Quoting Martyn Lloyd-Jones . . .
| I have often said that I know of nothing more instructive, next to the Bible, than church history. I know nothing more encouraging, nothing more exhilarating. Do you think the story of the church began in Acts in infancy and gradually went on developing, continuing up and up and up? That is not it at all. The story of the church is a story of ups and downs. The church, because men and women forget the original pattern, becomes a mere institution; she becomes dead. She may grow wealthy, she may gain great political power--the popes were tremendously powerful in the Middle Ages--but that has nothing to do with the church. And how is it that there is a Christian church at all today? It is because God in His mercy has looked down and has revived the church and has made her come back to the first pattern. This is true reformation. Do you want to know what the church is? Well, look at the people in Acts 2. They met together every day to listen to the apostles' doctrine, to have fellowship with the apostles, to break bread with them, to pray with them. |
This phenomenon began to spread, and people were amazed. There was a dynamic, there was a power, there was something living, and people said, "What is this? I wish I could have it."
Have you ever read the story of the church that used to meet in the catacombs in Rome? The believers were persecuted so severely that they could not meet anywhere else. But they met together in those burial places underground. These were little people, quite unimportant people. There were few great people among them. But they met together. There in the catacombs they engaged in this fellowship, and the power spread. That is the great story of the church. Alas, in the name of God, do not look at things as you see them today! Look back to this great history, and then you will see what a church is.
Perhaps when you look at those dark Middle Ages with Roman Catholicism ruling in pomp and power, and the Pope a great prince, manipulating kings and rulers, you say, "That's the church!" No, it is not! That is the "great harlot"; that is the devil's counterfeit. It has nothing to do with Christianity.
So where was the church in those times? It was to be found among a very simple little people in the north of Italy--people known as the Waldensians. They met together in one another's houses. Sometimes they were not even allowed to do that, and then they would meet in caves away up in the hills and in the mountains. But they came together, those little groups. That was the church. Or there were the followers of John Hus, in what is now called Czechoslovakia, or the followers of John Wycliffe in England, and all this well before the Protestant Reformation. That is the church--not a great institution, but these little people believing the truth, knowing the Lord, having their lives changed, holding on to the teaching, and praying together.
And then we come to the Protestant Reformation itself, and immediately we again find the people meeting together in these little companies. Come along down the centuries: We find the church among the Puritans, and we meet it in the wonderful story of the Scottish Covenanters. Read these things and you will see what the church is, what Christianity is.
Usually the Covenanters had to meet away up in the mountains somewhere. I remember once visiting a place called the Communion Stones in the south of Scotland not far from Dumfries, one of the most thrilling places I think I have ever visited. You had to go off the main roads, up the secondary roads, and you came to a farm lane and a farmyard. Then you had to walk up the side of a hill. There was a little break in the hills, and just around the corner you saw a kind of natural meeting-place, almost a little amphitheater, where there was a big stone. This was where the Scottish Christians in the seventeenth century used to meet together on Sunday afternoons for a Communion service. A man or two would be posted in the gap in the hills to see if the English soldiers were coming to arrest them. These were little, unknown people, but they had the grace of God in their hearts.
They were risking life and limb to meet in this way, but their lives had been transformed, and they were ready to meet their God.So this is the picture of the church; this is what is meant by fellowship. And according to the New Testament, one of the best tests we can ever apply to ourselves to know whether or not we are Christians is this test of fellowship. Would you like to know whether you are a Christian? That is the most important thing you can ever know. You cannot live truly, and you certainly cannot die truly unless you are a Christian. But how do you know? Here is John's answer: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).
What does John mean? He means that we like the fellowship of Christians. The moment those 3,000 were converted, they joined the fellowship. Nothing could keep them away. Love for the brethren had become one of the biggest and deepest things in their lives. It had become more important to them even than the sweetest earthly ties. When people become Christians they want to spend all their time with other Christians, and they become concerned about them. The proof of Christianity is that it changes people, it gives them a new birth, and they belong to a new family. And this new family bond is deeper than natural or social or national ties. They are drawn together. They cannot keep apart from one another.