The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
S. H. Ford
From The Christian Repository and Family Visitant, 1859
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20)
This was the initial outline of a gospel church. Wherever two or three baptized believers are assembled and organized in the name and in accordance with the laws of Christ—there is a gospel church. Of its characteristics it will be noticed:
It was an assembly. "Tell it unto the church." (Matt. 18:17) Here it is evident that it was an assembly of disciples to which the offended brother could tell his grievances. It was to the church assembled to which these grievances were to be told, and not to its officers or representatives. And the church thus assembled was to hear the complaint, presented to each one individually, as much as to the whole collectively.
It was an organized assembly. Its organized character is evident from the fact that it was authorized to "hear," to judge, and to decide, and its decision was authoritative and final. "…but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." (Matt. 18:17) But further than this, the very enrollment of its members is given of the first organized church on earth. "The number of names together were about an hundred and twenty." (Acts 1:15) And further on we find this body consisting of enrolled members, deliberating and voting.
It was, therefore, a local assembly. This is, of course, self-evident from the facts above given. It was called "the church at Jerusalem." They met in one place for worship; "were all with one accord in Solomon's porch." (Acts 5:12)
It was necessarily a visible assembly. And although the term "church" is sometimes used in the more extended sense of the "General assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven," (Heb. 12:23) united to Christ, and one and complete in him, yet, wherever it is used in reference to an organized body—one constituted to exercise the functions of ecclesiastical government, execute the laws of Christ, and maintain the ordinances of the gospel—it means a local visible assembly. Not a single exception to this can be found.
It was, therefore, a distinct assembly. From the first it was known as the "church at Jerusalem," and after other churches were constituted, the "church at Jerusalem" was ever distinguished from "the churches…throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria," (Acts 9:31) and elsewhere by this local appellation.
It was a voluntary assembly. None were forced into it against or without their own consent. Adapted to man's individual wants, and pressing its claims on his individual consciousness, Christianity demanded personal soul-felt obedience. A descendant of Abraham, or the servant of an Israelite, was initiated into the national compact without and against his will.
The yoke was placed upon him. But he who would be a disciple of Christ must take up his (own) cross and follow him - must take His yoke upon him.
Voluntary submission, voluntary obedience was, and ever must be, essential to a membership in a gospel church. It is a visible, immovable landmark, and wherever it is wanting, a gospel church is wanting also.
It was, further, a spiritual assembly. As a man by birth claims the rights and privileges of an American citizen, so a man by birth claimed the rights and privileges of a Jew. He inherited by natural descent all that pertained to his nation. They were born Jews.
But those who can rightfully claim a participation in the blessings of Christ's church must be born from above, "Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13)
"He was in the world "—not the Jewish Church—"and the world was made by him "—and thus was his own—"and the world knew him not," (John 1:10) "but as many as received him, to them "—and them only—"gave he power to become the sons of God," (John 1:12) "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God." (Eph. 2:19)
It had its inviolable terms of admission. The Saviour, we are told, "made and baptized disciples." (John 4:1) In accordance with this example, he commissioned his apostles to "Disciple (or teach) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 28:19)
Under this commission, the apostles proclaimed the Messiahship of Jesus, calling on the Jews to "repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38) And when, through the instrumentality of the apostles and the divine agency of the Holy Spirit, they were "pricked in their heart," (Acts 2:37) and had “gladly received his word," (Acts 2:41) there were "added to the church" (Acts 2:47) by being "buried with him [Christ] in baptism" (Rom. 6:4)—they solemnly thereby "first gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5) and to each other, taking the solemn vow upon them to “walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4)
"This radical change," says Dr. Harris, “must take place before they are admitted into the church. Baptism is the vestibule or entrance into this spiritual temple—the church. So that, before his disciples can pass the threshold, he requires them to receive the print of the sacred name.”
That print is not the washing away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience which is the seal of heaven's approbation.
"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor. 12:27) Made members of this body—the church—by being "baptized into his death." (Rom. 6:3) "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13) A burial with Christ in baptism was essential to membership then; it is essential now. It was the vestibule of the holy temple then; it is the vestibule or entrance still.
This ancient landmark has never been obliterated; it never can be. "Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed." (Isa. 33:20) The constituents of a gospel church are immersed believers, who have been called, cleansed, and sanctified by the spirit of grace.
Spiritual stones "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord." (Eph. 2:20-21)