||Chosen no: R-1821 a, from: 1895 Year.
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PRIESTCRAFT OPPOSED TO LIBERTY.
[CONCLUDED FROM OUR ISSUE OF MAY 1.]
THE EARLY CHURCHES UNFETTERED.
NOT only were the individuals of the early Church free,
but each congregation was free from the control
of every other congregation. Even the Apostles, although
by divine appointment they were competent to direct all
of the affairs, did not do so arbitrarily, but always respected
the rights and liberties of each congregation and of each
individual Christian. They did reprove, rebuke and exhort,
but it was with longsuffering and patience, and by pointing
out the errors of doctrine or practice, just as the humblest
of the brethren had a right to do.
The entire arrangement of the early Church was based
upon (1) confidence in the Lord, and in each other as partakers
of his spirit; (2) love for the Lord and for all
who possessed his spirit; (3) obedience to the Lord's
will, in whatever manner expressed. They recognized the [R1821 : page 131] Scriptures as the substance of the Lord's revelation, but
they did not forget that God declared that he would provide
teachers, helps, etc., in the Church for its upbuilding
in the truth and in its spirit. They were therefore on the
lookout for those whom God might be sending as such
helpers; yet they were cautioned not to receive every spirit
or doctrine, but to try or prove by the Word of God
whether or not the teachings and teachers were from God
or false teachers transforming themselves to appear as servants
[R1822 : page 131] of the light. Accordingly, even the Apostle Paul gave
proofs of his teachings by repeatedly referring to the Old
Knowing the superior ability of the Apostles, and noting
to how large a degree the Lord had confidence in them
and used them, the early Churches readily accepted the
judgment of the Apostles as to which of their number would
be best qualified, naturally and spiritually, to be their
"Elders," or to have the chief direction and oversight of
the work in their midst. And the Apostle shows that he
judged of fitness in the same manner that we now should
judge, and not by some super-human intuition.--See Titus 1:6-11.
But it is very evident that the Apostle appointed no
"Elders" in any Church contrary to the will of the congregation.
It was by the will of the Church that the Apostle
chose for them; they having more confidence in his
experience, disinterested judgment, etc., than in their own.
Love and confidence were the grounds of obedience, and
not arbitrary authority. These facts must impress themselves
upon all who read the New Testament with their eyes open.
The strongest utterance is merely advisory; it reads,
"Obey your leaders and be submissive [then the reason for
this advice is given], for they keep watch on your behalf,
as those who shall render an account." (Heb. 13:17.)
Even when the Apostles called or sent any of the younger
brethren in the ministry, it was not as of arbitrary authority,
but as of request which they were likely to follow, because
of their confidence in him as a faithful and experienced
servant of the Truth. (See 2 Cor. 8:17; 1 Tim. 1:3.)
But those calls or requests were not always
obeyed; and no offense was taken by the Apostle, if the
brethren sometimes felt and acted differently from his suggestions
or requests. (See 1 Cor. 16:12.) On the contrary,
some of the "Elders" became self-seekers, and spoke evil
of the Apostles, yet were not anathematized: the Church
was merely cautioned as to how to judge, and another more
suitable brother was suggested, not appointed (3 John 9-12)
--indicating that full liberty was accorded to each congregation.
But the caution was sometimes given that the
spiritually minded would receive the Lord's counsel through
his mouthpieces, the Apostles.--1 John 4:6; 1 Cor. 14:37,38.
So also in introducing brethren to the Churches, force
and authority are ignored, while the liberty of all is respected
even by the apostles, who write not commandingly
but entreatingly, not arbitrarily, but giving the reasons why
those commended should be held in esteem. (See Phil. 2:29,30;
Philemon 12,17; Col. 4:10; 3 John 8.) In all this
the apostles did nothing more than what all the "brethren"
had full privilege to do. (Acts 18:27.) And those who
received the letters were bound to act upon such letters only
by their love and confidence; hence probably a letter of
commendation from St. Paul couched in the very same
words would have had a greater influence than if from some
others, simply because of the unbounded confidence of the
Churches in his judgment and carefulness of their interests.
As the territory was smaller and the means of travel
much less complete, the letters used by the early Church
were special, rather than general, and were sent to the
Churches rather than carried by the visiting brethren. They
were written, instead of printed, and were for one visit
instead of for a year as are the Letters of Introduction
now in use amongst us.
The financial methods in the early Church, although
not regulated by law, were simple and full of individual
liberty as now with us. Pew-rents, church-fairs, etc., were
unknown as means for helping forward the Lord's cause.
The "Elders" in each little congregation did not serve
for filthy lucre, but of ready minds. (1 Pet. 5:2,3.) So
far as we can judge, they served the weekly meetings without
thought of compensation;--probably continuing their
usual work or business for a livelihood. The traveling
"Elders," such as Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Peter, Timothy,
etc., who gave their entire time to the service, sometimes
"wrought with their own hands" to provide their necessities,
but sometimes were supported in part by the voluntary
contributions of those previously served with the truth.
(See Phil. 4:10-18.) But they all seem to have strenuously
avoided asking or receiving anything from those whom
they were seeking to win to Christ. (See 3 John 7,8; 1 Cor. 9:12-15; 2 Cor. 11:8,9.) However, the apostles desired,
for the sakes of the givers, to see the truth take such hold
upon them that they would take pleasure in giving for the
spread of the Truth: and therefore he accepted for his
own necessities and for the necessities of those who were
his colaborers and under his supervision what the Churches
he had served were forward to offer. And although he
sometimes pointed out the duty and privilege of the Lord's
people, he never directly requested money, so far as we
know, except for the relief of the poor of the Church at
Jerusalem;--probably at a time of dearth or famine.
On the whole, dear brethren, we congratulate you that
as representatives of the Lord to-day, on all these subjects,
we all stand, so far as we can judge, in just about the
same position as the early Church. The principles under
which we operate are identical with those of the primitive
Church, and the methods are modified only by changed
circumstances and facilities.
Each individual and each little gathering is free, absolutely
free, except as voluntarily controlled by love, confidence
and obedience to our Lord, and love to each other.
We, too, look for the Lord to SET every member in the
[R1822 : page 132] body as it hath pleased him (1 Cor. 12:26-31); and we
seek to recognize such by the characteristics laid down by
the Apostle. We, too, recognize character and consecration
as essential prerequisites to a believer (one who trusts
in Christ's ransom sacrifice), before he could be "apt to
teach" the truth. We, too, introduce by Letters which
none are bound to recognize. We, too, have a general
fund used in publishing the gospel, much more cheaply
than we could publish separately, out of which provision
those who can use tracts can have them freely whether they
can contribute or not; out of which the poor are supplied
with the regular visits and preaching of ZION'S WATCH
TOWER; out of which the MILLENNIAL DAWN as a preacher
of present truth is sent the world over on loan to the poor
or at low prices and in various languages to those who can
circulate it and thus share in preaching the gospel according
to present improved facilities. And we, too, while
pleased to see evidences of a love of the truth which extends
to the pocket-book and the bank account, feel that
we have neither authority nor desire to beg in the name of
Let us stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath
made us free, and permit love, and love alone, to be the
constraining power in our hearts and lives; and in all
matters of small importance, let us say as St. Paul did about
wearing the hair long or short;--"But if any one is disposed
to be contentious, we have no such custom [as a law],
neither have the Churches of God."--1 Cor. 11:16.