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WHAT BAPTISTS BELIEVE
and
Why They Believe It

by J. G. Bow, D. D.


CHAPTER IX-CHURCH MEMBERS AND OFFICERS


Baptists believe that only regenerated, converted people ought to become members of the church.

They believe the only scripturally authorized officers of a church are pastors and deacons. Why?

The whole tenor of Scripture teaching confirms the principle of regeneration, conversion preceding church membership. Otherwise there could be no separation between the world and the church. In any country where the principles of any church which ignores this fundamental scriptural doctrine prevail, just to that extent is obliterated the lines which distinguish Christians from the world.

If the probationary system, or infant baptism and infant membership were universal, as its advocates desire, then in one generation all the unregenerated people would be in the churches.

The safe, right, scriptural, God-given principle is: "First gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:5).

The profession which is made, the work to be done, the duties and obligations assumed, all necessarily presuppose a radical internal change of the one becoming a member of a church of Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures clearly and unmistakably bear out this condition of things. The members of the churches are professedly the friends of Jesus and children of God.

Jesus said: "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you." "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own." "Ye must be born again.

"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

The Word describes Gods children as being "dead unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord," "spiritually minded," having "the Spirit of Christ," "risen with Christ."

The churches of Christ are not reformatory schools, are not organizations into which natural men are to be taken and by the process of law, ceremony, or ordinance made children of God, but each ought to be a congregation of Gods people, separated from the world.

No unconverted man or woman can meet the duties and obligations of a church member, and should not assume such responsibilities.

This is a doctrine peculiarly and distinctively Baptistic, entirely scriptural and consistent. We cant see their motives and read their hearts. They may be deceived and may deceive us, but they must claim to be regenerated before they can obtain membership in a Baptist church.

It was so in the days of the apostles. "They that gladly received his word were baptized." "And the Lord added unto them day by day those that were saved" (ASV).

Again, members of Baptist churches become such by their own voluntary act.

You can no more make a Baptist by force or coercion than you could make a man a Mason who did not wish it.

Baptist churches ought to be entirely composed of "a people made willing in the day of his power." Not by birth, inherent goodness, ritual or ordinance. To them that believe on his name he gives power to become the children of God. Belief is a personal, voluntary matter. It is the result of the Holy Spirits teaching and power, and brings liberty-makes free.

The bond of union is fellowship, and this cannot be forced. Its essence is confidence and love, and these must be free and voluntary.

This doctrine is distinctively Baptist. No parent, preacher, or earthly power can force anyone against his will to this step, and if such attempt were made any true Baptist church would resent it.

Roman Catholics have through all the past opposed and denounced this freedom of conscience. They have fought it with every means at their command. The prison and the stake have ever been their argument against it where they dared to use them.

Every state church has in a greater or less degree shown this intolerance to soul liberty.

Officers

The Scriptures know nothing of a graded ministry.

The word "bishop" means an overseer. It meant simply a pastor of a church. Every pastor of a scriptural church is a New Testament bishop. The titles of elder and bishop are applied to the same individual. Paul sent from Miletus "to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church." Addressing these same elders, he says, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers." Paul writes "to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons."

Episcopalian scholars acknowledge that in New Testament times elder and bishop were the same, and therefore no such order obtained as diocesan episcopacy.

"It is a fact now generally recognized by theologians of all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament the same officer in the church is called indifferently bishop and elder or presbyter" (Bishop Lightfoot, Commentary on Philippians, p. 95).

As to ruling elders. There is this single passage: "Let the elders that rule will be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17).

Look at it, and parse it, and if then you can find in it a foundation on which to build a distinct and separate class of church officers, it is of no use to argue with you on the subject. If anyone believes it, it must be because he wishes to, and not because of evidence.


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