The writer was forced to a radical change in his views in the church question by a fresh study of the Bible and history. The truth I thus discovered concerning the church is held by me as one of the most important and far-reaching influences which have borne upon my life and ministry. The attitude of Baptists, and especially Baptist preachers, on many, many things is determined largely by their understanding of the church question. For a liberal, loosing thinking, "broad," Baptist to get converted to the truth of Baptist perpetuity is for him to have a revolution wrought in his life.
I was an "open communionist," "alien immersionist," and a believer in the "universal, invisible" church. I had been greatly influenced by the teachings of the Scofield Bible. I was in fact just about as loose and as heretical as is many a young theological graduate today and not qualified to be teacher of the great doctrines of the Bible.
I was in this condition when I began to pursue some post-graduate studies, which involved the studious preparation of a thesis. A personal friend had sharply rebuked my "invisible" church theory. Somewhat piqued, I decided to prepare a thesis on the church question - to go into detail, collect data, and to prove to my own satisfaction that I was indeed right in my views.
Well, I began, I searched. I investigated. My thesis grew into a book, which I finally published. But here is the strange thing about it.
Instead of writing a book to prove the "universal" Church theory and the absurdity of the claim to Baptist perpetuity, my published book was a complete repudiation of the "universal" theory, and abounded in proof of the historical perpetuity of Baptist churches from the days of Christ and the apostles unto the present!
Many Western Recorder readers are familiar with this book, which was issued under the title, "The Church That Jesus Built." A present it is in its sixth edition, and I can conservatively estimate that twenty-five thousand people have read it. So far, no one has ever attempted to answer it to refute its arguments.
Now what were the findings that induced me to change my views and to prepare a thesis setting forth teachings wholly antagonistic to those that I had started with? Fully to answer this question would be to quote the contents of my book. Here there is space merely to outline my findings in the briefest way. 1. A careful re-study of the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 forced me to see that He Himself started His church during the days of His personal ministry on the earth and that He promised it continued existence throughout the ages. Matthew 18:17 indicated the church was in existence at the time Jesus spoke those words, and also indicated to me the kind of church, namely a local assembly of believers. Matthew 28:19, 20 and 1 Corinthians 11:26 indicated that He gave the Commission and the ordinance of the Lord's Supper to the church to be observed "to the end of the age," and "till He come." So I had to conclude that if Jesus told the truth, His church must have had a continuous existence all through the ages and must exist today.
2. But what about the Catholic Church and its claim that it is the true church, the one that Jesus started? I found that this claim rested upon the assumption that Peter was the first pope of Rome and the Church was built on him. But the New Testament makes it clear that Peter was never a pope anywhere. Moreover, I found that the Catholic Church is the result of a gradual apostasy, and that the first pope lived several hundred years this side of Christ.
3. But perhaps the church that Jesus started and promised to perpetuate was a "universal, invisible" Church. This was what I had long believed. But, lo and behold, I found that I could not maintain this theory, for several reasons.
First, to try to make the Greek word ecclesia, translated church, to mean a "universal or invisible" something, is to do it as great violence as do Pedobaptists to the Greek original of our English word "baptize," when they try to make it signify sprinkle or pour. To understand the Scriptural meaning of the word ecclesia (church) is to relinquish the theory of the universal church.
Second, I discovered the theory of the "universal, invisible" church was originated long after the days of Christ and the apostles. Adolf von Harnack in his "History of Dogma" makes this clear.
Third, a little thought enabled me to see that if the theory of the "universal invisible" church be truth, then Christ started TWO kinds of churches, instead of one, and this the Bible does not warrant.
Investigation left me with no ground to stand on. I was forced at last to confess that the "universal, invisible" church theory is an unwarranted, unprovable, foundationless and absurd theory.
4. To my great surprise I found that reliable historians of the leading denominations, including Catholics have admitted that Baptists have existed from the days of Christ.
5.I found that most of our great Baptist historians have believed, as a result of their historical studies, that Baptists have existed from the days of Christ. That incomparable Baptist historian of modern times, John T. Christian, presents evidence that should be convincing to any one who will read Volume 1 of his great work.
6. When I tabulated the facts concerning the origins and founders of all the different denominations, I found that, with the single exception of the Baptists, they had human founders, and came into existence centuries after Christ started His Church.
7. Careful study of the so-called "sects" of dissenters that existed all along through the ages, unmistakably revealed their identity as Baptists. There is the clearest historical connection between modern Baptists and the Anabaptists and the Waldenesians and so on back to the time of Christ. Irregularities exited among some of the churches, just as today. But in the main these did not characterize the great body.
8. 8. Comparison of the doctrines held by Baptists today with those of the New Testament revealed their close identity. All this strengthened my growing conviction that I had been in error and that in Baptist churches in to be seen in the fulfillment of the Master's promise of Matthew 16:18.
9. Last of all, I was amazed at the practical efforts that followed the presentation of the data I had gathered in my study. I found that every person who accepted my challenge to study the church question and to consider the facts became a Baptist!
My discovery of the truth that Baptist churches are the true New Testament churches, started by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and Commissioned by Him, has made me a much "narrower" Baptist, but it has also greatly increased my sense of reverence toward His church.
Roy Mason (1894-1978) pastored the Brandenburg, Livermore, Sturgis, and Benton Baptist Churches in Kentucky as well as Baptist churches in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Florida. After reading his book "The Church That Jesus Built" influential Kentucky Baptist pastor H. Boyce Taylor said, "There is no better book than this, except the Bible."
Originally Published in the Western Recorder, June 12, 1930. Edited for length. Republished by the J.H. Spencer Historical Society