Uniquenesses of a New Testament Local Church (5)

Walter Gustafson

8. Their only financial support is from believers

We preach clearly that no person can ever deserve to be saved, he can never earn it or merit it. To be consistent with that truth, we never take a collection from mixed audiences (of saved and unsaved). We never want to give an unsaved person any hope whatsoever, consciously or unconsciously, that giving will help him get to heaven. We read in Proverbs 15:8 "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord:..." God does not need the sacrifice of the wicked to carry on His work. Even some respectable unsaved persons know that it is not right for a bar room keeper to give several hundred dollars to a good cause and keep right on with his bar room keeping.

In 3 John 7 we read, "Because that for His name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." Here we read of some who left a good job. I know that it doesn’t say that, but I have had 82 different preaching partners. I have never had a preaching partner who believed that a man could make a success of preaching if he couldn’t make a success of some secular job. These men went forth without a guaranteed salary. What made them do it? It was the value of the Name of Christ to them. That was their motive for service and their trust for support. They knew, in a practical sense, that most of their financial support would come from believers (individually or collectively) who loved the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would have been wonderful if every preacher since that day followed their example. Nothing has so corrupted Christianity like accepting help from the world. Far too many people want to believe that Christianity is just a money making racket. God’s way is best, "...for His Name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles" (3 John 7).

9. Their only gathering center is the Lord Jesus Christ outside the camp

In Matthew 18:20 our Lord Jesus Christ said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them." Our Lord Jesus Christ made this statement in a context from His own lips about a permanent N.T. local assembly. The Name to which we are gathered is His full Name: Lord Jesus Christ. Lord speaks of His lordship, Jesus speaks of His person, and Christ speaks of His work. The word "gathered" is in the passive tense which simply means that the two or three don’t gather themselves. Someone else gathers them. The Holy Spirit is the gatherer and He would not sanction any group that is indifferent to any one of those three things. There is only one Savior for sinners and only one gathering center for saints. It is the same person in both cases, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 13:13 we read, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." Brother John Abernathy drew attention to the fact that there are 13 words in this verse and the center word is Him. We are not gathered to a doctrine or a preacher or the brethren. We are gathered unto Him. If this truth grips us, we will not leave the assembly when we see the imperfections of the brethren, because we are not gathered to the brethren but unto Him.

The late John Douglas was a real help to the assemblies in Scotland. He made a lot of pithy statements that are worth quoting. This is one of them. "If it was me writing the epistle to the Hebrews I would have put the exhortation of Hebrews 13:13 right in chapter one. Then it would have been a MANDATE. But the Spirit of God knew better. He guided the writer of the epistle to unfold the glories of Christ for 12 chapters. When He put the exhortation in chapter 13, instead of it being a MANDATE, it is a MAGNET. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the attraction!

This is illustrated in 1 Samuel 22 where we read of 400 men gathered unto David in the cave of Adullam. David was the attraction. They weren’t gathered to one another. I don’t think that they would have stayed together if they were just gathered to one another; not those kind of men, in debt, in distress, and discontent! It was devotion to David that kept them together and made some of them mighty men. And devotion to our heavenly David can make us mighty men and women for God.

I heard of a brother who was in a fashionable congregation where less than a fourth were born again. He saw the truth of meeting in N.T. simplicity gathered to our Lord Jesus Christ. He then separated from the system. He didn’t separate from the believers there; I’m confident that he would have been thrilled if every believer there had seen the same truth he saw and was willing to act upon that truth. The small assembly had a very poor place to meet; you had to go up a rickety old staircase to get to it. Some months later he met a believer still in that fashionable congregation. They asked about each other’s welfare. Then the believer still in the fashionable congregation asked him where it was that he met with the other believers. When he described the place, the other man knew it and, with disgust, he said, "That’s nothing but a cave of Adullam." To which the believer in the little N.T. local assembly replied. "That’s all it is, but don’t forget the King is there." That makes all the difference in the world.

The rapture of all born again persons could take place at any moment. Every saint will be gathered together unto Him then (2 Thess. 2:1) and every denominational name will be dropped. Our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of that in heaven and He is also worthy of that on earth. In every locality every believer should be gathered to His Name and to His Name alone.