The called-out ones

3. The gathering of the people

Reflection on on we should gather or planting the forest of God

The chapters that follow see the picture of the gathering of the chosen ones as the planting of trees that are destined to become a great forest covering the whole earth. Each tree portrayed a local gathering growing and spreading seed to grow more and more individual trees. Each tree separate, autonomous but all become one by being true to the nature of the species. A tree that fails to reproduce has no part in a forest. It may add branches, leaves, fruit and flowers but failure to plant seed and grow another tree is death to the species.

Part of the nature of the tree seems to be its ability to respond to the unique environment in which it has its growth. Each has its special characteristics and unique interpretation of the tree nature. These special graces add beauty to its life and purpose.

However a tree or a church that departs from the basic patterns that define a true tree nature becomes deformed and cancerous. Its God given beauty produces deformed fruit and seed destined to grow strange plants.

The tree has its instructions built into its nature. It has no choice.

The saints of God must read the instruction book and obey the rules it dictates. They do have a choice.

Herein is the difficulty. The great problem/failure/sin of the churches is failure to pay attention to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, as He reveals more and more of

the living Word. It requires courage to obey present truth.

Some churches for example literally read Scripture differently from others, some know but conveniently ignore the very evident detail, and some make excuses or put off obedience till convenient. These wayward attitudes tend to become traditions and habits that set aside the on going purpose of God.

(Mark 7:13 NIV) Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Getting the pattern right in all its detail is the only way to present truth and the growing of a healthy tree/church.


Around this question has raged argument from the very beginning of the call to those who seek to become followers of the way. To our shame this problem has been the source of inexcusable greed, selfishness and lust for power. From very large worldwide groups to very small, humankind clings tenaciously to the need to control. There are very, very few local churches that are autonomous. Many appear to be, or claim to be, but there always seems to be a need for an outside control group to grant their “ministers” some kind of certificate/qualification /registration/credential permitting them to act as “clergy”

Such a local church is not autonomous.


right of self government; personal freedom

(auto= self; nomas=law)

In the context of the governing structure of the local church this is not to confused with dependence …


: not depending on authority, unwilling to be under obligation to others, congregationalist. having no reliance or trust in.

(in= not, the reverse of; dependere= to hang.)

The concept does however have much to do with the idea of liberty as expressed within the biblical teaching and an understanding of the limits set by the revealing of the New Testament Church structure in the Bible.

Liberty :

Being free from captivity; being subject only to laws established on behalf of the community

(L.libertas = free.)

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], [there [is] liberty].


For the sake of this discussion it is accepted that the “Church Universal” is as stated in Matt 16:18_19. i.e. one Church. We are intending to discuss the ” churches” or “ecclesia” as exampled in the book of Acts. These small gatherings of the church were much like the Romans of that day who, whenever they met in assembly, counted themselves part of the city of Rome. Similarly believers when assembled saw themselves as part of the heavenly city. They were at such times Zion, the general assembly of the first born.

Hebrews 12:22_24 But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, [23] To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,[24] And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than [that of]Abel.


Within the universal Ecclesia, there were assembled many meetings “churches” in various localities, all replicas and part of the whole. This is best demonstrated by

Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it]to the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto you as a heathen man and a publican.

Telling it to the Church universal presents a virtual impossibility and makes evident the local church concept.


Implied within Matt.18:18-20. is the authority for two or three believers to …

i. Gather together.

ii … Gather in/into His name (the only true place of worship, not to a denominational name !)


iii. Jesus will be in the midst. (He is always there as head of the Church. )

iv. Binding and loosing ministry is given and with it spiritual authority.

(Mat 18:18-20 NIV) “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. [19] “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. [20] For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”


Many local churches grew up in the days of Acts. They were all part of the Church universal, they looked to the heavenly city Zion, they saw themselves as part of a great unity in the spirit.

These local churches were of many kinds and structures ranging from small gatherings in homes to a larger assembly in Jerusalem.

This Jerusalem church makes an interesting study, as from it many truths were to grow and bless the church universal. It was the place for a great meeting over legalism and we have cause to give thanks for its contribution to our understanding of the faith. It may well be one of the tasks of the new moves of God to give to the faith a similar unique contribution.


But notice the reason for Jerusalem’s decline. Legalism, sectarianism, bigotry and because of the doctrine advocated by legalistic Judaizers; a mixing of law and grace. Paul found these things his greatest problem, as was the tendency towards centralising. Well-meaning Jewish brethren sought to perpetuate this idea. They found it difficult to let go the former days of a great centre where God gathered his people. We still have this problem in the churches of today.


The book of Acts speaks of a large number of local churches in various locations. There is no indication of any governing structure over all these gatherings except for the respect and consideration given to those who ministered to the saints in various ways. e.g. Paul.


It is important to note what the Apostles the founders of the Churches did NOT do with these churches.

i. They did not create a Denominational Church from all the local churches.

ii. They did not use Jerusalem or any other church as a “Mother Church”

iii. There was no centralisation or “headquarters” for all the churches. They did not establish provincial or national churches. e.g. Church of England.

iv. They did not have churches for nationality. e.g. The Greek Church.

v. They did not have district churches and bring all under a district head.

vi. They did not impose literary qualifications for Elders, register them at a central record or require credentials issued by some central authority.


All churches were locally governed. They were totally autonomous, and reproduced themselves accordingly. They were not welded into a great organisation, nor was the unity an organisational unity, but it was a unity in the spirit, by the Holy Spirit.


The wisdom of this is evident in the world of today. The huge monolithic structures that man has built and called the church are filled with bureaucratic structures and groan under the weight of their own internal legislation.

The Church of Rome, the Church of England to mention two, have a constant problem of struggles in church government and legalism, as will any structure that strays from the simple local autonomous church under multiple elders.

From the monolith of Rome to the more subtle method of controlling who will be the clergy by central licensing, the authority of the local church Presbytery is set aside and local church autonomy compromised.


It matters not how humankind works out the plans, how many constitutions are written, the result will be someone or some group wanting to have the control over others. Bondage under man’s law is NOT scriptural. If the saints do not recognise the authority of the Spirit in your ministry, legalism and Canon Law will not make any difference. True submission does not exist without Spiritual authority. Casting aside the principle of liberty produces spiritually immature slaves.

Hidden behind this seeking to control is a more serious sin. Lack of faith in the Holy Spirit’s ability to preserve the faith taught by the founding fathers is often present. That insidious legalistic question always seems to come up. How can we be sure that a local church will preach correct doctrine without supervision? A good start might be faith and trust in the validity of God’s provision. He is quite capable of preserving His Word.


Much more could be said on this subject but the essential point is that man is not called to build the church universal. Jesus said “I will build my Church”

(Mat 16:18 NIV) on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The examples given in Acts to believers teach us to assemble together under local oversight to worship the Lord. Extending His kingdom (as many rightly see it) is effected by planting other such assemblies, no more and no less.

A movement of God is not a call to build yet another organisational structure like all the rest, an idea that the church has been plagued with over the past two thousand years.

A movement is a great swell of revelation that comes to inspire God’s people and motivate them to bring into being more and more local churches. The biblical pattern is to provide for the lost a safe, local sheepfold in a weary land. This gives reality to the call of the great commission and shares with our neighbours the hope of the gospel.

The temptation of Babylonian ideas still has its subtle influence in the growth and history of the Christian churches. The same forces are at work that caused the Creator to scatter the people and confuse their language.

(Gen 11:4 NIV) Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Or perhaps this we could write it this way . . . . . . . . . .

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city


with a tower that reaches to the heavens


so that we may make a name for ourselves


and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.