S. M. Lynd pastored First Baptist Church, Covington, KY and taught at Western Baptist Theological Institute, Covington. He also pastored Sixth Street BC, Cincinnati and other churches.
The Church and Her Eldership
By S. W. Lynd, 1860
The word ekklesia, translated "church," signifies an assembly called together, and is once used in the New Testament for an unlawful assembly. (Acts, 19:32-41.) But, in its appropriate religious use, it has a two-fold application. In the first place it is employed to signify all the redeemed. In this sense it is used by our Lord in the passage, "Upon this rock I will build my church." This appears to be the meaning, also, in Hebrews, 11:22, 23; and Ephesians, 1:22, and 3:21. The church, in this sense, is not a visible organized body. In the second place the word is used for a single congregation, meeting together in one place. The language of the New Testament writers is explicit. They speak of the church as an organized, visible body, in the singular number; and of two or more, in the plural number. The expressions, "the church," in a particular place, in the singular; and "the churches," in the plural, when more than one is designated, prove, beyond a question, that "the church," as an organized religious society, means one single congregation.
The constituents of a church, according to primitive model, are such persons as have been baptized upon a credible profession of repentance towards God, and faith on the Lord Jesup Christ.
1. They are represented in the New Testament as persons who, in the judgment of charity, are renewed by the Spirit of God. (2d Corinthians, 4:14-18; Philemon, 1:6; 1st Thessalonians, 1:4, 5; and 1st Peter, 1:3.
2. They are exhibited to us as persons who have made a public profession of their faith in Christ. (Matthew, 10:32; Romans, 10:9, 10; Hebrews, 4:14; and Hebrews, 10:23.)
3. They are represented as persons baptized upon a profession of their faith in Christ. (Romans, 6:3, 4; Galatians, 8:27; Colossians, 2:12; and Colossians, 3:1.)
4. They are represented as persons who, after baptism, have mutually united in a church state, to hold forth the ordinances as they were delivered, and for other purposes connected with the honor of Christ's cause.
A church then, is a congregation of baptized believers, formed by mutual agreement. The reception of new members must proceed upon the same principle. A person may propose to unite with a church, butt it is optional with a church to receive or reject him. If he has been, in their opinion, baptized, but does not cordially receive the facts of the New Testament, or has contradicted his faith; by his deportment, the church ought not to receive him. If it be admitted that he is a true believer, but he has not been baptized they cannot receive him to membership, for this would compromise the order of God's house. But they may fellowship him as a Christian, and unite with him in worshiping God, in prayer, in exhortation, in singing, and in efforts to promote the salvation of men, without compromising the order of God's house. A church thus constituted possesses power to elect her own officers, to discipline her own members, and to send out religious teachers and messengers. She constitutes an independent sovereignty. Her only head is Christ. She cannot be made subordinate to any other church, or any combination of churches. Within herself she has full power to perform all that Christ requires of a church, but has no power over others. The only bonds between and other churches are those of fellowship and love.
The officers of a church are Bishops, or Elders, and Deacons. These are elected to office by the vote of the church in which they are members. Their qualifications are clearly stated in the Epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus.
In primitive times, Elders thus chosen were set apart by fasting and prayer, and the imposition of the hands of the presbytery. The authority to appoint Elders lies in the church of which the candidate for office is a member. This is a cardinal principle, to which all questions referring to the validity of ordination must yield.
When men are chosen to the office by the vote of the church, the office is conferred upon them. The part which the presbytery takes does not confer office. It recognized them as Elders, and solemnly sets them before the churches and the world as ministers of Christ, by prayer and imposition of hands. This is their ordination. A foundation is thus laid for the harmony and fellowship of pastors and churches, walking by the same rule, and minding the same things.
If this view is correct it settles the question so much debated - whether it is competent to a church, without the intervention of other churches, or of presbyteries, to consecrate a person selected by themselves fully to the work of the ministry. It is competent to them for the reason that the right to elect to the office involves the right to invest with all the powers necessary to the discharge of the duties of the office. The inherent power to do the greater, involves the inherent power to do the less. But this is simply power to make her own officers. No other church is bound to recognize them as such. But, while in cases where it becomes absolutely necessary, they may carry out their inherent right, in order to self-preservation and edification, they stand in an important relation to other churches and their ministry; and hence, ordinarily, they are bound to abide by the practice of primitive times in having their Elders set apart publicly by a presbytery, so that they may be recognized as Elders by other churches and their ministry. When, therefore, a person is selected for this office, and the Elders of other churches, after due examination and prayer, publicly recognize him in this capacity, it is amply sufficient to cause him to be received by all the churches in fellowship, or of the same faith and order. This arrangement should never be departed from, except in cases of absolute necessity. These views have always been, in the main, the views of the Baptist denomination.
Pedobaptists believe that their organizations are churches having fulfilled the requirements of the gospel in their constitution. Believing thus, they are bound by the laws of Christ to appoint officers, execute discipline, obey the ordinances, and carry out all the laws of Jesus Christ. They are conscientious in their faith and practice, and, so far as they maintain the truth and exhibit the character of pious disciples, they demand the respect and affection of all who bear the image of Christ. Their duties, as they understand them, are imperative upon them; and our duties, so far as we understand them, are imperative upon us. We, as Baptists, have always maintained that their churches are not constituted according to the gospel. We cannot conscientiously receive any person into membership with us unless he is immersed. We cannot, therefore, fellowship their organizations as churches in gospel order. We never have extended to them our church fellowship, because to do this would compromise, in our estimation, the order of God's house. No offense ought to be taken by others upon this ground. Nor can I see any reason why the sentiment that we cannot conscientiously fellowship their organizations as churches in gospel order should be offensively expressed. As they do not allow our belief to influence their practice, so we cannot allow their belief to influence our practice. We have never regarded those who belong to Pedobaptist denominations, whether sprinkled in infancy or mature age, as being entitled to membership in our churches, or to the privileges peculiar to a church, as recognized by us. But we have always extended to them the hand of Christian fellowship. Believing them to be Christians, and that they hold the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, we have been constrained by the law of love to co-operate with them in all Christian duties not involving a compromise of gospel order as we conscientiously maintain it.
Other organized bodies of Christians, viewing themselves as churches, not only have a right to appoint officers, but their duty to Christ obliges them to appoint officers. Now, as we hold that every church is independent, no one church can appoint officers for another church. Their officers cannot officiate as such in a Baptist church, nor can ours officiate in their churches. A person who is appointed an Elder by a Baptist church cannot be received in his official capacity by another Baptist church, unless he has been publicly recognized and set apart by a presbytery in fellowship with both. An Elder in one church is qualified to perform all the duties pertaining to Eldership in other churches only upon the ground that he has been set apart by a presbytery in church fellowship. But as a Christian, and qualified to edify a church, he may be invited so to do, by preaching the gospel to them, when they would not regard him as qualified, in an official capacity, to perform all the duties pertaining to Eldership. We extend these remarks to the ministers of other denominations. As Baptists have never admitted church fellowship with other denominations, so they have never admitted that the Eldership of other denominations is qualified to perform all the duties pertaining to the office in Baptist churches. They have not been recognized in their official capacity by Baptist churches, because they have not been recognized, according to gospel order, by a presbytery in fellowship with our churches. We have always, however, fellowshipped the Elders of other evangelical denominations as pious men, and as fully qualified to preach the truth as it is in Jesus. We have always recognized them as the accredited ministers of other denominations of Christians, and have loved them for their works' sake.
As, in regard to the membership of other denominations, we do not extend the hand of church fellowship; so, in regard to the Eldership of other denominations, we do not extend the hand of official fellowship. But, in both cases, we extend the hand of Christian fellowship. And, as on the one hand we do not compromise our own principles or the order of God's house when we pray and sing with members of other denominations; so neither, on the other hand, do we compromise our principles when we invite ministers of other denominations to preach the gospel to us. Christian fellowship implies the recognition of those to whom it is extended as Christians. Church fellowship implies, on the part of those to whom it is extended, qualifications for membership, and privileges in the churches extending it. Official fellowship implies, on the part of those to whom it is extended, qualifications to act officially in all the duties pertaining to Eldership, in common with those who extend it. And this fellowship must be given, not by churches, but by Elders in fellowship with the churches. That fellowship is not given either by Pedobaptists to Baptists, or by Baptists to Pedobaptists; and the invitation of a minister of another denomination to preach the gospel cannot give such fellowship. The ministers of other denominations cannot take offense at the position of Baptists upon this subject; nor have the Baptists a right to make their conscientious views a cover for exclusiveness, party spirit, and alienation of heart.
From these views it will be apparent that Baptist churches do not act inconsistently with their principles when they invite ministers of other evangelical denominations to preach to them the gospel of Christ.
These views having been the views of the Baptists in the past, and being still maintained, there is no probability that our churches will turn aside from their uniform practice of receiving instruction and edification, on all suitable occasions, from ministers of other denominations.
While we firmly maintain our distinctive principles, our aim should be not to sunder as widely as possible the ties which bind ourselves and others together as Christians, but to make them stronger and closer. This is demanded by the law of love.
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, October, 1860, pp. 744-748. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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