Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 17, 1951

Simplicity Of The Divine Economy -- No. 2

Benjamin Franklin

I am now ready to enter into a subject of vital interest to the cause—a matter involving, as I think, the safety and liberty of the people of God. To get into the subject fully and fairly, and to some extent by degrees, let some inquiries be instituted.

1. Have we any example or precept for congregational action, or for a congregation acting as a congregation, or in a body? Nobody that we are aware of doubts that we have both precept and example for congregational action. We think we are safe in taking it that this is universally, or, if not universally, so near universally admitted that it is useless to consume time in giving references to Scripture authority. We shall take it as granted.

2. Is there any precept or example in Scripture for any aggregation or confederation, of congregations into a body, so that they can act as a body—as a Methodist Conference, or a Presbyterian Synod, or General Assembly? No matter how many, or how few, congregations are thus aggregated or confederated, nor what the purpose is, nor whether there is much action or little—is there any precept, or example, for any such body at all? If there is, who can produce it? No matter what they called it, where it was, nor who they were, nor what the object—as historical fact, was there anything of the kind at all in the time of the apostles? I do not desire to appear dogmatical, and therefore assert nothing more than this: If there is any precept, or example, of the kind, I do not know it.

3. Is there any precept, or example, for any "Preachers' Institute," meeting of preachers, overseers and deacons, of different congregations, to deliberate as a body, to consult on the interests and work of the congregations, or on any matters of the kingdom, the spread of the gospel, the government of the churches, to raise money, or anything of the kind; or is there any account of anything of the kind in the records of Scripture? I am perfectly aware that "Paul and Barnabas, and certain others," went to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about a Judaizing question, and that apostolic authority settled that question, not simply for them, and that time, but for all time to come, and that was the end of the matter. They did not form themselves into a Preachers' Institute, and Association, or an "Officers' Union," or any other standing body. Was there anything of the kind in the time of the apostles? If there was, we have seen no account of it.

4. Is there any precept, or example, for any man from abroad, or whose membership is not in the congregation concerned; or any set of men, coming and attempting to adjust troubles in the congregations, or exercise any authority in their congregational matters, or in any way meddle with them? Or is there any account of anything of the kind in the Scriptures? We are perfectly aware that congregations wrote to the apostles and communicated with them, but this was to obtain apostolic authority, as we now go to their writings; but this is no example for in any way interfering with their action, as a congregation—interrupting, or setting it aside.

5. Is there any intimation of the action of any congregations, as a congregation, or in a body, ever being overhauled, acted upon again, reversed, or set aside?

6. Is there any account of any action, except congregational and individual?

Here we have material for meditation, or a most important character. Let us enter the examination, then, in the most careful manner.

The Church A Model

The first point, then, I shall consider, is involved in the following question:

Was the first church intended to be an example, or a model, for all churches? I maintain that it was, and intend to show this beyond question, and that to deny this is schismatical and perfectly disastrous. Here is work involving divine authority, and I intend to treat it as such.

1. Was not the whole procedure, on the part of the apostles, and the principal men who acted publicly in the proclamation of the gospel, turning the people to the Lord, and the building up of the first congregations, under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God? Did they not set them in order, deliver to them the "ordinances of the divine service," and make them what they ought to be in everything, so far as they followed the directions given them by the apostles? Of course the first congregations can only be regarded as examples, or models, where they followed the apostles' teaching. Their departures were no better than our departures; but where they followed the apostles' teaching they were right, and examples for all who followed in the ages to come.

2. Did not the divine presence in these congregations, in the various visible gifts of tongues, prophecy, healing, raising the dead, etc., etc., prove that the Lord accepted and approved them as congregations? Did not the awful display of supernatural power, in the death of Ananias and Sapphira, prove God's disapprobation of their wicked act, and thus demonstrate that those among whom it occurred were his people, and that the congregation was his, and that his judgment should fall on the man who would come there in hypocrisy?

3. When Paul said to the congregation in Corinth, "You are God's building," did he not recognize that congregation? When he said, "Let every man take heed how he builds thereon" (on the foundation), did he not intend to warn men to see to it how they did their work; to work according to the rule he, "as a wise master-builder," gave them? If he gave them a rule to work by, and they worked by it, their work was right, and is a model for all workmen on the building of God for all time to come. Of this there can be no doubt.

The churches formed under the labors of the apostles were built up under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God, according to the pattern shadowed by the ancient temple built by divine direction. These first congregations of the Lord, built up under the infallible guidance of the Spirit of God, and then confirmed by the most stupendous, grand and awful displays of supernatural power, are the divine models for all churches. They were the creations from the hand of Divine Power, and intended to be, in the true sense, models for all churches in all time. Departure from them is departure from the Lord — it is apostasy. This has been received as a principle, a settled and an important principle, from the beginning of the reformatory movement of this century; and one at the foundation of all that is dear to us. Any departure from it is apostasy. Cut loose from this grand anchorage, and we are out at sea without chart or compass.

This is not as some, who have tried to break its force, have said: "So straight, that it leans a little over." It is simply straight — it does not lean at all. The trouble is not that it leans, but that it condemns all that does lean. The leaning, twisting, crooked establishments men have made, when brought along-side of the divine model, are exposed at once. But why try to get rid of the idea that the original church is a model? I will proceed to tell why.

(Continued next week)