Introduction

Here is a simple scriptural fact: There is but one church; Jesus called it ‘my church’; it is ‘the body of Christ.’ Its members, as a single body, are ‘the out-called’ – the literal meaning of the Greek word ecclesia. Therefore the very word itself describes the nature of the church; and in as far as it goes this is its sole criterion: so if one is not ‘called out’ then one is not part of the body of Christ, and not in his church. As we look a little closer at some simple truths and principles which arise from this assertion, we will begin to discover that none of the denominations in and of themselves can be called the true church, and that the necessary conclusion must be that all of Christ’s sheep that are found in them should come out from among them and be separate.

As to something of my own history, I was involved with the Gospel Standard denomination for around ten years, seven as a member; therefore there was a time when I thought it to be the true church and wholeheartedly embraced its beliefs, ways and traditions. Indeed, in my early days I was very impressed with the style of preaching – I had never heard anything like it before. Here was a ministry which was actually describing the things I’d been experiencing, and it wasn’t long before I began to realise that my spiritual pathway was actually the result of a work of God upon my soul, Phil. 2:13; no other preaching I’d sat under had shown this to be the case.

I also discovered that there was a lot of truth to be found in the professed GS doctrine, and it is not my intention here to doubt that much of what is said from the pulpit is anything but good, right and true. Indeed, I don’t think I’d ever heard ministry which related so specifically to law and gospel, the world, the free offer, the necessity of self-examination, 2 Cor. 13:5, the need of an inwrought salvation to counter presumption, and of the Spirit’s witness to the same. And I found in many of the hymns – such as John Kent’s, ‘There is a period known to God’, 76, and John Newton’s ‘What think you of Christ? is the test’, 1149 – descriptions, again, of my own experience written in such a lively way, that they far transcended the modern, shallow ‘praise’ hymns and choruses I’d been fed (or not fed) with until then.

Of course as I became more taken up in these things I naturally tried to encourage others to ‘come and hear’ as well, and, before I joined the church, read carefully the Articles of the denomination to see if I could fully agree with them and could, if questioned, defend them from scripture – I wouldn’t have joined until that was the case. At length I did join and gradually became assimilated into the particular GS mentality – of seeing things a certain way, of judging from a certain angle, and of settling into a certain form – the way we do things. Very comfortable.

But I have now left the denomination, for I have come to realise that the style of preaching is ultimately deficient, and the ‘way’ tends toward the mentality of the Pharisee rather than that of the genuine ‘poor sinner’. Rarely does the ministry seem to rise much higher than the stated level of describing ‘experience’; after a while you start to hear the same things over and over again, and the nourishment which you received when it was all new and fresh begins to dry up.[1] Unsurprisingly in time you begin to realise the reason for this is that the whole is leavened with the traditions of men – the standing principle that undergirds any denomination – and, in truth, the ministry cannot rise above it, for that is the expected and defining style. These things I have expanded upon in the pages that follow.

As to the word ‘tradition’: 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6 aside, a tradition is simply a precept, a way, a rule formulated by men which is to be adhered to above everything else; yea, even above the true doctrine of God. Thus in Mark 7 Jesus rebuked the Jews because the obedience and loyalty they should have shown toward ‘the commandment of God’ – which they had first ‘laid aside’, and then outright ‘rejected’ – had been transferred to ‘the tradition of men’; which tradition had become nothing less than a legal requirement. Therefore it is a very dangerous thing, and a soul-damning error unless repented of, to hold to traditions which men originate if, and as, they will usurp in our experience the commandment of God; for we must realise that we cannot hold both.

Therefore tradition is very subtly designed to captivate and enslave the conscience, leading to a life of ‘works’ – there’s your legalism – when the conscience should be captive only to the revealed word and will of God, leading to a walk of ‘faith’; see the ‘post script’. After all, the blood of Christ has purged the consciences of the faithful from dead works – and these works are always ‘dead’ in the sight of God – to serve the living God, Heb 9:14. Christ doesn’t set men free from Moses to bind them to men and their traditions, although they may profess to be under a ‘new’ covenant; their new ‘yoke’ and ‘burden’ which are Christ’s, are ‘easy’ and ‘light’, Matt. 11:28-30. How many people think they have ‘a tender conscience in the fear of the Lord’, when in fact what they possess is ‘an enslaved conscience in the fear of men’, which fear has been learned ‘by the precept of men’ from their youth up, Isa. 29:13. Let the reader examine himself.

But how have the traditions of men come about? I believe they have arisen in the absence of ‘revelation’. Where there is no revelation the traditions of men in religion will arise, for they are the only alternative. Men with a bent for, or an actual profession of religion will seek – often inadvertently – to form that religion based on what they perceive to be the truth and, perhaps more importantly, on what suits them – which will at length become their established tradition – other men doing likewise, but coming up with different forms and traditions. So each group will soon begin to possess their own peculiar traits – or traditions – which will not only define who they are but will distinguish them from all the others. And unless revelation comes the whole will continue and be perpetuated. In fact it is only revelation which can destroy men’s traditions. This is a theme which will be returned to throughout this treatise.

But there is one more absence which gives birth to ‘the commandments and doctrines of men’: Paul wrote, ‘Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh’, Col. 2:20-23. The traditions of men arise in the absence of being dead with Christ! Listen to the apostle. And where does that leave you?

The reason I have written now is that I have been thinking over my time under the GS ministry, and to a number of phrases which are often repeated but which now make me tremble, and should make the users of them tremble too. The reason is that although they sound spiritual many of them are actually little more than vain repetition. One such phrase is this: ‘Forgive anything thou hast seen amiss in our worship’, or like wording – this being one of the string of petitions uttered in closing a meeting. But what do they think is amiss in their worship? What needs forgiving? As I hope to go on to prove, it is doubtful that they really think there is anything much amiss, otherwise they’d ask the Lord to show them what it is, instead of using this ‘cover-all’ phrase, just in case. But if they did ask, and if God did answer, would any minister and church that prays it fall under it? To my observation all ‘things’ that happen ‘in our worship’ continue as they always have done. But it is my contention that many things are amiss. I don’t remember seeing much evidence that ministers who ask such a thing ever look for or expect that God might show them what is amiss. I wonder how many who ‘pray’ in this way have actually pleaded with the Lord that he would indeed show them what is amiss in the worship of their chapels? If they haven’t, then these words are nothing but taking the name of the Lord in vain, for they are calling upon him with their lips when their hearts are far from the petition itself. But the Lord, who searches the heart, knows those who draw nigh with their lips only. We must never forget that the Pharisees loved to sound very holy in prayer – in the hearing of others – but, said Jesus, they only prayed ‘thus with themselves.’ I believe this ‘petition’ is nothing but vain repetition which goes unheard and unanswered. Again, let them judge the matter themselves.

Another oft-used phrase which, upon reflection, has caused me disquiet of late, is another petition ministers will often use in prayer; this time when requesting blessing for a brother minister: ‘Give him seals to his ministry, and souls for his hire.’ Souls for his hire? What are they saying? Are they hirelings? I would have thought this to be a very unsafe word to use in the light of Jesus’ teaching in John 10.[2] One of the characteristics of the hireling, said Jesus, is that he ‘careth not for the sheep’, verse 13; he may very well care for the ‘sheep’ of his denominational fold, as long as they stay within that fold, but, as we shall discover, a denominational fold is not the same as the ‘one fold’ that the good shepherd was speaking of. Also, it has been my experience since I was first awakened to spiritual things, that what the LORD said by Jeremiah is true: that the ‘pastors’, which he has not raised up over the people, at length ‘destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture’, Jer. 23:1, causing them to become ‘outcasts’: see below. All this perhaps highlights how thoughtlessly some of these phrases roll off the tongue.

Furthermore I must say that one dreadful thing I began to realise the longer I was in the denomination – and again, I am sure this is characteristic of all denominations – was that parts of the word of God – as constantly being used, quoted and, honestly, turned into clichés – were actually beginning to grate because of their over exposure and misuse. Some verses you heard repeatedly, almost as punctuation to whatever the minister was saying; and the repetition of these verses and words out of the pure and holy word of God really did begin to undermine the glory and purity of those words. Even now certain phrases from scripture still cause me to wince for all the times I’ve heard them slip off GS tongues. What a dreadful state to arrive at when phrases like the following become dulled with over use, and misuse: ‘The chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely (not even together in the scripture); Unto you therefore which believe he is precious; Sirs, we would see Jesus; Lord, help me; God be merciful to me a sinner; Fear not; Fret not; Sweet, solemn[3] and precious…’ etc. Oh, how these wonderful words need rescuing, and how terrible when the word of God is used like this. But I believe that those who take his word upon their lips in such a way, and who use it in the exercise of perpetuating their denominational traditions – although that may not be consciously deliberate – except they repent and put their hands over their mouths, find themselves in a fearful position. Nevertheless, may the Lord have mercy on such.

When the Lord first awakened me to my perilous state of presumption in a false profession with Matthew 7:21-23, and by it stripped me of all the faith, salvation and assurance I thought I had, the cry that he put in my heart, which remains to this day, was, ‘Lord, show me the truth – whatever it is.’ And after much searching and crying to the Lord I received a reply; and the answer came as a voice from heaven: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’[4] Having left the denomination I can honestly say that I now experience a certain liberty, for there is definite bondage in a system where the traditions of men hold sway; except that the bondage (and the necessary accompanying fear, Prov. 29:25) is undiscerned as the mentality is totally assimilated into the particular denominational way – and the following is, in part, an explanation of how I have come into this liberty as it pertains, at least, to churches and denominations.

My only concern now is for truth devoid of the traditions of men. I am no longer in a frame of mind which says, Oh well, let’s make the best of what remains in this degenerate age; if one denomination has enough truth then let us just overlook the deficiencies and not worry about looking for a recovery of what was at the beginning; for being in the last days, and not desiring to ‘despise the day of small things’, we must try to be content. But this attitude, although perhaps understandable, is a terrible denial of the power of the Son of God still in our day to realise his original purpose for the church; as well as being a surrender to the long held and cherished traditions of men. But although they be held from one generation to another, bringing, for a time, a pleasing sense of security and solidity; if they cannot be called, in full, ‘the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship’, Acts 2:42, then they are not secure but unsafe, are not solid but unsound, and are in danger of casting their adherents onto the left hand on the day of judgment.

When I joined the denomination I had not long left what they call a General Baptist church: it was a modern, people-friendly, professedly Calvinistic, but practising Arminian, NIV[5], Mission Praise, fun and fellowship church. But as the Lord gradually opened my eyes to the fact that the place was devoid of the Spirit, preached another gospel, and that Christ had not, obviously, sent the then pastor to preach – these realisations dawning through a long and painful process – he set me at liberty and called me out from it. So much for the place I had attended more or less from my youth up. In the period between – about two years – I determined to try and seek further ‘the truth’ without influence from churches or chapels; I read quite widely and continued to seek the Lord to teach me from his word. And then I received another promise: ‘The LORD doth build up Jerusalem; he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel’, Psalm 147:2. The word that struck me so forcibly was ‘outcasts.’ That was me! Alas, joining the GS denomination didn’t turn out to be a fulfilment of that promise, although for a time I thought it was.

The reason for this is simple: the denomination in the present day is not made up of outcasts; for most are born into it, and trained up in it. No doubt some have ‘suffered loss’ because of their adhering to denominational emphasis, belief or tradition; but to suffer loss, and to be an outcast in the scriptural sense, can only be for Christ’s sake, John 9:24-34, 1 Peter 4:14-16. The man born blind, for instance, was ‘cast out’ because the religious professors, blinded by their own traditions and carnal reasoning, would not and could not see and acknowledge Christ and his work; therefore they cast him out because he had been a recipient of it, as they had not! In fact, anyone professing Christianity today, whether they be Strict Baptists, Evangelicals, Arminians, Reformed, Charismatic, Premillennial, etc., so long as they stick fairly closely to ‘what they believe’ will always get some opposition from those who don’t hold the same views – as the ‘letters’ page of any Christian newspaper will show – but it may not necessarily be according to the truth.

So, what is truth? Well, in this we can speak in absolute terms: the truth is Christ. He said, ‘I am the truth.’ Now, fleeing from the religion of men, here is glory. Christ’s very person, his very being is ‘the truth.’ Therefore to know him is to know the truth. Everything outside of him, whether it falls under the description of ‘worldliness’ or ‘religion’, is ‘vanity and lies’. As he is the truth itself then all his words are truth, and true. When he speaks he has the authority to speak of himself saying, ‘Verily, Verily, I say unto you.’ So, when he said, ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…’ he can then say with equal authority to those scriptures, ‘But I say unto you’; he never having to revert to a ‘Thus saith the LORD’, for he is the LORD! Again, when he says ‘Verily, verily’, he is speaking in his own name. How? Because the Greek word translated ‘verily’ – which means ‘of a truth’ – is ‘Amen’; and in Revelation 3:14 he speaks by that very name, ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’! Oh, there is a fulness to Christ as ‘the truth’!

Furthermore, not to know Christ – to be ‘outside Christ’ – is to be in darkness, for he said, ‘I am the light.’ When the psalmist cried, ‘O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles’, Psalm 43:3, he was only pre-echoing Paul’s longings of Philippians 3:7-14: Christ being all the apostle’s, and psalmist’s ‘desire’; cp. Hag. 2:6,7.

Also to be ‘without Christ’ is to be spiritually dead: dead in trespasses and sins; dead to God; dead to life in the Spirit; dead to true faith; dead to any hope or expectation of real life in this world, or in the world to come eternal life. Why? Because Christ is ‘the life’! As John wrote, ‘The life was manifested’, 1 John 1:2. Christ doesn’t just give life, as though it were something apart from himself, but he is the life! All that this world has to offer – to ‘live life to the full’, as they say – without Christ, is just dying a death, vanity and hopelessness. But in Christ, well; there is a blessed ‘simplicity [or, more accurately, a ‘singleness’, as in Luke 11:34] that is in Christ’, the life, the light, the truth. For when the Spirit comes his sole work is to reveal and glorify Christ in the hearts of his people; he being ‘the Spirit of truth’.

When light shines within upon a ‘simple’ unadulterated revelation of the wonderful Person and accomplished work of the Lord Jesus Christ; when the Spirit opens an aspect of the truth as it relates to the doctrine of the Son of God, which is the gospel of Christ, 2 John 9, how one is brought in his own experience to marvel at the grace, mercy and longsuffering of God in Christ towards sinners, and how he begins to realise the length to which professed Christendom, especially in a denominated form, has actually fallen away from this profound simplicity!

Thus if one has a love for the truth – this desire having been planted within by the indwelling of the Spirit of truth – one cannot rest with shortcomings, that is, with the traditions of men. When I began to settle in the denomination one admitted to me that ‘we don’t have the whole truth’, which encouraged me, as I was searching, and am still, for more knowledge of Christ and of him crucified: of what it really means to walk in the way of the cross; of what Paul meant when he wrote that he lived ‘by the faith of the Son of God’, Gal. 2:20; but I found little real desire among them to come into more truth – indeed, how can they, as their very existence is defined by 35 Articles to which they are necessarily bound? – and found rather an entrenched attitude that they have, if not arrived, found enough to distance themselves above most of the rest.

One of the fruits of this attitude of mind is an over-emphasis on outward form, as Mark 7:8. How legalistic things tend to become regarding appearance; that if one conforms, for example, to ‘how we look’, then one is practically half way there. So those that attend chapel and subscribe to all the denominational magazines will regularly hear and read of how they should dress, or not dress, and of what ‘our’ definition of ‘worldliness’ is – although the scriptural definition is much wider, deeper, and fuller than the GS one allows.

To give an example: some years ago we went to Scotland on holiday, and received the standard denominational advice that, as there were no GS chapels north of the border, we should attend the Free Presbyterians as they were ‘the closest to us’. But how are they close to the Gospel Standard churches? In outward form! For not only do they dress like them – their women wear hats[6] and don’t wear trousers – they also use the same Bible, keep ‘the Sabbath’, address God as thee and thou, and don’t have televisions. But what about their doctrine? Are they ‘like us’ in that? The law as the rule of life for the believer? The free offer? Duty faith and duty repentance? Progressive sanctification? Baby sprinkling? Same gospel? Well, no, not quite, ‘but they do look the same as us’! O well, that’s all right then. But GS ministers and members won’t ‘sit down’ at the Lord’s table and partake of the elements with them! So where is the ‘unity’? Evidently not in Jesus Christ and him crucified, then; but in outward appearance only. But this is just a new legalism and hypocrisy.

I am sure that some in the denomination will agree with much of what I have written in this treatise, while others will be offended. My hope is that it will not be the style of writing that offends but the truth itself; and that that offence will cause one and another to fall under the plain meaning of scripture; bringing forth true humility, godly sorrow, and repentance, 2 Cor. 7:8-11. Oh, that what is written might at least cause one or two to stop and think, to seek the Lord and search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, Acts 17:10-12 (note the ‘therefore’ in that passage). Writing this has given me no real pleasure; indeed, I have written out of a great sense of disappointment really, as I verily thought I’d found a spiritual home in the GS. I am aware that these things pertain to real people who will appear on the day of judgment; but we can be sure that however sincerely certain hold the traditions of men it will count for nothing before the Judge of all the earth.

I have thus written in a heartfelt and direct way, and, I admit, not always in the careful, studied and ‘gracious’ language that most are used to, which just causes many over time to become ‘dull of hearing’ anyway. I feel passionately about these things for they have to do with eternity. I see no reason in these last days to tiptoe through the issues: there will be no such ‘diplomatic’ language heard on that day. I know that I have always appreciated straight speaking, even when it hurts – and Jesus’ words to the religious hypocrites of his day were often nothing if not sharp, e.g. Matthew 23; but it is such direct language that has awakened, arrested, convicted and done me good in the long run, Psalm 141:5, Prov. 27:5,6, Gal. 4:16. Thus, it is for the care of souls, as well as out of a love for the truth that I have written.

May God be pleased to give the increase, and may the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified.

 

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[1] The ‘same things’ that I am referring to here are different to Paul’s ‘same things’ of Philippians 3:1 mentioned above – which the context of both will show.

[2] It may be that they are referring to Matthew 20:1-16; but in that context it is Christ, the householder, who has ‘hired’ the labourers, cp. 1 Cor. 3:8,9; whereas the modern-day pastor is hired by the people. Thus the order is totally reversed: instead of the Lord providing shepherds for his flock, ‘sheep’ appoint their own shepherds!

[3] Although this is one of the most frequently used adjectives in the denomination, yet it is not found even once in the whole of the New Testament!

[4] As we shall see in chapter 3, this promise can only be fully realised in context of the unity of the church as gathered.

[5] The New Iniquitous Version. Don’t be afraid to call it what it is – ‘corruptible seed’.

[6] Although 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 still stands, and was not just the ‘custom’ of the day, there is surely more to ‘head covering’ than merely wearing hats in chapel. Alas for many in the denomination, including the young, a lot of this has degenerated into vanity – a mere fashion parade. Indeed, I was once sitting in chapel and couldn’t even see the pulpit because the woman in front of me had on her head what can only be described as a UFO!

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