Thursday, 2 March 2006

The Ring of Truth

The writings which have most profoundly impacted my life have been those in which the author has articulated things that I had already begun to perceive in the spirit, but had not yet found words to express. When I have encountered such writings my reaction has been to say, “Yes! I know this is truth, not just intellectually stated, but bedrock reality-truth.” Such an experience was mine on first coming across the teachings of T. Austin Sparks some twenty years ago, when I was hungering to know the reality of Church as God meant it to be, and I knew that here was a man who had answers to the cry of my heart.

That kind of experience was repeated recently when I read an article by this same author, which appeared in a little publication called “The Golden Candlestick” put out by some brothers in Holland. The article was based on the story of the returning of the ark to Jerusalem by David recorded in 1 Chronicles 13 & 15:2,12-13, which should be read as background.

Here is the first passage which resonated for me with what J.B. Phillips called “The ring of truth.” “David's mistake was that he proceeded as though the testimony of the Lord was an organized movement carried forward by natural energies. He started with a consultation with men. They agreed, and then they made a new cart. They put the ark of the testimony thereon, and two men to drive it. The illustration is a perfect one. It is quite obvious as to what the mistake was. The cart was a contrivance of man to carry that which was of the Lord. Men are constantly seeking new carts for the things of the Lord; that is a new method, a new piece of machinery, a new movement, a new organization, a new enterprise , into which or upon which to place the things of God, and it is a provision made by man for the things of God. That was David's mistake, and that is our mistake very often, and that has been the mistake of Christendom.”

Further he says, “When men consult together about the things of the Lord, it will not be long before they will need a cart to carry out the result of their consultation, and the cart may be any one of a thousand things that men employ – a committee, a movement, an institution; something that men bring together for the carrying out of all their own counsels, their own judgments for God, when all the time God has His method and means settled, only waiting to be consulted.”

On the successful return of the ark he has this to say, “What is God's instrument of testimony? David came back to it, ‘None ought to carry the ark of the Lord but the Levites: for them hath Jehovah chosen to carry the ark of God and to minister unto Him for ever.' God chooses spiritual men, living men. God is never looking for things, for machines, for organizations.---- Now that is very testing, very searching. It means this, that you and I to bear testimony to Jesus in the power of God, in all the values and virtue of the Name, only have to be in living union with God, only have to be spiritual men and women. We cannot bear this testimony by being associated with some Christian organization, whether we call it church or anything else.—That is not the way. So many people think that to have a living ministry they have to belong to this or that or something else, be in a certain movement. God's way is living union with Himself, spiritual men and women, and when that obtains, when that is the case, then His testimony is there.”

Why did these things so ring with truth for me? I think it is because in conversations with others and reading various books and articles coming from the so-called “Emerging church” and the “House church movement”, I cannot help feeling that, even in our honest desire for Church more after Father's heart, many new carts may be in process of being contructed. Men consult together and multiple, innovative ways of doing church are worked out and applied often with the best of intentions and with great enthusiasm and zeal, but they are the carts of man's designing. The spontaneous generation of house churches, where people are simply drawn to meet together in the Spirit can so easily and subtly become a “movement” or a “network” headed up by strong personalities. I speak from experience having been involved in the initial stages of such a Spirit- originated work which gradually took on all the features of a man-made cart and ended up as just another institutionalized church. We need earnestly to heed what brother Sparks so clearly says in this teaching, and we need to return to that simple humble dependence on the leading of the Holy Spirit described in the Acts of the Apostles which took the testimony of Jesus out from Jerusalem to Samaria and to Asia and Europe. In those wonderful early years there were no man made carts, only the ministry of men filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. Alas how soon man's methods and organisations and all their accompanying paraphernalia came in and gave birth to Christendom with all its ecclesiastical hierarchies and multiplied machinery! Let us not repeat their mistake.

Jack Gray

The whole article referred to can be read in “The Golden Candlestick” volume 124, published by The Golden Candlestick Trust, van der Duyn Maesdamstraat 89, 7391 VK Twello, The Netherlands. E-mail hetnet.epostma@hetnet.nl