Editor's Letters

by T. Austin-Sparks

July-August 1946


Before I proceed, let me thank all those friends who have written in such an appreciative way regarding my letter in the last issue. If I had any questions as to the advisability of writing as I did, these are certainly being weakened by the expressions of definite help and value coming from so many directions. Some friends have even gone so far as to express a wish that the letter might be printed separately and made available for wider use. Well, we shall see. I hinted then that I might say more later, and with that sense of more needing to be said, I am proceeding here with the matter. I have dealt with some misapprehensions as to what our position is, and what we are seeking. It was not difficult to deal with the matters already mentioned, but as we go on it does become less easy because the whole question of spiritual understanding begins to be involved. We can say concerning certain precise matters that it is or is not such and such; but on other matters explanation is necessary, and, unless there is a certain spiritual capacity or position, it is like asking the blind to see.

To begin with, there is so often brought against us the charge of exclusiveness. We are said to be, either actually, or in danger of becoming, an exclusive body. What I said earlier does partly answer this charge, but not fully. If by exclusiveness it is meant that for fellowship it is necessary to subscribe to certain teachings, truths, doctrines, forms of procedure, practices, or anything whatever extra to the basic and essential principles or laws of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ resulting in new birth and living union with Him, then we most fervently refute the charge, and say that it is simply not true! If it is thought or believed that there is some form of membership and a membership roll which means that people are or are not of a company constituted thus; again the idea is false. We have no membership roll, either of a wider or a local company. Further, we most earnestly seek to urge that Truth as such shall never be a basis of fellowship, but only Life, and if we frown on anything or any one at all, it is not on those who do not see just as we see, but on those who - even amongst our intended friends - make Light a pinnacle from which they look down on those whom they think have less.

But there is another side to this question. The idea of exclusivism has arisen partly or largely from the fact that the ministry at our Conferences and in general is not shared by all and sundry who are earnest and devoted servants of God of evangelical faith. Well, if that is the ground of the charge, we must plead guilty, if it is guilt. But here is where understanding is called for. You see, dear friends, we should never have come to be fulfilling the particular ministry to the Lord's people which we are engaged in with all that it has come to mean of greater spiritual fulness to so many through these years - a ministry reaching to almost every country of the world - if the Lord had not dealt with us in a way peculiarly relevant and essential thereto. It has been a deep and costly way, and still is so, for it is not just certain themes that we are proclaiming, but a life, an experience of the Lord, a powerful and dynamic reality which has to be wrought into the very being of those concerned. Leaving aside altogether the question of measure and comparative value, it is a matter of the specific object which the Lord has with and through us as an instrument for His purpose in Christ. However much we may value all other ministries with their specific contribution to the whole - and we do so value them - we cannot but preserve the distinctiveness of our responsibility and trust. We once tried an "open platform" with the sincere object of avoiding the above charge, but the very meaning of our existence began to disappear. Whether you agree with our message or not, you surely must agree that a particular ministry requires those who have not just mentally agreed with it, but have gone through discipline in relation to it.

Now, there is another matter which has caused many much misunderstanding and misapprehension. It also is one of the contributing factors to the charge of exclusiveness. It is fairly generally known that in our local assembly life, when believers have testified by baptism to their union with Christ, some who represent the Church gather round these believers and, laying their hands upon their heads, pray for them, and so testify to the fact that "the Body is one" as by one Spirit. The fuller meaning of this is set out in one of the books published by us, and it is not my intention to discuss it here. Let me say, as to this matter, and with emphasis, that

a. There is no association with "tongues" or any other "manifestations" in this simple testimony. I personally, after many years of knowing about such things, have never yet once heard anyone speak in tongues anywhere.

b. It is our very earnest wish that this matter of "the laying-on-of-hands" should never be one for propagation in itself. This would be contrary to anything in the New Testament, for, while it is there as something recognised, it is never - like baptism and other things - in itself apart a matter of commandment or exhortation. So, if you know of anyone who singles this out and makes it a matter of challenge, please do understand that we do not favour such a course.

c. Then, finally, this is no sign or token of special relatedness to ourselves. The matter is never preached among us for acceptance or decision, it is only explained, and that only as related to the whole body of truth, not something in itself. Nevertheless there is blessing in all that the Lord has indicated as expressing spiritual principles.

Having said these things, and the letter has almost become a "treatise", and not by any means covering the ground of all the opposition, I shall conclude for the present by touching upon a note of a more general and superficial character. It is very often asked, especially by younger and inexperienced Christians, why it is that, if we are not all wrong, so many godly, devoted, and much-used servants of God are unsympathetic and against us. There is a sense in which this is also our problem, and much could be said about it. The answer in general is that it has been so again and again, both in and from New Testament times. But I will give my own case as representative. Years ago I was unquestionably stretched out to the full for God's best, (as I trust I am now), and there was no doubt whatever as to my devotion to the Lord. I was right in the full tide of every kind of evangelical activity, and especially in conventions everywhere for the deepening of spiritual life. I was a member of many Missionary Boards and Committees, and was greatly in demand because it was believed that I was a man with a message. This is putting into very few words an immense amount of truly devoted activity and concern for the Lord's interests. Being a man of prayer I was open to the Lord for all His will, I believed. But there was a certain realm of things against which I was deeply prejudiced. It was really the very essence of the original "Keswick" teaching, but I would not have it at any price. I fought it and those who taught it. To make a long story short, the Lord took me seriously in hand along another line, and brought me into great spiritual distress. The very thing that proved my emancipation was that which I would not formerly have touched for anything. That proved the key to a fuller life and a world-wide ministry. I came to see that my judgment had been wholly wrong, and that I was blinded by prejudice. I believed that I was honest and right, and seemed to have evidence of it; but no, I was, in my ignorance, shutting out something which was of great value to the Lord and to myself. Thank God for the grace to be perfectly honest when the fact of prejudice was brought home to my heart. Perhaps this helps a little in answering the question. No man is infallible, and no one has yet "apprehended", nor is "yet perfect". Many godly men have had to adjust in the presence of fuller light given when a sense of need made such necessary.

In writing thus, my hope is that it will provide a ground for the undoing of some of that persistent and devoted work of Satan in weakening the Testimony of Jesus by dividing the Lord's people.

With love, and warmest greetings to you all,
Yours, as ever only for Him,
T. Austin-Sparks

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.