Was the First Church a Baptist Church?
This great question calls for a careful consideration of Church Characteristics. Do Baptist churches of today possess the characteristics of the First Church at Jerusalemóthe one Christ built? " On this rock I will build My church." The pronouns are emphatic and prophetic. The Lord knew that many churches would be built on other foundations, and fashioned many ways, but he built his own church after the pattern of which all the other churches of the first century were patterned. Let us study the Characteristics of the First Church at Jerusalem, which was the church Christ built, and let us see how far Baptist churches agree with the mother church in Church Characteristics. Personal characteristics are to be considered only as they belong to the qualifications for membership and office. One may be a good man outside of church membership, and one may be bad with it. The church is the place for good men and not the place for bad men. This error with Baptists is accidental and not characteristic. A good man is no better for being outside of the church, and a bad man no better for being inside. The reverse would be better for both. Church membership canít make a man good, but it can make a good man better; and it also makes the bad man worse, as it makes him appear what he is not, and so far, and generally farther, he acts the hypocrite. So we enter now, not into a comparison of persons, but of churches. There are churches many that are of men, but there is but one church of Christ, and that must be like the one he fashioned in all essential church features. Let us study these in comparison with our own, and with others.
1. The First Church was Composed of Saved Persons.
If John the Baptist had baptized the multitude who applied for baptism (see Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9), it would perhaps have sealed their damnation. Why? Because they were destitute of the Spiritual prerequisites to baptism, and hence their baptism could only have been in "form" or, "according to the letter."
A man must first believe in Christ, and "whosoever believeth in the Son of God hath the witness in himself " (1 John 5:10); "hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation" (John 5:24); "has been born of God" (1 John 5:1) and "overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4-5), "is justified" (Rom: 5:1). Yea, he must have the blessings predicated of Repentance, Faith, Love, Confession, or baptism will lead him away and astray, and that to his own destruction. How can a man obey in Spirit without Spiritual qualification? If Spiritual fitness is not inquired into, then soon it will not be required. You need not expect it if you donít enact it; if not taught it will not be sought; if not held it will not be had. If candidates go down into the water without having died to sin, and that means freedom from sin, and with no newness of life, then his baptism, so called, would be a solemn profession of falsehoods. Romans 6:1-11 has no reference to baptism of the Holy Spirit, or by the Holy Spirit, or in the Holy Spirit, yet it is Spiritual baptism. It is not the natural man conforming to the letter, but the Spiritual man conforming to both better and Spirit of baptism.
How inconceivably high does this lift us above the idea of a natural man submitting to a sacrament in order to be saved. How degrading the thought to a spiritual man. I would prefer idolatry in any of its forms to such a perversion of a holy ordinance and its implied holy doctrines. No likeness of any god can save any man from anything, not even any likeness of the true God or of his Christ. We were saved by the death and resurrection of Christ, and not by the likeness of it. There is no more salvation in baptism than any other likeness of things or beings. If looking through the images to the gods is idolatry, so looking through this likeness to the reality is idolatry also. The reality comes first. We are not allowed to have any likeness of God or of Christ, but baptism, a likeness of salvation, is allowed and ordained as the profession of our previous hope before men. It is a "figure" of our salvation, not the putting away the filth of the flesh which is sin, but the answer of a good conscience by the resurrection of Christ. How was the answering conscience made good? " How much more shall the blood of Christ . . . purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Heb. 9:14). "And the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sins." (Heb. 10:2). " bet us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our hope without wavering; for he is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:22-24). Baptists are indeed distinguished for keeping the blood before water and Christ before the church. If baptism is the putting on of Christ and identifies us as Christians, ought we not to be Christians before we put on Christ? If the baptism of infants is infant baptism, and the baptism of believers is believersí baptism, then is not the baptism of Christians Christian baptism? And if so, where can you find Christian baptism except among the Baptists? Certainly no others hold it as the rule.
Neither John the Baptist nor Peter, on Pentecost, admitted any to baptism till they gave evidence of conversion, and as baptism is before church membership, the evidence of conversion was necessary to that also.
Read Acts, chapters 1 and 2, and it is clear that the whole church was composed of saved persons. Baptist churches today admit only such as profess to be saved. This is the rule only of Baptist churches. Others donít seek to have saved persons only. Armenians admit only those who are candidates for salvation. They think none are saved before death, and as death takes them out of their churches, none are saved while in their churches. They being witnesses, their churches have none in them that are saved only in process and prospect of salvation; and this prospect exceeding poor, if they are to be saved by works, and that is their only hope and plea.
The question now to be considered is, what is this spiritual kind of material that in the beginning was put into the churchóGodís spiritual temple? There is an exception, but I think it helps to establish the rule. Christ knew from the beginning that Judas was a devil, yet he chose him, and put upon him all the honors that belong to a true disciple. He preached, wrought miracles, was treasurer, and had the best associations and influences that were ever provided for men. He was solemnly warned at the last supper, and was driven out on his devilish mission; and in the fare of all this, he sold his Master and betrayed him with kisses. All this was necessary according to the divine purpose and plan, and as none but a devil could do a devilís work, a devil was chosen to do it. Now, if Judas, an unconverted man in the church, with all of his favorable advantages, was not deterred by detection and exposure " before the act "from its commission, on what ground can we found a hope that the church is the institution for a sinner to join? Yet the Catholic and Protestant world hold to this idea, and the writer entertains grave apprehension that we Baptists, in a large measure, have imbibed the damnable heresy. I fear many of our evangelists think that joining the church might do the sinner good, and with this salve on their doubting consciences they proceed to add fame to their name by large additions as a seal to their ministry.
But how was it in the beginning? With Judas out, the purged church was found tarrying in Jerusalem in protracted prayer-meeting, waiting for the promised enduement of power from on high. (Acts 1): In the second chapter we find they all continued with one accord in one place. Not an unconverted person among them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spake as the Spirit gave them utterance. Their preaching was greatly blessed, and many were convicted of sin, and when they cried out, asking what they must do, they were not told to join the church for salvation. They were told to repent and be baptized, trusting upon the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and they (as well as the others) should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter preached the same gospel in Acts 2:38 that he preached in Acts 10:43. The Greek idiom requires the above rendering.
The commission in Luke 24:47 has the same idiom: "Repentance unto the remission of sins, trusting upon his name, should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." So Peter, beginning at Jerusalem, used the same idiom-epi before the dative, signifying trust, reliance upon, etc.
The change from the painful conviction of sin to the glad reception of the Word is evidence. To be publicly baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified, and with wicked hands had slain, and that in the face of fiery persecution, is evidence again; and if further evidence is wanted, it is abundantly supplied in what follows
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostlesí doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart; praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
The last words, as translated, render this doctrine doubtful. Did the Lord add to the church the saved or such as should be saved? If such as should be saved, the Catholics and Protestants are right and the Baptists wrong. If they were saved before they were added, the Baptists are right and the others wrong. The Catholic Bible reads: "And the Lord added daily to their society such as should be saved." King James follows with "the such as should be saved." This makes the salvation prospective, and as all men should be saved, then all should join the church, even infants.
To keep one out of the church until he is saved, and saved forever, is peculiarly Baptist doctrine, and we claim that the text, rightly translated, will prove it. I will introduce a few translations here, just such as have come to hand; also a few commentaries. Were they saved before added or added before saved? That is the question of questions, and upon it rests the doctrine of Regenerated Church Membership.
In my Distinguishing Baptist Doctrines, chapters 13 and 14, I quote from the following authors, to the effect that all are agreed on, say this one from Living Oracles, by Alexander Campbell, or by his disciple, H. T. Anderson, as the right translation, viz : " The Lord added daily the saved to the church." So say in substance Bible Union; Oxford Revision; Broadus, Hovey & Weston; Murdockís Syriac; Englishmanís Concordance; Doddridge ; Sawyer; Jami, son. Fawcett & Brown; Samuel Williams; Campbell-Rice Debate, pp. 436 and 459 ; McGarvey ; Rotherham; Lyman Abbott; Homilitical Comt ; Wesley; Adam Clark, who says, "should be saved is improper and insupportable. The original means simply and solely those then saved." That settles Acts 2:47.
Who but Baptists can boast so much of Godís grace through faith before baptism and the church? Who is so free as we from baptismal regeneration and church salvation? Do not those who believe in these heresies acknowledge our doctrine of Regenerated Church Membership when they resort to the infantile rite for "regeneration and engrafting into the body of Christ?
But I must be brief on the other Characteristics.
2. They Were Discipled Before They Were Baptized (Matthew 28:19-20 and John 4:10). Others, as a rule, believe in discipling by baptizing. See A. Campbell, and Pedobaptist writers generally, and especially their practice.
3. They Repented Before They Were Baptized (Matthew 1:2, 7, 8; Luke 3:6, 8; Mark 1:4; Acts 13:24, etc). Baptist churches require evidence of Repentance before baptism. No others do.
4. They Were Convicted Before They, Repented (John 16:8-9; Acts 2:37; 1 Cor. 14:26-27). Baptist churches only make enquiry about this work of the Holy Spirit. All Baptists do not, but they violate the old-time rule of Baptists.
5. They Repented Before They Believed (Mark 1:15; Matthew 21:22; Acts 2:38 and 19:4; Heb. 6:1). Baptists believe the order is of vital importance. The order reversed is fatal to both repentance and faith.
6. They Were Baptized When They Believed (Acts 2:41; 8:12 ; 18:8). Not when they repented, or when eight days old, etc., as the custom of some is, or when born of a believing parent or parents, as the rule of others is. When they believe, is the time. This is characteristic only of Baptist churches.
7. They Experienced Conversion Before They Were Baptized (Acts 2:37 and 41; 10:43-47; Matthew 3:8-10). "Works meet for repentance" are the voluntary fruits of a good tree.
8. They Were Baptized In Water, and Not With Water (Mark 1:5 and 9, etc). So say the Greek, and so translated by four English Versions out of six, viz.: Tyndale, Wickliffe, Cramner, Rheims. Also America Standard Revision and Twentieth Century. Also George Campbell, Bengal, Lange, Myer, Abbott, Bennett, etc. Roman Catholics and Pedobaptists do not baptize in water, but "with" is their rule.
9. They Were Baptized by a Baptist Preacher. God had him thus named as the characteristic of his mission. Of course he looked after the necessary qualifications, or he could not have prepared a people for his Lord. Baptism was not his most important work, but his crowning work, which showed the vital work within. If one knows he was baptized by a Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Mormon, Campbellite, Christian, etc., then he knows he was not baptized by a Baptist, and weighed in this balance, he is found wanting in this very important particular, as seen in next characteristic.
(The class was asked to bring Scripture proof that the Apostles who were " first put into the church " were baptized by John. The following are some of the Scriptures used in proof: (Matthew 8:11; Luke 3-5, 8; 7:20-30; Acts 1:4-5; 11:16-17 and 19:2-5, etc.)
10. They Were Baptized By One Who Had Authority From Heaven (Matthew 21:28-27; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8; John 1:24-33; Eph. 4:4-5). All who were sprinkled or poured upon, or immersed as sinners, have a so-called baptism that is not of heaven, but of men. Those canít be churches of Christ that have the baptism of men.
11. The First Church Had Baptism Rightly Related to Repentance and Remission of Sins. The following Scriptures, rightly interpreted, show this: Matthew 8:7-11; Mark 1:4; Luke 8:8; 24:47 (New Version); Acts 13:24; 19:4 and Acts 2:38. Baptist churches only hold these in right relation as a rule. It is our Characteristic.
12. Only the Saved and Baptized Were Added to the Church. Acts 2:41-47 (Revised Version) Dr. Jos. Smale, of Los Angeles, and some of our English churches, add the saved without baptism, but it is disorder, and they should forfeit their claim and recognition as churches of Christ. They are Baptist churches only in name. True church membership requires both salvation and baptism.
13. No Infants Were Baptized. Acts 2:41-42; 8:12, 18:8; Acts 2:39 with 5:25 and 13:32-88 were used in disproof. "Children;" in these places does not mean infants, but descendents. Also the Greek words, teknon, teknion, paideion and brephos were also considered. No Pedobaptist, or rather brephorantist has a reasonable hope of membership in the church of Jesus Christ. That is, if churches in all time are to conform to the original pattern. And what are patterns for, but for copy? "See that ye make all things after the pattern shown in the mount."
14. The First Church at Jerusalem Was Complete in Itself With Christ as the Only Head. There was no Pope, or Bishop, or Presbytery, or Conference there or elsewhere, to which it gave the least heed, or to which or whom it owed the least allegiance. In Acts 1:14, we see they attended to their own business in their own way. Peter could only suggest the business, and others could only nominate the proper persons for the office. The whole church, directed by the Lord (verse 24), decided the matter. That is just the way Baptist churches do today, and they only.
15. There Was No One Man in Authority (Matthew 20:20-26 ; Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-27; Eph. 1:22).
16. There Were No Elect Few, Called Presbytery, Ruling Elders, etc., known in that day, and all who are thus ruled are not churches of Jesus Christ, for in them no one rules, but "all are brethren" Acts 20:28: Romans 12:8; 1 Timothy 5: 17; Hebrews 13:7-17, etc., are Episcopal colorings. See elsewhere.
17. Church Officers. Christ put the first members into the church (1 Cor. 12:28) and made Peter the pastor or shepherd (John 21:15-16), and chose Judas as deacon and apostle. Acts 1:17 says Judas had the lot of this deaconship, and verse 20 says he had a bishoprick, and verse 25 says that Matthias was elected to take the deaconship and apostleship from which Judas, by transgression, fell. As the apostolic office was temporary, and no one could fill it but "an eye witness of his resurrection," this left only two offices to be afterward supplied by the whole church, under the guidance only of the Holy Spirit-Christís vicegerent on earth (Acts 6:1-6). There is but one church with bishop and deacons elected by the church. Philippians 1:1 calls the whole church "saints, bishops and deacons."
18. It Had the Discipline of Its Own Members (Matthew 18:15; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:12-18; 2 Thess. 8:6, etc). A church disciplined by an officer or officers is not the church of Christ. Baptists only possess this Characteristic.
19. It Stood for Religious Liberty (Acts 4: 17-20, 29; 5:27-29, 40, 42). So did Paul and so have Baptist churches in all ages. See further on.
20. It Multiplied Like Baptist Churches (Acts 8:1-18; 9:31; 11:19-26). Whatever the circumstances or causes of their scatteration, if they chose, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, they congregated and organized on the voluntary principle, and elected their own officers. Any Baptist church can divide; or any part of it for a good reason can pull out and organize when and where it pleases, because individual liberty is not destroyed or impaired by church membership. The churches of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, etc., thus organized, were recognized by the mother church, and by the apostles, and Christ. This is a golden mark.
21. The First Church Was Persecuted (Acts 8:1-3). So it is characteristic of Baptist churches in all ages to be persecuted. This is a peculiar mark. Henry VIII, Luther, Calvin, etc., and the popes could fight each other, and fight viciously, but that is not suffering persecution. The world, and all that is of the world, hate a Baptist church for evident reasons, and that is why they have been persecuted (John 7:5-7 and 15:18-20). The world is afraid of the churches of Christ, but of no others. They are as terrible as an army with banners, yet they never carry the sword or carnal weapons, but weapons mightier than those to the pulling down of strongholds. A Baptist church testifies against the world that its deeds are evil. The world donít want anything better than a state church, for it can remain as corrupt as before. Indeed, the rule has been that such a church corrupts the world, that is, makes it worse, for the worse parts of the world are where state churches have ruled for centuries.
22. The First Church Kept the Ordinances as Delivered, both in their order and meaning. They were only memorial or emblematic, and Baptism was put before the Supper. Only Baptist churches follow in this. All the others pervert them into saving ordinances, and many put baptism first, even before heaven, and then change baptism in every essential feature. So having no baptism, they "canít eat the Lordís supper" (1 Cor. 11:20).
23. If Christ and the Apostles Should Return to Earth, They Could Not Join Any But a Baptist Church. All have decided that Johnís baptism was not a Christian baptism, and they could not, according to their rule, receive it. Baptist churches would gladly receive them on their baptism.
24. Such Churches Were to Continue, and Have Continued ĎTill Now (Matthew 16:18; Eph. 3:21, etc). We claim to belong, not only to a church like the one at Jerusalem, but to one, the like of which has existed in all the centuries since. I would not belong to any other kind. And this is not left to blind credulity. Suppose you call for the proof. I would be glad to produce it. I have it in great abundance, and of the right kindóthe proof that proves, and I can prove that the proof proves the proposition. See if I donít prove it. If Christ has not kept the gates of Hades from prevailing against his church, it was because he could not or would not. If he could not, his power failed; and if he would not, his promise failed; and in either case Christ is a failure, and there is no hope of the salvation of any man. s All modern churches are built on the supposition that he failed to keep his church as he built it. He never built a denominational, sectional or national church, for no one ever saw reference to such a church in the word of the Lord. If denominational, which? If sectional, what section? If national, what nation? Some think he used it in a universal sense, including all the saved in all ages. Then he commenced it in the garden of Eden, and there never was a time when such a church was on earth, and will not be, for all the saved have not been here, and will not be before the end. If a part of the church is on earth and a part in heaven, then a very small part is here, as nine tenths of the host are infants and idiots, and that from the heathen. Was this church persecuted? Are the gates of Hades persecuting the church in heaven? What sort of a church did he build, and that has been persecuted, and driven from place to place, even into the mountains and dens and caves of the earth? Was the church of God at Jerusalem a universal church? Did the Lord add the saved to the universal church? Then the saved were not in it, and his church is not made up of all the saved.
25. The church at Jerusalem was called the church of God. So every Baptist church is the church of God. It is nothing less, nothing more. It is not a part of it, nor is a part of it somewhere, else. It is composed of members each in his part, and all equal in authority. It can meet when and where it pleases, in or out of doors. It has Christ for its head, and the Holy Spirit for its heart. No man or men can exercise authority over it. No member in it has any authority. The authority is in the body when convened. What it binds or looses, is bound or loosed in heaven. There is no authority like this under the heavens. It is Christís executive on the earth, and he has no other. All of this and more can only be said of a Baptist church. I heard a preacher say that he thanked God he did not belong to the church of Christ, but to a branch of the same. I thank God that I do belong to the church of God, and not to a branch of the same. Did members at Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, Philippi, etc., belong to the church of God, or to a branch of the same? Every Baptist church is The Church of God, and not a branch of the same. Every branch has a trunk that bears it, and severed from the trunk, it is fit for nothing but to burn. Where is the trunk of these branch churches? Rome is the trunk of Protestant branches; but Rome has cut off all these branches and consigned them to the fires of hell. If Rome is the heaven ordained trunk, then it had authority to bind and loose, to remit or retain sins, and that means to save or to damn. And that is what it claims. How can a man thank God that he belongs to a branch of such a trunk? Can a branch be better than the trunk that bore it? Shame on such church pride! A Baptist church is not a branch of that trunk, nor any other trunk. It is the thing itself, all to itself. Its members live in Christ, the vine. He is life to the members, but head to the church. The member gets life from the vine, while the church gets authority from its head. Others get life from sacraments and works, and authority from men. I glory in the church of God.
26. With others, church and denomination mean the same thing. The Methodist church is the Methodist denomination, whether taken as a whole or in its several parts. The Methodist Church South is the Methodist denomination South. And so, more or less, with all others. But not at all so with the Baptists. We cry aloud against a denominational church. With others the denominational church is allówith us it is nothing. It has no doctrines, no officers, no government, no meeting place, no mission and no commission. It never did anything, never will, never can. If all Baptists living could meet in one place, it would not be a church, because it could not be organized. As each person would be entitled to an equal voice in all matters, and equal authority in all things, the multitude would defeat every object for which a church meets. Such a church meeting would be as impracticable as the denomination is inconceivable. All the statistics that could be gathered of Baptists would leave many out. They are a host that can not be numbered. Many are numbered with other people. They are Baptists, but no one knows them. Of course, they are out of place, as Baptists often are, or God would not be calling on them to come out. And we doubtless have some numbered with us who are not Baptists. Wish we could exchange prisoners, as all such must be. Would be glad to give ten for one.
27. A Baptist church is composed of volunteers associated in congregational effort, each member in equal authority, and each church, complete in itself and independent of all other churches and of all outside authorities. Thus it was in the beginning.
Hence, church fellowship is founded on a common experience of grace, and a common responsibility in worship, work, labor, sacrifice, doctrine and authority. Denominational fellowship is to be found in the comity of churches or individual concern for the welfare of all the churches instead of all Baptists. A member who is indifferent to the welfare of his own church must be indifferent to the general welfare of all the churches. If the hand or eye or foot respond not to the demands of the body of which it is a member, how can it respond to humanity in general? If any charity begins at home, this is the charity. If one has no self-respect, what cares he for other people? If we love not those whom we know and see, how can we love those we never saw? This loving all Godís people alike is fanatical foolishness and ludicrous lunacy. A man that fellowships his own church will be a well-wisher of all other like churches, because all are engaged in the same cause. Individual association is for the churchís good, and church association is for the general good. If all the members were loyal to the churchís good, then the churches would be loyal to the denominational good, which with us can only mean the common good of all the churches. Hence, one must begin with individual loyalty to his church. No one is loyal to what he lightly esteems. Proper esteem compels loyalty. One who properly esteems his family or country would die for them and so of the church. A Baptist should fellowship a Baptist not so much for his personal qualities as for his ecclesiastical qualities-he is a member of the body or church of Christ-both members of the same body or church or a similar body. or church. So Baptists should have ecclesiastical rather than denominational pride. We canít promote the prosperity of the denomination except through the churches.