Schriftbeginselen van Kerkrecht Inzake Meerdere Vergaderingen -
S. Greijdanus (Translated
by Rev. Andrew J. Pol)
Last Updated: February 10, 2013
It is interesting to take note of what Dr. S. Greijdanus wrote about church unity more than fifty years ago in "Schriftbeginselen van Kerkrecht Inzake Meerdere Vergaderingen" (Uitgeverij J. Boersma - Enschede). Dr. Greijdanus served as professor of New Testament for many years in Kampen, the Netherlands. He was a contemporary of Dr. K. Schilder. Here are some quotes from his booklet.
Translated by Rev. Andrew J. Pol
The Lord revealed his will concerning the church and her life or activity by what he said and did, and through the words and deeds of his disciples or apostles and first servants, to the extent that this is made known to us with divine authority in the Holy Scripture. He makes known to us that he is the one who builds his congregation, Matthew 16:18. He knows his sheep, John 10:14, calls them by name, John 10:3, which means individually, leads them out and brings them together to be one flock, John 10:16. He is therefore also called the Chief Shepherd, 1 Peter 5:4, Hebrews 13:20, which is not simply a matter of speech and a figurative designation, but an indication of the highest reality of the Lords attention, activity, and care for and with his entire church and each of her members personally throughout the centuries and at each moment.
Accordingly he also said: I am with you always, to the very end of the age, Matthew 28:20. Of course that applied not only to the eleven disciples or apostles, and the others who were privileged to hear these words, for none of them would live until the day of judgment. But in addressing them, the Lord spoke to his church in her entirety and to each of her members throughout the centuries. In a very real way the Lord is still with his entire church on earth, wherever she is, and with every office bearer in the fulfillment of his office, and with every gathering of his office bearers and of his congregation, as he said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them," Matthew 18:20, and with every believer.
He appeared to John and also in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, Revelation 1:13, and refers to himself as the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands, Revelation 2:1. He knows of his whole church and of every congregation and of every member of the church, special office bearer, or not, the works and the labor and the perseverance, or the oppression and poverty, the experience, the sin, the good and the evil, Revelation 2:9, 13, 19, etc., pays attention to all that, praises or finds fault, encourages or reprimands, promises or warns, as can be seen in his letters to the seven congregations in Asia. He did write those letters to the angel of each of those congregations, but not only to these personally and individually, but at the same time to the whole congregation, of whom they were the angels, and to each of her members. For again and again the conclusion is: He who has an ear, let him hear, Revelation 2:7, 11 etc.
Further the LORD has revealed that his church is a spiritual unity, one totality. She is called his people whom he came to save, Matthew 1:21, he calls her his congregation, Matthew 16:18, and says that he gathers her to be one flock, John 10:16. She is depicted as the house of God, 1 Timothy 3:15, and Gods temple, 1 Corinthians 3:16, and is the body of the Lord, Colossians 1:24. All those who have been given by the Father to the Son and redeemed by the Son, form one great spiritual unity like the human body, of which all believers are as members, Romans 12:5, who have different gifts and calling, Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-27, but all belong together as an organic unity, and with each other form one well articulated totality ("een wel geleed geheel"), as one body, with Christ as the Head, Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:16.
In this way indeed all local churches around the whole earth form an inner spiritual unity. They live out of him and by his Spirit. It is one body and one Spirit. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, Ephesians 4:4-5. In this sense the totality also precedes the parts, the one church of the Lord precedes her local revelations and institutions. Most of the time the church also arises in a certain location through the work of a church that has already become manifest and instituted somewhere else...But this is not to say that we should therefore regard these local churches as divisions of the great totality of the church, and as standing beneath the churches where preachers came from to make those who have been redeemed by the LORD know him and receive him in faith there, by means of their proclamation of the gospel. For the churches in Palestine may have formed a certain totality, so that (in the original text, according to the manuscripts regarded as the best) in Acts 9:31 it can be said: Then the congregation throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, yet we do not see that there was any institutional bond between the various churches that arose through Pauls labors for the gospel, or those mentioned further in the New Testament.
They have their external bond of cohesion in common dependence on and submission to the apostle Paul and the other apostles, but aside from this they stand independently next to each other. The congregation in Philippi has nothing to say over the one in Thessalonica or in Corinth, and the latter has nothing to say over the former. The apostle writes his letter to the Galatians, not to the congregation in Galatia, but to the congregations, Galatians 1:2. In Revelation 1:12 John does not see one golden lamp stand with seven lamps, but seven lampstands standing separately, with the Lord walking in their midst. For the unity of the church of the LORD over the whole earth is spiritual, not institutional, not official ("ambtelijk"). The Lord did not give his congregation on earth regional, provincial, national, ecumenical office bearers -aside from the apostles- in the way that he gave her local office bearers: ministers of the Word, elders, deacons.
The church is definitely a spiritual totality, but not an institutional, official unity with national, provincial, and regional divisions. The church is indeed a unity in a region, province, country, the world, but not one that is organized, coordinated by office bearers ("ambtelijk gelede"), provided by the Lord with a unity consisting of an official institution or structure in descending hierarchical order, embracing the whole world, according to countries and regions. Rather it is a spiritual unity, as a body, where one organ and member does need the other for its healthy existence and right functioning, but still in no way rules over the other other member...
The unity of the church does not necessarily demand official union and the organization of local churches among one another into a larger and even larger visible totality over a region, a territory, and the surface of the earth. Otherwise the Lord would have indicated that clearly in his Word. He would also have instituted the necessary offices embracing a district, province, country, or the world, and not just local ones, aside from the office of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. He would not have let the seven Asiatic congregations appear to John represented as seven lampstands standing separately from each other. He would also have had the apostle Paul construct an external organizational bond between these established congregations. But we read nothing of this in the Holy Scripture.
The congregations in Palestine, in Cilicia, in Asia Minor, in Greece and elsewhere, those in Jerusalem, Antioch, Smyrna, Thyatira, Berea, Nicopolis, and wherever else congregations were, were indeed all the one body of the Lord, but without an organized bond among each other, without a further official and external union or association forming a church of one district, region, country, or the world. They were all independent next to each other, without one being subject to the other.
When the Lord then also prays: that they may all the one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, that they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me, John 17:21, and: that they may be one as we are one: I in them in you in me, that they may become perfectly one, verses 22-23, we had better not understand this as an external, organizational unity, and not at all mainly or exclusively so. The unity is there even if every external bond of connection is lacking. And that unity can become manifest even if no visible organization or connection can be seen binding all together.
That is apparent with the seven congregations in Asia Minor; we can see that with the many congregations in various places mentioned for us in the New Testament. That unity consists of something else, and must become apparent in something else, at least principally. The external connection or organization of churches among each other in various places is a matter of more or very subordinate importance. It is not at all the main issue.
What is that unity, and what is indeed the main issue in this regard? There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all, Ephesians 4:4-6... That unity is not just a matter of external organization, although this can be connected to it and result from it. The external bond of union or the cohesion of various local churches is of secondary, if not even of very minor significance and value, as is apparent from the absence of the organizational binding together of congregations among each other made known in to us in the New Testament. The unity is first of all and most of all a spiritual one, and must manifest itself principally in unity of faith, confession, life, of faith in, confession of, living according to the will of the Lord. Then the world can learn to believe that the Father sent the Son into the world and it can learn to confess that and learn to notice the love of the Son. That does not take place through a unity of external organization, merely by binding local churches into a visible regional and provincial and national and world church. But it takes place through the unity of thinking of and believing in and confessing of and living with a view to one and same Christ of God through the Holy Spirit.
Because these local churches, however independent and autonomous with regard to each other, are only local manifestations of the one church of the Lord, his body, and form the closest and most intimate spiritual unity, they are to engage in correspondence with each other and work together as far as this is feasible. For the cooperation in correspondence must serve to let the Word of the Lord have full dominion and to promote the salvation of the churches. As soon as those two elements, which are closely connected and are one in spirit, are thereby hindered or impaired, the correspondence and cooperation must be discontinued, terminated, either partly or entirely, depending on the case that arises.But then as far as it is possible, the local churches have the divine obligation to establish relations with each other, to cooperate, to maintain good correspondence...
Sin and its consequences are not first of all what makes the church federation necessary. But what is one in essence must also manifest itself as one in the world, as far as that can take place. Sin and its effect only come up for discussion in the second place. Accordingly, by means of a church federation an effort not only has to be made to ward off danger, or to prevent or oppose individualism by means of a church federation, but like every believer, every church is called to use the treasures and gifts received willingly and with joy for the benefit of the other churches and believers. The one church is also obligated to to serve the other church with the gifts she has received from the Lord. Of course there can be in addition to this a supplying of what one lacks, a warding off of an abuse that threatens or is present in ones own church life or in the life of the other church.
Although desirable, where it is possible, and given with the spiritual unity of all true local churches as manifestations of the one body of Christ, his church, it (=a church federation, AJP) is nevertheless not always necessary, as can be seen in the case of the congregations in the New Testament, and especially the seven congregations in Asia, seen by John as seven separate lampstands, that were independent and not attached to each other, and did not appear as one lampstand with seven lamps. The congregations in Galatia were greatly endangered precisely by contact with men from Jerusalem, Galatians 1:6ff. Disaster was warded off because of Paul boldly standing his ground and taking action. But under normal circumstances a church federation is desirable and indicated; we can even speak of divine calling, and all the more now that the apostles are no longer with us, although in this connection vigilance is and remains imperative in every respect.