Notes and Comments - Church Fellowship
WHILE the foregoing extracts from current Baptist doucments are "waymarks" of Baptist principles and usages, they are by no means clothed with a sancity, or even precedent, giving them authority, or calling for servile imitation. They are only the xpressions or convictions of wise godly men in accord with the conviciton of a church and carried out in their church voluntarily. They are to be respected. They are helps.
The New Testament only in all things is the guide-book and directory of Baptist churches. The constitution and the constituents of a gospel church are summed up in brief in the following: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).
This is the initial outline of a gospel church. Wherever two or three baptized believers are assembled and organized in the name and in accordance with the laws of Christ, there is a gospel church. Of its characteristics it will be noticed:
It was an assembly. "Tell it to the church." Here it is evident that it was an assembly of disciples, to which the offended brother could tell his grievances. It was to the church assembled to which these grievances were to be told, and not to officers or representatives. And the church thus assembled was to hear the complaint, presented to each one individually, as much as to the whole collectively. It was an organized assembly. Its organized character is evident from the fact it was authorized to "hear," to judge, and to decide; and its decision was to be authoritative and final "If he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican." But further than this, the very enrollment of its members is given in the first organized church on earth. "The number of names together was about a hundred and twenty" (Acts 1:15). And further we find this body consisting of enrolled members, deliberating and voting.
It was, therefore, a local assembly. This is, of course, self-evident from the facts above given. It was called "the church at Jeruslaem." They met in one place for worship, "were all with one accord in Solomon's porch."
It was necessarily a visible assembly. And although the term "church" is sometimes used in the more extended sense of the "general assembly and congregation of the first-born, whose names
are written in heaven," united to Christ, and one and complete in him, yet wherever it is used in reference to an organized body - one constituted to exercise the functions of ecclesiastical government, execute the laws of Christ, and maintain the ordinances of the gospel - it means a local visible assembly. Not a single exception to this case can be found.
It was, therefore, a distinct assembly. From the first it was known as the "church at Jeruslaem," and after other churches were constituted, the "church at Jerusalem" was ever distinguished from "the churches throughout Judea, Glailee, Samaria," and elsewhere, by their local names.
It was a voluntary assembly. None were forced into it against or without their own consent. Adapted to man's individual wants, it pressed its claim on his personal. soul-felt obedience. A descendant of Abraham, or the servant of an Israelite, was initiatd into the national compact with or againt his will. The yoke was placed upon him. But he who would be a disciple of Christ must take up his (own) cross and follow him; must take his yoke upon him. Voluntary submission, voluntary obedience was, and ever must be, essential to membership in a gospel church. It is a visible, immovable landmark; and wherever it is wanting, a gospel church is wanting also.
It was further, a spiritual assembly. As a man
by birth claims the right and privileges of an American citizen, so a man by birth claimed the rights and privileges of a Jew. He inherited by natural descent all that pertained to his nation. There were born Jews. Believers are born from above - born of the Sprit.
But those who can rightfully claim the blessings of Christ's church must be born from above. "Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." "He was in the world" - not the Jewish church - "and the world was made by him" - and tush was his own - "and the world knew him not," "but as many as received him ot them" - and them only - "gave he power to become the sons of God," "fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
It had its inviolable tems of admission. The Savious, we are told, "made and baptized disciples." In accordance with this example, he commissioned his apostles to "disciple (or teach) all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Under this Commission the apostles proclaimed the Messiahship of Jesus, calling on the Jews to "repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gist of the Holy Ghost." And when, through the instrumentality of the apostles and the divnine agency of the Holy Spirit, they were "pricked to the heart," and "had received the
word," they were "added to the church" by being "buried with Christ in baptism," they solemnly thereby "gave themselves to the Lord and to each other," taking the solemn vow upon them "to walk in newness of life." "This radical change," says Dr. Harris, "must take place before they are admitted into the church. Baptism is the vestibule or entrance into this spiritual temple - the church. So that before his disciples can pass the threshold he requires of them to receive the imprint of the sacred name." That imprint is not the washing away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience - the silent response of the soul to God's gracious will.
And here it is well to notice (though somewhat out of connection) the figurative, spiritual use of the words "body" and "baptism." We read (1 Corinthians 12:13), "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body."
The figurative or spiritual import of this is evident. For the Spirit does not baptized. We are told of the baptism of the Spirit, never by the Spirit; and as the word "body" in the passage means believers, one cannot be baptized into them in a real or literal sense. And so the human body with its head can only in a limited way represent Christ and his people, for the head could not exist without the body. The head is dependent upon the heart for continued life, as much as the heart
is on the head. They are mutually essential and dependent. This can in no way be said of Christ and his people. And so each word in the passage is figurative, not literal, and is introduced by Paul to show that the body of believers should live, love, work in holy concord under guidance of their Lord. To take the passage from its connection, overlooking the object of its utterance, and apply it to literal baptism, is not only illogical but wrong.
[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]
Return to Baptist Waymarks
Return to American Baptist Histories
Return to Baptist History Homepage