One grave practical lack which Mr. Müller sought to remedy was ignorance of those deeper truths of the Word which relate to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit of God in the church, and to the ministry of saints, one to another, as fellow members in the body of Christ, and as those to whom that same Spirit divides severally, as he will, spiritual gifts for service. As a natural result of being untaught in these important practical matters, believers’ meetings had proved rather opportunities for unprofitable talk than godly edifying which is in faith. The only hope of meeting such errors and supplying such lack lay in faithful Scripture teaching, and he undertook for a time to act as the sole teacher in these gatherings...Afterward, when there seemed to be among the brethren proper apprehension of vital spiritual truths,...he resumed his place as simply a brother among fellow believers, all of whom had liberty to teach as the Spirit might lead and guide...With strong emphasis he dwelt upon the presiding presence of the Blessed Spirit in all assemblies of saints, and upon the duty and privilege of leaving the whole conduct of such assemblies to His divine ordering; and in perfect accord with such teaching he showed that the Holy Spirit, if left free to administer all things, would lead such brethren to speak at such times and on such themes as He might please.
---from “George Müller of Bristol” by Arthur T. Pierson
This vignette from Mr. Müller’s life bears on everything I have to say in this book. My hope is that the reader will regularly recall the picture painted by Mr. Pierson, for it is filled with sound theology, in particular that area of doctrine called ecclesiology. The picture painted above indicates 1) the centrality of the Spirit in leading and ordering the church meeting, 2) the spiritual gifts exercised in the assembly, 3) the role of the teacher in perfecting saints for the work of the ministry, 4) the function of pastors in the churches, and 5) a true definition of ministry or service. Mr. Müller acted first as a teacher and, later, in “resum(ing) his place as simply a brother among fellow believers,” he assumed a pastoral role. This accurately reflects the functions of teaching and pastoring in the churches. Notice how compatible these functions are with the free ministry of the Spirit in and through the brethren. This ministry of the Spirit is the very practical manifestation of the Headship of Jesus Christ over His church. Christ is not missing in the church pictured above. He is in the midst of them, and He is Head of this church not only nominally but practically and effectively.
Christians accustomed to the reigning church traditions will suspect that believers’ meetings operating after the fashion indicated by Mr. Pierson will “prove rather opportunities for unprofitable talk,” as Mr. Müller encountered. But that is simply proof that Christians, 1) have never been taught the doctrine of the church, i.e., its operation and functioning as a body, and 2) have not grown to spiritual maturity under the reigning order of things. The two problems are closely related, as we will show.
A note about Mr. Müller. He was and is highly renowned for his care of orphans in nineteenth century England. He was known and loved for his godliness and humility, but most of all for his faith that God would supply his orphans’ needs. God showed Himself faithful again and again, never failing Mr. Müller and his orphans, and this despite the fact that Müller never once asked for material support from other believers.
The other facet of Mr. Müller’s life that is well-known is that in later years he, accompanied by his wife, traveled the world as an evangelist and Bible teacher. His preaching and teaching was not only sound, it was uniquely plain and unadorned. Nowhere was this more evident than in his teaching concerning the church, its function and operation, summarized in the vignette above. His view of the church as simply Christians ministering to one another is thoroughly Biblical, and it is also completely foreign to us. We need to pay heed to Mr. Müller for more than his love of orphans, for he was a sound theologian in the very best sense of the word.
The basis for this book is the undeniable truth that our churches function not at all as pictured above. A corollary to this is that not only do the churches not function as pictured above, they have no warrant for functioning as they do. The way the churches function is not a matter of Christian liberty, it is to be done in a way that reflects New Testament teachings. We will show the original church functioning, how men changed it for the worse, and the New Testament teaching which, believed, would restore the church to its original functioning. Thus the book is in three parts.
Now, about the title of the book. Let me be very clear about what it doesn’t mean. Displacement theology is emphatically not a variation on “replacement theology,” the teaching that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan for the world. As a dispensationalist I thoroughly believe that, while some of God’s promises to Israel were conditioned on obedience, He also made unconditional promises to the nation even as He has to believers on Jesus Christ. Read the prophets! Over and over again we find promises that are yet unfulfilled concerning the future of Israel. “Replacement theology” makes God out to be a liar insofar as His unconditional promises to Israel are concerned. As a system of theology it is repugnant to me. God has not “changed His mind about Israel and transferred His promises to the church” any more than He ever changes His mind about the salvation of His saints. There are unconditional promises to Israel as a nation and there are unconditional promises to believers on Jesus Christ. “All Israel will be saved,” Rom. 11:26, does not mean every Jew is converted but that one day all Israel will consist only of converted Jews. This sifting of the Jews is of course the purpose of the time of “Jacob’s trouble,” the time which Jesus called “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21.
So what is “displacement theology?” It is simply another name for clericalism, but it is far more descriptive in that it describes the effects of clericalism. “Displacement theology” explains why a majority of the churches have read Romans 12:3-8 (see the back cover) for most of church history, and not even blinked. Displacement theology consists of the teachings and more importantly the practices which have displaced a mutual ministry of the saints in the churches, first and foremost on the Lord’s day in the church, when all are assembled. (I find it necessary to qualify the phrase “in the church” for the reason that it has come to mean “in the building” rather than what it truly means: “in the church” means when all are assembled. In the New Testament it never means anything else. That is the way Paul uses the phrase in I Corinthians 14. And when Paul writes “to the church” he simply means all the saints or believers, and never a building.)
Lest the reader be discouraged by the thought that “the book is simply another anti-clericalist tract,” well of course there have been many of these written in the history of the church. You will also notice that not a one of these tracts has ever gained traction in the churches. Most of them have been swept into “the dust bin of history.” The finest book I have read on Christian ministry, by Thomas Hughes Milner and written in 1858, I had to republish myself. (Originally titled “The Messiah’s Service,” I republished it in 2013 as “The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles.” There were approximately a handful of copies of the book remaining in the world at the time of republication.) Of course supporters of the clergy system would call it “another anti-clericalist rant!” (Not that any of them have actually read it.) To the contrary it contains much positive and sound doctrine concerning what is called “church truth;” but since this teaching constitutes an implicit (when it is not express) rebuttal of the clergy system, it is widely judged as “an anti-clericalist rant.” But that epithet is simply proof that, in the church as in the world, the majority usually controls definitions. One day we will all be judged.
Make no mistake, the anti-clericalists have always been a distinct minority in the church, or at least since the fourth century. (See Chapter 5.) But this does not prove we are wrong. We are for something, too. In this book, Part II describes what I am against, and Part III describes what I am “for.”
To displace a thing is to dislocate, or move out of place, or supplant, or simply to replace by moving something else out of the way. As it applies to this book, the ministry of the saints indicated in Romans 12 has been displaced by the clergy system, to the detriment of both “clergy” and “laity.” However anti-clericalist teaching simply creates a void unless there are positive New Testament teachings to fill the void. But it is not this writer who will endeavor to fill the void, it is the New Testament that fills the void. Thus, Part III of this book. In the history of the church I have little doubt that much of what is called “anti-clericalist teaching” is simply positive teaching that has been dismissed.
Before we go on I want to speak of the most important thing of all, which is knowing Jesus Christ. Many will perceive that the subject of this book is not all that important. These will say the main thing is knowing and loving Jesus. Of course it is, but that is no justification for “keeping things as they are” in the church. What were our Lord’s final words before ascending into heaven? “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (age).” Not only are we to make disciples of all nations, we are to teach them all things that Jesus commanded His apostles to teach. These things are found in the New Testament gospels and epistles. We are to teach everything the apostles were commanded to teach us. We are to understand, then, that everything is important, but that there are things primary and secondary and tertiary in importance. A good student of the Word is able to make these distinctions, “rightly dividing the word of truth,” cf. II Tim. 2:15. Knowing and loving Jesus is the main thing, and that does not mean the other things are unimportant.
The churches, in hearing sermons Sunday after Sunday, attest that they well accept the idea that everything in the Scriptures is worthy of teaching. We do not say everything is equally important, but that all is important. However not everything is taught. We will prove it in this book.
But first things first. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha.” I Cor. 16:22. My sincere hope is that every reader knows and loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of us must be born again of the Spirit of God. It is not enough to profess faith in Christ, but we must believe that God raised Him from the dead—literally—in our hearts. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Rom. 10:10. Confession without heart belief will not do. But if we believe in our hearts, we will indeed confess it to men, first at baptism, and then, as opportunity affords, to believers and unbelievers alike. This is true confession, and not the idle repetition that many who are perishing recite in the churches on Sunday morning.
Dear reader, if you are not saved by the blood of Jesus this book will do you no good. This is a book for believers and not mere professors of faith in Christ. But if you have not believed, now is the time. Have you repented of your sins? Do you accept the doctrine that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, not just as theory, but as applying to you? If it is only theory to you, you are unsaved. If your sinfulness is only theory to you, then you have no need for the atoning blood of Jesus to satisfy God’s wrath against sin.
In Christendom the most famous Bible verse of all is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The problem, I say again, is that legions in Christendom have confused confession with belief. The former is outward; the latter is “in my innermost parts.” Millions have confessed faith in Christ who have not believed in their hearts. What will be the final outcome for these, except they believe? “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Jn. 3:36. If you have not believed on the Son you are under the wrath of God. It abides on you right now and will continue on you forever except you repent and believe on Christ.
Repentance and belief are not “two steps” to salvation. They are different facets of the same thing. There is only one step to salvation. (Water baptism follows salvation. It is not a step to salvation. Millions are baptized who are perishing in their sins.) If you have not repented then you have not believed, except in a manner of speaking. Millions have “believed,” but their belief is “in faith” and not in the Person of Jesus Christ. Faith in faith does not save. That is the religion of the world. Faith in Christianity does not save. Faith in “going to church” does not save. Even faith in the Bible does not save. (The Pharisees had this, and thought they had eternal life, Jn. 5:39). Faith in Christ saves. This faith in Christ accompanies repentance, for who needs saving who does not first recognize he is perishing in his sins and headed for eternal fire?
The form of the Scriptures well attests to the need for repentance and faith. There is the Old Testament and then the New. First there is the law, then there is grace. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Jn. 1:17. Then, too, John the Baptist preached the law—and the baptism of repentance—in preparation for the Savior of the world. Those who repented at John’s teaching were ready to trust Jesus when he came. John 1:35-37 says, “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” John’s disciples were ready to follow Jesus.
The same witness is found in Acts 19:1-5, which says, “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So you see, those who had received the baptism of repentance were ready and willing to believe on Jesus. Belief in Christ is not something we merely “decide” to do. If you have truly repented of your sins, the logical question is, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Gal. 3:24. If you are a professor but not a believer, the law is for you: “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” I Tim. 1:9-11. If you have not “come through the law” to Jesus, then who is He to you? Simply a prophet? You are unsaved. A good man? You are unsaved. A wise teacher? Still unsaved. He is more than that, He is the Savior of the world! Matthew 16:13-18 says, “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus is the Christ, and on every profession that He is Savior of the world does He build His church. I don’t mean He builds the churches-in-buildings. I mean He builds His church.
When it says in I Tim. 1:9, “the law is not made for a righteous man,” who are these? Romans 10:10, again--“With the heart man believeth unto righeousness.” The man or woman or boy or girl who has believed on Jesus is no longer under the law. The law is not “made for him” anymore!
Many are perishing who suppose they have believed on Christ, but they never apologized to God—ever—for their sins. If we believe we are okay with God and have never repented of our sins, then what need is there for Him to save us? Save us from what? When it says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Rom. 10:13, the idea is not merely mental or intellectual calling on the Lord, it is a crying out from the heart to Him to be saved, as one who is drowning or burning or fallen into a pit would naturally cry out to his rescuers. The difference is, spiritual perishing is not temporal, it is eternal. A woman may drown and immediately go to be with the Lord. But a woman who drowns without believing on Jesus Christ perishes forever. For, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “Shall not see life” means “shall not see eternal life.”
There is godly and reverential fear of God, and there is fear and loathing of Him. The former is the attitude of believers, the latter the attitude of the unsaved. If you are unsaved it is perfectly reasonable for you to be afraid of God in an ungodly fashion. The wrath of God abides on you. But if you are unsaved and then believe the gospel, you cry out to the Lord and He saves you from the wrath to come. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We are to understand this is an unwavering promise of God. If we cry out from our hearts to the Lord He is faithful to save us. If we only “go through the motions” of calling on Him, that is not calling on the Lord in the Biblical sense. The Lord makes no promise to save those who have simply gone through the motions of “calling on Him,” or “deciding for Christ.” Does one “decide” he wants to be saved? No, he cries out to be saved, and only if he knows he is perishing.
Not only does God save us from the wrath to come, He saves us in order that we may live with Him in His glorious kingdom, the increase of which knows no end, forever. Saved from eternal wrath, unto eternal glory, with Jesus, the angels, and the saints! The difference is night and day. There is no middle realm for “fairly good people.” There is only heaven for those accounted righteous by faith in Christ, and hell for the rest. I know many who assent to the doctrines of heaven and hell, who have no real hope in the promise of heaven. They would rather be down here, enjoying the things of this world. They understand heaven as a “rest home” after the earthly fashion. These do not have hope because they have not been saved.
God is not willing that any should perish, but you must obey His command, and it is to believe on His only begotten Son or perish. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” That is the meaning of the age of grace. It is a time when every person may be saved, if he calls on the Lord; but many perish, complacently believing that God’s offer of grace covers all mankind—or, at least, that it covers everyone who calls himself a Christian—and therefore it does not require a personal response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. You must respond to the offer. I pray the reader has already done this, and if not, that you do it now. Now is the accepted time. If you put it off, you do not know how many days God has numbered for you.
Now, on to some of the things–the “church truths”–Jesus commanded His apostles to teach us.
Deep River, Iowa