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WHAT BAPTISTS BELIEVE
Why They Believe It
by J. G. Bow, D. D.
CHAPTER VIII-THE CHURCH
Baptists believe that a church of Jesus Christ is a body of baptized believers, associated together in one place to preach the gospel, to keep the ordinances and represent the interests of Christs kingdom in the world.
Baptists are not simply set for a defense of the truth, "to earnestly contend for the faith which 'vas once delivered to the saints," to carry out the injunctions of the Holy Spirit given us through Paul, "Keep the ordinances as I delivered them unto you," to require in all the evidences of regeneration and conversion, but also to see that the spiritual house is builded and governed according to the divine directions. "See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount." With Baptists it is not a question of taste, or convenience, or popularity, but, what are the divine directions and pattern? 'Christ is the head of the church," the "one Lawgiver in Zion," and no man nor set of men can rightfully change what he has established and fixed.
There was no such organization as the church of Christ until Christ builded it.
He said, "Upon this rock f will build my church." It was, then, at the time of speaking, in the future. Those who claim the Jewish nation was a church must acknowledge that it was a corrupt church, and crucified the Lord. Where Stephen speaks of the church in the wilderness. Acts 7:38 the translation should be congregation. Everyone knows there was no such organization at that time as the church Christ builded in the world.
In the New Testament, where only we can find in the Scriptures any reference to the church of Christ, some think the word is used sometimes to denote all the saints, or all the saved, as, "Christ is the head of the church." "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). "The general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Heb. 12:23). This last will evidently be local when they shall have assembled.
The word translated "church" originally -meant "called out," and was used to denote any secular, local assembly, as in Acts 19:32-41. So in the highest and holiest sense all the redeemed are called out, and it is fitly applied to them.
The word used in the New Testament usually refers to a local assembly or congregation of the followers of Christ associated and covenanted together, for religious worship and work. These are the only kind of New Testament churches on earth. They are local, independent bodies, subject to no central power; governed by the New Testament code, and amenable only to Christ the living head. This is clearly evident from such expressions as: "The church which was at Jerusalem," "and when they had ordained them elders in every church," "gathered the church together" "the church in their house," "the church that was at Antioch," "the church of Ephesus," "the church in Smyrna," "in Pergamos," etc.
Again! "The churches of Galatia," "the churches of Asia," "the churches of Macedonia," "the churches of Judaea," "the seven churches which are in Asia," etc.
The New Testament knows nothing of a church covering a given extent of territory, such as the "Church of England," "The Protestant Episcopal Church of America," "The Church of Scotland," etc. It knows nothing of an aggregate of a denomination called by the name of church, as the "Presbyterian Church," "The Methodist Episcopal Church." "The Roman Catholic Church," etc. In the days of the apostles, the) had churches, but nothing visible and tangible organized in any shape and known as the church, except local congregations, as clearly seen from the above Scriptures.
The term "church" is never applied in the Scriptures to any aggregate of churches, either territorially or ecclesiastically.
Baptists, following the New Testament pattern, have no aggregate known as "The Baptist Church." Like the apostles and early Christians we have churches.
Even history clearly proves this position. "The churches in those early times were entirely independent, none of them subject to any foreign jurisdiction. but each one governed by its own rulers and its own laws" (Mosheim, vol. 1, cent. 1, chap. 14, p. 107).
"The societies, which were instituted in the cities of the Roman Empire. were united only by the ties of faith and charity. Independence and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution" (Gibbon, "Decline and Fall," vol. 1, p. 554).
"Though there was one Lord, one faith, one baptism for all of them, yet there were each a distinct, independent community . . . not having any recognized head on earth, or acknowledging any sovereignty of one of these societies over others" (Archbishop Whately, Km. of Christ. p. 36). How is that for an admission of one of the greatest of the men whose church lays exclusive claim to apostolic succession?
Errors in the formation and government of churches lead to errors in doctrine and practice. Baptists believe the New Testament plan to be good enough, and hence we cling to the scriptural form and government. Jesus commanded (Matthew 18:17) to tell a certain kind of grievance to the church, after other divinely given measures had failed.
Imagine an Episcopalian, a Methodist, Presbyterian, or Catholic attempting to obey the injunction, and telling his grievance to his church.
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