Some Important Scriptural Principles
(Extracted from a letter from French Switzerland dated 7th June 1996)
The ground of the unity of the Body of Christ and its practical consequences
The Scriptures, in particular in the epistles addressed to different named assemblies, teach us about the responsibility of local assemblies. These assemblies are not independent or self-governing. Decisions made in the Name of the Lord by an assembly, and for that reason bound in heaven (according to Matthew 18:18), involve all of the assemblies which are in communion with one another. These decisions should commend themselves to our consciences. Nevertheless, if there are objections which are justified by Scripture, it may be necessary for other assemblies to enquire into the matter. The assembly which made the decision should not refuse to reconsider the problem.
Is it an assembly decision or not?
A unanimous decision is desirable, but not absolutely necessary (see Ezra 10:15-17; 2 Cor. 2:6). A decision made by an assembly should be recognised as being an assembly decision when the exercised party, filled with reverent awe towards God, searches for His mind, being conscious of their responsibility before the Lord (as the angel of the assembly: Rev. 2 and 3). It is not a question of infallibility, but a question of the authority which the Lord grants to the local assembly which is responsible when acting in His Name.
Distinction between the unity of the Body of Christ and communion at the Lord's Table
To consider both as being the same thing is bound to lead to open principles and confusion. The unchangeable reality of the unity of the Body of Christ (which establishes the bond between all children of God) and communion at the Lord's table are two different things, the second one compelling ecclesiastical separation which is imposed by obedience to God. Therefore, practical holiness (moral or doctrinal) does not permit participation at Christian tables which are independent or tolerant towards evil, and does not permit the receiving of believers at the Lord's table who wish to remain in communion with other Christian tables. Nevertheless this distinction must not be accompanied by judgmental feelings of superiority over other believers.
Contracted and communicated defilement
This concerns a teaching especially emphasized by Scripture (the case of Achan in Joshua 7; the assembly at Corinth, 1 Cor. 3:17 and 5:6-7; the parable of the leaven, Matt. 13:33). This fact is very closely tied to the truth of the unity of the Body of Christ. To maintain, knowingly and willingly, communion with that which is openly wrong and openly known to be such, defiles the assembly, rendering it guilty and therefore responsible to put away what is morally wrong and to separate itself, in humiliation, from those who are associated with that wrong. However, the Scriptures do not make mention of either a chain reaction defilement or of unconscious defilement. Otherwise all assemblies would be in a constant state of defilement.
Collaboration with other believers within the sphere of ministry and service
Understanding and acceptance of scriptural teachings, accompanied by a desire to be obedient and faithful, will lead one to refuse to collaborate willingly (non-compulsorily) in the Lord's service with believers or associations which, though zealous and devoted, have or share doctrines alien to the Word, or who accept practices of which the Lord cannot approve. In Numbers 11:24-29 and Philippians 1:15-18 neither Moses nor Paul associated themselves with the work, yet they rejoice in what is accomplished.
Activities outside the assembly
Amongst the different activities accomplished for the Lord, several are carried out outside of assembly life. They will be blessed if their purpose is to win souls for Christ and to have them become attached to Him. These activities require watchfulness, sobriety, decency and order, so that a testimony approved by the Lord will become clear. A commendable purpose in itself does not justify resorting to unseemly means. The personal responsibility of the servant before the Lord in accomplishing His service does not release him from seeking the fellowship of the assembly. These activities should not have the effect of neglecting assembly life.
The position of sisters in the assembly
Brothers alone do not constitute the assembly. An assembly decision (more particularly when it concerns binding and loosing) is made by brothers and sisters in fellowship at the Lord's table, being gathered together to His name. Because of the current tendency and false teaching being spread around on the subject which grants sisters a public role in the assembly, it is important to remember the unambiguous teachings of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-12. This attitude of submissiveness cannot lessen the value and usefulness of the service with which they are entrusted, within the sphere given to them.
Choice of the assembly to which one will belong
In choosing an assembly, the main criteria that will direct one's choice depends upon the fundamental biblical principles underlying the assembly, by which it is recognised as such, not the brethren which form it. Apart from practical problems (e.g., those connected with means of transportation), it is fitting to attend the assembly which is closest to one's residence and there participate in its joys and sorrows and convey that which enhances edification and peace. The Lord's desire is that we should be useful where He has placed us (1 Cor 12:6, 11, 18).