Why Be A Baptist?
Chapter 12: Baptist Churches Conservers And Propagators of the Truth
"But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15.)
Paul tells his son Timothy to "hold fast to the pattern of sound words." Many Baptists have forgotten that exhortation. One of the most common phrases heard in our Baptist Zion today is about "kingdom work." It is neither scriptural nor sound. The Scriptures never use it. They talk about church work but never mention kingdom work. What the Scriptures are silent about is not scriptural. It is as unsound as it is unscriptural.
Two serious errors grow out of our much talk about kingdom work. First, if our work is kingdom work, then since all the born-from-above are in the kingdom, "union" meetings and "union" missionary activities and "union" Sunday School work and many other unscriptural practices and agencies divert both funds and workers from scriptural church work on the plea that they are kingdom workers. Serious leakage, both of men and money, would be stopped and much needed time, money and work would be conserved to the spread of the truth, if our Baptist people would quit using the unscriptural expression "kingdom work" and magnify church work. No commission was ever given by our Lord and King to anybody, even though in the kingdom, who was not loyal enough to the King, to obey Him in baptism and become a member of His church. His commissions were given to church workers, not to kingdom workers. And herein is the second serious hindrance to our Lordís work that is done by Baptists, who magnify kingdom work. Unconsciously and unwittingly perhaps, but nonetheless truly and painfully, do they cripple and impair the work of the churches of the Lord Jesus, by leaving the impression that the kingdom and kingdom work are the main things; and that it doesnít make any difference whether the born anew obey their Lord in baptism and obey the commission, given by Him to His churches or not. And growing out of this unsound talk about "kingdom work" and the resultant idea, that the kingdom is the main thing, you hear everywhere today the specious plea from men, who are disloyal and disobedient to our Lord and King, that it doesnít make any difference what church you join, just so you are sincere. "Bigots to laxness," as Samuel Johnson called them, may so talk and so think: but the Son of God did not so teach. He said "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).
Obedience is the test of loyalty and love. And no one is obedient to Him, who substitutes sincerity for obedience. The institution, which He founded and called "My church," is the only one that He would recognize and own. Since the only time we find the expression "churches of Christ" in the New Testament, it is in the plural, the Holy Spirit thus testifies in the most convincing way possible, that the "My church" founded by the Lord Jesus, is a local and not a universal church. It makes lots of difference to Him, whether you belong to His church or some church founded by a man. And when you see your church works, that were wrought to build up some manís church instead of the one He built, go up in smoke and ashes at the last day and you are saved so as by fire, you will think it made a good deal of difference as to what church you joined.
But to my text.
I. A Local Church Spoken of In the Text.
The first question that men ask, when they read this text is: What kind of a church did Paul mean, when he said the church is the pillar and ground of the truth? Catholics say he was speaking of a universal, visible church, the hierarchy, which they call the Holy Catholic church. Protestant Pedo Baptists and others say he was speaking of the universal invisible church, which they say includes all the saved.
The context shows conclusively, however, that Paul was speaking of a local church. "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly" (1 Tim 3:8-14). Paul had been setting forth the qualifications and duties of bishops and deacons and their wives. They are officers in a local church. This is always true and their service as there outlined is limited to the individual church of which they are officials. My church spoken of in the text then must have been the local church, of which Timothy was pastor at this time. Jesse R. Thomas in his book, "The Church and Kingdom," on page 232 says of this passage: "It is singular that any reader of this epistle should interpret this personal counsel to a local pastor as to the proper behavior of a pastor or his people, in relation to the body, to which they both belong, as in any way referring to a world church. For, in the first place, both house (household) and church are an anarthrous, as well as the words following. It should read a house of God which is a church of a living God, a pillar and a stay of the truth. This implies as Hort concludes that Paulís idea is that each living society of Christians is a pillar and stay (bulwark) of the truth, as an object of belief and a guide of life for mankind. It would have been useless to instruct Timothy as to the duties of a pastor of the church universal, for he held no such office, or the church invisible, for it has no officers at all."
The American Commentary says: "Paul sends these instructions to Timothy that he may know how to conduct himself in the affairs of the Ephesian Church. The importance of guiding aright the affairs of the church is shown from the momentous relation of the church to the world as the pillar and base of the truth, in conserving and proclaiming divine truth among men. Each church is a column and base of the truth. It is Godís chosen institution, by which His truth is up borne and made known through all ages. Its office is to conserve and publish it as Godís message."
Strongís Theology says: "The whole church, not the bishop (so-called) is to maintain pure doctrine and practice." This is proven "from the committing the ordinances to the charge of the whole church to observe and guard. As a church expresses truth in her teaching, so she is to express it in symbol through her ordinances. Baptism and the Lordís Supper are not to be administered at the discretion of the individual minister. He is simply the organ of the church; pocket baptismal and communion services are without warrant. The only organized body known to the New Testament is the local church, and this is the only body of any sort, competent to have charge of the ordinances. The Invisible church has no officers. The Lordís Supper was observed by these churches as organized bodies." Pages 505, 551.
These testimonies are unanswerable and are abundant to prove that the church referred to in the text is a local church.
II. Each Baptist Church a Conserver and Propagator of the Truth.
The word translated "pillar" means a stay, a column, a support, that which upholds whatever is resting upon it. That means that every Baptist church is to uphold and defend the truth against all comers in its community. Wherever any Baptist church is recreant to that sacred trust, the truth falls to the ground in the community in which it is located. Wherever Baptists compromise, the truth is compromised: wherever Baptists are true to the faith, the truth is conserved and upheld and caused to stand. The only foundation that truth has in any community is the Baptist church in that community. No other church has the truth and if it had it, it is not strong enough to support it, because of the weakness of its foundation, being wholly of men. Only a church of Christ can support the truth, because no other has a foundation against which the very gates of hell themselves cannot prevail. If the truth falls Christ is dishonored and the truth defamed. How important then that Baptist churches should uphold and conserve and defend the once delivered faith!
Baptists are not simply to conserve the essentials, they are to conserve and preserve all the truth. The truth is a unit. It stands or falls together. "If Christ isnít Lord of all He isnít Lord at all." If Lord of all, He is Lord as to baptism and church membership and tithing and world wide missions and church polity. If these things are thrown into the scrap heap on the plea that they are non essentials, then His deity and God-hood go with them. He spoke as authoritatively about them as He did about His God-hood. There is more in the New Testament about close communion than there is about the virgin birth: more about baptism than there is about His deity; more about church polity than there is about the resurrection: more about the work of the local churches than about the second coming of our Lord. The local churches of our Lord are the God ordained pillars and conservers of the truth and only those churches, which are conserving all the truth, are really conserving any of it.
But not only is each local church a conserver of the truth: it is also a propagator of the truth. The word translated "ground" means a base, a bulwark, a base of supplies for the spread of the truth. Each church is to be not only a conserver of the truth, but a publisher and proclaimer of the truth. What a base of supplies was to the men at the front in the army, a Baptist church is to be to the gospel and the truth. Just as munitions and nurses and doctors and food and recruits were supplied the men at the front from the base of supplies; so every church of the Lord Jesus is to supply men and money for our missionary work and workers at home and abroad. The commission was given by our Lord to the first church and then as the churches multiplied, to each one of them. Each church was a recruiting station for men and supplies for all kinds of missionary work.
Each New Testament church was, under the Holy Spirit, a self governing, self supporting and self propagating base for the truth. Jerusalem sent men to Samaria. Antioch sent men and money to western Asia and to far away Europe. Philippi sent resources and supplies to Paul and Timothy and the balance of their co-laborers and supported them while they preached the gospel and organized churches and trained workers. Paul robbed other churches to open up work in Corinth, a great wicked, heathen city, on foreign mission territory: and the one charge of inferiority he brought against them was that they were not self supporting and did nothing to support him in propagating the truth in other places.
Churches that are willing to be helped out of mission funds instead of helping to support missionaries who are carrying the gospel to others, are inferior churches and are not worth supporting long. They are cumberers of the ground and ought to die and get out of the way of churches that will be real bases of supplies for the truth. Eight or ten times in the New Testament we are told to be church builders: never once are we told to be kingdom builders. The command to make Baptists is as imperative as the command to make disciples or Christians. And the command to teach or indoctrinate the churches, thereby making them self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating bases of supplies for the truth and the whole program of the Lord Jesus, is just as imperative as to make disciples or to make Baptists. If a church will not be made self-supporting and self-propagating, either in the mountains or in the cities in the homeland or on the mission fields, it ought to be turned out to die.
When the Son of God told the church at Ephesus: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:5), He said in the plainest way possible, that if they did not become self propagating and missionary as in the days of their first love He would let them die. A church that isnít missionary isnít worth supporting and ought to die.
The most far-reaching work Paul ever did, he did in the nearly three years he was at Ephesus. Six or seven other churches, known as the seven churches of Asia, were all founded and established by Paul during his stay at Ephesus. When the Lord Jesus walked among them in the days of His revelation to John, He sends word to their pastor (angel) that, if they do not repent and become missionary as they were in their first love, He is going to let them die.
It was to this same church, while Timothy was their pastor, that Paul sent word in the words of the text that they are to be the "conservers and propagators of the truth." The business of a Baptist church is to be a conserver and a propagator of the gospel and the once delivered faith. If they and their pastors are not doing that, then the Lord Jesus, the great Head of the church, threatens to remove their candlestick, for though they have a name to live they are in reality dead. The very life of the church is threatened by the Lord Jesus, the head of the church, if they leave their first love. The first love of the church at Ephesus made them the most missionary church in all Western Asia except Antioch. Seven other churches were established by Paul during his three years stay in Ephesus. They were a great missionary center. Their missionary zeal and enthusiasm had now lagged and flagged and the Lord Jesus is now threatening their very life because of the decay of their love for missions and the gospel.