Knowing the All-sufficiency of Jesus' Name in God's Ecclesia

by C. H. Mackintosh


In a day like the present, almost every new idea becomes the center or gathering-point of some new association. Hence, it is important to have divinely formed convictions as to what God's assembly really is. We live in a time of unusual mental activity. It hence calls for the more urgent need of calm, prayerful study of the Word of God.

That Word, characterized by its Author, is like a rock amid the ocean of human thought. There it stands unmoved, prevailing over the raging storm and the ceaseless lashing waves. And not only does it thus stand unmoved itself, but it also imparts its own stability to all who simply take their stand upon it. What a mercy to make one's escape from the restless heaving and tossing of the stormy ocean and find a calm resting place on the eternal Rock!

This, truly, is a mercy. Were it not for having "the law and the testimony" of the Scriptures, what should we be? Where should we go? What should we do? Ten thousand jarring voices fall at times upon the ear, and each voice seems to speak with such authority. What darkness! What confusion! What perplexity! If one is not well taught and grounded in the Word, the danger of being drawn away or sadly unhinged is eminent. One man tells you, "This is right!" Another tells you, "That is right!" A third will tell you, Everything is right! " And a fourth will tell you "Nothing is right!" About the question of church position, some go here! Some go there! Some go everywhere! And some go nowhere!

Now, under such circumstances, what shall we do? All cannot possibly be right. And yet surely there is something right. It cannot be that we are compelled to live in error, in darkness, or in uncertainty. Where is this safe and blessed path? Hear the Divine reply: "There is a path," authenticated by God, though "no fowl knoweth it, and the vulture's eye hath not seen it; the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it... Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:7-8, 28).

Let us, therefore, in the fear of the Lord, in the light of His infallible truth, and in humble dependence upon the teaching of the Holy Spirit, proceed to examine the matter before us. May we have grace to abandon all confidence in our own thoughts and the thoughts of others. May we wholeheartedly and honestly yield ourselves up to be taught only of God's Word.

STATEMENT OF FACT

Now, to get into this grand and all-important subject, we must first make a statement of fact, and second ask a question of inquiry. The fact is: God's assembly does exist on the earth today! The inquiry is: What is that assembly?

First then, the fact. The existence of God's assembly on earth is a fact. This is surely a most important fact. God has in fact His assembly on the earth. I do not refer merely to any human organization, such as the Greek Church, the Church of Rome, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, or to any of the various systems which have emerged from these. These are framed and fashioned by man's hand and carried on by man's resources. I refer simply to His assembly, that which is gathered by God the Holy Spirit, centered around the Person of God the Son, and has worshipful fellowship with God the Father.

Authority in Scripture

Our capacity to recognize and appreciate this assembly is a totally different matter. It will depend on our spirituality, our self-emptiness, the brokenness of our will, and our childlike subjection to the authority of the Holy Scriptures. If we begin our search for the truth of God's assembly, or for any expression of it, with minds full of prejudice, preconceived thoughts, and personal partialities, we will fail to reach the goal.

If, in our searchings, we seek the aid of the flickering light of the dogmas, opinions, and the traditions of men, nothing is more certain of failure for the determination of the truth. To recognize God's assembly, we must be exclusively taught by God's Word and led by God's Spirit. For it may be said of God's assembly as well as of the sons of God that "the world knoweth it not."

Hence, if we are governed by the spirit of "the world," we will desire to exalt man, seek to commend ourselves to the thoughts of man, and aim to gain self-serving goals and soul-ensnaring expediencies. Consequently, we might as well abandon our search for any true expression of God's assembly. We should merely take refuge in that form of human organization which most fully commends itself to our considerations or convictions.

Perhaps, our object is to find a religious community where the Word of God is read or where the people of God are found. If so, we may quickly be satisfied. It would be hard indeed not to find one or both of these objects in any section of the professing Christian body.

Moreover, we might merely aim at doing all the good we can without any question about how we do it. In our ambitious undertaking, our motto might be per fas aut nefas — "right or wrong," we will do anything to advance our goals. Consequently, we will say that, "Sacrifice is better than to obey, and the fat of rams better than to hearken."

Surely, from this perspective it is worse than vain for us to pursue a search for God's assembly. Why? Because the assembly can only be discovered and approved by one who has been taught to flee from ten thousand flowery pathways of human expediency. Such a one will submit his conscience, his heart, his understanding, and his whole moral being to the supreme authority of the Scripture's "Thus saith the Lord."

In other words, the obedient disciple knows such a fact as God's assembly. He will also be enabled through grace to find it and to know his place in it. The candid student of Scripture knows full well the difference between what is founded, formed, and governed by the wisdom and the will of man, and what is gathered, focused, and governed by Christ the Lord. How vast is the difference! It is just the difference between God and man.

But can Scriptural proofs be given to show the fact of God's assembly on earth? Without the authority of the Word, all statements are utterly valueless. Therefore, what says the Scripture?

Prophecy in Matthew

The first quotation is from that famous passage in Matthew 16: "When Jesus came into the coast of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, sayng, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?'

"And they said, 'Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.'

"He saith unto them, 'But who say ye that I am?'

"And Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'

"And Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My assembly; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" '(vv.13-18). [The words "church" and "assembly" are both English translations from the same Greek word ecclesia].

Here our blessed Lord intimates that His purpose is to build an assembly. He sets forth the true foundation of that assembly, namely, "Christ, the Son of the living God." This is the all-important point in our subject. The building is founded on the Rock, and that Rock is not the poor failing, stumbling, erring Peter, but CHRIST, the eternal Son of the living God. Every stone in that building partakes of the Rock-life which, as victorious over all the power of the enemy, is indestructible.

This passage indicates the utmost importance of distinguishing between what Christ builds and what man builds. "The gates of hades" will certainly prevail against all that is merely of man. Hence, it would be a fatal mistake to apply to man's building these words which only apply to Christ's building. Man may build with "wood, hay, and stubble," and regrettably he does. But all that our Lord Christ builds will stand forever. The stamp of eternity is upon every work of His hand. All praise to His glorious name!

Again, passing over a section of Matthew's Gospel, we come to an equally familiar passage:

Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the assembly, but if he neglect to hear the assembly, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:15-20).

We will have occasion to refer to this passage again, under the section "Question of Inquiry." It is here introduced merely as a link in the chain of scriptural evidence of the fact that there is such a thing as the assembly of God on the earth. This assembly is not a name, a form, a pretense, an assumption. It is a Divine reality, an institution of God, possessing His seal and sanction. It is something to be appealed to in all cases of personal trespass and dispute which cannot be settled by the parties involved.

This assembly may consist of only "two or three" in any particular place. It is the smallest plurality, if you please, but there it is, owned of God. And its decisions are ratified in Heaven.

Now, we are not to be scared away from the truth on this subject just because the church of Rome has attempted to base her monstrous pretensions on the two passages which we have just quoted. That church is not God's assembly built on the Rock Christ and gathered in the name of Jesus. But it is a human apostasy, founded on a failing mortal, and governed by the traditions and doctrines of men. We must not therefore suffer ourselves to be deprived of God's reality by reason of Satan's counterfeit.

God has His assembly on the earth, and we are responsible for recognizing it and finding our place in it. This may be difficult in a day of confusion like the present. It will demand a single eye, a submissive will, and a mortified mind. But let the readers be assured that it is his privilege to possess with Divine certainty his place in the assembly of God. Its truth is as certain as his own salvation through the blood of the Lamb, and he should not be satisfied without knowing it.

I should not be content to go on for an hour without the assurance that I am, in spirit and principle, associated with an assembly of God on earth. I say "in spirit and principle," because I may happen to be in a place where there is no such local expression of the assembly. In which case, I must be satisfied to hold fellowship "in spirit" with all those who are on the ground of the assembly of God elsewhere. I must wait on Him to order my way. Then I may enjoy the real privilege of being present in person with His people who are tasting the blessings and sharing the responsibility of His assembly on earth.

This simplifies the matter amazingly. If I cannot have a true expression of God's assembly, I will have nothing. It will not suffice to point me to a religious community of Christians where the gospel is preached and some ordinances are administered. I must be convinced by the authority of God's Word and His Spirit that a group of Christians is in very truth gathered on the ground and marked by characteristics of God's assembly. Otherwise, I cannot own it.

Yes, I can own the children of God individually anywhere, if they will permit me to do so outside the bounds of their religious system. But their sectarian system I cannot own or sanction in any way whatsoever. If I were to do so, it would just be tantamount to these assertions: It makes no difference whether I take my place in the assembly of God or in the systems of man, whether I acknowledge the Lordship of Christ or the authority of man, whether I bow to the Word of God or the opinions of man.

Without doubt, this will give offense to many. It will be pronounced bigotry, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, and the like. But this should not trouble us. All we have to do is to ascertain the truth as to God's assembly and cleave to it whole-heartedly and energetically at all cost.

If God has an assembly, and Scripture says He has, let me be in it and nowhere else. It must be obvious that there are several conflicting systems. They cannot all be Divine. What am I to do? Am I to be satisfied to take the lesser of two evils? Surely not! What then? The answer is plain, pointed, and direct - it is either God's assembly or nothing. If there is a local expression of that assembly, well, let's be there in person. If not, let's be content to hold spiritual communion with all in other localities who humbly and faithfully own and occupy that holy ground.

It may sound like charitable liberality when someone is ready to sanction and go with everything and everybody. It may appear very easy and very pleasant to be in a place "where everybody's will is indulged, and nobody's conscience is exercised." In other words, we may hold what we like, say what we like, do what we like, and go where we like. All of this may seem very delightful, very plausible, very popular, very attractive. But, oh! It will end in barrenness and bitterness. And, in the day of the Lord's return, it will definitely be burned up as so much "wood, hay, and stubble. " It will not stand the scrutiny of His Judgment Seat.

History in Acts

But let us proceed with scriptural proofs. In the Acts of the Apostles, or rather, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, we find the assembly formally set up. For example, look at Acts 2:46-47. "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the assembly daily, such as should be saved. "

Such was the original, simple apostolic order. When a person was converted, he took his place spontaneously in the assembly. There was no difficulty in the matter. There were no sects or parties, each claiming to be considered a church, a cause, or an interest. There was just one thing - the assembly of God where He dwelt, acted, and ruled.

It was not a system formed according to the will, judgment, or even conscience of mm. Man had not yet entered upon the business of "church-making." This was God's work. It was just as exclusively God's province and prerogative to baptize the saved into one Body by one Spirit as to save the scattered from every nation.

There is no such thing in Scripture as a member of a church. Every true believer is a member of the church of God, the one Body of Christ. He can therefore be no more properly a member of anything else than my arm can be a member of any other body.

The only true ground on which believers can gather is set forth in that grand statement: "There is one body, and one Spirit" (Eph.4:4). And again: "We being many are one loaf and one body" (1 Cor.10:17). If God declares that there is but "one body," it must be contrary to His mind to have many bodies, sects, or denominations.

Now, it is quite true that no given number of believers in any given place can be called "the body of Christ," or "the assembly of God." Yet, they should be gathered on the ground of that body and that assembly, and on no other ground. This principle is important. It holds well at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. The sad fact of the ruin of the professing church does not touch it. It has been true since the day of Pentecost. It is true at this moment. And it will be true until the church is taken to meet her Head and Lord in the clouds - that "THERE IS ONE BODY." All believers belong to that body, and they should meet on that ground, and on no other.

Why, we may justly inquire, should it be different today than in the first century? Why should the regenerated seek anything beyond or anything different from the assembly of God? Is not this sufficient? Is not the place where He dwells, and acts, and rules just the place where all His people ought to be? Definitely! Should they rest satisfied with anything else? Definitely not! I repeat, with emphasis: "Either that or nothing."

Regrettably, it is true that failure, ruin, and apostasy have come in. The mighty tide of error has risen and swept away many original landmarks of the assembly. Man's wisdom and his will - or, if you please, his reason, his judgment, and his misguided conscience - have wrought confusion in most ecclesiastical matters.

Now the results have appeared before us in the almost innumerable sects and parties of the present moment. Still, the assembly is the assembly still, in spite of all the failure, error, and confusion that have come in. The difficulty in reaching it may be great, but its reality when reached is unaltered and unalterable.

In the apostolic times of Acts the assembly stood out, in bold relief, from the dark background of Judaism on the one hand, and paganism on the other. It was impossible to mistake it. There it stood as a grand reality! It was a company of living men, gathered, indwelt, ruled, and regulated by God the Holy Spirit. When the unlearned or unbelieving came in, he was convinced of all and constrained to acknowledge that God was there. (See 1 Cor. 12 and 14.)

Addressees in the Epistles and Revelation

Thus, in the Gospel of Matthew, our blessed Lord intimates His purpose of building an assembly. This assembly is historically presented to us in the Acts of the Apostles. Then, in the Epistles of Paul, he is addressing the assembly, in seven distinct places - Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. Finally, in the opening of the book of Revelation, seven distinct assemblies are addressed. Now in all these places, the assembly of God was a plain, palpable, real thing, established and maintained by God Himself. It was not a human organization, but in each place a divine institution. A testimony. A light bearer for God.

Thus far, our scriptural proofs establish the fact that God has an assembly on the earth, gathered, indwelt and governed by the Holy Spirit, Who is the true and only Vicar of Christ upon earth. The Gospels prophetically intimate the assembly. The Acts historically presents the assembly. And the Epistles formally address the assembly. All this is plain.

And let it be carefully noted that everyone should listen to nothing on this subject but the voice of the Holy Scripture. Let not reason speak. Let not tradition lift her voice. Let not expediency dictate. The Holy Scripture is all-sufficient. It is sufficient to furnish the man of God thoroughly and to equip him perfectly for all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Word of God is either sufficient or it is not. It is amply sufficient for every urgency of God's assembly. It could not be otherwise if God is its Author. We must either deny the Divinity of the Bible or admit its sufficiency. There is not one hair's breadth of middle ground. It is impossible that God could have written an imperfect and insufficient Book.

This is a very serious principle about this subject. Many Protestant writers have, in assailing popery, maintained the sufficiency and authority of the Bible. But it does seem plain that they also are always at fault, especially when their opponents turn sharp around upon them and demand proof from Scripture for the many things sanctioned and adopted by Protestant communities. There are many things adopted and practiced in the denominational establishment and other Protestant communities which have no sanction in the Word. When the shrewd and intelligent defenders of popery have called attention to some of these things and demanded authority for them, the weakness of mere Protestantism has been made strikingly apparent.

If we admit, for a moment, that in some things we must have recourse to tradition and expediency, then who will undertake to fix the boundary line? If it is permissive to depart from Scripture at all, how far are we to go? If the authority of tradition is admissible at all, who is to fix its domain? If we leave the narrow and well-defined pathway of Divine revelation, and enter upon the wide and bewildering field of human tradition, has not one man as much right as another to make a choice?

In summary, it is obviously impossible to meet the adherents of Roman Catholicism on any other ground than that on which the assembly of God takes its stand - namely, the all-sufficiency of the Word of God, the Name of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Such is the impregnable position occupied by His assembly. However weak and contemptible that assembly may be in the eyes of the world, we know, for Christ has told us, that "the gates of hades shall not prevail against it."

Those gates will certainly prevail against every human system - against all those corporations and associations which men have set up. And never has hell's gates triumph been made more horribly manifest than in the Church of Rome itself, though it has arrogantly laid claim to this very declaration of our Lord as the bulwark of its strength.

Nothing can withstand the power of the gates of hades except the assembly built upon "the Living Stone." And the local expression of that assembly may be "two or three gathered in the name of Jesus," a poor, feeble, contemptible handful - the filth of the earth and the off-scouring of all things.

It is well to be clear and decided about this. Christ's promise can never fail. He has come down to the lowest possible point to which His assembly can be reduced, even "two." How gracious! How tender! How considerate! How like Himself! He attaches all the dignity, all the value, all the efficacy of His own Divine and deathless Name to an obscure handful gathered around Himself.

It must be very evident to the spiritual mind that the Lord Jesus, in speaking of the "two or three," thought not of those vast systems which have sprung up in ancient, mediaeval, and modem times, throughout the eastern and western worlds. They numbered their adherents and devotees, not by "twos or threes," but by kingdoms, provinces, and parishes.

It is very plain that a baptized kingdom and "two or three" living souls gathered in the Name of Jesus do not and cannot mean the same thing. Baptized Christendom is one thing, and the assembly of God is another. What this latter is, we have yet to unfold. We are here asserting that they are not and cannot be the same thing. But they are constantly confounded, though no two things can be more distinct.

If we would know under what figure Christ presents the baptized world of Christendom, we have only to look at the "leaven" and the "mustard tree" of Matthew 13. The former gives the internal, and the latter the external character of "the kingdom of heaven." However, "a mustard seed" by contrast is that which was originally set up in truth and simplicity, a real, genuine thing, though small. But later through Satan's crafty working, it has become inwardly a corrupt mass, like "leaven."

And outwardly it is a far-spreading, showy, popular thing in the earth, gathering all kinds beneath the shadow of its patronage, like a big "tree." Such is the lesson, a simple yet a deeply solemn lesson. The spiritual mind will learn something about organized Christianity from the "leaven" and the "mustard tree" of Matthew 13.

And we may add: One result of learning this lesson would be an ability to distinguish between the appearance of "the kingdom of heaven" and a gathering of "the assembly of God." The former may be compared to a wide swamp; the latter, to a running stream passing through it. The clear stream is in constant danger of losing its distinctive character, as well as its proper direction, by its mingling with the surrounding waters. To confound the two things is to deal a deathblow to all godly discipline and consequent purity in the assembly of God.

If the kingdom and the assembly mean the same thing, then how should we act for "that wicked person" in 1 Corinthians 5. The Apostle tells us to "put him away." Where are we to put him? Our Lord Himself tells us distinctly in Matthew 13 that "the field is the world," and again in John 17, He says that My disciples are not of the world. This makes it all plain enough.

But men tell us, in the very face of our Lord's statement that the field is the church, that the tares and the wheat - the ungodly and the godly - are to grow together and never to be separated. Consequently, the plain and positive teaching of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 5 is made to be set in open opposition to the plain and positive teaching of our Lord in Matthew 13. And all this flows from the effort of confounding two distinct things: the wider, worldly scope of "the kingdom of heaven" and the more narrow, godly sphere of "the assembly of God."

It would not by any means be suitable or harmonious with the object of this paper to enter further upon the interesting subject of "the kingdom."

Enough has been said if the reader has thereby been convinced of the immense importance of duly distinguishing the kingdom from the assembly. What this latter truth is we will now proceed to inquire. May God the Holy Spirit be our Teacher!

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)