The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
References are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK). Click on a citation to read it.
IT IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE. There are two: ours and God’s. The former is easy to get — it is built in, we are born with it. It is also hard to alter. It is even harder to obtain the latter — God’s view of things.
The fact is that most people cannot get God’s perspective. It is a view born of experience bathed in the light of a trusting faith. It is a point of view — not an opinion — which has guided and sustained the Lord’s people through all of the harrowing and frightening experiences of all the centuries, through all their fears and uncertainties. Through all those times when the nearer view offered no consolation.
ENGLAND FROM THE AIR
One of the pleasures which modern travel affords is the scene through the porthole window of a jetliner. Vast landscapes rolling off into the distance appear different — and smaller — than they do from the ground. Miles are traversed in minutes, houses and streets, industrial plants and institutions of great learning, sprawl like diminutive boxes littered about the landscape, connected by thin ribbons of dark asphalt along which run toy cars and buses.
Flying over England you notice the distinctive quilt-like pattern of fields — dark and light square patches like a large chess board. This enduring and varied land owes such an arrangement to its history. Divided and sub-divided by landowners, stepped-off and separated in continual management of land — the building of castles and their attendant villages, scattered farms, the enclosure of fields for sheep — England is a rich tapestry on which one can read the country’s agricultural and social trends of its long existence. It is estimated that at least eighty percent of this land has been cultivated. The dry stone walls which meander over the landscape are a testimony to the skill of the builders and their perseverance. Of even greater relevance to the theme of this article is the ancient biological divider — the hedgerow.
Knotted and gnarled, the hedgerow does double-duty. Efficient as it is in separating one field from its neighbour, its rustic usefulness is enhanced by the shelter it affords. For within its branches reside many forms of wildlife — flora and fauna.
But the hedges are under threat. Large farming machinery cannot negotiate around them, and so many have been rooted up, in the process destroying the habitat for small animals and birds. Some of the hedges are now being replanted in an effort to reverse the damage.
The hedge serves also as a breaker to the wind; frequently one sees a short running hedge jutting out into an open field, like a sentinel guarding against the onrushing winter gusts. It must be made strong to survive. It must be pruned. To accomplish this its branches are cut back and partly broken, bending them toward neighbouring branches. The effect is to encourage the branches to weave themselves together in an interlocking structure sturdy enough to withstand the fiercest weather.
EARLY CHURCH HEDGEROWS
Planted in the dry soil of a formal Judaism, the heart of the true believer found little nourishment for the spirit. It was not until the coming of Messiah, Jesus, and His interpretation of the Jewish rituals and the prophetic utterances of the prophetic writings that the ‘true’ Israelites could begin to grow.
Attracted by the loving simplicity and purity of these early congregations, Jewish and Gentile converts came. Never large in number by today’s standards, the movement was nonetheless of ‘harvest’ proportions. Coming under its influence were the little ones according to this world — those discouraged by their own sinfulness, loathing the self, and looking for salvation. The message of Christ crucified, which they found proclaimed in these little companies, offered sublime shelter.
And under this cover the flowers of faith and Christian character blossomed.
Isolated by belief and practice from the larger Jewish and pagan societies around them, the early Christian Church presented a scattered, disjointed picture to the casual observer. Unattractive and unpolished, these were not the best that the world had to offer (1 Corinthians 1: 26-29; James 2: 5).
This was the view from the ground. But higher up, from Heaven’s perspective, here was the promise of the future: a robust, intertwined, living organism, united in the one faith and a bulwark against unbelief and the background of a disappearing Jewish polity.
HEDGES CUT DOWN
Before long the great Apostasy arrived on the scene. That event, which eventually was to plunge civilization into a long darkness, turned its attention to the little bands of converts which ran across the landscape of the times like so many hedgerows. The large system that was developing needed wide spaces in which to manoeuvre. The primitive churches were in the way. So they were uprooted, chopped down.
Of course, wherever the people of the land were deprived of the influence of these saints the cultural ground dried and hardened, bringing the blight of materialism and superstition. Hearts hardened in these conditions could readily assent to the persecution of the Church.
And so it was.
In due course, the Reformation liberated the saints from an oppressive religious system, sending down shoots of faith which developed into the movements of the 16th and 17th centuries, returning to simpler and more doctrinally pure faith and practice.
But before long, formalism harried non-conformists in an attempt to clear the field for all but the largest and wealthy church apparatus. The favoured Church of England, allied with the Crown and well-blessed, though only partly reformed, became itself a persecutor of the dissenting believers.
A welter of evangelical movements, spawning closely-knit groups, followed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, culminating in the Bible Student movement which flourished in the latter half of the 1800s and the opening of the 20th century. Small classes of Christians held their meetings in private houses, like their early Church counterparts. And like their counterparts they sought simplicity of religion, eschewing suffocating formality. These were spiritual hedgerows, offering sustenance and life to all who came under their shelter.
This harvest movement was not unlike that of the early Church. Not from the great and beautiful temples of Christendom, with their magnificent vaulted ceilings — not from such places did this harvesting message go forth, but from individual ecclesias, new communities of faith — one here, one there. This movement, largely ignored by secular historians, encouraged a return to the methods of study and the practices of the primitive Church.
The Bible Students were not the first to do this, but they followed in a long line of the faith communities, linking themselves across the spiritual geography in a network which has grown together like so many hedgerows.
God looked down on this and it was very beautiful to Him.
Each ecclesia is a little hedgerow, a bulwark against life’s inclement events. Each provides within its circle a haven for those who seek protection from a harsh world, for those who crave spiritual warmth — refugees from the cold outside.
This is the function of the ecclesia. As it grows, it affords reassuring shelter to each one who comes within it. And, taking the personal view, we are knit together by the difficult experiences which we share. Sometimes our hearts are hurt, almost to the point of breaking — yet not quite.
Those who tend the hedgerows in England know just how to shape and prune. They have an eye to strengthening and enriching the hedge, not in killing it. So it is with the Master Pruner.
Pruning brings pain. It hurts. We see the process ‘down here’. Sometimes it seems the Pruner is cutting our hearts out. But it is expertly done. He bends the branches to just short of breaking and gives it a bias toward its neighbour so that we grow together in a community of faith. Our shared experiences enlarge our sympathies with one another. They cause us to grow together so that, as a unit, we are stronger (Psalm 133).
A healthy church is like a healthy hedgerow. It can withstand almost anything that comes against it. You see, dear Christian, individually we may not be able to bear very much, but together we can bear a lot, by supporting one another, by strengthening one another, by growing and becoming knit together.
THE VIEW FROM ABOVE
From without and within, the ecclesia is under threat today. Here and there new growth appears, but often the established hedgerows stand alone, and some die off. Do not be discouraged because we are few in numbers, nor by the hard experiences or the difficulties which will surely come. We have among us the resources to meet the challenges with which we are presented. God will bless His little hedgerow churches. He will work His will through us as we are faithful in maintaining our place before Him. Each of us fills a gap, helping to bind the whole together, interlocked.
This world is raucous and rough, and steeped in sin. It is, in the short-range view, an ugly place. But from His vantage point the Heavenly Father sees something else. He sees a world for which He sent His Son to die. He sees things that are not yet, but which are to be. For He has the perspective of eternity. Jesus, too, sees a thing of beauty — so much so that He is to take it as His own and fashion it into a paradise — a perfected planet and a perfected people.
THE LOVELY LANDSCAPE
The ‘down here’ view is often all we can see. But if we are to live hopefully and rejoicingly and vigorously, we need to match our perspective to God’s. In due time, when this world has run its course, a better one will arise. Intersecting communities of faith will quilt the fields of a rejuvenated world, and present a glorious and satisfying aspect to Heaven. The long centuries of persecution and infidel blast will have ended. Then, flourishing, these sturdy hedgerows will stand forever.
Copyright 2009 ukbiblestudents.co.uk. You may reproduce this article in whole or in part, but please let us know if you do, and link to our site, if possible.