Unity of the Church in the Inspired History

Now no one disputes that the saints assembled at first in private houses to remember the Lord in His supper, the centre of their worship. It was expressly "at home," in contrast with the temple (Acts ii. 46); and there would they teach the disciples, if not preach more openly (ver. 42). Ere long, even in Jerusalem, they might need a hundred upper chambers instead of that one which sufficed before Pentecost. Unity does not at all depend on all assembling within a single apartment. This would make it material. It is really in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence coming together (1 Cor. xi. 20) admits of as many localities as suited the convenience of saints dwelling sometimes in all the quarters of an extensive city. No matter how numerous the assemblages might be, scripture (i.e. God's mind) regards the saints as the church met together for the same purpose. One Spirit, not theirs but God's, created and maintained the unity for the manifestation of God's glory in Christ. Hence we never hear of "churches" but solely of "the church" in a city as in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.; though we read of "the churches" of Judea, Galatia, Macedonia, Asia, etc.

The notion however of "churches" only on earth, contrasted with "the church" in heaven, is not only unfounded but opposed to the word of God. For this reveals, not alone the fact of local assemblies up and down the earth, but that the saints there are members of one body, in which they are set by God according to His will for His glory. That some are no longer alive but gone to be with Christ in no way clashes with the living fact; for the Spirit came down here to establish the unity. Even among men the regiment abides the same, though individual soldiers are there no more. Independency is therefore the direct negation of that unity of the saints in one body here below, throughout manifested once, which each and all are responsible to manifest, though it be now manifested only by few. There was but one communion on earth according to the Lord's will and the apostles' teaching. A christian (when godly discipline forbade not) was member of the church everywhere; a pastor and te acher was Christ's gift wherever he might be. "God set" gifts in the church. Scripture recognises no such thought as membership or gift in a church. Barnabas and Simeon Niger and Lucius, Manaen and Saul, laboured together in Antioch; but so did such as visited Jerusalem or any other place. Intercommunion was the invariable rule, and liberty, not to say responsibility, of ministry in love. It was the right of Christ, not man's.

Undoubtedly there were also local charges, elders and deacons, in due time and place. In Jerusalem the "seven" were looked out by the multitude of the disciples, and appointed by apostolic laying on of hands. Scripture is silent how the elders there (Acts xi. 30, xv. 2-29) entered on their duties; but we know from Acts xiv. 23 that apostles chose them for the disciples, or an apostolic delegate like Titus (i. 5) established them where the apostle could not act. In no case was there popular election of elders. It was a task too delicate and difficult for the saints as a company; and it demanded apostolic authority direct or indirect. As the disciples contributed their money, it was fitting that they should look out dispensers in whom they confided; it was for apostles or their delegates to choose overseers or presbyters, to whom the rest could give no authority.

The apostles derived authority as well as gist from Christ, the source of both. As Christ conferred the highest and widest authority on the apostles, so did they appoint presbyters or elders and deacons in their local places respectively; the one as a spiritual charge, the other in temporal things, as is fully explained by the apostle, not to the assembly, but to Timothy in the third chapter of his first Epistle. One sees in the quotation which Eusebius draws (H. E. iii. 23) from Clem. Alex. how far the truth was lost thus early ; for how absurd to imagine the apostle John recurring to lots! a mode adopted before the Holy Spirt was given (Acts i.), as Chrysostom rightly acknowledges.