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Can We Identify the New Testament Church Today?
By William Nowlin
      Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hickman, KY, 1893-1895, Third Baptist of Owensboro, KY, 1905-1909, First Baptist Greenville, KY 1919-1925, etc. and Moderator of the General Association of KY Baptists in 1907-1908.

      "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 religious 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 preparation 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 be 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 ,
      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 he 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 once, "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 lave 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 aid: "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 he failed to tell me to what church he belongs." The reply of "Uncle ob" 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 id deliberately. "Why, he's a Baptist," said "Uncle Bob." "But how do you know 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 by 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." 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."


From William Nowlin's book Fundamentals of Faith, published by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1922, pp. 319-324.

[Republished by the J. H. Spencer Historical Society. Scanned and formatted aa.5by Jim Duvall.]

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