Over the past three decades, I have often been asked to give an account of the way the Lord has led us in our walk with Him and with others of the household of faith. When Pharaoh asked Jacob to give an account of his years at their first meeting in ancient Egypt, Jacob’s answer was not yet an utterance of worship or of hope, for it seems he was just beginning to make the transition from complainant with a begrudging, backward look to worshiper with prophetic insight and upward gaze. May my outlook never be that “all these things are against me”, or that “few and evil have been the days of the years” of my sojourning. Much rather, let my spirit emulate that of the Jacob who finally said: “The God that shepherded me all my life long to this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil”.¹ For the Lord has indeed been my Shepherd through the years.
I was born to loving parents, was reared, born again, baptized, married, and started a family in a Christian denomination that dates back almost 500 years to the early period of the Reformation. I have many fond memories of my first 25 years, for the church folk around me were caring and kind, and I wish for those who remain there only the blessing of the Lord. But it was perhaps in my 24th year that the Spirit of God began to exercise my soul, first as to my own failures, and then as to the claims of the Scriptures upon me, not only morally, but also ecclesiastically and doctrinally. I will attempt to give account of these exercises, and of how the Lord shepherded me, along with my understanding wife, through a period of changes and up to this day.
The first matter that the Lord used to stir me up was that of denominational identity. While others around me seemed to find no fault with denominating themselves collectively using the name of an early leader of that religious movement, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the custom when I read and thought upon the implications of I Corinthians 1:10-13 and 3:4-7. “While one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” That is a searching question that surely goes deeper than sectarian names, but it certainly must include that prejudicial practice.
Perhaps the logical outcome of a having a conscience troubled about denominationalism was to seek to understand how the church of God was meant to function in practical unity, prior to its gradual division into various communions over disputes ranging from trivial to foundational. To my unlearned mind, it was evident that these divisions were all the result of failure among Christians of one sort or another, but I longed to be able to have fellowship with other believers on a scriptural basis. In fact, I remember telling others, with some conviction, that there had to be a basis for fellowship with other Christians worldwide that was scriptural, and that met the criteria that the Spirit had impressed upon me to date, even though I had as of yet no idea if there were any in the world who met simply on that ground, on those principles.
During that particular period, the church we belonged to was looking and praying for a minister or “preacher”, for it hadn’t had one for several years, and procuring one was thought to be necessary to the church’s spiritual well-being. At one particular Wednesday night Bible study, the text of I Timothy 5 was under discussion. When verse 17 came into view, more light on the matter of ministry and leadership in the church of God dawned on me than ever had up to that point. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” I already knew what Bible scholars generally admit, that “elders” and “bishops” (overseers) were the same people viewed from different perspectives. What impressed me was that in the beginning it was normal for there to be multiple elders or overseers in an assembly, rather than one bishop over a congregation or group of congregations, as our denomination taught. Furthermore, it was obvious from this verse that an elder may or may not spend much of his time laboring in the word, showing that the rigid structure of ordination and the clergy/laity divide was not contemplated by the Spirit of God or by the apostles.
The most earth-shaking development in my soul during that period was a dawning conviction that true believers in Christ were eternally secure without a possibility of losing their eternal life or salvation. Even more striking to me (and at the same time a cause for the welling-up of some real emotion for the gravity of it), was the nascent understanding that I was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, which of course supported the truth of eternal security. Multiple Scripture references bear on these wonderful doctrines,² but for this narrative it will suffice to mention John 10:26-30. By means of that passage, I inadvertently raised a controversy during another Bible study I happened to be leading during a Sunday morning service, for a minister had not yet been ordained to fill the normal preaching role. “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me . . .” Found together in these three verses are perfect security, election, and predestination, but it is remarkable how quickly the argument is made by Arminian teachers that one can take himself out of Christ’s hand, even if none else can. However, the brief phrase “they shall never perish”, taken in context but not annulled by the subordinate clause that follows it, is enough to assure the soul of the simple believer that he shall not, under any circumstance, finally be lost forever.
Realizing that the truth that God was impressing upon me was not welcome in our native denomination, we left it so as not to stir up emotion and strife among those we still loved. But the Lord had more to teach us before He settled our hearts with regard to the matter of fellowship. We attended a small home church for about six months, where I became troubled about several of their traditional teachings. Not only did they also reject the doctrine of the believer’s eternal security, but I came to see there the pitfalls of a legalistic believer’s baptism, autonomy in church fellowship, and an open (unguarded) communion table. After seeing these errors, we were led by God’s shepherding care away from that group and to a gathering of saints where the many things I had learned by the Spirit from the Bible over the course of a year or two were answered and affirmed.
It brought further affirmation to find that two of the teachings I had learned and held as true from my youth in our ancestral sect were also appreciated among these brethren gathered simply in the name of the Lord Jesus: Conscientious objection to military and political involvement, and the clear teaching as to head coverings in ministry and worship, found in I Corinthians 11.
Dispensational teaching was one major line of truth that I only came to learn and enjoy a few years after being gathered with others in the name of the Lord Jesus. The brethren were patient with my ignorance in that regard, allowing time for growth in the understanding of God’s timetable and His various ways of dealing with men on the earth throughout the ages, which dispensationalism teaches. The “blessed hope” of the rapture of the church to meet its Head in heaven, and of our literal reign with Him for a thousand years, still brings great comfort and enjoyment to our hearts. It is only right that the Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified and reign over this earth (where He was once crucified and is still rejected), ruling the nations with a rod of iron, receiving them from His Father as an inheritance, in company with His beloved church.³
It has brought satisfaction and peace to my soul to have a real sense that our loving Lord has shepherded us, in many cases by teaching me principles from His word months prior to encountering brethren who enjoyed and practiced the same truth. By grace, we can still have happy fellowship on the simple ground of the unity of the body of Christ, though in separation from false doctrine and practice. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
I have waxed longer with this account than necessary, perhaps, but there is even more that could have been said for the glory of God. May the Lord use this much as an encouragement to seeking souls. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
¹ Genesis 42:36; 47:9; 48:15-16 (Darby translation)
² Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 8:31-39; John 6:37-40
³ Psalm 2:8-9; Revelation 2:27