What constitutes Believers a Church?
THE way in which a company of baptized believers become a church has been described in the second chapter. To make this still plainer, let us turn our thoughts to the church at Philippi. We are all familiar with the introduction of the gospel into that Greek city. Paul and Silas entered in, unheralded and knowing none there. On the seventh day they wandered out to the banks of the little river that marked its shores. They had learned, doubtless, that the pious Jews of the town met there on the Sabbath Day for worship. It was a spot "where prayer was wont to be made." Paul preached; Lydia, a traveling merchant woman, who was a sincere worshiper of God, heard, evidently with deep interest, the preached word. The Lord touched her heart and she was converted and baptized.
Those who were with her, her servants or traveling companions, also heard and believed. And as Jesus made and baptized disciples, that is, made them by the truth preached with the Holy Spirit's application of that truth, so Paul and Silas made
disciples of these subjects of grace and then baptized them. Then came the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. Their midnight songs of triumph were followed by the trembling of the earth. The prison foundations were shaken. The jailer was converted. He was told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation . He did and was saved. Paul and Silas then "spake unto them the word of the Lord, and unto all that were in the house." The blessed truth was made effective to all. And the jailer "took them" to some place where "he washed their stripes and was baptized, he and all his straightway." "He believed and rejoiced with all his house." They had all heard the gospel, all had believed, all were baptized. Now, as a matter of course, these disciples would at once show fellowship with Lydia and those with her. "And they went out of the prison (the next morning) and entered into the house of Lydia, and when they had seen the brethren they comforted them," brethren in Lydia's house. These coming together as they were wont, but now meeting in Lydia's house in the name of the Lord Jesus, united in bond and fellowship and service, would become a congregation, an ecclesia, a gospel church of baptized believers.
Fellowship, as has been shown, is the essence of church relationship, or, as it may be named, churchhood. It would be well, would be productive of
great benefit both to the person seeking admission into the church and to those composing it, if the applicant had a summary of the covenant repeated to him and was asked if he or she was willing to take these covenant vows upon him or her, and then, instead of a motion and a second (altogether unnecessary, as the church is already moved on the question opened before the church), those who can freely extend their covenant vows -- to watch over, pray for, and discharge the duties of one member of the body to another -- say this by raising their hand. It is the ancient way of declaring faith and fellowship and of receiving a new-born one into the spiritual family.
To withdraw this fellowship is to expel or exclude. It is excommunication from communion or felowship.
A declaration of principles as well as a covenant is necessary to a gospel church, that is to say, a company of baptized believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, fellowshiping each other as one in Christ Jesus united, expressed by covenant, should make known to all men who wish to know the truths which they as a body hold as "the faith once delivered to the saints." Accordingly, when formed into a church by covenant or agreement they make a "Declaration of Faith."
This is not a creed in the general meaning of that word. It is no imposed formula. It is no
authorized dictation of a council. It is not of binding force. It may be altered or amended by the action of the congregation, the church which put it forth. Fidelity and candor call for such a declaration, and Baptist churches usually put forth or adopt such scriptural avowal of their conception of Bible teaching.
Many such declarations or Confessions of Faith are extant. The most pronounced is that put forth by "Seven Baptist Churches in London," 1643, and republished with amendments in 1689.
The Philadelphia Association, while not formally adopting this, did so by recommending its publication. It has since been known as "The Philadelphia Confession." When a church is organized the Confession known as the New Hampshire, 1 or some other, is read, and if approved by the church, adopted as expressive of its faith.
1 Found in Appendix A.
[Samuel H. Ford, Baptist Waymarks, ABPS, 1903. Typed from the original document by Linda Duvall; the document was provided by Pastor Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. - jrd]
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