Christ, the Synthesis of Interdependent Fellowship – by stk

 

 

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not

know where it comes from and where it is going…” (John 3:8).

 

Cultivating interdependence between autonomous local assemblies is an organic process that occurs under the watchful eye of the Spirit of God.  The same Spirit that was brooding over the surface of the waters at the dawn of creation has continued to move in the affairs of men ever since: Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8); Elijah heard the voice of the Lord in the sound of a gentle blowing (1 Kings 19:11-13); the disciples heard the sound of a mighty rushing wind as the Spirit of God gave birth to the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  As the wind of the eternal purpose blows along from generation to generation, the sound of God’s voice is being borne upon the wings of His Spirit to certain men and women of His own choosing.  How this wind began and where it is going are not ours to know.  Ours is simply to heed the voice of His presence when it comes our way, and move in rhythm with the heavenly cadence that is intoned in our hearts by the indwelling Spirit from God.  In tracking the Spirit’s movements as He parts the way before us, we avoid the pitfall of David when he employed his own formula in serving the Lord (1 Chronicles 13), or of Korah when he asserted his own right to lead the assembly of the Lord’s people (Numbers 16). 

 

According to H. A. Ironside, a group of believers in the 1820’s became burdened regarding the centrality of Christ and the simplicity that is in Him.  They began to meet spontaneously and autonomously in Ireland, India, and the Caribbean, only later discovering each other and becoming known collectively as “The Brethren.”  Today, in 2004, it appears that the Spirit of God is moving in our own generation to unite the Body of Christ in a hitherto unprecedented way.  Do we hear the sound of His voice upon the wind?  To be sure, all of God’s believing sheep hear His voice to one extent or another (John 10:27).  However, only some make out the distinct tones of the secret counsel of the Lord God  as it is being borne upon the wings of His Spirit from one generation to the next (Amos 3:7).  Speaking of these unique servants of Christ, the Apostle Paul made it clear that they must be found trustworthy by the Lord Himself as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-4).  It is these stewards who form the vanguard of every new initiative of the Spirit of Christ in each successive generation: a Paul, a Luther, a Watchman Nee.  The trans-local koinonia that seems to be the Spirit’s latest initiative must spring first from the individual sensitivity of men and women willing to be co-workers with God before it builds to a collective crescendo of perfected unity across the boundaries of autonomous local ecclessia.  These brethren have trained their ears to hear the Spirit’s voice and their eyes to discern where the Spirit is moving, and they partner with the men and women of kindred soul who are likewise tracking the Spirit’s movements.  How, then, do I become one of these stewards?  One way of breaking down the question is as follows (Hebrews 5:14):   

 

1)     Q: How do I train my spiritual ears to hear the Spirit’s voice? 

A: By abiding in the two-fold Word (living and written) – John 8:31-32, John 18:37, and Romans 10:17.  (Apostles’ teaching)

 

“We are mistaken if we think that we can get along with slovenly and incomplete knowledge of the Bible.  No amount of spiritual experience, or even the Spirit’s help and instruction, will take the place of the study God requires us to put upon His Word.” – Katherine Bushnell

 

 

2)     Q: How do I train my spiritual eyes to discern where and when the Spirit is moving? 

A: By purifying my heart of double motives – Psalm 24:3-4, Matthew 5:8, and James 4:8.  (Breaking of bread & prayer)

 

“It would be no surprise, if a study of secret causes were undertaken, to find that every golden era in human history proceeds from the devotion and righteous passion of some single individual.  This does not set aside the sovereignty of God, it simply indicates the instruments through which He uniformly works.  There are no bona fide mass movements; it just looks that way.  At the center of the column there is always one man (or woman) who knows where his God is and where He is going.” – Richard Ellsworth Day

 

3)     Q: How do I recognize and partner with the other men and women who have heard the Spirit’s voice and are tracking the Spirit’s movements? 

A: By practicing the discipline of authentic fellowship – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, 2 Timothy 2:22, and Hebrews 10:24-25.  (Fellowship)

 

“Our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.  And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance or indulgence, which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.” – C. S. Lewis

 

Christ Himself is the life that sustains all life.  If we are to breed living, autonomous, reproducing, organically interdependent assemblies, we must cultivate a culture of Christ-centeredness that reaches out from within our local assemblies to embrace every member of His Body as a member of our Body, and every unbeliever as a member in the making.  The balance between the thesis of individualism and the antithesis of collectivism can only be struck by focusing on Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  “And I, if I am lifted up…, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).  He alone is the synthesis of interdependent fellowship; as we fellowship around His person, His preeminence becomes the distinguishing mark of all our gatherings, whether local or trans-local.  Such submission to Christ as our common Head allows us to see Him in each other as we recognize and affirm the good that is in the others in whom Christ dwells (Colossians 2:19).  This living koinonia does not occur upon execution of a silver-bullet formula, nor does it result from man-made organization or personality cult.  Rather, it begins organically as an authentic love for Christ, and flows supernaturally as an outpouring of authentic love for His Bride.  “…Christ also loved the Church…” (Ephesians 5:25-27), and it is precisely on account of this bond of perfected love that the world will believe our message of life and peace in the One sent forth from the bosom of the Father (John 17:20-23).  As this supernatural oneness begins to take place in our generation, it will authenticate our practice of the New Testament principles of gathering and outreach as bearing the seal of divine initiative.  With so much at stake, we do well to allow Christ to extend His love through us as we live Him, speak Him, and behold Him ever before us, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). 

 

 

 

Reflections on Robert Chapman: A Biography by Robert L. Peterson

 

Published in 1995 by Loizeaux Brothers, this book is a complete biography of Robert Cleaver Chapman, who lived from 1803-1902 and served primarily at Ebenezer Chapel in Barnstaple, England.  He was the lone voice of reconciliation during the controversy in the 1840’s between George Müller and J. N. Darby that gave rise to the split that still exists today between the “Open Assemblies” and the “Exclusive Brethren.”  Of the many lessons I gleaned while reading the biography of this remarkable man, three things stand out:

 

1)  Chapman's love of the Word: He had already read the Bible through three or four times before he was saved at 20, and he continued to do so until he died at 99.  He based his theology on a complete understanding of the whole Bible, and as a result had a very balanced view of New Testament principles and Old Testament truths.  His intimate familiarity with the Scriptures enabled him to give wise counsel, and he was known for his pithy sayings.  Many sought advice from him because of it, and his wisdom was valued by the likes of George Müller, John Nelson Darby, Hudson Taylor, and Charles Spurgeon.

 

2)  Chapman's emphasis on relationships: He was a builder of bridges and a destroyer of walls.  He crossed social lines and tore down class distinctions.  He crossed denominational lines and overlooked minor theological differences.  He knew how to separate the sin from the sinner.  He was a man who recognized a kindred soul when he saw one.  He had many close friends as a result, and was able to maintain close cross-gender relationships without a hint of romantic involvement.  Although he never married, he loved children, and children loved him.  He walked on his missionary tours through Spain and Ireland just so he could meet more people along the way.  He knew what it was to consistently pray for his many friends by name.  He was a true Barnabas, a son of encouragement, and was held in high esteem by all who knew him. 

 

3)  Chapman's intentionality: Early in life he said, "There are many who preach Christ, but not so many who live Christ.  My great aim will be to live Christ."  All that he would later become did not happen by chance.  Like Daniel, he made up his mind to live a certain way, and God honored him because of it.  He developed certain personal habits of discipline, like daily quiet time with God, daily exercise, and weekly fasting.  He said, "The man of God is the one who makes it the business of his life to please God."  He approached the Christian life with intentionality, and became the kind of man of whom it was said, "He has no ebbs or flows."  The consistent nature of his 79-year walk with God was truly inspirational.  Chapman summed up his motivation well: "My chief desire is to please Him.  If I please my brethren, I am glad.  If I fail, I am not disappointed."

 

Reflecting on the life of this spiritually sensitive servant of Christ, it is my prayer that all of this and more will be said of us in our own generation.  May we live Christ, speak Christ, and behold Him ever before us, preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as we gather in His name and unto Him alone (Matthew 18:20). 

 

Stephen T. Kia        Iron Sharpens Iron, May 2004        Acts 2:42 for the 21st Century