The church of Christ is His Kingdom; its constitution is divine - sacred in its authority - all-wise and perfect in its plan. To alter, is to injure it; but it is more - it is to slight God's wisdom, to interfere with his reign. Thus Popery began. Church-officers by degrees assumed new powers; new rites were introduced, new rules laid down; the unconverted were received, the ungodly were ordained; man's will was exalted, God's will left undone. Change followed change, corruption triumphed, and at length the Man of Sin was firmly seated on his throne. Galatians iv:10-20; I Corinthians v:1-13; 2 Thessalonians ii: 3, 4; 2 Timothy ii: 17, 18; Revelation xiii:3-l7.
The question, therefore, is of the greatest importance: What constitution has Christ given to His churches? It is in consequence of their views on this subject, that Baptist churches differ in their constitution from all other churches. The points on which they differ from them, and their reasons for so differing, are as follow: -
I. The Baptist churches regard it as Christ's will, that all church members should be converted persons. When Saul "essayed to join himself to the disciples" at Jerusalem, they declined to receive him, because they "believed not that he was a disciple.'' It was not till they ascertained this, from hearing that he had "seen the Lord in the way," and had "preached boldly at Damascus," that they permitted him to be "With them, coming in and going out, at Jerusalem." - Acts ix: 26-28. All the members, also, of the first church, are addressed as saints. Romans i:7; 1 Corinthians i:2; Ephesians i:1.
But in Pedobaptist churches, many persons are members who are not received as converted. In the Episcopal and Presbyterian establishments, and some of the bodies formed by those who have seceded from them, persons are received to full communion without evidence of their conversion; and though the Congregational Pedobaptists require proof of conversion before receiving persons to the Lord's table, and to full membership, they mostly regard infants, and unconverted persons, when baptized, as members of inferior degree. The Westminster Confession of Faith, which speaks the views of Presbyterians, and of many Congregationalists on this subject, says that the children of members are themselves members; born within the church. Some Independents differ from this view, but very many of them regard both infants and the unconverted, when baptized, as connected, in some degree, with the church of Christ - (See Dr. Wardlaw and Dr. Campbell.)
Baptist churches, on the contrary, receive as members. those only who give credible evidence of their conversion; they do not acknowledge either infants, or the unconverted, as having any visible connection with the church of Christ. - Acts ii: 47; 1 Corinthians iii: 16. 17.
II. Baptist churches (strictly so called) regard it as Christ's will, that all believers received to membership should be first baptized. The New Testament churches consisted wholly of baptized believers. Peter said to believers on the day of Pentecost, "Be baptized every one of you," and they "were baptized." - Acts ii:38-41; see, also, x:48. So that the Baptist churches are, in this respect, "followers of the churches of God," as first founded by Christ and His apostles. - I Thessalonians ii:14.
But in doing so they differ from all other churches; from the Quakers, who reject baptism, from the Pedobaptists, who substitute another rite for the immersion of believers, and from all open communionists, whether Baptists, or Pedobaptists, who admit persons without being baptized at all; instead of requiring, as the apostles and first churches did, that all believers should be baptized before being received to membership and communion. Christ has given to His churches no dispensing power to set aside His laws; no legislative power to make new ones; but has enjoined on them to "observe things whatsoever" He has commanded, (Matthew xxviii:20); and, if ever tempted to neglect His laws, "to obey God rather than men." - Acts v:29.
III. Baptist churches regard it as Christ's will that all church members should be voluntary members; that none should be made members, either against their will, or without their knowledge. God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth, (John iv:24); their service must be that of love, faith and obedience. - 1 Corinthians xiii:1; Romans xiv: 23; Romans xvi: 26. They must "yield themselves unto God, as these who are alive from the dead." - Romans vi:13. In every part of their service, they must have "first a willing mind," (2 Corinthians viii:12): must first give themselves to the Lord, and then to the church, by the will of God. - 2 Corinthians viii:5.
But this voluntary membership is opposed to the compulsion used by many national establishments, and to the fines, imprisonment, or worse penalties, by which membership has been enforced; it is equally opposed to the initiation of unconscious infants by baptism; and to membership by birth.
IV. Baptist churches maintain that Christ requires holy activity in every member. Church members are spoken of in Scripture as "lively stones," forming part of "a spiritual house," which is devoted to God. - I Peter ii:5. The young are to be instructed, (Ephesians vi:4); the unruly warned, the feeble-minded comforted, the weak supported, (1 Thessalonians v:14); those who rejoice, rejoiced with; those who weep, sympathized with; those who are bereaved, visited. - James i:27. To the ungodly the gospel is to be made known, (1 Thessalonians i:8); and good done to all men. - Galatians vi:10. In some part of these labors all the members of Baptist churches can engage. But the dead members of worldly establishments cannot, nor can the infant membersof any Pedobaptist churches. They can have no part nor lot in the matter.
V. Baptist churches believe it to be Christ's will, that what is spent in His service should be given with ready will, and that every church member,who is able, should thus give. When making a collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, the apostle says "As I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye; upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." - I Corinthians xvi:1, 2. This injunction shows that it is the duty of every church member to contribute as God enables him. And the apostle says, "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath;" showing that a willing mind is needful to make such aid acceptable to God. Church members are to "abound in this grace" of rich and liberal giving to the cause of Christ. - 2 Corinthians viii:1-15. But infants cannot thus give; and payments by compulsion, as in State Churches, are not a "gift" at all. - 2 Corinthians viii:4.
VI. Baptist churches regard it as Christ's will, that all his churches should be separate and distinct from the world and errorists. "Ye are not of this world." - John xv:l9. The reception of those only who have been baptized at their own desire, on a profession of faith, makes a real and visible distinction between the church and the world; but infant membership, by departing from this rule, blends the church and the world together. The baptism of infants, and the unconverted, connects the members of Christ with those who are still members of the world. But the apostle says, "What communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? - Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you," etc. - 2 Corinthians vi:6, 14-18.
It is clear that every system which extends the sign of Christianity and of initiation into the church, to those who are new-born, does to that extent, also obliterate the distinction between the church and the world. None but Baptist churches can realize the statement of the apostle "Ye, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." - I Peter ii:5.
[From The Baptist newspaper, (Memphis) September 17, 1870. CD edition from microfilm. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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