TEXT : "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 2 Cor. 10 :1.
This is surely a most solemn admonition, for Paul presents it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the ideal here set before us is high indeed—unity of opinion and judgment as well as of heart and purpose.
After the wonderful way in which the Lord has spoken to our hearts from the very first hour of this Autumn Council, I can well imagine that, when we go out, we shall have no difficulty whatsoever in speaking "the same thing" concerning the wonderful truths of the third angel's message. As with one voice, we can testify that "we have not followed cunningly devised fables"; that the message is true and its triumph certain and sure; that Jesus is coming again, and that He is coming soon.
It is indeed something for which to praise God that we are so united in heart and purpose, in spirit and in doctrine. But, my brethren and sisters, our text reminds us that here is a quality of unity to which we are yet to aspire, and to which the Lord desires His people to attain as He prepares His remnant church for translation and for the closing scenes that are just before us.
Illustrations of what I mean are to be seen in the proceedings of our Autumn Councils, as well as in our committee work generally. To me it is a wonderful thing that men of varied temperaments, divers opinions, and even different nationalities can come together as we do, and after time spent in discussion and exchange of thought, find themselves in perfect agreement concerning matters of vital importance to the church on earth. It is this, and a better understanding of all that the spirit of counsel in the church means in the direction and welfare of the movement, that I wish to study with you this morning. It is of fundamental importance that as with one voice we learn to say with more and more assurance, "The Lord of hosts is with us"; "the Majesty of heaven has ... the concerns of His church, in His own charge."—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 753.
The days of the theocracy are gone when in an intimate, personal way God directed the affairs of ancient Israel. From the Scriptures of truth it is evident, too, that the form of church government which God has provided for His remnant church is that of neither a monarchy nor a democracy.
It is well to note this in passing. It is clear that there is to be no kingly control or lordly domination anywhere in the church. Only in a spiritual sense is the church a kingdom—the kingdom of grace that belongs to the Lord. Said the psalmist, "God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." Ps. 74:12. Democratic ideals and methods are today rightly held in high esteem in many lands, and we may surely thank God fervently for the spirit of democracy that has meant so much to the success and progress of this great country from the days of its infancy. Yet, with all that is desirable in a democratic form of government for nations and worldly concerns, and as important and valuable as are the true principles of democracy in the affairs of the church itself, it is to be noted that the church of Jesus Christ on earth is not a mere democracy. It is more than that.
Perhaps the best and most acceptable definition of a true democracy is that familiar one that is so concise, "A government of the people, by the people, for the people." This sets forth the high ideals of true democracy, and surely there is very much that is attractive in such a concept of a form of government. You will notice, however, that democracy defined even in this most acceptable and attractive manner leaves out God; it is of the people, by the people, for the people. For the things that are Caesar's that formula is all very well, but for something that belongs to God, as His church, He has devised something that is far better.
What, then, is the church? If it is not now a theocracy, and it is not a monarchy nor yet a democracy, what is it? The answer is given very emphatically in 1 Corinthians 12:27: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." Think of it. The Lord has called His church—His ecclesia, His called-out people—"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 thing ; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." 2 Cor. 6 :16-18. So the Lord has provided that He shall, Himself, live in the church and direct its affairs.
No longer is it through the agency of the Urim and Thummim, worn on the breastplate of the high priest in the sanctuary service in ancient times, that God hands down His decisions in answer to the inquiries of His people. He leads and directs His remnant people through "the counsel of the brethren." In councils, board meetings, sessions, and committee meetings of the movement, as in its organization it reaches out into all parts of the world field, God condescends to make known His will for the protection and guidance of His church. It is our privilege to believe that God can and does do this. Not simply, as some would reason, that He would like to do it. He does it ! "The Majesty of heaven has . . . the concerns of His church, in His own charge."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 753.
With the church declared to be the body of Christ and Jesus Himself to be the Head of the church, we may well inquire why it is that members of the church encounter any difficulty in attaining to unity of mind and judgment, as well as of heart and purpose. It is because of the frailties of the flesh. Unity of mind and judgment in determining matters pertaining to the cause of God can come only as men called to participate in the sacred concerns of the church are given grace to yield their own opinions and surrender their own judgment in deference to the judgment and opinions of their brethren. But this is a hard thing to do. May I read from the Spirit of prophecy a number of impressive statements that in the light of scriptures, to which I also draw attention, are to my mind of great value and significance.
"Christ is leading out a people, and bringing them into the unity of the faith, that they may be one, as He is one with the Father. Differences of opinion must be yielded, that all may come into union with the body, that they may have one mind and one judgment. 1 Cor. 1:10 'Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."—Ibid., vol. 1, p. 324.
We are admonished to learn lessons from the experiences of ancient Israel, and to avoid the pitfalls into which they fell. Through Isaiah God remonstrated with them for their confidence in Egypt and exhorted them to trust in His own leading."For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses ; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; there shall they that pursue you be swift." Isa. 30:15, 16.
"The Hebrews were not willing to submit to the directions and restrictions of the Lord. They simply wanted their own way, to follow the leadings of their own mind, and be controlled by their own judgment. Could they have been left free to do this, no complaints would have been made of Moses; but they were restless under restraint."—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 360.
Continuing, we are then admonished by the messenger of the Lord:
"God would have His people disciplined and brought into harmony of action, that they may see eye to eye, and be of the same mind and of the same judgment. In order to bring about this state of things, 'there is much to be done. The carnal heart must be subdued and transformed. God designs that there shall ever be a living testimony in the church. It will be necessary to reprove and exhort, and some will need to be rebuked sharply, as the case demands. We hear the plea, 'Oh, I am so sensitive, I cannot bear the least reflection!' If these persons would state the case correctly, they would say, 'I am so self-willed, so self-sufficient, so proud-spirited, that I will not be dictated to; I will not be reproved. I claim the right of individual judgment ; I have a right to believe and talk as I please.' The Lord would not have us yield up our individuality. But what man is a proper judge of how far this matter of individual independence should be carried?"
Notice, friends, how in many of these references the word judgment, as signifying opinion, recurs, and haw it is made evident that unity of opinion and judgment among the members of the church in collective matters is sometimes dependent upon the ability of members to surrender their personal judgment and to yield their individual opinions.
Yet this does not mean that men and women honored with the privilege of leadership and responsibility in the church are not to be workers of character and decision in acting well their part. They are to be men and women of conviction; and convictions are of little value unless they are sound and strong. A very arresting description of the kind of men and women needed in the cause today is found in Gospel Workers:"
At this time God's cause is in need of men and women who possess rare qualifications and good administrative powers; men and women who will make patient, thorough investigation of the needs of the work in various fields; those who have a large capacity for work; those who possess warm, kind hearts, cool heads, sound sense, and unbiased judgment; those who are sanctified by the Spirit of God, and can fearlessly say No, or Yea and amen, to propositions; those who have strong convictions, clear understanding, and pure, sympathetic hearts; those who practice the words, 'All ye are brethren ;' those who strive to .uplift and restore fallen humanity."—Pages 424, 425.
It is worthy of note, in passing, that among other desirable qualifications mentioned here is the ability to fearlessly say No, or Yes, or Amen, to propositions. The No is mentioned first, and although I would not reason that this means it is more important that counselors and committee members be able to say No, than to say Yes, it at least indicates perhaps that we are not expected to be yes men, and that is good.
This leads me to say I firmly believe that this whole matter of committee work and committee methods is of vital importance to workers themselves, as well as to the organization. Since it is through this means that God makes known His will in the affairs of the church, it is logical and understandable that the enemy of the church should assail the workers in this particular realm ."of their service, in order that where they should be "of the same mind and of the same judgment," there might be, instead, divisions and disagreement; and that in turn where, as a result of unity of judgment there might be confidence and peace in the church, there might instead be uncertainty and confusion. And so it is important that, as workers in the cause of God, we learn to move in counsel.
Looking down over the centuries, God saw that no man or small group of men would have wisdom sufficient to solve all the problems that the remnant church would encounter. So He gave us this plan of committee work whereby individual member minds might make their contribution in the formulation of the collective decision of the church for the well-being of the body as a whole.
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but 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." 2 Cor. I:26-29.
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God : for they are foolishness unto him : neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet He Himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ." Cor. 2:14-I6.
Concerning the value of prayerful counsel, I read again from the Spirit of prophecy :
"Many regard their own wisdom as sufficient, and they arrange things according to their judgment, thinking to bring about wonderful results. But if they would depend on God and not on themselves, they would receive heavenly wisdom. Those who are so engrossed with their work that they cannot find time to press their way to the throne of grace and obtain counsel from God, will turn the work into wrong channels. Our strength lies in our union with God through His only-begotten Son and in our union with one another."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 252.
"I was shown that the follies of Israel in the days of Samuel will be repeated among the people of God today, unless there is greater humility, less confidence in self, and more trust in the Lord God of Israel, the Ruler of the people. It is only as divine power is combined with human effort that the work will abide the test. When men lean no longer on men or on their own judgment, but make God their trust, it will be made manifest in every instance by meekness of spirit, by less talking and much more praying, by the exercise of caution in their plans and movements. Such men will reveal the fact that their dependence is in God, that they have the mind of Christ."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 464.
So, brethren, this plan of committee counseling in our work is not only for the blessing and well-being of the church as a whole; it is also for the safety and protection of the counselors themselves. We must individually come to the place day by day where our confidence in the overshadowing care of God for His church is such that we shall have less and less difficulty in accepting the judgment of the Lord through the collective counsel of the brethren, in place of our own cherished opinions and judgment.
"God requires certain things of His people; if they say, I will not give up my heart to do this thing, the Lord lets them go on in their supposed wise judgment without heavenly wisdom, Until this scripture [Isa. 28:13—-"go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken"] is fulfilled. You are not-to say, I will follow the Lord's guidance up to a certain point that is in harmony with my judgment, and then hold fast to your own ideas, refusing to be molded after the Lord's similitude. Let the question be asked, Is this the will of the Lord? not, Is this the opinion or judgment of ————?"—Ibid., p. 419.
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. . . . Be not wise in thine own eyes : fear the Lord, and depart from evil." Prov. 3 :5-7. "Be not wise in your own conceits." Rom. 12 :16.
"We are doing up work for the judgment, and it is unsafe to work in our own wisdom and trust to our own judgment."—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 325.
I often reflect with admiration on fellow workers to whom we send these decisions of our Fall Councils year after year, and who, with confidence, accept them even though they themselves are unable to be present to participate in the discussions and in the formulation of the decisions. The same is true of thousands of believers everywhere who having little to do personally with the work of committees and councils nevertheless regard decisions arrived at as their own, because they believe in this wonderful plan of organization that God has given us. In this connection I think of the following from Acts of the Apostles, pages 196, 597:
"The entire body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question. The 'apostles and elders,' men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, which was thereupon generally accepted by the Christian churches. Not all, however, were pleased with the decision; there was a faction of ambitious and self-confident brethren who disagreed with it. These men assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility. They indulged in much murmuring and faultfinding, proposing new plans, and seeking to pull down the work of the men whom God had ordained to teach the gospel message. From the ,first the church has had such obstacles to meet, and ever will have till the close of time."
(To be concluded in March)