Have assemblies the right to state that other assemblies are no longer "recognised". Does this not deny the autonomy of the local assembly? Why is it that this is stated when the claim is that church truth has been set aside and never in other cases when truth regarding holiness etc has clearly been ignored?
There is no specific Scripture for cutting off another assembly, but any decision to refuse fellowship with another assembly would not deny assembly autonomy so long as it is based upon solid Scriptural ground. Fellowship between assemblies should be preserved. It is tragic when something interferes with this. If an assembly has completely set aside the Word of God or, for example, has sin unjudged in its midst, everything Scripturally should be done to try to help remedy the situation, including earnest prayer. If, however, this proves abortive, then fellowship with such an assembly would only condone the conditions. The autonomy of the local assembly is an important truth of the New Testament and must ever be borne in mind in inter-assembly relations. Autonomy literally means self-governing, but from a Scriptural point of view means the accountability of an assembly to none but the Lord alone. This truth is seen illustrated in the seven churches of Asia Minor where we see that each assembly is a golden lampstand on its own golden base and responsible to the Lord (Rev 1.20). None of the seven churches are told to cut off any of the other six. Yet no assembly should be indifferent to what goes on or is believed in other assemblies.
It must be remembered that truth regarding holiness is as much a part of "church truth" as other aspects of assembly teaching. The assembly is viewed as a holy temple in 1 Corinthians 3.17. So an assembly that sets aside truth regarding holiness is certainly not maintaining a vital point of church principles. If there is sin in an assembly and it is unjudged, or there are unholy conditions in it, then elders from other assemblies certainly must carefully investigate the situation and be sure of the facts. There can be no fellowship with sin. It cannot be too much emphasised that before any assembly sits in judgment upon another or decides to withdraw fellowship, it must be absolutely sure it has clear authority from Scripture to do so. To not recognize another assembly for any other reason than what is taught in Scripture would be very wrong indeed.
John J Stubbs
Are you in favour of Bible Courses such as the Alpha Course? If the course is Biblically sound, are there objections to this approach to the spread of the gospel and the teaching of Christians who may not be prepared to come to the Gospel Hall?
It needs to be borne in mind that, although God in His sovereignty does not confine Himself to any one particular method of bringing souls to Christ, He does place the public preaching of the gospel as of primary importance in the saving of sinners. The same is true with reference to the teaching of those who have been saved; the importance of the oral teaching of the Scriptures in the context of a local assembly with a view to the edification of believers cannot be overemphasised.
The questioner makes specific reference to the Alpha Course and here more than a note of caution needs to be sounded.
The Alpha Course consists of a series of 15 talks given over a period of 10 weeks. The introductory lesson deals with "objections to believing in the Christian faith". The second message is entitled, "Who is Jesus?", in which the historical facts concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are presented and, in particular, His claim to be God.
Lesson 3 forms the most important evangelistic section of the Course and has as its title, "Why did Jesus die?". The subject is approached by a consideration of "the problem of sin"; then Christs death is brought in alongside mans condition as an antidote. Following an appeal and a conversion testimony, those taking the Course are invited to "pray a prayer of commitment". The evangelistic part of the Course is thus concluded.
Everything in the Course from Lesson 4 onwards presumes that the participant "has questions of a practical nature that need answering". The assumption is that the person has now become a Christian and the questions are dealt with without any further recourse to the gospel.
Lessons 8-11 are embraced in the "Alpha Weekend Away". During this weekend there is a session entitled, "How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?" it is here that "charismatic" theology and practice are introduced.
The present writer has inevitably been restricted in his outline of the Alpha Course.
On the positive side, we need to use the opportunities presented to us as wisely as possible, but we should never lose the true essence of the gospel we preach. We have no licence to offer anything else.
David E West