To the saints throughout the world: Greetings in Christ Jesus.
TIME was when travel and communications were so slow and expensive that the Truth expanded in a series of regional households, each having little personal knowledge of the members in other areas, and relying for news of these in magazines which circulated throughout the world.
Today the situation is vastly different: travel is easier, quicker and relatively cheaper than in the past and the brothers and sisters who travel to regions other than their own realise that the Household of Faith is truly one , whatever the race, colour, language, customs or country; and the warmth of fellowship is the same wherever one meets those in the Truth.
A Family in God
The reason for this is that the God who has called us is a family Being. The Book of the prophet Isaiah is rich in these household figures of the Lord. It is he who records Him as Father ( 63:16 ), as Husband ( 54:5 ), and on one occasion as acting like a Mother comforting her children ( 66:13 ). And is there anything lovelier than the conception that those whom He calls are His children, or as Paul reveals, His adopted sons? ( Eph. 1:5 ). When Paul wrote to the Ephesians of his gratitude for being chosen a minister of the Gospel he said: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named” ( Eph. 3:14–15 ).
Whilst the family or “house of Israel” has still to be restored to God’s favour, under the rule of “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”, the Household of Faith, because of its special relationship to the Father and Son, enjoys a more intimate spiritual fellowship with God, through Christ, than ever Israel achieved and inherits greater promises than the mortal inheritance of the land promised to them, for Jesus is the pioneer of the salvation of many sons of glory ( Heb. 2:10 ).
Is it any wonder then that angels are fellow-servants with the members of this great household in serving God to realise His plan of the ages? And that the whole creation “waits with eager longing for the revelation of the sons of God”? To the inhabitants of heaven this will be the greatest event in the history of the Universe: the bursting into immortality of a vast host of God’s “children” who will be the consummation of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For those who strive to prepare for that glorious transformation the Father and Son have done all that is possible to help them. Whilst Israel has to wait for its full inheritance of Zion, so that they may “sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, none making them afraid” ( Micah 4:4 ), the saints have already become part of the spiritual mount which is greater than the natural. They have “ come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem . . .” ( Heb. 12:22–23 ). This is the noble privilege of the saints which is hard to grasp.
The Glory of Our Call
These, and so many other things in Scripture remind us of the glory of our call and of the lofty status of the household to which we belong; they tell us of the love, grace and patience of the Father shown to His children; they reveal to us His tender grief when His “family” fails Him ( Hos. 11:1–4 ).
God knows all and feels deeply: what does He see in His Household today? Instead of His children looking and working “with eager longing” for the coming of His Son, He finds them diverted from their essential task of preparing themselves for the administrations of the Kingdom and, in every great region of the world where the Truth is established, disputing on matters of doctrine.
Where is the bride that is preparing herself for her husband? Where is the love and grace that transforms the divine family and fires it with a mission that not only takes the Truth to sinners, but reaches out to all in compassionate service? These qualities are indeed manifest in some individuals and ecclesias, but where it is otherwise cannot the Brotherhood in every region realise that a situation such as this causes grief and pain to the Father and Son? Was this the family for whom Christ died?
In this era of particular significance in prophecy, the coming of the Lord Jesus would be singularly appropriate. Yet every one of us should shudder at the prospect of his returning to a household divided against itself. Because there were prophetic warnings of this, that is no reason for divesting ourselves of the responsibility for its occurrence. We all are guilty of not doing enough for the Lord who “bought” us.
The Basic Cause of Disputes
Because we are human, disputes will arise on matters of doctrine and conduct. This happened to first century ecclesias, and when the troubles were serious the basic cause was seen to be a common one: “I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of flesh . . . For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving like ordinary men ?” ( 1 Cor. 3:1–3 ).
In all the differing disputes throughout the world we seem to be incapable of coming together to discuss matters in a divine spirit. On the only occasion when Jesus said he would be present when two or three were gathered together, he was referring to a possible dispute when he would be present as the mediating spirit ( Matt. 18:15–20 ). Would to God we could invite him and let him help us in all our controversies.
There is only one way to arrive at a considered agreement in any matter: by studying the Scriptures afresh on the topic under discussion, instead of stubbornly arguing from already prepared doctrinal positions which are a legacy from a distant past.
In every region discussion of controversial matters has sometimes been aggravated by brethren who have publicly proclaimed a belief or interpretation which their judgement ought to have shown them would irritate or anger others in the Household. On the other hand, we must not too readily condemn a brother who offers an interpretation of Scripture which fills out our understanding of its teaching. Thus every brother has a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of others: and we need passionately to realise that “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” ( Rom. 14:7 ). We have been given a great and divine liberty, “only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” ( 1 Cor. 8:9 ).
What the Lord Requires
The Scriptures were written so that we might learn from the lives of others, but we seem slow to grasp the significance of such lessons. The downfall of Israel and Judah was not only because of apostasy and idolatry, but because of a lack of love: a fault which the Lord, Himself, emphasised: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” ( Hos. 6:6 ). The steadfast love here referred to is literally “covenant love”, faithfulness to the covenant, which would result in a response to God’s redemptive mercy by obedience to Him and love of one another. There is not enough of this love amongst us, for too often we are guilty of loving in word only; that is why John wrote: “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth” ( 1 John 3:18 ). Where divine love is dominant in our discussions, grace and patience persist until the problems are solved. When disputes arise, both “sides” will be prepared to yield and be ready to relinquish previously prepared defences for love of the Father, Son and one another.
Every member of the Father’s great Household has, in these last days, a grave responsibility to Him for preserving the unity of the whole body, not at any cost to Truth, but at any cost in striving lovingly for it.
We certainly need educating Scripturally and spiritually on matters over and above the doctrines which are the main concern of our Statements of Faith. There is no mention in them of the two great commandments on the love which is defined above: and to the Father and Son these are fundamental to the life of Truth ( Matt. 22:40 ). We can easily overlook the fact that there is a doctrine of Grace, which was fundamental to the Gospel that Jesus commissioned Paul to preach ( Acts 20:24 , 32 ). Without God’s grace there would have been no promise of the Kingdom.
The Gospel of the Kingdom which features so largely in our preaching and in our Statements of Faith is left unexplained as to its present as well as its future application. The number of parables in Matthew’s record beginning: “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” obviously refer to the followers of Jesus (good and bad) in this life, and when it is understood that basileia (translated kingdom) primarily means sovereignty and secondarily dominion , we understand that we as sons of God are under His sovereignty in this life, and are to inherit with Jesus the dominions and kingdoms on earth, in the next. There are pamphets which deal with such aspects of the Gospel, but are they read by our members , or left for outside friends to select from a pamphlet display?
The Ecclesia of God which Stephen suggested began in the wilderness, became the custodian of the oracles of God “to give to us”; and the Ecclesia of the New Covenant, founded by Jesus, is now responsible for the care and preaching of these oracles. Yet this ecclesia, the greatest and loveliest creation of God, this body and bride of Christ, receives scant mention in but one clause of the Statement of Faith. Paul in the statement which he sets forward, put it first in the seven unities which he revealed (see Acts 7:38 ; Matt. 16:18 ; Eph. 4:4–6 ; 5:32 ).
These are examples of matters on which we need a deeper understanding; they are uncontroversial but they are vital to our eternal welfare. Thus we need to build upon the strong foundations which our pioneers built for us because there will never be a stage when we can really say “This is the sum of our Scripture knowledge; there is no need to know more”. The advice that Paul gave to young Timothy is still relevant: “ Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed . . . and with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” ( 2 Tim. 3:14–15 ).
May we all begin afresh to pray and work for “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace”, not only for our own sakes, but for Christ’s sake “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” ( Rev. 1:5–6 ).