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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 11)
"The church is here to save men out of the world. It is here to save them out of the system that is called the world…The church bears the same relation to the world that a lifeboat and its crew do to a ship pounding to pieces upon the rocks….The church is here to impress upon men two immense facts, the fact of the SOUL, and the fact of ETERNITY."
—I. M. Haldeman, in The Mission of the Church.
"His marching orders are His program for that church (The, church at Jerusalem) and every other Baptist church until He comes again."
—H. B. Taylor, in Why I Am a Baptist
In the preceding chapters I have sought to show the reader the Biblical teaching as to what a genuine New Testament church is. With this I have presented historical evidence to prove to a demonstration that Baptist churches have had continuous existence from the time of Christ until now. I trust that the views of you who have read thus far have narrowed and become more distinct, so far as your conception of the church is concerned.
Now that we are clear that Baptist churches are the true New Testament churches, divinely perpetuated throughout the ages, let us go further and inquire concerning the mission of the church in the world. The world has many erroneous views concerning what a church is for. Those who belong to the different so-called churches share in many of these mistaken notions, and in some cases Baptists have come to have a perverted idea as to the proper function of a church.
It is no uncommon thing for one to see in the magazines and newspapers of today the bold charge that the churches have "failed." By this is meant that some churches have failed as measured by the standard that some individual or group of individuals have set up. Let us consider for a few moments some of the erroneous views that are commonly held concerning what a church is for.
As some conceive it, A CHURCH IS TO BE CHIEFLY ENGAGED IN THE WORK OF CIVILIZATION. In proportion as churches aid a nation to advance in the arts and sciences of civilization, they are thought of as having succeeded. Especially does this idea obtain as regards Christian efforts on the foreign mission fields. If only the heathen can be brought to dress properly, observe rules of cleanliness and sanitation, and adopt the ways and manners of civilized nations, it is often considered that the missionary has abundantly succeeded.
But, as I shall presently seek to prove, it is not the primary business of churches to civilize. When on the mission field the dominant motive comes to be to civilize, then the labors of the workers on that field are a failure from the standpoint of the true mission of the church.
Then there is the CLUB IDEA OF THE CHURCH that some have. It is to be feared that some look upon church membership largely as they do membership in some club or fraternal organization. Church work comes to be a sort of pleasant diversion, and it seems quite the nice and respectable thing to be a church member, especially if the church is one of the fashionable kind that includes in its membership some of the socially prominent persons of the community.
But of this idea it may be said that if a church is merely on a par with clubs, lodges, societies, and other such organizations, it has little to justify its separate existence.
Again, there are those who hold THE SOCIAL AND HUMANITARIAN IDEAL FOR THE CHURCH. To them the church's main concern should not be preparation of individual souls for life in an eternity beyond, but the transforming of society as a whole until this world becomes a better place for men to dwell during this present life. Their chief emphasis is not upon the then but upon the now. To the end of approximating the ideal they have in view, they insist that the church engage in all sorts of humanitarian projects; that it deal with politics and legislation, and that it lay out an ambitious program of social service and reform. To those who conceive of a church in this way, as their ideas are carried out, the churches come to deal less and less with the spiritual and more and more with the physical.
They are the advocates of the "institutional" church, where, as one writer puts it, one can get anything from a sermon to a sandwich. In the church buildings of such a church recreational features are prominent. They have swimming pools, reading rooms, shower baths, gymnastic apparatus, social halls, etc. Often supper is- served from the church kitchen, so many nights a week at so much per plate. All sorts of social affairs are constantly being planned. All in all the church building is used in such a way that people come to look upon it as a place to have a good time.
If Christ should enter some church buildings today, I am sure that He would throw out a lot of the things to be found in them. He would overturn and cast out the gymnastic apparatus, the motion picture machines and the other amusement paraphernalia, just as He overturned the tables of the money changers long ago and drove out those who desecrated and secularized the temple. His words to those who desecrate and secularize the places of worship today would be the same as to the same kind of culprits of long ago, when He said, "Mine house shall be called an house of prayer." Is there any reason in the world to believe that Jesus looks more leniently today upon the secularizing of the house of worship than He did two thousand years ago? Those who bring all sorts of secular things beneath the church roof, follow exactly in the steps of the Jews whom Jesus drove from the temple.
Of the view that makes of a church an organization whose primary concern is the improvement of social conditions, and the physical betterment of humanity it may be said that it is wholly at variance with the truth concerning the real mission of a church. True, social conditions improve where the gospel is preached and churches thrive. Most great moral reforms have had their genesis among Christian people, but these things ought to be considered merely as by-products of church activity and influence and not as things of paramount concern.
In regard to the matter of the church's mission, when there are so many divergent opinions, where shall we go for the truth concerning the matter? There is but one place to go — THE NEW TESTAMENT. It is not a question of what this person or that thinks the church should be, or engage in. It is a question as to what Jesus Christ founded His church for, and what orders He left for it to follow. Strange indeed that men should ever go astray in regard to the church's mission, when it is set forth so very clearly in His own words.
For Baptists to err in regard to their mission is inexcusable. Other denominations, sects, and so-called churches may engage in the things mentioned, and may make humanitarian projects their chief concern if they please to do it, without being liable to such strict censure, because they have no Commission or orders from Christ. He is not responsible for their existence, and they are not responsible for the carrying out of the Commission which He gave centuries before they came into being.
But Baptists are responsible, because it was to a Baptist church that the Lord Jesus Christ gave His Commission. This Commission forever settles the question of what a church exists for by clearly defining its mission and purpose. Some will no doubt think me very "narrow" for saying that the Great Commission is a Baptist Commission, but "narrow" or not, it is the truth. The whole of my book thus far is proof of this fact.
A well-known editor recently expressed the truth that I am trying to convey, in these words:
"This Commission was given to none but Baptists. All present were Baptists because they had been baptized by John or by the twelve, all of whom had been baptized by John the Baptist. It was given to them, not as preachers or individuals, but as a church, for it was to be obeyed until the end of the age and none of them would live that long. But the Master had promised that the church He founded would not be destroyed by the gates of hell (Matt. 16:18); and to that church and other churches founded through their missionary labors the Master gave this world-wide and age-long Commission.
“No infants, no seekers, no probationers, no sinners, no proselytes, none but disciples or Christians, are included by the Master in His orders to be baptized. This Commission was given to Baptists, for every one present was a Baptist. It is a very definite command to make men Christians by preaching the gospel to them, and then to make them Baptists by giving them Baptist baptism, for that is the only kind there was at the time the Commission was given. No one else but Baptists can obey this Commission, because no one else has the kind of baptism that Jesus commanded Christians to submit to. And no one else can do what this Commission enjoins, namely, make the disciples Baptists by giving them Baptist baptism."
And now let us examine the Commission that Jesus gave to His church, and let us analyze it for a few moments. These are the words: "Go ye therefore and teach (R. V. 'disciple') all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Here is the church's mission. Nothing less than this, nothing more should be included in its program. As one has put it, "That should be the horizon of our visions and the limits of our tasks."
Note well what the Commission includes:
1. MAKE MEN CHRISTIANS
That is the first, the foremost, the most important thing —to make disciples or Christians. A study of the Commission in the original will show that the emphasis or accent is upon making disciples. When in church and denominational affairs we major on education, hospitals, orphanages or anything else no matter how worthy, we are going contrary to the Great Commission.
The Commission puts first the making of disciples. Disciples or Christians are to be made by preaching the gospel to the lost. It is the gospel that makes Christ known to men. When they hear the gospel and receive Him as their personal Saviour they become children of God. John 1:12, "As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name."
The main concern of every true church ought to be soul winning. To follow the Commission demands that each church shall be intensely missionary both as regards the lost of the immediate community in which the church exists and the lost unto the uttermost parts of the earth. Often the building of a "plant" comes to be thought of as the main thing, the securing of social recognition, or something apart from the thing that the Master emphasized.
I repeat, the first task given by the risen Lord is to make Christians. This must always precede baptism and indoctrination. In John 4:1 we are given the example of Jesus on this point, where we are distinctly told that Jesus made disciples before He baptized them. Those who baptize infants, and those who baptize to help make disciples are plainly at outs with both the Master's precept and example, as are those who receive "probationers" and seek to indoctrinate before discipling.
As I indicated earlier in the chapter, the Commission is a Baptist Commission. It puts salvation before baptism and church membership. It was not only given solely to Baptists; it is obeyed by them alone. For remember the statement made earlier in the book, "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."
But let us examine the Commission further and we shall see that the second part of this three-fold Commission is the command to:
2. MAKE CHRISTIANS BAPTISTS
We are to make men Christians by preaching salvation through faith in Christ to them; then we are to make those Christians Baptists by baptizing them according to His orders. "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." While the command to make disciples takes the place of precedence in the Commission, the command to make Baptists is just as obligatory and binding upon us. Some censure Baptists, claiming that they put too great an emphasis upon baptism.
This criticism is wholly unjust, for Baptists place baptism exactly where the Master placed it in the Commission. They hold that it should never precede salvation, but that it should in every case follow it. They do not believe that they are warranted in stopping with the making of disciples, for their orders read—"baptizing them," and as they see it they have no right to change their orders.
The third part of the Commission is just as explicit as the rest; it commands the:
3. INDOCTRINATION OF BAPTISTS
It reads, "…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The "all things" means every teaching of Jesus contained in the New Testament, such, for instance, as the teaching concerning the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, the security of believers, and stewardship. To separate some of His teachings into a group and call them "non-essentials" and refrain from teaching them is to violate His command.
It is a sad fact that most of the denominations omit two-thirds of the Commission and only take note of the part that refers to making disciples. They assume, although incorrectly, that the Commission was given to them as well as to Baptists, then they show their unfitness to be custodians of Christ's sacred trust by cutting off two-thirds of the Commission—the portion that commands to immerse and to teach all things that He commanded. Baptists are absolutely the only people who are willing to carry out all three parts of the Commission.
It is often the case nowadays that what is commonly termed "Christian Education" is justified and taught from the last clause of the Commission. This is either the result of a faulty exegesis or else it is wilful misinterpretation of the Scriptures. This passage cannot rightly be interpreted to refer to the teaching of history, mathematics, biology, psychology and such as is taught in denominational schools and colleges.
Jesus said, "All things whatsoever I have commanded you." Christian education in the truest sense is education in the things of the Word of God. That is the only education authorized in the Commission. Many good arguments can be made in favor of Christian schools, but the point I am making is that they are not authorized by the Great Commission.
The last clause of the Commission places upon Baptist churches the responsibility of teaching and indoctrinating all of those who are saved and added to the church. No teaching of Christ is to be ignored or omitted, but every doctrine is to be taught, no matter how many charges of "narrow" are called forth, or how displeasing it may prove to those who minimize certain teachings of Christ on the ground of their being "nonessential."
I bring this chapter to a close by recapitulating the things said before.
WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH THAT JESUS BUILT?
It is not the mission assigned by the world, set forth by the press, and conceived by some churches. It is not the civilization of mankind, it is not social and moral reform, it is not the physical, intellectual and social elevation of the race—save as the things come about incidentally as by-products, of Christianity. But the mission of the church is that which was given by the Founder, Jesus Christ, in the Great Commission, namely, to make Christians, immerse, and indoctrinate them.
Or, to put it more at length, the divine program for the church is this: To preach the gospel to every human being that lives in this world; to baptize those who accept a free salvation through Christ; then to teach the saved and baptized until they know the commands of Christ, and until His will is expressed through those redeemed lives unto the world.