The Authority of the Church
has long been a lot of confusion about what the New Testament refers to as the "Church." This confusion is common about many aspects of the Church. But perhaps the mistake that is most basic, and which affects most other aspects of the Church, regards the meaning of this word, and therefore, the constitution of a New Testament church. Therefore, before getting into the question of Church Authority, it is necessary to refresh our minds about this most basic of church matters.
Our English word "church" is derived ultimately from the Greek word kyriakos, "that which belongs to the Lord," and as such, is not a proper translation of the Greek word used for the Lord’s assembly. From the Greek ekklesia, a compound word made up of ek, out of, and kaleo, to call, as a noun it refers to a called out assembly. If this had always been kept in mind, the foolish idea of a "universal" church would never have been conceived. The two terms are mutually exclusive. In its most basic meaning, this word refers to "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly."—Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
Ekklesia is used in several ways, chiefly: (1) Secularly among the Greeks to mean an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating some matter. (2) In the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament to carry the same meaning as the Hebrew word kohol, meaning the assembly of the Israelites, as in 1 Chronicles 28:8. (3) To refer to any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance or tumultuously, as in Acts 19:32, 41. (4) In the Christian sense, it refers to an assembly of Christians gathered for worship. In all these senses, there is required an actual assembling, and this automatically rules out the universal church theory as inconsistent with the meaning of the word.
In his booklet entitled "Ecclesia—The Church," B. H. Carroll well said: "When the calling out is ended, and all the called are glorified, then the present concept of a general assembly will be a fact. Then, and only then actually, will all the redeemed be an ecclesia. Moreover, this ecclesia in glory will be the real body, temple, flock of the Lord." However, this is not to be taken as ruling out the Glory Church, or the Church of the Firstborn which is in heaven, (Heb. 12:23): "And to the church of the firstborn ones, having been registered by name in heaven," (literal rendering.)
W. Lee Rector wrote: "The Glory Church is the Bride of Christ and she shall reign with Him and serve Him as Lord. In the Kingdom of God, the saved of the Kingdom of heaven and of the Kingdom of Christ shall make up the subjects of God, the Father, whom He receives from His Royal Son, (1 Cor. 15:24-28), and these Saints shall constitute the Church of the First Born, (Heb. 12:22-23). This assembly is identified with the "Day of God," (2 Pet. 3:12), and with the New Jerusalem, (Rev. 21:2)."—Church Truth from the Jerusalem Church to the Glory Church.
We read of the constitution and organization of the first church in Mark 3:13-14: "And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would; and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils." In the Greek text the emphasized word is exousia—authority. This was done after Jesus had spent a whole night in prayer, which speaks of the solemnity of the occasion. We have only to recall the meaning of ekklesia—"a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place," to see that this was the original constitution of the Lord’s church.
One of this writer’s professors in seminary, Don N. Kitch, wrote: "The primal fact which determines the character of these bodies is, that they are called by God to this service and function. The Greek word kalein (to call), with its derivatives and compounds, connotes the instinctive characteristics of these bodies of people,"—The New Testament Church, in The Orthodox Baptist, August, 1956.
It is clear that this was when the first church was constituted, and that it was not just a "germ form" of it, existing until Pentecost, as held by A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 895. To hold any other view of the church’s origin is to strain many clear scriptures from their contexts. And for what reason? To try to make the origin of the church to conform to the theories of men instead of to Scripture.
Other Scriptures indicate that the church existed during the ministry of the Lord Jesus. "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican," (Matthew 18:17). The tense of the verb "tell" is not future, as if of something yet to come into being, but is imperative, as pertaining to what was already existing. Here was church authority already given. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it," (Eph. 5:25). To say that the church was not in existence until the following Pentecost is to say that Jesus died for something that did not then exist. Those that hold that the church was not founded until Pentecost must overlook several clear but precious truths.
Jesus set apostles in the church before Pentecost, yet 1 Corinthians 12:28 says that this was the first act relative to the church. Luke 6:12-14 shows that this setting apart of Apostles from the generality of disciples took place when Jesus called the disciples out from the multitudes that followed Him.
Preachers baptized under Jesus’ direct authority before Pentecost, (John 4:1-2). Is baptism a church ordinance or not? Some would deny it in order to maintain their theory.
Jesus gave the church instructions and authority for church discipline before Pentecost, (Matthew 18:15-18).
The church had a treasurer, and dispensed money for benevolent purpose before Pentecost, (John 12:4-6).
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper by His own authority before Pentecost, (Matthew 26:26). Is the Lord’s Supper a church ordinance or not? Many do not want to think so, that they might be free to conform to the religious world.
A pastor was chosen for the church before Pentecost, (John 21:15-17). This was again by Jesus’ own authority.
Christ commissioned the Church before Pentecost, (Matthew 28:18-20), which we will examine more fully shortly.
Jesus promised the church the baptism in the Holy Spirit, (Acts 1:5). Could something that did not exist be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Not a word in this even implied that this would be the beginning of the church. No church was founded upon Pentecost, except, perhaps in the minds of C. I. Scofield, and others of his belief.
The church held a business meeting before Pentecost, and carried on the work of the Lord as needed to expedite their labors, (Acts 1:15-2:1). There was a unity in the group throughout this time.
Three thousand converts were added to this assembly on Pentecost, (Acts 2:41). To what were they added if the church did not exist beforehand?
There are numerous other factors that could be brought from Scripture to show that the Lord’s church was existing before Pentecost, but we will not extend this discussion. For those who will not see this from the following things, would not believe it if the Lord Himself stood bodily before them and told them. Blind prejudice is always most tenacious to maintain its own view.
With the foregoing things fixed in our minds, we may now take up the subject proper, taking as our primary Scripture Matthew 28:18-20. In our English version "power" translates both the Greek word dunamis and exousia. Here, it is the latter word, which is always rendered "authority" when it is used in the same context as dunamis, as in Luke 9:1. Perhaps in 1611 when the common version was translated the English word "power" may have implied both ability and authority. However, in modern English a clear distinction exists, and so, for this reason, we will used the more proper word "authority."
In this that is well called "The Great Commission," the Lord Himself is the only authority. In saying, "All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth" the Lord claims authority for what He is about to say. As the Son of God, He has original authority. In saying "Go ye therefore," He shows that He is delegating authority to His church to carry out the terms of this commission. However, delegated authority cannot be redelegated, which every church tries to do if it uses other agencies to do the work that the Lord here commissions His churches to do. Hence, all evangelistic, missionary, benevolence or other societies that men have invented to do the work of the Lord are instantly found to be presumptuous interlopers and competitors with God’s only authorized agency, for to the Lord’s church alone is the commission given. There are five aspects to this Great Commission, and these shape the responsibility for every true church. No church can be fully in God’s will if it neglects any one of these.
I. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH TO CARRY THE WORD.
The initial statement of Jesus in verse 18-19a is the authoritative commissioning of churches to do mission work: "All authority is given me, Go ye therefore . . ." In Acts 1:8 the account of this commission details the work: "But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Here is a threefold duty: Home missions in one’s own city and nation, then foreign missions in the adjoining nations, but with no limitations short of the uttermost part of the earth. "The field is the world," (Matthew 13:38).
As the commission in Matthew 28:18-20 gives authority for the work, so Acts 1:8 reveals that ability to do the work is given, for in the latter text "power" translates the Greek word dunamis. Hence, no church can excuse itself by saying "But we are small. We cannot accomplish such a task." What God enacts, He enables.
Later we see a definite use made of this power by the Jerusalem church as Peter and John healed the lame man, then used this as an occasion to preach the Gospel, (Acts 3:1-4:22). That this power was apparent before all may be seen from Acts 4:13-14. "Now when the saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men [had not attended the schools of the rabbis or other institutions of higher learning—DWH], they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it."
The enablement to carry out this first part of the commission is to be seen in Romans 1:16, where "the power of God" attends the preaching of the Gospel, for to declare the Gospel of Christ is to speak that which is empowered by the power of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."
Another significant fact is the rapid growth of the empowered Jerusalem Church, beginning on the day of Pentecost with the addition of about three thousand souls. Some estimate the membership of this church to have been about fifty thousand within a few years. This would have been impossible had not the commission to be witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" been attended with the God-given power to carry the Word.
"He delegates His church limited authority—authority ‘to bind and to loose,’ (Matthew 16:18; 18:18). The local church is granted Executive and Judicial authority, but no Legislative power. This delegated authority is limited in its use to the local church. It is not redelegable. This delegated authority is divine. Thus there is no room for humanity to dicker with it."—W. Lee Rector, New Testament Ecclesiology.
These two texts cited by Dr. Rector have often been seriously misunderstood because the translation does not take into account the full meaning of all of the tenses of the Greek verbs. A literal rendering of Matthew 16:19 is: "And that which thou mayest bind (future subjunctive active, indicating possible action in the future) on earth shall be (future indicative, indicating simple future action) what has already been bound, resulting in a permanently established binding (perfect passive participle, indicating a completed past action with on-going results) in heaven; and that which thou mayest have loosed (aorist subjunctive, a simple past possibility) on earth, shall be (future, indicating simple future action) what has been loosed, resulting in a permanently established loosing (perfect passive participle again, indicating a completed past action with on-going results) in heaven."
Thus, instead of the Head of the church giving His churches permission to make any rules they may want to regulate their worship (as Romanism claims, and as much of Protestantism practices), He shut them up to always "bind" and "loose" only in conformity with principles that have already been established in heaven. In other words, they are to be regulated only by principles revealed in the inspired Scriptures. This and this only is the authority of the Lord’s churches. Churches that do otherwise reveal that they are rebels, not faithful churches of God.
From this we are to gather that the church, while possessing executive and judicial authority, does not have power to enact new laws, but is only to "bind on earth" that which is already bound in heaven. With the Bible as our rule of faith and practice, to show us what we are to accept and what we are to reject, we have no need of new laws of worship. We have more rules of conduct now than any church can adhere to completely. Truly we can see that God has given power to His churches—power to carry out His commission—but this power is given only to those honoring His Word, and not to free-lancers, or man-made machines that happen to want this power for self-aggrandizing purposes.
"Now it is important to remember that for nearly seventeen centuries in Baptist church life, there is no historical evidence of Baptist churches electing messengers to Baptist messenger assemblies to carry on for the local churches. Baptist Conventions and Associations are modern inventions operating without scriptural sanction. They, and not independent Baptist churches, are off track."—W. Lee Rector, New Testament Ecclesiology.
If God’s Word is true (and who will have the audacity to say that it isn’t?) then the local church has been given, not only the authority to carry the Word to a lost and dying world, but also the ability needed to carry it. What need have we therefore, of an extra-scriptural, unscriptural, super-church organization to sap the strength and supply line of the local church. If God does not honor His promise to the local church, which He commissioned, by giving it the power to carry out the commission, are we to expect Him to bless a man-made organization, of which we read nothing in the Scriptures? God forbid! But we know that He does honor the local New Testament church with all-sufficient authority and power. Brethren let us "flee these things," (all human inclinations, intentions and inventions) (1 Tim. 6:11).
II. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH TO MAKE DISCIPLES.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." "Teach" translates an entirely different Greek word than that found in verse 20, which is the more common Greek word for the act of teaching. Here it is the verb form of the noun rendered "disciple," and is literally "make disciples of all nations." This is accomplished by teaching and preaching.
If anything is manifest in the book of Acts, it is that many people were saved as the disciples preached the Word of the Lord in the power of the Lord. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls," (Acts 2:41). Nor can it be argued that these thousands of men were won to the Lord because of the persuasive speech of Peter or John. Or that men were later convinced by the oratory of Paul. Scripture declares that Peter and John were "unlearned and ignorant men," (Acts 4:13), and that Paul was "rude in speech," (2 Cor. 11:6). Even if all of the disciples had been great speakers in themselves, yet a superficial study of the Four Gospels reveal such deep-rooted prejudices against the teachings of Jesus and such deep hatred of anything that contradicted the traditions of the elders and the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ doctrine, that it is illogical to believe that these great numbers should be brought to a complete reversal of their beliefs just by the power of man.
It is easy to see that people were not added unto the church by man’s power, but as the church carried out its commission to preach the Word God blessed the Word and the work and "was adding to the church daily those who being saved," (Acts 2:47ff.), (literal rendering). No doubt the secret of success of the empowered Jerusalem church was because of what we read in Acts 5:42. "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
This may explain the signal failure of many churches of today to make disciples. Regular house to house visitation by the members of the church is almost an unknown thing in many churches. And most people now take it for granted that the pastor is the only one who is to endeavor to make disciples. But the commission and the power to fulfill it is given to the whole church, and therefore, it is every member’s responsibility to do so. When all become obedient to the Lord in this matter, then may we expect success is making disciples.
"In spite of the dissention within the church, the ungodly disputation of the validity of the cause of Christ, and the martyrdom of Stephen, the disciples multiplied greatly and the Word of God was preached the more, (Acts 6:7). God was WITH them, giving victory in spite of opposition."—J. Cullis Smith, A Survey of New Testament Missions.
God has been with His true, independent New Testament churches through the ages, guiding and empowering them by His Holy Spirit, giving them an all-sufficiency, and speaking through them in times of persecution, as He promised in Matthew 10:19-20. It is seen then that God has had disciple-making witnesses in the form of local New Testament churches in every age since the first century.
"This commission—this work—was not given to the Apostles as individuals, but to them and the others present in their church capacity. The apostles and the others who heard Him give this commission were soon dead—BUT His Church has lived on through the ages, making disciples (getting folks saved), baptizing them, and teaching the truth—the doctrines—He committed to the Jerusalem Church. These faithful churches have been blessed with His presence as they have traveled the TRAIL OF BLOOD."—J.M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood.
These faithful churches were obedient to this commission even when it meant putting the individual lives of every member at risk of instant martyrdom in the cruelest manners imaginable to the depraved hearts of men. But they did so because they knew this to be the will of God for them. O that believers today had such convictions!
III. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH TO BAPTIZE.
"Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women," (Acts 8:12).
There can be little doubt that Philip was sent out by the authority of the Jerusalem church, because immediately after souls were saved, the Jerusalem church received word of it, and sent Peter and John to organize the new believers into a church. They then prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon them in church capacity, which He did by way of authentication of their church status, (Acts 8: 14-17).
Scripture clearly sets forth the fact that the prime prerequisite for baptism is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is seen in several different places, as in Acts 8:36-38. "And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him." The word in verse 37 that is translated "thou mayest," is the Greek word exestin, it is lawful. Baptism is not necessary to salvation, but it is the lawful expression in symbol that one has been saved. The very usage of this word implies that it would not be lawful if it was performed on any but a believing person. That baptism is an ordinance for those already saved, and not a means of sinners having their sins remitted that they might be saved, is obvious from such Scriptures as Acts 10:43; Romans 10:9-10; Galatians 2:16, 21; John 6:40, and many others. To hold that baptism in any way obtains the remission of sin is to overthrow the whole system of grace, which is the only basis of salvation, (Acts 15:8-11; Eph. 2:8-9). Trusting in the baptismal waters for salvation is one of the most common forms of trust in self. Yet by far the majority of professing Christianity has imbibed this error hook, line and sinker.
As to the method of fulfilling the command to baptize believers, the Lord gave most explicit instructions to the church, lest there be any doubts. It is sad indeed to see how very many people have turned aside from these clear instructions about the form of this ordinance. Look at any English dictionary, and it will tell you that "baptize" comes from a Greek word meaning to immerse, submerge, dip, plunge or otherwise bury someone or some thing in a penetrable substance.
"The Lord commanded His church to ‘baptize," (Matthew 28:19). He didn’t command it to ‘rantize,’ nor to ‘echeo’—’Rantizo’ means to sprinkie, and ‘echeo’ means to pour. The word ‘baptize,’ is a transliteration of the Greek word ‘baptizo’—’o’ was dropped and the ‘e’ was added. The word ‘baptize,’ according to over forty Greek Lexicons means (a) To dip (b) To plunge (c) To immerse (d) To submerge—(e) in short ‘to bury." The New Testament sets forth water baptism as a burial, (Rom. 6:4). In baptism, we are buried in the likeness of Christ’s death, and raised in the likeness of His resurrection."—W. Lee Rector, New Testament Ecclesiology.
True scriptural baptism is a rare thing in this day and time because all Romanism, almost all of Protestantism, and even some Baptists have let error creep into their baptism, either in its mode, subjects, purpose or authority. These four areas are all necessarily to be strictly observed according to the Lord’s own authoritative orders, else it becomes alien baptism. Beloved, we need to study these things lest our works "not be found perfect before God," (Rev. 3:2).
This is a matter of no small consequence, for the Lord Jesus gave authority to His church to perform this ordinance, but nowhere, nowhere, NOWHERE, did He ever authorize anyone to alter this beautiful symbol in the least degree. And those who have done so, have shown the greatest contempt of the Lord’s sovereign authority, and have presumed to be wiser than God the Son. Well did Jesus ask in Luke 6:46 "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?"
IV. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH TO TEACH.
"Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The Greek word here used is the common one for teaching—didasko—and appears almost a hundred times, always translated in this way. Here it is a present participle, which suggests an on-going practice, for as new converts are brought into the church, they must be indoctrinated. The noun form of this word is often rendered "doctrine." Not only is the continual teaching necessary for the new converts, but no one ever learns all that he needs to know about God’s Truth so that even those old in the faith need it as well. And besides this, our minds leak the truth, as the marginal reading of Hebrews 2:1 shows, so that there must be the continual reprogramming of the mind with the Truth.
Nor is this in reference to mere theoretical teaching. Theory without practice is generally hypocritical. The Greek word rendered "to observe" is only translated this way four times out of 75 appearances in the New Testament. By far the more common rendering is "to keep." The Lord’s churches are therefore commanded to teach the converted and baptized members to keep in a practical way the great doctrinal truths of the Word of God.
There is a sad lack of teaching of the Word of God to people today, and perhaps this is the reason why so many are so weak in the knowledge of the Truth, and why false doctrines are so prevalent. Genuinely born again people sometimes thirst for knowledge while preachers major on evangelism, leaving the sheep to starve from lack of spiritual food. It is a great tragedy when a soul is saved, then turned loose without being taught, so that the life is wasted in false doctrine. Let it not be forgotten that the Great Commission lays as equal a stress on teaching as on the other parts of it.
"Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen," (Eph. 3:21). But how can the Lord receive glory in the church if the members are not taught the truths of the Word of God. Not only should every convert be brought into the membership of the church, but should also be fully indoctrinated as well. By way of illustration, what would happen if a four year old child was left to grow up and learn the ways of life by himself. How long would he live before he destroyed himself through his own ignorance. So it is, to a degree, with the young Christian. He needs to be first fed on the milk of the word, (1 Cor. 3:1-3), and then as he becomes more spiritually mature, he can be fed on the strong meat of the Word—the strong doctrines, (Heb. 5:14). Christians, whether preachers, deacons, Sunday School teachers, or just the people of the pew, have a duty to teach the Word of God that they "present every one mature in Christ," (Col. 1:28). "Perfect" in the King James Version is the same Greek word (telelos) as "of full age" in Hebrews 5:14.
What are we to teach? "All things whatsoever I have commanded you." The immediate temptation of the reader is to think that this refers to the red letter portions of the Four Gospels, but that is a serious mistake. Jesus said in John 14:26, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." The Spirit is the One that inspired the writing of the New Testament, so that the entirety of the New Testament is what Jesus spoke, and is what Jesus referred to in the Commission. Nor does this eliminate the Old Testament, for both Jesus and all the New Testament writers quoted often from it in substantiation of the truth of their teaching. In the very nature of the case, the Great Commission enjoins the teaching of the entire Bible, plus nothing, minus nothing. If we claim to be Bible Christians, let us teach it in its entirety.
Neither be anything else be added to the church’s teaching. Writing to Timothy, Paul says that if anyone teach other than the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and the doctrine that is according to godliness, he is proud, ignorant and destitute of the truth. From such Christians are to withdraw, (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
Jesus said "Ye shall know the truth and truth shall make you free" (John 8:32), but how can anyone know the truth if he has never been taught it? And even those that are "of full age" as Christians are admonished to "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," (2 Tim. 2:15). It is in failure to "rightly divide the Word" that most heresies have been brought into the religious world. Hence, the importance of faithfully teaching.
The assumption of many is that they shall be accounted great in God’s eyes if they have made many converts, but Scripture says nothing to this effect. Such an attitude can lead to Phariseeism, (Matthew 23:15). However, not only are we commanded to teach the Word of God, but Scripture says in no uncertain terms that those that do so faithfully shall be called great in the Kingdom, (Matthew 5:19).
V. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH TO CONTINUE.
The Greek text of verse 20 is more graphic than the English version, for it literally reads: "And, behold, I, myself, am with you all the days, even unto the end of the age. Amen." What more fitting or soul-stirring way could our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ end His Great Commission to His church than by this precious promise. He is with us. He is with us! He is with us! That first generation died off. The apostles died off. That first church died off. But inasmuch as the promise was made, not to individuals as such, but to His institutional body—the church—it is still being fulfilled.
How our hearts should swell with joy and hope at this promise. And we Baptists who are living in these latter days should especially rejoice because we have almost two thousand years of history proving that not one hour has existed when there were not true New Testaments churches in existence, and these each having the presence of the Lord. But this was the Lord’s promise in Matthew 16:18. "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
It is interesting to note that even the bitterest enemies of Baptists unite to bear witness to the existence of Baptist churches in every century since the first century. No! They do not mean to so testify, nor do most of them individually do so. But one bears witness to our spiritual ancestors in one century in one place, and another to them in another century in another place, until, taking the testimony of all Catholic and Protestant church historians together, this is the sum. Otherwise, of whom do all these refer when they speak so bitterly of the numerous groups that they persecuted?
"Were it not that Baptists [or Anabaptists, as they were then more commonly called—DWH] have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in greater numbers than all the Reformers."—Cardinal Hosius, Letters, Apud Opera, pp. 112-113. This Catholic was the president of the Council of Trent in 1524 A.D. Subtracting this twelve hundred years from 1524 will bring the date back to 324 A.D., the time when the division between the Baptists and the Catholics first began to be most emphasized. This was not the beginning of Baptists, but it was when their confrontations with Catholics began to be prominent.
Only the power of God could give people the courage to take a stand for Christ when they knew that to do so meant to lose their very lives and that in the most cruel ways imaginable. In every century since the first century A.D., there have been just such groups of people who often had to conduct their church services secretly in caves, cellars and other places of concealment for fear of persecution. These people were called by many different names, but one thing stands out. For the most part they held to the same principles that sound Baptists do today.
And so the Lord’s true churches still stand today although multiplied millions of faithful Christians have been persecuted unto death for their adherence to the name, doctrine and Gospel of Christ. Historians estimate that between fifty and two hundred and fifty millions of such faithful saints were persecuted unto death during the dark ages alone. Could these people have done this had Jesus not been with them to comfort and strengthen them? Could we hope to see any secular organization, without the power of God behind it, continue for over nineteen hundred years in the face of such bitter persecution as these quiet and humble churches of the Lord have faced? I think not! Certainly no one has ever claimed that any such did. But this endurance of these churches is all due, not to "the triumph of the human spirit," so often heralded by humanists today, but solely to the Lord’s faithful fulfillment of His promise to that first church, and through it, to all subsequent descendents of it. He promised His sovereign power, and He has faithfully given it in every time of need.
How wonderful it is to look back through the centuries and see the Lord’s faithfulness to be with His churches, and to protect them from the onslaughts of the "Gates of Hades" that have so consistently tried to destroy sound churches in every age since the Saviour gave this promise. This gives us assurance that even as He was with our spiritual forefathers, so he will be with us until the "glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Praise ye the Lord!
Full authority was given to the Lord’s church to Go into all the world, to make disciples of all nations, to baptize the converts into the churches, to teach them to practice all things commanded them, and to continue unto the end of the age. And the gracious Lord has not only given this commission to His churches, but has also attended them in every age, (Matthew 18:20), giving them the needed grace and wisdom and strength and courage to fulfill this Great Commission until their earthly tenure was completed. God is always faithful, (Isa. 49:7; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:24). Therefore, let us be faithful to commit these truths "to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also," (2 Tim. 2:2). Thereby we shall be His instruments to perpetuate His blessed truth to yet another generation.