made into a member of Christ, man has made it the rival of Christ, and the authoritative judge of doctrinal truth. If God has made it heavenly in its character, its resources, and its hopes, man has lowered it to a worldly standard, has attained for it worldly support, and has given it worldly expectations. If God has established a divine unity, man has broken it up into a chaos of rival sects and jarring systems. If God has given it the word as its divine guide, man has called in his own wisdom to supply the deficiencies, or correct the error, of which, in his arrogance, he accuses the scriptures. If God has instituted local assemblies, to express the oneness of the assembly in each city, man has split them up into a thousand detached masses, not one of which is gathered on the true principles of the church. If God has instituted local officers, man has perverted them to every purpose except that for which they were appointed, has set aside the scriptural mode of ordination for the inventions of his own brain, and has invested them with a character which God never conferred upon them or upon any other human being. If God gave gifts to the church, man has insisted that these gifts should be exercised only according to his own will, should be restrained within the limits of an official class, and should be tied down to the narrow circle of a local assembly. If God made office local, man has made it general; and if God made gift general, man has made it local. If God separated gift and office, man has insisted upon their union, regardless of whether the officer possesses gift, or the gifted person possesses the qualification for office. If God has left the exercise of gift free in the assembly, to be guided only by His own Spirit, man has deposed the Spirit by giving His authority to an officer of his own appointment. If God has gathered the assembly together with the special object of remembering Christ according to His own institution, man has thrust this institution into a corner, made it the exceptional instead of the principal object of gathering together, and put his own supposed profit in the place of prominence which Christ claims for the memorials of His death.” The church offices have, therefore, from the reasons just mentioned, no longer an existence based on scriptural authority. Where they have been re-established and maintained, the old sin of Nadab and Abihu appears again, in bringing “strange fire” into the Lord's presence and service. God, foreseeing the sad decline of the church, had in His wisdom made those offices for the need of the churches, to depend upon the authority of the apostles and their delegates, as the builders of His church. Those offices ceased with the apostles. Had God permitted them to remain in a fallen ruinous church, He would have put His seal of approval upon human order, that is upon assumption and disorder. What, then, about His truth and righteousness? But man's follies and sins cannot impede the Lord's grace. Apostles and prophets have ceased. But His gifts of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and the gifts of His Spirit are still there, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” All these are still in existence and active even amidst the sad ruin of the church. With God, perfect wisdom and grace are united. Had He inseparably joined together offices and gifts, as man in folly and assumption has attempted, God, who from the reasons just mentioned, could not allow offices to continue, would necessarily have withdrawn the spiritual gifts alike, and the church of God and flock of Christ would have been exposed to starvation. But, blessed be His wisdom and grace, He has separated the offices from the gifts, taking away what is not essentially necessary for the church, and leaving what is indispensable for her spiritual growth and welfare. Who would not admire such grace that still continued, to provide the church with such gifts, even where they have been abused so grossly? The church in Philadelphia found herself amidst declined churches. She herself formed part of the ruins around her. What was her security? She knew it, and in conscious weakness was “leaning on the arm of her beloved,” her sole refuge and strength. She did not attempt amidst the ruins to build new churches with the decayed honeycombed and weather-eaten stones of the ruinous heaps around her, but contented herself with keeping His word, Who possesses not only the keys of death and hades, but also the “the key of David,” i,e., the key for every success and blessing in His service. She was content to keep the word of His patience. Therefore she heard, amidst the ruins of an unfaithful church and conscious of her own failures and weakness, the everlasting words of her glorified head, the holy and true one, addressing her, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and none can shut it; for thou hast little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my Name.” And then the blessed promise, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold I come quickly, hold that fast which thou hast, that none take thy crown.”