Tom, Dick and Harry were neighbors, business associates, and close personal friends. When Tom became interested in spiritual matters it was only natural that Dick and Harry should also give the subject some attention.
But obedience to the gospel is an individual matter — for accountable beings — free agents. Tom had to do his own believing, repent of his own sins, and be baptized — for himself. (Acts 2:38, “every one of you”) Tom thus became a branch on the vine, a citizen in Christ’s kingdom, a member of the body of Christ, His church. He could not do any of these things on behalf of Dick or Harry. Each had to reach his own decision, render his own obedience. We happily report that each thus became Christians.
Then Tom, Dick, and Harry began to worship together, and work together in the service of the Lord. They were careful to function in keeping with the divine pattern — the commands, approved examples, and necessary inferences of the New Testament concerning a congregation of God’s people. They constituted a local church of Christ — not because they were Tom, Dick and Harry; but because they conformed to the Lord’s will in teaching and practice.
As the years passed by, people of the community tended to associate the “church of Christ” with Tom, Dick and Harry — to consider them as one — so that what Tom, Dick and Harry did, the neighbors thought this to be the authorized practice of the “church of Christ.” And what Tom, Dick and Harry taught, the neighbors thought this to be a sort of “official doctrine” of the “church of Christ.” It’s hard to blame the neighbors for thinking this — for they were not too well versed in the apostles’ doctrine; but even Tom, Dick and Harry began to adopt this manner of thinking. They were close, these three, and influenced one-another; but in God’s sight each was still individually responsible for his subjection to the divine will. Tom could not obey the gospel for Dick or Harry; and Tom can not be faithful, or unfaithful, to the Lord for these friends.
When Tom advocated a practice for the local church for which there was no N.T. authority; be it instrumental music in the worship, or social, benevolent or missionary adjuncts to the organizational structure; Dick was individually responsible for “going along. ” Harry will have to give account to an indignant Lord for “saying nothing” and continuing to support the error. They came together by individual choice; and they could “come out from among” by the same individual choice. (2 Cor. 6:14-18)
Tom, Dick and Harry constituted a true “church of Christ” only because they abode in the truth. Others commit a grave error in following Tom, Dick and Harry when they should be following the truth of God. Yet thousands make this mistake today. “Old brother” or “highly educated brother” Tom, Dick and Harry are, in their sectarian eye, “the church” — and they feel they must stay with Tom, Dick and Harry even when it means breaking their fellowship with Jesus Christ.
A Time To Stand Still
My dad once operated a large department store. He stayed open, early and late — using all sorts of honest means to get “traffic.” I suppose he wanted the store “on the march.”
But ever so often he closed those doors, stopping all sales, and took inventory. Things “stood still” while progress was checked against the records. (It is possible to be on the move, my son, in the wrong direction.)
There is a time to move, and a time to stand still. The Israelites moved out of Egypt, as far as the Red Sea, only to become frightened when it appeared Pharaoh’s army would overcome them. They murmured, and would have turned back, but Moses said, “Stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah, which He will work for you today.” (Ex.14: 13a) Before we panic, and in fear of the enemy give up the fight, we need to “stand” and consider the strength of God. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
Samuel said unto the people, “Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before Jehovah…” At this point the Israelites were wanting a King (“like all the nations”) and the prophet sought to check their rash digression by reminding them of the way of the Lord. But when people want a King — when they are determined to be “like all the nations” — it is difficult to get them to “stand still” and listen. (1 Sam. 12:7-f) The prophet used another measure. He said, “Stand still and see this great thing, which Jehovah will do before your eyes.” (vs. 16-f) Having reminded them of God’s goodness, he then warned them of His severity: the wrath which He wrecks upon the evil. Current society, including many brethren, may “stand still” to hear about goodness, but there are few who will listen to equally important warnings. But “marching” will not stay judgment. We may “march” to our doom.
Moses answered questions about the service of God by saying, “Stay ye, (stand still, KJ) that I may hear what Jehovah will command concerning you.” (Num.9:8) With this attitude we could learn the truth about scriptural worship, organization, the work of the church, and all other questions of our day. But we squirm and twitch; we will not “stand still.” “Better to make mistakes than to make nothing.” That is popular philosophy; and does not allow a third choice — “stand still” to learn truth, then move.
“Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Hab. 2:20) is a plea for man to “stand still” before his God.