The Greek term, "ekklesia," translated "church" more than a hundred times in the New Testament, is compounded of two words, meaning "to call out of."
The Baptists hold that a "Scriptural church" is a local congregation of baptized believers, independent of the State, and of every other church, having in itself authority to do whatever a church can of right do, and whose members are voluntarily associated under special covenant to maintain the worship, the truths, the ordinances, and the discipline of the gospel. Churches are visible organizations, the visible ceremonial qualification for membership being baptism. That the membership of the apostolic churches was composed of baptized believers, is clear from the whole tenor of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the Apostolic Epistles. On this point there is no controversy between Baptists and Pedobaptists. The difference between them is - "What is baptism?" The Baptists hold that any church, whose membership have not been baptized, that is, immersed in water after a profession of their faith, though they may be believers, is not a Scripturally constituted New Testament church. A church is a "local" congregation, and may consist of many, or few members. We read of "the church at Jerusalem," "the church of Ephesus," and Paul refers to Aquila and Priscilla, and "the church that is in their house."
There are three prominent forms of church government, indicated by the terms, Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and Independency. Episcopacy recognizes the official superiority of a "diocesan bishop" over the "inferior clergy," as well as "the laity." In apostolic times, "bishop" and "pastor" were terms signifying the same office, the overseer of a single church, not of a diocese composed of a number of churches.
Presbyterianism recognizes two classes of elders - preaching elders and ruling elders. The pastor and the ruling elders of a congregation constitute what is called the "Session of the Church." The "Session"transacts the business of the church; receives, dismisses, and excludes members. The individual members of the congregation have no voice. From the decision of a Session there is an appeal to the Presbytery, which is composed of preaching and ruling elders from a number of churches. From the Presbytery an appeal can be made to the Synod, and from the Synod to the General Assembly, Whose decisions are final.
From the above, it is seen that Episcopacy and Presbyterianism imply that it takes several local congregations to make up what is called "the church." We, therefore, often hear of "The Episcopal Church of the United States," "The Presbyterian Church of the United States." Such a form of church government may be deemed evpedient, but it is not Scrip- tural. When Paul had occasion to speak of more than one church, he always used the word "churches," as, "the churches of Galatia," "the churches of Asia." It is therefore improper to speak of the thirty thousand Baptist churches in the United States as "The Baptist Church of the United States"; we should say, "The Baptist Churches of the United States"; for they are all independent cf each other, their "Associations" of churches being merely for mutual sympathy and aid; and their decisions are not binding on any church.
Every Baptist church is an independent and a pure "democracy," and is perfectly competent to do whatever a church can of right do. It is as complete as if it were the only church in the world. A church self-organized, without a council, would be a church; but it would have no right to call itself by the name of some one of the denominations - as the Baptist - without their consent, for the reason that it might hold doctrinal views and practices which would bring discredit on that denomination.
According to the Baptist view, the governing power of churches rests with the members (including pastor and deacons), and should be administered in accordance with New Testament usage. The officers of the church can do nothing without the consent of the membership. The power of a church cannot be delegated, either to its officers, or to any delegates sent to any Association of churches, in any way that will impair its independency. That such a view is Scriptural, can be easily shown from the conduct of the New Testament churches, that, as individual churches, received, excluded, and restored members, appointed their own officers, and whose decision in all cases was final. Hence it follows, that if a Baptist church were to call a council of sister churches to consider the advisability of ordaining a certain person to be their pastor, and that council should deem it unadvisable, the church calling the council would not be bound by the council's action, and could ordain or not, as it might choose. The independency of the church would thus not be impaired by the action of the council; but at the same time, courtesy, and the standing of both church and pastor, make it advisable to submit to the action of the council. The advantages of such a form of church government are many. It gives every member in the church a voice in its management; the rich and influential cannot lord it over the poor. Then each church knows which of its members are best fitted, both spiritually and in a business sense, to conduct successfully its affairs as church officers. And who are more competent to choose a pastor than those over whom he is to preside? How often we see or hear of churches crippled, and their usefulness impaired, by pastors who have been placed over them, not of their choice?
Again, it prevents the circulation of doctrinal errors. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. But among independent Baptist churches, it has no opportunity to spread; for a local church, under a sense of its responsibility, is quick to detect, and as quick to stamp out a heresy. It would not have to be carried from Presbytery, to Synod, to General Assembly, as in the Presbyterian Church, until the whole denomination was divided on it. It was in great part by a single case of discipline that the Presbyterian denomination in this country was divided into the Old and New Schools; and a petty dispute in a small parish has been known to embroil the whole English hierarchy.
The wonderful uniformity among Baptist ministers as to matters of doctrine, in spite of the independence of the churches, has been, and is, a matter of surprise, and can only be accounted for by the fact, that they derive their doctrinal views directly from the New Testament Scriptures.
More satisfactory corrective discipline can also be obtained by the "independent" method of church government. A member is quietly approached according to the rule mentioned by Christ (Matthew 18:16, 17); every opportunity is given here to explain and confess; and if, after a full hearing, it is deemed best for the glory of God and the good of the church to exclude him, he is excluded; and the world at large knows nothing of it, and the denomination is not scandalized, or rent by his misconduct.
[Clarence Larkin, Why I Am a Baptist, American Baptist Publication Society, 1887, pp. 68-74. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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