Identifiying the New Testament Church and the Obligation of Every Christian to Support It
New Testament Churches Traced and Identified by Doctrines and Practices Rather Than by Name, and the Duty of Every Converted Person to Identify Himself With a New Testament Church.
The New Testament churches had no special name to distinguish them as churches now have. It was not necessary then, as now, for there were no different kinds of churches - they were just churches. The church at Corinth, the church of Laodicea, the church of Pergamos, etc.
The name "Christian church" was neither given nor sanctioned by inspiration. No inspired writer ever addressed the disciples of Christ as "Christians," nor ever addressed any church as a "Christian Church." There is just as much sanction in the Bible (and a good deal more in history) for the "Catholic church" or the "Lutheran church" as there is for the "Christian church." The followers of Christ were called "disciples," and a congregation of disciples was
called a church, or assembly, by the inspired writers.
Churches are never traced and identified by names but by doctrines and practices. There are bodies of worshipers today that have the name of Baptist attached that we do not recognize as Baptist churches at all, for they have not the Baptist doctrines and practices.
Baptist Principles and Practices Traced Back to Christ
Church historians agree that Baptist principles and practices can be traced back to Christ and his apostles. Prof. John Clark Redpath (Methodist) of De Pauw University says "I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist church as far back as A.D. 100 though without doubt there were Baptists then, as all Christians were then Baptists" (Baptist Church Perpetuity by Jarrell, page 59).
If, as this Methodist historian says, "all Christians in the year A. D. 100 were Baptists" and if they had any churches then they were Baptist churches, for a church composed of Baptists is a Baptist church. No logically minded man can escape this conclusion.
Dr. Thomas Armitage's title page to his history reads: "A history of the Baptists traced by Their Vital Principles and Practices from the time of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to
the year 1886." Dr. Armitage claims a continuity of "Baptist Principles and Practices from the day of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" but does not claim a continuity of Baptist churches. If Baptist Principles have been in practice since the days of Christ, who practiced them but Baptists? And what does it take to make one a Baptist but the reception and practice of Baptist principles? So it appears to this writer if there has been a perpetuity of Baptist principles in practice since the days of Christ there must of necessity have been a perpetuity of Baptists who practiced these principles; for Baptist principles put into practice constitute Baptist churches. People who were not Baptists would not practice Baptist principles when it cost them bitter persecution, and then the very practice of baptist principles would make them Baptists.
Vital Principles and Practices
But what are the vital principles and practices of Baptists? Dr. E. P. Alldredge, a good friend of the author, has stated them as follows:
"1. Unhindered individual approach to God, without any priestly or parental interference or mediatorship.
"2. Salvation which is Spirit-wrought through faith in Christ and which is a personal and individual experience in no way dependent on church
connections or church ordinances or church officers.
"3. Church membership, with the rights and privileges of the ordinances, helong only to regenerate believers who have publicly acknowledged Christ as Savior and Lord.
"4. The Ever-living and Ever-present Christ is the only head and authority in the church.
"5. Christ only is King and Lord and every man is brother and only brother to every other man.
"6. Absolute liberty of conscience is the inalienable right of every church of Jesus Christ and every individual worshiper of a Supreme Being, whether child or adult.
"7. The church is a local body of baptized believers, who acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters and are subject only to Christ's Word and will.
"8. The example and commission of Christ constitute the sole authority and program of his people in winning the world to him.
"9. Only the gospel message, made effective in men's hearts and lives by the Holy Spirit, can bring the world to the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
"10. The Bible is the Word of God and constitutes the only rule of faith and practice and the only real basis of Christian union, for the people of God."
Whoever subscribes to these principles is a
Baptist - no matter to what "church" he belongs - and the moment that he and his fellow believers being really to practice and apply these basic principles and usages, that moment there is a Baptist church in operation. For a Baptist church is but a body of baptized believers putting Baptist principles into practice. So you cannot have a continuity of Baptist principles in practice without a continuity of Baptist churches.
But suppose that one can and does heartily subscribe to these fundamental principles and practices and yet finds himself in a "church" which forbids or hinders the carrying out of these principles, what shall he do? The answer is very simple. Though it may, and often does, mean a real sacrifice, every real Christian can and must get where his convictions of truth lead him. To do otherwise is to stultify one's conscience and destroy one's usefulness.
Baptist Churches Indentified as New Testament Churches
Now it is the peculiar glory of Baptist churches not only to hold these outstanding, distinctive and vital principles and practices which are set out in the New Testament, but to see how readily and easily the people of other faiths and no faith recognize and identify Baptist churches with the New Testament churches. A forceful illustration of this truth came to me while a young man and
pastor of the old historic Baptist church of Hickman, Kentucky. While in this pastorate I conceived the idea of trying to identify the New Testament faith, or system of doctrines, with some existing religions organization. I felt sure that the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints had been kept; that it was in the world; that it could be recognized, and that it could be determined, too, which church, or churches, if any, now hold and practice this faith. Accordingly I adopted the following plan of identification: In November, 1893, I undertook the prepration of a sermon on the text "Contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." Very naturally the following questions came up: "Has this faith been kept? Is this faith in the world today? If so, who has it? How can the New Testament faith he identified?" To make the case concrete and real to me I wrote the following letter to myself:
"Canton, Mo,, Nov. 1893, "My Dear Brother Nowlin:
"Our church being assembled with one accord, decided to send our brethren, T. M. Jackson and J. H. Jones - men who have hazarded their lives for the cause of Christ - to Morley to preach unto them, the things recorded in the Word of God. Since they left us, no church has communicated with them concerning giving and receiving but ours. But we have sent twice unto their necessities
by the hands of our agent, Brother William Smith, We are rejoiced to learn that they have made many disciples, and buried them with Christ in baptism. But we regret to tell you that the first time they met to observe the Lord's Supper one brother was found to be guilty of unbecoming conduct, and not in fellowship with the body. The church, therefore, excluded him by the majority vote, after which the one body observed the Supper.
"We rejoice greatly in God, knowing that he is able to keep that which we have committed unto him, and that there is no power in heaven or earth able to separate us from the love of God, but that we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.
"Yours in Christ, J. D. BROWN."
To make the matter still more real and concrete, I took this letter and started to town, determined to test out the matter thoroughly. The first person I met was a judge who was a Methodist. The judge was sitting in a grocery store, where a number of people were sitting around a large heater. "Judge," said the writer, "I have a letter here from some man over in Missouri concerning some church work which his church has been carrying on, but be says nothing about what church he is a member of, and I don't know
him, so I can't identify him." He replied: "If the party says anything about church doctrines or polity you can tell from that." "Well," I replied, "I will read the letter and let you see if you can tell." So the letter as above was read aloud. "Why," said the Judge at onces, "he is a Missionary Baptist!" "How do you know? "I asked. "I know from these points" said the Judge. "I know he is missionary because he says they sent out two men as missionaries and paid them for their services. 2. They believe in baptism by immersion for he says they buried their candidates in baptism. 3. They practiced close communion, for they excluded the member, for unchristian conduct, before observing the Supper. 4. They believe in the security of the believers, for they emphasize the fact that God is able to keep that which they have committed to him, and that no power is able to separate them from the Lord. These are all Baptist. doctrines," said the Judge. "But Judge," I said, "you have convicted yourself, for this letter is made up of quotations from Scripture with only the names of persons and places changed." "With a smile the Judge said: "Well, I cannot help that; I recognize every point as Baptist doctrine."
Next, I went to see a big, jolly fellow who was an ardent disciple of Alexander Campbell. "Uncle Bob," as he was called, was great on argument. "Uncle Bob," said the writer, "I have a letter here from a brother in Missouri, I don't
know about him. He is writing about some church work, but be failed to tell me to what church he belongs." The reply of "Uncle Bob" was as quick as a flash, "Read the letter, and I'll tell you what he is," showing great faith in his discriminating powers. The letter was read very carefully and deliberately. "Why, he's a Baptist," said "Uncle Bob." "But how do you know he is a Baptist?" said the writer. "I know because every point of doctrine mentioned is Baptist doctrine. One, thing which they did they had no right to do," said he, "that is, exclude the member from the church and from the Supper."
After this, I went to see an old Baptist deacon, E. Case, who had been an infidel until forty years of age. This man served as postmaster at Hickman, Kentucky, for nearly twenty years, having been appointed by Lincoln. E. Case was a strong character, and exerted a wide influence. In the palmy days of Thomas J. Fisher, a great revivalist of his day, this man Case had been converted and became a great leader in the Baptist church of Hickman, Kentucky. When the writer called, he said: "Brother Case, I have a puzzle for you to solve." I read the letter and said: "Now I want you to tell me what this man is, religiously?" "Why, I am surprised at you, my brother." said he, "that you can't tell what that man is: He's a Baptist. Every point of doctrine is the old doctrine once for all delivered to the saints." Many
others were seen and questioned with the same results. So I had succeeded in identifying the New Testament faith with the faith held hy Baptists.
The following Sunday morning, the sermon was preached, this letter was read, the writer's experience given, and his great satisfaction expressed in finding that all well-informed Christians recognized Baptist doctrine and Bible doctrine to be one and the same.
This letter was carried for years, in fact until it was literally worn out, and was frequently read to individuals or small groups of men, and always the same verdict, "He's a Baptist." The scriptural quotations used in the letter were taken from the following references: Acts 15:23, 26, where the church sent out Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas; Philippians 4:15, 19, where the church supported her missionary through her agent named Epaphroditus; Romans 6:4, 5, Colossians 2:12, where disciples are said to be buried with Christ in baptism; 1 Corinthians 5:13, where the church is commanded to exclude a wicked person; 2 Corinthians 2:6, where the punishment was inflicted by the many, or the majority; 1 Peter 1:5, saying, "We are kept by the power of God." The remarkable thing about it to me was that although every word of it was taken from the Scriptures, save only the names, it was instantly recognized by persons of all faiths as Baptist doctrine. Contend for the old faith.
Align with the True Church
We now come to the final question - the question of the personal duty of every disciple of Christ to the true church. The New Testament proceeds on the principle that the true church was established by Christ, and that he delivered to this church the principles and practices which must constitute all New Testament churches; and it proceeds on the further principle that all of Christ's disciples should identify themselves with New Testament churches. There are no exceptions.
1. As I have attempted to show above, God makes it easy for his children to recognise and identify a New Testament church. It is not difficult to compare the organizations claiming to be churches with the scriptural requirements of a New Testament church and see if they have the ear marks. God has made clear the identification of the true church, and the identification of every true believer in New Testament Christianity with the true church. Certainly the kind of church Jesus wants in the earth today is just the kind he established, and the kind presented to us in the New Testament.
2. God makes it the high privilege and duty of every converted person to identify himself with a New Testament church. God does not make requirements of us which we cannot comprehend. Greenleaf and others who are legal authorities tell
us that a law which is so hopelessly obscure that it cannot be understood is of no binding force; that men cannot be held responsible for the obedience of a law which they cannot possibly comprehend. God is wiser and more gracious than men, and, as shown above, he has made it easy for every one of us to recognize and identify himself with the New Testament church, and no Christian should fail to do so.
In New Testament times "As many as believed were baptized" (Acts 2:41 and 8:12). "And the Lord added to them" (the church) "day by day those that were saved" (Acts 2:47, R. V.). God still makes it the duty of every saved person to identify himself with the true church, and to refuse to do so is disloyalty to him who is the head of his church.
3. Indeed, this is God's way out of the division, disunion and confusion in Christendom. If every true believer would go to the New Testament with an open mind and an obedient heart and will and see the unmistakable marks of the true church and then by God's grace line himself up with this New Testament church to carry out its precepts, we would settle the question of the union of God's people within one year, and we would have a force of Christian workers irresistible and unconquerable.
4. God leaves us no choice in this great matter. These great truths are New Testament fundamentals. We cannot trifle with them, or compromise
them or substitute sentiment for any one of them. To fail to accept and practice them, will leave one without excuse at the judgment bar of God when we stand before him who instituted the New Testament church and gave himself for it that he might present it unto himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
May our Father give the grace and courage necessary to every redeemed person who reads this book, to discover, accept and practice these Fundamentals of the Faith, and thus have guaranteed to him an abundant entrance into his everlasting kingdom, with that joy which can only come to those who render a complete and loyal obedience to him and who have full fellowship with the Lord and with his people in his church.
[From Wlliam Dudley Nowlin, Fundamentals of the Faith, 1922; published as The Baptist Spirit, SSB of SBC, 1926. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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