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Question Box

Does the refusal to co-operate with other Christian groups in gospel witness turn the assembly into another denomination?

Certainly not, for while we must be thankful that the gospel is preached by other groups of Christians, there are a number of reasons why assemblies generally do not feel free to join themselves with such. If linking up with an interdenominational gospel effort was being considered it would be good if some relevant questions were asked. Are those preaching declaring all the counsel of God? Does participation in evangelical gospel campaigns, so called, associate the assembly in something not according to the teaching of Scripture? By linking the assembly with the gospel witness of other groups would it in anyway be helping, in the words of Paul in Galatians 2.18, to "build again the things which I destroyed"? Would such participation in extra-assembly evangelical activity result in the building up of the local assembly? Finally, has the possibility been considered that freedom to join in with these groups might result in an occasion of stumbling to those who are weak, especially young believers?

Paul, writing to the Philippians in 1.15-18, mentions different motives of preachers, some preaching Christ from envy and some from good will, but he did rejoice that the subject matter they preached was Christ. We too can rejoice that Christ is preached, but involving the assembly with evangelical groups is another matter. It is important to see that it is from the assembly that the gospel should go forth, for we read concerning the Thessalonians that "from you sounded out the word of the Lord" (1 Thess 1.8). This is the divine pattern, that believers in an assembly should work together in the gospel. From this we conclude that an assembly should be the centre of gospel activity. Also, to fulfil the terms of the Lord’s commission in Matthew 28.18-20, the winning of souls should be with a view to converts progressing to baptism and reception into assembly fellowship. Some evangelical groups do not teach baptism or the truth of separation from the world for the believer. I believe that obedience to the Word of God concerning the testimony of the assembly cannot possibly turn an assembly into another denomination. The very existence of the assembly is a protest to denominationalism.

John J Stubbs

In Ephesians 4.11 we read that "he gave some, apostles". Does this refer to the twelve apostles and Paul, or to others, such as Barnabas, who were known as apostles? What qualifications was it necessary to have in order to be recognised as an apostle?

An apostle is, literally, one who is sent. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is called an Apostle - "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, [Christ] Jesus" (Heb 3.1) - as being one sent from God.

On two distinct occasions in the New Testament groups of men are referred to as "apostles". Luke records that, during his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus "chose twelve, whom also he named apostles" (Lk 6.13). Then says Paul of the ascended Christ that "he gave some, apostles" (Eph 4.11). It is necessary to distinguish between having a gift and being a gift; clearly in 1 Corinthians 12 the gifts are abilities, whereas in Ephesians 4 the gifts are the men themselves.

During the Lord’s earthly ministry the apostles themselves came little into prominence, apart from the special mission recorded in Matthew 10. At Pentecost, after the defection of Judas Iscariot and the subsequent correct choice of Matthias, the twelve became "endued with power from on high" (see Lk 24.49) and for the first time were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Thus it is quite acceptable to view them as being given by the risen Christ. These twelve are "the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev 21.14).

The terms of reference of the original apostolic ministry of the twelve were "from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he (Christ) was taken up" (Acts 1.22). This period, Peter asserted, was the visitation of the Messiah Himself. Their personal witness was of "all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" (Acts 1.21) and also of His resurrection: "to be a witness…of his resurrection" (Acts 1.22).

There are others to be taken account of when considering the words "he gave some, apostles", notably Paul, whose apostleship was distinct, then Barnabas (Acts 14.14), and "James the Lord’s brother" (Gal 1.19). Paul also includes Silas and Timotheus with himself as apostles (1 Thess 1.1; 2.6). Each of these must have satisfied the criterion for apostolic calling, namely, having seen the Lord (1 Cor 9.1). Paul says that "the signs of an apostle were wrought among you" (2 Cor 12.12); evidently there were distinguishing features about apostolic ministry.

David E West


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