The Matter Of Reception
A transcription of an address given by W.R. Dronsfield of Lowestoft, Suffolk, England at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on October 8, 1994.
Hymn 340 - Spiritual. Songs Hymn Book:
Father, we commend our spirits to thy love in Jesus' name.
Love which His atoning merits give us confidence to claim.
Oh how sweet, how real a pleasure flows from love so full and free!
'Tis a vast exhaustless treasure, Saviour, we possess in Thee.
From the world and its confusion here we turn and find our rest:
From its care and its delusion turn to thee in whom we're blest.
By the Holy Ghost anointed may we do the Father's will,
Walk the path by Him appointed all His pleasure to fulfill.
I Corinthians 10:14-22 "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men. judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread. and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But 1 say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils (demons), and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils (demons). Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils (demons): ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils (demons). Do we provoke the Lord to jealously? are we stronger then he?"
II Timothy 2:16-22 "But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure. having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth' and some to honour, and some to dishonour. if a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use. and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
I want to speak upon a subject which perhaps has caused more difficulty in our meetings than any other subject. When you come to things that have divided the saints throughout the history of the assembly, like predestination or baptism, we manage to get along with that very well. We may differ on these subjects, but we don't fall out. But on the subject that I am going to speak about, I am afraid that there has been a great deal of trouble caused by it. It is the vexed question of reception into the fellowship of the Lord's people. Now, I don't want to make any quotations from brethren of the past; I want to just stick to the scriptures and see what the scriptures say on the subject, if we can so find it. There are very few actual direct references to this subject in the scriptures. There is a well known one,
"Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God." (Romans 15 v:7)
That's often quoted but it doesn't really refer, I think, to initial reception to the fellowship of the Lord's people. It's "receive ye one another"...-it seems to imply that we are to welcome and that we are to show an attitude of affection to each other - those that are already in the fellowship of the saints. And the criterion of it is, "as Christ also received us", not them, but "us". Well, we know we are "received", and we know that we were "received" when we were thoroughly unworthy and there was no reason why we should be received, other than the love of Christ and the love of God the Father. That's why we were received. So, really, if we went on that we would receive everybody wouldn't we, because we have been received ... so we receive everybody else. But it doesn't take very much to look into the scriptures to find out that there are disqualifications for fellowship which we will deal with later.
Then there is the passage,
"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." (Romans 14:1)
Well, those that are "weak in the faith", if we look at the context of that passage, it refers to those that have a conscience which is more scrupulous, more tender than necessary. They believe that they should do, or not do, things which Christians, that have more knowledge, know that they can do. That is what those that are "weak in the faith" means. Of course, we should not be at all unwilling to receive those that are mistakenly perhaps more scrupulous in their behaviour than we are. Some might say, for example, Oh, I don't think that a Christian should have a mortgage. Others, most of them in the assembly, might say, Oh, but I think they can! why not? Well, if you can say the one that does refuse the mortgage (in view of those that think they should have a mortgage) is the "weak one", you should still receive him, but "not to doubtful disputations"... not if he starts to argue about it, and generally make a disputation in the assembly. That's quite clear but we don't get very far with that.
There is a reference to a letter of commendation in the scriptures in Acts 18:27. We find that the brethren in Ephesus wrote a letter of commendation to the brethren in Achaia, commending their brother Apollos to them,
"...the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him:.." (Acts 18:27.)
Well, that is very good. That shows that we should have letters of commendation to other assemblies.
In another incident of commendation you have Barnabas commending Saul. And here you have a little instruction in the matter. Saul, of course, was by no means in a happy position with regards to the saints for he had a very bad reputation. But Barnabas commended Saul to the brethren and he told them of Saul's conversion, and he told them of Saul's preaching, and bold testimony concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. And when it comes to reception of those who are newly converted, surely you can't have better commendation than that. They are converted and they are confessing the Lord Jesus Christ. Phebe also...
"I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also." (Romans 16:1 & 2)
The epistle to the Romans was written as it were around a letter of commendation about Phebe. She is commended as she was a minister, or servant, of the assembly which was at Cenchrea and she was a succourer of many.
Apart from that, I don't find very much in the Scriptures about initial reception, not directly. To find out what the scripture says about these things we first of all have to look into the whole subject of 'fellowship' in general, and then, the matter of reception to the Lord's Table, as people call it, will fall into place.
In the early chapters of Acts we read that the Christians, "...continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42) The "doctrine and fellowship" are linked together as having to do with the apostles. J. N. Darby translates it, "the teaching and fellowship of the apostles", making it plainer. However you translate it, I think you can say quite clearly that the doctrine and fellowship, or the teaching and the fellowship, were linked together. As it were, one depended upon the other. So these Christians continued stedfastly in fellowship. Now, when the church was first formed and the Holy Spirit fell upon all of the 120 of them that were there, it was, as it were, the birthday of the assembly and it was the time when the "one body" of Christ began. That body, which Paul brings out later, is a metaphor concerning the Church. The body of Christ began at that period. And at the same time the fellowship began at that period, as they continued stedfastly in fellowship.
Now these two things, the body of Christ and the fellowship, are not the same thing. When the assembly first started those that were in the body of Christ were also in the fellowship of the apostles. They synchronized perfectly. There was a difference. You see, we read that, "...the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47)
It was the Lord that added those that should be saved to the company - to the assembly there, and it was the Lord's work. THAT was the "body of Christ". He is the one, Christ himself, who brings into being this "body", and adds to it as He will. And once one is in the "body of Christ", one remains in the "body of Christ". If one is genuinely in it, nobody can take us out; nobody can pluck us out of His hand, or out of the Father's hand.
We remain in that "body"; it doesn't depend upon us, it depends upon Christ. He is the One that has done the work and continues to do the work of edifying and feeding that "body".
When it comes to "fellowship", we read that the disciples "continued stedfastly" in it. They continued stedfastly in the fellowship. They needed to be stedfast to continue in the fellowship. You can't imagine the scripture saying, they continued stedfastly in the body. Of course, not. It doesn't depend upon them but it does depend upon them if they continue in the "fellowship". So you see, the "body" is that which can be appreciated by faith. That's why we cannot see the body, but we can see fellowship. Fellowship is something which is concrete; it is something which is practical, and it is something which depends upon us. Fellowship, therefore, is the responsibility of the believers. In the Revelation, when the Lord was speaking to the seven churches, He commended one of them for not having certain people amongst them. He blamed another assembly because they had amongst them certain that taught certain "doctrine" and did certain "deeds". He blamed them for it; they were responsible before Him for those that they allowed to come in.
As we look at the history of the assembly, just in the early stages, we see that the "fellowship of the apostles" and the "body of Christ" began to diverge. It was slightly, at first, but we do see in 1 Corinthians 5 a man who was in the "body of Christ", as subsequent events proved because his repentance was so real, but his behavior made it necessary for him to be put out of the "fellowship". You can't say that a person is still in fellowship when he is excluded from the assembly, and excluded from all social life with the assembly, with other Christians. You can't call that "fellowship". He was not in fellowship, but he was in the "body". So there you have somebody who was in the "body", but not in the "fellowship".
And then again you have in other places - Galatians Chapter 2 and Jude, verse 4, speaking of those who had "crept in unawares", or "brought in unawares", false brethren. One presumes "false brethren" are probably those that are not Christian at all. They shouldn't have been in the assembly; they shouldn't have been in fellowship, but there they were. They "crept in", or they had been "brought in (worse still) unawares". So there you have some that were in the "fellowship", but were not in the "body".
And as time went on, we know that the fellowship of the apostles and the body of Christ began to diverge still more until that fellowship became a baptized profession; until it became so mixed up with unbelievers, those that were not true Christians, that confusion reigned every where. No doubt clerisy was responsible for that to a great extent. It of course became the idea that it only mattered that the clergy were real Christians and anybody else in the congregation could come in just as they pleased. But there was a great divergence before very long. Well, the Holy Spirit was quenched by these things, by the rise of clerisy and the result was He was displaced by men that were ordained of men and it ceased to have the character of the apostles fellowship as we find in the scriptures. That was the history, alas, of the professing church.
Now, I don't want to talk too much on details, but we do see in the 10th chapter of 1 Corinthians, something of fellowship being expressed at the Lord's Supper. There is no doubt that true fellowship is expressed by the Lord's Supper. We find that the "cup" is the fellowship of the Lord's blood, and the bread, (the loaf), is the fellowship of the Lord's body, fellowship meaning that all those that partook of those emblems were in this fellowship. They participated in the Lord's body and the Lord's blood.
And in this particular passage in Chapter 10, we find that the blood is mentioned first. Often there has been a question asked, Why is the cup mentioned first before the loaf? Various reasons are given. A favourite one is, of course, without the blood we have no fellowship at all - that is the foundation of all of our blessings. That's perfectly true but why then should it be put first here and not anywhere else? I think one has to look at the context to see why the blood is put first. It is in the context of association with evil. He says, "flee from idolatry". He is saying to the Christians, have nothing to do with the work of demons and so he mentions the cup first. "The cup of blessing which we bless (eulogize, speak well of) is it not the fellowship (same word as communion) of the blood of Christ?" Now the blood of Christ is that which separates us completely from this world. You see, we are under the shelter of the blood. The blood is that which saves us! We speak well of it; of course we do! It is that of which everything depends for us - all of our blessings depends upon the blood of Christ. But, alas, this world, this world that put the Lord Jesus on the cross and has not repented of it, that blood is not a saving force for them, as they are unrepentant. On the contrary, it brings them under judgment. They are those who are responsible for the shedding of the blood of the Son of God! It is the most terrible state to be in that you could possibly imagine. That is this world. And so there is such a sharp cleavage and separation between ourselves and this world. We are under the shelter of the blood ... it is a blessing to us. They are under the curse of the blood ... it is judgment for them.
We know, of course, that this world's system, whatever facet of it we may think of - whether of its pleasures, its business, its politics or its religion, this world's system is under the control of demons. Satan is responsible for all of these things. Satan is responsible for everything which deviates from the will of God in this world. I know that men are responsible too, but the demons are the ones that work upon the evil flesh of man to bring about all these terrible things - some of them quite nice! but they are not having anything to do with God. Just like Cain's inventions, the way he made things nice and comfortable down here, but it was without God; so this world is without God, and everything, even the things that add to our comfort, are used by Satan and demons to keep this world away from God. It is this world's system. And so, the "cup of blessing" is mentioned first - separation from this world; and those therefore that partake of it have taken it upon themselves that they should be separate from this world. This is most important! and we should realize that when we partake of the cup, not only do we thank the Lord for all He has done for us - being all in the fellowship of that blood - but we also remember that we have separated from this world's system and we own it by taking of the cup.
There are two fellowships. There is the table of the Lord and there is a table of demons. There was a controversy some years ago, before my time and perhaps before yours, when men started to say that sectarian tables were the tables of demons and they were surely squashed. Quite right, too! You see, there is only one table of demons; not tables of demons. One table of demons, one fellowship, which is controlled by Satan and one fellowship of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the host. We should remember that. There are just two fellowships.
The loaf, mentioned next, does not bring about the thought of further separation, but the thought of unity. All those that partake of that one loaf own themselves as being members of that "one body" of Christ... which is "one body" united together by a bond of life - spiritual life.
But, of course, separation comes before unity. You may be surprised at that but this is true. You can't have unity without separation from evil. If you try to bring about unity without separation first, it is a unity, yes; but its a false unity, a unity which is not according to truth. Separation must come before the thought of unity. Well, from this particular passage, we find this: that only believers should be allowed to partake of the LORD'S SUPPER, because if an assembly, carelessly, or negligently, or even wilfully, allows somebody to come in to partake of that loaf, who is not a true believer, then their very act of remembrance of the Lord is acting a lie. They are saying, we are all members of the "one body", and they know that very likely they are not all members of the "one body", so they are acting a lie, which is a very serious matter indeed. We can see from this, because the LORD'S SUPPER is the supreme expression of fellowship, that reception to the LORD'S SUPPER is really the primary question. Reception to the assembly is a primary question of who is received to the LORD'S SUPPER. After one is received for that, then he is received into the whole fellowship of the assembly. There is no barrier to him. And we also see only those that are in the "body" have a title to be there. This is the very first qualification: Is a person a true believer? If he is, he has a title to be at the LORD'S SUPPER. A title, not necessarily a right, but a title. He can lose his right, but he can never lose his title. Just as a nobleman can have a title to his palatial mansion but if he misbehaves himself and gets cast into prison, he has lost his right to enter into it but he still has a title, but he has lost his right.
There are scriptural disqualifications to fellowship.
Really when we start to discuss the question of "reception" it is a matter of what these disqualifications are, rather than the primary thought, which everybody agrees, THAT EVERY TRUE BELIEVER HAS A TITLE TO BE AT THE LORD'S TABLE. Who of those believers are disqualified? Well, there is no direct instruction as to that. But there is instruction as to who should be excluded from the fellowship. And if a person should be excluded from the fellowship, then surely it is axiomatic that he cannot be received into fellowship if he were to ask to come in from outside. These disqualifications, you know them very well I expect, up to a point, are:
(1) Moral Disqualification.
You find that in 1 Corinthians 5. There you have a believer that was guilty of serious sin and they were told in Corinth to "put away from among yourselves that wicked person". This is quite clear. A person that is guilty of moral evil cannot be received. You have a list of these moral evils in I Corinthians 5, verse 11. If you look at them, you will find quite an interesting list. It is not an exclusive list. It doesn't mention murder, for example. I am quite sure a person, a murderer, an unrepentant murderer, couldn't be received at the LORD'S SUPPER. But it does mention quite a few things. If you look at them carefully, you will see that these are not necessarily what we would regard as being very serious moral evil. For example, covetousness, railing. That surely is a matter of degree. We are all liable to covetousness; we have to confess it. We all might at times lose our temper and be abusive and rail. The point is, how far does that go before the assembly decides, this is too much. Lesser forms of discipline would come first, until finally the final act of discipline when a person is actually put out of fellowship would be the end of it all. So you see it shows that what we might call a minor sin, if persisted in and gone in for to a great degree, becomes a matter for exclusion from fellowship. Therefore if a person is this sort, he could be refused reception if he asked to come in.
Also, in Matthew 18, you have an interesting passage where the Lord himself says, if a brother has sinned against you, first of all you take the matter to him and see if you can put it right with him, and if he refuses - he doesn't repent, you ask two or three others to come and hear the cause of it. And if he won't hear them, then you tell it to the assembly. It doesn't say that this is a serious moral evil. It is some sin which has been done against me. If I did this course of things, and if the person refuses to hear the assembly, then, he is to be unto me a heathen and a publican. Well, you can't break bread with heathens and publicans, can you? That's quite obvious. People say, Oh yes, but this is in the singular. He must be unto thee as a heathen and a publican, not unto the assembly; but that's nonsense, absolute nonsense! If I cannot break bread with somebody, then surely if the assembly is still allowing him to break bread, I put myself out, don't I? I can't break bread with anybody in the assembly. That's nonsense; the one that is innocent would be the one that suffered. No, it implies most distinctly, that the assembly has pronounced, and the assembly has judged that that person is as a heathen and a publican. He is not in fellowship. Though it may be a minor sin as it were, yet obstinate refusal to repent ultimately will cause exclusion from fellowship. An obstinate refusal to repent also therefore can be a cause for exclusion from reception. I think that is clear. That's MORAL evil.
(2) Doctrinal Evil
Here you have quite plainly from Galatians 5:9, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." - Exactly the same thing as is said concerning moral evil. Therefore purge out the old leaven that ye may be a new lump - clean lump - unleavened. That is the instruction for leaven in the assembly. Doctrinal evil, therefore, leavens the whole lump. Doctrinal evil, therefore, is something which also can be a ground of exclusion from fellowship. People say, Oh, yes, that's just serious doctrinal evil. I think that may be so. There are many things that we can bear which are not serious but there is serious doctrinal evil. And if that occurs then such person cannot be received.
(3) Association With These Evils
This has been a bone of contention amongst the so called brethren. In 1848 there was a division on this very point. One side said, Oh, well, you can receive people from meetings where there is serious doctrinal evil taught provided they themselves do not hold that evil doctrine. The fact that they were quite willing to go back to that assembly and have fellowship with them had nothing to do with it. Association with evil therefore does not defile. There was a division on that point and you know that our roots are with those who said association with evil does defile. Many may say, you shouldn't follow history, its the word of God that you should look at. Well, I quite agree.
It is the word of God that we follow, and the word of God shows quite plainly that association with evil does defile. As the sister was told in the 2nd epistle of John that she mustn't even give greetings, or invite into her house somebody who did not bring the doctrine of Christ because if she did that or condoned the evil then she partook of the evil herself. That was association with evil.
We read that Timothy was enjoined not to be partaker with other men's sins.
And if we look at the Old Testament which is typical of moral teaching in the New, we find very much about separation and association with evil defiling.
I have said that we don't follow history; at the same time we should take note of our roots, the roots of the movement in which we actually are. God has that principle quite clearly in his word. If you read the scriptures, you will find for example, those of Moab were excluded from the temple, from the sacrifices, up to the 10th generation because they would not show hospitality, and would not give bread to the children of Israel when they were in trouble in the wilderness. That was a long time ago but because they hadn't judged that, they were excluded from the fellowship of saints of Israel. It needed a sister like Ruth to say quite plainly, "...thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God", to cut herself off from this Moab company before she could be received. You see, her roots were taken account of by God. The same with the Amalekites. They were told they must be destroyed; they were not to be received at all forever. Why? because of the way they treated the children of Israel long ago. They did not repent of it, and so they were judged for it.
It worked the other way - the Gibeonites. They got a pact with Israel, not by an honest means, but they got a pact with Israel and Israel swore that they would not be killed; they would not be put to death; that they would be allowed to live along side Israel. Many, many generations later, Saul the king killed some of the Gibeonites and God was very angry for that. You see, it still continued; that pact had not been abrogated, and so God was angry with Saul because of it. If we own our existence to roots that maintain that association with evil defiles, then we have to look into it. If we discover from the scriptures that association with evil does not defile, then we should not be in this company. But if it does then we should be in this company. And what's more, we should continue in this company and be obedient to the truth that we have discovered in the scriptures. No playing fast and loose; no saying, "For fifty-one weeks I will be in this company and when on holiday, I'll go somewhere else." No, obedience is the thing. We must decide, are we in the right place? or are we in the wrong place? Should we be in that company over there? Are we wrongly separated from them? If we are then we should put the matter right ourselves and we should depart and go to that company because that company is being wronged. It is a terrible thing to separate from Christians when it is not a matter of obedience to the Lord to do so - that is Pharisaism, which I shall come to perhaps later. Now, those are the 3 main disqualifications.
You have another one which is not so often known - the matter of heresy. A heretic in the scriptures is not the same as a heretic as the word has grown in ecclesiastical circles. Nowadays, you think of a heretic as somebody who teaches serious false doctrine but in the scriptures it is one who is sectarian, one who has separated from or is separated from the fellowship of the apostles. In I Corinthians 11, you find that Paul says to them, "...there be divisions (or schools of opinion) among you - for there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."
In other words, in Corinth there was still one assembly, though with internal parties, but if these schools of opinion were allowed to continue, there would be open ruptures, with a number of assemblies, each claiming to be the right one. Then the approved will be made manifest. How? It was easy in those days when the apostles were still alive, and could point out the company still continuing in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship. The others would be sects. Now the apostles are gone, but their doctrine is still in the Scripture. The Scripture, with the Holy Spirit's guidance, is the only umpire, at present.
Now if a Heretic -- that is one who is in a sect -- for reasons of his own, wishes to have occasional fellowship with those who still continue in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, he is to be rejected (Titus 3:10-11). If he thinks those he has left are on the wrong ground, why does he contemplate being disobedient to what he thinks is the truth by going back'? And if he thinks we are on the right ground, why is he going back to his sect when he returns to his home town? He is self condemned. It may be argued, this Christian, he or she doesn't know the issues involved. He has been converted in that particular sect and naturally he has joined it. He loves the fellowship of the Christians there, why should he be refused? He is ignorant of these things. The scriptures makes it quite plain what has to be done. He is not to be rejected immediately. He can be received but he has to be admonished. When we say admonished it doesn't mean he has to be rebuked exactly. Admonishment is corrective instruction. That is what has to be given to such a one. He has to be given corrective instruction. If after the corrective instruction, he seems to be slow to learn or is obstinate, and still thinks he wants to go back to his own gathering, then he has to be given this corrective instruction a second time. And if he still remains obdurate, then he has to be rejected. It is quite clear therefore, he is received as a member of the body of Christ, but having been received, he comes under the discipline of the assembly. If, however, he is known to be a leader in his sect who is already well aware of the issues at stake, there is no point in letting him in at all -- he does not come honestly.
II Timothy 2:16-19.
Now, let us turn to the Second Epistle of Timothy. You may ask, what is to be done in this present day? Conditions as when the apostles were alive have long passed away. There is breakdown everywhere. The profession is ruined. The old churches that claimed to have descended from the apostles have become hopelessly corrupt. Those that have separated from them in the Reformation and subsequently, have formed different sects not knowing or understanding the principles of the assembly - what it is to gather to the Lord's name alone. They have formed their own sects and their own human government, displacing the HEAD OF THE CHURCH. What is to be done today? Well, we might not have expected that we would get instruction from the scriptures concerning this. For this condition did not occur until the canon of scripture was completed, so we might not expect to find such instruction. But we do! The Holy Spirit has made sure that we are not left without instructions as to what should be done in a day of ruin such as this. In the Second Epistle of Timothy, Paul is concerned there are teachers going around teaching very serious false doctrine. There is Hymenaeus and Alexander in the first epistle to Timothy. They were preaching bad doctrine. And Paul had delivered them to Satan. That is to say he had directed that they should be put out of the fellowship of saints so that they should be in the fellowship of Satan where there was no Christian fellowship, that they might be taught "not to blaspheme". Here in the second epistle, we find that one of these false brethren is still going around, this time in the company of a man called Philetus. (1 Tim. 2:17). It would seem that discipline had broken down. The assemblies were still receiving this man and still listening to him in spite of the instruction of the Apostle Paul.
Then says Paul, in spite of the break down, "the foundation of God standeth sure". The foundation that God has made can never be overthrown. And it has this seal, two sides of the seal, firstly, "God knows them that are His". We can be so thankful of this. We don't know who are the real Christians as sometimes we find it very hard to discern; but God knows those that are His. One day He will separate all those that are His and we shall meet the Lord in the air, a perfect company separate from all evil. But that is not yet. In spite of that, God knows those that are His. It is not our responsibility to try and determine which is which, but God knows. BUT, the other side of the seal is our responsibility and this is what it is: "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ (or the Lord) depart from iniquity." This word "iniquity" in the Greek is adaki'a, and according to W. E. Vine's Dictionary of New Testament words (a very valuable treatise) he says that this word means "a condition of not being right". We are to separate from all that which is not right; not according to God's word.
II Timothy 2:20-21.
Paul visualizes a "great house" as a metaphor, describing a situation which has now taken place. In that "great house" there are many vessels, some of gold and silver, and some of wood and earth; some to honour and some to dishonour. And he says, "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." This word "purge" is ekkathai'ro - to purge out. The word is only found twice in the New Testament. It is found here and it is found in I Corinthians 5, where the Christians are told to "purge out therefore the old leaven", to "put away from among yourselves that wicked person". In I Corinthians 5 the Christians obeyed and they purged out the leaven. In Second Timothy the Christians do not seem to be obeying that instruction and the whole lump has become leavened. And NOW the instruction is for the faithful to purge themselves out from the leavened mass. They are separated from iniquity, but obviously if they are going to separate from that which is not right, they have to separate from those who are not doing right. Otherwise they are just caught up with the error themselves.
II Timothy 2:22.
Now, after the faithful have separated, what are they to do? Further instruction is then given to them. It says, "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Having separated from the leavened mass, they are now to go along in company with those who "call on the Lord out of a pure heart".
Now, immediately people object to this. They will say, who can say he has a pure heart? nobody has a pure heart. That is true in one sense. But if that were true in the sense of the scripture, then it would make the instructions completely impossible. All instructions in the scripture are possible to follow and to obey, and so is this one. If you look at it carefully and look at the words, we find that the word "purge out" is ekkathai'ro, and the word for "pure" is kathai'ros. They are linked together these words. Those with a "pure heart" in this particular passage are those that have "purged" themselves out from the company which is leavened, and that is what it means. Of course, there has to be purity of heart as well - it says, follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace in company with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. It is most important not to separate in a Pharisaical spirit, but to separate "UNTO THE LORD". We don't separate because we wish to be separate from other Christians, but we separate because we wish to obey the Lord and His instructions.
Now, how does this bear upon the question of reception? Here we have a company that is now separated from the mass; we have a company which consists only of those who have "purged" themselves out from the vessels unto dishonour. Now as they come together they still gather on the ground of the "one body of Christ". They don't claim to be anything; they desire to have the character of the apostles' fellowship, but they don't claim to be the apostles' fellowship. They don't claim to be anything. They meet together in a very humble state of mind. But they are separated from iniquity, and having got to that position, now what about reception? Would it be right to receive those who are not so separated in heart, who do not desire to separate from the vessels unto dishonour, but desire to go back to them when it is convenient to them? No. It would be foolish. Obviously they would be diluting the company with those that are not "calling on the Lord out of a pure heart". As gathered on the ground of the "one body of Christ" they receive all the members of the body of Christ that are not disqualified by scripture. They don't say you can't come in because you're not of us; but they do receive those who come honestly desiring to have the fellowship of the body with them. But they must come honestly. They must come with all sincere motives. They must not come with desire maybe to pull down the truth that these dear Christians have discovered - the truth of gathering on the true principles of the assembly. There are many today who just cannot believe that the vast majority of Christians have departed from the apostles' fellowship and only a small minority still have that character. They just cannot believe that. And yet throughout the whole scripture we find that it is so.
Only a very small minority of people still were following the true paths. We find that all the way through scripture. It is only the minority that are right. The majority are always wrong. The minority did not want to be in that position. They were forced into it by obedience to the Lord, by departure from iniquity. They do not glory in being in the minority. On the contrary, it is a cause of great sorrow to them and grief that they are separated from other believers. Nevertheless, that is the position that they find themselves in by obedience to the Lord. In the time of the apostles the sects were in the minority and the vast majority of Christians were in the apostles' fellowship. Now it is reversed. And did not the scriptures prophecy that it would be so? We are in the last days. The Lord's coming must be very near.
As regards reception probably we are in the most difficult times of all.
Things were much easier when brethren first saw the truth 170 years ago and many came out from the systems on these principles of Second Timothy 2.
Things are much more difficult now than they were then. In those days the orthodox denominations were sound in doctrine, that is, they subscribed to the creeds and if anybody did not agree with the creeds they would not be allowed to be ordained as a clergyman. There was a general acceptance that the scriptures were the inerrant word of God. Now it is completely changed. We know that of the denominations, very few of them will accept that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God. Rationalism has come in everywhere. Serious immorality is condoned, even encouraged. Very serious errors of the Person of Christ are taught in all the denominations. Only in small systems, such as perhaps the strict Baptist or evangelical churches do we find the same conditions as there were 170 years ago.
Also a new thing has sprung up, the so-called ecumenical movement, the desire to bring together all the sects of Christendom to form one great mass, one great company. They say that will produce unity. That would mean to say that the whole church will be together again. But it will not be the whole church; it will be a monstrosity when it occurs. In the days of the early brethren the sects were very separate from each other. Any member who went to another sect, who visited such a one, would be frowned upon and disapproved of. If anybody came to an assembly of brethren and desired to break bread, one could be pretty sure that they were exercised in some way against denominationalism, but nowadays, it is not so. People will come simply thinking that they have come into another sect and they think that it is right to break down barriers between sects and so they come in that spirit, the ecumenical spirit. We see it everywhere.
Anybody now who wishes to be separate from the sects is actually called sectarian. There is a confusion between unsectarianism and all-sectarianism. Where there is that desire to break down the barriers between sects, they are all-sectarian, or intersectarian; not non-sectarian. These are difficult days and the problems as regards reception get greater.
One thing we have to be very careful of is that no spirit of pride rises up amongst us. We should not be separate because we want to be separate; we should be separate with brokenheartedness as we think of the dishonour that all these conditions has brought on our blessed Lord. We have been forced into this position because of the desire to obey the scriptures and to be separate from that which is not right. It is not that we think that we are better than other Christians, that we are more spiritual than they are.
In fact when we look around and see many of the godly believers that are still entangled in the sects, we may say when we see their devotion, that they are much more spiritual than we are. They just have not got the light that we have received. But their spiritual condition may be much better. Indeed at the judgment seat of Christ we may find that they are approved even far more than we are. We are failing; we do not live up to that which we know; we are disobedient at times. We have much to be repentant of.
But let us not add to our sins by offending against the light that we have. We have been shown the pathway that we should follow. Let us do so consistently, in separation from that which we know not to be right. Not to occasionally, when it is convenient to us, go back to the systems that we once came out of; remembering that if we build up the things that we have destroyed, we make ourselves transgressors. Either we were wrong and we transgressed in destroying these things, or we are wrong going back to them. To build again the things that we have destroyed we must make ourselves transgressors.
Consistency is what the Lord wants. Laodiceaism, the spirit of the last times is indefiniteness, being neither "cold nor hot", being neither one thing nor the other; let us be careful of having that spirit amongst us.