The Church: Its Center of Gathering and Ordinances

By A.N. O’Brien

We will now direct our attention to the constructive side of church truth. The scriptural center of gathering, is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered together in (or unto) my name, there am I in the midst of them.” You will notice that the right center is not a creed. These have scattered Christendom and aroused ecclesiastical hostility. Nor is modern latitudinarianism (the very opposite of the creed) any better as a center. In fact this is merely infidelity and is without any unifying power.

Neither does the name of a mere man prove to be any better for a center of gathering. The God given center is a divine person. Not Paul nor Apollos nor Cephas, nor Wesley no Luther, but the Lord Jesus Christ. He is known as Saviour by every redeemed soul, and is to such “The chiefest among ten thousand” the “Altogether lovely.” He is the all in all to the babe in Christ, and as experience deepens, He becomes the more necessary. The riches of His grace and the glories of His person are our spiritual food now and will be our portion eternally. His blessed name awakens a response in every regenerated soul. He and He alone is suited to be our center. No other has the power to attract not the perfections to hold all the Lord’s people. Men disappoint – but Jesus – never; men are faulty, but He is faultless. The love of man fails when most needed, but “He faileth never.” Creeds are cold and comfortless; we need a bosom on which to pillow our heads. God has given us Jesus to be this, yea to be all in all to us. Shall we think lightly of anything which concerns the honor of His name? Surely if He is in the midst there will be blessing.

We have the person of Christ foretold as the center of gathering in Gen. 49:10, “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” The same truth is taught in type, in the arrangement of the camp in the wilderness – Num. 2. The center was the tabernacle containing the ark – a type of the person of Christ. Around this center were encamped Israel’s multitudes; three tribes on the East, three on the South, three on the West, and three on the North. Jesus was crucified in the midst, between two thieves, John 19:18. On the first day of the week He appeared to His assembled disciples, “and stood in the midst,” John 20:19; Luke 24:36. At His coming we will be gathered together unto Him, 2 Thess. 2:1, and He will be the center of Israel regathered, Ps. 50:5. Who is this one in the midst? The Holy Son of God, “God manifest in the flesh.” Is He not worthy of this preeminence? Let Bethlehem’s stable, Sychar’s well, Bethesda’s pool, Gethsemane’s garden and Calvary’s cross answer. What name can compare with that “name above every name?” Let any regenerate soul reply. What infinite dishonor to that Name when those redeemed by His precious blood are called by the name of a mere man! Well might the apostle answer with indignation, “was Paul crucified for you?” Well might He take the names of the noblest, and holding them up to view for a moment, dash them both to pieces as earthen vessels struck together, as He writes, “Who then is Paul and who is Apollos?” “Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth,” 1 Cor. 3:5,7.

But alas, “Babylon has corrupted the earth.” Many seem to be so “drunk with the wine of her fornication.” i.e., false teaching, as to see no dishonor done to Christ by their wearing the name of Wesley or Luther or Calvin. But let those “who have an ear to hear,” quietly bow to this truth, and take their places around God’s center, Jesus; sure of this, that His heart will be all the more gladdened by their obedience in the midst of disobedience, and that they will be “approved” (1 Cor. 11:19), even though their lot is cast in these last evil days of strife, confusion and division. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

But this promise (Matt. 18:20) is only to believers. None others can really be thus gathered. How absurd to talk of the unsaved as worshippers or church members! “The Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved,” Acts 2:47. “Much people was added to the Lord,” Acts 11:24. The greatest care is necessary in these “perilous last days” with “the form of Godliness” (2Tim. 3:1- 5) in order to keep out false professors and to avoid excluding really saved people. There must be judgment, and the closest scrutiny if 2 Cor. 6:14-18, is to be obeyed. We live in times when many “other gospels” (Gal. 1:6-9) are being proclaimed; when Law and Grace are hopelessly mingled in the teaching of most so-called Christian workers. Religions without Christ and without blood are rife. Revivals to “bring out the good in man” and to develop “manly piety” abound. Hell is laughed at, man’s depravity veneered and vicarious atonement scouted. The word of God is made to stand at the bar of infidel “higher critics,” while the rank and file of professors revel in ice cream suppers, cobweb socials, fairs, dances and theatricals, and in the midst of this seething mass or reeking rottenness, we are forsooth to expect that souls will be converted. Are people born again through spurious man-made gospels? Are oyster suppers calculated to produce conviction of sin? He who would fling the mantle of charity over this leprous mass, foretold and forejudged by God, and say, “Judge not,” calls evil good, dishonors Christ and helps to plunge deceived souls into Hell.

Nor is the path less clear to the submissive heart with regard to baptism. Believers, and believers only, are the subjects of baptism. This is manifest from Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; 10:47,48. God’s unchanging order is given in Acts 18:8, “Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized.” There is no warrant in the Word of God for either Household or Infant baptism.

As to the mode of baptism the Scriptures speak with unmistakable clearness. We have been crucified with Him, Gal. 2:20; and are therefore dead to sin, Rom. 6:2; dead to the Law, Gal. 2:19, Rom. 7:14. We are in a new sphere now, alive to God, “Seeking those things which are above,” Col. 3:1-3. Dead to all the old Adam life, ambitions, aims and sin, and alive to God, are the two mighty facts in the case of every regenerated soul. Therefore we are “buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him,” Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4.

These truths are clearly and preciously symbolized when the person is plunged beneath the baptismal waters, and then raised from them; but who even thinks of burial and resurrection with Christ, when a few drops of water are applied to the forehead? If immersion is not God’s mode, the insertion of “in baptism,” Col. 2:12 and Rom. 6:4 is inexplicable. We cannot believe that the Holy Ghost has confused, instead of making plain, God’s ways. The appeal to the Romans, to reckon themselves dead to sin, is based on the truth symbolized in their baptism, and frequently witnessed in the baptism of others. See Rom. 6:17, literally “Type of doctrine.” The whole force of the argument in Col. 2 against this world’s philosophy v. 8, ritualism v. 16,17, spiritualism v. 18, and legalism v. 20-23, and for a life hid in God, 3:1-3, turns on the truth symbolized in baptism, 2:12.

The true child of God often feels the need of a worship meeting, and many, while in bondage in the sects, know of a heart hunger for this, which was never satisfied, for sectarianism has no distinctively worship meeting. Prayer meetings so-called (generally consisting of dry remarks from some fossilized pastor or deacon, or of some scattering remarks of the leader to “occupy the time”) are to be found. Consecration meetings, surrender services, meetings of leagues, brotherhoods, and conventions abound. Work is the cure for all spiritual ills, in the sects, till one is wearied with the endless round of do, do, do, and longs to go in like David, and “sit before the Lord,” while the Holy Ghost draws out the heart in gratitude for the finished work, and in adoration of the Peerless Person of the Son of God. This opportunity God has provided for His people in the weekly breaking of bread. But as usual man has robbed them of their rights, and environed this simple forget-me-not feast, with ecclesiastical walls great and high, and ordained officers puffed up with pride. Thus, the meaning and beauty of this central meeting of Christianity, God’s table spread in the wilderness, has been totally obscured. The worship of God has been superseded by the preaching of man, and the children of God are seated side by side with the children of the Devil, to partake together of the bread and the cup.

This feast is called by the sects a “sacrament,” but the Bible will be searched in vain for such a word. It originates in later apostate Christianity, and means an oath. This speaks not of grace but of Galatianism, that mongrel thing which so abounds today. Sect Christianity has its “covenant meetings,” “preparatory services,” “love feasts,” etc. What is their purpose? To get the members to make some vows, enter into some covenants, prepare for the “sacrament.” Generally they make the solemn vows Saturday, talk of the solemnity of the promises Sunday, and break them Monday, to stay unmended till the next “sacrament” occasion three months later) comes around. Truly legality abounds. Young girls make promises on joining the church, which even the pastor does not keep for a day. The ten commandments, to which every believer is forever dead, (see Rom. 7:1-7 and Heb. 12:18-21) are set up as the rule of life, and thus grace is nullified, law belittled, and God’s people brought into bondage, robbed and spoiled.

But let us turn from it all to the Word of God, and see what He intended with regard to this table. Will the reader kindly refer to Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22- 25, and Luke 22:19,20. We will only quote the passage in 1 Cor. 11:23-26. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.”

The thoughtful reader will at once perceive that this is not a sacrament, but a remembrance of the Lord’s death. Not what we have done, not what we intend to do is to occupy our heart, but the finished work of the Saviour is to be the theme of meditation. We do indeed learn that unjudged sin in the believer spoils the feast, and brings down upon the offending one the judgment of God. Yet the supper itself is not a time for this self-judgment. It should have been done before, that the soul may sit in the presence of the Lord and remember Him.

This is the most important meeting of the church and the most essential to real spiritual life and growth. Here the universal priesthood of believers is to be recognized and enjoyed. It is not a time to hear great sermons, but to sit in the Lord’s presence, worshipping Him in the unity of the Spirit, as one and another lifts up the heart to God in thanksgiving. Nor is it a prayer meeting, for that is remembering our need, not Him. This is the worship meeting, where the “alabaster box” of the heart’s affection may be broken, and poured upon the blessed person of Him who went to Calvary for us; a time to let the heart be filled and satisfied with the presence of Him who has said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name there am I in the midst of them.”

In what sad, sad contrast to this is the solemn, legal, unsatisfying observance of the sects. Believers and the unsaved mixed up in the same communion: a man- made priesthood presiding; legalism for a preparation; with a sermon from some man (perhaps unsaved) instead of Jesus standing in the midst! The heart grows sick as we contemplate this sad wreck and confusion. God’s people are robbed and spoiled and a weekly simple remembrance feast, made a pompous, quarterly, biennial or annual solemnity. Truly the shepherds have not only “eaten the fat pastures,” and “drunk the deep waters” but “have also trodden and befouled the portion of the flock”. Ezek. 34:18,19.

We read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread.” This surely speaks of a weekly action. True, “Paul preached to them,” though they did not come together to hear him, but to break bread. Nor would they have neglected to break bread had he not been there. The words of Christ are “as often.” not as seldom, – “as ye eat this bread.”

Nor do we find any hint in God’s word, of an ordained man being needed to “dispense the supper.” Indeed, on the contrary, we are distinctly told that the right to break bread inheres in the one body. A man opposing this position, when stated by the writer, read 1 Cor. 10:16. “The cup of blessing which we bless. . .the bread which we break” and then asserted that the we of this text meant the Apostle Paul, and his fellow ordained ministers. But he closed the book one verse too soon, for v. 17 reads “For we being many are one bread and one body.” Manifestly it is the one body which blesses the cup and breaks the bread, and that through any member led of the Spirit so to do. Clerical claims and dignities will be discussed later, suffice it here to say that God gave no official class to have authority over His table. Their powers, prerogatives, and honors, all emanate from Rome or from her daughters, not from the Word of God.

Wherever two or three regenerate souls are gathered together in the name of Jesus, there the Breaking of Bread may be scripturally observed, provided only that there are men among the number, as God does not allow rule in the church, not public ministry, to women. Scripturally gathered to the Lord’s table there is a freedom from ecclesiasticism and a subjection to the Spirit, which, though wholly unknown in the sects, is unspeakably precious to the emancipated soul, a “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” and we unhesitatingly affirm that no child of God in a sect can ever know the power and preciousness of the breaking of bread, as do those who have “gone forth without the camp unto Him.” Here only can the disciples continue steadfastly in the breaking of bread, Acts 2:42; here only know the blessing of obedient children, Luke 6:46-49! John 13:17: Here only build “according to the pattern.”