Thursday, June 01, 2006

A very well-written, insightful, and helpful article

I think this article should be read by every serious Christian who attends a Plymouth bretheren assembly (and is highly recommended even for those who don't): certainly every elder. It was written by a missionary to Columbia and Armenia. It's a long article: printed out it comes to 42 pages, but if you think of it as a very short book, or a moderately-sized pamphlet, I'm sure it won't be a burden.

The author, one Phillip Nunn, quite evidently knows how to "rightly divide (cut in a straight line) the Word of Truth." I will let him explain his own reasons for writing. Here are some of my reasons for the recommendation:

The article brings out the New Testament model for chruch discipline in contrast to all of the "algorithms" that man has come up with over the years.

I attend a Plymouth bretheren assembly, and we recently (1991) had a division which seems to have been caused by the same phenomenon as the division he experienced that prompted him to write.

I have recently been told essentially, "Don't come here to visit, we have no basis for fellowship with you." by Christians whom I love, with the same doctrinal beliefs as I, but who felt I would be a contamination because of my association with a certain other group of Christians. I believe that Christians' fellowship with one another is in Christ, not in any particular "non-denomination." I believe that the Lord's table is His own, and like the soldier who met Joshua, He is not on anyone's side: it is on us to join Him and get with His program: then look around and see who's fighting alongside us under His command, and recognize them as such.

Since the 1991 division, it has been difficult, though certainly not impossible, to openly discuss the issues involved. This is no doubt due to the deep scars that were left in many hearts, assemblies and families, but it is also unfortunate. Those (particularly in my generation or younger) who do not actively seek out the issue are largely ignorant, and a mass of people ignorant of their history is not learning from its mistakes, and very likely doomed to repeat them. This article can be a catalyst to discussion, not of the particulars of the division, but of the underlying issues and what the Bible has to say about them.

Here is the article:

The Re-dividing of the Reunited Bretheren

Here's a snippet, which I think touches on the essence of his point:

ARE WE PROMOTING “OPEN” PRINCIPLES? Historically, whenever a saint questioned an assembly judgement, he was labelled open or independent. ... Whenever we Brethren disagree and divide, one side is labelled open, loose, independent or something worse. By doing this, we put these saints in a box, we label them. By doing this, we protect ourselves from having to rethink and perhaps change. Does the Spiritual Principle of Recognition, as presented in this paper, promote lose open principles?

IF... If by open we mean that practising homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, Satanists and their supporters may participate at the Lord's table with us, the answer is NO. Godly consciences within assemblies everywhere would be able to recognise false Christianity.

If by open we mean that we must receive in our assembly every Christian who wants to break bread with us (because he is a Christian), the answer is NO. Being a Christian is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The receiving assembly must recognise if the believer is in the right condition to be received.

If by open we mean that an assembly may “stand alone” and need not take other saints and assemblies into account, then again it is NO. We must recognise and sometimes contribute towards what the Lord is doing elsewhere.

If by open we mean that we do not act in the light of the One Body of Christ (in principle and practice), again I say NO. We must recognise and love every true member of the One Body of Christ. We need every member. We try to encourage and work with each member, as far as a godly conscience allows.

If by open we mean that we should treat all gatherings of saints as “the same thing”, clearly it is NO. It is evident that some assemblies are more spiritual than others. If we are to visit we must seek to recognise its true spiritual condition.

If by open we mean that we ignore decisions (and letters of commendation) made by other assemblies, again I say NO. Godly saints in any assembly will recognise godly decisions arrived at by others. These may be made by individuals, families or assemblies. Godly decisions are as binding as God's will, because they are the same in essence.

If by open we mean that we seek to be open to the Lord's guidance personally and collectively, the answer is a big YES. To live the Spiritual Principle of Recognition we must choose to let the Lord really be LORD, in principle and in practice.

If by open we mean that we reject the concept of international collective responsibility, the answer is YES. We are only responsible where we are in a position to really practice spiritual recognition. Suppose you have never been to Managua. When you travel to Managua, and you are in fellowship with the Lord, He will guide you to true Christian fellowship there. You will recognise it when you live it. If a person comes from Managua to your assembly, it is for you locally to recognise if there is evidence of saving faith and consistent Christian walk. A letter from a trusted assembly may help this process, but still local recognition is necessary. Our responsibility before the Lord is personal and collective within our home assembly. This includes the responsibility for where we visit and who we receive. Proper spiritual recognition can never lead to looseness or anarchy.

The Spiritual Principle of Recognition allows us to live, move and work in harmony with Christ. The Brethren during the 1820´s and 1830´s displayed this degree of collective spirituality because history shows that they practised this principle of spiritual recognition. But as the years went by, some among them tried to formalise things. The dynamics of God given life can be suffocated by formality. Slowly the spiritual principle was replaced by mechanics and procedures. What I have tried to do here is present for your prayerful consideration (and action) a Biblical principle. If some call it open, or romantic or charismatic or mystic, so what! The question is: Is it a Scriptural principle? Under the Spirit’s guidance, judge for yourself.


  1. the soldier who met Joshua, He is not on anyone's side: it is on us to join Him and get with His program: then look around and see who's fighting alongside us under His command, and recognize them as such.

    Amen and amen.

    I do plan to read the whole thing.

  2. Hmmm, that was good. Sometime I'm going to need to print out the whole thing and read it all.

    I'm glad I've never had to go through a church split. I hate seeing that happen to churches. (If that ever happened at my church, I would LAY DOWN THE SMACK and not allow it to happen. Completely unacceptable. BOOOYAAAAAAH!)

  3. It was definitely interesting, but being from one of those other denominations I confess that a lot of it was an intellectual exercise for me. Certainly we have certain issues of our own that I am sure we do not handle biblically, but some of these problematic doctrines are somewhat foreign. I think his approach is quite fair and if he is right in his assessment I think some of the things he said are much needed.

  4. Perhaps I should say the problematic practices and mentalities are somewhat foreign. I honestly had no clue what he meant by the Lord's Table until he sort of defined it late in his treatment of it. That, I suppose, is a doctrine.

  5. For those wondering, the "Lord's table" in bretheren-speak refers to the rights and practice of Christian fellowship in general, and in particular has to do with remembrance/taking communion/breaking bread/the Lord's supper, as this is the ultimate expression of fellowship (both with the Lord and with other Christians).

    To speak of one's "place" at this "table" is to speak of one's rights to and practice of the expression of this fellowship with the Lord, and with other Christians.

    One of the points that the author makes is that it is earth's job (i.e., the local assembly of believers) to recognize heaven's reality (i.e., whether or not a person is "seated" at this "table" of fellowship with God), and not the other way around. This is in contrast to some people's interpretation of Matthew 18:18.

    Again, I think the author does an excellent job of "rightly dividing the word of truth" in explaining, among other things, why this interpretation is incorrect.

  6. Indeed, very insightful. I enjoyed Mr. Kelly's comments. TW thinking is truly continuing. Group think can be very strong, many people prefer to have others do their spiritual discernment for them. May the Lord help us recognize those who worship the Lord out of a pure heart.