My wife and I left the Anglican Church in July 2003 after being in it for 30 years as committed believers. We had been seven years in the church we were then attending. We left because we had each become convinced, for different reasons, that it was unbiblical and worldly. We left at that particular time because I had a clear direction from God that it was time to leave it.
At the time we left, I assumed that we would quickly start a new house church fellowship. However, it turned out that the Lord wanted us to wait. I talked to some people I thought of as possible members of a fellowship and found that though they might, tentatively, acknowledge the truth of what I was saying about the church, they had no desire or conviction to change anything they were doing.
Soon afterwards, I began to meet with a few other men in the home of an ex-vicar. Although this provided some fellowship, it was not suitable as the basis of a church because it was men only, and because the ex-vicar had a desire to control that would quickly have destroyed any fellowship he was part of. That became clear with hindsight; early on, I would have gone into a fellowship with him. However, I was restrained by my wife, who had an intense reaction to him, so much so that she could hardly stand to be in the same room with him.
Three years on, we are just beginning what may become a fellowship, meeting with one other couple.
The intervening time has been frustrating in some ways, but it has taught a lesson about waiting for God's timing. Even if what we want to do is completely biblical, doing it in our own strength and at our will is wrong. We know we ought to meet with other believers and we know how a biblical fellowship ought to operate, but every part of our life also needs to be governed by the Holy Spirit. It is up to him to tell us whom to meet with and when. If we try to do the right thing at the wrong time, it is almost as bad as doing something that is altogether wrong. We must allow God to direct us. A battle plan requires each unit to move at the time the overall commander directs; a unit that moves without orders, or does not move when ordered, can cause the whole battle to be lost.
Of course, we never need God's specific guidance about refraining from evil. The time to stop stealing or lusting is right now! Doing positive good, however, requires choices. We cannot give to all the needy in the world; we need God to direct us which particular ones to give to. We cannot meet with all believers; we have to know which particular ones to meet with. We cannot set up just any fellowship; we need to set up the one that God wants.
There are three major components of guidance: law, prophecy and wisdom. The law, that is, the scripture, tells us what ought to be; prophecy gives us God's direct word for now; and wisdom joins with the two others to fill out the practical details. In our case, the “law” tells us that the institutional churches are wrong and that the correct form of meeting is a biblical house church; the prophetic guidance was God's specific word to come out of the old system along with various insights since that time; and wisdom – sanctified common sense, in part – involves discerning just how we should put into practice what the other two teach.
Any group of believers will contain people whose personalities lean towards one in particular of the three modes of guidance. In our case, my wife leans strongly towards wisdom and I more towards law. Understanding what God wants of us needs both of us together. The risk in any group, even (or especially) a married couple, is that one particular form of guidance is allowed to dominate. In particular, someone whose guidance tends towards prophecy will feel that it is essential to follow it immediately; however, the Lord requires us to keep things in balance. A husband must respect the guidance that God gives through his wife, even if (especially if) it is putting the brakes on what he thinks they ought to do. A fellowship needs to receive the input of all of its members and respect all of them so as to understand the full counsel of God for them. That is why the scripture tells us to submit to one another and particularly that prophecies must be tested.
Submitting to one another requires us to make an effort to get the input of the shy and retiring members. People who lack confidence will be reluctant to speak up when they disagree with the rest. However, God may choose to speak only through one of them and so they must be heard and their input tested and integrated with everyone else's. They will have to be enabled and encouraged to put themselves forward. People who have strong personalities will tend to override others without even meaning to. They need to give way to others and indeed the rest of the fellowship will need to keep them in check.
Receiving God's guidance means bringing forward the hesitant and restraining the dominant so that every person contributes what God has given him or her. Ideally, every member of a fellowship will respond accordingly, but if they do not, the elders need to step in as watchmen over the fellowship to see that they do. It is also important that they should not let those who are confident of their own position push others into agreeing with them. People who do not like argument will tend to give way when they ought not, simply in order to avoid confrontation.
Eldership does not convey any privilege or superior authority in receiving guidance from God. The elders' task is to be watchmen, not directors. They should be able to discern error in order to protect the fellowship from acting on mistaken guidance; they will probably be given a special insight in integrating and balancing the guidance received, but they have no monopoly on that original guidance.
God wants to guide us and provides the means for us to receive his guidance safely. While domination by one individual or group will distort God's counsel and will probably lead to error, his full counsel is found by balancing the three sources of guidance, law, prophecy and wisdom and by receiving his input through every member of a fellowship.
Oliver Elphickolly@lfix.co.uk 14th August 2006