Notes of an address given by Dr. P. Rowell, at Tamworth Road Chapel, Croydon, on Friday, 4th November, 1966, in connection with the Croydon Strict Baptist Educational Society.
1. Church unity has existed from before the foundation of the world, as it is written, “according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1, v. 4). The Church, in the view of Holy Scripture, is that body of persons whom God in His infinite wisdom, chose according to the good pleasure of His will. They are united in the doctrine of election.
2. They are united eternally in Christ. As Christ Jesus is the eternal Son of God, so those whom the Father has given unto Him are ever one in Christ, “according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world”.
3. They are united in that all of them are saved and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. In the Epistle to the Ephesians (1, 7), we read: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace”. They are all one in this respect that they must all be saved by grace, and they will be saved by grace.
4. They are united in the experience of salvation from the dominion and consequences of sin; they are brought, by the divine purpose of God, to that experience when they are called out of spiritual darkness into light by the Holy Ghost. There is no possibility that this will not occur through the failure of men, or through the evil of their own hearts. There is no possibility that this should fail to occur through their own unbelief. We read in the Epistle to the Ephesians: “And you hath He quickened” (2, 1). Paul speaks of it as being an accomplished fact: “Whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8, 29/30).
5. They are all united in possessing living faith. They are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. This was the great watchword of the Reformation. The whole Church of Christ is brought into this living experience of faith, and then their only hope is fixed on the Lord Jesus. They are united in this sense of dependence, in this exercise of faith, in believing on the Lord Jesus. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we read: “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (2, 8). Again, we read: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3, 24) and “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (v. 28). The words of the hymn come to my mind:
“Thy whole dependence on Me fix;
Nor entertain a thought
Thy worthless schemes with Mine to mix,
But venture to be nought”. (J. Hart).
This is a good word for the burdened, seeking soul. God’s people are united in this, that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ alone as their only hope for time and eternity.
6. They are also united in bearing the fruits of the saving work of grace. They will inevitably give proof of this by their life and conversation. Those who are eternally chosen unto salvation are called and regenerated by the Holy Ghost, and the outward evidence of the inward call is that the whole trend and direction of their life must be changed. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.Â” (Galatians 5, 22). So they will show forth the fruits of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, some, doubtless, more evidently than others. This is very true, and it is a very searching point:
There are those who shine. We have a saying amongst us: Â‘That person is an eminently godly person’. It is a good thing if you and I are concerned to know something of true godliness. They are united in that they show marks and evidences of godliness.
The whole of the teaching of Scripture is that the oneness which exists is real, and has ever existed in the purpose of God. Nothing which has happened has ever frustrated the purpose of
God. It is good to have this firmly lodged in our hearts. There is much to cause confusion and distress as we look about. There are many differences of opinion, interpretation and denomination, but the important point is this, there is unity already. Few people understand what the Church is. Nevertheless, the Word of God speaks of this essential and eternal union that there is in Christ’s Church. In that beautiful book, the Song of Solomon, the Church is spoken of as the Bride and the intimate relationship that there is between Christ and His Church is depicted there. May God grant that we may know something of that blessed relationship with Christ Jesus.
In the Word of God there is very clear warning and condemnation against schism, that is, a rent or a cutting between the members of this body the Church. This is a very important point that I feel is sadly neglected by many in these days. I was speaking to one of my old members this morning, and I told her of the subject I hoped to take this evening. She said, “What a beautiful subject!” It was to her, “A beautiful subject”. There is a word I often think of, she quoted it with tears in her eyes. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133, 1). What a warning note is sounded by David. “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” He says “for brethren”, and the Church is related not only to Christ, but each individual part of it is related to every other part of it. They possess life which flows from one Source, and so they are rightly termed brethren as the Apostle elsewhere says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4, 5). In Luke 9, 49, you will read: “And John answered and said. Master we saw one casting out devils in Thy name: and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us”. The Lord rebuked John for this suggestion that, because this man would not go with them and follow them, he could not be one of them; that because he could not number himself among the immediate followers of the Lord Jesus, he could not possibly be right. Jesus rebuked him by saying: “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (verse 50). In Luke 22, 24, we see that, even amongst the closest associates of the Lord Jesus whilst here on earth, there was a strife among them, who should be accounted the greatest. “He said unto them. The Kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them: and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger: and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as He that serveth”. There was a rebuke to those who were striving amongst themselves, and the root of their striving was simply this, pride. I feel sure that the root of many of the troubles in our own Churches is pride. It is the sinful, evil work of pride which has caused so much of our trouble and distress, and
the Lord plainly warns us against this root of bitterness which often springs up.
Let us turn to the chapter that we read together (1 Corinthians 1). This chapter is very significant, and for this reason, that the Apostle is writing to the Corinthian Church. This Church was still visibly united in the sense, that it was still meeting together; it was still visibly one group of people. Though there were divisions among them, they were still one group. The troubles had not yet produced the divisions which we see today. They were still meeting together, and yet the Apostle deals with the root of the trouble even before it gets as far as it has gone in many places today. He speaks very strongly against the beginnings of such trouble: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3, 3). Now the Apostle in effect says, ‘This is the sort of thing you expect from unregenerate men; this is the sort of behaviour you expect to see amongst those who know nothing of the Holy Spirit in their souls. How sad that there should be contentions among you!’ The contentions arose from a party spirit, following one man rather than another, favouring the ministry of one man rather than another. Very often those who say things like that are the ones who think they, and they alone, are right. Those who say “and I of Christ” may be tainted with something of the same spirit, and so the Apostle speaks very clearly about the dangers of this contentious spirit. He says: ‘Not Paul, Apollos or CephasÂ—what are they?’ They are simply the Lord’s servants. They are seeking to do that which the Lord has commanded them to do. We are not to be followers of men, but “followers of me even as I also am of Christ”. We are to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel”. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1, 27-29). What really is the root of this trouble? Again it is pride. He says that this would not have happened if there had been real humility and submission to the Lord Jesus and His Word.
The Apostle continues to speak to these Corinthian believers. I emphasize that he was addressing his words to the Church, which, in those days, consisted of professing believers. So, he addresses those who he is willing to believe are believers. He says:
“Now, there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administration, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Corinthians 12, 4-6). Also we read: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one
body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (Vs. 12-14). Now you can see in one way how inclusive the words of the Apostle are, and yet how exclusive. He speaks of the essential unity between the members of this body, but he leaves the question in the consciences of his hearers (or readers of this Epistle), as to whether they are members indeed of this one body. He gives some marks; he tells us something about the life and experience of the members of this body. Those who possess of these marks and blessings are one body. “The body is not one member, but many”. They have different functions to perform in the Church. The Apostle Paul is frequently returning to this analogy, that the Church is one body, but all the time the emphasis is on the one body. You know how our bodies spring from that seed, the source or the germ of life, and so the whole body of the Church of Christ springs from that great origin which is in Christ Jesus Himself. “I am come that they might have life” (John 10, 10). So, the different parts of this body are not to begin to question either their own position, or the position of others. We should esteem others more highly than ourselves, and the Apostle says here: “If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (1 Corinthians 12, 15-17). I must leave it with you to take this analogy, and seek prayerfully to understand the significance of it in all its details.
Then, we come to the Epistle to the Galatians, which was written to warn against those who were preaching another Gospel. In the 5th chapter, verse 20, we see the works of the flesh, and amongst them are strivings, seditions, heresies. Now the Apostle warns the Church of the effect that these things will have. False teaching in its multitude of forms is sinful. The effect will be terrible, and if we are left to the works of the flesh, then inevitably we shall find most terrible division. There is an essential division between those who are fleshly and those who are spritual. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace” (Galatians 5, 22). There is the contrast. The fruit of the Spirit’s work is in direct contrast to the effect of the works of the flesh. There is no true love or true peace amongst the professing members of the Church if they are still acting according to the flesh, but if they are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, then there will be these marks, joy, peace and real abiding affection, not only to the Lord Jesus Himself, but one to another.
Then again, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, from the 3rd verse onwards there is a very attractive and blessed account of the
true unity which exists in the true Church of God. Some have said: “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. (Ephesians 4, v. 3), and use this as their warrant for all kinds of arguments in favour of schemes to “produce” unity. But the Apostle says: “Endeavouring to keep”. You cannot keep something that does not exist. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit”. Our concern must be this, that as there is this unity and the Lord Himself has made one body, and has gathered His people together in one relationship, to show forth this unity. We are to keep it, to hold it as something most precious, “The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. You will notice that the persons he exhorts are not all men, but he says: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (4, 1). So, they are the called according to God’s purpose, who are exhorted “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. This surely means one thing at least, that, whilst there is an essential unity between the members of the body, the Church, there is a difference between the existence of that unity, and a living experience of that unity amongst those who possess the blessing of oneness. The Apostle says that we should be endeavouring to keep the preciousness of this essential unity, to live in the experience of it. “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”. We must be on our guard for anything that comes between us. If we do profess faith in the Lord Jesus, if we have a hope of salvation, there is one thing very evidentÂ—we shall have to live together in heaven. I know the argument is that we shall have done with the body of sin and death, but even here and now we should be carefully “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
The Apostle sets before us this glorious prospect. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4, 13), So, not only is there a growing in grace, but there is a collective growth amongst the members of Christ’s body. The Lord is gathering His church together. It is as though each individual pathway of each individual member of Christ’s Church is directed to one meeting place, and it is the meeting place the Apostle speaks ofÂ—”Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God”.
Also the Scripture teaching concerning unity deals with a separate people and has intimate relationship to the doctrine of separation. God’s people are one and they are one body in this particular sense, that they are a separate people. The whole of the history of the children of Israel has that secret running through it. The Church is a separate people.
A well-known word of the Apostle says: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and
walk in them; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thingÂ” (2 Corinthians 6, 16/17). Briefly then, there must be, individually, a separation from the world, from idolatry, from wordly religion and wordly associations. Those who are drawn together in the relationship of fellowship one with another and form a local Church, a gathering of believing people (and that is an essential point) they must be separate from all wordly organisations, by which I mean any system, organisation, group or denomination which is wordly in its activities and intentions. Â“They are not of the world even as I am not of the worldÂ”. Further, at a time when terrible heresies were filtering into the teaching of the Church John says, Â“Little children, keep yourselves from idolsÂ” (1 John 5, 21), and we read: Â“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every Spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of anti-Christ, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the worldÂ” (1 John 4, 1-3). There are good grounds for separation from all those who deny the truth. John writes: Â“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrines of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deedsÂ” (2 John 9-11). In the epistle to the Galatians we are instructed to separate from those who bring another gospel. See there how the Apostle speaks of the difference between the doctrine of grace and of works, of human merit and the doctrine of the work of grace; the favour of Christ to sinners, the liberty of the sons of God, and the bondage of those who return to the works of the law. Those who try to bring us back to the bondage of the works of the law, bring another gospel and are not to be received.
In conclusion look at that very searching word Â“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-athaÂ” (1 Corinthian 16, 22). The two last words are difficult, but briefly I take them to mean this: Â“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be AnathemaÂ” as one cursed or subject to condemnation. Then the second word Â“Maran-athaÂ”, has to do with the solemn doctrine of the Lords return, when he will judge, so that Â“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Â‘judged by you as one whom God will judge at His appearingÂ’. Â“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with youÂ”.
I hope what I have said will show you how false and terrible are the dangers of the modern movements for Church unity.