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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. R. Greaves
Let us now dispassionately inquire for some of the unmistakable and essential marks of the "pattern" after which Christ commanded his apostles and ministers to the end of time to build.
Moses at his peril would not have varied the tabernacle in the least thing, from the divine pattern, and may we dare to build churches altogether different from the pattern Christ has given?
The Church and Kingdom of Christ is a Divine Institution
Proofs—Daniel 2:44, 45; Matthew 16:19; Hebrews 3:3-6.
I understand these Scriptures to teach that this organization, called here "kingdom" and "church" is the conception of the divine mind, the expression of the divine thought, and the embodiment of the divine authority on earth. No created being, angel or man, assisted in its origination or construction; it is the "stone cut out without hands;" it is a perfect product of infinite wisdom.
For man or angel to presume to modify it in the least, by additions, changes, or repeals, is to profane it and offer an insult to its Divine Founder; far more sacred and inviolable is it than God’s altar of rough ashlers: "If thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it." (Ex. 20:25). And for man to set up any form of church as equal, or in opposition, to it, and influence men to join themselves to it, under the impression that they are uniting with Christ’s church, is an act of open rebellion to Christ as the only King of Zion; while it is "offending"—deceiving, and misleading these that desire to follow Christ; and He has said, that "it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18:6).
It must be true that those who originate such false churches, and those who support them by their means and influence, occupy the positions of rebels against the rightful and supreme authority of Christ. Designed as the "house and church of the living God" was by an architect possessing infinite wisdom, who saw the end from the beginning, every conceivable exigency that could effect it to the end of time, must have been foreseen and provided for; and the very intimation that changes have become necessary, the better to adapt it to fulfill its mission, is impiously to impugn the divine wisdom that devised and set it up.
If I am right in my conception of the character of this divine institution, then it follows that the sanctity and authority of its divine Founder are so embodied in its government, as they were in its type—the Jewish theocracy—that as men treat His church, its doctrine, its laws or its members, ‘they treat its Author. To despise and reject its teachings is to despise the Author of those teachings; and those who hate or persecute its members for their obedience to its laws and fidelity to its principles, will be confounded at last to learn, that, inasmuch as they did it to one of the least of Christ’s followers they did it to Christ Himself. (Matt. 25).
Christ enjoined it upon His apostles and ministers for all time to come, to construct all organizations that should bear His name according to the pattern and model He "built" before their eyes; and those who add to or diminish aught, do it at their peril. (Rev. 22:18,19). Organizations bearing the name of Christ devised and set up by men are manifestly counterfeits, and certainly impositions upon the ignorance and credulity of the people. Human societies are but the expression of human opinion; only human authority is embodied in their laws and regulations; and to observe and obey them is only obeying the men who established them; and it is written: "His servants—slaves—ye are whom ye obey." It is rejecting Christ as king, and choosing men for our masters when we unite with human societies instead of a church of Christ set up as the home of His children.
Now it cannot be truthfully denied that the Catholic and the various Protestant sects were originated and set up by men many ages after the ascension of Christ; since all their own standard Church Histories frankly admit the fact. They are therefore not divine—but human institutions, which rival and antagonize—or, in the strong language of Bro. Bright of the Examiner-Chronicle, N.Y.: "They are an organized muster against the church and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ." One thing can not be denied, so long as they had the power, they assaulted His kingdom and shed the blood of His brethren. Every reader can easily satisfy himself of the truth of this statement if he will but turn to Protestant histories. See History of "Religious Denominations."
It is a Visible Institution
Notwithstanding the contradictory teachings prevalent, this is a self-evident fact that an institution or organization must be visible. But the church and kingdom of Christ is an institution, an organization; He, as God of heaven, "set it up," He built it, and it must therefore be visible. Every term selected by the inspiring Spirit to designate the institution Christ was to originate when He came to this earth, in both Testaments, is a term necessitating form, and therefore visibility, e.g., "Kingdom of God," "of Heaven," "of Christ," "Bride," "wife," "Church," "House," etc.
And this, too, is manifest, that the only church that is revealed to us is a visible church, and the only church with which we have anything to do, or in connection with which we have any duties to perform, is a visible body. It has a specified organization, officers, faith, laws and ordinances, and a living membership, and therefore it must be visible. Christ never set up but one kingdom, was never constituted King of but one kingdom, and His Word recognizes but one kingdom; and if this is visible, He has no invisible kingdom or church, and such a thing has no real existence in heaven or earth. It is only an invention employed to bolster up erroneous theories of ecclesiology.
Its Locality is upon this Earth
Since I have used the terms church and kingdom, it may be well to explain here what I understand by them and their relation to each other. They were used as synonymous terms by the evangelists so long as Christ had but one organized church for they were then one and the same body. So soon as "churches were multiplied," a distinction arose. The kingdom embraced the first church, and it now embraces all the churches. The churches of Christ constitute the kingdom of Christ, as the twelve tribes, each separate and independent of itself, constituted the kingdom of Israel; as the provinces of a kingdom constitute the kingdom; as all the separate sovereign States of these United States constitute the Republic of America. Now, as no foreigner can become a citizen of this Republic without being naturalized as a citizen of some one of the States, so no one can enter the kingdom of Christ without becoming a member of some one of His visible churches.
Baptism is an ordinance of, and in, each local church—not of the kingdom, and Christ himself says: "Except a man be born of water, and the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." It was of a visible earthy organization He spake—His church. (See John 3:12.)
The locality of Christ’s church, and therefore kingdom, is this earth; all the subjects of His kingdom are here; all the work of His church is here. This earth was given to Him by His Father to be the sole seat of His throne and His kingdom. (See Psalms second chapter.)
All authority, power and judgment over all flesh were vested in Christ, and He was appointed to reign on this earth until He should put all His enemies under His feet, and then will come the end when He will give up his kingdom to His Father, when the Godhead will rule with undivided scepter over it, as before sin entered it. Christ, then, has no church in heaven—never had; nor has He, as Messiah, any kingdom in heaven, or will He ever have; nor, if we will believe the Scriptures rather than mere theorists, will He always have a kingdom on this earth: "Then cometh the end when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father."
Did He not teach His disciples to pray: "Our Father, who art in heaven; thy kingdom come"? Not Christ’s kingdom, for that had already come, and the disciples were in it; but the Father’s kingdom; and when the Father’s will shall be done on this earth as it now is done in heaven, will not this earth then be a heaven as much as any other place in the universe?
It was a Local Organization, a Single Congregation
Now, there are three theories concerning a church, and upon one or the other of these all organizations claiming to be churches are built; but, according to Bishop Doggett, only that one can be a Christian church that is in all respects conformed to the scriptural model, so particularly described by the inspired writers. Let us examine these theories:
The first is the Catholic or Universal church theory. According to this, there can be but one church, of the denomination adopting it, throughout the world. No single congregation is a church in any sense, but an infinitesimal part of the universal idea. The Greek Catholic Church is formed upon this theory, having the Grand Patriarch at Constantinople for its Supreme head.
The Latin, or Roman Catholic Church, is constructed upon this idea. No local congregation in one place is a church, but only a minute part of the great whole, the seat of which is at Rome, and the absolute governing power, the Pope.
The reader will notice that, according to this theory, (1) the word can not be used in the plural—there is but one Roman Catholic, and but one Greek Church in the world; (2) that the local congregations are not churches; and (3) that these universal churches never were, and never can be, assembled in one place for any purpose.
The second is the National or Provincial theory. This is like the universal, only limited. All the local congregations in the nation, province or country, in some way associated, constitute the one church of that nation or province.
The Church of England is an illustration of this theory. The thousands of local societies scattered throughout the empire of Great Britain are not churches, but only parts of the one great state church, of which the reigning king or queen and Parliament is the supreme head, determining the faith and enacting the laws for the government of the body.
The Old School Presbyterian Church of this country conforms to this idea. Before the division of the Old School body, all the local bodies in the United States, with all the Presbyteries and Synods, constituted but one church, of which the General Assembly was the central head and ruling power.
The Methodist Episcopal Churches of America also illustrate the provincial theory. There are only two Methodist Episcopal Churches in these United States, the one North and the other South. Before the division there was but one. The local societies, to which the members, but not the ministers, belong, are in no sense churches—have none of the prerogatives of churches.
They have no voice in determining the doctrines they must believe; they can not elect their own ministers to teach them, nor can they dismiss them when they prove inefficient, or discipline them should they fall into the grossest vices; they are not even allowed to hold the titles to the houses of worship which they build and pay for with their own money; and no acting minister, circuit rider, presiding elder or bishop belongs to one of these local societies to which the lay members belong; but these ministers belong to the Annual Conference; so that if the local societies are indeed churches, the ministers do not belong to a church; if they are not, the members do not belong to any church!
But this point needs no argument, since it was forever settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, in accordance with the instructions of the bishops, North and South, that no Methodist society is a church in any sense, or even a constituent part of the Methodist Church. Of this "church," the General Conference, which meets once in four years, is the supreme head and all-governing power, and, according to the above cited decision, is alone the Methodist Church; but, strange for a church, no minister or member is, or can be, a member of it, save the bishops only, except appointed by some Annual Conference!
Let it be borne in mind that, according to this theory of church building, (1) "ecclesia" can not be used in the plural, and (2) the church can not be gathered into one place to discipline its members or to observe the ordinances.
The third is the Baptist, or scriptural theory; viz., the church is a local organization. This implies that the primitive model was a single congregation, complete in itself, independent of all other bodies, civil or religious, and the highest and only source of ecclesiastical authority on earth, amenable only to Christ, whose laws alone it receives and executes—not possessing the authority or right to enact or modify the least law or ordinance, or to discipline a member, save for the violation of what Christ himself has enjoined. This church acknowledges no body of men on earth, council, conference or assembly as its head, but Christ alone, who is invisible, as "head over all things" to it.
1. The term ecclesia itself.—The Holy Spirit selected the Greek word, ecclesia, which had but one possible literal meaning to the Greek—that of a local organization.
2. New Testament use.—It is used in the New Testament 110 times, referring to the Christian institution, and in 100 of these it undoubtedly refers to a local organization; and in the remaining 10 instances it is used figuratively—by synecdoche—where a part is put for the whole, the singular for the plural, one for all. In each of these instances what is true of all the churches is true of any one—e. g., Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32; Colossians 1:18. There is no occasion whatever for any misapprehension touching this use, nor is there one passage that affords the shadow of a ground for the idea of an invisible church in heaven, any more than for a huge universal, national or provincial church on earth, but a multitude of passages preclude the idea.
3. Ecclesia in the plural.—It is used in the plural thirty-six times, which fact is demonstrative that the universal or provincial idea was not then known.
4. The ecclesia of the New Testament could, and was required to assemble in one place.—This is impossible for a universal or invisible church to do. It was often required to assemble. (Mt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23.) Discipline, baptism and the Lord’s Supper could only he administered by the assembled church.
5. Ecclesia in a single city and house.—"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2); "the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 11:22); "the churches of Asia salute you;" "Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house" (1 Cor. 16:19). "Salute . . . Nymphas and the church which is in his house" (Col. 4:15); "and to the church in thy house" (Philem. 2).
Now a complete church was composed of the members of these individual households, and, probably, a few others, and were wont statedly to meet in the houses of these brethren for worship and the transaction of business, and it is certain that it could have been nothing else than a local society.
6. Historical testimony. The earliest writers knew nothing of an invisible, universal or provincial church.
Clement, A. D. 217: "To the church of God which sojourns at Rome;" "To the church of God sojourning at Corinth."
Eusebius referring to this epistle says: "There is one acknowledged epistle of this Clement, great and admirable, which he wrote in the name of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth; sedition then having arisen in the latter church. We are aware that this epistle has been publicly read in very many churches—both in old times, also in our day."
Irenaeus, A.D. 175-200: "For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down any thing different; nor do those [i.e., churches] in Spain; nor those in Gaul; nor those in the East; nor those in Egypt; nor those in Lybia; nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."
Tertullian, A.D. 150: Expressed the idea of a Christian church in his clay in these words: "Three are sufficient to form a church, although they be laymen."
Giesler, Of the churches of the first and second centuries, says: "All congregations were independent of one another" (Vol. 1, chap. 3).
Mosheim. "During a great part of this [second] century all the churches continued to be, as at first, independent of each other; . . . each church was a kind of little independent republic" (Vol. 1, p. 142).
Bro. Owen. "In no approved writer for two hundred years after Christ is mention made of any organized, visibly professing church except a local congregation" (By Crowell, in Chap. Man., p. 36).
No fact is better established than this, and therefore the various Catholic and Protestant organizations can lay no just claim to be patterned after the apostolic model; and, according to Bishop Doggett’s axioms, should not be considered or called Christian churches.