Judges 18 tells us of the unsettled tribe of Danites seeking a place in Palestine to occupy. For that purpose they sent warriors into the hill country of Ephraim to find a territory to raid, capture and make their own. The Danites selected the town of Laish as their victim, partly because this region was vulnerable.
What made Laish an easy prey to invaders was its autonomy. We are told twice (verses 7 and 28) that the people of Laish had no relationship with anyone else. Perhaps it seemed to the citizens desirable to have no alliances that would influence them or entangle them or make demands on them. They could live in sweet independence unregulated and unfettered by connections with other communities. They cared for no one and no one else cared for them. It was the isolation that they desired that brought about their ruin. They were easily conquered by the Danites, while no one came to their aid or cared that they were overthrown.
The Church of Jesus Christ has many enemies who would like to capture her people and her assets. These enemies have a variety of strategies for accomplishing their goal. Local congregations are increasingly vulnerable to spiritual destruction in proportion to their isolation and autonomy.
Because many have been injured by persecution or misled within corrupted ecclesiastical associations, independency is appealing. There is an impulse to cast off all fellowship while licking our wounds from other relationships that harmed us. An impulse develops to start over again with ever-decreasing numbers in a passion to get it all right this time.
Christians have retreated from public schools and now many wish to defend it as a preferable principle that children never be sent to any school but always be taught at home. Individuals are retreating from all churches, not merely unbiblical churches. It is the ‘Elijah impulse’ to run into the wilderness and cry, ‘I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too’ (1 Kings 19:10).
God had to remind E1ijah that there were 7,000 faithful Israelites who had never bowed their knee to Baal. It was a pity that the prophet had not networked with them and drawn strength and encouragement to prevent his pessimistic errors.
Our New Testament points in another direction than isolation and starting all over again. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, ‘Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ If days seem dark and threatening there is all the more need to meet together and strengthen each other.
As we look at the early Gentile churches, enormous amounts of time and energy and expense were given to keeping churches in touch with each other in definite fellowship and co-operation. Without modern means of transportation or electronic communication they built a network of mutual reliance and care. It was a strengthening influence to each local church to be within the loop of demanding connections with churches throughout the Roman Empire. Together they were stronger and more efficient.
Of course, in the New Testament scheme, an organized co-operation made it less possible for one individual to control the doctrine or practice of his local assembly. Though this lack of control frightens some, the testing of opinions on a wider basis provides checks and balances preventing a slide away from apostolic standards. Those who break down church connections in order to preserve doctrinal and moral purity may perhaps open themselves to the very destructive perversions they fear. The mistake of Laish is alive and well in the twentieth century.
Secular proverbs teach us that there is strength in numbers. But the Scriptures, too, tell us that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Well-designed and right-principled relationships will always give greater strength than will autonomy. Of course evil companions corrupt good manners, but righteous companions encourage and strengthen the same good manners.