We have now arrived at the place where we left off when we went back to study the progressive manifestation of the Holy Spirit. From here on, it seems unnecessary to give all the details recorded in The Book of Acts to show that the churches are still under apostolic administration, hence, we shall limit ourselves to as brief analysis as possible to accomplish our purpose. Local churches are the order of the day now, and while, as we have said, they are still under apostolic direction (there being no Bible yet written for their guidance), this is the point at which we begin to see the churches maturing toward that day when they will be left to act "on their own" under the guidance of the Word and the Spirit. There are many things yet to be set in order, and this we shall see as we follow the account.
The conversion of Saul marks another great moment in the life of the church. The scattered multitude may have gathered in groups here and there, but the next church which is recorded in the record of the New Testament is Antioch. God is preparing missionaries now to extend the work beyond Palestine, and Saul is given a special commission to the work (Acts 9:15, 16). As we have indicated, Peter is used of God to open the door of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). The question of a ministry to the Gentiles comes before the church at Jerusalem, and Peter explains fully the Lord's dealings ,vith him. This convinces the church at Jerusalem, and Acts 11:8 shows that the church gladly extended its ministry to the Gentiles. Meanwhile, the persecution has driven preachers as far as Phenice and Cypress and Antioch with a message to Jews only. When they got to Antioch, they began to speak to the Grecians, and the Lord blessed with salvation. This came to the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent a good man named Barnabas, "full of the Holy Spirit," to see about the work. When he saw that everything was of the Lord, he went to Tarsus and got Saul, who came to Antioch and preached there for a whole year (11:19-26).
We come now (v. 27) to the first mention of prophets. Perhaps men had prophesied in the church before this, maybe at Pentecost and at the house of Cornelius, but here they are spoken of in their calling. They are part of the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5 et al.). They differ from Old Testament prophets in that their prophecies have more to do with special revelations to the churches in the services, edifying, comforting, inspiring and, in some cases still, foretelling (Acts 11:28). They are, along with the apostles, the oral Bible for that time until the permanent revelation is given.
Their prophecies are also of fragmentary nature, not longview prophecies like those of the Old Testament prophets. Of these prophets and their work, Paul has a good deal to say in I Corinthians 12 to 14. In the 13th chapter he speaks of the fragmentary and temporary character of these prophecies: "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail (cease); whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge (special, miraculous knowledge), it shall vanish away. For we know in part (fragment), and we prophesy in part (fragment). But when that which is perfect (full, mature, complete) is come, that which is in part (fragment) shall be done away."
The New Testament prophet spoke usually in the assembly, and his utterance often constituted a part of the worship. Whether one agrees with the interpretation of the preceding paragraph or not, it must be said that the prophet was the inspired speaker for the church until the Word was written. There is a sense in which all true preachers of the Word are prophets in that they expound the "deep things of God," but this is not the direct sense of the prophetic gift as it was in the early church period.
There were certain prophets and teachers "in the church" which was at Antioch. We have had apostles, prophets, and, if we are to identify Philip and others who went out preaching the Word as such, we have had evangelists. Now we have teachers. Paul and Bamabas must have been teachers here as well at others. "Pastors and teachers" may be one man with both gifts, as was often the case, or it may indicate hvo different
persons with each having a particular gift. Since pastoring and teaching cling together, it would seem that one person might do both. Timothy, a pastor and teacher, was also urged to do the work of an evangelist. In any case, we know that the New Testament means by the word "teacher" a person with a divine gift and calling for that work.
The calling of Barnabas and Paul in the church at Antioch is a revealing incident. It becomes a classic example of how a church should cooperate with the Spirit. The account is in Acts 13:1ff. It will be referred to in a later chapter. What is important to us in this study of a progressively developing church life is that this is an instance of the gradual participation of the church in matters which concern the Lord's work. That is, although the Spirit is in direct charge here, new things in the church life are appearing, and the churches, including prophets and teachers, are being used as the vocal expressors of the will of God. As we have said, this will gradually increase as the church matures.
The church acted in a sign of laying their hands upon these teachers, and the account says that both the church and the Holy Spirit "sent them away." But the 4th verse says, "And they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit. . . ." In other words, the church which is His body merely cooperated with the Head through the Spirit. This is the ideal for all churches.
Other developments arise. The question of the Judaizers and their doctrine of Gentile conformity to the law arose (Acts 15). How shall this be settled? The Antioch church sends Paul and Barnabas "up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders," about this question. The church is not strong enough nor well enough informed yet to walk alone. Much revelation must still come. "Being brought on their way by the church" does not necessarily mean that the church paid their expenses. It rather indicates that they had a great send-off with a mark of honor (Robertson). On the way they preached, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They were well received by the church at Jerusalem and "of the apostles and elders."
We pause here in our story to note the title by which the preachers and leaders in the church were designated -- elders. The first use of this term in the Book of Acts is 11:30. The offering for the needy in Jerusalem was sent to the elders. In
his Word Pictures, Acts, page 346, Dr. A. T. Robertson says: "The very men whom Paul terms 'bishops' (episkopous) in verse 28 (chapter 20) just as in Titus 1:5 and 7 where both terms (presbuterous, ton episkopon) describe the same office. . . . The elders are not 'apostles' but are 'bishops' (cf. Philippians 1:1) and with 'deacons' constitute the two classes of officers in the churches." He further states in the same reference: "Each church, as in Jerusalem, Philippi, Ephesus, had a number of 'elders' ('bishops') in the one great city church."
This is enough of the exegesis to let us know that the word means the preachers and teachers of the churches, and that in each church there were several. Leaders of this class were not only the preachers with various gifts, but were, as bishops, what we know as "overseers" and in a sense "rulers" of the churches (Acts 20:28 et al.). These are the pastors and teachers which finish the principal list of those who were to be set in the church, and who are to carry on when the apostles and prophets are no more in the special sense in which the Scriptures give them.
We return now to our story (Acts 15). Some of the church members at Jerusalem were against the committee from Antioch. A general meeting of the church afforded a reception for visitors, at which time the matter was presented and discussed with some heat. Verse 6 seems to indicate that the apostles and elders got together for a little private meeting on the matter, however, verses 12 and 22 may prove that others sat by and heard the discussion. While there is still "apostolic authority," other brethren of the church are consulted now, and the whole church is participating under the direction of the apostles. There is also apostolic inspiration yet, and this is the place to settle such matters.
They heard Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James, the last of whom quoted the prophecy about the Lord taking out of the Gentiles "a people for his name." Here the church participates again: "Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas." This, no doubt, was to confirm the word of these men to the church at Antioch and to add inspired testimony to the decision. They chose Judas and Silas, "chief men among the brethren," wrote letters to the Gentile brethren in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, giving the advice and judgment of the council. When these brethren came to Antioch, "they gathered the multitude (the church) together and delivered the
epistle: which when they had read, they rejoiced for consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets (author's emphasis) also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them."
We do not understand how Dr. Dana can get from this incident the following conclusion:"So, when Baptist churches wish to find some means of articulation for their denominational consciousness and of joint missionary and educational enterprise, they may appoint messengers who meet at a designated place and constitute themselves into an independent organization, having no essential organic connection with any local church. and unable to hold any local church responsible for their actions."1 Whatever virtue there is in convention organization, this is not the place to find it. A church at Antioch sent some brethren to advise with a sister church at Jerusalem, a very wise thing for churches to do in mutual problems. The apostles and elders at Jerusalem had very high spiritual standing and were well qualified to give advice on this new and important problem. It was a meeting entirely for counsel, nothing was organized, and no perpetuity of any kind of body or organization was set up. The conclusion quoted above has nothing whatever to do with this situation. This incident, on the other hand, seems to set forth the ideal in church cooperation, free, voluntary, advisory, helpful, and in no sense organized so that either church is obligated.
Church cooperation is a blessed feature of the ekklesia in the New Testament, or, speaking specifically, of the churches, but, by the very nature of an autonomous church, it is logically impossible for the church to obligate itself in an organization with another church without in some way giving up some of its own autonomy. Paul led the churches in a great cooperative effort of charity for the poor saints at Jerusalem, but they organized nothing. We are not here fighting organizations and conventions, but this is not the place to get the authority for such procedure.
Coming back to the case in point, Acts 15:25ff., there is great spiritual flavor in the passages, "It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord. . ." and, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us." Blessed unity!
As Paul tells us in his letters, and as the Book of Acts records,
the establishment of new churches went on among the Jews and Gentiles. Meanwhile, the permanent revelation begins to develop, mainly under the writings of Paul. In Ephesians 3, he tells us that God purposed to display through the church "the manifold wisdom of God." In chapter 2, speaking to Gentile Christians, he tells them that they who were, afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ; that "Christ is our peace, who hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man (author's emphasis), so making peace: and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off (Gentiles), and to them which are nigh (Jews). For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father."2
On he goes, showing how that in the church both Jew and Gentile are made one in Christ, and that the church is not strictly a Jewish institution but includes all in its gospel invitation.
There comes also the written revelation concerning internal affairs in the church at Corinth,3 practical questions about life and customs in the light of their new standing in Christ, and what is the Christian thing to do in each case. Other letters by Paul and other writers of the New Testament combine to give us the full revelation for this age of church life and work. As we have said, the final revelation as to doctrinal and practical matters
inside the churches is given by the Spirit through Paul mainly, in letters to Timothy and Titus.
It should be clear now to the reader that the church was founded, built, and completely furnished over a period of time and through a period full of action and progressive revelation. In the interpretation of this matter, we have been pressed with more material in the Scriptures than we could use in reasonable space, but we hope the story of progressive development of the church has been amply shown. It is our conclusive opinion that at the close of this period of revelation, the churches have all they need to guide them, namely, the Spirit and the Word, and that the nearer we stay with the Word, the more we will be in unity with the Spirit.
We leave the churches, then, in the hands of the Holy Spirit. He continues to use men like Timothy, pastor at Ephesus, Titus, and many others whom He has called and will call as elders, bishops, deacons, teachers, evangelists, and men of other gifts to guide, edify, empower and instruct the churches in the Word, to build them up in the most holy faith and to preach the gospel to the lost. Here the revelation for the churches ends, and this revelation needs no addition. The genius of the churches, unlike the institutions of men, lies in their simplicity and unworldliness. They are the weak things by which God confounds the strong. They can operate alike in a membership of ten or ten thousand without any change, increase, or alteration of the simple pattern which was in the mind of Jesus when He said, "I will build my church."
This, then, is the end of the "transition period." As we have seen, as the apostles and prophets gradually left the scene of the multiplying churches, there was also a gradual increase in the participation of the churches in the work and life of the Spirit through what is generically known as His ekklesia.
While we could not agree with the Scofield Bible in all its views about the church, we would, with permission of the publishers, like to quote a remarkably clear and true statement on "the churches" from the introductory notes on I Timothy. The quotation follows:Theme. As the churches of Christ increased in number, the question of church order, soundness in faith, and of discipline became important. At first the
apostles regulated things directly, but the approaching end of the apostolic period made it necessary that a clear revelation should be made for the guidance of the churches. Such a revelation is in First Timothy, and in Titus. The key phrase is, "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God." Well had it been for the churches if they had neither added to nor taken from the divine order.
This whole statement serves to point up what we have tried to show, namely, that there is a "transition period" of development of the church from the days of John the Baptist to the final revelation for the churches in Timothy and Titus.
THE VALUE OF THIS VIEW
Aside from the fact that this view commends itself simply because it is the truth about the church as it is revealed in Scripture, it clears up many difficulties in harmony. The one with which we are mainly concerned is that it relieves us of the necessity of making every event in this period a norm or precept for the churches in this age.
During the period of progressive revelation, before the New Testament was permanently written, the churches were guided, first by Jesus Himself, then by the apostles and prophets. Apostolic direction came usually by letter, by messenger, or by the apostle himself, but prophets in the various churches, as has been indicated, received direct but fragmentary revelations for direction, comfort, inspiration and worship in the church meetings. Evidence of this is abundant in the first letter to the Corinthians. Now that we have the complete written Word for this age, we are not to expect further revelation, but to seek enlightenment from the Spirit as to what the Word teaches. This is the direct voice of the Spirit to the churches now.
It follows that in seeking scriptural sanction for certain conduct or action in church life today, we must be careful not to base that conduct upon some precedent which was evidently temporal or for a special purpose and time in history, but we must weigh each incident or instruction in the light of the full revelation. Failure to do this, for example, has caused good brethren to perpetuate foot washing as a church ordinance when there is not the slightest evidence that it was taught or practiced by the apostles, nor was there in the Acts or letters any injunction to
observe it. Likewise, the gift of tongues and other miraculous manifestations associated with this period seem to have served their purpose and have passed away ( I Corinthians 13:8-10).
On the same basis, we would not be justified in expecting another Pentecost with all its attendant display of miracle power just because the church experienced that great moment at the beginning of its mission. Not that we are not to expect divine power. On the contrary, without it we can do nothing. While the power is to remain with the churches, the outward display was for a special purpose as has been shown, thus fulfilling the prophecy of John the Baptist.
In the light of this principle, let us look at a few examples which are often taken as a norm for conduct of churches in this time.
First, the case of Philip's baptizing the eunuch is often given as proof that God-called men may do their work without "church authority." To refute this position, others have said that Philip had "authority" from the church at Jerusalem. In our view it is not necessary to establish either position. The church has not yet come to the maturity where authority can be committed to it, and Philip is, like many others, acting under the direct leading of the Spirit.
Does this mean that we should now do as Philip did, baptize our converts without church approval or "authority"? We think not. The Holy Spirit was doing His work directly through certain gifted and chosen ones until the churches were established with a complete revelation. As this period passed and apostolic direction faded, as the churches became more mature in their understanding of their mission, they took their places with what is called "authority," which, in reality, is rather a commission under the Holy Spirit and the written Word. In this manner the Spirit leads the churches without the miracle men of that early day.
This does not mean that there is no miracle in the churches today. The emphasis has been transferred from the outward miracle discernible with the natural eye to the inward miracle which is spiritually discerned. This is "Christ in you, the hope of glory," working through us to the salvation of lost men with the Spirit and the Word. This is the outstanding miracle of all time.
The case of Saul of Tarsus might be cited as another example of this theory. Certainly, Saul was converted in an incident wholly apart from the church, although he had heard the gospel from Stephen and others. True, he came to the church and was recognized by the brethren, but there is no evidence that the church passed upon his confession as a believer and "authorized" his baptism. If this be true, does that mean that it is not necessary now for a church to hear the confession of a believer and authorize his baptism? Not at all. It is the same as in the case discussed above; matters had not been left to the "authority" of the churches at this time.
The Philippian jailer is another case of baptism which, so far as the record is concerned, did not have church approval. Here is a clear case of apostolic authority under the direction of the Holy Spirit. On this case we have absolute scriptural authority: they were sent out by the Holy Spirit through the church at Antioch. To this extent they had "church authority," but we assume that in no case of baptism did they submit the confession of their converts to a church for approval. Yet, to make this a proof that any person or preacher should baptize his converts without church approval is to take it out of its setting. The ideal of cooperation between the Spirit and a church is demonstrated at Antioch in sending Paul and Barnabas with proper "authority" for this time, but the actions of the apostles did not have to be submitted to the churches each time they bapized a believer.
Neither is this a requirement in the case of Paul and Silas at Philippi. In each case the Spirit is directly in charge, and the apostles are inspired men for this time. Later on the responsibility will rest upon the churches.
There are still problems here with regard to "church authority." We will not attempt to solve this problem now, but merely suggest it for meditation. Does the authority of a church presume to qualify its missionaries to act in judgment for the church in fields far away from it, so that they can baptize people without submitting the names for approval to the churches? Would it not be interesting to know how many Baptist preachers, ordained by a church and sent out to preach, have gone into new communities, held evangelistic services and baptized on their own judgment those who were saved, and out of these converts organized new churches? In spite of these problems, "church authority" must
not be thrown away. It will come in for further consideration later.
In assuming that certain actions which took place during this period are not to be held as norms for final church order, caution should be observed by those who might take this view as authority for cutting out, changing, or adapting methods or customs as the mind of man may direct. Many questions will arise. What shall we reject as temporal, and what shall we consider as permanent or binding upon the churches? Who is to be the interpreter of what shall be omitted and what shall be retained? What is the basis of judgment by which we can discern these matters?
There will be, as history has shown, the question of tongues, miracles, the conduct of women in the churches, the question of their wearing long or short hair, covering their heads in the assembly, anointing the sick with oil, the observance of the "holy kiss," and many other such questions.
On all such matters the author has opinions, but this is not the place to air them. Our general answer to such questions is as follows: We should try to seek from the progressive revelation the final order of church life by viewing each problem in the light of the full New Testament revelation. For example, the reason we could not consider footwashing a church ordinance is twofold: it does not set forth a truth pertinent to salvation, and it was not taught or practiced by the apostles.
Where there is direct instruction, such as Paul gives to the church at Corinth or to Timothy and Titus, there is, it seems to us, enough said of its meaning and connection with the whole message of the Scriptures to let us know whether or not it is to be perpetuated. For instance, when Paul refers to the conduct of women in the assembly, he definitely connects this with the whole Bible teaching on the woman's relationship to the man as representing the church's relationship to Christ. Such explanations, it seems, would make application permanent for the churches.
Without discussing each matter in detail, let us finish this thought by saying that we believe that any of these matters can be satisfactorily resolved in the light of the full revelation. Hence, we must be careful about using the knife promiscuously in order to get rid of regulations which may curb our liberties or may not
meet with popular approval. The young churches will, as problems and conditions arise, be forced to make some adaptations, yea, perhaps even concessions without compromise (and this is possible), but we must be careful to let that which our Lord put there as the order of His will and purpose remain until He Himself removes it.
Let us move on now to the mission of the church. _______________
1 Dana, op. cit., p. 86.
2 The "one body" idea is well within our grasp here. In Eph. 4:4-6, we have "one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all and through all, and in you all." "One faith" must mean one body of truth, one kind of faith. "One baptism" must mean one kind of baptism; for example, "John's baptism," meaning the kind of baptism which John taught and administered (cf. Acts 19). In common conversation today we speak of "Baptist baptism," "Methodist baptism" or some other such designation. We mean the kind of baptism, that is, the doctrinal import of it. In this passage it simply says there is only one kind of baptism just as there is one faith. In the same way, could it not mean that there is only one kind of body expressed in the many bodies (churches) in the world? Without a dogmatic position on this, we submit the idea for consideration. Let us add that it is just as easy to conceive of Christ having one kind of body expressed in the churches as it is to conceive of one Holy Spirit being a definite personality in each of us.
3 I Cor. 4:18-21, all of chapter 5 and 6 reveal the apostolic authority which Paul exercises over the Corinthian church, yet it also reveals how the church is responsible for its own action under inspired direction. This is a splendid instance of the gradual transfer of authority from the apostle to the churches.
[Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances, Lexington, KY, 1965, pp. 66-77.]
Buell Kazee Index
Baptist HIstory Homepage