The Origin and Nature of the Church
By Davis W. Huckabee
This study began as a conviction that the local church, "the pillar and ground of the truth," was not being given the regard due to it as set forth in the New Testament. In the modern religious world, humanistic theology and humanistic programs and organizations are exalted out of all due proportions to the disparagement of Divine truth and order. The author is convinced that one of the most outstanding examples of this, is the great regard that is paid to the "Universal Church." Yet only a moment's reflection will manifest that, in the words of Dr. S.E. Anderson (The First Church, pp. 96-97), this supposed universal church has -No address, locale, or building. No body, tangibility, or definable framework. No meetings, assemblies or meeting places. No discipline. No baptism. No Lord's Supper. No deacons or deaconesses. No pastors or assistant pastors. No choir, organist or pianist. No treasury, collection or budget. No missionary collection or fellowship fund. No moderator, chairman or president. No clerk, records or membership roll. No prayer meetings. No business meetings. No evangelistic meetings. No ordination of pastors or election of trustees. No messengers or delegates. No identity. No commission. No responsibility. No organization. No association with sister churches. No missionaries. No constitution. No by-laws or rules of order. No name.
- that, in a word, it is a non-entity; little wonder that such a theory is so popular, for it demands nothing of anyone, antagonizes no one, and accomplishes nothing, but must depend upon the members of the local church for its whole existence; yet it gets all the honor and glory, while the local church, which has done all the work, gets only scorn and disrespect.
This conviction was the motivation for a series of twenty messages which were delivered in 1963 to the First Missionary Baptist Church of Kirk, Colorado, of which this writer was then pastor. Some of the material had already at that time been prepared and published serially in The Orthodox Baptist, a monthly denominational paper published at Ardmore, Oklahoma. This material was subsequently revised and enlarged until it finally became a manuscript of over six hundred pages, portions of which were also delivered at pastors' conferences and fellowship meetings. This present booklet represents the first two of the original twelve chapters, the remainder of which will, if the Lord gives His smile of approval upon this work, be subsequently published in other booklets.
The conviction still abides that when the Apostle to the Gentile's said "To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end," (Ephesians 3:21). He had reference to the local body. There is but "one body" (Ephesians 4:4), it is true, and this one body is the church, (Ephesians 1:23); yet it is equally evident that the church is not numerically "one" else the word would never appear in the plural form, which it does over thirty-five times in the New Testament; clearly then, this body must be "one" generically - "one" so far as kind is concerned - and that one kind a local body. Proof of this is to be seen in that more than nine out of every ten usages of this word in the New Testament refer to some specific local congregation of saints, and the dozen or so other usages do not conflict with this idea, but are simply abstract, generic or institutional usages of the word, none of which necessitate the existence of a "universal church" to fulfill the meaning of the word or its usage.
Therefore, the sooner God's people get rid of the hopes of an easy Christianity, manifested in some sort of Universal Church which requires no labor or loyalty, sanctity or soundness, devotedness or discrimination, the sooner they will be prepared to studiously inquire of the local church what its requirements are for membership, what its reasons for existence are, how its members may fulfill their duties, what its history has been, etc.
It is with the hope that those who have previously held the Universal Church theory will be led to a prayerful re-examination of this theory in the light of the New Testament, and that those who have already recognized that the church of the New Testament is always and ever a local congregation will be strengthened in this knowledge, that the author sends this booklet forth. It is his prayer that the great Head of the Church will be pleased to use this humble effort to get "glory in the church" until His glorious and triumphant return. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus," (Revelation 22:20).
Davis W. Huckabee - April 15, 1970
Chapter One -
The ORIGIN of The Church
When did the New Testament Church originate? Who was the founder of it? Where did it originate? These and many other questions face us when we come to consider the church and its origin. It is a strange thing indeed that for the church to be such a common and well known society, as is generally supposed, there is much disagreement among men as to the answers to the above questions. The answer to this incongruity lies in the fact that Satan has blinded men's eyes to the importance of church truth. Well has Dr. Roy Mason observed:
Because of the neglect of church truth, loose thinking and erroneous views as to what properly constitutes a New Testament church, many hold the church in light esteem. It is not to them the high and holy thing it ought to be. It is not to them the divine institution that towers high above all of the organizations and institutions of men. It is by no means uncommon for one to encounter persons who esteem a lodge, club, society, or other organization of the kind, on a par with the church. - The Church That Jesus Built, p. 5.
One has but to review the theories propounded concerning the origin of the church to see what hopeless confusion reigns among the professed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are those who hold that the church existed from the very beginning, from the days of Adam and Eve, although the proponents of this theory are not nearly so common as those who hold some of the other theories.
A second group identifies the New Testament Church with the Congregation of Israel; this is especially true of the Presbyterians, but is by no means restricted to them. W. J. Lowe (Baptism, its Mode and Subjects, p. 181) says:
It will be enough to say that the infant children of God's professing people were in the membership of the Old Testament Church, that their status was recognized in the rite of Circumcision, that the New Testament Church is in all essential particulars the same as the Old Testament Church.
This theory may have taken its rise from Acts 7:38 where reference is made to Israel as the "church in the wilderness." However, there is little similarity between this "church" and the New Testament church; the one common denominator is that the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament translates the Hebrew word for congregation (kahal) with the same Greek word used for the New Testament church (ekklesia). But the main cause of confusion is the consistent failure of translators of the English Bible to rightly translate the word ekklesia. The word "church" is not a proper translation of this word for "church" carries a distinctive idea that has developed over the centuries, and which is not entirely in harmony with New Testament meaning and usage. The word "church" suggests a religious house or assembly, something not inherent in every appearance of the Greek word ekklesia. Dr. F. J. A. Hort says of this:
The English term church, now the most familiar representative of ecclesia to most of us, carries with it associations derived from the institutions and doctrines of later times, and thus cannot at present without a constant mental effort be made to convey the full and exact force which originally belonged to ecclesia. . . "Congregation" was the only rendering of ekklesia in the English New Testament as it stood throughout Henry VIII's reign, the substitution of "church" being due to the Genevan revisers. - Christian Ecclesia, p. 1, 2.
Had the Greek word ekklesia been consistently translated "congregation" or "assembly," as its meaning is, and as it is rightly translated in Acts 19:32, 39, 41, there would have been no more likelihood of associating the Old Testament ekklesia with the New Testament ekklesia than there would have been of connecting either with the ekklesia mentioned in Acts 19.
As Dr. Mason (ibid., p. 14) says, "This theory plainly denies by implication that Jesus founded a church. For it is evident that He could not have founded the church if it already existed at the time of His coming."
A third theory, and one that is held by a majority of Protestant Christianity, and by some Baptists, is that the church originated on the day of Pentecost. However, there are many insurmountable difficulties to this theory which will become apparent as we further consider the origin of the church. We will by-pass this theory for the time being.
It will not be amiss to mention still another idea which is held by a number of Protestant denominations in recent centuries; this theory is that, although the church originated in the first century, it since has been corrupted and has passed out of existence, so that it remained for some modern day secretary to re-institute Christianity de novo.
This is the basis of Protestantism to a large degree, and relates more to church perpetuity than to the origin of the church. Be that as it may, this idea is definitely condemned by several Scriptures, notably: (Matthew 16:18), "the gates of Hades not prevail against it," R.V.; "I, myself, am with you all he days even unto the consummation of the age," (literal rendering), (Matthew 28:20; Jude 3): "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints," R.V. et al.
Such an idea is based upon several false suppositions; viz., 1.) That Rome was the propagator of the truth for many centuries. 2.) That Rome was the only true church, and sole propagator of Divine Truth. 3.) That once she became corrupt, a clean thing could be brought out of an unclean (Job 14:4). 4.) That if a person did not know of any true churches in existence, God would accept the human origination and institution of a new thing contrary to His Word. To cite but one example, se-baptism, or originating baptism, as in the case of John Smyth and Roger Williams, is calumniated by Catholic, Protestant and Baptist alike as unscriptural and unnecessary.
If the Lord declared that the gates of Hades would never prevail against His church, that He would be with it all the days until the end of the age, that the faith had been delivered once for all, then there remains no excuse for starting a new Christianity. The truth is that those doctrines and practices which are held to be the truth by most of evangelical Christianity today, have always been practiced by scattered groups throughout the world, but these groups were despised and persecuted by the state churches, so that the reformers feared to go to them for the truth, lest they also become stigmatized as "Anabaptists," "Waldenses," "Albigenses," "Novatians," etc. How sad that men love the praise of men more than the truth.
Having considered the origin of the church from the negative standpoint, we may now take up a more positive approach to the subject, and note THE ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH AS TO TIME.
We are told in Ephesians, the great church epistle, that the church originated in the mind of God in eternity past. This is set forth in the third chapter where we may note the following things:
1.) This was a dispensation which was committed to Paul, whom God chose to be the apostle to the nations (v. 2; 2 Timothy 1:11; Galatians 2:7-8; Romans 11:13).
2.) This was not a personal scheme developed by Paul according to his own carnal wisdom, and in opposition to the teaching of Christ as some have erroneously contended; it was, as Paul himself declares, the result of direct revelation of Jesus Christ (v. 3; Romans 16:25-26; 2 Corinthians 12:7).
3.) He clearly states that this was a mystery. "Mystery" in the Scriptures is that which was not formerly known, but has now been Divinely revealed (v. 5; Romans 16:25-26). God had before revealed Himself to men, and had spoken to them and commanded them to worship Him, and had given them a form of worship; He had chosen a nation to be His witnesses, from which was to be prepared the body for the incarnation of His Son (Genesis 17:1-6; Isaiah 7:13-14); nor was it hidden that the Gentiles were to be saved (Isaiah 42:1-4; Malachi 1:11), but that both Jews and Gentiles were to compose the Lord's congregation, was unknown to men before New Testament days, and is consequently peculiar to the New Testament. It was for this reason that Peter found it so hard to believe that the Lord wanted him to go down to Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10). Church doctrine is especially prominent in the Pauline epistles, although it is common to almost all of the New Testament writings. It must not be thought, however, that Paul started the church, for he himself attributes that to the Lord (Acts 20:28), but it was his special work to teach and to edify the churches which he and others had planted.
4.) The mystery that had been hidden, but which was revealed to Paul was "that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (v. 6). In the church dispensation, those who are saved and scripturally baptized into the. Lord's church lose all national, social, and sexual distinctions (Galatians 3:28). Hence, God divided the world into three categories; the Jew (Natural seed of Abraham who have not been saved), Gentiles (encompassing the rest of the unbelieving world), and the church of God (saved individuals, whether Jew or Gentile. It must also be remembered that at this time, there were no spurious, or false churches, but every saved person was baptized into a scriptural church, or if there were none in that vicinity, the apostles organized the new converts into such a church.) (1 Corinthians 10:32). Even as early as the last decade of the first century, churches had begun to corrupt themselves, so that God threatened the Ephesian church with the removal of her candlestick (recognition as a true and faithful witness) (Matthew 5:14-16; Luke 11:33-36); and as a true church, (Revelation 1:12-13,20), except she repent, and do her first works (Revelation 2:4-5).
It is a sad but true fact that most of the churches of the world today have either never had the candlestick, or else have so corrupted themselves that the candlestick has been removed. 5.) The fifth thing that Paul related to the Ephesians is that he was made a minister of this truth (v. 7). i.) Note that he was "made" a minister. No man taketh this honor upon himself (Hebrews 5:4). If a man be not called of God, he had best refrain himself from usurping the holy office of a minister. ii.) This ministry is "according to the gift of the grace of God," not according to merit, nor to any other human factor, as Paul further declares in verse 8. Even as the Lord's elect are so "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:2), so also the New Testament church, and those who were to reveal it, and to edify it were foreknown in the councils of eternity, to be revealed in due time. Not only so, but iii.) this is given "according to the working of his power," R.V., whereby we may note: a.) That the power to call and endue a person for such a work is of the Lord. b.) It is the sovereign right of the Lord to exercise this power over whomsoever He will. c.) No father, mother, wife, son, daughter, friend, or relation has any business encouraging a person to, or discouraging a person from, such a ministry. Such a ministry and the duty to exercise it or refrain from it, lies entirely between the individual Christian and his Lord. iv.) The outworking of this ministry is to be seen in verse 8-9, and was manifest in the life of Paul. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. A parallel passage is Colossians 1:24-27.
There are probably none who are fundamental in their beliefs who would doubt God's ability to foreknow such a thing; yet, among many modernists, who will not allow God to know more than themselves know, some probably would reject the doctrine of God's foreknowledge of the New Testament church. However, it is not with those rebels who submit to no rule but reason, that we are concerned, but it is with God's saints, to whom His word is law.
Other passages of a more general nature may be cited in proof of the eternal origin of the plan for the New Testament church, as, for example (Acts 15:18): "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world." (Romans 11:33-36): "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Psalm 94:10): "He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?" (See also Ephesians 1:9-11; 1 John 3:20, et al.)
Next, we come to the ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH DE FACTO. By this we mean the actual origin of the church in time as it relates to man. Here, as stated before, we find a great divergence of opinion, but we believe that the Scriptures teach that the church originated in Palestine during the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many of those who dissent from the above view in doing so fail to take into consideration the meaning of the Greek word ekklesia, concerning which, it will not be amiss to consider in detail at this point.
The word ekklesia, rendered "church" in most translations, is defined in Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon, which is the standard lexicon for Classical Greek, as "an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly." We call attention to the fact that this is the classical and original meaning of the word, in order that we may see if the New Testament meaning has deviated any from that meaning. Concerning this original meaning, Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, another standard work, says (p. 2):
That they were summoned is expressed in the latter part of the word; that they were summoned out of the whole population, a select portion of it, including neither the populace, nor strangers, nor yet those who had forfeited their civil rights, this is expressed in the first. Both the calling the klesis, (Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:9), and the calling out the ekioge, (Romans 11:7; 2 Peter 1:10), are moments to be remembered, when the word is assumed into a higher Christian sense, for in them the chief part of its peculiar adaptation to its auguster uses lies.
Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters (The Local Church of the New Testament, p. 16) has the following to say concerning the etymology and use of the word "church":
1. The meaning of the word "church": The word 'ecclesia' rendered 'church' occurs 117 times in the Greek New Testament. Our Lord and the New Testament writers neither coined this word nor used it in an unusual sense. Like any other word, according to the laws of language, it might be used abstractly, generically, particularly, or prospectively, without losing its essential meaning.
Definition: In its primary meaning a 'church' was an organized assembly, whose members were properly called out from their private homes or business to attend to public affairs; in all of its usages prescribed conditions of membership are implied, inferred, or expressed.
2. The application of this meaning, substantially, applies to all usages of the word 'church.'
We would next quote from Dr. R.J. Anderson (Vital Church Truths, p. 2) to show that this word is found in the New Testament used in five different ways:
Now let us note the various ways the word 'church' is used in the New Testament. The word 'church' which means a called out and assembled together group of people is used in five ways and we shall give a Scripture reference for each.
1. The word is applied to Israel in the wilderness, (Acts 7:38)
2. It is used several times of non-Christian assemblies, (Acts 19:32,39,41). The translators translated it assembly in these verses, but it is the same word they have translated church more than 100 times.
3. There is the Glory Church which will be with our Lord in Glory following the resurrection, (Ephesians 5:27).
4. The word is used in the institutional sense as we might say 'the school is a great institution,' by that statement we would mean any school but not all schools assembled together in one great assembly. Or as we might say 'the dog is man's best friend,' by that statement we would not mean all the dogs formed into one mammoth dog, but we would refer to the dog family meaning any dog. When Christ says 'My church' in Matthew 16:18 He means any New Testament church and not all the churches gathered together in one great assembly in this world, for such is not possible.
5. The word church is used most frequently in the New Testament to designate some specific local body, as the church at Corinth, (1 Corinthians 1:2). 'The seven churches that are in Asia,' (Revelation 1:11).
The thing that we must notice from these usages is that:
1.) In every instance it is used of an assembly of persons, and 2.) In each case the word retains its original meaning of a called out assembly. Even in the tumultuous assembly, (Acts 19:32), the words "and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together," intimate that there had been the act of calling them together. The fact that they were dismissed, (v. 41), also suggests this.
The first mention of the word ekklesia in the New Testament is to be found in Matthew 16:18, a theological battleground which has seen infinitely more battles fought than the vale of Megiddo. "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Several things claim our attention from this passage; a play upon words is found here which is not apparent except to the Greek student, but which has much bearing upon the right interpretation of this passage. "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (Grk. petros - a stone or rock - masculine gender) and upon this rock (Grk. petrai - a rock, ledge, cliff - feminine gender) I will build my church . . ." Upon this passage and the assumption that Peter was the one upon whom the church was built, has Rome built her entire hierarchical system. This is also the common interpretation of many Protestant denominations as well.
However, the Greek language draws a clear distinction between Petros the fisherman, and the great Petra upon which the church was founded. Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament says: " . . . some interpreters regard the distinction (generally observed in classic Greek) between petra, the massive living rock, and petros, a detached but large fragment, as important for the correct understanding of this passage . . . " (Sub voce, Petra.) Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon give the following distinction between the two: "PETRA, a rock, crag . . . PETROS, a piece of rock, a stone . . . " J. P. Lange (The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, II, 311) also says, "There is certainly a distinction between petros and petra, the stone or piece of rock, and the rock itself. But the name Cephas, we must allow, combines both significations." (Of the Aramaic Cephas, we shall have occasion to speak shortly.)
Concerning this distinction we may well note: 1.) Peter was insignificant when compared with the Rock which was to be the foundation of the church. 2.) Peter himself understood and declared that not himself but the Christ was the Rock on which the church was to be built. "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock (Grk. petra) of offence . . . " Believers he terms "living stones" (lithos), but only Christ is the great immovable Petra. (1 Peter 2:6-8, 5). 3.) This is also the understanding of Paul who says, "That Rock (Grk. petra) was Christ," (1 Corinthians 10:4). 4.) The Old Testament usage of the word rock accords with this also. When used metaphorically in the Old Testament, rock always referred to God, or to deity, with one possible exception. To list but a few such references, Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31; Psalm 18:2; 31:3; Isaiah 8:14 and many others. This would have been perfectly understandable to a Jew as a reference to Christ's Deity, for "rock" was one of the most common metaphors for God.
The one possible exception to this rule of which we have spoken is found in Isaiah 51:1-2 "Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father . . . " This may possibly be a reference to Abraham as a rock; however, it is by no means certain; it could well be that it is a contrast between their relationship to the Lord, "the rock whence ye are hewn" and their relationship to Abraham, "the hole of the pit whence ye are digged."
Be that as it may, the common, and all but universal metaphorical use of Rock as a reference to deity, and especially to God, is established, and strengthens the contention that the passage in Matthew 16:18 refers to Christ.
Some would interpret the rock to be Peter's confession of the deity of Christ, but this has absolutely no precedent in Scripture anywhere. That the Rock could be Christ is easily admitted; that the rock could conceivably refer to Peter may be admitted, though only by a long stretch of the imagination is there any substantial basis for this belief; but that the word "rock" could be used metaphorically for an intangible thing such as a confession, is without precedent in any writings, sacred or profane.
No doubt the objection will be raised that the distinction between Petros and petra lies only in the Greek, while our Lord probably spoke this in Aramaic in which there is no such distinction. First of all, let it be said that while it is thought probable by many that the Lord spoke Aramaic, it cannot be dogmatically asserted that He did. However, granting, for the sake of argument, that He may have spoken in Aramaic, it would have been even easier to mark the distinction between the Kephos who was the fisherman, and the great Kephos upon whom the church was to be built, by the simple motion of the hand. There would be no doubting of the meaning if the Lord had said, "Thou art indeed Kephas (i.e., a stone), but upon this Kephas (motioning to Himself), I will build my church..." This distinction is also intimated in the contrasting of "you" and "this rock."
Another thing that we should notice is that though it is possible that this was originally spoken in Aramaic, the Holy Spirit has seen fit to record it in Greek in which there is a distinction between the two words. The word petra appears fifteen times in the New Testament, and without exception, its metaphorical usage is always of Christ.
Those who hold that this passage refers to Peter, or to Peter's confession, must: 1.) Merge the distinct meanings of two Greek words into a single meaning; 2.) Ignore the universal New Testament usage of the word petra; and 3.) Exalt a mere man to the position which belongs only to the Lord.
It is true that the Scripture speaks of the church being built "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets," but this must be understood in a secondary sense only, for it is also said, "Jesus Christ Himself being the CHIEF corner stone," (Ephesians 2:20; see also I Corinthians 3:11); "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST."
Next, may we notice that the Lord sets apart and distinguishes the church from all other organizations. It is "my ekklesia," of which He speaks, that it may be distinguished from the Greek civil ekklesia, the Hebrew ekklesia, or congregation, or any other body so designated as an ekklesia. The "my" modifies the word so as to exclude any other body from being confused with it. "When, in this lesson, our Lord says: 'On this rock I will build MY ecclesia,' while the 'my' distinguishes His ecclesia from the Greek state ecclesia and the Old Testament ecclesia, the word itself naturally retains its ordinary meaning." - B.H. Carroll, Ecclesia - THE CHURCH, p. 4.
The Lord further contrasts His ekklesia with others by terming the latter a "synagogue of Satan," Revelation 2:9. While the Lord's "ekklesia" contrasts with other ekklesias in many ways, there is one common factor - both constitute called out assemblies.
Many have stumbled at the belief that the church was organized during the personal ministry of the Lord because He says "I will build my church." It is held by many that since He used the future tense of the verb, He must be referring to something that would commence to be built at some future time, and hence, could not then be in existence. However, this is based upon the false assumption that it means "I will commence to build." The future tense is perfectly in order if the church had already been organized, as we believe that it had, for the simple reason that it had not been long in existence, but that it was to continue to be built over a vast period of time which has now stretched to almost twenty centuries. Hence, by far the majority of the building was yet future. At what time in the past twenty centuries has it not been correct to say that Christ will build His church. I may correctly say "He will build the First Baptist Church of Kirk, Colorado," even though this church has already existed for fifty-five years, because any true and lasting building that is done is from the Lord.
Paul uses this same manner of speaking concerning the continual building up of the Christian in the Lord. He says, "Having been rooted (perfect passive participle) and being now built up (present passive participle) in Him, and being established (present passive participle) in the faith . . . " (Colossians 2:7), literal rendering. Dr. A. T. Robertson, one of the foremost Greek scholars, says of this passage, "The metaphor is changed again to a building as continually going up (present tense)." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, 490) He also states concerning the future tense that: "The future likewise presents in completed action which in any case may be either momentary, simultaneous, prolonged, descriptive, repeated, customary, interrupted, attempted, or begun, according to the nature of the case or the meaning of the verb." - Short Grammar Of the Greek New Testament, p. 141. (Emphasis mine - DWH)
Mark 3:13-19 presents the time of the organization of the Lord's ekklesia, for not only is there the obvious "calling out," but several other things also are recorded which apply to a church-state. 1.) While the express form ekkaleo, "call out," is not used, a kindred form is: Proskaleomai, derived from pros, to or toward, and kaleo, call, when used in the Christian sense intimates as much, for no one can be called to Christ without, at the same time, being called out of the world. That this was not a call to salvation is clear when we consider that He had called each one individually prior to this either personally, or through the ministry of John the Baptist.
2.) Luke records of this event that it was only after a whole night spent in prayer to God that He did this, (Luke 6:12), which speaks of the solemnity of the occasion.
3.) "And He ordained twelve...whom also he named apostles," (Luke 6:13, and marginal reading of Mark 3:14, R.V.) This is the ordination (Greek "He made twelve," a sovereign act of ordination.) of the ministry of the first church. It was an apostolic ministry, it is true, yet from this select group were to be the pastors of, and missionaries from, the Jerusalem church.
4.) "And He ordained twelve that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils" (vv. 14-15). The Lord had a four-fold purpose in choosing the twelve; a.) "That they should be with Him." This was probably not so much for His own companionship, as it was for the training of the twelve. for much of the responsibility of the church would rest upon them after Christ's death. b.) "And that he might send them forth to preach c.) "And to have power to heal sicknesses." d.) "And to cast out devils." In these we see both commission and authority manifested.
A number of other things point to the fact that the church was organized during the earthly ministry of the Lord;
1.) "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles . . . " (1 Corinthians 12:28). No doubt rank enters into this also, but Luke 6:13 clearly puts the appointment of apostles (plural) first in time relative to the church, and at no subsequent time until the election of Matthias and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus many years later were other apostles "set in the church." and both of these instances had to do with single apostles, not with a plurality of apostles as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:28
2.) There was an organization consisting of: a.) Christ the head, b.) Members, including twelve apostles, (Luke 6:12ff), the seventy missionaries, (Luke 10:1), and others numbering "above five hundred brethren," (1 Cor. 15:6); c.) a treasurer, (John 12:4-6); d.) A divinely appointed pastor, (John 21:15-17).
3.) The ordinances were both administered during the earthly ministry of Christ, and consequently, before Pentecost, (John 4:1-2; Matthew 26:26-30). The question which here presents itself is, Are baptism and the Lord's Supper church ordinances or not? We doubt that few will be found who will answer in the negative.
Fulfilled prophecy is positive proof that the church existed while Christ was on earth, and therefore before Pentecost. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee" (Ps. 22:22) . . . This prophecy is picked up in Hebrews 2:12 and explained: "Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." The Lord sang "in the midst of the church." When? The only instance of His singing as divinely recorded took place the night He instituted the Lord's Supper and observed it with the disciples present, Matthew 26:30: "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." - D. N. Jackson, Article: "The Church Before Pentecost," in The Baptist Examiner, Jan. 16, 1965.
4.) The church was instructed in matters of church discipline, (Matthew 18:15-18). Many, following Dr. Scofield's notes, would make this to be instructions "for the future church." But Dr. Hort dissents from this in these words, "Here our Lord is speaking not of the future but of the present, instructing His disciples how to deal with an offending brother." - Christian Ecclesia, pp. 9, 10. Only a bias in favor of a preconceived idea would cause men to so wrest this passage as to attempt to make it teach something about a "future church."
One may speculate and theorize upon Matthew 18:17 all they please, but still it remains unreasonable to believe that Jesus referred to something that the disciples did not understand, or that He indicated a rule of discipline relating to a church that did not exist. To the one that accepts this passage at its face value it appears conclusive that the church was in existence at the time that Jesus spoke these words. - Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 18.
5.) The church was commissioned both before Christ's death, (Luke 9:1-6) (Limited commission), and after His resurrection, (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).
6.) The church met, held prayer meetings, and conducted business all before the day of Pentecost, (Acts 1:13-26).
7.) The church was purchased before Pentecost, (Acts 20:28).
8.) On the day of Pentecost "about three thousand souls were added" to something which afterward was considered a church. It would be ambiguous to speak of adding something to nothing, and if it was a church afterward, it must have been one before the adding was done.
9.) Jesus "left his house," (Mark 13:34), when He ascended from the earth, yet how could He have left His house, if He was not to have one until a later date.
These are some of the numerous and unanswerable proofs that the Word sets forth of the origin of the New Testament Church during the earthly ministry of Our Lord, and prior to the day of Pentecost. Other proofs could be cited, but for lack of time and space we must pass on to consider the relationship of Pentecost to the church.
Much has been written about the church originating on the day of Pentecost, and a majority of the religious world has adopted this hypothesis without question. As far as the proof of this is concerned, it is almost totally non-existent; most advocates of this view base their belief on inferences, assumptions and reasonings only. Dr. A. H. Strong, an advocate of this view among Baptists, honestly admits that:
The church existed in germ before the day of Pentecost, otherwise there would have been nothing to which those converted upon that day could have been 'added' (Acts 2:47). Among the apostles, regenerate as they were, united to Christ by faith and in that faith baptized (Acts 19:4), under Christ's instruction and engaged in common work for him, there were already the beginnings of organization. There was a treasurer of the body (John 13:29), and as a body they celebrated for the first time the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:26-29). To all intents and purposes they constituted a church, although the church was not yet fully equipped for its work by the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2), and by the appointment of pastors and deacons. The church existed without officers, as in the first days succeeding Pentecost. - Systematic Theology, pp. 900,901.
However, it must be realized that the germ (or bud, as Dr. Strong also terms the church before Pentecost) embodies in itself all of the fullness of the mature church; it needs but time to unfold into its mature form. And it is to be granted that prior to Pentecost the church had not attained its maturity, but it did not attain this maturity in one day so that neither was it mature the day after Pentecost either.
The body of brethren which Christ had three times gathered into an assembly, and had designated as his church and spoken of as his kingdom, the Holy Spirit expressly calls a church, after the ascension of Christ. We have not the slightest intimation that there was the least modification made in its organization, much less that a new and unheard of body was originated by the apostles. J. R. Graves, The Seven Dispensations. p. 266.
Yet the objection that the church had neither received the Holy Spirit, nor had pastors been appointed, is baseless. 1.) It is true that deacons had not been appointed at this time, but the church was still small enough at Pentecost not to need them. 2.) Sometime not too long after His resurrection, the Lord had appeared to seven of the disciples at the sea of Tiberias, and had there appointed Peter to "Feed my lambs . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep," (John 21:15-19). Peter still held the office of pastor of the church when Matthias was elected to the apostleship, (Acts 1), and from his prominence in the affairs of the Jerusalem church, it seems likely that Peter continued as pastor until he was called of God to go down to Caesarea and preach to the Gentiles, (Acts 10). 3.) It is not to be denied that there was a great outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, but neither is it to be denied that the church had already received the Holy Spirit as well. The individual disciples had received the indwelling Spirit when they were saved, for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," (Romans 8:9) but the church had also received the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:13, for the Lord appeared on the evening of the day He arose from the dead and said unto them, "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost," (John 20:21-22). This that took place on the day of Pentecost was an empowering of the church, and empowering is not necessary to existence, only to being competent witnesses which they were not commanded to do until after the resurrection anyhow. Jesus promised that the Spirit would come upon them, not to constitute them into a church, but to empower them for the work He commissioned them to do, (Acts 1:8). Hence the foremost arguments for a Pentecostal founding of the church are found to be invalid.
The statement is often made that the church was formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (See Scofield Bible, p. 1150, note; and p. 1252, note.) yet never is any scriptural proof cited beyond the reference to Acts 2:1ff, and 1 Corinthians 12:13, the latter of which, in the King James Translation is a manifest mistranslation.
Dr. D. N. Jackson has well said concerning those who hold to a Pentecostally founded church that:
Those who believe this theory use Scripture verses that speak of Pentecost but say nothing of the church; and then they will refer to verses that speak of the church but say nothing of Pentecost. Then they go on to use verses that say nothing of either Pentecost or the church. - Article: "The Church Before Pentecost," in The Baptist Examiner, Jan. 16, 1965.
This translation makes the Holy Spirit to be the agent of the baptizing, but the literal translation, which is given in the R.V., makes the Holy Spirit the element into which all the members are baptized; "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body," etc. Pentecost was the fulfillment of that which John prophesied in Matthew 3:11: "He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire."
In every passage but one where baptism is associated with the Spirit, the uniform usage in the Greek is with the preposition en ("in"); in no case does it ever have dia ("through" or "by means of') nor meta ("with"). The one exception is Mark 1:8 where there is no preposition of any sort, but the case form of the noun (dative) is locative which rules out the idea that the Spirit is the agent of the baptizing. Let the Greek student consult Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Mark 1:8; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; and Acts 11:16.
Protestantism has a confused idea of the origin of the church. Some say that it began with Abraham, and others tell us that it began on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord. There is absolutely not one scintilla of evidence in the Bible or out of it that the church was founded or began on Pentecost. If those who claim Pentecost as the birthday of the church will search the records they will find that any church born on that day or afterwards is too late to receive any commission from our Lord... It follows, scripturally and logically, that any church born on Pentecost or any day thereafter has no commission from our Lord to do anything and must be a human institution and not a divine one. J. T. Moore, Why I Am A Baptist, quoted by Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 12.
What then, is the relationship of Pentecost to the church? Certainly not the founding of the church, for we find the events of Pentecost repeated on at least two other occasions; (Acts 8:14-17; 10:44-48; cf. 11:15-17). Are we then to infer that the first founding of the church, if so be that Pentecost was that event, was not successful and had to be repeated?
Pentecost was God's attestation to the church that now and henceforth to the end of the age it was to be His chosen house of witness. It was simply the repetition of God's action when the tabernacle was raised, (Exodus 40:33-35), and when the temple was completed, (2 Chronicles 5:13-15). Twice before this the Jews had seen and recorded God's attestation and certification of a new house of worship; without the events of Pentecost, most Jews would not have accepted the church as God's house of witness, or had they done so, they would have considered it vastly inferior in glory to the tabernacle and the temple; this could never be. But who could doubt that a new economy had come in when the Lord repeated His certification.
A.Like the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Testament, the church of the New Testament was established before it was accredited, credentialed, or filled by the Cloud of God's Approving Glory . . . The church, therefore, was established in the days of Jesus' sojourn in the flesh and the work of its construction was begun with the material prepared by John the Baptist, later the twelve apostles of our Lord: and at the close of His earthly ministry we find this little band in Jerusalem began to transact business by the election of a successor to Judas. Also they were assembled together to receive collectively the Holy Spirit, and to them were added daily such as were being saved.
1. Three Old Testament types:
a. The Tabernacle was built before the Glory Cloud filled it (Exodus 40:34-38).
b. Solomon's Temple was built before the Glory Cloud filled it (1 Kings 8:10,11).
c. Ezekiel's Ideal Temple (after Solomon's Temple was destroyed) was built before the Glory Cloud filled it (Ezekiel 43:1-6; Daniel 9:24; Joel 2:28-32).
B.The church was promised the abiding glory of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11,12; Mark 16:17,18; John 1:33; 7:37, 39; Acts 1:8).
C.The church received the promised Holy Spirit (Gen. 11:1,9 cf.; Joel 2:28-32) - Clearwaters, The Local Church of the New Testament. p. 25, 26.
At Pentecost the Lord put His stamp of approval upon a church composed almost, if not totally, of Jewish believers; therefore, it was necessary to repeat this for the sake of the Samaritan and Gentile believers, who might otherwise be disparaged by the Jews. Therefore, it is recorded: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost," (Acts 8:14-17). And again: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:44-47).
Now that both these other cases were parallels with the Jewish Pentecost of Acts 2 is proven by: 1.) The fact that the Spirit is said to have "fallen upon" each of these three groups, but of no others. 2.) Peter expressly declares that the Gentile case was parallel with the Jewish case; "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them (Grk. epipipto), as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost," (Acts 11:15-16). 3.) From the three-fold division of the commission in Acts 1:8. As the commission embraced the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, so there was to be a baptism of the Spirit for each of the three divisions that none might disparage the other as being inferior in any way.
The Spirit baptism was a once-for-all event; it was never repeated upon any group, and it happened only three times in history, and those three times exactly corresponded to the divisions of the commission in Acts 1:8. It is expected that there will be many who will disagree with this statement, for there is a great deal of confusion relative to the Baptism of the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit; these two are not synonymous as many people think. The Baptism of the Spirit was for churches; the filling is for individuals; the baptism of the Spirit was never repeated upon any group; the filling of the Spirit is repeated many times; the baptism of the Spirit was for the purpose of certification as well as enduement with power; filling is only for preparation for service; the baptism of the Spirit was a transient event; the filling of the Spirit is a continuing privilege and duty, (Ephesians 5:18); only three events can be certainly identified as the baptism of the Spirit; there are several instances of the filling of individuals by the Spirit.
is distinction is carefully preserved even in Acts 2 where both of these occur together. Dr. B.F. Dearmore observes:
In Acts 2:1 the word 'all' is used, showing that the church is to be considered as a body. The house was filled as a mighty rushing wind. No one would deny that this was the Holy Ghost. He filled the room in other words, the church, as a body, was covered, immersed in, with and by the Holy Ghost. In verse three cloven tongues as of fire sat upon each of them. Note the word 'each.' What happened from here on was an individual matter. They were 'filled with the Holy Ghost' as individuals. - Article: "The Church," in The Orthodox Baptist, August, 1965, p.5, col. 3.
But Pentecost was more than God's certification of the church as His house of worship, it was first and foremost, His certification of the Messiahship and Divine Sonship of the One whom the Jews had crucified. It was proof that Christianity was not just another "religion." Without this fact, Christianity would never have been heard of beyond the walls of Jerusalem, for it would have had no hope, no power, no message.
At the same time that God certified the church, He also empowered it for the work for which it had been organized. Thus had the Lord said to His church on the evening of His resurrection, "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high," (Luke 24:49). He did not even intimate that this would constitute the origin of the church, but spoke to them in corporate capacity, and promised them that they would be empowered for the work of evangelizing, indoctrinating, and edifying. In Acts 1:8, this empowering is associated with the church's witness of the Lord. As individual baptism does not constitute the beginning of the Christian life (note the correct order as given in Matthew 28:19, R.V., "make disciples," then "baptizing them.") so neither did Pentecost constitute the beginning of the church; both baptism and Pentecost are testimonies before the world.
Many contend that the church was founded upon the day of Pentecost as an expedient to their own practices; Protestant denominations, all of which have originated in recent centuries, if they could prove that the church was not founded personally by the Lord, but instrumentally through the apostles, would have a legitimate excuse for their existence. Otherwise, they are found to be nothing more than modern day founders of pseudo-churches, without hope of establishing their claims to being the Lord's churches.
A Pentecostally founded church, which could still lay claim to being the Lord's church though not founded by Him personally, would be an answer to their dilemma; it would be the example needed to justify their own human origin; they could excuse their modern origin by saying "Well, not even the first church was founded by the Lord personally, but He used men to do it, just as He has used us."
But the Lord did found the church personally during His earthly ministry, and gave it the promise of unbroken perpetuity until the close of the age when He will personally return to the earth. Protestantism is like the seven women in Isaiah 4:1 who "take hold of one man (Christ), saying, we will eat our own bread (doctrine), and wear our own apparel (self-righteousness): only let us be called by thy name (Christian), to take away our reproach."
There has never been any justification for the originating of a new denomination; even those who came out of Rome when they realized how corrupt and depraved she was, could have united with true churches which then existed as they had since before the Pentecost of Acts 2; but most of those who came out of Rome wanted piety without persecution, religion without reproach, and holiness without humility; they wanted the name of Christianity, but not its attendant sufferings. The Anabaptists, Waldenses, Novatians, Donatists, and other Baptist groups were reproached and ridiculed, calumniated and cursed, persecuted and plundered, destroyed and damned for the truth, but they counted it worth it all. Not so the reformers; most of them wanted no part of such. Let the thoughtful student of church history consider that almost all of the reformers courted the favor of the Baptists in the beginning of the reformation, and sought to fellowship with them until they found what an undeviating stand for the truth would cost; then they repudiated them and sought for an easier Christianity; one which gave them recognition as a Christian church, yet which did not entail suffering, sacrifice and self-denial. Such, however, is the devil's religion; Christ said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me," (Matthew 16:24). To be a good disciple, one must not only relinquish wealth and honor, but even life itself. This, the reformers did not want; neither does modern Protestantism, but this is the demand of the Book for those who would be Christ's disciples.
The belief that the church was founded on the day of Pentecost cannot be substantiated by a literal interpretation of the Bible; the only substantiation to be had from the Bible, must be accompanied by figurative and questionable interpretations, and by inferences and guesses; but with this type of interpretation, any doctrine sine exceptio can be established The belief that the church was founded on Pentecost is a straw man, an expedient to justify the actions of those who have not the faith and fortitude to take their place with those who, through the centuries, have steadfastly and patiently borne witness to the truth in spite of every trial and suffering that unregenerate man could bring upon them, Protestant church historians themselves being witnesses.
It is also needful for us to consider the ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH AS TO FOUNDER, and while most people declare the Lord Jesus to be the founder of the church, yet in practice, they deny this.
Considering the matter negatively, we note first of all that the church was not founded by any man, for there is but one founder and builder of the church, and that is Jesus Christ Himself. There are many so-called churches in the world today which were founded by some man, but such, like the house built upon the sand, (Matthew 7:26-27), will in the time of judgment fall, and "great will be the fall of it." The very fact that some churches can trace their origin to a mere man should be enough to make them realize that they can not rightly be the Lord's church.
If any mortal man had a right to the title of founder or head of the church, that right would fall to the apostle Paul, for no other individual labored so faithfully and fervently for the glory of God and the good of the churches as did he. But that honor belongs to no mortal; not to Peter, nor to Paul, nor to any other mortal; it is the right of Jesus Christ alone, as Paul declares, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," (1 Cor. 3:11).
Nor could the whole apostolate be considered the founder of the New Testament church, for while they all had a part in the up-building of the church after the Lord had founded it, their part was secondary only as we have already observed. Not only so, but as 1 Corinthians 12:28 tells us, the church existed before men were ordained to the apostolic office, for the apostles were first "set in the church."
Again, we may observe that those who hold to a Pentecostal origin of the church deny by that belief that the Lord even has a church, and make the Holy Spirit the founder of the church instead. If this were the case, then the Lord could not truthfully call it "my church." But in no place is there to be found the least intimation that the Spirit occupied the place of founder, originator, or even mid-wife to assist at the birth of the church. The Scriptures set forth several things that are the particular work of the Spirit in the church: 1.) He glorifies Christ, (John 16:14). 2.) He abides in the church, (John 14:16). 3.) He equips for service (1 Cor. 12 much of the chapter; Heb. 2:4 margin). 4.) He superintends the ministry of the church, (Acts 13:2, 4; 16:6-10; 20:28). 5.) He guides the church, (John 16:13; Rom. 8:14). 6.) He teaches the church, (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; 1 John 5:6; Rev. 2:7ff). 7.) He comforts the church, (John 14:16-18; Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 13:14).
But in all these things the Spirit works, not for Himself, but as "another Comforter," Christ's vice-gerent, His other self. To hold that the church was brought into existence by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is to be mistaken as to time of origin, and identity of originator.
But if these things be true, and it be not correct to attribute the origin of the church to the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost, nor to the apostles at still a later date, then how much more is it folly to attribute the origin of the church to some mortal in the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth century after Christ? Yet this is exactly what many persons do in recognizing as Christian churches those societies which have sprung up in the last centuries of this dispensation. The date, place and founder of every major denomination in the world today is common knowledge to those who are concerned with such facts, and there is little if any disagreement as to these facts. But such is not the case with Baptists; scholars and students of church history cannot agree when or where Baptists first originated, nor can they pinpoint the founder of the Baptist movement; but this is only natural if, as we believe, the Baptists are the descendents of the first church, and have a lineage which dates back by direct links to the first century.
The following information showing the time, place and person concerned with the origin of each denomination, is taken from John R. Gilpin's Historicity of Baptists and Others, p. 17-18.It would be to encroach upon a chapter especially designed for that purpose for us to now attempt to show that Baptists have a continuity of faith and practice dating back to the first century. Our purpose here is to show the folly of those who have such a recent origin, yet who persist in claiming to be the church of the New Testament.Name - Date Founded - Place Founded - Founder
Catholic - 590 - Rome - Gregory the Great
Lutheran - 1520 - Germany - Martin Luther
Episcopal - 1534 - England - Henry the Eighth
Presbyterian - 1536 - Switzerland - John Calvin
Congregational - 1540 - England - Robert Brown
Methodist - 1740 - England - John Wesley
Campbellite - 1827 - America - Alexander Campbell
Mormon - 1830 - America - Joseph Smith
Christian Science - 1879 - America - Mary Baker Eddy
The origin of the New Testament church is to be found in Palestine; the time of it was in the days of the Lord's earthly ministry; and the founder of the church was the Lord Jesus Himself. Just before the crucifixion, the Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of its obstinacy and unbelief, and then declared: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." (Matthew 23:38) By which He evidently meant: 1.) He no longer recognized the temple as the house of the Lord; it was not only "your house." 2.) It was forsaken of God - God would no longer inhabit it. This brings up other questions, namely, did God no longer have a house of witness upon the earth? Was there to be a time between when He spoke these words and the day of Pentecost when He would be without witness? The answer to these questions is to be found in the Lord's statement which He made immediately after this in what has been called the Olivet discourse. "For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants," etc. (Mark 13:34).
Here the Lord illustrates His own soon removal from the earth, but in doing so, He speaks of "leaving His house," but how can this be if He had just disenfranchised the temple as His house of witness, and the church was not yet in existence. The answer is simple; the church had already been founded some two years or more ago, and at His ascension, He left His church, but is to soon return to take an accounting of His servants. What then of those who have rejected the blood-bought house of the Lord, and have established a human society in competition with the Lord's house? Protestants, see ye to it, and judge in yourselves what ye do.
Inasmuch as some mistake the edification of the church for its origin we must here take note of the fact that THE CHURCH WAS STRENGTHENED AND BUILT UP UNDER THE MINISTRY OF THE APOSTLES. No rational Bible student will deny this; yet, let none mistake the character of this building up. Some, indeed, do contend that the church was a product of evolution, or that Paul completely modified and revised the plan for the church as originally set forth by Christ. This idea, however, is based solely upon carnal rationalism, and is no problem to the devout student of the Bible to whom the letter of the Word is incontrovertible.
Though not the product of evolution, the church did pass through a stage of development and growth in the first century; this was the natural thing since the church was not created full grown, as was Adam, but must needs pass through infancy, youth, etc.
Before his death, our Lord had founded his Church, by selecting the Twelve, the Seventy, and many other disciples, by teaching them his doctrines, authorizing them to preach and baptize, and by establishing the Supper . . . , his infant Church truly, but no less his Church, as he was the Christ as much when a Babe in the stable, and a Youth in the Temple, as when a Man on Calvary. - Thomas Armitage, History of the Baptists, p.71.
Church doctrine is peculiar to Paul's epistles since he was the one chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles, who were, in later years, to comprise by far the majority of the churches. The other apostles spoke of the church in their writings, and labored in and for the churches, but it was Paul who had "the care of all the churches," (2 Corinthians 11:28).
One of the chief hindrances to the building up, or edification of the church in its early days, was Saul of Tarsus. for Luke records that upon the conversion of Saul. "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied," (Acts 9:31). After his conversion, Paul became a special vessel unto the Lord for the edification of the churches. He himself says, "For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed," (2 Corinthians 10:8).
Nor was he alone in laboring for the edification of the churches; the other apostles and prophets were zealous to proclaim the word thereby edifying the churches. According to the New Testament definition of a prophet, whoever might speak to men to edification, exhortation, or comfort was a prophet, whether he spoke of things to come, or things already come, for the Scripture says, "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto me to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." (1 Corinthians 14:3). In this sense, every preacher and teacher is a prophet.
The edification of the church is the responsibility of every member of it, for the command is, "seek that ye may excel (in spiritual gifts) to the edifying of the church;" (1 Corinthians 14:12), but it is especially obligatory upon those men of the ministry of the church; "And he gave some, apostles: and some, prophets: and some, evangelists: and some. pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," (Ephesians 4:11-12).
But to get back to our original proposition. namely, that the church was strengthened and built up under the ministry of the apostles, we may note that every epistle of the New Testament was written for this specific purpose. Not even those epistles which were written to individuals were exempt from this rule. To Timothy Paul wrote. "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Timothy 3:15); the epistle to Titus was written for the purpose of instructing him concerning the "things that were wanting" in Crete, (Titus 1:5). Every epistle contains something that is applicable and necessary to local churches.
How could we know how to deal with church problems today, had we not the apostolic teaching and example to apply to? Who could speak authoritatively on the question of how an immoral church member should be dealt with if we had not 1 Corinthians 5? Or who could extricate a church from tendencies toward Jewish legalism if the Galatian epistle were wanting? Who could challenge the pretentions of a pulpit dictator if John had never written his third epistle? Or who could know how to correct erroneous practices at the Lord's table without 1 Corinthians 11? Or how to treat an excluded, but repentant brother without 2 Corinthians 2? These and multitudes of other things were given for our knowledge.
The Lord has not always tolerated wickedness in His house of witness, nor does it now escape its just due, but He condescended to allow these things to come to pass in the early churches, in order that He might leave us an example of how to deal with these departures from the truth.
The strengthening and edifying of the churches was not a product of personal zeal on the part of the apostles and disciples; zeal can be, and often is, misdirected through ignorance and personal desires, but the testimony of the apostles and disciples is that they were directed by the Holy Spirit in the work; Paul often alludes to this; Jude says, "Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints," (v. 3, R.V.)
If these things had been written solely by the zeal of individuals, then we would not have an infallible record and example of early church practices. As it is, we have a reliable record to which we can apply for direction in the case of any church trouble or doctrinal deviation. It is infallible, not simply because it came from apostolic hands, but because those apostolic hands were moved and guided by Him Whose office it is to "guide you into all truth," (John 16:13-14).
Without disparaging this work of edification in the least, we must yet emphasize that this had no more relation to the origin of the church than the feeding of an infant has to the infant's birth. The teaching of the apostles and disciples was subsequent to, and needful after, the founding of the church, but it had no bearing on it whatsoever, except as divinely ordained effects.
Lastly, we would notice that from the very beginning of the church, it had the promise of perpetuity given to it by the Lord Himself; He promised that it would continue until the end of the age. This is the divine answer to denominationalism; there has been no room left for such, and our Protestant brethren shall be blameworthy in the day of the judgment seat of Christ for having disparaged the Lord's institution; the Protestant dilemma resolves itself thus; if they separated from a true church (many are so unlearned as to think that Rome was still a true church in the days of the reformation), then they are schismatics and rebels against the Lord; if, on the other hand, Rome be considered corrupt (and no Bible student can conclude otherwise), then all Protestant denominations are corrupt also, for "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one," (Job 14:4). The Lord promised that the church as an institution would continue until the end of the age, and no fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth century Johnny-come-lately can claim to be that ancient institution.
Church perpetuity is inwrought in the nature of the church as an institution. It is an institution with life begetting and perpetuating power. While the church as a local body ministers for a time in a definite field, the church as an institution ministers throughout the church age. While local churches die, the church as an institution lives on and on in the churches born of itself and its ministry. W. Lee Rector, Church Truth from the Jerusalem Church to the Glory Church, preface.
The institutional usage of the word "church" does not include all the churches of every century; it merely includes an unbroken chain of them. Such is the usage of the word in Matthew 16:18 where the promise is that "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," R.V. Dr. B. H. Carroll comments on this passage as follows:
When our Lord says, On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, does He refer to the church on earth or the church in glory? My answer is, to the particular assembly on earth, considered as an institution. The church in glory will never be in the slightest danger of the gates of hell. Before it becomes an assembly, both death and hell, gates and all, are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14 and 21:4). It is the church on earth that is in danger, from the fear of which this glorious promise is a guaranty. Ecclesia-THE CHURCH, p. 18, 19.
Church perpetuity is a blessed thing, which only makes it all the more strange that many people strangle on it; this may perhaps be explained by the fact that they know that they do not have it, and hence will not admit its existence; or it may be because of ignorance of its Scripture warrant that it is pushed into the background.
The testimony of church history is that in every century since the institution of the church there have been numerous, scattered groups of dissenting churches "heretics" by Rome's designation - which believed and practiced only what is generally considered fundamental even among Protestants today. So numerous and widespread were these that it is not only possible, but also logical and probable that an unbroken continuity of these existed, though we cannot trace such a continuity church by church. The Lord Jesus, by His utterance in Matthew 16:18 makes it a certainty that there was a continuity.
'The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,' (Matthew 16:18), the Lord says. As an institution, the Lord decrees continuous life for the church. 1. The Builder avows the church's perpetuity: (1) Of His church, the Lord says, 'The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,' (Matthew 16:18) (2) To His church, the Lord says, To, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age,' (Matthew 28:20) (3) To His church, he declares that the Holy Spirit will 'abide with you forever,' (John 14:16) (4) Since the Lord thus affirms the church's perpetuity, we know it lives today. If there has been or shall be a moment in which a church like the first one has not obtained since He uttered these words, then He spoke falsely and we have been betrayed by the church's founder. Thank God, He spoke truly, and he perpetuates His church. 2. There are some warning facts about church perpetuity that should not be overlooked in this connection: (1) We can't discount church perpetuity by subterfuges as some attempt to do and get by the Lord with it. (a. To hide behind the 'general church' idea is to shame the Lord. As touching church perpetuity, he speaks of the First Church as an institution, living on and on in other churches throughout the ages, each of which finds its roots in the First Church. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it, (Matthew 16:18). (b. To hide behind the 'perpetuity of the faith' idea dodges the issue. Since the church is the custodian of the faith, (Jude 3 and 1 Tim. 3:15), to admit the 'perpetuity of the faith' is to attest the perpetuity of the church. Both Pseudo.Baptists and Pedo-Baptists are wrong in their 'general church' or 'faith perpetuity' ideas about the church. (c. The historical appearances of Pedo-Baptists makes them too late to qualify as unprejudiced witnesses on church perpetuity. Church perpetuity condemns them. - W. Lee Rector, Church Truth from the Jerusalem Church to the Glory Church, p. 10,11.
There are two things which are requisite to the title of a true church of the Lord; first, soundness of faith and practice, which is nothing less than conformity to the Word of God. However, we must remark that there were a great number of irregularities in the churches of the New Testament, which yet did not void their church status. What, therefore, is necessary as to doctrine and practice, to constitute a New Testament church? T. T. Martin answers this for us. "Only two doctrines are essential to a New Testament church. Other doctrines are important, precious, but only two are essential to a New Testament church. They are the WAY OF SALVATION and the WAY OF BAPTISM." - The New Testament Church, quoted in Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 85. This may seem exceeding broad, but in reality it is very narrow, for most doctrines are so tied to these two that one cannot rightly hold these two without being correct on others also. The second requisite to true church status is a perpetuity which dates back to the first church. Rome indeed has an organic continuity back to the first century, but is hopelessly defective as to doctrines; Protestantism has neither of these, for the oldest protestant denomination is only a little over four hundred years old, and while some groups are reasonably sound on the plan of redemption (although infant baptism is a corruption even of this) they all possess a defective baptism. Only Baptists can trace an unbroken continuity of faith and practice from the first century; every false church can be traced to a human origin; not so Baptists.
Let no one mistake this; we do not trace our heritage by the name "Baptist," for that is of recent date, but we trace our heritage by faith and practice. Thus does R. B. C. Howell speak: "But we are told by many illiterate men, and even women, who have been ambitious to write our history, that they do not read of Baptists till the time of Cromwell! Indeed! And do they not know that our present name is recent? It is not the name, it is the principle which we seek." - Terms of Communion, p. 256. The name "Baptist" has only been used for about three or four hundred years; before that, the name most commonly applied to them was "Anabaptist" (re-baptizer), from which the name "Baptist" was derived. In other places and times they were called Waldenses, Albigenses, Paterines, Cathari, Novatians, Montanists, etc. But by whatever name they were known, they were generally characterized by the things which are presently peculiar to Baptists.
Nor is this any reason for any Baptist individual or church to swell up with pride, for this perpetuity is not owing to human strength and faithfulness. It is due solely to God's sovereign faithfulness in preserving such that Baptists now exist. However, this does not excuse any person from the duty to faithfully discharge his obligation; it simply means that such failures as men are liable to, do not endanger the perpetuity of the Lord's church.
Even as early as the latter part of the first century, there were individuals and churches which had begun to compromise doctrinally and practically, so that the Lord warned, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent," (Revelation 2:5). That this was not restricted to the Ephesian church alone, nor yet to the seven churches addressed, is evident from verse 7: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches . . . " In each of the messages to each of the churches there is a message to every person who is capable of hearing these messages.
Nor is this an idle threat; entirely too many Christians have the idea that the Lord will not repudiate any church, no matter how corrupt it may become. But the foregoing Scripture forever stands as a condemnation of, and warning against, such an idea. The Lord requires, not only a scriptural origin for His church, but also a scriptural practice and a scriptural perpetuity as well. Any society which falls short of these requirements does so to its own confusion.
People need to realize that a church which isn't patterned after the New Testament Church isn't the Lord's church, does not have the Spirit abiding in it, and therefore doesn't have a candlestick in it, but is nothing more than a mere human invention, no matter what it may be in the sight of man. To the reader may we ask this question, Whence is your church, of heaven or of the earth? Is it the Lord's church, or is it some man's church? If it is of man, may God grant you grace to realize it, admit it, repudiate it, and accept the Lord's blood-bought church.
Chapter Two - The Nature of The Church
Having already considered the origin of the church, and found that it came into existence as far as man and time are concerned during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was founded and organized by Him personally, and not immediately through His disciples, though it had existed in the mind of God since before the world began, we now take up the often misunderstood subject of the nature of the church.
As many and as varied as are the theories concerning the origin of the church, they are surpassed in number and variety by those concerning the nature of the church. We may note in passing some of the theories as to the nature of the church; 1.) To some, the church is any society which has a religious atmosphere about it. 2.) Some see in the church simply the religious side of the state. This is most common in those, countries where the church and state are united. 3.) The word "church" is used by some for all of the professors of religion within a given state, nation, or locality. 4.) The word is used by some in a denominational sense as referring to the adherents of a given denomination in a given area. 5.) Many hold the church to be any society which engages in the rectifying of social wrongs. 6.) By far the most common theory concerning the church is that it is the totality of true believers of all time without regard to their locality or present state. This list could doubtless be multiplied at great length, but these comprise the more common theories. We would mention one other view of the church, which we believe to be the scriptural one, and that which we will expound more at length later in this chapter; it is 7.) That the church is the local assembly of professing believers who have been scripturally baptized, and who have entered into a covenant with one another to do God's will.
All of the erroneous theories of the nature of the New Testament church, though varied in some ways, have yet some things in common; 1.) They generally depart from the original meaning of the word ekklesia, and either willfully or ignorantly apply a meaning to the word which was not originally applicable. 2.) They all originated after the first century of the Christian era, and are therefore not apostolic, but are simply the products of human reasoning. 3.) Because the foregoing is true, they are all departures from the uniform New Testament usage of the word.
Satan is well versed in the things of Christianity, and he well knows that God has ordained that the wisdom of God is to be made known by the church; therefore, he seeks with all his power to thwart the plan of redemption by corrupting the vehicle of truth, the Lord's church; and what more subtle and easy way could he choose than to influence men to teach erroneous concepts of the church so that men might be content with a religious society which bears the name of "church," but which embodies none of the essential principles of the New Testament church?
Church truth is very important, yet there is so little study of it; people have become unconcerned and even lethargic, and are content to take any one's word on the subject rather than take the time and trouble to put in some personal study on it. This is a dangerous practice, to say the least.
Perhaps some are negligent of study upon this great subject because it is referred to in the Scripture as a "mystery" (Ephesians 3:3-,5:32; Col. 1:24-26), yet a mystery, in Scripture terminology is not that which is unknowable, but that which has been hidden, but is now revealed (Rom. 16:25-26; Col.1:26). We find several things in the New Testament which are called mysteries, but they are all things which have been hidden but are now revealed, and hence are subjects for study.
Before getting to the subject proper, it shall be necessary to consider the NEGATIVE ASPECT OF THE CHURCH, and look at some of the erroneous concepts which are held by the religious world.
1.) A view which is current in state churches is that which makes the church to be synonymous with the state. This is the natural result of infant baptism, and since it is generally required by law in such countries which practice this that each child be sprinkled by a minister of the state church, it makes every member of the state to also be a member of the church. To all intents and purposes it brings the world into the church, and breaks down all distinction between the church and the world. Dr. W. G. T. Shedd, in defending this view, says:
A baptized infant, on reaching years of discretion, may to human view appear not to have been regenerated, as a baptized convert may. The fact of unregeneracy, however, must be proved, before it can be acted upon. A citizen of the state must be presumed to be such, until the contrary appears by his renunciation of citizenship, and self-expatriation. Until he takes this course, he must be regarded as a citizen. So a baptized child, in adult may renounce his baptism and church membership, become an infidel, and join the synagogue of Satan; but until he does this, he must be regarded as a member of the church of Christ. - Dogmatic Theology, II, p. 577.
Dr. Shedd's statement is in direct opposition to the word of Christ; Dr. Shedd says that we must not judge a man by his actions, but must assume he is a Christian if he has been baptized as a child. The Lord said, "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:16-21). The outward actions of a man proves his inward condition generally. But more than this, the Lord declares that even where a semblance of worship is found, it means nothing if it be not backed up by the substance of true faith in Christ, (v. 21). This is also the heart of New Testament teaching concerning church discipline; the church member must make his life correspond with his gospel profession, or else he is to be purged out of the church, (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
The fact that those sprinkled in infancy generally do not give evidence of regeneration when they come to adult years is practically admitted by the above writer, and it is a condition which commonly obtains in pedobaptist denominations. It is too bad that man will shut his eyes to obvious truths in order to hold to a preconceived idea.
Dr. Shedd's view moves upon several misconceptions, namely: i.) That baptism has superceded circumcision, and partakes of similar requirements, and is to be performed upon the same subjects, but a.) Circumcision was a national ordinance applicable only to the Jews and still in force for them, while baptism is a church ordinance, and is only to be performed upon those who have met strict prerequisites. b.) If baptism has superceded circumcision, why then was Timothy, a Jewish believer, circumcised after he was baptized, but Titus, a Greek, was baptized, but not circumcised? (Acts 16:3; Galatians 2:3). The answer is, that circumcision is a Jewish ordinance, and has nothing to do with the church, while baptism is a church ordinance and has nothing to do with the Jews, except as they meet the requirements for church membership. c.) The council at Jerusalem declared that circumcision was not binding upon the Gentile believers, (Acts 15), but no such decree was made concerning baptism for the Jews, because baptism is required for all church members regardless of their national origin. ii.) The second misconception is that infants are proper subjects for church membership. The few Scripture passages which are applied to this purpose are taken out of their context, else they would not apply to this subject. Such, for example, is Matthew 19:14: "But Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." But a.) They are only to be "suffered," or allowed to come; there is to be no compulsion. b.) "Suffer" and "forbid not" both indicate the ability to reason and choose. Infants are not under discussion, but only those who have attained sufficient age to make a personal choice. c.) Baptism is not even under discussion here; only "coming to. Christ." d.) Jesus never personally baptized, but delegated that to His disciples, (John 4:1-2), so it is obvious that these were not brought to Him for baptism.
Acts 2:39: "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." But the context limits this: a.) To those whom the Lord has called through His Word, b.) To those who are capable of repenting, (v. 38), or in other words, those who had attained the age of accountability, and c.) Those who were capable of receiving Peter's testimony and exhortation, (v. 40). This is borne out by v. 41: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized . . . "
Other passages are held to teach infant baptism because of the mention of households being baptized, as, for example, Acts 16:15–33; 1 Corinthians 1:16. But in each of these, the context bears out and fully proves that none in these households were infants. "And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house" (Acts 16:34). This leaves no doubt but that all the jailor's family were capable of believing, for they all did so. "And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed." Here, the household of Lydia is seen to be composed of "brethren," which seems hardly the proper name to be given to infants. These were also comforted by Paul's release, which is again hardly predicable of infants. Concerning the household of Stephanas, (1 Cor. 1:16), Paul intimates in 16:15 that they were adults, since they had "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints;" this is likewise not predicable of infants.
iii.) The third misconception upon which this view moves is that the church can scripturally form an alliance with the state. This is without Biblical precept or precedent. There is nothing in the whole of New Testament to excuse an alliance of the church with Caesar. Christ said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things which are God's" (Matthew 22:21).
State churches are built upon a foundation of the sands of humanity and shall not prosper in the Lord's sight, however they may in man's sight. To make membership in a given denomination the means of citizenship is to corrupt both state and church. This view is both unscriptural and unwise, for it makes members of the church those who are still unregenerate, and gives them a false hope.
2.) A second view of the church regards it as the totality of local assemblies within a given area; it is used, now of all the churches in a city, now of all the churches in a province, and again of all the churches in a nation or continent. It is usually referred to as, a provincial church when so used.
A Christian Church, therefore, is not a confederation of many local congregations, under some one general head, whether that be a person, as bishop, patriarch, or pope; or under some system of government, as presbytery, synod, conference, or assembly. it is not an ecclesiastical system, extending over a wide area of country, claiming the right of control over all of similar faith within such territory. Such, at least, is far from the New Testament idea of a Church.—E. T. Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches, p. 35,36.
There is but one passage in the New Testament which would seem to favor such a usage. That one is Acts 9:31 of which the oldest manuscripts read, "So the church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, was multiplied," R.V.
This is the only usage of the word ekklesia which seems to be applicable to a plurality of churches, or to believers in more than one location. The noun and corresponding verbs here are singular, where we would expect to find a plural noun and plural verbs. Some ancient manuscripts do have the plural noun and verbs, but the majority of the oldest manuscripts read as does the R.V. Concerning this passage, B. H. Carroll has the following to say:
(1) The reading, 'Churches,' followed by the common version may be the right one, leaving nothing to explain. In all other cases, whether in Old or New Testament, where the sense calls for the plural, we have it in the text. Not to have it here is an isolated, jarring exception . . .
(2) But accepting the singular, according to the Revised Version, then, says Broadus, 'the word probably denotes the original church at Jerusalem, whose members were by persecution widely scattered throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and held meetings wherever they were, but still belonged to the one original organization. When Paul wrote to the Galatians nearly twenty years later, these separate meetings had been organized into distinct churches; and so he speaks (Gal. 1:22), in reference to that same period, of the churches of Judea which were in Christ.'—Commentary on Matthew, p. 359. This was the church which Saul persecuted and of which he made havoc. Concerning the effect of this persecution the records say 'they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria'—Acts 8:1 . . . My own explanation is given in (1) and (2). Now, if a theory harmonizes all of 231 uses of a word but one, and gives a possible explanation of that one, the theory is demonstrated.—Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 34,36.
That the above is the true explanation is borne out by the apostle Paul himself, who says, "I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it" (Gal. 1:13), of which the record in Acts declares, "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1); and again, "Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem" (Acts 9:13). Saul's persecution was directed against the Jerusalem church only, although he pursued them beyond the limits of Judea. There is no universal or provincial church here.
This passage certainly gives no assurance to the advocates of a provincial church, since i.) It stands completely alone in the Scriptures with no other passage to substantiate it; ii.) The theory, if it takes this passage as teaching a provincial church, must not only stand alone, but must also depend upon a contested reading for substantiation; iii.) Even granting the possibility that the R.V. reading is the true reading, the passage still admits a plausible and probable interpretation which applies only to the scattered members of the Jerusalem church; (iv. This interpretation seems probable since we do not read of the existence of any other churches at this time, nor indeed, until some six years later when we first find reference made to the church at Antioch, (Acts 11:20-26).
The provincial idea of the church is the figment of a popish mind, and has no place in the thinking of a devout student of the Word, not being in harmony with either the meaning of the word ekklesia, nor with the New Testament usage of that word.
3.) The third, and by far the most common view of the nature of the church, is that which regards it as a vast, world-wide, invisible body comprised of all believers of all past ages, the present, and all future time to the end of the world. As such, it amounts to making the church of God synonymous with the family of God and the kingdom of God, something which is not to be found in the New Testament teaching on the subject.
Rome, in order to justify her theory, overlooks the distinction that the Scriptures make between the church and the Kingdom, and seeks to identify the church that Jesus founded with the hierarchical organization that we today know as the Roman Catholic Church. in Catholic thought, the 'Church' is the visible Kingdom of God on earth, and with them there are no churches, separate, local, independent bodies, but one great, all-embracing, world organization under papal dominion and control.—Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 23.
There is a great deal of difference in the Family of God, the Kingdom of God, and the Church of God, and they are not to be confused with one another. The distinction between these three was set forth in a tract some years ago by H.B. Taylor, and is quoted by Dr. Roy Mason. For the benefit of the reader it is reproduced.
1. THE FAMILY OF GOD. 'The Family of God includes all of the children of God in heaven and on earth.' In Ephesians 3:15, Paul speaks of the 'whole family in heaven and on earth.' This family includes all believers. 'Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.' (Gal. 3:26). All believers are God's children. Since Old Testament saints were saved by faith in Christ (Acts 10:43, Rom. 4:16, etc.), they are all members of God's family.
God's family is bigger than the kingdom of God or the church of God, for it now contains all of the saved from Abel to the last man who believed, whether in heaven or on earth. God has only one family. All believers are children and heirs of God.
2. THE KINGDOM OF GOD. 'The Kingdom of God includes all of the saved on earth at any given time.' In Matthew 13 the kingdom is used to include all professors. But the kingdom as used in John 3:3-5, Matthew 16:19; 11:11, Luke 16:16; Romans 14:17; Col. 1:13; John 18:36; etc., is composed of all the born again on earth. This is not the kingdom of Daniel 2:44, Luke 19:11-27, Acts 1:6, etc. Those passages refer to the millennium. That kingdom is yet future. What is sometimes called the spiritual kingdom is composed only of those who have been born again, who have been 'translated out of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.' In John 3:3-5 the Master said, "Except a man be born anew he can neither see nor enter the Kingdom of God." In Matthew 18:16 and Mark 10:13-15, the Master shows very clearly that the kingdom is composed of only such as have received Him, whether children or adults.
'The family of God includes all of the saved of all the ages, whether in heaven or on earth; the kingdom of God includes that part of the family of God who are on earth now.'
3. THE CHURCH OF GOD. 'The church of God is never used of any institution, except of an assembly or congregation of baptized believers in some given locality. e.g., the church of God at Corinth.'—(1 Cor. 1: 2).
The local individual church is the only kind of 'church God has on this earth today. There is only one family of God, composed of all the redeemed of all the ages in heaven and on earth. There is only one kingdom of God, composed of all the born again on the earth now. There are thousands of churches of God on earth. Every individual Baptist church is a church of God. No others are. When a man is born again he is born into God's family. He is in the family of God forever. The relationship does not change. Whether in heaven or on earth he is in God's family. When he is born again he also enters God's kingdom. This relationship is for life. When he dies he passes out of the kingdom of God on earth and enters 'His heavenly kingdom' (2 Tim. 4:18). After he has been born again he is not yet in a church of God but is now a scriptural subject for admission into a church of God. 'The Lord added to the church daily the saved' (Acts 2:47). Church membership was not something a man got with salvation, but a subsequent blessing he got after salvation by being added to the church. Baptism is not essential to admission into either the family of God or the kingdom of God; but baptism is essential to admission into a church of God. Men are born anew into the family of God and into the kingdom of God; but they are baptized into a church of God (1 Cor. 12:13).—The Church That Jesus Built, p. 38-39.
A clarifying statement is in order at this point; it is not to be denied that there is in prospect the "Glory Church" which will be universal in the sense of being comprised of all the saved, but it is not yet assembled, and so does not constitute an assembly as yet. When it is assembled, it will then also be local. However, the church with which we are presently dealing is that institution which Christ ordained and left in the world to be His witness in this present dispensation.
The Scripture clearly distinguishes between the present institution known as the church, and that which shall come to pass in the future. Paul reveals that, "in the dispensation of the fullness of times" God will "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth" (Eph. 1:10). The time element of this gathering together is further set forth when we compare Heb. 12:22-23 with Rev. 21:1-3. "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with me, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."
Several things present themselves to us here: i.) The holy city, which John saw, is identified with the heavenly Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. ii.) This is identical to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem of which the writer to the Hebrews spoke. iii.) This is the "church of the firstborn ones," or in other words, of all the saved. iv.) This looks to the future, is not a present reality, as B. H. Carroll declares:
But an exegesis, based on the tense of that verb, which claims that Christians have already attained unto the alluring elements of the outlook of the grace-covenant, enumerated in that passage, is as mad as a March hare. That Jerusalem is above, and because not yet, is contrasted with the Jerusalem that now is. It is the city and country set forth in the preceding chapter, toward which the faith and hope of the patriarchs looked.—Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 40.
v.) The "general assembly" (Grk. panegyris - "an assembly of a whole nation, especially for a public festival" - Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon) is generally agreed by scholars to refer to "the innumerable company of angels," and not to the "church of the firstborn," but the word church (Grk. ekklesia) embodies the meaning of assembly in itself. But this "assembly of firstborn ones" has not yet assembled; how then can we speak of it as a present reality?
Here are three indisputable and very significant facts concerning Christ's general assembly: (1) Many of its members, properly called out, are now in heaven. (2) Many others of them, also called out, are here on earth. (3) An indefinite number of them, yet to be called, are neither on earth nor in heaven, because they are yet unborn, and therefore non-existent. It follows that if one part of the membership is now in heaven, another part on earth, another part not yet born, there is as yet no assembly, except in prospect.—B. H. Carroll, Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 7.
Too many have assumed without any reason whatever that ekklesia has lost its original meaning of "a called out assembly," yet no proof of this assumption is ever cited. And there is no more dangerous practice than to assume that a word means different than its primary meaning. If we cast away the native signification of a word, we cast away the only standard for right interpretation, for while it is to be granted that words do sometimes develop different shades of meaning, they never completely reverse their meaning, which would be the case if ekklesia means "an unassembled assembly" as commonly held.
The Greek words ekklesia (assembly) and katholikos (general or universal) are mutually exclusive; the former is expressive of locality and a restricted assembly, while the latter is expressive of universality and all-inclusiveness. Not only so, but katholikos is not even a New Testament word, nor is it to be found in the Greek Old Testament. It made its appearance sometime after the first century when it first began to be applied to the so-called general (katholikos) epistles. It was never applied by inspiration to the church. Dr. Mason observes on this as follows:
A fourth reason for believing that the church referred to by Jesus was the local assembly is that the universal, invisible theory is not only unscriptural but according to history is post-apostolic in its origin. Harnack, the church historian, in his 'History of Dogma,' makes this clear. He says: 'The expression, invisible Church, is found for the first time in Hegessipus. Eusebius, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Hiero, Cornelius, and Cyprian, all used the term holy churches and never the Catholic or Universal Church.' Again in Vol. 2, p. 83, he says: 'No one thought of the desperate idea of an "invisible Church"; this notion would probably have brought about a lapse far more rapidly than the idea of the Holy Catholic Church.'—The Church That Jesus Built, p. 32.
But to get back to our consideration of the passages in Hebrews 12 and Revelation 21, we may also note that: vi). When this obtains, Christ will be seen in His character as Judge, (Heb. 12:23; John 5:22). vii.) Then too will be the perfecting (or making complete) of "just men" (i.e., justified men); that is, at this time their bodies will have been redeemed also, resurrected or renovated as their condition may be, and reunited with their redeemed souls and spirits, thus completing, making perfect their redemption, (Rom. 8:23). viii.) At this time Christ will present this church to Himself, a glorious, spotless, unblemished church, purged of all the imperfections that are part and parcel of every earthly assembly at present, (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 21:2). This will doubtless be the "congregation of the saints" mentioned in Psalm 149, the whole of which the psalm is prophetic.
Some of the passages of Scripture which are pressed into service as proof-texts for a present universal church are not applicable as such, but are merely institutional or generic usages of the word. The usage of the definite article with the word is sometimes thought to teach of a greater church than the local assembly, as for instance its appearances in the Ephesian epistle. "The church" as found in Ephesians does not teach that there is a universal church. i.) Since the epistle was written to the church at Ephesus, and the definite article refers only to the church concerned in the epistle. ii.) Even granting that there may be a wider application than the Ephesian church, the phrase cannot be construed as a reference to a universal church; it is used in the generic sense; that is, what is true of one, is also true of every other one of the same species mentioned. If the phrase "the church" teaches a universal church, then the phrase "the husband," "the wife" also teaches a universal husband and a universal wife. But who would be absurd enough to maintain this. The three phrases are used exactly the same way, generically, applicable to any specific one of the class mentioned. iii.) Eph. 5:27 does indeed teach of a glorious church which far surpasses any earthly church in this dispensation, but as the "might" declares, this is not a present fact, but is still in prospect; the subjunctive denotes that which is contrary to present fact.
Other passages are held as proof-texts for this, when actually the original language teaches the very opposite. ". . . the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). But this is not the reading in the original, for the definite articles are missing; the translators are often promiscuous in their dealings with the article in the Greek language; they sometimes put it in where it is absent, or leave it out where it appears in the original. There is no indefinite article. "a" in the Greek language for the simple reason that if something is not definite (that is, if the definite article is missing) there is but one thing that it can be, providing, of course, there are no modifiers to make it definite, and that is indefinite. Here, the article is missing, and the passage should be translated "a church of the living God, a pillar and ground of the truth." The truth presented here is that it is the local assembly, not the universal, invisible church, which is the pillar and stay of the truth. So Dr. Hort translates it, (The Christian Ecclesia, p. 172.) He goes on to say:
There are few passages of the New Testament in which the reckless disregard of the presence or absence of the article has made wilder havoc of the sense than this . . . St. Paul's idea then is that each living society of Christian men is a pillar and stay of 'the truth' as an object of belief and a guide of life for mankind, each such Christian society bearing its part in sustaining and supporting the one truth common to all.—ibid., p. 174.
Another incorrect rendering which is used by universal church advocates is Ephesians 2:21, which reads in the King James Version: "In whom :all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord," but which reads literally as in the R.V.: "In whom each several building…" etc., which teaches quite another thing. i.) This teaches concerning local churches, not a universal church made of several local churches. ii.) The Ephesian church was comprehended as being built up in Christ as a holy temple in the Lord as well as every other congregation. "In whom ye also are builded . . . " iii.) This makes each separate local church to be a habitation of the Spirit, (v. 22). We cannot do better than to quote again from Dr. Hort on this passage:
The individual local community is itself addressed as a sanctuary of God; and the same conception, if we are not to disregard both grammar and natural sense, is expressed with great generality in Eph. 2:21f . . . Indeed, if I mistake not, the thought of a universal spiritual temple of God is, to say the least, not definitely expressed anywhere by St. Paul . . . Before leaving this subject, however, it is important to notice that not a word in the Epistle exhibits the One Ecclesia as made up of many Ecclesias. To each local Ecclesia St. Paul has ascribed a corresponding unity of its own; each is a body of Christ and a sanctuary of God: but there are no groupings of them into partial wholes or into one great whole.—The Christian Ecclesia, p. 164,168.
The Lord has never had but one house of witness upon earth at a time except in times of transition, and He doesn't have two now either. "Reason forces everyone to admit that Christ did not found a variety of churches with conflicting ideas or with ideas conflicting with the Scriptures."—R.J. Anderson, Vital Church Truths, p. 1. When the temple was prepared, the tabernacle passed off the scene, and the same was true of the temple when the church was organized. The rending of the temple veil at the time of the crucifixion was God's signification that the temple had been superceded by the New Testament church, and it gave finality to Jesus' words, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 23:38-39).
Some say that the "one body" of Ephesians 4:4 is the universal, invisible church, that it couldn't be applied to an insignificant little local assembly; but let us see if this be so. Advocates of the universal, invisible church are constrained to admit there were also local churches in the New Testament, and that these were different in kind to the universal. This means that there were two in kind as well as two in number. This hardly harmonizes with Ephesians 4:4. Indeed, Dr. Scofield has four different kinds of churches in his notes, which only shows the lengths to which this theory will lead one.
Some get around this difficulty by saying "Ah, but the local churches are but parts, and only the universal, invisible church is the whole." But what saith the Scripture? "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch" (Acts 15:22). "Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you" (Rom. 16:23). "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place," etc. (1 Cor. 14:23). In these passages, we see local congregations viewed as complete bodies of Christ within themselves. For that matter, we have but to consider almost any passage which has reference to a church to see this same fact set forth. The very usage of the plural of the noun refutes this theory also; we read of "the churches of Judaea," the "churches of Galatia," the "seven churches of Asia" and many others which shows that each church is comprehended as a complete entity within itself, and several churches are acknowledged as several, and not as parts of one whole.
On the theory of the universal church, we should read of the "whole church of God," instead of "the churches of God" in 1 Corinthians 11:16; the same may be said of 1 Corinthians 14:33; 16: 1; Acts 15:41; 16:5; Romans 16:4,16, and every other place where the plural is used. We may be allowed to ask why this is, if, as the proponents of this theory tell us, all believers and all churches constitute one great church. The truth of the matter is that there is no such monstrosity as a "universal, invisible church" known to the Scriptures; it is a figment of the carnal mind. Well has Joseph Cross, an Episcopalian, said of this:
We hear much of the invisible church as contra-distinguished from the church visible. Of an invisible church in this world I know nothing: the Word of God says nothing: nor can anything of the kind exist, except in the brain of a heretic. The church is a body: but what sort of a body is that which can neither be seen nor identified? A body is an organism, occupying space and having a definite locality. A mere aggregation is not a body: there must be organization as well. A heap of heads, hands, feet and other members would not make a body: they must be united in a system, each in its proper place and pervaded by a common life. So a collection of stones, bricks and timber would not be a house: the material must be built up together, in artistic order, adapted to utility. So a mass of roots, trunks and branches would not be a vine or a tree: The several parts must be developed according to the laws of nature from the same seed and nourished by the same sap.—Coals From The Altar, quoted by Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 40, and H. B. Taylor, Why Be A Baptist?
Again, J. A. Seiss, a Lutheran scholar, has rightly recognized the New Testament teaching concerning the church, for he says:
We sometimes speak of 'the Church' in its entire collective capacity, as if it were but one body . . . But the scriptures express themselves differently. They do not contemplate the Christians of so many countries or confessions, as so many Churches; but find a Church in every individual congregation, having its own minister, elders and deacons, without regard to any corporation other than itself...The ecclesiastical unit is, therefore, to be reckoned from the local assembly under one minister, and such helpers as may be grouped around him, in the acknowledgement and the administration of the commands of Christ.—The Apocalypse, p. 26.
Since the Scripture itself speaks of the church in the plural, it is obvious that the "one body" of Ephesians 4 does not refer to number. What then does it signify? We are brought back to the proposition that God only has one house of witness at a time; the "one body" then signifies one as far as kind is concerned. There is only one kind of body, just as there is only one kind of baptism, although it is manifested many times and in many places, and that one body is the local, visible congregation of called-out believers who are witnesses of Christ's redemption and glory. But the theoretical universal church does none of the things for which the church was instituted; it does not witness to the world of crucifixion, resurrection and coming again of our Lord, (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 52-58); it does not observe the ordinances, (Matthew 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:20ff); it does not edify the saved, (1 Cor. 14:12); it does not watch over and contend for the faith, (1 Tim. 3:15; Jude 3); nor does it do any of those things which make for the glory of Christ, which is the purpose of the church in the first place, (Eph. 3:21). But these things are all the natural and regular work of the local assembly. "The functions of a church as outlined by Jesus can only be performed by a local assembly. A universal, invisible Church composed of an unorganized throng of 'members of all the churches,' is, from the functional point of view, simply inconceivable."—Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 33.
Some would endeavor to adduce a universal church from John 10:16: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." This can be applied to a present "flock" only by poor exegesis, for the whole passage looks to the future when both Jew ("this fold") and Gentile ("other sheep") shall indeed become (so the R.V. reads) "one flock." But this cannot be a present reality, for the "fullness of the Gentiles" has not yet come in, and also Israel been cast away for a time, (Rom. 11:12-27). Only when Israel has been restored will this "one flock" obtain.
We may be allowed to ask this question; if there is presently a universal church, when did it become so? If it is an invisible church, when did this come about? For we know that the Jerusalem church was neither universal nor invisible. The same may be said of the Antioch church, the church at Corinth, and indeed, all the churches of the New Testament. That they were local and visible I think no one will deny; nor that there is 4 great disharmony between them and the present conception of a universal, invisible, unassembled assembly. I leave it to the advocates of this theory whether it is a reasonable theory.
Perhaps some will ask "Why be so set against the doctrine of the present universal church, when you grant that there is a time coming when there will be such a universal gathering?" Aside from its being unscriptural, the doctrine of the universal, invisible church as commonly taught is positively harmful to the local church. All too many people use their supposed membership in the universal church as an excuse for shirking their duty to the local house of witness; probably no one doctrine has contributed so much to the disregard and disparagement of the local church as this doctrine. Dr. Carroll says:
But the only existing representation or type of the ecclesia in glory (i.e., the general assembly) is the particular assembly on earth . . . it is proven that all these broad terms appertaining to the future general assembly, are equally applied to the present particular assembly, and that, too, because it is the only existing representation of the prospective general assembly.—Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 8,10.
How then can any person honor Christ's institution when he dishonors the only present manifestation of it? Let the advocate of a present universal church carefully ponder this.
universal church doctrine is a men-pleasing doctrine which allows a man to fellowship with any and every one making a profession of Christianity however heretical or depraved he may be on the basis of the plea that "we are all members of the universal church." It is the way of the flesh.
The Jews rejected God and tried to build something bigger and better and grander. The Gentiles left the nations that God established and have been trying to build 'one world' ever since. The Christian world has left the idea of the independent, local church and are trying to build a 'one-world church.'—Norman H. Wells, Article: "Lets Pull The Trigger" in The Central Contender, Feb. 22, 1963.
This doctrine causes Baptists who embrace it to compromise the principles of the Bible which multiplied millions of our ancient Baptist brethren laid down their very lives to preserve for us. And what does this doctrine give in return? The praise and good will of weak and carnal professing Christians, many who are actually heretics and many others who would delight to see Baptists wiped off the face of the earth. This theory promotes: i.) Unionizing with those unsound in the faith. ii.) Doctrinal laxity so as not to embarrass others. iii.) Irresponsibility toward the local church, the place of God's glory. Is it worth it? I think not! iv.) Pride in one's membership in that which has no real existence.
The believer's position is made clear in Hebrews 13:12-13: "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." If we be not willing to do this, then the Laodicean condition of lukewarmness, pride, blindness to spiritual truth, materialism, and utter repudiation by the Lord is certain to come upon us. God grant it may not be!
With these negative aspects behind us, we may pass on to a more cheerful and positive consideration of the nature of the church, and we would begin by defining the church; this has two aspects to it: 1.) From the human side, it is a congregation of professing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have been scripturally baptized, and have entered into a covenant to constitute one body in Christ for worship, for mutual edification, for the evangelization of the lost, and for the perpetuation of the faith. 2.) From the Divine side, it is a divine institution, purchased by the blood of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, subject to the laws of Christ, superintended by the Spirit of Christ, and answerable to its sovereign Head for every deviation from His Word. It is authorized and empowered for the work of exalting its Head, and shall not be overcome by the hosts of evil. It is, and shall continue to be until the end of this age, the place of Christ's glory upon the earth.
It shall not be our purpose to consider every part of the above definition in this chapter, for some of it comes logically under other chapter divisions. As to the nature of the church we would notice—
I. The Church Is An Assembly Of Believers
This has always been one of the distinctive characteristics of Baptist church polity; one which sets it apart from Catholics and much of Protestantism. Whereas Catholicism and most of Protestantism sprinkle infants and think thereby to make Christians of them, Baptists have always held it to be a cardinal practice to admit to baptism and church membership none but those who give satisfactory evidence of having already become Christians. Contrary to believing that baptism is necessary to salvation, Baptists hold the opposite—that salvation is necessary to scriptural baptism; but we shall speak of this more at length in its proper chapter.
A great deal of confusion has resulted from the theory that the New Testament church is an outgrowth of the Jewish economy; because there are certain parallels between the church and the Jewish economy, men have sought to make them parallel in all things, but this is an error. In comparing the church with the Jewish state the following things have been overlooked: 1.) Citizenship in the Jewish nation was compulsory: the Lord commanded that the national rite of circumcision be performed upon every male of eight days, (Gen. 17:10-14); but the church is only to receive those who have first been added to the Lord in regeneration. 2.) Citizenship in Israel was predicated upon the first, or natural birth, but membership in the church is only for those who have experienced the second, or spiritual birth, (John 3:3). 3.) Citizenship in the nation of Israel was hereditary, and there were no provisions made for expulsion therefrom, nor conditions which would result in such an expulsion. But in the church, one of the earliest teachings was concerning prescribed conditions of membership, and Provisions were made for the expulsion of those who did not meet these conditions, (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:1-7, 12-13). 4.) The Jewish economy was preparatory and typical, and as such, it passed away when Christ, the substance came; there is absolutely nothing to indicate that the church is an outgrowth of the tabernacle or temple: i.) The tabernacle and temple were both typical of Christ and His work of redemption, not of the church. ii.) The temple and tabernacle and all of their sacrifices and ordinances, because they were typical, were done away when the Antitype came, (Eph. 2:15). iii.) The church is not the fulfillment of any Old Testament type or prophecy, but is the revelation of that which was formerly hidden, (Eph. 3).
Because of these distinctions, it seems foolish to try to conform the church to the image of the tabernacle or temple, and it certainly is productive of much confusion as the practices of Catholicism and Protestantism abundantly show.
All of the Baptist confessions of faith have this article of faith, for a regenerate membership of the church is one of the basic principles of the Baptists. The reader is referred to chapter nine for a sample of these confessions.
These confessions are in harmony with the Scriptures, for we read the divine requirements for church membership in such passages as: (Matthew 28:19, R.V.): "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them." A person must be first made a disciple before he is eligible for baptism and church membership. "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47 R.V.) There can be little gainsaying of this passage, for it emphatically declares that as individuals were saved they were added to the other believers ("to the church," A.V.), but in no place is there a clear proof-text of infant church members. "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Eph. 5:8), wrote Paul to the church at Ephesus, and the declaration is a plain intimation of regeneracy of all the members of that church.
In order to have an independent Baptist church you have to have the right material. Briefly, I believe we can prove that by showing how the Lord Jesus took the material that John the Baptist prepared in his preaching. They repented and believed the Gospel, and were baptized by John, and the Lord Jesus took those individuals that had been regenerated, or born again, and that had been baptized with the baptism of John, which was from Heaven - He took those individuals and instituted, or organized, the first church this world had ever seen. Beloved, in order to have an independent Baptist church you must have a proper material.—Willard Pyle, Sermon: "An Independent Baptist Church," in The Baptist Examiner, Feb. 2, 1963, p. 13.
Vastly different is the requirement as set forth in the Westminister Confession of faith (Presbyterian), which declares that "the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized." And again it affirms that the church "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children." Dr. Strong well says on this that "This definition includes in the church a multitude who not only give no evidence of regeneration, but who plainly show themselves to be unregenerate. In many lands it practically identifies the church with the world."—Systematic Theology, p. 887.
A number of other passages may be considered which plainly teach an adult, believing membership for the Lord's church: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:8). "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men ... If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues . . ." (1 Cor. 14:20,23).
Of these things, not one is predicable of infants, nor of any but those who have attained sufficient growth and learning to be capable of reason and choice; indeed, the very opposite is commanded in the latter passage; "in understanding be men (i.e. be full grown or adults)." The only children that are to be admitted to church membership are those which are "believing children" (Titus 1: 6 R.V.).
Some of the passages which are held to teach infant baptism, and, consequently, infant church membership, may be considered at this time; "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy" (1 Cor. 7:14). This passage has suffered a world of abuse by Pedobaptists and even Baptists have not always rightly understood it. We believe the best exposition of this that we have seen is that of John L. Dagg, and though it is somewhat lengthy, we believe it justifies the insertion of it at this place.
The Jews considered all Gentiles to be unclean, and thought it unlawful for a Jew to be in the house, keep company, or cat with, or touch a Gentile. By some means, possibly from the influence of Judaizing teachers, the church at Corinth seems to have been agitated with the question whether the same rule ought not to be established to regulate the intercourse of the members of the church with other persons; that is, whether the church ought not to decide, that all who were without were unclean to them who were within; just as Gentiles were unclean to Jews; and that therefore it was inconsistent with Christian purity to dwell, keep company, or eat with, or to touch them. While this question was undergoing discussion in the church, it was perceived that it involved a very important case. Some of their members were married to unbelievers, and if such a rule should be established, these members would be compelled to separate from their unbelieving husbands or wives. Although the lawfulness of the marriage was not questioned, yet it would be unlawful for a believing husband to dwell with his wife until God had converted her. The church resolved, probably after much discussion of the question, to write to the apostle respecting it. This letter he had received, as appears from the first verse of this chapter. On the general question of intercourse with unbelievers he treats in the fifth chapter, and decides that, to keep company or eat with persons who make no pretension to religion is not unlawful, and that, were all such persons to be esteemed unclean, and their touch polluting, Christians must needs go out of the world. On the particular case of those members of the church who were married to unbelievers, the apostle treats in the chapter before us. He decides in v. 12 and 13 that they may lawfully dwell together, and in v. 14, for the conviction and silencing of any members of the church, who might object to his decision, he in substance says; 'The unbelieving husband is not unclean, so that his wife may not lawfully dwell with him: the unbelieving wife is not unclean, so that her husband may not lawfully dwell with her. If they are unclean, then your children are unclean, and not one parent in the whole church must dwell with or touch his children, until God shall convert them; and thus Christians will be made to sever the ties that bind parents to their children, and to throw out the offspring of Christian parents into the ungodly world from their very birth, without any provision for their protection, support, or religious education.'
It will be perceived in the preceding interpretations that the phrase 'your children' is taken in a different sense from that which it obtains in any of the interpretations usually offered. It is here supposed to refer to the whole church. Had the apostle designed to speak of those children only, who have one parent a believer and the other an unbeliever, he would have said (tekna auton) 'their children,' instead of (tekna union,) 'your children.' In addressing the church, and in giving general precepts, he uses the pronouns 'ye' and 'you.' See preceding chapter throughout, and verses 1 and 5 of this chapter. But in v. 8, where he gives directions applicable to particular cases, although he introduces the phrase, 'I say to the unmarried and widows,' he makes reference to these persons, not by the pronoun 'you,' but 'them': 'It is good for them to abide even as I.' The same mode of speaking he continues to use as far down as to the verse in question: 'let them marry,—let him not put her away,—let her not leave him.' After the same manner he would have said, 'else were their children unclean,' had he intended only the children of such mixed cases of marriage as are referred to in the preceding part of the verse. What further confirms this opinion, is, that in the original text the substantive verb is in the present tense; 'your children are unclean,'—a mode of speaking more suited for the stating of a parallel than a dependent case.
The general principles of the preceding interpretation fall in precisely with the course of the apostle's argument commenced in the 5th chapter. When these principles have been established, it is not of vital importance to the sense of the passage to determine the translation of the preposition en. Many have translated it to as it is in the very next verse. This sense accords well with our interpretation. The unbelieving husband is sanctified to the wife, just as it is said in Titus 1:15, 'unto the pure all things are pure.' But perhaps the more literal rendering, in, will give the apostle's sense more accurately. While both parents lived in unbelief they were unclean to themselves and to each other: 'unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled.' (Titus 1:15). According to the Jewish rules respecting ceremonial cleanness, the conversion of one party would not render the other party holy. But in gospel ceremonies it is different. By the abrogation of the Jewish ceremonial law, and by the conversion of the wife, the unbelieving husband (egiastai) has become holy, not in himself, but (en te gunaiki) in the wife. That the Jews considered Gentiles unclean, as stated above, may be proved from various passages of Scripture. (See Acts 10:28; 11:3; John 18:28; Gal. 2:12). Dr. Adam Clark states in his note on John 18:28, 'The Jews considered even the touch of a Gentile as a legal defilement.'
It may now be asked, where is the proof which we propose to draw from this text against infant baptism? We have already proved that it makes nothing for it. On the contrary, it is clearly implied, in the apostle's argument, that all the children of the Corinthian Christians had no nearer relation to the church than the unbelieving husband of a believing wife. He declares that their cases are parallel; and that rules of intercourse, which would require the believing husband to separate from his unbelieving wife, would require believing parents to separate from their children. But there is no conclusiveness in this argument, if the children had been consecrated to God in baptism, and brought within the pale of the church: for then the children would stand in a very different relation to the church and to their parents, from that of the unbelieving husband or wife. Therefore, unless we charge the apostle with arguing most inconclusively, infant baptism and infant church membership were wholly unknown to the Corinthian church, and if to the Corinthian church, unquestionably to all the churches of those times. - Quoted in I. T. Hinton's History of Baptism, pp. 150-154.
Another such passage is Genesis 17:7: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generation for an everlasting covenant to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." This promise was to Abraham and to his posterity as a nation, to be their God, but the difference between this and the church is that: i.) These were born into the nation of Israel and into specified families, but one is not born into the church. ii.) It was not the ordinance of circumcision that made a man an Israelite, but his birth; conversely, a man may be born into a Christian family, but this does not make him a Christian; he must be born again to be a Christian, and even then, he cannot be a member of the church unless he has been baptized into it. iii.) Even so, this promise goes no further than the physical inheritance of the land of Canaan except for those who are also the spiritual seed of Abraham, for "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Romans 9:6-7). "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Gal. 3:27, 7). iv.) Even this physical inheritance was not given to the infant children in their infancy. " . . . and thy seed after thee in their generation," shows that the promise came into effect for the children only after they had come to maturity and succeeded their fathers. In almost every instance where this promise is made, it is modified by the words "after thee." There is nothing in Gen. 17:7 or any related passage which would authorize infant baptism and infant church membership. In the New Testament are to be found many passages which show that no one becomes an heir to the spiritual promises of God in any way except by faith; nor is it correct to say that an infant can do so through the faith of his sponsor; the Scriptures know nothing of proxy religion. It does declare that "The just shall live by his own faith" (The Greek verb is in the middle voice in all three appearances of this statement, [Rom. 1: 17; Gal. 3: 11; Heb. 10:38; see also Hab. 2:4]. The middle voice represents the subject as acting: 1.) On himself. 2.) For himself. 3.) On something belonging to himself.).
Well has Schleiermacher, himself a Pedobaptist, said that, "All traces of infant baptism which it has been desired to find in the New Testament must first be put into it,"—Glaubenslehre, 2:383. Cited by Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 951. The reader will find infant baptism considered more at length in chapter five.
A second thing we must note in passing is that the church is an assembly of believers. All too many people are content to get their name on the church roll, then never darken its door again. This sad neglect may be illustrated by the tragic but true case of a woman who, after conversing with another for a while, invited her to church only to find that the second woman had already been a member of that church for some time. So irregular was the first woman in attendance that she didn't know the members of her own church.
If everyone in a church was as negligent as part of the members are, there would be, indeed, there could be, no church because no assembling of the members. A church is only able to continue its work so long as its members faithfully attend and support it, those, therefore, who cease to attend, in effect, vote to close the church doors and disband the membership. May we be allowed to express this in the following way:
I passed a church building just today
That was failing through with fast decay.
What caused this fate? I sought to learn.
'Twas caused by Christians' unconcern.
They voted not with upraised hand
The membership thus to disband.
But each by staying from its door
Has closed this church for evermore.
And I wondered as I mused within,
Have I been guilty of this sill?
Does my presence there assure
That my church will yet endure?
Or shall I with thoughtless unconcern
The blood-bought house of Jesus spurn?
If I do this, I cast my vote
For the "Closed forever" church door note.
The true register of the saints is that which is recorded in heaven, (Hebrews 12:23), the Lamb's Book of Life, (Revelation 20:15), the church roll in no way guarantees that the person whose name is therein is a genuine saint; and that person who contents himself with having his name, on the church roll yet who seldom or never attends is probably deceiving himself and living with a false hope.
The scriptural admonition is, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). i.) Even at this time some were guilty of this sin. ii.) The writer of Hebrews warns against it, and connects it with the willful sin in the case of those who know their responsibility to attend, (v. 26). iii.) Instead of forsaking the assembly, each Christian is to seek to edify and exhort and comfort his brother. iv.) "The day" is a short designation for the Day of the Lord, when the works of man are to be tried, and every one will give account of the deeds done in the body, (1 Corinthians 3:13).
Our Lord said, "A new commandment I give unto You, That ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another, By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35). What then of that individual who professes to love the Lord, but despises the congregation of the Lord's people? "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3:14). Or what shall we say of the one who disdains the Lord's blood-bought church? Can a man love the Lord and still disrespect the Lord's house? "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
Mark this, and mark it well; there are no free-lance disciples in the New Testament. Every professed disciple of Christ in the New Testament is soon found in fellowship with one of the Lord's churches, or else he is soon manifested as a false disciple; Even Nicodemus could not long remain a secret disciple; his love for the Lord brought him out into the daylight to confess his discipleship and claim the body of his Lord. "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
This is not to put a blanket condemnation upon all who do not attend services regularly; certainly there are numerous cases where a person is unable to leave home because of sickness, inability, etc. It has been the writer's privilege to know several wonderful saints who were providentially hindered from regular attendance at the Lord's house; some indeed were never able to attend; but these were always concerned with the Lord's house, and were constant in their prayers for the Lord's work and the Lord's workers; not in this category are those who are absent from their post in the Lord's house simply because they stayed up too late on Saturday enjoying their own pleasure; nor those who use the Lord's day as a time to go fishing, golfing, driving, visiting, etc. This is to claim the Lord's day as one's own. Worse still than these sporadic attenders, are those who are "unknown by face to the church" though they are nominal members. Such as these need to take heed to Paul's admonition to the Corinthians: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5).
Church members should be made to realize that the New Testament church is not only an assembly, but is an assembly of believers; any others within its ranks are there because they have crept in some nefarious and unscriptural way, and are without foundation or hope, and except they repent', they shall as surely perish as any other unbeliever, but their punishment shall be greater because they had greater opportunity for salvation.
II. The Church Is A Local Assembly of Believers
Some, who believe that only believers are comprehended in the New Testament, find it hard to believe that the church is always a local institution in the Scriptures. Several things are the cause of such thinking: i.) All persons are prone to be prejudiced in favor of the first teaching which they received on any given subject. Because of this, many, without realizing that they do so, close their minds to any view except their own; let a person protest to the contrary all he likes, yet this is still true of every person to a greater or lesser degree. Every Christian is honor bound to determine the truth as nearly as he possibly can whatever his previous beliefs may have been. ii.) Others are simply ignorant of the truth of the doctrine of the church because they have never been taught, nor have they ever made a personal study of it. To remedy this situation, there needs to be a greater emphasis put on teaching and studying church doctrine. iii.) A third group favor the universal church theory through pride; that is, they like to have a large, impressive organization behind them; one that will command the attention and respect of the masses; these are prone to disregard and disrespect the local assembly in their zeal for the "big church."
In dealing with this aspect of the church, we believe that it will be well for us to consider individually every one of the 115 appearances of the Greek word ekklesia; this in itself will be enough to convince most unbiased readers that there is no such thing in the New Testament as a "universal, invisible" church.
Matthew 16:18 - "I will build my church." This is the first usage of ekklesia in the New Testament; it has application to the church as an institution, but this usage is not inconsistent with the local nature of the church, for whenever the abstract, generic or institutional sense becomes concrete, it is always a local assembly. However, this makes nothing for the universal, invisible theory. We will not tarry upon this passage since it is dealt with in other places.
Matthew 18:17a - "Tell it to the church.
Matthew 18:17b - ". . . But if he neglect to hear the church . . ." I think that no one will try to apply this to any but a local assembly; he must be a mad man if he does.
Acts 2:47 - "The Lord added to the church daily." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 5:11 - "Fear came upon the church." Jerusalem church.
Acts 7:38 - "He, that was in the church." Reference is to Israel while in the wilderness; then they were a "called out assembly", the only resemblance to the New Testament church. It should never have been translated "church" since that word carries a distinctive idea, not in the word as used here.
Acts 8:1 - "The church which was at Jerusalem." Self-explanatory.
Acts 8:3 - "He made havoc of the church." The Jerusalem church, the only one in existence at this time.
Acts 9:31 - "So the church had peace," R. V. The Jerusalem church. See explanation pg. 41–43.
Acts 11:22 - "The church which was in Jerusalem. Self-explanatory.
Acts 11:26 - "Assembled themselves with the church." The Antioch church. The universal, invisible could hardly do this.
Acts 12:1 - "To vex certain of the church." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 12:5 - "Without ceasing of the church." Jerusalem church.
Acts 13:1 - "Now there were in the church." Antioch church.
Acts 14:23 - "Ordained them elders in every church." The churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia, and perhaps, Derbe.
Acts 14:27 - "And had gathered the church together." The Antioch church under whose authority the missionaries had gone out.
Acts 15:3 - "Being brought on their way by the church." The church at Antioch.
Acts 15:4 - "They were received of the church." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 15:22 - "With the whole church." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 15:41 - "Confirming the churches." The churches in Syria and Cilicia which included the Antioch church, the Tarsus church and others.
Acts 16:5 - "So were the churches established." The churches at Derbe, Lystra, Ilconium, those of Syria and Cilicia, and perhaps others.
Acts 18:22 - "And saluted the church." The church at Jerusalem or possibly, but not probable, the church at Caesarea. See context.
Acts 19:32 - "The assembly was confused." The Greek civil assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 19:39 - "Determined in a lawful assembly," Same as above.
Acts 19:41 - "He dismissed the assembly." Same as two above.
Acts 20:17 - "Called the elders of the church." The Ephesian church.
Acts 20:28 - "To feed the church of God." The Ephesian church, for no other church could the elders feed (shepherd or pastor).
Romans 16:1 - "A servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.
Romans 16:4 - "All the churches of the Gentiles." The churches comprised mainly of Gentile believers.
Romans 16:5 - "The church that is in their house." The church which met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila.
Romans 16:16 - "The churches of Christ salute you." The churches which belong to Christ. This shows possession only; it isn't a church name.
Romans 16:23 - "Gaius mine host, and of the whole church." The church at Corinth of which Gaius was a member, and which he greatly helped.
1 Corinthians 1:1 - "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth."
1 Corinthians 4:17 - "As I teach everywhere in every church." Paul had a common doctrine wherever he was. Every church was taught the same faith.
1 Corinthians 6:4 - "Least esteemed in the church." The church at Corinth, to which he was writing.
1 Corinthians 7:17 - "So ordain I in all churches." Another of Paul's teachings which were common to every church in which he taught.
1 Corinthians 10:32 - "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." The church at Corinth to which he was writing; but even if it had not had application to this local body, it still would have not been a proof—text for a universal, invisible church. Such usages could have no further application than to the church as an institution, if no particular church was meant. Again, this phrase shows possession, and is not a denominational name.
1 Corinthians 11:16 - "Neither the churches of God." Those churches which belonged to God by right of purchase, wherever they might be.
1 Corinthians 11:18 - "When ye come together in the church." The Corinthian church, where the divisions were.
1 Corinthians 11:22 - "Or despise ye the church of God." The church at Corinth, which these were despising by their ungodly deeds.
1 Corinthians 12:28 - "God hath set some in the church, first Apostles." The church at Jerusalem, See Luke 6:12–13.
1 Corinthians 14:4 - "He that prophesieth edifieth the church." The church at Corinth; although doubtless the statement is general enough that the same thing could be said of any one prophesing in any church. A secondary generic application.
1 Corinthians 14:5 - "That the church may receive edifying." Paul restricts this to the Corinthian church by the use of "ye" - the addressed.
1 Corinthians 14:12 - "To the edifying of the church." Same as above.
1 Corinthians 14:19 - "In the church I had rather speak." The church at Corinth, but perhaps with a secondary generic application.
1 Corinthians 14:23 - "The whole church be come together." The church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 14:28—"Keep silence in the church." The church at Corinth; all of these instructions are primarily for the church at Corinth; and for other churches only as they harmonize in kind with the Corinthian church.
1 Corinthians 14:33 - "As in all churches of the saints." "Particular churches, as always, plural." - Louis Entzminger, Studies in the New Testament Church, p. 12.
1 Corinthians 14:34 - "Keep silence in the church." The Corinthian Church.
1 Corinthians 14:35 - "For it is a shame for women to speak in the church." The Corinthian church primarily, but with application to any other church of like kind.
1 Corinthians 15:9 - "I persecuted the church of God." The Jerusalem church. (cf. Acts 8:1–3; 9:13.)
1 Corinthians 16:1 - "The churches of Galatia."
1 Corinthians 16:19 - "The churches of Asia salute you."
1 Corinthians 16:19 - "With the church that is in their house." The church that met in Priscilla and Aquila's house; perhaps at Ephesus.
2 Corinthians 1:1 - "The church of God which is at Corinth."
2 Corinthians 8:1 - "The churches of Macedonia."
2 Corinthians 8:18 - "Throughout all the churches."
2 Corinthians 8:19 - "Chosen of the churches." The different churches which had made up collections to send to the poor saints at Jerusalem chose an unknown brother to travel with Paul's party to deliver this gift.
2 Corinthians 8:23 - "The Messengers of the churches." The men chosen by the churches to convey their gift to Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 8:24 - "Before the churches." Same churches as above.
2 Corinthians 11:8 - "I robbed other churches." Paul probably had in mind the Philippian and Thessalonian churches, (Phil. 4:15–18; 2 Cor. 11:9).
2 Corinthians 11:2 - "The care of all the churches." Paul, being the apostle to the Gentiles, had the care of the churches constantly upon his heart.
2 Corinthians 12:13 - "What is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches." Other churches of like nature to the Corinthian church.
Galatians 1:2 - "The churches' of Galatia."
Galatians 1:13 - "I persecuted the church of God." The Jerusalem church, (Acts 8:1–3; 9:13.) No other churches then existing.
Galatians 1:22 - "The churches of Judea." Including churches at Jerusalem, Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea, Ptolemais, and others.
Ephesians 1:22 - "Gave him to be the head over all things to the church." Dr. Entzininger says on this passage:
All the requirements of this language are met when, First, He is head over all things to the church on earth as an Institution.
Second, He is head over all things to any and every particular church on earth:
Third, He is head over all things to the general assembly in Glory. The glorified church. The New Testament Church, p. 15.
This passage gives no help to advocates of a universal, invisible church, because there Would be no disharmony to the statement if it were applied solely to the church at Ephesus, but the language is general enough to permit the application of this statement to any New Testament Church in any age without the necessity of attributing the meaning to a Universal. invisible monstrosity. It shall also find fulfillment in the Glory church, yet still without the necessity of a universal, invisible Church.
Ephesians 3:10 - "Might be known by the church." Again the above three applications of this are legitimate, although it is primarily in the particular churches that the manifold wisdom of God has been so gloriously manifested to the world and to the angelic beings.
Ephesians 3:21 - "Unto him be glory in the church." Whether we speak in the abstract, of some particular church such as that at Ephesus, of the church as an institution, or of the coming Glory church, this is the high ideal for the church. Nothing in the language necessitates the thought that the apostle had in mind any such nebulous, will-o-the-wisp, thing as a universal, invisible church.
Ephesians 5:23 - "Christ is the head of the church." Again, this proves nothing toward a universal church, but finds adequate fulfillment in the three applications mentioned above.
Ephesians 5:24 - "The church is subject to Christ." The same thing applies again.
Ephesians 5:25 - "Christ also loved the church." This is the motive of His sacrificial death.
Ephesians 5:27 - "Present it to himself a glorious church." This indeed looks beyond any earthly church as we now know them; but it proves that this Glory church is not yet in existence for the tense of the verbs are aorist subjunctive—denoting a condition contrary to fact. No present universal church is here.
Ephesians 5:29 - "Even as the Lord the church." Whether considered as an institution, abstractly, or as to some particular church, we may truthfully say that our Lord nourishes and cherishes the church, but is not this nourishing and cherishing of the church that which speaks of its earthly existence and needs?
Ephesians 5:32 - "I speak concerning Christ and the church." The very terms and figures here used to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church are a refutation of the universal, invisible theory, for all of these figures are local and visible. The whole of the apostle's teaching in vs. 23–32 of Ephesians 5 is aimed at teaching the church to be subject to her Lord and Head; he does this by showing the husband-wife relationship, the husband-wife affection, the husband's care for his wife, and drawing a parallel in each case. He shows Christ's supreme love in making provision for the church's supreme need, and fulfilling that need so that He might present the Glory church to Himself in all her beauty. The husband's loving care and solicitude for his wife should stir up her love and submission for him; just so is the apostle's aim concerning the church.
Philippians 3:6 - "Persecuting the church." Paul's persecution of the Jerusalem church before his conversion.
Philippians 4:15 - "No church communicated with me, concerning giving and receiving but ye only."
Colossians 1:18 - "The body, the church."
Colossians 1:24 - "For his body's sake, which is the church." In these two references, the apostle again uses local and visible figures to picture the church, and while some of the advocates of the universal, invisible theory are outraged that we use the word "body of Christ" for a particular congregation, their rage should be directed against Paul, for he first set the example when he wrote to the church at Corinth, "Now ye are 'a' (not 'the' as in the A.V.) body of Christ, and members severally thereof" (1 Cor. 12:27).
Colossians 4:15 - "The church which is in his house." A church which met in Nymphas' house. I doubt that any theorist would hold that this house was sufficient for the universal, invisible church.
Colossians 4:16 - "The church of the Laodiceans."
1 Thessalonians 1:1 - "The church of the Thessalonians."
1 Thessalonians 2:14 - "Followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus."
2 Thessalonians 1:1 - "The church of the Thessalonians."
2 Thessalonians 1:4 - "The churches of God."
1 Timothy 3:5 - "How shall he take care of the church of God?" It would be exceedingly hard for a single man to take care of the universal, invisible church, but Timothy could, and did do a good job of taking care of the church at Ephesus, to which this probably alludes.
1 Timothy 3:15 - "The church of the living God." As we have already observed, this reads literally, "A church of the living God," and again is a probable reference to the Ephesian church which Timothy pastored.
1 Timothy 5:16 - "Let not the church be charged." See above.
Philemon 2 - "The church in thy house." In Philemon's house.
Hebrews 2:12 - "In the midst of the church." An Old Testament quotation which had original reference to the congregation of Israel, but which was accommodated to Jesus' singing of a hymn in the Jerusalem church at the institution of the Lord's supper, (Matthew 26:30).
Hebrews 12:23 - "Church of the firstborn." As v. 22 shows, this is prophetic, and does not become a reality until after the millennium; it was seen by John also, (Rev. 21:1–3). It is the same as the Glory church.
James 5:14 - "Let him call for the elders of the church." The epistle of James was of a general nature, and was meant to be circulated among the believers of the "twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," 1:1; hence, these directions are of a general nature to conform to the epistle. This applies to any given church. I think no one would endeavor to make this a universal, invisible church.
3 John 6 - "Thy charity before the church." This Gaius is thought by some to be the same as the Gaius of Corinth who was host to that church, (Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:13); if that is so, then the church mentioned here is probably the Corinthian church. It is a local institution in any case.
3 John 9 - "I wrote unto the church." This is the church which Diotrephes tyrannized; possibly the same as the above.
3 John 10 - "Casteth them out of the church." See above.
Revelation 1:4 - "John to the seven churches which are in Asia."
Revelation 1:11 - "The seven churches which are in Asia."
Revelation 1:20 - "The angels of the seven churches."
Revelation 1:20 - "The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches."
Revelation 1:20 - "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus."
Revelation 2:7 - "Let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 2:8 - "Unto the angel of the church in Smyrna."
Revelation 2:11 - "What the Spirit saith unto the churches. "
Revelation 2:12 - "To the angel of the church in Pergamos."
Revelation 2:17 - "What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 2:18 - "Unto the angel of the church in Thyatira."
Revelation 2:23 - "All the churches shall know."
Revelation 2:29 - "What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 3:1 - "Unto the angel of the church in Sardis."
Revelation 3:6 - "What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 3:7 - "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia."
Revelation 3:13 - "What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 3:14 - "Unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans."
Revelation 3:22 - "What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 22:16 - "I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches."
The reader now has before him the 115 appearances of the ekklesia in the New Testament, and he may judge for himself whether there is any such thing as a universal, visible, or a universal, invisible church. Of these references, all but 17 have reference to some particular congregation; of these seventeen, four refer to non-Christian assemblies, (viz. Acts 7:38), Israel in the wilderness; (Acts 19:32, 39, 41), the Greek civil assembly in Ephesus.
Of the 13 remaining references which are sometimes thought to teach that the church may be other than a particular, local assembly, we must delete Ephesians 5:27 and Hebrews 12:23, for these are both prophetic of the coming Glory church which is not a present reality.
Of the 11 remaining, Matthew 16:18 is used in the institutional sense, as we have before noted. As an institution, Christ's church is promised perpetuity until the end of the age; particular churches may fail; the gates of Hades may prevail against them, but this in no way affects the promise so long as there is a continuity of churches of the same kind as the first church. However, if this passage is taken in the sense of a universal church comprised of all true churches of every age since the first century, then this promise has failed, for the gates of Hades have prevailed against many particular congregations of the past. Taken in the institution sense only, this passage is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, and with history. It cannot be urged as a proof of a universal church.
This leaves the ten references in Ephesians and Colossians, (viz., Ephesians 1:22; 3:10,21; 5:23,24,25,29,32; Colossians 1:18, 24). Dr. Hort, who was an advocate of the universal, invisible church, has the following to say of this:
Here, at last, for the first time in the Acts and Epistles, we have 'the Ecclesia' spoken of in the sense of the one universal Ecclesia, and it comes more from the theological than from the historical side; i.e. less from the actual circumstances of the actual Christian communities than from a development of thoughts respecting the place and office of the Son of God: His Headship was felt to involve the unity of all those who were united to Him. The Christian Ecclesia, p. 148. (Emphasis mine—DWH.)
Even this great scholar is compelled to admit that historically, we find no evidence of a universal church, but that it arises from reasonings concerning the place and office of Christ. Indeed, all advocates of this theory are compelled to forsake the Revelation for reason in order to arrive at this theory, or else they must take Scriptures out of context.
Concerning the above references in Ephesians and Colossians, we must recognize that not one of them is out of harmony with the view that they apply to the particular congregations at Ephesus and Colosse. That they are broad enough to be applied generically as well, we freely admit, but we cannot see how they could be applied scripturally to a universal church. Dr. B. H. Carroll has the following to say about this:
The use of the word, 'church' in a sense too broad for application to a particular church must be found in this letter, if anywhere. In view of this fact, it is fortunate that we have such historical passages touching the Ephesian church as appear in Acts 20:17-38 and 1 Tim. 3:14. In both these passages there can be no doubt that the address concerns the particular church at Ephesus, and yet these broad terms are used: 'Take heed to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops to feed the church of the Lord which He purchased with His own blood.' 'These things write I unto thee ... that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.' There is no term so broad, whether house, temple, body, flock, bride, but may be applied to a particular church, because each particular church in itself alone foreshadows the church in glory.—An Interpretation Of The English Bible, Vol. XV, p. 167.
The generic usage, as found in these references in Ephesians and Colossians, simply refers to others of the same class, yet it does not exclude the church addressed in so doing; indeed, it includes it, for whenever the abstract or generic becomes concrete it is always a particular church in the New Testament. Not one of these verses in Ephesians and Colossians actually teaches that there is any such thing as a universal, invisible; if it is taught any where, it must be elsewhere than here, yet this is always the last refuge of the advocates of this theory. We trust that from the things presented here, there is ample proof to convince any unbiased reader, and those who are biased generally are not convinced by any amount of proof.
There are other things which go to prove that the church is a local assembly of believers. (I. The Scriptures abundantly declare the church to be a local institution by the metaphors used of it: i.) It is likened to a body, (1 Cor. 12:12-14): "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all of the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many," R.V. Notice that: a.) He is speaking to the Corinthian "body"; it is one. b.) It has many members, individual Christians. This church was probably one of the larger churches in the first century, (Acts 18:8). c.) It takes the "many members" to constitute a church, even as it takes several members of the human body, with their individual work, to constitute a normal human body. d.) Some take the A.V., "by one Spirit" as referring to Pentecost, but the correct rendering is that given in the R.V., although the R.V. capitalizes the word "spirit" which is probably a mistake. Dr. A. W. Pink has the following to say about this:
For the benefit of those who do not read the N.T. in the Greek, we may say that in the language in which the N.T. was originally written there are no capital letters used, except at the beginning of a book or paragraph. Pneuma is always written in the Greek with a small 's,' and it is a question of exposition and interpretation, not of translation in any wise, whether a small s or a capital S is to be used each instance where the word for spirit is used . . . Here 'spirit' has the force of oneness of thought, accord, object. Note that in Philippians 1:27 the Greek for 'in one spirit' is precisely the same in every respect, as the Greek at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12:13, and in Philippians 1:27 even the translators of the A.V. have used a small s for 'spirit' —as they most certainly ought to have done in 1 Corinthians 12:13.—Article: "Does First Corinthians 12 Mean The Universal Church Or A Local New Testament Church? (This has appeared in several Baptist papers, and is quoted from Dr. Entzminger's Studies In The New Testament Church, p. 92,93.)
Any person who has been scripturally baptized into a local church may also say "In one spirit was I baptized into one body," for baptism does not initiate a person into the membership of several churches, but only the one authorizing the ordinance. e.) If one has been genuinely saved and scripturally baptized, then earthly distinctions cease, whether as to race, to social status, or sex. "There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female: for ye all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28, R.V.) f.) This was written to the Corinthian church as a local institution to correct certain schisms within that body, and to show that though every church member did not have the same office, they nevertheless all had an important place in the body. g.) The literal rendering of v. 27 shows that this is not applicable to any but a local body; "But ye are a body of Christ, and members severally thereof."
ii.) It is likened to a building, Ephesians 2:20-22: "Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit," R.V. a.) "each several building," which is the literal rendering, can certainly not be interpreted of any but a local church. b.) "groweth into a holy temple" is parallel to being "builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit," and is limited by the context, to the church addressed. c.) "each several building" has the individual duty to so conduct itself as though it were the only church in existence; there is entirely too much "let someone else do it" attitude among Christians and churches today, and it has caused a definite let down in all realms of religious duty.
iii.) It is likened to a wife, Ephesians 5:22-23: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body." a.) Some would take this as teaching that the church is presently the wife of Christ, but this teaches a likeness between the subordination of a wife to her husband, and that of a church to Christ. The usage of the metaphor of a wife, which can be neither universal nor invisible, implies the same quality in the church. b.) When the Bride of Christ comes on the scene, there will be but one bride, for Christ is no polygamist; now there are many churches, but these are not now the bride. c.) The words "even as" draw a comparison or a type only; they cannot rightly be construed otherwise.
All of these likenesses are founded upon objects which are both local and visible, and of which universality and invisibility cannot be rationally predicated. Those who disparage the local assembly for the supposedly universal, invisible assembly forget that for the first century and more, there was not a word written in the New Testament, nor in the writings of the ,so-called church fathers of any thing other than the local assemblies, which in itself should be enough to warn men of the danger of the "traditions of men." Dr. J. Lewis Smith well states the situation when he says:
Here, then, is the inevitable and irreversible conclusion. This Catholic or Universal Church as well as the Invisible Church idea are things of man's devising, and when we say, I believe in the holy Catholic Church, we are placing a figment of the imagination—a chimera—a misnomer above the real local church idea which Christ Himself used, and one of which churches He built and to which He gave His great Commission and His ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper.—quoted in Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 33, 34.
2.) Locality inheres in the word ekklesia. i.) This is clear from its derivation; a.) It is derived from ek out of, or from, and kaleo, call; it signifies a called out assembly or congregation. Such a meaning is in harmony with New Testament usage and application of the word. b.) Greek words often have many and various derived forms and meanings, but these never are the opposite of the primary meaning unless there is a modifying prefix which would negate the original meaning. "I know of no more dangerous method of interpretation than the assumption that a word must be taken to mean something different from its real meaning. Revelation in that case ceases to be revelation. We are at sea without helm, or compass, or guiding star."—Carroll, Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 28. c.) If the Lord meant for His people to understand the church to be universal, why did He not call it catholic or universal (Grk. katholikos) as writers of the third and later centuries did?
ii.) Locality is also clearly inherent in the word ekklesia as testified by the New Testament usage of the word. As we have already noticed: a.) The word appears 115 times in the New Testament. b.) Of these, all but four refer to the Lord's church. c.) Of the three remaining, all but eleven refer to some particular assembly. d.) These eleven are used in an institutional or generic way, or else apply to some particular assembly, with a secondary generic application as well. e.) In no instance of its usage is it inconsistent with the aspect of locality; indeed, only by "explaining" or "interpreting" it so would it ever be understood of any other than the specific local particular church to which it was written.
iii.) Locality inheres in the Classic, Old Testament, and Apocryphal usage of the word as well. a.) Liddell and Scott's Abridged Greek Lexicon, gives the classical meaning of ekklesia as: "an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly…" Notice that it is first, "an assembly"—which demands locality, for there cannot be an assembling without a locale; second, the ones comprising the assembly are "summoned by the crier," which is also descriptive of locality; thirdly, it is the "legislative assembly" which suggests, not only locality, but purpose of assembling as well. b.) The word is used in the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Old Testament about ninety times, yet of the number, not one departs from the original meaning of "an assembly." Some have challenged four of these, (viz. 1 Kings 8:65; 1 Chron. 28:8; Ezra 10:8; and Ezek. 32:3); but the context in each case settles the matter; there is no deviation whatsoever. (c. In the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Apocryphal books the word appears over twenty times, again without deviation. "This makes the Old Testament usage amount to about 114 cases, nearly equal in the New Testament usage. In no one of the 114 instances does it mean an unassembled ecclesia."—Carroll, Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 53. Hence. Since it never means other than an assembly, then it logically follows that there is always locality involved, and if this be so, then a universal church, either visible or invisible, is nothing more than a figment of carnal minds.
3.) This locality is not voided by the use of other words used to describe the church; i.) As we have seen, the word "body" cannot be applied to a nebulous, scattered, partly dead, partly living, partly non-existent, partly visible, partly invisible institution without giving a hideously distorted view to the word. ii.) The word "fold" used in John 10:16; Note that: a.) The first "fold" (Greek aules) is a different word from the second (Greek poinme). The first has reference to the place where the sheep are bedded down, hence, a fold, but the second refers to the flock itself. b.) This does not deal with the present time. "And they shall become one flock," R.V. c.) This can only come to pass when the calling out is complete, when the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, (Rom. 11:25; Luke 21:24; Rev. 7:9); when Israel as a nation has been born again, (Isa. 66:7-8; Zech. 12:9-14; 13:8-9). d.) Yet, even this will be local when it comes to pass; it will be "the church of the firstborn ones" (Heb. 12:22-23). However, this is only in prospect at this time. iii.) The "Spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5) was not written to a specific congregation, but was meant to be circulated among the various groups of believers "Throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1:1). Because of this, it is not applicable to all in the aggregate, but only to each group individually as they constitute a "spiritual house . . . to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
III. The Church is an Organized Assembly of Believers
The organizational aspect of the church has been denied by some in their zeal to establish the fact of the universal invisible church. It is often said that the church is not an organization, but an organism. However, the very word "organism" implies organization. There is no living organism so small or so simple but that it has organization about it; indeed, organization is an absolute necessity to life. We recognize that the church is an organism, that is, it is a living thing, but we must also recognize that it is an organization as well.
This pitting of organism and organization against one another results from the desire of some to rid themselves of the local church and its attendant obligations and restraints, but this cannot be done. Those who so vehemently disclaim the church to be an organization would do well to consider that the supposed universal, invisible church is propagated and extended only on earth, and only in direct proportion to the number and faithfulness of earthly organizations. It is the local church which the Lord has commissioned to be His witnesses, to preach His word, to administer His ordinances, to teach His people, to guard the faith, to discipline its unruly members, and without the local church, Christianity would fail. The theoretical universal church can do none of these things. This is not to say that it shall fail, for God has ordained that there shall be a faithful few even in the darkest times, but the scarcity of the true assemblies is intimated in the words, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find the faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8, literal rendering). This tendency is already to be seen in the unionizing between true churches and false; in the forsaking of the assembling together of Christians; in the doctrinal laxity of professing Christians; in people excusing themselves from duties to the local assemblies by claiming membership in an invisible church. It is no wonder that the universal church idea has such a draw upon this willful and wayward world; it makes no demands except for salvation only, and even this is often a corrupted plan of salvation. On the other hand, membership in the local church demands not only salvation, but also a scriptural baptism, an orderly walk, growth in grace, and a faithful and constant witness for Christ before the world. The lazy, the ungodly, the rebellious do not want this; in the theoretical invisible church they find just what they want—hope of blessings without the inconvenience of responsibility.
Some writers have declared that the local assemblies had little or no organization in their early days, or more specifically, that organization was not to be found in the Jerusalem church until such time as it began to propagate itself in other churches. Of the organization which existed before and immediately following the crucifixion, we have previously spoken, and the fact that the churches grew and were given additional gifts for the edification of the saints, in no way makes the earlier organization void. Both the earlier, simpler organization, and the later, more complex organization of the churches are decided proofs against the hypothesis that the church is not an organization.
It would be hard to conceive of a church without an organization to it when the apostle Paul had written to the church at Corinth that all things were to be done decently and in good order, (1 Cor. 14:40), something which could not be done if every one did whatsoever was right in his own eyes.
The Lord's commitment of the pastorate of the Jerusalem church to Peter (John 21) speaks of organization, as does the apostolic institution of deacons in the early church (Acts 6). The fact that the qualifications for both offices were given in the pastoral epistles is a decided proof that these were permanent offices and not merely temporary exigencies.
The fact of organization in the churches, and the reasons for its existence are given by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." With this may also be compared 1 Corinthians 12:8ff, but with this distinction; here it is the gifts which are under consideration, the different "administrations" (v. 5), while in Ephesians the individuals who possess these gifts or administrations are viewed. But in both places, these different ministries, and the men whom God has chosen to serve in them, are manifestations of the fact of organization in the New Testament churches.
Perhaps the reason why some deny the fact of organization within the church is due to the abuses which have come about in the development of this organization in later centuries. It is not to be denied that there was a certain amount of development within the early churches, but this is not to say that there was none to begin with, for before the crucifixion there was the Head, members, preachers, apostles, missionaries, yes, even a treasurer, in the Jerusalem church. However, that additional organization which was necessary "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" was given before the end of the first century, so that there was no legitimate excuse for the further addition of the numerous offices and degrees of ministries which took place in after centuries. The perfect and all-sufficient organization for the churches was given long before the death of the apostles, and the additions which were brought into the churches in after centuries were only abuses which made for confusion within the churches, and eventually almost bore the churches to the earth under such needless carnal pomp and ceremony. It was during the third century that many of the additional orders and officers were brought in as Dr. Mosheim records:
From what has been now observed, we may come, perhaps, at the true origin of minor or inferior orders, which were, in this century, added every where to those of the bishops, presbyters, and deacons; for, certainly, the titles and offices of subdeacons, acolythi, ostiarii, or doorkeepers, readers, exorcists, and copiatae, would never have been heard of in the church, if its rulers had been assiduously and zealously employed in promoting the interests of truth and piety, and by their labors and their example. But, when the honors and privileges of the bishops and presbyters were augmented, the deacons also began to extend their ambiguous views, and to despise those lower functions and employments which they had hitherto exercised with such humility and zeal. The additional orders that were now created to diminish the labors of the present rulers of the church, had functions alloted to them, which their names partly explain.—Ecclesiastical History, Cent. 3, Part 11, Chap. 2, para. V.
Thus, because of the laziness and irresponsibility of the officers of these churches, which even prior to this time had already made the offices of bishop and presbyter distinct, contrary to the teaching of the New Testament, the organization of the churches was greatly multiplied and complicated. We have little doubt that these churches to which Dr. Mosheim alludes, had already long since lost their identity as true churches, since they had also corrupted the ordinances and government of the church as well as the plan of redemption. These were the churches which became the state churches in this century, and eventually developed in the sixth century into the Catholic hierarchy. This corruption of the organization and polity of these churches has no effect upon the perpetuity of the Lord's church, since there existed contemporaneous with these, other churches which retained the New Testament image without corrupting it.
IV. The Church is a Divine Institution
Dr. E. T. Hiscox has the following to say about the church and its nature as a divine institution:
The Christian Church is the only divinely organized society among men. It was instituted for a purpose by Christ, who gave to it laws, and an economy of methods and order by which to accomplish its sacred mission, and who still retains headship and kingship over it. A Church is the 'Society of Jesus' in a truer and better sense than Loyala knew when founding the order of Jesuits. New Directory for Baptist Churches, pp. 44, 45.
Because Of the multiplicity of mere human institutions which claim the name of churches. it has become increasingly hard for the world to recognize false Churches for what they are, and indeed most of the world has now ceased to even examine the claims of the different denominations. There are so many false churches that the world assumes that every professing, Christian society is truly a church, and that there are really no false churches, but only some Christian churches which have strayed a little on their beliefs.
However, this is a false premise; Paul pronounced a curse upon any and every departure from evangelical doctrine when he said, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). Again he says, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
The assumption that the church is a mere human institution is the basis of this acceptance of any and every religious society as a New Testament church. But the Scriptures do not so teach. It becomes clear that the church is not a human, but a divine institution when we consider that: 1.) The New Testament church as a Divine Founder. All of the founders of this world's religions were nothing but mortal men; but this is not true of the church's founder; the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ was manifested on numerous occasions and in numerous ways, as: i.) By His miraculous birth, which proved that He was not an ordinary man, (Isaiah 7:14; Jer. 31:22; Luke 1:26-35; Galatians 4:4; Heb. 2:9,14; 10:5). ii.) By His extraordinary life, which was devoid of any sin, (John 8:46; Heb. 4:15). iii.) By the miracles which He performed, (John 3:2; Acts 2:22). iv.) By the resurrection from the grave, (Acts 2:24; 29-31; Rom. 1:4). v.) By the spoken attestation of God the Father, (Matthew 3:17; John 12:28; Luke 9:35). vi.) By the coming of the Holy Spirit, (John 14:16; 16:13; Acts 2:1-4; 11: 15-17). vii.) By the witness of men, (Matthew 27:22-24; Luke 23:13-15; 46-47; Acts 17:2-3).
The existence of the church is the result of sovereign will of the Divine Christ, and as such, it makes the church to be a divine institution. When He called out the apostles and disciples and constituted them into a body which He designated "my church," he gave the church the character of a divine institution which cannot be invalidated by the reasoning of carnal minds. Nor is this all; the fact that the church was purchased with Christ's own blood, (Acts 20:28), gives it a divine character also; it manifests God's great love for it.
2.) Not only is Christ the divine founder of the church, but He is also the Divine Foundation upon which the church is built, (1 Corinthians 3:11; Eph. 2:20; Matthew 16:18; Isa. 28:16). Here is a double guarantee of its endurance; not only is the Founder of the church All-wise and All-powerful, but the Foundation is also stable and steadfast like a vast and immutable rock.
3.) The Church also has a Divine Builder, for the Lord says, "Upon this Rock (Himself), I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). This is also intimated in Ephesians 2:20, "Being built," R.V., not "building yourselves." This is another reason why each church is to take care that she be always in complete subjection unto her Lord, for He is the builder, and "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Ps. 127:1).
Man may indeed build an organization, call it a church, and give it a quasi-divine character, but it will all be in vain unless it be built upon, and by, Christ the true and only Head of the Church. Many are the nominal churches which have only the sands of humanity for a foundation, and only a mere mortal or group of mortals for architects and builders. Of such a building, Christ said, 'And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:27). How this declaration reminds us of that singular prophetic picture of the final end of apostate religion which shall be an amalgamation of Protestantism, Catholicism, and every other false church, with its center in Rome. "And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying BABYLON THE GREAT IS FALLEN, is FALLEN . . . Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come" (Rev. 18:1-2, 10).
4.) The church has also a Divine Teacher, Guide and Comforter; in a word, it has a Divine Superintendent in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is declared in John 14:16-18: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." And again, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13-14).
The Holy Spirit, as coming down to fill the place of the ascended Redeemer, has rightly been called 'The Vicar of Jesus Christ.' To him the entire administration of the church has been committed until the Lord shall return in glory. His oversight extends to the slightest detail in the ordering of God's house, holding all in subjection to the will of the Head, and directing all in harmony with the divine plan...Would one desire to find the clue to the great apostasy whose dark eclipse now covering two-thirds of nominal Christendom, here it is—the rule and authority of the Holy Spirit ignored in the church; the servants of the house assuming mastery and encroaching more and more on the prerogatives of the Head, till at last one man sets himself up as the administrator of the church, and daringly usurps the name of 'Vicar of Christ.' — A. J. Gordon, The Ministry of the Spirit, p. 129, 130.
The recognition of the superintendency of the Spirit is the true antidote for every heresy, immorality, or schism; "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).
Whenever any church troubles start, whether they be false doctrine, ungodliness of life, refusal to do God's will, or offences against a brother, they are manifest deviations from a Spirit-led walk, for He never leads in such paths. It is the failure to realize the Holy Spirit's superintendency over the church that brings about most of the church troubles in the world today. That person who fully realizes this superintendency of the Holy Spirit, will be more desirous of yielding to the leading of the Spirit, and less of merely getting his own way.
Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit does have this great work within the church, it may also be property said that the church is a spiritual body; it is: i.) Holy Spirit indwelled, (John 14:16; 20:22). This is not to be confused with the indwelling of individual believers, (Rom. 8:9). ii.) Holy Spirit empowered, (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). iii.) Holy Spirit guided, (John 16:13). iv.) Holy Spirit comforted and encouraged, (Rom. 8:11, 14-17).
5.) The church has divine material for its membership; this material is the host of sinners, saved by grace, born again by the Spirit of God, which comprise each congregation. There is much said today about the "spark of divinity" which resides within each person regardless of what their moral or spiritual condition may be. However, this is the result of carnal reasoning, and not divine revelation. The divine word on this is, "If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God . . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do" (John 8:42, 44). "Beloved, now are we the sons of God . . ." (1 John 3:2). "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." (1 John 3:1). He that committeth sin is of the devil . . ." (1 John 3:8, 10). "And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one." (1 John 5:19, R.V.)
The Oft-cited passage in Malachi 2:10: "Have we not all one father?" is limited by the next phrase to creation only; "hath not one God created us?" It is further limited in that it was written specifically to Israel, God's chosen nation. In no sense does it teach a "Universal Fatherhood of God." A New Testament passage which at first glance may be thought to teach a universal Fatherhood of God is 1 Corinthians 8:6: "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." But this manifestly deals with believers only; the united teaching of the New Testament is that man, in his natural state, is totally depraved and unable to do any thing acceptable or pleasing to God until grace has entered in and wrought regeneration. Man is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1), until the Lord has lit his candle, (Ps. 18:28). In a word, he is a child of the devil until conversion.
When, therefore, we speak of the material of the church, we refer to the membership, not to the physical building; this material is divine because it has been regenerated, born again into the family of God. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). This passage with its context declares that man is dead and infinitely separated from God until salvation; then only does he become a member of the household of faith and the family of God; this, however, does not make him a member of the church; he must be baptized into the church.
6.) The church also has a divine mission and commission, which is briefly comprehended in this: "Unto him (God) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end" (Eph. 3:21). The church exists for the purpose of glorifying God; when it ceases to do this, it fails in its mission and becomes a definite hindrance to the glory of God. There is no middle ground; one is either for or against the Lord, as He says in Luke 11:23: "He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth."
The mission of the church breaks down into several parts which we may briefly consider at this time. The church is to make known the manifold wisdom of God, (Eph. 3:10). This is nothing else than: i.) Being witnesses unto the whole world, (Acts 1:8), by preaching the gospel, (Mark 16:15). ii.) Making disciples of all nations by so preaching and witnessing, (Matthew 28:19, R.V.) iii.) Baptizing each new convert into the fellowship and faith of a New Testament church. iv.) Teaching the converts to observe in a practical way, all the things commanded by the Lord, (Matthew 28:20). v.) Edifying, exhorting and comforting, and thereby strengthening and perpetuating the church as God's witness in the world, (1 Corinthians 14:3,12).
Some have endeavored to free themselves from the responsibility of this commission by holding that it was delivered only to the apostles as such, and, had this been true, there would be no such commission today, for it would have died with the last apostle. Likewise, those who hold to a Pentecostal origin of the church free themselves of this commission, for any church that originated on or after the day of Pentecost has neither commission nor authority, for both were given prior to that time. But the commission was not given to the apostles in individual capacity, but in corporate capacity, for every record of this commission was spoken to them as a group; never did he say "Each of you go into all the world," etc. Also, it must be noted that the commission was not carried out so much by the apostles, as it was by the ordinary disciples. And again, the endowment with power, which was promised with the commission, (Luke 24:46–49), came upon the whole church, not just upon the apostles; the "they" of Acts 2:1-4 were the 120 disciples of 1:15.
If more Christians recognized the divine mission of the church, no doubt they would be more conscientious in their attendance and support of it. One does not dishonor the church, without at the same time dishonoring the Head and Founder of the church.
7.) The church also has a Divine Message which is its duty to proclaim, and without which it cannot long remain a scriptural church. That message is the Bible, the Word of God, the divine revelation of God's will for man. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-2).
This passage states: i.) The Word is given "by inspiration." ii.) It is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. iii.) It is given that Christians may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. iv.) Paul charged Timothy to "preach the word." v.) The Word is to be put to all of its uses; not one is to be ignored, (v. 2).
With a divine Founder, a divine Foundation, a divine Builder, a divine Superintendent, composed of divine material, with a divine mission and a divine message, there is no reason why a church should ever fail to do God's will or to be victorious. But it is common knowledge that this often happens. Why? Because all too often churches reject Christ's Headship, or the Spirit's Superintendency, or the regulations of the Word. When any of these are done, failure comes as a natural consequence. Nor is it necessary to vocally reject these to be guilty; it is possible to do, and is more commonly done, by practice than by profession.
V. The Church is a Sovereign and Authoritative Assembly
This subject necessarily involves not only the sovereignty of the church, but also its autonomy and independence. There can be no entrenching upon the authority of a church without at the same time entrenching upon its sovereignty, autonomy and independence as well.
Speaking of the attempts in his day to form super-church organizations with each church having representatives, Francis Wayland says:
I have referred to the doctrine of the independence of the churches, and the grounds on which we suppose it to rest. It is a belief to which the vast majority of our brethren have adhered with a most commendable and consistent tenacity.
Notwithstanding this, attempts have been made, at sundry times, to establish some kind of informal representation. They have never met with favor, and have obtained influence among us only through ignorance of their real character. To some of these I will briefly allude.
When State Conventions were first proposed, it was by many believed—and of these I freely confess myself to have been one—that through them we might establish a general Baptist organization. If the churches sent delegates to the Association, the Association sent delegates to the State Convention, and the State Convention sent delegates to the General Convention of the Baptists in the United States, or to the Triennial Convention then existing, it would seem that all this might easily have been accomplished. I now rejoice exceedingly that the whole plan failed, and that it failed through the sturdy common sense of the masses of our brethren. Notes On The Principles And Practices of Baptist Churches, pp. 183-184.
That the New Testament church is a sovereign and authoritative assembly is clear when we realize the great responsibilities which have been placed upon it by its Founder and Head Himself; to obey or not to obey the letter of the Scripture is not a matter of choice or option to the church; it is obedient only so long as it follows the letter of the Scripture, and disobedient any time it goes contrary to any Scripture precept or example. The church is not sovereign in the sense that it can do any thing it pleases; it is sovereign in the sense that it is authorized and empowered to do what the Lord commands, and neither needs, nor is to subject itself to any other authority.
Is there any earthly, ecclesiastical authority superior to that of a local church?
In the New Testament there is no appearance of any ecclesiastical body above a church, to which the local church is amenable. Each church is supreme in its own jurisdiction, subject only to Christ. There is in the Scripture no appearance of any universal organization, any ecclesiastical judicatory, holding relation to several churches. There is no outward centre of unity, no periodical assemblies. Each church performs its own duties, without reference to any foreign oversight or review. This is illustrated by the directions of Christ in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew; of Paul to the churches to which he wrote; of the Spirit to the seven churches of Asia. In the eleventh chapter of the Acts we have an account of the church at Antioch, evidently not governed by the church at Jerusalem or by any other body. In the council held at Jerusalem, whose doings are recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, questions were referred to the apostles and elders and brethren at Jerusalem; there was no decree promulgated, but a compromise recommended for the time being, which had no obligatory character. Paul does not scruple to discuss freely one of the points at issue, that touching meats offered to idols.
In its worship, in the admission of members, the choice of officers, in the exercise of discipline and the management of its affairs each church is free from subjection to any other church. —H. G. Weston, Ecclesiology, pp. 73-74, in E. H. Johnson's Outline of Systematic Theology.
Rome teaches that the church has all power in heaven and on earth; power to reverse the decisions and councils of man and power to reverse even the pure Word of God itself. Such presumption assumes legislative power. The authority which the New Testament gives to the church is judicial and executive within prescribed limits, but never legislative. Dr. R. B. C. Howell observes:
No legislative powers are granted by him to any church, or combination of churches, or individual, or body of ministers, or any other association whatever. If not, they are clearly prohibited . . . It is treason against high Heaven to presume that any object the Gospel proposes to accomplish, cannot best be secured by the means which Christ has himself appointed . . . All the horrors of popery are at once in view. The whole hideous superstructure of that corrupt church find license and support in the assumption that she has the power to rule men by her enactments as a legislative body, in faith and practice. - The Terms of Communion at the Lord's Table, p. 30.
The Word of God contains the all-sufficient legislation for our faith and practice; it is "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). Rome cites Matthew 16:18 as proof of Peter's, and consequently the Pope's, supreme authority in all religious matters; Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 are cited as proof that the church has unbounded authority to open or close heaven as it will. However, all three of these passages have one thing in common; they are so translated as to convey the very opposite to what they were intended. Both the A.V. and the R.V. fail to take note of the fact that, while there is a future verb used, there is also a verb which denotes a past action as well. Many translators would let the future verb take precedence over, and determine the tense of the second verb. This, we believe is unnecessary, if it is rightly translated. The Greek words for "bound" and "loosed" are all perfect passive participles, and should be translated as that which has taken place in past time, but which has effects continuing to the present. The Williams translation of Matthew 16:19 reads: ". . . whatever you forbid on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven." Similar translations are to be found also in the Amplified New Testament, and in Wuest's Expanded Translation. "The teaching of Jesus is the standard for Peter and for all the preachers of Christ . . . All this assumes, of course, that Peter's use of the keys will be in accord with the teaching and mind of Christ." —A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 134.
As to the meaning of these passages, it is certain that there is involved nothing more than authority relative to the acceptance and rejection of members of the church as they qualify for membership, and in such cases where the requisites for continued membership are violated. Dr. Edersheim says:
In the true sense, therefore, this is rather administrative, disciplinary power, 'the power of the keys' - such as St. Paul would have the Corinthian Church put in force—the power of admission and exclusion, of the authoritative declaration of the forgiveness of sins, in the exercise. of which power (as it seems to the present writer) the authority for the administration of the Holy Sacraments is also involved. And yet it is not, as is sometimes represented, 'absolution from sin,' which belongs only to God and to Christ as Head of the Church, but absolution of the sinner, which He has delegated to His Church: 'Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven. - Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 11, p. 645.
Even those who do not go to Rome's extreme, reject the authority of the local church and would invest it in a large state-wide or nation-wide body which usurps authority over local churches.
A New Testament church stands out in contrast, if not in opposition, to every human institution, church or what not, in the whole world, for the simple reason it is the only body on earth authorized of Christ to speak for Him in the executive and judicial affairs of the kingdom of heaven. It thereby incurs the wrath of Satan and all his emissaries. Surely this is cause enough for Paul to bow the knees in prayer unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in behalf of the church in Ephesus.
And let it not be forgotten: this doctrine of the authority of a local New Testament church still stirs the contempt of the Jew, the jealousy of the Roman hierarchy from the papal throne to the parish pulpit, and the envy of the whole system of the 'branches-of-the-universal-spiritual-church' aggregation of churches. The church question is as acute now as ever in the Christian era. A mighty upheaval approaches, well within sight of the reverent student of the Word of God.—R. Nelson Colyar, Expository Notes On Ephesians, pp. 52,53.
Little wonder that the authority of the local church is a disputed doctrine when we consider how far the religious world has digressed from the scriptural position. Rome has its hierarchy to which every Catholic must bow in submission; the Lutherans have their Synods which have authority over each local assembly in their given district; the Methodists have their Conference to which each local assembly must apply for authority to do this or that; the Congregationalists have their councils which exercise authority over the local congregations; the Presbyterians have their Presbytery Board which has the final word to the local church; and many Baptists, no less, have surrendered their authority to boards, fellowships, conventions, associations, etc. and however they may protest to the contrary, they are still not sovereign and autonomous so long as they are in subjection to a higher power than the local assembly in even one matter. Any prescribed conditions of membership in any extra-church organization which entrenches upon the most insignificant duty of the church, detracts from the autonomy and independence of those churches which participate. Brother M. L. Moser, Jr. has well stated the situation in a pamphlet published by the Central Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark. He says:
To a great many Baptists of today, the greatest danger to the independency of Baptist churches is not a particular Convention, Association, or organized Fellowship, but Conventionism as such. It is this whole idea of 'organizing,' as inevitably it will result in a hierarchy or Convention which soon will fall into the hands of men who are unethical in their practices, unscriptural in their doctrines, liberal in their theology, and more concerned for the wellbeing of the organization than in doctrinal soundness or the sovereignty of the individual churches. This has been true in every case in past years.—Conventionism or Independency, p. 2.
Too many times, and too many people seem to have the idea that the ancient plan for the churches will not work today; thereby they impugn either the Lord's foreknowledge, or His wisdom. Brother Moser goes on to say:
Baptist churches are never to be governed by 'the times' but by the New Testament. Have Baptist churches reached the point to where they believe that the Lord Jesus Christ failed to provide sufficient instructions, sufficient power within His churches, to operate in the 20th century according to the pattern and plan that He laid down in the New Testament'? Do we have to improve on His plan today? Will His plan not meet today's modern conditions? What Scripture tells us that we are to be determined by 'the times' or expediency?—Ibid., p. 3.
We have already considered the major duties of the church, and these were committed to the New Testament church alone. When the Lord authorized His church to do these things, He manifestly excluded any other organization from having that authority; specificatio, unius, exclusio alterius - the specification of one thing is the prohibition of every other thing.
Let the student of the Bible search all he likes, but he will find in the New Testament no higher authority than that of the local assembly, and its decision, when scripturally reached and executed, is the final word. "Tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:17).
Some, while granting that the church is the only divinely authorized body on the earth, would at the same time give the church the power to re-delegate that authority to another body. But only original authority can be delegated to another; this the church does not possess. When Christ said, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18, R.V.). He revealed that He had original authority; when He said, "Go ye therefore . . ." He authorized the church to do these things, but this authority which He gave to the church was delegated authority, and as such, it cannot be scripturally re-delegated. If it were proper for a church to re-delegate the authority to another organization to send out missionaries, then it would be just as proper to re-delegate the authority to another to baptize, to administer the Lord's Supper, to exercise discipline, etc. But the Scripture condones none of these.
The judicial authority of the church is clearly defined in such passages as 1 Corinthians 5:12-13: "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Matthew 18:17-18: "And if he shall neglect to hear thee, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (1 Cor. 5:3-5, et. al.).
The church is clearly to exercise judicial discernment over its members and to purge out those who refuse to repent of their sins and clean up their lives-, this is the secret of a holy church; let every Christian purify his life or be purged from the church, for "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6).
But judicial authority without executive authority would be useless, and would make church authority a laughing stock; but the Lord has also given the church executive authority as well. However, both judicial and executive authority are definitely limited by prescribed conditions. Most places that teach of the judicial authority of the church, teach also of the executive power. "Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh…Purge out therefore the old leaven…with such an one no not to eat . . . put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5:5,7,11,13). ". . . withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly...have no company with him, that he may be ashamed" (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; et. al.).
But though we find the authority for these things quite prominent in the New Testament, we find not a word of any legislative power. Why? Simply because the Lord is the only authority for legislation, and He has given an all-sufficient legislation in His Word, but man will not submit to that, but wants human authority. He wants to make his own rules for Christianity, but such can never be. There is no scriptural justification for any individual or group to formulate new laws or dogma for Christianity, for it has all already been given. Any thing that man may further add will only cause confusion.
This authority of the Church, therefore, is not to be mistaken for any thing other than limited judicial and executive power; this authority must be executed in complete obedienc6 to the Word of God, and in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. The judicial and executive power here, as in all realms, is completely subservient to the legislative power, which is lodged in God alone, and is manifested to and for man in the Divine Revelation, the Word of God.
VI. The Church is a Militant and Missionary Assembly
The very purpose of the church as expressed in the Great Commission speaks of its responsibility to be a militant, missionary body; this too we recognize in the fact that any organization lives only as long as it perpetuates itself in new members. Hence, there is both a divine duty, and a rational responsibility for the church to be militant and missionary. What do we mean by militant? When we apply it to Christianity, the term means a readiness and willingness to fight the fight of faith; aggressiveness; an esprit de corps in the church; to serve as a soldier of the faith.
In an age of lukewarmness and unconcern, when personal comfort and pleasure are foremost in the minds of most nominal Christians, this is an unpopular doctrine. Most preachers will have many followers if they only preach a soft and easy Christianity, one which never makes the need for workers and servants for the Lord felt personally by the hearers. But let a man preach that every believer and every church member is under obligation to not only be in the Lord's house at each service, but also be ready to work and serve, and that man will find himself unpopular with the masses of the church. He will be termed a radical, and perhaps even worse calumnies will be heaped upon him. Yet, it is the stated requirement for disciples that "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
It is a popular thing with many church members to stay home and listen to "some good sermon" on the radio or television on the Lord's day; but this does not honor the Lord; it does not witness to one's faith; it does not support the Lord's house; but conversely, it dishonors the blood-bought house of the Lord; it places more importance upon personal comfort and convenience than upon piety and honor to the Lord; it places Christ second in a man's affection, which is nothing less than idolatry.
The apostolic age of Christianity was the most militant and missionary age of the Christian era; yet, in these times there was probably as much persecution as at any subsequent time in history. Why then was this militant spirit so prominent? No doubt, because persecution kept out of the churches all except those of truly devoted hearts and indomitable spirits, whose love for the Lord surpassed their fears even of death. Today, in many churches, all a person has to do to join the church is "sign a card," and consequently, the churches are filled with spiritual "4Fs" unregenerate cowards, and those whom Paul described as worshippers of their own bellies (the comfort crowd), (Philippians 1:19).
We find the militant and missionary spirit clearly manifested in the early churches; indeed, the Great Commission which was given to them demanded just such a spirit, and no church of this day will be able to meet its obligations as set forth in the Commission, without being both militant and missionary.
When we consider that even under persecution or perhaps we should say, especially under persecution the Jerusalem church manifested this militant, missionary zeal, for it is written, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Both Pagan and Jewish forces met in Christianity an equal force which, though it would not lift a finger for personal defense, put forth every effort toward the propagation of the gospel even when it meant persecution and death.
Nor was the Jerusalem church alone in this zeal, for from Acts 13 to the end of the book, we read of the militant and missionary operations of the Antioch church through her foremost missionary. It was through these that many of the other churches of the New Testament came into being, and these too manifested the same zeal for the faith.
It is indeed gratifying to know that even as early as the writings of the epistle to the Roman church, they had been busy enough in the Lord's work that Paul could say, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8). Even if this had reference only to the Roman Empire, it is still a great testimony to the labors of this church. That this church, being organized and pastored apart from any apostolic help and direction, should become a source of thanksgiving to Paul, and a source of amazement to people throughout a wide area of the east, is ample commentary upon the militant and missionary character of the early Christians. Oh, that there were such churches today.
The Thessalonian church also was of a like stamp with the foregoing churches, for it is also said of this church, "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:8-10). "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus . . ." 1 Thessalonians 2:14).
There can be scarcely any higher commendation than this, unless it be to hear the Lord's own "well done, thou good and faithful servant." But these are not isolated cases; the churches of the New Testament took it as a matter of course that they had a duty to their Lord, and they counted it a privilege and a joy that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Lord. "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42). "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29)
But where do we find such militant zeal for the Lord today? It is all but non-existent! Today, a pastor contents himself with three messages per week and perhaps the teaching of a Sunday School class; church members think they should get a gold medal if they attend all the services in a week; young folk and adults alike must be coddled and pampered and carried about upon a silk pillow stuffed with down in order to even keep them regular in attendance, much less to get them to put their hand to the plow of Christian service. What is wrong? Where is the original zeal for the Lord? Sad to contemplate, it has been swallowed up of the lukewarmness, richness and ease which characterizes this Laodicean age, (Revelation 3:15-18).
The Lord meant for His church to be a militant and missionary institution which would make the world see its need for a Saviour, and see their need met in the Lord Jesus Christ. This can never be done while sitting upon the stool of do-nothing, or stretched full length upon the bed of creature-comfort watching the blinking one-eyed household god called TV. Today's churches need a spiritual pep pill and a shot of power from the Word of God, together with a good stiff dose of heart medicine from the God of love Himself.
Until this happens, the church will continue to be far short of the divine standard and apostolic example; any church whose nature does not conform to these divine requirements, has missed the mark, and this is nothing short of sin. May God burden the hearts of His people and of His churches to wake up to, and to do their duties to Him.
[Davis W. Huckabee, The Origin and Nature of the Church, 1970. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]