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Bible Study: The underground church in the 21st. century


A) The Philosophy And Purpose of The Underground Church
B) The Function and Theology of The Underground Church
C) The Structure and Fellowship of The Underground Church
D) The Underground Church in a Hostile Enviroment

Recommended Reading
The Triumphant Church – compiled by “Voice of the Martyrs” P.O. Box 443 Bartlesville, OK  74005-0443 (918) 337-8015.  And, any materials dealing with the development and administration of “CELL CHURCHES” or “HOME FELLOWSHIPS” Books on the persecuted church in various countries, especially their methods of dealing with security and meeting.  And  always, YOUR BIBLE!
The Church in the United States in the 21st century finds itself in an interesting (and potentially dangerous) position.  Although there is tremendous growth in some areas of what is commonly called the Church, at the same time there is a tremendous falling away from what the BIBLE describes as the Church (teaches true repentance, holds to sound doctrine, emphasizes holy living, etc.).  The growth of “mega-churches”, the appearance of an increasing number of specialty “needs ministries”, and the “shopping mall mentality” (including the ones who recently added coffee-shops or fast-food courts to their buildings) of a number of churches has brought people of all kinds into the doors by the busload.  However, at the same time, there have been numerous reports of Biblical illiteracy among the “church folks”, and the level of various social problems such as divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, spouse abuse, the use of pornography (via Internet, or other means) and so on is at approximately the same levels as it is in the world outside of the church. 

When this information is coupled with what the Bible says will happen in the church during what is commonly known as “the latter days”, or “the end times”, we begin to see that the church is splitting into two groups, and that there will come a time when these two groups will no longer be able to co-exist in peace.  As this process of separation continues, the “church of the world” will gain in adherents and in public acceptance, while the “church of the remnant” will be forced out of the public arena just as it was in the early days of the church, when the believers who refused to accept the Roman Emperor as a deity were forced to meet in the catacombs.  This “church of the remnant” will become what is known in other countries (where believers are already experiencing the persecution of Biblical Christians) as “the underground church”.

As this occurs, it will become evident that our current church “forms” and ways of doing things won’t be adequate to meet the needs of the underground Christians.  We will have to learn the lessons of the early Christians, and of the Christians who even today are facing persecution and public opposition to their simple desire to worship Christ and tell people of the Gospel of salvation.  That is the purpose of this material.  It is my hope that we can learn to be “more than conquerors” in the times to come, and that the true Church of Jesus Christ will continue to minister the Gospel in spite of the world’s opposition.  I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to those who have addressed this subject in the past, who have had a profound influence on my thinking. 

The Philosophy And Purpose Of The Underground Church:
What is the philosophy and purpose of the underground church, particularly as it relates to the United States in what is popularly termed the “latter days”, or “end times”?  The philosophy of the underground church should be absolute obedience to God’s Word, and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It is not a philosophy of violence, a quest for political power and influence, a desire for ease, or an attempt to “win friends and influence people”.  It is a philosophy that understands that the sufferings of this world are a natural product of sin, and that the children of God will ALWAYS be seen as different and undesirable to those who walk in darkness.  The underground church understands that persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ is not a new thing, but is rather the normal lot of each generation that seeks to serve the Lord above all else.  This philosophy will play itself out in the developed theology of the underground church, which will be expanded upon in the next chapter.

What is the purpose of the underground church?  It is the same purpose that has driven the true church in each generation.  To teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ that was once delivered to the saints; to promote holy living, obedience and submission to God in every aspect of life; and to build each other up by fellowship and prayer.  Another aspect of the underground church is to provide a means for its’ members to survive as much as possible in times of persecution and hardship.  Since the people of the underground church are all “family” in a very real sense, they will not only edify (build up, or strengthen) each other spiritually, but assist each other physically.  This can take many forms, including provision of food, medicines, or other supplies; hiding members who are being sought by the authorities; passing vital information back and forth; and so on.  The last two chapters of this paper will develop these themes more fully.

The function of the Church can be summed up in the following ministries:
• To teach Scripture;
•  To hold members accountable to Scripture;
•   To expose and warn against false teachings and teachers;
•  To evangelize the lost;
•  To provide fellowship;
•  To provide opportunities for cor¬porate worship;
•  To pray for one another;
•  To bear one another’s burdens;
•  To minister to those in need spiri¬tually and temporally.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have com¬manded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The teaching ministry is to be in the hands of men who hold Scripture in the highest regard. It isn’t enough to be¬lieve that God’s Word is inerrant and wholly inspired by the Holy Spirit; a teacher of God’s Word must avoid inte¬grating with Scripture other theological “truths” found in human philosophies.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

It is one thing to teach God’s Word; it is another thing to hold the people accountable to what has been taught. The Church has no business holding its members accountable to anything other than the Bible. The reason for the scan¬dals that followed the shepherding movement was that the shepherds were intruding into areas of personal living that were outside their rightful domain.  Unfaithful shepherds will either abuse the flock by demanding obedi¬ence to dictates not found in God’s Word, or will neglect the flock by not holding them strictly to the demands of God’s Word. Either way, they are failing those whom God has entrusted to their care. 

The proper approach to account¬ability will provide a loving but firm hand upon those entrusted to the church’s leadership. The process will include—both corporately and indi¬vidually—instruction in righteousness according to Scripture. It will include encouragement to remain faithful to God’s Word, exhortation to take a stand for God’s Word, and reproof and re¬buke for not adhering to God’s Word. It will also include discipline when needed as a consequence for not obey¬ing God’s Word.

Finally, it will require exposure and even dis-fellowshipping for rebelling against correction meant to bring one into conformity to God’s Word.  Those who refuse correction after one or two admonitions are to be re¬moved from the fellowship (Titus 3:10). This doesn’t leave much room for bear¬ing with rebellion. But leadership must be sure that the thing to which they are demanding obedience is clearly stated in God’s Word, and is not based upon tradition or theological biases.  It is extremely important, however, to stress that genuine love and concern for a brother’s soul must be the basis for all discipline. Let those who would im¬pose such discipline examine them¬selves first to see if they are not condemning a brother for their own sins.

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remem¬ber, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

Many Christians are critical of those who expend time and effort to ex¬pose false teachings both inside and outside of the Church. They insist that we are only to preach the Gospel and not judge others; the Holy Spirit will do that. But if this were true, false teach¬ings would not proliferate as they have throughout the centuries. The ecclesias¬ticism that characterizes most churches would not exist today; cults would not so easily spring up to lure people away from the truth.
To hold to the position that the Church is only to preach the Gospel and not expose error contrary to the Gospel is to fail to preach the whole Gospel. It looks at the Gospel as only conveying the message of salvation through the blood of Christ, without re¬gard to the rest of Scripture’s instruc¬tions. In effect, it births souls into the Kingdom of God, but doesn’t nurture them or protect them from danger, which any good parent would do for their child. What good parent would give birth, and then leave it up to God to take care of their child’s welfare, re¬fusing to feed it, clothe it, or instruct it on the dangers of life?  Yet that is what many pastors do with those under their care. They avoid the controversy of confronting spiritual error, and do not employ scriptural dis¬cipline for fear of losing members.

If there were ever a time in history that the Church must warn against false teachings and false teachers, this is that time. And it is in keeping with scrip¬tural prophecy that as we approach the end of this age evil will wax worse, and false prophets will proliferate:  And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

For many shall come in my name, saying, l am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.  Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.  And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.  And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.  But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matthew 24:3-13)

Almost all of the New Testament writers warned of deception and urged the brethren to put up their guards. De¬fense of the Faith is as important to spiritual life in the Church as defense against wolves is to the shepherd guarding his flock. It is important that everyone with knowledge of error—es¬pecially the shepherds of God’s flock—warn the people against error and earnestly contend for the Faith Jude 3).

We often categorize sins according to how we perceive their relative evil. Yet Scripture places among these despi¬cable sins “any other thing that is con¬trary to sound doctrine.” If men will preach against other evils, why do they not preach against false doctrine?

We see that the Scriptures have much to say about teaching and adhering to sound doc¬trine. But this is only possible if sound doctrine is contrasted with false doc¬trine, much of which sounds scriptural to the unlearned. This, without a doubt, would require that pastors study hard to keep up with the various winds of doctrine that are affecting their charges through the Christian media and else¬where. They must know what the en¬emy is saying so they can counter the error with sound doctrine. Naiveté and ignorance do not excuse those whose life work is serving God’s people.

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (II Timothy 4:5)

All believers are called to be wit¬nesses and to evangelize the lost, and there are those gifted with evangelistic fervor who may or may not hold the of¬fice of evangelist.  There is a place for mass evangel¬ism as evidenced by Scripture (Acts 2:41; 4:4). But during times of persecu¬tion, mass evangelism will not be practi¬cal (unless somehow the Holy Spirit accomplishes it).  One-on-one evangelism is still the mainstay of the ministry. Our personal witness carries much weight when com¬bined with God’s Word.  Yet every fellowship should have an evangelist among the eldership. The evangelist primarily concerns himself with the lost who are brought into the fellowship to be witnessed to.  This does not mean that the evan¬gelist may not also function as a pastor, teacher, apostle or prophet. But it is primarily he who should confront the un¬believer and offer him an opportunity to surrender his life to Christ. This is a gift often neglected in the modern churches where confrontation is often avoided at all costs. In most churches evangelization is limited to missionary work outside the fellowship—often in foreign countries.

While missionary work is an im¬portant aspect of a church’s ministry, it does not meet the immediate need to present the Gospel to unbelievers in its midst. These are usually left with an ap¬peal from the pulpit to “come to Jesus” so He can alleviate their troubles. And while He does often alleviate our trou¬bles, that is an erroneous premise upon which to base the Gospel message.  It is important that people be made aware of their sinful nature and their inability to please God with their works apart from faith in Jesus Christ.  Bringing someone to church in the hope that something said from the pul¬pit will cause them to “accept Christ” is, at best, a weak attempt at evangeliza¬tion. It exposes the unbeliever to a ge¬neric gospel that may or may not convict him of sin and lead him to re¬pentance.  Most appeals in the churches to “accept Christ” focus on the benefits of salvation without mention of the conse¬quences of following Christ: tribula¬tions, rejection by friends and family, loss of jobs, ridicule by former associ¬ates with whom they had engaged in sinful activities, persecution and possi¬ble torture and death for the sake of the Gospel.

There are those who believe that counting the cost must come after one is convinced to follow the Lord due to the preaching of his need for Christ. After he makes the commitment he must be told to count the cost.  Others believe that he must first be convinced of his need to surrender to Christ, but before he is encouraged to make a commitment he should be told of the consequences.

This latter position is based on the belief that the former position might cause one to violate his stated commit¬ment, which could bring a greater judg¬ment upon him. In either case, Jesus Himself tells us to count the cost before choosing to follow Him:  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.  And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?  Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.  Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is yet a great way off he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.  So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?
It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 15:25-35)

Jesus never made it easy to follow Him—certainly not as easy as those who preach today’s incomplete gospel appear to make it.  To ignore the consequences of following Christ as a disciple—not merely as a “Christian”—is to defraud the lis¬tener. What lies behind the watered-down gospel is a fear of rejection and a desire to just “get them in the door” and let the Holy Spirit take it from there.  By God’s mercy, some do enter that way and become strong disciples of the Lord.  But that does not negate the cow¬ardice of the preacher or absolve him of responsibility for failing to present the true Gospel in its entirety.

People new to the gathering must be asked by the elders what they be¬lieve and why they believe it. New members must be given time to prove their faithfulness to Christ and to the brethren before being asked to minister. Too often new people are placed into leadership based on perceived “spiritual gifts” (in reality merely natural talents).  If the people are truly humble and possess the other characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit they will submit to the requirement of testing their faith. If they do not wish to submit to it, or if they insist they are qualified to minis¬ter, they are, in fact, not qualified and must be instructed of that fact.

Most churches operate on an “open door policy,” publicly inviting everyone to join them in their services. The idea is to reach the unchurched and increase the membership roles. This policy is ac¬ceptable for evangelistic ministry and for the synagogue or teaching center, which most of today’s churches are. But it reflects an improper understanding of the Church’s primary purpose.

The Church is the family of God. It is meant to be a closed community wherein the brethren gather to share their common Faith. To open its doors to all corners invites a weakening of the fam¬ily structure. It places more importance upon unbelievers who think they are Christians than it does upon the family of God itself. For the Underground Church it could be dangerous.

All sorts of ungodly elements come through the doors of the churches. This results in corruption of the body of be¬lievers. Transients are not held account¬able for the errors they introduce among the congregants, or for their per¬sonal sins which remain secret for lack of familiarity between them and the eld¬ership. As a result, God’s people are found worshipping Him in the company of heathens. Although some churches practice “closed communion,” making the elements available only for mem¬bers, many offer them at the discretion of the recipients rather than on the basis of known fellowship in the Spirit.  By transients I am not referring only to those who visit on occasion; many long-standing members are tran¬sients in that they do not submit to the authority of the church, or do not wish to be active participants within the body of believers. Nor is the eldership in an open-door-policy church inclined to hold the people accountable. But, then, how can they if they don’t know the people?

This does not mean that a totally closed-door policy should be followed. It merely means that, ideally, anyone outside the body who would come into the congregation should be brought by invitation of a member of that body. If the person is unsaved, the purpose must be to expose that person to the Gospel on a personal level, ministered by those qualified to relate the Gospel and explain the consequences of turn¬ing to Christ for salvation. Any open-door policy should be according to the discretion of the eldership as they see the purpose and consider the conse¬quences of that policy.

Because of today’s easy-believism preached from corrupt pulpits, and the haste to promote people, the churches are filled with backsliders, malcontents, re¬bellious, argumentative and disrespectful wives and children, and sin of every sort.  Because the pure Word of God has been blended with human wisdom, a sense of holiness and fear toward God are lacking. And without fear of God, wisdom is lacking (Psalm 111:10).  Because wisdom is lacking, the people are falling into snares, and spiri¬tual death is raising a stench in the nos¬trils of God (Proverbs 10:21).
In every good sense, the Body of Christ is to be separated from the world’s evils while at the same time living in the world as salt and light. But if the salt has lost its savor…

And let us consider one an¬other to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 1024-25)

Strength is found in numbers. The Lord knows our need to be among those of like mind in the Faith. For the most part the believer’s time is spent in the world, being bombarded by sensual am peals to his fleshly appetites. Even nor¬mal day-to-day activities take their toll. It is imperative that we receive strength from one another so that we may be able to stand in the day of trial and tempta¬tion. In fact, almost every day is a day of trial and temptation, often bringing sor¬row and/or pain in some form.

Fellowship in the Body of Christ al¬lows for the bearing of one another’s burdens; it allows for opportunities to have doubts quelled, questions an¬swered, and godly fellowship built.  If we are in constant close fellow¬ship with the saints we are less likely to succumb to temptations; our conscience will not allow for godly conversation in the midst of personal guilt, and we will not want that conflict to exist. The pres¬ence of godly people helps godly peo¬ple. Fellowship with ungodly people will corrupt (I Corinthians 15:33).

It is not enough to fellowship for a few hours during and after a church service. Fellowship must be engaged in on a consistent basis. The first-century Church gathered daily in different homes to hear the Word of God, and to fellowship with one another.  The early Church custom of com¬bining the gathering for worship, praise and teaching, along with a corporate meal and hours of fellowship on the Sabbath (and even daily), was replaced by ecclesiastical services which relied upon clerics for intercession and all par¬ticipation. Eventually choirs took the place of spontaneous contribution of song by the congregants. The mass took the place of the community meal, and the priests’ sermons took the place of preaching and teaching by the elders.

In most cases Protestantism shook off the priesthood by name, but re¬tained the clergy-laity concept. The peo¬ple were allowed to sing, but only at the behest of sanctioned worship leaders and often only in concert with the choir. The communion, while not the idola¬trous ritual of Roman Catholicism, is still administered by the pastor who blesses the bread and the cup. The cor¬porate meal is seldom found in most churches except on special occasions such as holiday celebrations.

Ideally, the gathering together should have no time constraints, and all-day participation should be encour¬aged, allowing for people to arrive and leave as they desire. And everyone should be encouraged to contribute to the service provided they are known to be true believers of good report. This would alleviate the stranger-to-stranger casual contact most churches generate by their impersonal and clergy-laity at¬mosphere.

But what about the mega-churches? These require more than one service; there must be time constraints to allow for each service to remain on schedule.
Remember, we are addressing the conditions for the Church in the last days. The days of the megachurch are numbered. And, frankly, if a church is too big to do things properly then it’s too big, period. Better that it divide it¬self into more autonomous, local groups that allow for more participation.

Were the gathering held over a pe¬riod of hours, people could come and go as their needs required, or as the Lord allowed under difficult circum¬stances. The meal could be planned for a certain time to allow for convenience, as could some of the teaching and some of the worship, but all else, including additional teaching and worship, should be relatively spontaneous. That additional preaching, teaching, prayer, praise, worship and ministry could be engaged in throughout the day, sometimes in small groups apart from the main if the Spirit leads.  In this way the family of God would be just that—a family in the true sense of the word. Unbelievers who are brought by members would marvel at the love and close fellowship. They would know we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another. As it is, they are brought to sterile proceedings conducted under formal auspices and polite non-committal greetings.

Formalism and politeness should not be confused with reverence and consideration. If all things are to be done decently and in order (I Corin¬thians 14:40), then reverence toward God and consideration of one another is imperative. But formalism and polite¬ness are reserved for strangers, not for family members.  The application of reverence and consideration still allow for spontane¬ous and full involvement by the whole family of God.

In today’s transient society, this is extremely difficult. Many desire such fellowship, but there are few others of like mind—who insist on purity of doc¬trine and practice—to provide for it. So we do the best we can by keeping our associations primarily among the breth¬ren, on as consistent a basis as we can.  Some may argue in favor of the forms they are used to, and that’s okay. What I offer here is meant to cause thought on how the body of believers may better honor God and allow par¬ticipation by all who feel led by the Spirit to praise Him at any given time, provided all is done in order and does not interrupt what is taking place at the moment. If someone is praying, prophe¬sying, teaching or preaching, they should not be interrupted by someone who feels “moved” to take the lead. This is the consideration aspect of fellowship.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

We all have need to worship our Creator. While this may be accom¬plished on the individual level, there is something uniquely edifying in corpo¬rate worship. The infectious atmosphere of group praise results in a heightened sense of belonging to the family of God. This has a beneficial effect upon our spiritual walk.

How the corporate body worships is important. Scripture indicates that spontaneous praise in word and song, led by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, should be the norm (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Music to God’s ears is not always the same as music to our ears. We listen to the sounds while He hears the heart sing.  Now, not just any sound is accept¬able for worship and praise. The main¬taining of reverence, even while making a “joyful noise” is important.  If anyone does get out of hand, it is up to the elders to maintain control so that all things are done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:40).

Whatever form the worship takes, those leading should consider whether it appeals to the soul or to the spirit. We often mistake good feelings for spiritu¬ality when, in fact they may be carnal. This doesn’t mean that when we are truly fed spiritually it doesn’t produce good feelings. But the criterion that should guide us is whether or not the worship causes us to focus on the object of our worship or on the feelings themselves.  This is often a fine line, but we should be on safe ground if we keep all things within the scope of reverence and sobriety, notwithstanding that it may also be joyous as opposed to “happy.”

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. (Colos¬sians 1:9)

Prayer is one aspect of ministry that can be – and indeed must be – entered into by all members of the Body. Inter¬cession is important to our realization of other’s needs, and to the demonstra¬tion of love for them.  There are no qualifications for prayer other than that we live our lives in such a way that our prayers are not hindered. This is illustrated in Paul’s exhortation to husbands to honor their wives as weaker vessels, yet equal in their relationship to God:
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

This instruction, however, does not apply only to the husband-wife rela¬tionship, but to every relationship with man and with God. For this verse is in the context of godly living:
Likewise, ye wives, be in sub¬jection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.  Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.  For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.  Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.  Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.  For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil~ and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. (I Peter 3:1-12)

A woman who is not in subjection to her husband has no more confidence in answered prayer than a husband who does not love and honor his wife. Nor, for that matter, does anyone who is not being obedient or walking in the love of God toward all men.  The requirement for prayer is that we live righteously before God and men. This righteousness is not a false piety, but a humble attitude that sub¬mits to the commandments of the Lord as stated in Scripture. At the heart of all of the Lord’s commandments is the command to love not only ‘those who love us, but those who hate us.

It is love for God and for man that forms the basis for all righteousness in our thoughts and practices. And, again, while we are justified by faith, and not by the deeds of the law, we cannot willfully (holding a rebellious attitude without repentance) disobey God’s commandments and still be saved. This is why James wrote that faith without works is dead, being alone (James 2:26).  The evidence of our obedience to God’s commandments is our adherence to the command to love one another in the manner prescribed by Scripture:
Let love be without dissimula¬tion. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.  Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.  Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.  Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.  Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.  Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.  If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:9-18)

Is it more clear now, what Jesus meant when He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)?  The word “perfect” (Greek, teleios) signifies having reached maturity.  It is argued that maturity does not equate to sinlessness, but to a general spiritual growth. This is true, as long as we do not lean upon it as an excuse to continue in sin. While we will never be sinless as long as we remain in the flesh, God does expect us to strive for perfection in our spiritual life. Our flesh may continue to wage warfare against us, but we must exercise our own wills to resist the flesh:

There is therefore now no con¬demnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.  And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.  Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die. but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans 8:1-14)

It was not my intention to digress from the subject of prayer to that of holy living. But as we study God’s Word on the subject of prayer, we see that it cannot be separated from holy living. Many who adhere to other relig¬ions pray to One they do not know.  But the same can be said about many who call themselves Christians. They have not grasped the true, holy character of God; they think of Him as some being who is disposed to meet their demands for comfort in this life. Holiness (which is really another word for separation from sin and from the love of the world) is God’s character; it is also to be the character of His children.

Now, there are times when we are not to pray for others—that is, for relief from their suffering. Why should we pray for a rebellious person? Better that he continue in suffering so that he may recognize his need to surrender to God.  If we are to pray in the Spirit, we must be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in others. If God is chastening a brother for his sins, we must agree with that chastening and instruct that brother to repent; otherwise there is no prayer for his suffering. Yet we do not altogether refrain from praying for him. We should pray that God’s work be done in his life.

This is illustrated by Paul’s seem¬ingly extreme measure of commanding the Corinthian brethren to turn one of their own over to Satan for the destruc¬tion of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved (I Corinthians 5:5).  In all things, not the least in prayer, we are to be led by the Holy Spirit. Let us therefore examine ourselves to see if we are in the Faith, and if there is anything that might be hindering our prayers.

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, re¬store such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.  Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.  But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For every man shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:1-5)

Intrinsically linked to prayer is the scriptural admonition to bear one an¬other’s burdens. It does not mean that we should take another’s burden upon ourselves past the point where he can bear the burden himself. Each must be brought to the place where he may be¬gin to bear the burdens of others, and not be a drain upon the resources of those upon whom he must depend for a time. This is individual ministry, not corporate.

The Scripture verses above might at first seem contradictory. The problem lies in the words translated “burdens” (v. 2) and “burden” (v. 5). In verse 2, we are commanded to bear one another’s burdens (Gr. Baros: weight, load, bur¬den; something that presses down upon us). In verse 5, we are told that each man must prove his own work or min¬istry, by bearing his own burden (Gr. phortion: a task or service). The task (phortion) for each of us, is to bear the burdens (baros) of others. It is the law of Christ (love) that is fulfilled when we do this. To not do this is to esteem our¬selves too highly, which is contrary to God’s Word:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

When Paul speaks of not doing anything through strife, he is saying that we must not be contentious with one another, particularly for the sake of our vanity. Rather, we are to look upon others as better than ourselves. Yet this does not negate the need for contention when it comes to standing for truth or righteousness. If a brother is in sin, or an elder or pastor is acting unjustly, each must be confronted with his sin. This will often lead to contention; but if we are on scriptural grounds, and not just contending for contention’s sake, or to exert our own will, then the sin of contention falls upon those who refuse scriptural correction.  It is humility before the Lord that causes us to contend for the Faith and for righteousness. This is evidenced by the fact that these verses immediately precede Paul’s instructions to have the mind of Christ, which is one of humility:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and be¬came obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

So we see that our heavenly Father wants us to be obedient, just as Jesus was obedient. For this is the evidence of our humility. Yet outward piety is in it¬self insufficient for conformity to the law of love. All things must be done by faith, relying upon the Holy Spirit to convict us of the need to conform to God’s Word where we might be lack¬ing, and then respond accordingly.

There are many areas in which we must bear one another’s burdens, and often this requires a great deal of sacri¬fice on our part. With the present-day emphasis upon psychological theory that sets boundaries for service lest we be taken advantage of, it is easy to find excuses not to help others. But Scripture doesn’t set boundaries.  How often do we have the means to help a brother in need through no fault of his own, yet we guard it greed¬ily. We allow ourselves to be put under the burden of tithing to our church, but will not give beyond that because we consider it the church’s responsibility to provide for the brethren. This is no dif¬ferent than relying upon the welfare state to take care of those whose care is legitimately charged to us.

In some cases it is advisable to take advantage of the welfare offered through the state. But as much as is in our power as believers in Christ, we should not be party to perpetuating a system that has usurped the role of the family and of the Church in meeting the needs of our relations.  This is expanded in the next section.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.  As we have therefore opportu¬nity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Gala¬tians 6:9-10)

An important function of the Church is to care for its members. In contrast to bearing one another’s burdens, this is corporate ministry, not individual.  Yet because the modern churches are largely impersonal, the needs of in¬dividuals often go unnoticed. People are reticent to seek help from strangers. And a congregation whose leadership stands somewhat aloof will inspire few genuinely hurting people to seek help whether spiritual or temporal. Often the closest contact people have to their pas¬tor is limited to a handshake at the door. And that is meant for them to compliment him on his eloquence rather than to seek solace for their par¬ticular need. Of course, they can make an appointment with his secretary for a set time for counseling.

Benevolence committees help where they can, but those in charge are also often strangers to the vast majority of congregants—especially in large churches. Fellowships that multiply themselves into more fellowships at the point when they begin to become less personal are more able to minister to the needs of one another. They are also more intimidating to people who do not want to get too intimately known. But this latter problem is not really a prob¬lem for true believers who see the need to sacrifice themselves for others.

When one’s needs are made known to the fellowship, it should be deter¬mined by the eldership how best to meet those needs, whether spiritual, fi¬nancial or of any other nature. In all cases, wisdom is paramount. We may do more harm than good by seeking to alleviate every adverse condition un¬conditionally.  Is a brother attempting to help him¬self without being a burden to others? Or is he taking advantage of the love of the brethren?

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.  But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (II Thessalonians 3:10-15)

All of the questions of need, necessity, and personal responsibility factor into the decision of whether to help and how much to help. In any case, it is up to godly eldership, guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit, to make the final decisions in these matters.  Generosity coupled with prudence should mark the charity of a church body just as it should that of individu¬als. Limited help to those outside the Body of Christ may also be allowed, provided the same criteria apply.

When considering the structure of the underground church, we must remember that, by its’ very nature, the church will have to operate differently than it does now.  The status quo will not be feasi¬ble for a church that must function un¬derground.  When you cannot simply congregate at a specific building at a specific hour each week, and openly show that you are there by having the parking lot filled with cars, and have a big sign on the front proclaiming what you are, it will mean that we must adapt to a different way of doing things, and a different leadership structure in order to function.

The primary need of the underground church is the development of BIBLICAL modes of leadership.  The modern method of selecting one man as “the pastor”, and requiring him to fulfill all of the duties of pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, and apostle completely negates the New Testament method of plurality of leadership, with each individual in the local church developing and using their spiritual gifts to build up the church.  We have created a “spectator sport” church that has a group of people sit in the pews and do nothing, while watching one or two men do their “thing” on the platform and behind the pulpit.  This will not work when the church has to go underground!

Every Christian will have to take an active part in the function of the church in order for it to survive.  To meet the needs of preaching, teaching, evangelizing, organizing new groups as necessary, counseling, sharing resources to meet physical needs, providing for each others safety, and so on will require that everyone use the gifts and abilities that God has given them.  The leadership will HAVE to maintain sound doctrine and discipline, the deacons will HAVE to administer to the needs of people, the evangelists will HAVE to use discernment in their approaching people with the Gospel, and so on.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edify¬ing of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

The adage, “No man is an island unto himself” is best exemplified within the congregation of the saints of God. Not only can man not come to full ma¬turity in his social, business and other human endeavors, the believer in Christ cannot come to maturity in the Faith without submission to proper leader¬ship within the Body of Christ.  Note the word “proper.” Many be¬lievers in Christ have encountered expe¬riences in their churches that have been at or near two extremes:

• Authoritarian, cult-like domina¬tion by spiritual leaders;
• Insufficient discipleship and im¬proper application of God’s Word to fully equip the saints in their quest for attainment of Christlikeness.

Both often result in loss of faith in Christ and an aversion to authority. At best they may result in immaturity and lack of understanding of what God re¬quires of His people. Both work con¬trary to the best interests of the individual and of the Body of Christ as a whole. For those who do not com¬pletely cast off faith in Christ, these ex¬tremes can lead toward a go-it-alone attitude.  There are many who claim that they don’t need “church.” Everything they’ve encountered has discouraged them from trusting in leadership within the Body of Christ.  Without realizing it, what they re¬ally mean is that they don’t need im¬proper leadership. And they are right. But they are wrong if they think they can continue to walk apart from the Body of Christ and still attain to spiri¬tual maturity.

And let us consider one an¬other to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

It isn’t enough to study God’s Word on one’s own and keep to oneself, for that would be contrary to the Scriptures one claims to believe. While the Holy Spirit may give insight on the basis of one’s personal study, it is not God’s will that His children grow up unattended and without opportunities to be ministered to, and to minister to others.  This will be particularly important when we, as Christians, are having to live and function in a “hostile enviroment”.

The purpose of leadership is to pro¬vide the means by which God’s people may be fitly joined together, bringing about the unity of the Faith that will strengthen the corporate body as well as the individual.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. (Proverbs 27:17)

Now there are diversities of gjfts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.  For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gift of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.  For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?  But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?  But now are they many members, yet but one body.  And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.  For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.  And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (I Corinthians 12:4-27)

Every member of the Body is impor¬tant to the whole. Every member has been gifted by God to contribute to what is lacking in all the other members.  It is up to the leadership to culti¬vate the gifts of the individual mem¬bers. Leadership has largely failed to do this, preferring instead to cultivate the natural talents of worldly-wise people. They have mistaken natural talent for spiritual gifts, often because they have relied upon currently popular psycho¬logically-based “spiritual gifts” surveys.  Because of this failure on the part of leadership, true believers are discour¬aged from continuing under that leader¬ship’s direction. Paul’s lesson in I Corinthians 12 does not end at delineating the impor¬tance of every member of the body.

For he places that importance within the context of submission to proper leader¬ship: And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.  Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?  Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?  But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. (I Corinthians 12:28-31)

The more excellent way is love as outlined in Chapter 13. Yet even love cannot be fully manifested in an indi¬vidual believer’s life unless that believer is functioning within the Body of Christ.  Certainly he may be able to do good works motivated by love; he may be able to accomplish much in the way of personal growth and understanding of God’s Word. But apart from the cor¬porate Body of Christ he will never at¬tain to the full stature of maturity that God intends. He will always be lacking. 

The proper term for this heading should probably be “Ministries,” rather than “Offices.” In considering this, I felt that, for lack of a better term, that of “Offices” delineates between the anointed position for a particular minis¬try as opposed to the functioning of a particular ministry that may be per¬formed by any gifted member of the Body of Christ. For example, the office of pastor is conferred upon one who meets the qualifications of eldership, and whose gifting is for the pastoral care of the Body as a whole. This is con¬trasted with the gifting of caring for other individuals given on occasion to other members of the Body. So the term offices must be understood within this context.

Whether Paul was speaking in Ephesians 4:11 of one office called “pas¬tor-teacher,” or two distinct offices— one called “pastor,” the other “teacher”—is open to debate. Many of today’s pastors prefer to claim the combined title. This makes little difference, simply because all elders must be able to teach, with the exception of deacons. In fact, the office of pastor is not even mentioned in I Corinthians 12, whereas all the other of¬fices are. This could be taken as evi¬dence that the mention of “teacher” suffices for that of pastor as well.

Due to tradition, there has been a distinction made between the idea of elder as opposed to that of bishop. The office of bishop is not one replete with pomp and circumstance, clerical collars, flowing robes and mitered hats. This is another invention of ecclesiasticism born out of Roman Catholicism.  In some Protestant congregations, particularly within the “high church” denominations such as the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, etc., there are bishops assigned to oversee the parish pastors. The heady nature of “bishopry” in the modern age has even infected some of the charismatic churches. This is really the role of an apostle, who is merely one of the elders.  Peter is one example. He refers to himself as an apostle and fellow elder (sumpresbuteros) in I Peter 5:1:  The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.

Scripture demonstrates that the term elder is synonymous with that of bishop:
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in or¬der the things that are wanting, and ordain elders [presbuterosl in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.  For a bishop [episkopos] must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to ex¬hort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:5-9)

So the title of bishop is properly as¬signed to the elders who rule the churches and minister to the congregation’s needs, both spiritual and temporal.  Some believe that this means that the bishops are to be ordained from among the elders, but that they are not necessarily synonymous. But in view of the consistent use of the term bishop to describe the duties of elders by Paul in his letters to both Timothy and Titus, this would not seem to be the case.

The apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers are all elders. In view of the centuries-old misuse of the term and office of bishop as one of higher rank, it would be more advantageous to use the term “overseer”’ today. Primar¬ily, we’ll use the term “elder.”  The term “elder” comes from the Greek “presbuteros,” meaning someone who is older in terms of age. It has a secondary meaning which connotes higher rank. In Israel the elders were the learned men of the Sanhedrin, as well as the administrators of the city. All were expected to be of impeccable character and reliable in the administra¬tion of their duties. They rightly de¬served special honor among the people. The fact that the elders of Israel did not attain that position easily or at a young age contributed to the synonymous us¬age of the term elder for both age and wisdom in the Faith.  It is not to be any less the case in the Church.

From where did the practice of ro¬tating elders in terms of office come? Certainly Scripture does not suggest that the office of an elder is subject to re¬election. When does a man cease to be an elder? An elder is an elder for life unless he sins and fails to repent. Even if an elder sins it should be the object of the fellowship to restore him, not to dis¬card him. Even after he can no longer function in his office due to age or dis¬ability he should still be honored as an elder.
Neither the position of “elder” nor that of “deacon,” as they are acquired and maintained in most of the churches today, are scriptural. They are born out of Protestant tradition which is only slightly different from that of Roman Catholicism.

All elders must be able to teach God’s Word. The pastors (or shepherds) are particularly gifted to guide the flock into the truth, but they are by no means the only ones who teach.  This doesn’t mean elders must merely possess a particular skill known as “teaching.” It means they must be able to rightly communicate the Word of God in a congregational setting. The ability to teach is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with unique anointing for all elders, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists or pastor-teachers.

Qualifications For Elders/Bishops
Scripture gives clear guidelines for the qualifications required for anyone who would aspire to be an elder:
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he de¬sireth a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (I Timothy 3:1-7)

In either case, these qualifications are necessary for all elders. And given these strict requirements according to God’s Word, it is little wonder that many true believers are concerned about the condi¬tion of their fellowships. Few men in the first-century Church met these qualifica¬tions. How fewer still meet them today after having been so far removed from the authority of the original apostles?

Many pastors cannot control their own children, yet they will not relin¬quish their livelihood for the sake of scriptural purity. Many elders are ap¬pointed or elected according to their natural talents, popularity, or even fi¬nancial standing, rather than according to biblical qualifications. Perhaps in some churches no one would meet these qualifications. Then why are they functioning as churches except that they have a franchise charter from a de¬nominational superstructure?

Duties Of Elders/Bishops
Scripture also outlines the duties of the elders:
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (I Peter 5:1-3)

The elders are commissioned to rule the Church, which means they are to keep the flock in line with God’s Word. They are not to keep it in line with their particular agenda. This is why Peter says they are not to lord it over the flock; they are to be true ser¬vants to the people in their hearts and in their actions. How different this is to the role taken by many pastors today.

When Peter says they should feed the flock he implies that they are all pastors to some degree, although the of¬fice of pastor will be seen to be unique to the other offices.  Obviously, pure motives are essen¬tial to the duties of elders. Constraint does not mean merely functioning un¬der protest; it also means functioning without pure motives.

The term apostle derives from the Greek, apostolos, lit., “one sent forth” (apo, “from,” stello, “to send”). The word is used of the Lord to describe His relation to God, (Hebrews. 3:1). The original Twelve chosen by the Lord were called Apostles. Paul, though he had encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, had not “companied with” the Lord “all the time” of His earthly ministry, and hence was not eli¬gible for a place among them, according to Peter’s description of the necessary qualifications (Acts 1:22). Paul was commissioned directly by the Lord Himself, after His Ascension, to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles.

It is argued that there are no apos¬tles today; the office was done away af¬ter the original eleven and Paul died.  It is true that there are no apostles of the same stature of Paul and the other twelve who had personal encoun¬ters with Jesus. But nowhere in Scrip¬ture are we told that apostles are only those who walked with the Lord. This is a presupposition based upon faulty theology.  We must, of course, make a distinc¬tion between the original Apostles and those who followed after.

The true apostle will not allow those under his care to stray from the purity of God’s Word. His authority is backed up by his ability to persuade the Eldership as a whole and the congrega¬tion as a whole not to follow those who would subvert their faith.  In turn, the apostle is accountable to the body for his own adherence to Scripture. If he fails he is to be judged as a false apostle (Revelation 2:2).

Apostles today do not define the Faith which has been once and for all defined through the Scriptures. Nor are the signs of an apostle that Paul iterated in II Corinthians 12:12 necessarily fol¬lowing today’s apostles for several rea¬sons:

• The original twelve were commis¬sioned to establish the Church; in practical terms, they operated in all the offices—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers;

• The miracles they performed were part of that unique role, neces¬sary to demonstrate to the people the transition of authority from the priests of Israel to the elders of the Church;

• There has been a great lack of faith in the Church since the apostasy began in the third century;

• The churches are still largely apostate and lacking in proper leadership.

Nor do today’s apostles offer new revelations upon which the Faith is to be based and the believers to be held ac¬countable. But they are the true elder¬ship of the local church—those looked up to by the rest of the eldership as hav¬ing attained a status of honor due to their long service to the Lord and their faithfulness to His Word.  They plant congregations and over¬see them until they come to maturity. They may or may not then move on to plant other churches. Another word for apostle today is missionary, although not all missionaries are apostles, but many are evangelists.

We should not be afraid of the word apostle merely because of the abuses committed by false apostles. The office is really not as imposing as some make it out to be. When the apostle’s service is rendered in a spirit of humility and sub¬mission to the rest of the elders he is not to be feared, but honored.  As far as the number of apostles a fellowship should have, Scripture gives no indication. Let the Lord have His way and all things will be done de¬cently and in order.

When the term “prophet” is men¬tioned there immediately springs to most minds the image of a bearded, sack-cloth-clad person who proclaims doom and gloom upon those unheedful of his proclamations. The Old Testa¬ment prophet who could call down fire from heaven or pronounce death or worse upon his adversaries is no longer among us. Today’s prophet is one who calls the local body into accountability to God’s Word. He does not prophesy new revelations that require the breth¬ren’s obedience.  The prophet has the gift of discern¬ment to a large measure. He discerns er¬ror in teaching and practice and warns of the consequences if those espousing that error remain unrepentant.  Does God give revelation to His prophets, or are they to concern them¬selves only with discerning and speak¬ing relative to Scripture? There is nothing in God’s Word that would hinder a true prophet from receiving a word from the Lord warning of im¬pending crisis, or coming blessing for that matter. There are reports out of the underground Church in other countries where prophetic words warned of dan¬ger to the saving of many.
The reason we don’t experience such things in the West is that we largely don’t believe in them. We don’t need them; we’re rich and increased in goods. Who needs God’s prophets when the Church is so “holy”?

The true prophet is not a popular fig¬ure except among those who love God’s Word without equivocation. That is, those who esteem Scripture as the only source of spiritual truth. Those who love true prophets hate human wisdom. Those called to task by the prophet for adding other “truths” to their teachings more often than not resist the prophet’s appeals for repentance.  Today the prophet is not stoned for his audacity to hold church leadership accountable. Rather, he is politely ne¬glected and/or spoken of in ridiculing terms. Most churches do not recognize their prophets as prophets, but as trouble makers who stir up the waters.  Women may function as prophet¬esses, because God’s Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). However, the office of prophet as one of the elders is reserved for men (I Timothy 2:12).

A truly biblical church holds its prophets in high regard while at the same time not neglecting to test the prophets by their own pronounce¬ments.  In a sense, the apostle is the prophet to the eldership, and the prophet is to hold the apostle, the elder¬ship and the congregation accountable to God’s Word. At the same time, the prophet himself is subject to the apos¬tles, the other elders and the congrega¬tion. All are to be subject to one another, which is the meaning of Ephe¬sians 5:21.

Yet while we are all to be submitted to one another, there is special honor and recognition which must be given those gifted with the offices of apostle and prophet.  This is also true for those women who are truly prophetesses. While they are not allowed to teach in the assem¬bly, there are ample Scriptures to allow for their prophetic voices to be heard, and their words tested by Scripture.

The word evangelist derives from the Greek evangelistes (lit., “a messen¬ger of good”). Other than Ephesians 4:11, which names evangelists among the officers of the churches, it is found only two times in Scripture. The first reference merely names Philip as an evangelist (Acts 21:8); the second is found in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to beware of false teachers and to do the work of an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5).

With such limited reference to the office, it is left to the name itself to de¬fine the function of the evangelist, which traditionally has been assigned to those who preach the Gospel to unbelievers.  An evangelist is not merely one who holds huge crusades in public are¬nas. Most evangelism is to individuals and small groups. Such is far more ef¬fective and its results far more lasting than those of open air arenas.  This is not to dismiss the impor¬tance of mass meetings. The Holy Spirit has used men of God who have brought the Gospel to millions through this means. By the preaching of Peter more than 3,000 souls were added to the Church in one day (Acts 2:41).

To put things in perspective, every believer—man or woman—is supposed to evangelize. But although someone may be gifted with the ability to pro¬claim the Gospel publicly, the office of the evangelist is reserved for men who meet the qualifications of eldership.  Therefore, the evangelists must be part of the governing body of the fel¬lowship in order to bring their unique gift to bear for the edifying of the body and for the building up of the saints.

The evangelists function in the name of the fellowship and bring order and substance to the preaching of the Gospel to non-believers brought into the midst of the congregation.  Some evangelists are emboldened to witness on the streets. This does not mean that their testimony is limited to merely proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected. In keeping with the Lord’s admonition to count the cost be¬fore choosing to follow Him, evangel¬ism must of necessity include a delineation of what God expects of those who claim to trust in Him.  The evangelist must take personal responsibility for those to whom he has witnessed. Sometimes that may not be possible, in which case he must com¬mend those souls to God and trust Him to complete His work in them. But at the least, he should insist that converts under his ministry submit themselves to the eldership of a legitimate church body and unite themselves in fellow¬ship with the saints.  The practice of merely preaching the Word and then moving on, or of referring people to any church that will take them, has proven largely fu¬tile. Many new converts are left to flounder and/or to wind up in apostate churches.

The evangelist does not go out on his own volition, but is sent out by the local body with its blessing and cover¬ing. When sent out for the purpose of  evangelizing, he should be supported by the fellowship so that nothing he re¬quires is lacking. Wages lost through time taken from work should be made up by the fellowship so that his family lacks nothing.  The work of the evangelist is vital to the continuing life and growth of the fellowship. Those who do the work of an evangelist should be highly honored by the brethren.

It is often stated that the reference to pastors and teachers in Ephesians 14:11 implies that this is really one off¬ice combining the duties of pastor and teacher. This is only partly true, for Scripture tells us that all bishops must be able to teach. Since pastors are bish¬ops, they must also be able to teach; but so, too, must the apostles, the prophets and the evangelists, since they also com¬prise the eldership of the church body. To some degree all of the gifts will overlap among the elders as well as among the congregation.

That considered, it seems that Paul was not combining the offices of pastor-teacher, so to speak, but was delineat¬ing a specific office—that of a teacher.  There are men who are qualified for eldership in every respect, but they are not gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists or pastors. These teachers minister the word as a gift in itself. They have the ability to rightly divide the Scriptures, and to relate the truth to the people in a way that touches their spirits, not just their ears.  However, all elders must be allowed to teach, for that is one of the qualifica¬tions for their office.  There are also women teachers, ac¬cording to Titus 2:3-5:
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh ho¬liness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

This is the only scriptural passage that speaks of women as teachers. The rule of the Church is that the bishops are to teach the men” God’s Word; the men, in turn, are to teach their wives and children. However, it is the exam¬ple and the teaching by the elder women that solidifies the young women’s position in relation to their husbands.

It is not really expedient for a man to teach his wife how and why she is to be in submission to him. It is far better if the elder women practiced this rule as an example and taught it to the younger women.  Beyond this, teaching in the Body of Christ is reserved for the bishops, and these are men only. 

I purposely reversed the order of pastors and teachers as outlined in Ephesians 14:11. My reason for doing so is because the office of the modern-day pastor encompasses that of the teacher and often that of all the other offices. So I felt it would be more logical to deal with it last.

Over the centuries, mainly due to the influence of Roman Catholicism, the office of pastor has taken on a connota¬tion that was never intended: a primary ruler of a synagogue, or teaching center, to whom all others are in subjection. This is also the model for the rabbinical office in Judaism, which may have played a role in the early Judaizers in¬fluence in the churches. Even in churches where eldership is more than a rubber stamp for the pastor’s vi¬sion—where pastors are in submission to an “elder board”—the reality is that the pastor fulfills virtually all the offices that Ephesians 4:11 enumerates.

The New Testament word trans¬lated pastor from the Greek is poimen (“a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks”).  Only in Ephesians 4:11 is it ren¬dered as “pastor.” All other New Testa¬ment references (17 in all) are rendered “shepherd” or “shepherds,” and refer to Christ as the Shepherd of our souls, or to actual shepherds of sheep, or are metaphors in Christ’s teachings for keepers of God’s flock.  Interestingly, the Ephesians 4:11 reference to pastors is the only one in Scripture that applies to an office in the Church. For having become the only of¬fice of any real authority in most churches, this is surprising. There is less emphasis upon pastors than upon the other offices which are mentioned sev¬eral times.  Yet while the office of pastor is never elaborated upon, the meaning is clear. A pastor, or shepherd, is one who tends the flock of God. He doesn’t merely feed the flock as any hireling can do. Rather his primary responsibil¬ity is to guard them against spiritual danger and to lead them into pastures of truth. The pastor’s heart is to be one of gentleness and kindness, yet bold in admonishing those straying to remain in the Faith.

The pastor binds the wounds of the flock and carries those he must to safety. If one strays, his heart goes out to the lost sheep and he will search for them until he has found them and brought them back into the fold. He vis¬its the sick and those suffering in other ways. One who does not do these things is not a pastor, no matter what his office is traditionally called. 

More than one pastor is needed in most fellowships, for the work required is often tiring and burdensome.  As with all the other offices, that of the pastor finds similarity in the gifting of others in the congregation. Elder women may pastor the younger women; other men may pastor one an¬other; even young people may pastor other young people to some degree. But the office of the pastor, like all the other offices, is reserved for men who possess the qualifications for eldership.

So sacred is the office of the pastor that God has severe warnings for those who would abuse it (Jeremiah 2:8; 10:21; 12:10; 22:22; 23:1-2; Ezekiel 34:1-10).  It is especially sobering to realize that this sacred trust is representative of the Lord Himself. Throughout the Old and New Testaments He is represented as the good and faithful Shepherd who loves and cares for His flock.  The pastor’s ministry is really to individuals more so than to the group. Some deacons may actually assume the role of pastors to some degree.

There is another class of leaders who oversee the temporal needs of the congregation. These are called deacons (from the Greek, diakonos, which de¬notes an attendant, or waiter at tables or in other menial duties). This word is variously translated “servant,” “minis¬ter,” and, in the case of an office within the Church, “deacon.”  Women are also referred to in their role as servant, but not in relation to the office of a deacon, who must be the hus¬band of one wife (it does not say, “or the wife of one husband”).

In his salutation to the Philippian Church, Paul alludes to a distinction be¬tween the bishops and deacons:
Paul and Timotheus, the ser¬vants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and dea¬cons. (Philippians 1:1)

This does not mean a deacon is any less an elder than any of the other offi¬cers in the Church. The bishops are the teaching and pastoring elders. The dea¬cons are elders who serve the temporal needs of the flock.  The requirements for elders are strict, but no more strict than those for deacons, save for the ability to teach.

We see that deacons must meet all the qualifications that the elders must meet. In a sense, the deacons are really non-teaching elders. For they, too, do the work of the ministry and edify the Body of Christ, working for the perfec¬tion of the saints (Ephesians 4:12).  The only real difference between the elders and the deacons is that the elders must be able to teach God’s Word in a congregational setting. Also, the deacons are not spoken of as rulers over the flock in the way elders are. Yet due to their qualifications they should be af¬forded the same honor as the elders.

All who hold positions of authority in the local congregation comprise the eldership, whether bishops (teaching elders) or deacons (non-teaching elders). Yet even deacons will have great bold¬ness in the faith to preach the Gospel if they use their office well.

When we speak of rules of fellowship, we are not speaking of ritual or how to construct a worship service. We are speaking of rules that guide individual believers in relationship to one another, particularly when they come together for worship, prayer and service. As well, we should be aware of what the Lord requires in all our dealings with one another.  There are certain rules set forth in Scripture which suggest more than just optional acquiescence. These rules are not to be sidestepped if the fellowship is to fulfill the purposes to which it has been called by God.

Be humble of spirit
One rule of fellowship is that we not think of ourselves as better than oth¬ers. Man is naturally inclined toward comparing himself with others, either judging himself as greater or lesser based on righteousness, talents, intel¬lectuality, or on any number of factors. What escapes him, unless confronted by God’s Word, is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; no one is righteous compared to God, or worthy of merit before God:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that under stand¬eth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofit¬able,’ there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3: 10-12)

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Jesus is our example of humility; yet we see by His life that humility does not mean a false piety and milquetoast demeanor. It means honest appraisal of self before God. When we can look at ourselves in the light of Christ, then we will look into the perfect law of love and see how far short we lie; we will be humbled to the point of despair, and will claim, as did the Apostle Paul, that we are the chief of sinners. Only when we come to that place will we be suit¬able for service to God and to man. Only then will we be able to live by the law of love which requires that we surren¬der our personal desires in order to meet the desires of others, provided we not violate Scripture in the process. The mind of Christ must be our own mind as well:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

The mind of Christ is one of humil¬ity; it is not one of self-exaltation. Al¬though the Word of God existed with God, as God from eternity past, He humbled Himself to the point of suffer¬ing at the hands of His own creation for the sake of the Father’s love. It is not possible for love to be expressed with¬out humility. Humility places others before oneself.  In God’s economy, humility and love are virtually synonymous. This means that we should look after the welfare of others even above our own welfare:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowli¬ness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  Look not every man on hw own things, but every man also on the things of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

“Charity” in the Greek is agape— translated “love” throughout Scripture.
The law of love is contrary to human nature. Man is basically selfish in his heart; he fights for his own desires above the desires of others. And it does¬n’t matter how much he protests his love for others, his natural instinct is to look out for number one. Occasionally a person will make sacrifices for the sake of those he does love, but God’s law of love requires that we make those same sacrifices for all others, even our enemies. That law cannot be obeyed until we have first put on humility.

This is especially important in the underground church.  When we are totally dependent upon each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, we must put others ahead of ourselves or else the local group of believers will tear itself apart, with disastrous consequences.  If we allow pride or selfishness to have place among us, we will put all of us at risk of being turned over to the authorities, loss or theft of vital supplies, and so on.  This cannot be allowed in the Body.

If we will walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh to do those things that place our needs and wants above the needs and wants of others. And we will forgive those who trespass against us; we will not seek retribution or vengeance, but will seek their greater good. A true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has the same desire that God has, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (II Peter 3:9).  Especially in the Church must we not take retribution against one who we believe has offended us. God’s Word is clear that if we have anything against a brother we should go to him and ask that he make things right, not for our sakes, but for his:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.  Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.  Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:15-22)

Be the servant of all
Godly humility is a prerequisite for all service in the Body of Christ. The meaning of the word “ministry” is serv¬ice. In the Church it is most often used to denote the service of the eldership toward the body. That is, the elders and deacons, though rulers over the spiri¬tual and temporal affairs of the churches, are to look upon their work as service or ministry to the people.

Sometimes that service means strong confrontation against sin. It is¬n’t for the minister’s sake that this con¬frontation must take place, it is for the sake of the one being ministered to.  Although there are the “official” ministers—the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers, deacons —the burden of service to at least some degree lies upon every member of the Body of Christ.  Service performed out of duty rather than out of love will eventually result in frustra¬tion and, sometimes, despair. We must be able to discern when God is telling us to cease, and we are beginning to act in the flesh rather than in the Spirit.

The general rule is that, if we see a brother in need, we are not to wait to be asked for help; we should offer our help immediately. And we are to give generously as the Lord leads us. How¬ever, we are not to act in the flesh in our giving any more than in any other service to the brethren.  If a brother is lazy and will not provide for himself or for his family, we do him no good service to support his indigence. This is how God’s Word sums it up:
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.  But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (II Thessalonians 3:10-15)

Be kind to all
It should go without saying that love also commands that we be kind to all. Our carelessness in how we treat others often goes undetected. A curt word here, a failure to consider ano¬ther’s feelings there. These can add up to the point where we may alienate brethren in Christ who are prone to be easily offended.

There are certain specifics related to kindness as found in God’s Word:
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one an¬other, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Kindness is not an option; it is an imperative aspect of fellowship within the Body of Christ. Kindness takes all sorts of forms. It is manifested in works of charity; it is revealed in small acts of consideration and politeness.

Judging Righteously
A problem that is systemic in the churches is that of judging un¬righteously. We all have some precon¬ceived ideas of what constitutes right and wrong, not all of which are neces¬sarily grounded in Scripture. Because our conscience is offended by some¬thing, we assume that everyone’s con¬science should be offended by that same thing as well.

I am not speaking of sin as deline¬ated in Scripture, but of practices that may be deemed “questionable” by a religious establishment, by negative experiences or by plain human “reasoning”.  The early Church was already in¬fected by legalists who imposed restric¬tions on food and drink as well as on other practices.  They believed that everyone should do as they did.  However, there is room for variety and individuality in the Body of Christ.   Paul addresses these in Romans 14:

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.  For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.  Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.  One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.  For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.  But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.  Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.  Let not then your good be evil spoken of.  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteous¬ness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.  For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.  For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.  It is- good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemeth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:1-23)

It is significant that these words were penned especially to the church in Rome. In later times that church be¬came apostate and began to impose dire condemnation upon people for eat¬ing certain things at certain times, for not observing special days in special ways, for not abstaining from meat, even forbidding its “priests” to marry. Judgment came through the hierarchy of that church and filtered down through its religious-minded adher¬ents. And that same judgment contin¬ues to this day.  Many Protestant churches have in¬corporated their own lists of taboos which are not supported by Scripture when rightly divided. Some, on the other hand, have thrown off even bibli¬cal restrictions in the name of freedom in Christ. Both approaches are wrong.  Just as God gave everything freely to Adam and Eve, yet forbade them to eat from one specific tree, so Christ has given us liberty in all things except those which His Word specifically for¬bids. Even so, we are commanded not to cause our brother to stumble on ac¬count of the biblical liberty that we possess.

However, all of the above does not mean that we are not to judge AT ALL.  We are SUPPOSED to judge what people who claim to be Christians say in relation to God’s Word.  One of the great sins of the modern churches is the refusal to judge the teachings of others. It is considered not only unloving to do so, but impolite. Our “civilized” Western culture frowns on confrontation; it makes people un¬comfortable to hear others vociferously contend for their beliefs. Whether those beliefs are right or wrong isn’t the is¬sue; the issue is peace at any price.

As a result of this cultural proclivity toward politeness, Christians sit in their pews listening to doctrines of de¬mons and watching demonic practices take place without challenge. A pastor can spout the worst heresy and no one will call him to account publicly be¬cause that would be impolite. And ush¬ers stand ready to physically remove anyone who would dare do so.

It may be well that government is ready to protect religions against un¬due harassment from those who are not of the particular religion in question; but it has no business entering into the disputes among those who are of like faith, particularly if one disrupting the service is a member of the congrega¬tion. Religious leaders who would take advantage of such laws are demon¬strating a lack of confidence in what they teach. If they cannot defend their teachings and practices to their congre¬gants, but must use force to evict one who questions them on a reasonable and scriptural basis, they are unsuited for a defense of the Faith. As well, they are sinning by taking a brother before the secular courts to protect their relig¬ious “rights.”

This doesn’t mean, however, that just because a teacher misstates some¬thing we have the freedom to call him down in front of the congregation. It would be best to first confront him in private, try to reason with him from Scripture on the areas that need correc¬tion, and then ask him to make a public retraction of his error.  When we fail to judge false teach¬ings we are not being loving; we are being cowardly. We are leaving the sheep to be devoured by the adversary. All believers in Christ assume the role of a watchman. We all have the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to dis¬cern truth from error. If we fail to warn the brethren of the error in their midst we are guilty of that same error, even if we disagree with it.

With all this, we must keep in mind the many Scriptures that warn against judging. All things must be in balance, based upon the Word of God and min¬istered by the Spirit of God. When we attempt to judge others by our own judgment we are guilty of hypocrisy.

The strong are to bear the weak
Immediately following his instruc¬tions on not judging according to what one eats or drinks, Paul instructs us that those who are strong in the faith must bear with the weaknesses of oth¬ers who have not attained to the same spiritual maturity:

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edifi¬cation.  For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.  For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.  Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. (Romans 15:1-7)

In essence, Paul is saying that we must please others and not ourselves when it comes to the unimportant as¬pects of living. Even though we have freedom in Christ we should restrict ourselves in what we eat and drink so that we not offend our brother or cause him to stumble. Too often Christians assert their “right” to do as they please, without regard to the feelings of those who may (rightly or wrongly) perceive those actions as sinful, or at least un¬desirable. So while taking advantage of their liberty they are breaking the law of love which supersedes all other con¬siderations. Not opening themselves up for judgment on what they eat or drink, they open themselves up for judgment on lack of love.

At the same time we refuse the judgment of others, we willingly judge them for what we perceive as sin. In either case, even when judging sin as defined by Scripture, we must first judge ourselves. This is what Jesus meant when He commanded us to “Judge not according to the appear¬ance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  There is a righteous judgment which cannot be challenged because it is predicated upon God’s truth as re¬vealed in His Word. It is not predicated upon man’s religious ideas and per¬sonal likes and dislikes. Yet even when exercising such righteous judgment we must be careful that we are not being hypocritical:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of Chine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly. (Matthew 7:1-5)

In view of the many Scriptures that tell us to judge, it is obvious that the Lord is not telling us to refrain entirely from judging others. He is warning us that the same standard by which we judge others will be used against us when we are judged by God. It is a common practice that those who want license to do as they please will quote verse 1 and ignore the preponderance of Scripture that requires us to judge sin in our midst. When taken in context we see that the Lord was warning us not to judge a brother who sins if we are in sin ourselves.

Obviously we will always be sinful as long as we are in this flesh, but a man’s heart attitude toward his own sin must be one of revulsion and a desire to root it out of his life. As well, he must have confessed his sin to the Lord before confronting another brother for his sin. This is what Jesus meant when he said that we must first remove the beam out of our own eye before we can even confront a brother on the mote in his.

Our Father is immensely patient and merciful toward us; He requires that we be the same toward our breth¬ren. Every avenue of escape must be presented to a brother in sin. The first avenue is confrontation. If we are not spiritually prepared to confront a brother in sin we are failing in our calling by the Lord; worse, we are fail¬ing our brother who needs our correc¬tion. It is a sad thing to see sin go unjudged in the Body of Christ because those in leadership are either spiritu¬ally deficient, or are too cowardly to address that sin. They would rather ignore sin for the sake of peace, thus bringing the leaven to full loaf.  In all cases of judgment we must focus on the real sin, not on the heart of the sinner.

Ministry to children
Much is said about fellowship among the brethren, that is, adults. But there is the aspect of adult-child relationships within the Body of Christ that needs to be addressed.  As a rule, today’s churches provide separate ministry for children and young people. As soon as the family walks into the church building it frag¬ments into peer group ministries. Ide¬ally, children should be with their parents through at least part of the ministry, hearing the Word of God and worshiping together.  There is room for children’s minis¬try provided it does not become an end in itself, but rather remains a supple¬ment to the overall ministry of the fel¬lowship.

Scripture does not deal with this issue because it didn’t exist in the early Church. But because it isn’t in Scrip¬ture doesn’t mean it is totally invalid. If there is going to be any specific min¬istry to children it seems that biblical guidelines do exist.  Many, if not most, Sunday school teachers for children are women. They teach both boys and girls. This may be alright up to the point where a boy reaches puberty. At that stage he is to be considered a man and his teachers should be men. We are not talking about emotional maturity, but physical maturity. Admittedly, this is my own reasoning from what I know of Scrip¬ture and Jewish tradition that would have prevailed for the early Church.  It is perfectly alright for women to teach young girls and other women, provided they focus on the areas that Scripture delineates:
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. (Titus 2:3-5)

So let the men teach the men as soon as they reach puberty; let the women teach the girls and young women to follow God’s instructions for them, not to follow the contrary ways of the world.  Generally, all adults should treat children with love and kindness, and all children should treat adults with respect and honor.

Considering these rules of fellow¬ship we are led back to the Ten Com¬mandments. If we would obey those commandments we would find that they are based upon love for God and for our fellow man—especially our brethren in Christ.  This is the foundation for all of our interaction with one another; love.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.  “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:16-22)

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”   And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.  “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved. (Matthew 24:3-13)

It is evident from Scripture that the enviroment of the world that the church will exist in during the “last days” will be a hostile one.  Dangerous times, persecution, betrayal by those we thought were our friends, imprisonment, and so on will be the norm.  We must be prepared to face those times with wisdom, spiritual maturity, and physical and emotional preparation.  In this section, we will discuss some of the “practical” aspects of life “underground” as a persecuted and “illegal” group.  These items are in no particular order, and should always be guided by the basic truth that no one can be prepared for every eventuality.  Also, our ultimate guide is God, not any booklet that a man has written.  Pray about these things and let God guide you as to what YOUR level of preparation should be, and how YOU should handle various situations.

Christians in Rome used to use the “fish” symbol as a means of identifying one another without openly declaring their Christianity.  One person would casually draw a curved line on the ground with their staff, or their foot.  Then, the other person (if a Christian) would draw the opposite curve, forming the “fish” or “icthus” symbol, which was a symbol for the name of Christ.  In this way, believers could identify each other on the “Q.T.”.  In the near future, we may have to once again use the methods of persecuted churches around the world to live, meet, minister, gather supplies, and evangelize here in the United States.

When your read that “Christians” or “Christian Fundamentalists” are singled out for some national ill, take heed. That is usually the first step in stirring up hatred against a particular group.

What to do:
• If you are one of “those people”, this is the time to decide whether to stay put or move. Remember, most of this continent was settled by people who switched countries rather than staying and fighting. You may have to continue the tradition.
• Have a bug-out kit.
• Avoid any travel through areas controlled by those who are against you. At best you only get raped or beaten up, at worst you end up dead.
• If you belong to a visible, easily identified group, you may want some members who are not easily recognizable to do the shopping and other essential functions. During World War II, blond-haired, blue-eyed Jews saved a lot of their people.
• Establish an information network to be in position to evaluate what is likely to happen.
• If you have extra supplies, you can sell or barter for necessities.
The “commandments” of security are:
• Do not discuss personal or family business with anyone not directly involved.
• Do not trust a politician or bureaucrat’s word or promise.
• Never give your real name or address when purchasing survival supplies.
• Never let strangers into your home.
• Do not turn your back on an unlocked door or window.
• Do not have your street address on any of your IDs or mail. Use a P.O. box as much as you can.

Remember that accumulating supplies is easy only before day that you become a “target”. After that, it is a chancy and more expensive proposition. Many people will be after the same materials once the situation becomes sticky. So stock up early (as much as possible). And keep quiet about what you buy. Cache some of your supplies using lengths of plastic sewer and water pipes. The ends can be easily sealed with end caps available from the same source as the pipes. Governments have a nasty habit of confiscating supplies from people who prepared for disasters to give to the indigent. Their logic runs to the philosophy that by giving supplies away, you reduce the possibility of the indigents turning into predators. All they are doing is putting everyone at risk.

It is important to have a designated place for your group to meet should you have to evacuate. You must have a place picked out well before the excrement hits the fan. It should be easy to identify and to reach by all members of your group. And it should not be on the official evacuation route.

A few words about surviving without doctors. Most physicians, hospitals, and medical supplies are located in cities. Most disaster scenarios will hit cities harder than the countryside. Therefore, you may have to do without conventional medical treatment after a disaster. The human body has remarkable capabilities of healing itself, especially if the injured and their companions practice intelligent benign neglect.

While on the subject of medical matters, do not forget about veterinary antibiotics. People who for decades have used antibiotics to combat their infections have not produced normal quantities of antibodies and have subnormal resistance to many infections. People who have not been dependent on antibiotics have these antibodies. In the aftermath of a disaster, most survivors would be in rural areas. Many would need antibiotics. Much of their need could be met by supplies of veterinary antibiotics kept on livestock and chicken farms, at feed mills, and in small towns.  Many animals are given more antibiotics in their short lives than most Americans receive in theirs. In many farming areas, veterinary antibiotics and other medicines are in larger supply than are those for people. Realistic preparations to survive should include using these supplies.

We are living at the edge, and given the current state of affairs, we should be on guard. Once a scenario unfolds, it can progress at a frightening pace. Be prepared at all times.

What to do:
• Take stock of what you are eating, and take stock of what you have on hand. That will tell you how long you could survive if you cannot access the stores  tomorrow.
• What would you do for water if you cannot “participate” in the economy? Find what other sources you have, and have those sources tested.
• What happens to your sewage? How would you cope if your system is disrupted?
• Are you on medications? How long could you last without them? Do you have an alternate source for them? Always refill your prescriptions ahead of time. If questioned, just say that you are taking a trip. Have at least a month’s supply on hand.
• Is your vehicle ready to roll in case of an emergency? How much gas do you have? What about lubricants, brake fluid, spare parts?
• Do you have a place to go? Do you know the topography of the area between your home and your place of retreat?
• Do you have the knowledge to deal with emergencies? Do you have the skills to put the knowledge into practice?
• Have you taken a first-aid course in the last five years? Do you have the supplies and instruments to give first aid?
• Are you aware of what is happening in your community, your country, and in the world? Do you have radios, communication devices, and newsletters to keep you informed? When gathering for meetings, never assume that you can use the same place twice, and vary the times often.  Develop ways of informing the group without “broadcasting” it to all and sundry.  Be prepared to share supplies with your brothers and sisters in need.  And lastly, remember that God is in control of all things at all times; have faith!

No matter what the days ahead hold, God has given us tremendous promises in His Word to sustain us.  We are called not to fear, but to boldness.  When we consider how God fed the Israelites in the desert during the Exodus; how He made them victorious in battle by HIS power (and not their own); how He enabled the first century Christians to change the world with the Gospel in spite of persecution and martyrdom; and how He has sustained generations of Christians throughout the history of the Church; we should be encouraged to know that he can (and will) do the same for us.

We live in dangerous times, but also exciting times!  It is very probable that our generation will see the fulfillment of the “battle between good and evil”.  We will have an opportunity to minister God’s Word to the world at the focal point of world history.  And in spite of the possibility that we as individuals may have to suffer hardship, or possible even martyrdom, remember that the culmination of these things will be the revealing of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in His glory, and that we will be like Him, and be with Him, forever.  AMEN!