(Reprinted with permission from the Believer's Magazine)
When David uttered the above words he expressed an appreciation of the need for some action to be taken for the maintenance of the glory of God which was being brought into shame. Is not this the position today concerning assembly testimony?
The book of Judges presents a lamentable picture of the state of the nation of Israel during days when "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (judges 21:25). Although this is the last verse in the book, the events recorded in chps. 17-21 actually took place earlier in the book and show the character of the nation during the whole period covered by Judges.
These were years when the ark of the covenant appears to have been ignored, the only reference to it being in 20:27. This led to the attitude shown to the house of God in 1 Sam 2. They were years of low moral standards. The nation was imbibing the practices of the surrounding tribes and thereby failed to represent Jehovah as they were meant to do. The nation was divided, for it was only as a result of the ministry of Samuel that a measure of unity was regained.
Yet during those years God was working in response to the prayer of a woman, Hannah. He was preparing a man in secret who would bring the nation back to Himself in repentance. (We must remember that the opening chapters of 1 Samuel took place during the times of the Judges. Samuel was born during the same decade as Samson.)
Are we not living in similar days? Many believers, individually and collectively, do what is right in their own eyes, irrespective of what the word of God clearly states. Are we as exercised about the position as Hannah was? Have we considered what kind of spiritual heritage we are leaving for our children and grandchildren? Should not all God's children be burdened about the present position?
In the days of the judges God sent enemies into different parts of the land - Philistines, Moabites, etc. In this way He sought to bring Israel to a realization of the seriousness of their departure from Him; this should have resulted in repentance and a cry to Him to step in and meet their need of deliverance. But it was not until they obeyed the ministry of Samuel that the Philistines "came no more into the coast of Israel' (1 Sam 7:13).
Is our God acting in a similar way today? Is this why He has allowed the rapid spread of Islam in England, even as He did in North Africa centuries ago? Similarly with the spread of extreme charismatic cults. Is His desire to bring believers everywhere to consider their ways, to repent of their departure from His Word and to sincerely return to ways of pleasing Him? We will consider this matter in more detail under three headings:
1. The state of assembly testimony today.
2. The causes of this position.
3. What should be done to remedy this situation.
The state of Assembly Testimony Today
Readers will appreciate that this article is an overall view and it is recognized that there are nevertheless areas of encouragement. It is written, not in a spirit of criticism, but in an endeavour to arouse concern and prayer, both individual and collective, regarding the situation.
When we consider the very large number of assemblies that have ceased to exist during the last ten years, the seriousness of the position is evident. If this continues where will our descendants find fellowship?
just as serious is the fact that many of those that remain have only a handful of believers in fellowship and these are often of advanced years. Some are able to continue only because of help from neighboring assemblies. The days of such gatherings, if things continue as they are, are inevitably numbered.
Then, if we are honest, among those that are left are many where the believers are deeply divided. What is their future where there is no unity?
Even more serious is the position of those companies who have deliberately disobeyed the clear teaching of the word of God. Some have appointed paid pastors; others have agreed that sisters can take part audibly in the assembly gatherings, in clear contravention of the word of God (1 Cor 14:34). The covering of the sister's head, so important as demonstrating the headship of Christ, is often ignored. In fact a number of such gatherings cannot be scriptural assemblies at all.
There is a lack of separation, both collectively and individually. Some assemblies have been influenced by the ecumenical movement, joining from time to time in interdenominational activities. In some cases this has led to the platform being occupied by those not in assembly fellowship, who therefore do not agree with what we seek to teach and practice. Other believers feel free to have, so to speak, a foot in both camps. Others see no need to keep clear of worldly entertainments, while some will engage in politics. As a result the Lord's Supper is losing its position of supreme importance. It is sometimes curtailed to allow for other activities, or tacked on to the end of a Family Service. Thus God is being robbed, even as Eli's sons robbed Him and Israel did in Malachi's day.
The Causes of Decline
Before we consider a remedy, we need to ascertain if we can what has brought us to this position. In the days of the judges the failure of Israel was because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers ... and followed other gods' (judges 2:12). Here is the root of our problem. In general our God, our Father and Redeemer and our Lord and Saviour, have not the position in our individual and collective lives to which they are entitled.
Although we confessed our Saviour to be our Lord at our salvation, He has not had the place of absolute supremacy which this involves. His word is not gladly and completely obeyed without question.
Because of this His word has not been taught in all its fulness. Bible Readings, essential for the consecutive study of Scripture, have died out in many areas. "A nice little word" is what is looked for in many cases, and any serious teaching of the Scriptures is described as "too deep".
Many, if not most, have never been taught the truths of gathering and reception. They have never experienced the leading and shepherding of scriptural elders. Often they have seen the clear commands of Scripture "bent" in order to accommodate relatives or friends of different persuasions. Scriptural elders are largely nonexistent, yet how great is our concern for this? We seem to be perfectly content as long as the building is opened and the meetings arranged.
There is an urgent need for us to acknowledge our disobedience and seek forgiveness. We must acknowledge in practice the Lordship of Christ, which involves implicit obedience to His Word. We must turn away from practices which are contrary to His Word, no matter what individual believers may say. We must be seriously exercised that the Lord will raise up scripturally qualified elders and teachers, and we must be willing to accept their teaching.
David, as he saw and heard Goliath, rightly said that there was "a cause" for someone to act for God's glory. Are we prepared to do the same?
The seriousness of the situation is no reason for sitting back and doing nothing. David did not simply look at Goliath and lament the position - he acted in faith in his God.
Having acknowledged the present failure we need to turn in repentance to our God and Father with the whole heart (1 Sam. 7:3), and put away our "gods", the many things which have come into our lives and thereby displaced our God.
There must then be a return to the serious teaching and practice of the Scriptures. These must be expounded consecutively and believers taught the privileges and responsibilities of being in fellowship.
There also needs to be a greater emphasis upon the judgment seat of Christ where we will each stand. There our obedience to the word of God will be assessed. There our practical acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ will be revealed. We will have no excuse to offer for disobedience.