Chapter Seven: Philadelphia
“A great recovery transpired after Sardis: The brothers loved one another, and the mediatorial class was abolished in the church. This is Philadelphia.”The Orthodoxy of the Church, Ch. 7
Here is where we come to Philadelphia. Philadelphia is composed of two words, one meaning “brother” and the other meaning “love,” therefore Philadelphia means brotherly love. In the past few chapters we have seen the presence of the mediatorial class; there are leaders who stand in between God and the “common people.” In Philadelphia, however, there is no mediatorial class. This is abolished because everyone is a brother and everyone is a priest.
In the 1800s, a group of believers gathered together under no name except “the brothers.” These brothers had a relationship of brotherly love, and the Lord was able to use them to shed light on so many truths and pioneer many experiences of the Lord. This is what the Lord is after.
Throughout the book, Nee talks about the problem of the mediatorial class, seen in “the behavior of the Nicolatians and the teaching of the Nicolaitians in the church in Ephesus and the church in Pergamos” (Ch. 7). The Lord rebukes this thought again and again; it is ridiculous that there would be some that attend to “spiritual affairs” and the rest to perform “secular affairs.” In the church, all the children of God are priests.
I think many would have the thought: “How can this be? Without a priest or a pastor or someone otherwise trained, then the church would go astray!” Yet, what I found extremely striking was what happened in church history when brothers lived in this way, living what Nee points out as the fulfillment of Philadelphia. Contrary to the initial thought, when there is no one man preaching the Word, when there is no one man responsible for spiritual things, when every man is just “a brother” among brothers, the Lord is able to give men as gifts to the church from among them. In just a few scores of years, there was J. N. Darby, J. G. Bellett, George Muller, C. H. Mackintosh, James G. Deck, George Cutting, William Kelly, F. W. Grant, Robert Anderson, Charles Stanley, S. T. Tregelles, Andrew Miller, R. C. Chapman, and many unnamed others.
A major turning point in my own walk with the Lord happened in my junior year of undergrad. A few of my companions and I had a Christian college meeting at some older Christians’ homes. One day we told the older Christians that for the Friday night college meeting to really be ours, and for us to really have ownership, we needed those older Christians to only play the role of the hosts of their house and nothing more. We would lead the college meeting.
How hard that must have been for those older Christians to hear! I later heard it described as a “stab in the chest.” But they supported us and honored our request.
Were we qualified to lead? Absolutely not! Yet, our hearts were for the Lord and we loved each other. We had no thought that we were doing anything extraordinary; this was just what the Lord had placed in us. We knew that in the end He would be responsible. And responsible He was! The next two years were some of the most fruitful years for my own growth and for the growth of the Kingdom around me. We wouldn’t have been able to tell you: “We’re emulating the pattern of the church of Philadelphia,” but rather it was the natural outflow of the Lord within us. When those older Christians refused to become a mediatorial class, they allowed the Lord the opportunity to work with us, to be real to us, and to make our college years worthwhile.
What replaces the mediatorial class? Brotherly love. What does brotherly love produce? Many, many people raised up by God to shepherd, feed, teach, edify, and otherwise operate among the church of God. Those meeting just as brothers may have been small in number compared to the universal church, but God was able to give many gifts from among them to bless His whole church. Do we have this sort of brotherly love? Can we have, not a mediatorial class, but brothers among brothers? I pray that God would make this a reality among us, and thus be able to raise up many gifts to bless His church.