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
Ekklesia means assembly in the classical Greek and in the Septuagint. In approaching the New Testament we see that the word is admitted by all to have this meaning in about ninety places. The other times it is used there is a difference of opinion. Some contend for assembly, others for a new meaning best described as the universal invisible church. How can we tell which is correct?
The principle is used that says the common meaning must be accepted in every place it makes sense. Only when the common meaning will not make sense are we permitted to assume it has a new meaning. Following this principle we find that the word assembly makes sense in every contested passage so that any new sense must be rejected. To say it has a new meaning in the face of this evidence is to follow a false way of interpreting that could make the Bible meaningless and could undermine a person's duty to the local church.
Independent Baptist churches stand firm for the doctrines as laid down in the New Testament that have separated them from other denominations. They adhere to the New Testament doctrine of the church, thus denying the modern doctrine of an invisible, universal church which is unknown to the Scriptures, and holding fast to the Biblical doctrine of the church which identifies the church as a local visible body.
They hold fast to the Bible doctrines of Baptism and the Lord's Supper (the ordinances of the church) meaning that independent Baptist churches reject "alien immersion" and receive only scriptural baptism, and practice the Bible doctrine of closed communion. They do not maintain these doctrines simply to be "different" or to hold themselves "aloof" from others, but because they sincerely believe the Bible teaches these doctrines and that, as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are obligated to obey His commands in keeping (preserving or guarding) these doctrines as He has given them unto His churches (John 14:15).
The "Church Universal" or a local church of Christ? We submit that a careful study of I Cor. 12 can furnish only one possible answer - a local Baptist church. Note the following points.
1. The head of the "body" described here in I Cor. 12 is seen to be on earth - vs. 16, 17. Now it would be utterly incongruous to represent the Head of the mystical, universal church (supposing such a thing existed, which, as yet it certainly does not) as on earth, for the Head of that church which, in the future, will be the universal Church of Christ, is in heaven, and it is in heaven the universal church will assemble (see Heb. 12:22-24). But it is perfectly fitting to represent (in the illustration of the human body) the head of the local assemblies on the earth, for wherever a local N. T. church assembles for their worship or to transact business for Christ, He is in their midst (Matt. 18:20).
2. In I Cor. 12:22,23, we read of members of the body which seem to be "more feeble," and of those "less honorable," and of "uncomely" parts of members. Now such characteristics of members of the human body accurately illustrates the differences which exist between the spiritual states of various members in a local assembly, but the illustration of the "body" here fails completely if the "Church Universal" is in view, for when the Church Universal meets in heaven every member of it will be "like Christ," "fashioned into the body of glory," and such comparisons as "more feeble," "less honorable," "uncomely members," will forever be a thing of the past!
3. In I Cor. 12:24 the apostle speaks of what God has done in order that there should be no schism in the body (vs. 25). Now let any impartial reader ask, in what body is a schism (division) possible? Certainly not in the Church Universal for that is solely of Divine workmanship, into which human responsibility and failure do not enter. When the church of the First-Born assembles in heaven, glorified, "not having spot or wrinkle or anything," there will be no "schism" there. But in the church which the apostle is contemplating in I Cor. 12 there was "schism" (see I Cor. 11:18, etc.). Therefore it is proof positive that it is the local church, and not the Church Universal, which is in view in I Cor. 12.
4. In I Cor.12:26 we read "and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it: or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it." Now is this true of a Universal Church? Certainly not. Is it true that whenever a believer in Christ in India or China (of whom we have never even heard) "suffers" do we suffer him? Certainly not. But it is true ideally, and often in experience, that when one member of a local church "suffers" all the members of that local church suffer too. We must refrain from adding future arguments.
Sufficient has been advanced, we trust, to prove that the "body" referred to in I Cor. 12:13 is a local church, and that the "human body" is here used to illustrate the mutual dependence and relationship existing between its various members. From this established and incontrovertible fact several conclusions follow:
First, the "baptism" by which one enters "into" a N. T. church is water baptism, for the Holy Spirit does not "baptize" anybody into a local assembly.
Second, no matter what our nationality - Jew or Gentile - no matter what our social standing- slave or freeman - all the members of the local church have been baptized "in one spirit," that is in one mind, purpose, accord, and there is therefore oneness of aim for them to follow, oneness of privilege to enjoy, oneness of responsibility to discharge. Furthermore, they are said to "drink of one spirit," that is, they are one and all to appropriate (symbolized by "drink") this oneness of spirit.
Third, there is only one way of entrance into a local church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is by "baptism" scripturally performed by a scripturally qualified and scripturally authorized administrator, THEREFORE FOLLOWS THAT NONE SAVE THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SCRIPTURALLY "BAPTIZED" HAVE ENTERED "INTO" A N. T. CHURCH, ALL OTHERS BEING MEMBERS OF NOTHING BUT MANMADE INSTITUTIONS. Hence the tremendous importance of "keeping the ordinances" as they have been delivered by Christ Himself to His church.
The writer would apologize for writing at such length (he has condensed as much as he possible could) but cherishes the hope that his own personal confession with which he began this article will exercise others to search the Scriptures more diligently and to "prove all things" for themselves, not accepting the teaching of any man, no matter who he may be. Brethren, let us covet to be "Bereans."