I preached all that I understood; a body of biblical doctrines that I reckoned I understood and practised. ‘Laying on of hands’ should serve for an example. There was a practice of laying on of hands after baptism in Honor Oak and in India I did teach the meaning of it. What I taught was that baptism identifies you with the Saviour; the laying on of hands identifies you with the body. It is not the making of relationship, but recognizing the existing relationship; a relationship that carries a blessing, because it is the recognition of the headship of Christ. That was also the way Honor Oak taught it and I believe it was quite correct. When especially the younger people took it up because it was something new, it was misinterpreted and the idea gained ground that you were not in the church unless you had the hands of the elders laid on you. Some missionaries in Madras got that impression from us. Of course we tried to correct the mistake. When I received laying on of hands in Honor Oak, I believed I could receive spiritual benefit by the relationship with my brothers and sisters in that church. If I would have wandered out and become a freelance, I would have forfeited that close relationship. The blessing may vary in its measure or character, but there is blessing in the identification. In the end I had to tell Bakht Singh I had to withdraw from the practice, because in Guntur where we had a series of meetings—T. Austin-Sparks was there too—there were so many baptisms and laying on of hands that the people were divided into groups and brothers were appointed to lay their hands on them. I thought it should have been done collectively, but it was done in this way for the sake of ‘having it done’. Some brothers were asking each other, “How many did you do, and how many did you do?” I said, “Brother I can’t be in that.” So I withdrew and didn’t join in with the practice again. It was sad, because some of these precious things were lost due to the immature appreciation of them.
Bakht Singh did teach often on finding the will of God and that it is a matter of guidance of the Holy Spirit, but probably there wasn’t enough teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He was sad about the fact that there were so many divisions among Pentecostals. His main objection against these churches, however, was their insistence on speaking in tongues. He once was invited to a Pentecostal church. I don’t know if he even went, but they said, “He is one of us, for he has spoken in tongues.” And that irritated him very much. He did speak in tongues on one occasion, apparently, in the province of Sindh in the South of Pakistan. He told me that he was there in a village and he couldn’t speak their language. The Lord gave him the language to speak. Of course there’s a difference between an unknown tongue and a known tongue, but many Pentecostals don’t differentiate between their own tongue and the unknown tongue, which is really prophetic.
At the 25th anniversary of the starting of the work in Madras there were people who had come in from other areas. We had a series of meetings and on that occasion I took as my subject the gifts of the Spirit. Within my capacity, I gave a fair presentation of the gifts, including tongues, the interpretation of tongues and prophecy. Bakht Singh was there. He never made any protest and didn’t question my teaching at all. He did check me sometimes or correct me if he didn’t agree with me, but not on this occasion. However, I did hear a few whispers from others, “Oh, he is a Pentecostal.” But I was explaining, as far as I could, the gifts of the Spirit. It was the enemy behind it all. There may have been contributions through personalities, but it was the enemy fermenting division.
I sometimes thought of leaving the work and ploughing my own furrow, but the Lord said, “No, I have brought you in and that’s where you should be.” There was a time when we were in Bangalore when there was a vacancy in a pastorate there and there was a possibility of fitting in there, but the Lord said, “No, you are in a relationship which I created, stay there.” I knew I couldn’t really function apart from it.
I usually took a subject or a book for my preaching, e.g. Daniel or Ruth; something I could see through in a few days ministry. I had the habit of making considerable notes before preaching, because I always prepared fully. I virtually wrote out my whole message so that I could picture it while I was talking. That’s how I can preach without a notebook, without notes, because I have written it and I can visualize it and that helps me in remembering everything. In some cases I made some very concise outlines for my teaching, like from the book Ezekiel. The key to Ezekiel is, “I am the Lord”, which occurs 65 times in the book: “You shall know that I am the Lord.” “They shall know that I am the Lord.” With Daniel—T. Austin-Sparks opened up that book to me—the theme is, “The heavens do rule.” Everything was depending on the Lord. Take for an example the case of Nebuchadnezzar, who was so proud of the city he had built. The Lord chastised him and sent him out to eat grass till he recognized the Lord was in control. There was much opposition to the vessel of the testimony, as we can clearly see in events in the book of Daniel; opposition and how the heavenly rule was ordering and preserving His servants, teaching the heathen till they were converted.
I did spend quite some time on Nehemiah in an OM conference once. To me, three words summarize the book of Nehemiah: wall, work, warfare. When Mr. Sparks came to Madras and had two or three days with us, he started on Nehemiah and he just made those points: the wall, the work and the warfare, thus summing up the book. He had evidently been out in the sun and the sun had touched him. A doctor, sitting in the front of the meeting saw that there was something wrong with him—he dropped his Bible. So we had to take him out and He was unable to do more than the outline. Later on, he couldn’t remember anything of what he had said. This outline, the wall, the work and the warfare, stuck with me. I was left to continue what was expected to come from T. Austin-Sparks, so I enlarged a bit on the warfare that arose in the days of Nehemiah.
I only considered myself as a servant and I took that position with Bakht Singh. I was able to teach several things I had learned in London. Because of my time in the fellowship in London there were certain advantages I had, which Bakht Singh didn’t have. I believe, that he did benefit by Raymond and me, knowing the church structure. When I was with him in public services, I shared what I had learned and Bakht Singh agreed. We were anxious that we should not be a denomination. I deliberately talked on that once or twice in different places, explaining what the church is: an organism, not an organization. I explained that we have to submit to one another and recognize one another’s gifts.
Of course I didn’t preach on that everywhere; only where there was a suitable opportunity, I outlined to them what made a denomination and I did share with the believers what I understood we were to avoid if we were not to become a denomination.
The first thing to avoid is a specific name. We must avoid giving ourselves a specific name, because that would distinguish us from others. Unfortunately, we did get a special name in the end; people called us Bakht Singh Assembly. We tried to avoid this by referring the places, not to the people or doctrines. We therefore gave a name to the buildings. In Madras our building was named ‘Jehovah Shammah’, – that’s where we met. So when people asked us where we met for fellowship, we didn’t say, at the Baptist church or at a Brother Bakht Singh Assembly, but in Jehovah Shammah. And, of course, that name was different in each location. It didn’t work as nicely as we had hoped, but we did what we could to avoid a specific name.
And then, we tried to avoid having a pet doctrine. Some churches over-emphasise the gift of tongues, or any other gift; or have a pet doctrine about the return of the Lord and they are always preaching about that.
We always wanted to avoid exclusive membership. This meant that all believers belong to us and we belong to them all. We tried to emphasize this. We didn’t have any list of membership. In the course of time we had to give to the government the names of those who were baptized in our midst. But, our church membership is universal and we tried to maintain that. I think at some point we did feel that we were the right people and if other believers meant business, they would come to us. Some did have that pride. And we didn’t hesitate to tell others to leave their denomination, or leave their church and join us. I wouldn’t say I never said that to anybody, though it certainly wasn’t often. Although many other groups did the same, I feel it wasn’t right to think like that.
I also taught the believers must avoid the control of an individual, national central control as well as overseas control. When certain questions arose we did not refer to London (T. Austin-Sparks) or to Shanghai (Watchman Nee). We would go to the Bible. We didn’t get directions from a ‘headquarters’. Mr. Sparks did complain to me one time, “You never write, you never tell us anything.” I did write to T. Austin-Sparks about Bakht Singh, but I didn’t fill in many details, because I was afraid of overdoing it. It was not intentional to fail in that respect, but there was this fear of getting indirect direction. If there was any influence from Honor Oak, it was from Raymond and me because we came from there with their endorsement. The only other influence from Honor Oak came through the prayers of the people there. There were several believers in their midst who prayed for India.
In the light of this we tried to develop local eldership, but I’m afraid we failed very sadly in that respect. Much was referred to Bakht Singh, so we really did depart from the proper picture of the autonomous local church.
Before control develops there is usually what I call federation. This comes before complete control. Leaders are tempted to say, ‘All these are our churches’, distinguishing between themselves and others. That is a great snare. Christian leaders, once they have come to a position of leadership, want to be the boss; not only locally, but wherever there is any development they keep their hand on it. I once protested about a link that our local church was forming with a certain movement in the South of England. There was a brother, a good man with a good message, who was developing a federation of churches, an empire. I strongly felt we must avoid becoming a federation of churches, but I can’t say we succeeded.