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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Church That Jesus Built, 1923 (Chapter 7)
"But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine." —Titus 2:1
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." —Heb. 13:9
“…In doctrine showing uncorruptness." —Titus 2:7
In the preceding chapter I sought to show by a process of elimination that only Baptist churches meet Christ's historical test as to origin and perpetuity. Laying aside for a time our findings, let us now pursue our search for the true ecclesia or church along the second line proposed, namely, that of DOCTRINE. This doctrinal test is fully as important as the historical test.
If it can be demonstrated that Baptist churches are apostolical in regard to the doctrines they hold, and that they are the only churches that do hold the doctrines that obtained in the New Testament churches in a pure form, it ought to be doubly apparent that Baptist churches are the true churches of Christ.
It is by no means a difficult task to ascertain the fundamental doctrines and practices of the churches that existed in the days of the apostles, because the church which Jesus founded has certain well defined doctrinal characteristics laid down in the New Testament by which it may be forever recognized and distinguished from all apocryphal institutions which may through the ages arise to call themselves Christian churches.
In seeking to identify the church which Jesus built by means of doctrinal comparison, it might be well to indicate the method which we shall pursue. Let us first go to the New Testament and note the characteristics of the churches of apostolic times. Next we shall examine Baptist characteristics to see if they coincide with those of the New Testament period. Then, finally, we shall take a brief glimpse at the teachings and practices of other great denominations to see how they stand in relation to the doctrines and practices of the churches of the New Testament. In following this procedure we shall necessarily have to be brief.
One of the things that very forcibly strikes us when we read about the New Testament churches is that they were composed of THOSE WHO HAD BEEN REGENERATED AND BORN AGAIN. The doctrine of regenerated church membership is on the pages of the New Testament so clearly that none can mistake it. Indeed the very word ecclesia, as used in the Christian sense should signify to us an assembly of people "called out" of the world, so as to form a separate company—a company of regenerated people. As Dr. Bow puts it: "The word translated church originally meant `called out' . . . so in the highest sense an holiest sense all the redeemed are called out, and it is fitly applied to them."
In Acts 2:47 we find the following words, "Moreover the Lord was adding to the church day by day those being saved." (Sco. Bible, Margin). Throughout the New Testament we find no slightest hint that any, save those claiming regeneration, were admitted to the churches. In fact, without regeneration church membership loses all significance. The duties and obligations which the New Testament teaches belonging to church members presuppose a radical internal change on the part of every person uniting with a church so as to fit him for his task.
The Scriptures most certainly do not bear out the idea that a church is to exist as a sort of reformatory into which unregenerates are to be taken, worked over and made into children of God. On the contrary, each church according to the New Testament idea, is to be an assembly God's people, regenerated, called out, and separated from the world—"a peculiar people, zealous and of good works."
And inseparable from the doctrine of a regenerate church membership we may mention incidentally that the New Testament churches practiced only BELIEVER'S BAPTISM. A profession of faith in Christ was necessary before baptism administered. In Acts 2:41 we read, "Then they that gladly received His word were baptized." Note that "receiving His word" preceded baptism. "His word" refers to the gospel preached by Peter. None are eligible for baptism, according to the Scriptures, until they have heard the gospel, believed and received it.
As one writer has put it, "The only difference between a person who has not 'received the Word,' before and after immersion, is that before their immersion they had on dry clothing while afterwards their clothing is wet." Many cases might be cited to prove that only believers were baptized and added to the church in New Testament times, if space permitted. I readily call to mind the case of Lydia, the Philippian jailer, Cornelius, and Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. In no verse of the New Testament is to be found anything to indicate that persons were ever baptized before reaching an age that permitted a personal faith in Christ. Indeed, scriptural baptism as taught in the New Testament presupposes saving faith in Christ. The order given in the Great Commission is, first make disciples, second baptize them.
Now let us ask, do Baptist churches today coincide with apostolic churches in the two respects just mentioned? Plainly they do. No one is baptized or becomes a member of a Baptist church until they have made a profession of faith in Christ, All claimed to have been saved. It is true that unsaved persons sometimes get into Baptist churches, but they get in by falsehoods and spurious claims.
Can Baptists claim any more than other churches in regard to the doctrines just mentioned? How do other denominations stand in regard to these matters? Note well this very true statement by Dr. T. T. Martin (The N. T. Church): "BAPTIST CHURCHES ARE THE ONLY CHURCHES ON EARTH THAT REQUIRE A PERSON TO PROFESS TO BE SAVED BEFORE THE PERSON UNITES WITH THE CHURCH OR IS BAPTIZED." This statement proved startling to me when I first read it several years ago. But investigation has confirmed me in the belief that it is true. Other great denominations either mix infant baptism with believer's baptism, or else hold the theory of baptismal regeneration.
For instance, the Methodists and Presbyterians hold evangelistic meetings and following such meetings often baptize (?) those who profess faith in Christ during the meeting. At the same service perhaps they baptize (?) infants who are not of an age to believe anything. Of course, if infant baptism were universally practiced, believer's baptism would perish from the earth. On the other hand, Campbellites baptize only those of an age to believe, but hold the theory of baptismal regeneration, and baptize to help save. Only Baptists require a profession of saving faith in Christ before baptizing or accepting into church membership.
Another thing that stands out in the New Testament as regards the churches of that time is the WAY OF SALVATION as taught by them. The apostolic churches held that salvation was by grace, through faith in Christ alone. As proof of this I submit Paul's well-known words found in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast."
The vicarious death of Jesus was set forth as the only means of redemption for any human being, and the teaching was that it was only by faith in Him as Divine Redeemer and Saviour that one could be saved and become a child of God. Gal. 3:26 is to the point: "For ye are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ." Acts 16:31: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."
Are Baptists in accord with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ? Indeed they are. "This is a doctrine that is fundamental in Baptist thought. It runs through the whole system of Baptist ideas, and helps to determine everything else in Baptist thinking." No other way of salvation is held or taught in true Baptist churches.
Are other denominations as one with the New Testament and Baptists in this matter? On this point I give another quotation from Dr. S. E. Tull:
"The Catholics believe that salvation is not purely of grace, that the death of Jesus Christ is not the only means of salvation, but that the ordinance of baptism is efficacious, contains sacramental grace, and is essential to salvation." The Council of Trent declared that in "baptism not only remission of original sin was given, but also all which properly has the nature of sin is cut off." It makes one "a Christian, a child of God, and an heir of heaven."
On the doctrine of salvation purely by grace through faith, the Baptists stand alone, and all others hold the position of the Catholics. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Methodists hold squarely to the Catholic position that infant baptism contains sacramental grace, while the Campbellites hold that baptism by immersion is essential to salvation.
For fear that some may find fault with me for classing them with the Catholics on this doctrine of baptismal regeneration, I will quote from the law of some of the other churches on the subject. Unless church legislators have changed the law very recently, the following obtains among the churches named, and is a fair sample of the position of all covenantal churches on this doctrine.
The Episcopal Catechism says, "Baptism is that wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of heaven."
If the above does not teach baptismal regeneration, pray tell what words could be used to teach it?
The Presbyterian Confession reads, "Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and a seal of the covenant of grace, of his in grafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life."
The Methodist ritual reads as follows, "Sanctify this water for his holy sacrament and grant that this child, now to be baptized, may receive the fullness of thy grace, and ever remain in the number of thy faithful and elect children."
Look well at what you have just read, "Grant that this child . . . may . . . ever remain in the number of thy faithful and elect children." This ritual puts the infant into the kingdom and family of God, and that without personal faith. It may grow to maturity with the idea that it is a baptized child of God and thereby never be regenerated, or perhaps even see the need of it. This certainly does not accord with the words of Jesus, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
The Methodist articles were based on those of the English Church, and reference to the writings of the founder of Methodism shows that he believed in baptismal regeneration as regards infants. Concerning the articles of the English Church, to which he belonged, we find John Wesley writing as follows (Sermons, London, 1872, Vol. 2, sermon 45, p. 74): "It is certain our church supposes that all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again; and it is allowed that the whole office for the baptism of infants proceeds on this supposition." I have known Methodists to vehemently deny that the founder of Methodism held to baptismal regeneration of infants, but in the quotation above, from his own printed sermons, we have it in black and white.
Again, let us examine the Lutheran view. This is expressed by the founder in the Augsburg Confession as follows, "Concerning baptism, they teach that it is necessary to salvation . . . And condemn the Anabaptists, who hold...that infants can be saved without it." (Neander, History of Christian Dogmas, Vol. 2, p. 693)
"In a city where the writer was laboring in the gospel, the pastors of all the churches in the city came together one morning to consider the propriety of inviting Dr. R. A. Torrey to conduct a city-wide evangelistic meeting. To that pastors' conference came the Episcopalian rector of the city. The rector asked to make a statement. He proceeded as follows:
“’I want to put myself right before all you pastors of the city, in my relation to the proposed evangelistic meeting. I cannot cooperate with you in the movement, and I want you to understand my convictions in the matter. I do not believe in what is known among you as evangelism. I do not believe in what you call conversion under the spontaneous operation of the Holy Spirit in the human heart. I believe in covenantal grace and that people become Christians by baptism and confirmation into the Church. Believing as I do, I cannot consistently engage with you in your proposed evangelistic campaign.'
“All this the rector said very frankly and earnestly. Then in seeming justification of his position, after a moment's hesitation he continued: 'I want to say to you Presbyterian pastors here, that if you live up to the covenantal teaching of your church, you cannot engage in an evangelistic meeting. You should either abandon our covenantal teachings or quit holding evangelistic campaigns. By undertaking to carry out both, you make two plans by which men become Christians. As I see it, these Baptist preachers are the only preachers in our city who can consistently carry on an evangelistic meeting. They do not believe in covenantal grace, but they consistently hold every man to a personal experience of religion, which they call conversion and regeneration.”— (Denominationalism Put to Test)
Further study of the apostolic churches as described in the New Testament, reveals several facts in connection with the ORDINANCES WHICH WERE ADMINISTERED BY THEM. These facts may be stated as follows:
1. The ordinances were two, and only two, in number: Baptism and the Lord's Supper—Matthew 18:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-30.
All the attempts to deduce foot-washing as an ordinance, from the Scriptures, fail. Plainly the apostles had no such ordinance. Neither were the two ordinances mentioned above held in the light of sacraments. To speak of the Lord's Supper as the "Sacrament" is not only unscriptural; it is anti-scriptural.
2. The ordinances were church ordinances. This is admitted with practical unanimity by all the great denominations. In the light of this admission, "open communion" becomes not only an unscriptural practice, but likewise a glaring inconsistency. And if the ordinances were given to Baptists, as I have endeavored to show, then the receiving of "alien immersion" is of all things most inconsistent for Baptist churches.
3. They were symbolic ordinances, designed to picture great truths and possessing no saving power at all. There is no need for me to discuss this, as the New Testament teaching of salvation by grace dealt with above prohibits us from attributing saving efficacy to the ordinances. For of course if salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, it cannot be by baptism, the Lord's Supper, or the doing of any works on our part.
4. Baptism was administered by immersing the candidate in water. Not even the slightest hint of sprinkling or pouring is to be found in the New Testament. Many clear cases of immersion are recorded. That was evidently the only form of baptism, for Paul in Ephes. 4:5 writes, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." And indeed the meaning of the term "baptize," if studied in the original, is enough to make perfectly clear to the unbiased mind that immersion was the primitive mode. Besides this, all reliable scholars of the different denominations frankly admit that immersion was the "mode" of baptism practiced in apostolic times.
5. The Lord's Supper, being a church ordinance, was restricted to church members. This being the case, it was of course preceded by immersion.
How do the beliefs of Baptists churches today square with the New Testament teaching concerning ordinances? The answer is, they are in perfect accord.
Other denominations are sadly at variance. The Catholics admit that they changed the ordinance of baptism in the twelfth century because sprinkling is more convenient. I quote just here from Cardinal Gibbons (Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 316, 317):
"For several centuries after the establishment of Christianity, baptism was usually conferred by immersion. But since the twelfth century baptism by infusion has prevailed in the Catholic Church, as this manner is attended with less inconvenience than baptism by immersion…Baptism is the essential means established for washing away the stain of original sin, and the door by which we find admittance into the Church. Hence baptism is as essential for the infant as for the full-grown man. Unbaptized infants are excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. Baptism makes us heirs of heaven and co-heirs of Jesus Christ."
Protestant churches (remember again that Baptists are not Protestants), the direct descendants of the Catholic Church, got their infant baptism and their perverted modes of baptism from their parent, the Catholic Church. The Campbellites and others who hold baptism essential to salvation, get their baptismal regeneration from the same source.
As regards the Lord's Supper, we find that the Catholic and Protestant world have departed from the simplicity of the New Testament idea that the bread and wine is merely a symbol or memento which is to be taken in remembrance of the Saviour. The Catholics hold to transubstantiation, the doctrine that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ. The Lutherans hold to consubstantiation, which is but a modification of the Catholic view. Others, such as the Presbyterians and Methodists, hold the sacramental or spiritual blessing idea, which makes of the ordinance something more than a mere memorial. Besides this, most denominations in actual practice do not make immersion a prerequisite to the partaking of the Lord's Supper as did the churches of the New Testament, for they practice "open communion" which admits everybody who wants to eat - immersed, sprinkled, unsprinkled, or what not.
Further, we find that the apostolic churches were DEMOCRATIC IN THEIR FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT. This means, of course, that they recognized the absolute lordship of Christ, and had no human head or master. "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren" (Matt. 23:8-10) is the New Testament teaching. There was no higher or lower order of clergy; no popes or bishops in the modern sense, to boss the rest around. Peter had no thought of being a pope, for he called himself a fellow-elder with other preachers (1 Peter 5:1).
When a successor was needed to fill the place of Judas Iscariot, Peter did not appoint him, but the one hundred and twenty members of the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:15-26). When the first deacons were appointed, their appointment was not by Peter, nor by the apostles as ruling elders, or as constituting a college of bishops. They were chosen by the multitude of disciples, or church.
We find that churches transacted business without outside interference or dictation. They elected their own officers, and by vote of the congregation received and excluded members. For example, Paul writes to the church at Rome (Rom. 14:1), "Him that is weak in faith, receive ye." This indicated that they were in the habit of receiving members. In 1 Cor. 5, Paul tells the church at Corinth to exclude an unworthy member. In 2 Thess. 3, he gives similar counsel to the church at Thessalonica. Again, from Acts 9 we gather that Paul himself was refused membership in the church at Jerusalem, because at that time the church was in doubt about his conversion and was afraid of him.
Having a democratic form of church government; being composed of individuals who were on an equality—and having no visible, earthly head, churches were separate and distinct, and were bound together in no organic way. This is conceded by all the earliest and most reliable historians as having been the order for several centuries. Geisler, the historian, says in writing of the churches of the first two centuries: "All congregations were independent of one another" (Vol. 1, Chap. 3). Mosheim, the Lutheran historian, says (Vol. 1, p. 142), "During a great part of this (second) century all the churches continued to be, as at first, independent…each church was a kind of independent republic."
Do Baptist churches accord with the apostolic way in regard to their church government and polity? Anyone at all acquainted with Baptist churches knows that democracy in its purest form is to be found in them. Each church is separate and distinct as in apostolic times, and when churches meet together in associations and conventions, they come together in only a cooperative, voluntary way. There is no organic union in one big "Church." And furthermore no association or convention has the right to dictate to the local church. Baptist churches today, as in apostolic times, have no dignitaries or ecclesiastics to impose their will upon them. True, in these days we sometimes have an occasional individual who desires for himself ecclesiastical powers with which to force cooperation among Baptists. Such an individual is in each case predestined to an early fall.
But let us, for the sake of comparison, take a glimpse at the government of other churches:
Catholics give church members no privileges but to obey “The Church," and no voice whatever in the government of the Church.
The Lutheran Church is an episcopacy with legislative powers governing both the doctrine and polity of particular congregations and individuals.
The Episcopal Church has legislative courts and does the same.
The Presbyterian Church is what has been termed "a centralized aristocracy," composed of legislative courts with a gradation in authority, from the sessions of the particular church to the General Assembly of the whole denomination. From the decisions of the General Assembly there is no appeal, either for churches or individuals.
The Congregational Church comes nearer the Baptist position in this matter than most others, but veers farther away on some other points.
The Methodist Church is an episcopacy with a system of ecclesiastical machinery that leaves little room for the autonomy of the local church or the expression of individuality on the part of its members.
This form of church government is not only unbiblical; it proves to be unwise in many instances from the standpoint of what is expedient. The matter of where preachers shall labor, the choice of their respective fields, is taken out of their own hands so that they must needs go where they are sent. In this system a preacher may be sent where he does not want to go and where he feels that neither the Lord nor the people want him.
In one case that came under my observation, a man was sent to a smaller pastorate to which was attached a smaller salary than he had been accustomed to receive. The change was so arbitrary and unsatisfactory that the preacher rebelled and only remained on his new field long enough to dispose of his household goods. If I was correctly informed, he left with the avowed intention of joining another denomination. Such happenings are very embarrassing to both the church and pastor. They are the natural outgrowth of an unscriptural, ecclesiastical system.
The Campbellite or "Christian" Church received its form of government from its founder, Alexander Campbell, who, from his brief association with the Baptists, had imbued some of their ideas. Campbellites profess a congregational form of government, but in reality the pastor is vested with episcopal powers to receive members without a vote of the congregation.
Another thing that is to be clearly gathered from the New Testament concerning the churches of that day is that they WERE ENTIRELY FREE FROM COERCION. In other words, they believed in religious liberty. Religion was a purely voluntary matter. They were deeply impressed with their duty to preach, teach and persuade, but their work ended there. As to whether or not the individual accepted the gospel and affiliated with the church, was a matter to be decided by the individual himself apart from all coercive measures of any kind. There was entire separation of church and state. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" was the admonition of Jesus. With such a conception as the New Testament churches had of freedom of conscience, religious persecution was with them impossible.
Again let us ask, how do Baptist churches of today accord with the principles of freedom held by apostolic churches? The answer is they hold these principles still, just as they held them in the first century. They hold that it is their duty and obligation to preach the gospel to all the world, but they seek to force no one to accept it. They believe that every man has the individual right to settle for himself the question of his relation to God. Consequently, they believe that infant baptism is a sin against God and against little children, in that it forces a religious rite upon a helpless child and takes from it the privilege of obeying Christ for itself.
Baptists put neither priest, ordinance, nor anything else between the individual and Cod. They hold that every person can, through Jesus Christ, approach God and deal with Him for himself. In church relations the same voluntary principle holds good. No high ecclesiastic forces churches into measures. No set of ecclesiastics run the churches' affairs for them, and force acceptance of the leaders they choose for the people. Baptist people govern themselves, and each church determines the measure and kind of cooperation that it will engage in with other bodies and organizations.
To Baptists, union of church and state is an unspeakable evil, and one that they have never been a party to. They have through the ages suffered cruel imprisonments, punishments, and even martyrdom at the hands of other peoples because, forsooth, peoples of other faiths, through the civil powers, wielded the sword of coercion and persecution.
Let us now take a glance at other denominations and observe their attitude on this point. Catholics give the individual no personal prerogative. The Church holds the soul of the individual and can by excommunication destroy all hope for eternity. The history of the Catholic Church is one that reeks with blood. Through long periods Catholicism was the state religion, and so fiercely did it persecute that dissenters were forced to hide in the "dens and caves of the earth." I need only mention the massacre of the Huguenots in which hundreds of people were butchered, or the horrors of the Inquisition, in which devilish ingenuity devised every torture with which to afflict Baptists and others who held dissenting religious views. I write these lines from Brazil, where on every side is to be seen the evidences of Catholic intolerance. Just last week news came of how Catholics broke up services that were being held by Baptists in the town of Bom Jardim, a few miles away.
Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists stand with the Catholics in abridging the freedom of the individual conscience because of their practice of infant baptism. “Campbellites place an ordinance between the sinner and the Savior, and thereby forbid his unlimited approach to God." Episcopalians in England derive their support from the government and Baptists are forced to pay to support a church in which they do not believe. Dr. John Clifford, a noted Baptist preacher, went to jail time and time again because of his refusal to pay to help support the Episcopalian Church.
Lutherans have united with the state and have used their power to persecute. For instance, Henry Crant, Justice Mueller, and John Peisker, Baptists, were beheaded in Jena, in 1536; by the Lutherans. Among their announced views was the doctrine that all infants are saved without baptism. (See McArthur's Why I Am A Baptist) Presbyterians have consented to the unholy alliance of Church and state and have persecuted also. The part that John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism, had in burning Servetus, the Anabaptist, at the stake is too well known to mention in detail. Congregationalists persecuted by means of civil power in the early colonial days in America. Clark, Holmes and Crandall, Baptist leaders, were fined, imprisoned and publicly whipped in Boston. On asking what law of God or man he (Clark) had broken, Endicott replied to Clark, "You have denied infant baptism and deserve death."
And I may add that persecution of Baptists does not all belong to the past. In almost every place today where Baptists stand for the whole Bible and preach their doctrines, they meet with persecution. They are called "narrow," "bigoted," and are pointed at with scorn. Many times, because their beliefs do not permit them to engage in all sorts of union movements and programs, they are bitterly criticized. In my own ministry I have in one instance had my church boycotted by the members of other denominations because I preached the New Testament teachings concerning the ordinances. The forms of persecution are not the same as in days gone by, but persecution that is none the less real is often resorted to by those who do not espouse the purely voluntary principle of the New Testament and Baptists.
Another characteristic of the churches of Christ in apostolic times was their REVERENCE FOR THE SCRIPTURES AND THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD GIVEN TO THEM THROUGH INSPIRED MEN. To them the Word of God, whether contained in the Old Testament or delivered through the mouth or by pen of inspired men, was sufficient.
Christians of those days did not butcher the Old Testament as do the Modernists of our day, who parcel it out into bits and call this part a portion of the "J" document, this other a part of the "E" document, and so on. To them the Old Testament did not merely contain a revelation from God; it was the revelation. The teachings of the apostles they received as authoritative.
Here again we distinguish the likeness between Baptist churches of today and the churches of the early times. To Baptists, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament constitute the final authority on all matters of belief and practice. The great doctrine that constitutes the bedrock upon which all of their other doctrines are laid is this: "The Bible, the Bible alone, is our only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice." As one has aptly put it, "if you can't find it in the Bible, it isn't Baptist doctrine; if it is Baptist doctrine you can find it in the Bible."
Baptists believe that each individual has the right to read and interpret the Scriptures for himself. They do not believe in studying and interpreting in the light of someone's comments, as do Christian Scientists, who study in the light of Mrs. Eddy's "Science and Health," or Russellites, who interpret by the aid of Pastor Russell's "Bible Studies," or Catholics, who, when they read the Bible at all, read the imperfectly translated Douay version, in the light of the Church's interpretations appended to each page in the form of "notes."
Baptists believe that the Bible says what it means and means what it says, and that it is so written as to be understood by the common people. They do not believe that it is right to seek to justify a practice by a set of regulations drawn up by fallible men. Consequently, that a thing is found in a "Discipline" or "Catechism" adds little weight to it, for them. But while these things are true, it is also true that Baptists have always been willing to state their beliefs. This they have done repeatedly in the form of "Confessions of Faith." These confessions merely place before the world their interpretation of what the Bible teaches on fundamental matters. They are not binding creeds forced upon all Baptist bodies, for each church has the privilege of making its own statement of belief.
What is the attitude of other denominations toward the Bible? It is not the Baptist attitude; else there would not be the division that exists today. Much is said today about church union, and Baptists are often blamed for the schismatic condition of Christendom. But it can be truly said that Baptists are ready to unite with those of other faiths at any time that they are willing for union to be consummated upon the principle of absolute adherence to the New Testament.
The Catholic view, for instance, is the exact opposite of the Baptist. Catholics believe in the Pope as the source of doctrine, and they hold he is infallible in his decisions. On this point we have the statement of Cardinal Gibbons as follows: "When a dispute arises in the Church regarding the sense of Scripture, the subject is referred to the Pope for final adjudication…He pronounces judgment, and his sentence is final, irrevocable, and infallible." Again, in the same book (Faith of Our Fathers), he says: "The Scriptures can never serve as a complete rule of faith and a complete guide to heaven independent of an authorized, living interpreter."
Other denominations occupy positions between the Baptists and the Catholics. The Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist churches are vested with legislative powers ample to allow them to fix doctrine and legislative conduct for the particular congregations and for individuals. As we have already seen, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church is vested with supreme power in matters affecting doctrine and polity.
There is yet another thing that was considered fundamental among New Testament churches, and that was what has been termed, THE COMPETENCY OF THE SOUL, UNDER GOD, IN RELIGION." "Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God," is the teaching of Paul. Every soul was deemed competent to deal with God without the interference of human priests or mediaries. Absolute freedom of conscience was allowed, and coercion was never resorted to, in matters pertaining to religion, as has already been pointed out. In this we find Baptists to be strictly apostolical. Baptists believe that man, as man, has the capacity to know God, and tinder the power of the Holy Spirit to do God's will. "This competency of the soul under God," as one writer puts it, "is at once exclusive and inclusive. It excludes all human interference, all proxy in religion, all ideals of priestly or episcopal intervention.
Religion is a matter between the individual soul and God. It includes all the rights of an absolute democracy, and constitutes every believer his own priest and king." It might not be out of place just here to quote Dr. E. Y. Mullins on this point. He says:
"The Biblical significance of the Baptists is the right of private interpretation and obedience to the Scriptures. The significance of the Baptists in relation to the individual is soul freedom. The ecclesiastical significance of the Baptists is a regenerated church membership and the equality and priest-hood of believers. The political significance of the Baptists is the separation of the church and state. All of these grow naturally and of necessity out of the doctrine of the competency of the soul in religion."
And now let us take a brief look at other denominations and note their attitude in this matter. Everyone who is at all familiar with the Catholic position will admit very readily that it is in direct antithesis to the Baptist doctrine of the competency of the soul. Underlying the whole scheme of Roman Catholicism is the idea of the incompetency of the soul. This is seen in the auricular confession, the denial of the right of private interpretation of the Bible, infant baptism, the priestly monopoly of the elements necessary to the "communion" and numerous other things.
Protestantism is a mixture of the Baptist and Catholic positions. A quotation from Dr. M. P. Hunt (The Baptist Faith) will make this clear. He writes as follows:
"In many things the Protestant world is now with the Baptists, but in some things it still clings to the rags of Catholicism, as for instance, in episcopacy, infant baptism, and baptismal regeneration. They are all unscriptural, and first saw light in the Catholic Church, and were nourished by its unscriptural conception of the incompetency of the soul in religion. In holding to the doctrine of justification by faith, the Protestant world is at that point one with the Baptists, while in baptizing their children into the church in unconscious infancy they are one with the Catholics.
“In the matter of civil and religious liberty, the Protestant world in America is now in full sympathy with the Baptist position, while those churches that have the episcopal form of government get the same from the Catholics. Take the 'Disciples,' who are less than a hundred years old, and they are one with the Baptists in the matter of believer's baptism; but at the same time, one with the Catholics in holding baptism to be essential to salvation."
Other characteristics of the apostolic churches could be taken up and their identity with Baptist characteristics established. But surely enough has already been said to demonstrate that Baptists are apostolical as regards their faith and practice. One who reads the New Testament cannot help but see the doctrinal identity of Baptists today with the churches of the New Testament. Dr. A. T. Robertson has said: "Give a man a New Testament and a good working conscience, and a Baptist is the sure result." Instances are on record where several denominations have been seeking to get into their church a new convert, and, as a rule, whenever it is announced that the individual is making a study of the New Testament, and will let that guide him, it is generally conceded that the Baptists have won.
If I wished to take the space I could go on at length and tell of I. N. Yohannan, a Persian, converted under the preaching of a Presbyterian missionary, but who, upon reading the New Testament, came from Persia to New York to get Baptist baptism. I could tell the story of John G. Oncken and his family in Hamburg, Germany. They, becoming believers and being without ecclesiastical guides, shut themselves up to a study of the New Testament with this result: A BAPTIST CHURCH!
I could tell of Judson and Rice, who were sent to the foreign field by another denomination, on the voyage studied the New Testament and arrived on their field with convictions that led them to join a Baptist church, even though it meant for them to renounce the support of those who had sent them. I could tell of how in the state of Parahyba, Brazil, men were converted wider the preaching of a Presbyterian missionary and were wade Baptists in belief by reading the New Testament. They sent to the city where I now reside (Pernambuco) for a Baptist preacher to come and baptize them.