2:2, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same
commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
This morning, it does us good, from time to time, to "get back to the basics." There are basic things in the Bible, in doctrine, practice, and order, that should be fundamental building blocks for us. While we need to have a good grasp on them at all times, there is much good to be found in contemplating them again. The reasons for contemplating basic things again is (at least) threefold: 1. keeping acquainted with things we know to prevent the old adage: use it or lose it, 2. learn more of the facets of it since none of us have a handle on 800 of any subject, 3. be able to speak more freely about it as fresher contemplation yields greater ease in communication. Today, our mind is drawn to the basic, Biblical principle of church perpetuity. Scriptural record abounds with the idea that the Lord's church will never be quenched. (Matthew 16:18) Therefore, discussions of the church's death, resuscitation of truth, and other such topics are folly, inherently, in their nature.
As we begin to look at the many ways in which things generally fail or die, we should be able to show why these things will never affect the church in such a way. One of the reasons that things fail or die is because man cannot, in his nature, develop something that will last forever. The greatest achievements of man either become obsolete or require constant maintenance and upkeep. The greatest feats of architecture or business ventures will not stand the test of time indefinitely. Sometimes, the generations that follow fail to keep the business, structure, project, etc from coming to nought, and it is this precise general failing of mankind that we would desire to investigate as it pertains to church perpetuity.
Have you ever seen a very prosperous business enterprise eventually fold its doors? My parents used to talk about a chain (similar to today's Wal-Mart) called Gibson's. Personally, I never saw one, although both of them could spot an old, vacated Gibson's building by sight. People today talk about the enduring nature of Wal-Mart, but I would be willing to predict, based on historical record and experience that the franchise will one day cease to exist. This passing the way of all the earth could be based on many reasons, but such reasons are inapplicable to the church. She will never fail (cease to exist in the earth), for the One that keeps and preserves her has promised her continual existence until His return. It is His after all!
What if future generations do not keep up the doctrine, practice, and order of the past generation in the church? Such a failure in the business world spells disaster for that business, but what of the church? It has been said "our children are the future of the church." While our children may indeed be the ones that we "expect" naturally to succeed us in the church, there is not a 800 guarantee that they will see it and love it as we do. (Matthew 11:25) We pray diligently that the Lord open the eyes of their understanding and joy to it, and we seek His face fervently in helping us bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but the simple fact is that Jesus Christ is the future of the church, just as He has been with her throughout all ages.
If the next generation does not "keep house" in the way that the Lord has prescribed, He will eventually take action against that local assembly and remove His presence and candlestick from her. However, the disbanding of one assembly does not mean that the entire church is in danger. Quite the contrary, for the Scriptural record shows an entire nation landing in darkness (Jews) but a host of individuals receiving it gladly (Gentiles). Our prayer today is that her light continue among us and the land of our loved ones, but the Lord will not leave Himself without a witness in this earth. (Acts 14:16-17) However, wherever that witness is found, there is one basic guarantee: she is linked successively throughout time to the beginning of the church age.
Paul instructs Timothy to deliver down what Paul delivered to him. Paul was delivering that same thing handed down to him from Christ. The apostles taught those things given directly by God Incarnate, and the men that followed them received the same things and were required to deliver those same things after them. While our children may or may not be the ones to follow us, there will be a succession from one to the other. As the faith was given once to the saints (Jude 3), there will not be updates, revisions, or deletions. What we have today is what they had 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, and into the days of the apostles and our Lord Himself.
If we believe that we have something extra that they did not have or something less than they had, what does that say about our Husband? If we have something extra, then He shortchanged them all the years that they did not have it. If we have something less than they had, then He overburdened them all the years that they did have it. The simple point is that His church has had exactly what she has needed for all time and throughout time. Paul's lesson of succession to Timothy in our verse proves that very point. Timothy was not at liberty to add anything in his charge to faithful men or leave something off. We today, as part of that linked chain, have the same charge to us to add nothing to or leave nothing off. We should not be found teaching doctrines of devils as the doctrines of God (I Timothy 4:1-5), nor neglecting to teach all the counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)
But what of the failures of men? As we mentioned earlier, businesses often fail due to the weakness/pride of man. Does this plague the church? Indeed is has and will yet again. However, the Lord that upholds His church does so in spite of the weakness of the men who inhabit her. One of the most sardonically humorous statements I ever heard about church perpetuity is, "When you look at the church's history, we (Primitive Baptists) must have the truth and be the church. When you look at all the problems we have had, heresies that have come among us, and foolishness that has gone on, they would have killed anything that was not the church." Sadly but with joy, I agree that we, as the inhabitants of Zion, have had problems that we allowed to intrude within her walls, but the Lord is faithful and gracious that it has never prevailed against (completely overcome) the gates of His church.
What about death? Many enterprises of man have failed due to the death of key individuals within that organization. Kingdoms have fallen due to the death of the man trying to "hold it all together." When that man fell, ruin followed soon after. This past weekend, I had the experience of standing at the marker of the late Elder Guy Hunt, and while I stood there, I was reminded of the same thing I think about every time I stand over the marker of my late natural father. While I am thankful for the stand and dedication to the cause and the Lord's church that men like that exhibited during their lifetimes, I am thankful that the cause does not die with them. The church is not dependent upon a certain man as "glue" that holds her together. Her Husband, Rock, and Cornerstone is the one that providentially keeps her.
If we lost the great majority of our ministry to death or otherwise, that would be a great loss felt by the church, but she does not stand and fall with them. If we lost a great majority of our children, older members, or pick a focus group, that would be a great loss felt by the church, but such a loss is not completely crushing and overwhelming to her. Consider all that the hosts of Satan have hurled at her down through the centuries. They have thrown persecution, torture even unto death, and a whole host of maladies at the Lord's bride, but she is still with us. Consider the unfaithfulness of men (who perhaps at one time were faithful within that chain and bond of succession). Some have forsaken the faith due to family, lusts of the flesh, fame of the world, and host of other idols, but she is still with us. Based on the providential blessing of Almighty God, she will endure through the sands of time whatever may befall her.
Indeed, we experience great sadness when local bodies die, and we experience sadness when we see those among us forsake the good way wherein rest is found for our souls. (Jeremiah 6:16) The day may come - although I pray not - when we see her depart the local vicinity where we dwell. However, none of these things should move us to think that there are not God's faithful somewhere in this world worshipping Him in spirit and truth. (John 4:24) None of us are exempt from developing the "Elijah complex" and thinking that we are alone or all that there is left. Thanks be unto God that His church is better and above all other enterprises in this earth. She is not of this world (though in it), and therefore, the world will never squash her and completely put out her light. May our paths be those of humble obedience to her laws and precepts. When we honour her, we honour her/our Husband, and may we dwell together with her wherever she is in this earth with God's faithful: poor and afflicted people that trust in the name of the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:12)