The Lordship of Christ in the Local Assembly
John Heading, Aberystwyth
The recognition of the sole sovereignty of the Lord over His people is evidently of great importance. Yet it is sadly true that this absolute Lordship has not always been recognized. In Isaiah's day, a repentant people cried, "0 Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: but by thee only will we make mention of thy name", Isa. 26. 13. As they looked back to the time when these other lords held sway over them, they confessed, "They are dead . . . therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them", v. 14. Previously, Samuel had likewise said, "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts . . . prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only", 1 Sam. 7. 3. Today, as we are occupied so much with things in the world, it may also be true that the Lord is not unique in our affections, and that we fail to recognize His sole authority over our local assembly activity.
In resurrection and ascension, "God hath made that same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ", Acts 2. 36. Of course, He was both Lord and Christ during His lifetime on earth, but as exalted to the right hand of God, He rightly expects that His people own Him as Lord and Christ in all their lives and service. Thus in the resurrection chapters John 20-21. the title "Lord" is properly used when speaking about Him and when speaking to Him, and this implies that we must use the proper titles of the Lord in our worship, prayer, preaching and teaching, and that we must mean them without mechanical usage. Mary, in her confession to Peter, said, "They have taken away the Lord", 20. 2. In her confession to the unknown Lord, she said, "they have taken away my Lord", v. 13. Again, in identifying Him to the disciples, she said "that she had seen the Lord", v. 18. Later, the disciples were "glad, when they saw the Lord, v. 20. They then identified Him to Thomas, by saying, "We have seen the Lord", v. 25. A week later, Thomas was compelled to identify Him as "My Lord and my God", v. 28. After this, at the sea of Tiberias, John identified Him to the others by saying, "It is the Lord", 21. 7. Finally, Peter used the title "Lord" in addressing Him in verses 15, 16, 17, 21. The Name Jesus was used in all historical narratives, but the title Lord was used or added by the disciples in addressing Him and in talking about Him to others, so to imply their subjection to His authority. To ensure that this subjection was maintained, the disciples' subsequent service was marked by the realization of the truth, "the Lord working with them, and confirming the word", Mark 16. 20.
The church in Antioch in Syria was formed some eight years after Pentecost. The important thing to notice in Acts 11.19-24 is that the Lordship of Christ was stressed right from the inception of this church. Otherwise it would have been a question of every new believer doing what was right in his own eyes. The spread of the gospel message from Jerusalem had been like the process of seed dispersal. Firstly it had been preached to none but the Jews only, v. 19. Then in Antioch it had reached "the Grecians", no doubt Gentiles who had imbibed the Jewish religion, being therefore proselytes versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. During the various stages of the development in this church, the Lordship of Christ is stressed in six different ways, and we now consider the practical implications of this Title.
1. "Preaching the Lord Jesus",
v. 20. Philip preached "Christ" to the Samaritans, 8. 5, but "Jesus" to the eunuch, 8. 35. Later, Saul preached "Christ" in Damascus, while here in Antioch the disciples preached "the Lord Jesus". The difference no doubt relates to the previous background that the people possessed. In every case, the testimony of the gospel is a serious matter; no light hearted presentation can be engaged in—"did I use lightness?" asked Paul of the Corinthians, 2 Cor. 1. 17. In particular, the stress upon the title "Lord" shows that there must be submission and obedience to the claims of the gospel. The presentation must not seem to be offering an easy take-it-or-leave it attitude, for there is ultimate vengeance on those that obey not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thess. 1.8; Rom. 10. 16; 1 Pet. 4. 17.
Thus it should be noticed that the Person of the Lord and the implications of faith in Him are stressed right from the beginning in Acts 2 onwards. Quoting Joel, Peter declared that "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved", Acts 2. 21. He also stated that the One whom they had crucified had been made "both Lord and Christ", v. 36. They preached the "word of the Lord" in Samaria, 8. 25. In Antioch in Pisidia, the Gentile converts "glorified the word of the Lord", 13. 48, and "the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region", v. 49. After the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas preached "the word of the Lord" in Antioch in Syria, 15. 35. It was "the word of the Lord" that was spoken to the keeper of the prison in Philippi, 16. 32. Those in Asia heard "the word of the Lord Jesus", 19. 10. This is not mere repetition, but serves to stress a fundamental fact of gospel testimony. The same basic idea appears in the Epistles: "if thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus", Rom. 10- 9, and "we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord", 2. Cor. 4. 5. Hence, when we engage in personal testimony or when we preach, whom do we preach, and what are our objectives? Such service is not to mumble out words in a motiveless and unexercised manner, but to gain the obedience to the gospel by faith (and not to the law).
We shall link our six points to the church at Corinth. The apostle wrote, "I have planted", 3. 6. In every case of planting, the fruit is determined by the kind of seed sown. The lesson is that we must sow the Lordship of Christ in the gospel, and believe that converts will then own Him as Lord.
2. "The hand of the Lord was with them", v. 21. If the Lord's servants own Him and His authority over their service, then He owns them and their service. No work for the Lord can be effective otherwise—the when, where, what and how of service must be under His control. If the Lord is absent from these aspects of service, then the flesh is operative, however sincere and devoted it may appear to be. The Scriptures demonstrate clearly the important principle, "the Lord working with them", Mark 16. 20.
We may quote some examples. In spite of Solomon's great organization for the building of the temple, he said, "Except the Lord build the temple, they labour in vain that build it", Psa. 127.1. Whatever part the children of Israel had played in their exodus from Egypt, they had to remember "that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm", Deut. 5. 15. The "hand of the Lord" was upon both Elijah and Elisha, 1 Kings 18. 46; 2 Kings 3. 15. Generally, in the Old Testament we read of the great fact "the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save", Isa. 59. 1. In the New Testament, it was the Lord who called the twelve apostles, giving them power and authority, sending them forth to preach and to heal, Luke 9. 1-2; this was because "without me ye can do nothing", John 15. 5. Paul summed up his experience of the hand of the Lord with him, when he wrote, "I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me", 1 Cor. 15. 10. For ourselves, we must expect the Lord to work in and through us.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul made it clear that his preaching was in demonstration "of the Spirit and of power"— not with man's wisdom, 2. 4. The apostle and his fellow labourers were "labourers together with God", 3. 9; he made it quite clear that even the most effective servants are nothing since God gives the increase, v. 7. May our service therefore be moulded according to this great principle.
3. They "turned unto the Lord",
v. 21. A great number had believed in Antioch, but whether converts are large or small in number, the direction of their salvation is of vital importance. They were not to face the same direction as in their unconverted days—the direction along the narrow way is the opposite to that along the broad way. Evangelists: what do you expect your converts to turn to ? The answer must be, to the authority of Christ. Converts not only possess salvation, but there must be submission to His will.
Repentance and conversion both involve turning. In repentance, a soul turns from what the past of his sinful life stood for. If the world still attracts, then repentance is not deep enough. Conversion implies turning to the requirements of the authority of Christ. "Repent ... and be converted", exhorted Peter, Acts 3. 19; sins would be blotted out, and times of refreshing would come from the presence of the Lord.
Paul (still as Saul) had passed that way, otherwise he would have had a bad effect on the young believers in Antioch. Immediately, he had cried, "Who art thou, Lord?", 9. 5. He recognized the authority behind the light, but he had to learn His Person relative to the persecution that he had waged against the church—"Jesus", the blessed Man in heaven. Saul's immediate response was, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?". This was an excellent beginning in the apostle's experience, and it continued in that way. Ananias said to him, "the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way", v. 17. He was then baptized, "calling on the name of the Lord", 22. 16, after which he addressed the Lord as "Lord" in Jerusalem, v. 19. Thus he started well, and continued well. How unlike those in Matthew 7. 22, who will say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?", but to whom the Lord will say, "I never knew you".
In Corinth, the convert Crispus "believed on the Lord", Acts 18. 8, while the Lord said to Paul, "I have much people in this city", vv. 9-10. In other words, in the many acts of conversion in Corinth, the Lord was there as the new direction for faith formed through the preaching of the gospel. To be concluded