The problem of the nature of the church and its place in the life of God's children has been through the centuries, and still is, a lively question. No theory of a general or universal church, visible or invisible, can serve to explain all the references and utterances of the Bible concerning the ekklesia. There appears to be plainly evident in most of these utterances the idea of a definite, visible church which serves as the earthly container of Deity, the "earthen vessel" in which God has chosen to abide in this world.
It is certain that there is a church. The questions which arise about it seem to demand a plausible and scriptural answer. Is it local and visible, or general and invisible? Can it be both at the same time? If there be two churches, both local and universal, both visible and invisible, does it not follow that one must be in constant confusion trying to adapt one's self to the obligations and activities of both? If the church and the ordinances belong together, would not the existence of an invisible church in some way affect the visibleness of the ordinances? What about the church and the family of God? What about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the church as compared to His relation to the individual believer? Does every believer belong to the church? These and many other difficult questions arise as one studies the scriptural interpretation of the church.
This author is aware of the many opinions on these matters and acknowledges the presumption on his part in attempting to deal with any of them in any final sense. However, as light has dawned little by little, he has felt that his thoughts might make a helpful contribution in this field.
The rediscovery of the church (generic sense) in modern theology is bringing forth a multitude of treatises on the subject. On the crest of this tide of interest is the popular dream of the ecumenical church. It becomes more popular every day, for it fits well the world's concept of the church. It is the dream of both liberalism and neo-orthodoxy, but when it is analyzed in the light of history and the Bible, there is little about it that is new, and at this date we believe that it can be truthfully declared that its orthodoxy is not above question.
This book is written from a Baptist viewpoint, and a conservative
one at that, but the analogy could well stimulate the thinking of anyone who might be interested in the subject, whatever his denominational position might be. It is written with great respect for scholarship but with no intention of attempting a scholarly work. Even if we could write such a book, we would prefer to level the discussion to the average preacher, pastor, layman or church member. We have in mind especially the Baptist pastors and church members who find that the historic doctrine of the "local, visible church" and the restriction of the ordinances to its administration is facing a crucial hour in modern church life. This book is to help them analyze their position and see it confirmed. It could also be helpful in bringing others to see the significance of this historic Baptist tenet.
It would be impossible for anyone to write a completely satisfactory book on the church. For one reason, it is too comprehensive in scope. Another reason is the wide diversion of views which has accumulated in this realm. This book makes no effort to cover all phases of the subject. The main thrust of it came to the author several years ago. He discovered that the church is bound to the ordinances and the ordinances to the church in a special way which had never, so far as he knew, been expressed in writing or speaking. The more he thought of it the more he wondered why it had never been presented this way. It seemed to him so simple, so logical, so scriptural, so convincing. The fore-runner of this book is a tract by the author on "Why Baptists Cannot Unionize With Others." The response which this tract received has convinced us that this book should be written. At first we set out to write a booklet on the ordinances alone, but we soon discovered that one could not understand the ordinances without a satisfying grasp of the church. Hence, much of the book is about the church.
The arrangement of the material is not satisfactory, even to the author, but after eight years of writing, revising, adding and eliminating, it is the best we could do without reaching the point of no return. Some of the chapters are too long, but we have compensated for this by breaking them into sections. Repetition is necessary in some places because the same material is used for different purposes in different places. We have tried not to avoid any pertinent question, and the reader will not find a substitute of cheap dogmatism for inability to cope with any problem.
We feel that an exhaustive bibliography is unnecessary. From the early years of this century, beginning with "The Little Baptist," "Mabel Clement," "Theodosia Ernest" and other books of that day, we have had an avid interest in the doctrine of the church and have read everything on the subject that has crossed our path. Our conclusions are drawn from many sources, but chiefly from the Bible. We have documented all the direct sources, but this by no means covers the list.
One special source we should like to mention. Several years ago an esteemed brother, Roger Maslin by name, wrote his thesis for a master's degree in Baylor University on the subject, "The Church," with the subtitle, "A Critique of the Universal Church Theory". We have always thought that this work should have been published, but the author did not see fit to do so. In this work was much resource material which we needed for our purpose in this book. His gracious permission to use this material has saved us much labor in investigating sources, and, since it is used here for our own ends, he is not to be held responsible for any use we have made of it. Subsection 3 in Chapter II is lifted almost bodily from his work, and in section 1 of the same chapter, his thoughts are interspersed with ours in some places. To him and to all other sources we are humbly grateful.
We have also had the manuscript read by several good and distinguished brethren without regard for their commitment to our positions. We feel that it is according to the pleasure of these men that we do not list them here, but testimonials of some of them may be seen on the back cover (This was on the original printing).
It is understood that many who will agree with the main thesis of this work will not agree in certain minor areas. In such cases, we pray that the grace of understanding may dominate, and that the major emphasis of the book may not be damaged by criticisms of the parts on which we may disagree. Let it be remembered that this is a difficult subject for us all, and may what we have wrought be a contribution which will help rather than hinder.
Buell H. Kazee
1625 Dantzler Court
March 30, 1965
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