Why Be A Baptist?
Chapter 13: A Baptist Church the Climax of Godís Measureless Wisdom
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him" (Eph. 3:8-12).
This is a big text; but it discusses a big subject. It takes a big text to tell all Paul here tells about the subject the Holy Spirit revealed through him. The subject matter was of Godís choosing, not of Paulís; it was given to Paul by revelation, not something he evolved from his own reason. The messenger through whom God revealed His long hidden wisdom on this subject was also of Godís choice. Paul was both an object and a subject of Godís grace. Objectively he had been in Godís purposes of grace a long time. From the ages he had been Godís chosen instrumentality for the revelation of this long hidden mystery. Subjectively he had been apprehended by Godís sovereign grace on the road to Damascus and Godís purposes of grace for him unto all nations and all times, revealed in part both to him and in him, before he arose from the earth: "But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:16-18). Godís purpose of grace included revealing Christ in him as well as to him. No man ever knows Christ simply by what he hears. Christ is revealed to him by the gospel of grace; but Christ is revealed in him by the illumination of the Holy Spirit: "The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord" (Ezek. 37:1-14). Sinners are born from above by the word and the Holy Spirit: "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). The new birth is miraculous and supernatural: "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (Gal. 4:28), "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:19-21). Paul is a pattern believer in the super naturalness of the way his faith was wrought in him: "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" (1 Tim. 1:16).
Godís purposeful grace was revealed unto Paul in his salvation, in his call into the ministry, in his call to the mission field and in his call as Godís chosen steward through whom His mysteries of grace and glory were to be revealed. God sought Paul: he was not seeking God. God called him into the ministry: no man called him out. Godís call was effectual through the effectual working of His power. Godís calls are all effectual both unto salvation and the ministry. God called men are thrust into the ministry: they do not go into it themselves, neither are they called out by others. Paul was a minister by grace and a foreign missionary by grace: both of which mean that men had nothing to do with making him either a minister or a missionary. Godís sovereign grace and power were not bestowed upon him in vain. This grace was bestowed upon him unto all nations and that grace did not fail to accomplish Godís eternal purpose in him. Godís grace always works sovereignly and powerfully. "No man can stay his hand or say unto him, What doest Thou." Paulís call was very definite. It would not have been of grace if it had not been. Grace leaves nothing to manís planning or choosing. There is no mixing of grace with any thing of man. Grace and works do not mix: neither do reason and revelation: neither do Godís unchangeable plans and menís changeable ones. Grace bestows all her gifts through faith: and faith excludes all works or efforts or wisdom of men. Grace called Paul to a very definite work preaching the gospel and revealing Christ. It was to a very definite people the Gentiles the heathen. Grace was effectual in working out every detail of Godís purpose for him, both in him and through him. He finished Godís predestined course for him before the lion killed him. "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (2 Tim. 4:17). The theme of this whole chapter is Godís sovereign and effectual grace. Godís purposes never fail.
Having first of all seen something of Godís purposes of grace in His chosen instrumentality for revealing His long hidden mysteries, let us now turn to the text and find out, if we can, what this mystery, hidden from creation, but revealed through Paul, includes.
I. What Is a Mystery?
A mystery isnít something we cannot understand; but something that no man can reason out. As used by the Gnostics and other secret cults in Bible days it referred to the secrets of their orders, which only the initiated knew. As used in the Scriptures it refers to previously hidden truths, which the prophets and other wise men, desired to look into and probably tried to fathom; but which no man knew then or knows now except by divine revelation. In all of them there still remains the supernatural element, notwithstanding what the Scriptures reveal about them. The mysteries of the kingdom, of godliness, of the translation of the living saints, of Israelís blindness, of the incarnate Christ as the embodied fullness of the Godhead, of the seven stars and seven candlesticks and other Bible mysteries are still pried into by curious minds: but no man knows anything about any of them, except what is written. "Nothing beyond what is written" is true of all Bible mysteries. We know only what is revealed and there is still much about each of these mysteries that God has not seen fit to reveal. Many questions arise about them in inquiring minds but there is only the blackness of darkness, and no light at all, when we try to go beyond what God has revealed. He has revealed all we need to know.
II. The Mystery of the Church.
The mystery revealed in the text was one that had been hidden since the creation. God had hid it in Himself throughout all past ages. Paul was His chosen steward through whom He would turn the light upon this mystery. This mystery is as to His purpose and mission for a New Testament church. The greatness of this mystery is seen in that even after God has revealed it, men refuse to believe and try to make it mean something entirely different from what God revealed. So contrary is what God herein reveals to all human reason and human wisdom and human plans, that men will not receive the truth, even after God has revealed it to them. Many try to make the church, through which Godís wisdom is revealed to three worldís a great compact visible hierarchy, like the Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic or Lutheran or Episcopal or Presbyterian or Methodist churches, with their compact organizations and overlords and ecclesiastical courts and well greased machinery. That kind of a church would reveal human wisdom, but not the wisdom of Him, who said: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." And other great and wise men say: "No, the church is not a great, compact organization like that, with its intricate machinery." But they in their wisdom imagine that it is an invisible, universal institution, composed of all the saved of all ages and climes. That would be Satanic wisdom, but not divine wisdom. Satan has just such a compact organization of spirit beings and forces. It may be referred to in the text by "principalities and powers." "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12) "Principalities and powers" do refer to the forces of evil under Satanic control, with whom the Christian has to wrestle and war. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:10). If we interpret (Eph. 6:12), the "principalities and powers" referred to not only may mean but must mean the invisible spirit forces of the god of this age, with the most compact organization of super lords, called "the rulers of the darkness of this world," at work in the air all about us, trying to defeat Godís purposes and plans. Wherein would Godís wisdom be revealed to men and demons and angels, if the church here referred to was an invisible, universal organization of spiritual forces? Satan has an exact counterpart of that and better organized. If there is such a thing as an invisible, universal church, it is badly divided in every way. It has no unity as to plans, as to headship, as to its mission, as to methods, as to ends to be accomplished or as to program. Wherein would the manifold wisdom of God be shown by such confusion worse confounded in His ranks? Satan has an invisible, universal, compact organization of spirit forces to fight the gospel and the saints. The idea of an invisible, universal church being the church here spoken of would not be a mystery: for Satan had just such an organization at work before God revealed His mystery to Paul. A big, invisible universal organization of any kind does not fit the text. It was not hidden from creation: Satan had one of his own. It was not a mystery that men could know only by revelation. And as B. H. Carroll well says, such an institution would lack the two essential features of being an ekklesia, or church. In his discussion with W. J. McGlothlin as to the meaning of the word ekklesia some years ago, B. H. Carroll said: "The proposed new sense (that is, making ekklesia refer to an invisible universal body) destroys the essential ideas of the old word, namely, organization and assembly, and would leave Christ without an institution, an official business body on earth. How can there be a body of disciples apart from organization and assembly? Miscellaneous, scattered, unattached units do not constitute a body."
The church referred to in the text was neither a universal nor a universal invisible institution. It was the local Baptist church at Ephesus, to which Paul was writing.
III. Baptist Church Reveals Godís Manifold Wisdom
Men can take great, compact organizations with their super lords and intricate details and do things. Satan organizes his limitless forces of evil spirits, with their rulers of darkness and accomplishes wonders. Godís "exceedingly various, multiform, multifarious, manifold, immense and infinite" wisdom is seen in that He has no great compact organization of any kind to accomplish and carry on His purposes and will. His only organizations (assemblies) are little, independent, local democracies, with no super lords and no centralized power of government. Through them He will carry out His commission and make His gospel known to the ends of the earth.
First, it should be borne in mind, that this was hidden in God from creation until New Testament days. Nothing like a Baptist church was ever heard of until Jesus Christ came and organized out of the material prepared by the first Baptist preacher, John the Baptist, the first Baptist church. To this church He gave His world wide commission: but unto Paul was reserved the privilege, as a steward of this long hidden mystery, of revealing that the only organization God would have for carrying His gospel to the ends of the earth, would be these Independent local assemblies. In Old Testament days He had centralized governments, patriarchal, then tribal, then a theocracy, then judges and then kings. Nothing like these little, independent democracies was ever heard of until the Lord Jesus established the first one. Godís mystery, hidden in Himself, was now revealed by His chosen steward, the first great foreign missionary, who put into practice what is herein revealed.
Paul went out without any centralized power or organization behind him depending upon God and these little, independent democracies to support him in his world wide missionary activities. All this is said in the text and fits only in and with Godís missionary activities through Baptist churches in New Testament days, with no centralized head, government or power.
But in the second place do these little independent democracies reveal the "multiform and exceedingly varied" wisdom of God? If they do, we ought to be able to see that wisdom; for Paul said that Godís purpose was through him to throw light upon how this mystery makes known Godís many colored wisdom. Has Godís wisdom been revealed through these little, independent churches through the centuries, and if so, how?
First, Godís infinite wisdom has been revealed through the centuries in that He has perpetuated them from Christís day until the present. Alexander Campbell said that "public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced." Ypeij and Dermout, Dutch Reformed historians, said: "On this account the Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community which has stood since the apostles, and as a Christian society, has preserved pure the doctrine of the gospel through all ages." Sir Isaac Newton said: "The Baptists are the only body of Christians that has not symbolized with the Church of Rome."
Prof. William Duncan, University of Louisiana, said: "Baptists do not, as do most Protestant denominations, date their origin from the Reformation of 1520. By means of that great religious movement, indeed, they were brought forth from comparative obscurity into prominent notice. . . . They did not, however, originate with the Reformation, for long before Luther lived, nay, long before the Roman Catholic Church herself was known, Baptists and Baptist churches existed and flourished in Europe, in Asia and in Africa."
Both Godís wisdom and Godís power have been seen in the perpetuity of Baptist churches: for Satanís compact organization of spirit forces, all the powers of Rome, the last mistress of the world, and the compact ecclesiastical organizations of both the Roman and Greek Catholic churches have all spent their utmost strength and combined powers to stamp out and destroy these little, independent democracies. Only the infinite wisdom and omnipotent power of our sovereign God could have prevented three such mighty and universal forces as these from accomplishing their aim. But Satan and his rulers of darkness; temporal Rome and her armies and fagots and stakes; and ecclesiastical Rome, with her intrigue, her bans, her councils and her conspiracies, have all failed to stamp out the Baptists. Thus have three worlds been forced to know and confess the manifold wisdom of God.
But again, not only have the preservation and perpetuity of Baptist churches, with their simple faith and lack of central control, against the three most compactly organized powers in the universe, namely, satanic spirits, ecclesiastical Rome and Rome, the mistress of the world, demonstrated Godís manifold wisdom and mighty power; but His method of doing it has also revealed His matchless wisdom. He has never fought the devil with fire. He has not matched force against force. He has never raised any armies. Though always persecuted and hunted into the dens and caves and mountain fastnesses of the earth; yet Baptists have never been persecutors. His method of their preservation has always been by a Book, the Baptist Book, the Bible, the infallible and inerrant Word of God. Godís Book and Godís Spirit have preserved the Baptists and Baptist churches. Presbyterians and Episcopalians thrive and grow on education. Methodists and the so called Holiness cults live on emotionalism. Catholics blossom and reach their glory and power where ignorance abounds and force has sway. Baptists, even under bitterest persecution, multiply and fill the earth, wherever the Bible is read, and obeyed. Again, Godís multifarious wisdom is seen, in the remarkable unity of these little independent democracies. Bound neither by creeds nor tradition, nor oaths, nor ritual, nor centralized ecclesiastical authority, yet the rank and file of our Baptist churches are more nearly one in faith and practice than any other people on earth. Others with their ecclesiastical courts and centralized government marvel at the unity of our Baptist hosts and can neither understand nor explain it. A few educated leaders, obsessed with their own importance and infected with germs of unionism or modernism, imbibed in the vitiated atmosphere of rationalized "kultur," may give us a good deal of notoriety at times: but the great body of common people, that compose the overwhelming majority of Baptist churches, are sound at heart and one in faith on the great historic truths of Godís Word. The secret of their unity is found in their reading the same book the world over and obeying it.
And then the marvelous wisdom of God is manifested through Baptist churches to the world and to Satanís organized forces of evil in forces He uses. It is still true as it was in New Testament days that He uses "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). He not only uses that kind, but He actually chooses that kind. "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Cor. 1:26-29). And therein is the Scripture fulfilled, which says: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:25). A Sunday School Board expert at the recent Southern Baptist Convention sensed Godís methods and Godís plans rightly when he said: "Thirty years from now eighty per cent of the First Churches in all our cities will have backwoods, country boys for their pastors, just as now." Rural and backwoods churches furnish nearly all of the worthwhile laymen and preachers for all positions of responsibility and trust, either in church or denominational life. Satan doesnít do it that way. He goes to the colleges and universities and selects the mighty and noble and wise. Godís much varied wisdom is seen in that He chooses the weak and the foolish and the base and the despised and the noughts and with them confounds the wise and mighty and noble.
Lastly, God has given a demonstration of His immense and much varied wisdom to kings and councils and hierarchies and ecclesiastical courts and satanic cabals, through little, independent, Baptist democracies in His choice of preaching for the spread of His truth. The wisdom of this world magnifies schools or social service or organization or money or publicity. The Bible doesnít. "It pleased God by foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). Baptists thrive in the country because it is there that they depend upon preaching. Preaching and teaching the Bible are Godís two chosen agencies for the salvation of the lost and the edification and confirmation of the saved. Many churches are organized to death. Some churches are lodged to death and some are clubbed to death and some are societyized to death and some are organized to death and some are starved to death and some are entertained to death and some are sung to death (but not with spiritual Songs) and some are hugged to death by the world and some are unionized to death and some are lectured to death and some are ritualized to death: but you never heard of a Baptist church being preached to death.
Baptist churches thrive and prosper and grow and multiply by the preaching of the Word of God. Satanic wisdom puts the emphasis on organization and show. Worldly wisdom puts the emphasis on education and social service. Godís marvelous and manifold wisdom puts the whole and sole emphasis upon preaching the Word. Information, inspiration, evangelization and indoctrination are the four corner stones on which Baptist growth and enlargement and spirituality and consecration and liberality rest. Preaching is Godís one ordained method for evangelization and indoctrination: and preaching and Bible study are Godís only prescribed agencies for information and inspiration. Godís favorite preacher told his favorite son in the ministry that the Bible would "thoroughly furnish or equip him for every good work." This same preacher wrote to the church of which this favorite son of his was the pastor and told them "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:" (Eph. 4:11-13).
The pastor by preaching and teaching the Bible can bring every member of his church, who will hear and obey the Word, to perfection in character and service, like unto his Lordís.
Baptist churches from the foundation of the world in Godís hidden purpose are His chosen agencies through which to demonstrate to earth, heaven, and hell, His infinite and many colored wisdom. This demonstration is two fold. He will demonstrate through them His wisdom and power in choosing them as His agencies for carrying His commission, to the ends of the earth and carrying out His purposes to the end of the age. And then He will demonstrate through them His manifold wisdom in perfecting the individual members in life and character and service like unto the image of their Lord. And as the climax of this demonstration, He will show the depths of His measureless wisdom by perfecting redeemed men and women in the likeness of their glorious Lord (the most beautiful likeness in all the universe of God) by the foolishness of preaching and teaching just one Book, Godís Book, the Baptist Book, The Bible. Therefore, Brother Pastor, as most highly honored of all Godís workmen, in heaven or earth, preach and teach the Bible.