Edward Hiscox's New Directory For Baptist Churches

2 A Christian Church

A Christian Church is a company of regenerate persons, baptized on a profession of faith in Christ; united in covenant for worship, instruction, the observance of Christian ordinances, and for such service as the gospel requires; recognizing and accepting Christ as their supreme Lord and Lawgiver, and taking His Word as their only and sufficient rule of faith and practice in all matters of conscience and religion.

I. Meaning of the Word.

The word Church is of uncertain derivation: English, Church; Scottish, Kirk; Anglo-Saxon, Cyric; German, Kirche; Danish, Kyrke; Swedish, Kyrka; Russian, Zerkow. It is used as the equivalent, if not derived from the Hebrew Kahal; Latin, Curia and has usually been derived from the Greek Kuriakon—”belonging to the Lord.” This is, however, disputed by good authority. But Ekklesia is the accepted equivalent Greek word used in the New Testament, and translated Church. This word is used to designate the visible “Kingdom of heaven” on earth, the company of God’s elect people chosen in Christ Jesus; His spiritual Israel of the New Dispensation—what Alford calls “the congregation of the faithful.” [See Matt. 16:18; 18:17]

Ekklesia is composed of ek, from, or out of, and kaleo, to call—called out from. It denotes a company, or assembly of persons, called out, selected, chosen and separated from a larger company, a more general concourse of people. According to the usages of Greek civil life, the Ekklesia was, as the lexicons define it, “an assembly of citizens called together for deliberative purposes; a legislative assembly, called to discuss the affairs of state.” It was an orderly and an organized assembly, consisting of those possessing the rights of citizenship, for the consideration of public affairs, and the enactment and enforcement of laws pertaining to the public welfare, as distinguished from the common populace at large, an incidental concourse, or a disorderly crowd of people. [See Grimms-Wilkes N. T. Lexicon, Liddell & Scott, Robinson, et al.]

Bishop Trench gives the following elucidation:

“We have Ekklesia in three distinct stages of meaning—the Heathen, the Jewish, the Christian. In respect of the first, Ekklesia, as all know, was the lawful assembly in a free Greek city of all persons possessed of the rights of citizenship for the transaction of public affairs. That they were summoned, is expressed in the latter part of the word; that they were summoned out of the whole population, a select portion of it, including neither the populace, nor yet the strangers, nor those who had forfeited their civic rights; this is expressed in the first part. Both the calling, and the calling out, are moments to be remembered when the word is assumed into a higher Christian sense, for in them the chief part of its peculiar adaptation to its auguster uses lies.” – Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 17, 18; Ed. 1837.

Still true to its original classical idea and scope of meaning, when the word was adopted into Christian literature and applied to higher and more sacred uses, it designated a company called out from the world, elected, chosen and separated – Eklektoi, the elected, the faithful, called to be saints. And thus a selected and separated company, to constitute “the Kingdom of Christ,” “the Church of the living God,” “a peculiar people” sanctified to Himself. Here, also, we have the further idea, fundamental to its primitive meaning, of an organized company, with laws, officers and ordinances for the orderly transaction of affairs, and the performance of service contemplated in their calling and institution.

II. Uses of the Word.

The word Ekklesia is found one hundred and fifteen times in the New Testament. In one hundred and ten of these instances it has reference to the institution known as the Church. In three instances it is used in what Trench calls the “heathen sense,” being applied to the assembly gathered at Ephesus, on the occasion of the riot incited against Paul and his associates—Acts 19:32,39,41. Notice, however, that the excited and riotous multitude was the oklos—a crowd, a confused and disorderly multitude, Acts 2:35, and not the Ekklesia, which was the official and authoritative assembly, to which such cases of popular disturbance and disorder were appealed for suppression and settlement. In two cases this word is used in the “Jewish sense,” being applied to ancient Israel as God’s chosen and separated people. In the address of Stephen before his accusers, when referring to Mosaic history, he said: “This is he that was in the Church {Ekklesia) in the wilderness, with the angel which spoke to him.” Acts 7:38; and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a citation from the Twenty-second Psalm, according to the Seventy, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the Church {Ekklesia) will I sing praise unto thee.”—Heb. 2:12; Ps. 22:22. The Alexandrian translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek used this word to designate the entire congregation of Israel, the whole Hebrew commonwealth, as an organic unity. Under the theocratic government of the Old Dispensation, the seed of Abraham constituted a distinct congregation, called out and separated from all other peoples and races, organized under a polity peculiarly their own, with laws, ordinances and services as distinct as their own calling and race life. Hence the propriety and force of this word as a designation of the Hebrew people.

In the “Christian sense” the word Ekklesia has a twofold signification in the New Testament. First, it is used, in its primary and literal sense, to designate a visible, local congregation of Christian disciples, meeting for worship, instruction and service. Second, it is used in a secondary and figurative sense, to designate the invisible, universal company, including all of God’s true people on earth and in heaven. There is, then, the visible, local Church, and the invisible, universal Church. In the latter case the word represents a conception of the mind, having no real existence in time or place, and not a historical fact, being only an ideal multitude without organization, without action, and without corporate being.

Of the one hundred and ten instances in which Ekklesia is rendered Church in the New Testament, more than ninety are applied to a visible, local congregation, or company of disciples, meeting in a given place, for a given purpose. This is the primary and literal signification of the word. Thus it is said, “Paul called the elders of the Church;” “The Church of God at Corinth;” “The Seven churches of Asia;” “The Church of Ephesus;” “The churches of Galatia.” But when it is said, “Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church,” etc., Eph. 5:25,27, it presumably refers to no particular congregation of believers, but to the entire company of the saved—the universal, invisible Church. In the same way is interpreted the much – quoted declaration of Jesus: “On this rock will I build my Church.”—Matt. 16:18. Also, “To the intent that now….might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.”—Eph. 3:10, “He is the head of the body, the Church.”—Col. 1:18. “The general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven.”—Heb. 12:23. These, with a few other passages, are supposed to refer not to any localized congregations of believers, but to the universal fellowship of the faithful. And yet it is likely that some of the passages usually thus interpreted might, by a more careful exegesis, be found to bear the primary and literal meaning of a particular congregation. Certain it is that this literal meaning of the word is its first and ruling signification, as is certified in a vast majority of cases. And if in certain cases another meaning attaches to it, such other meaning is purely tropical and secondary. And such secondary meaning grows directly out of, and bears a strict resemblance to, the primary.

The word Church, in common language, is used with a large latitude of meaning. It is applied to a congregation of Christian worshipers, to a religious establishment, to a given form of ecclesiastical order, to the aggregate of all the saints, and to a building used for religious purposes. This last named use, though common, is hardly legitimate, and the passages of Scripture sometimes cited to justify it (Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 11:18; 14:19,28) will not warrant such application. And to call the aggregate of those who profess—the Christian faith – all the names in all the world – “the Christian Church,” is a misuse of the word not warranted by the Scriptures.

There is no such thing as a universal Church on earth embraced in one grand communion. Equally baseless and unsupported by Scripture is the claim that all the religious congregations of a nation, or of a given form of faith in a nation, constitute a national, or a denominational church. It contradicts the New Testament idea. It is common to speak of “the Church of England,” or “the Church of Russia,” or “the Church of Rome.” We understand what is intended, but such terms are extra-evangelical, and untrue to the New Testament idea.

III. Marks of a True Church.

Are there any marks, or signs, by which a true Church can be known? If so, what are they? If our ideas as to what constitutes a true Church be erroneous or confused, we shall be likely to go astray as to all that follows, and misinterpret its polity, order, ordinances, its structure, government and purpose. All the various Christian communions, both ancient and modern, have, in their dogmatic symbols, more or less fully, given their conception of a true Church. These definitions are found in their standard creeds and confessions of faith; and it is to be observed that they all assume to start with the New Testament idea. But as they proceed they do more and more diverge, and complicate the primitive simplicity with their ecclesiastical surroundings, their educational prepossessions, or with what trusted authority decides a Church ought to be, rather than what it is.

It may be noted that our Savior used the term Ekklesia but on two occasions, in both briefly, and without definitions or explanations, as reported in—Matt. 16:18; 18:17. His oft-repeated expression was, “the Kingdom,” “the Kingdom of God,” many times repeated; “the Kingdom of heaven;” “the Son of man coming in His Kingdom;” “my Kingdom;” ” the children of the Kingdom.” Now, it is manifest that the Kingdom and the Church are vitally related, but not identical. The Kingdom is a fact in the world, being a moral and spiritual reign of truth and righteousness in the hearts and lives of men, Christ Himself being King, His word law, and His Spirit the indwelling life. But there is no outward form, no organization, no corporate life. The Church is the outward, visible, organic expression and development of this spiritual, real, but invisible Kingdom of Christ; not a perfect counterpart, but an imperfect representation; since the Church may contain some not in the Kingdom, and the Kingdom may contain many not the Gospel narratives in the churches.

The Latin Church gives this definition of a Church:

“The company of Christians knit together by the profession of the same faith, and the communion of the same sacraments, under the government of lawful pastors, and especially of the Roman bishop, as the only vicar of Christ on earth.”—Bellarmine De Eccl. Mil., III., 2.

The Greek Church gives this definition:

“The Church is a divinely instituted community of men, united by the orthodox faith, the law of God, the Hierarchy, and the sacraments.”—Full Catec. of the Orthodox Est. Church.

The Church of England defines after this manner:

“A congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinances, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”—Thirty-NineArticles, Art. XIX.

The Augsburg Confession has the following:

“A congregation of saints, in which the gospel is purely preached, and the sacraments are rightly administered.”—Aug. Con., Art. VII.

The Helvetic Confession states it thus:

“The Church is a community of believers, or saints, gathered out of the world, whose distinction is to know and to worship, through the Word and by the Spirit, the true God in Christ the Savior.”—Helv. Con., Art. XVII.

The Belgic Confession gives this definition:

“A true congregation or assembly of all faithful Christians, who look for their salvation only from Jesus Christ, as being washed by His blood and sanctified by His Spirit.” —Belg. Conf., Art. XXVII.

The Saxon Confession defines in these words:

“A congregation of men embracing the gospel of Christ, and rightly using the sacraments.” Saxon Conf., Art.XII.

The Scottish Confession puts it in these words:

“The Church is a society of the elect of all ages and countries, both Jews and Gentiles; this is the Cathalic, or universal church. This Church is invisible, and known only to God.”—Scot. Con., Art. XVI.

The Westminster Assembly’s definition is this:

“Particular Churches in the primitive times were made up of visible saints, viz., of such as being of age, professing faith in Christ, according to the rules of faith and life taught by Christ and his Apostles, and of their children.”—West. Assent. Directory; Neals Hist. Puritans, Vol. II., p. 469, Appendix. [See Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom; Smith’s Bible Dictionary; Append, B., Art. Ch.; Cyclop. Bib. Eccl. And Theo. Lit. Art. Ch. Et al.]

Baptists have attached less importance to creed statements than most other denominations. Nevertheless they, too, have some historical symbols which they respect and use, but to which they are not bound.

A Confession of Faith, issued by seven Baptist Churches in London, put forth A.D. 1643, as a vindication from the aspersions and calumnies of their opponents and enemies, defines a Church as follows:

“Jesus Christ hath here on the earth a spiritual kingdom which is His Church, whom He hath purchased and redeemed to Himself, as a peculiar inheritance: which Church is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world by the Word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the gospel; being baptized into that faith, and joined to the Lord, and to each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances by Christ their head and King.”—Bap. Conf., 1643. Art. XXXIII.

A Baptist Confession, put forth by the elders and brethren of many Baptist congregations in London, 1677, evidently based on that of 1643, adopted by the “General Assembly” of ministers and delegates of more than one hundred “baptized Churches,” in 1689, says:

“The Lord Jesus Christ collecteth out of the world to Himself, through the ministry of His Word by His Spirit, those that are given to Him by the Father, that they may walk before Him in all the ways of obedience, which He prescribeth to them in His Word. Those thus called He commandeth to walk together in particular societies or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of the public worship which He requireth of them in the world. The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing their obedience unto the call of Christ; and do willingly consent to walk according to the appointment of Christ, giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the gospel.” Art. XXVI., secs, 5.6. [In 1742 the old Philadephia Association adopted, with some additions and changes, this English Confession of 1689, since which it has been known in this country as “The Philadelphia Confession.”]

The New Hampshire Confession more briefly gives the following definition of a Church:

“A visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ, governed by his law, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested m them by His Word.”—N. H. Conf., Art. XVI.

IV. Signs of a True Church.

By what signs, notes, or attributes may a true Church of Christ be known?

To this question the Roman Catholic Catechism answers: “Unity, holiness, catholicity, apostolicity, and perpetuity.” To these, Bellarmine and others, from the ultra papal standpoint, add various others. These attributes Protestants accept as signs, only with their own definitions. But, if accepted, they must be predicated, to a certain extent, of “the invisible, universal Church.” More distinctively Protestant, however, are added these marks, oft-repeated in their definitions, “the preaching of the pure Word of God, and the right administration of the sacraments.” But these have reference rather to the action of the Church’s life, than to the substance of that life—to what is done in the Church, rather than to what constitutes the Church.

I. Unity. This is true from the New Testament point of view, which Baptists emphatically accept as thus taught: “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”—Eph. 4:3-6. There is one head – Christ. There is one body – the Church. But the doctrine that the unity of the Church consists in the combination of many separate congregations of Christians into one general or universal assembly of like faith and order, whether taught by Catholics or Protestants, is not taught in the Scriptures, and is repudiated by Baptists. There is, however, a spiritual unity in the “Communion of Saints,” existing among all who are truly born of God, however various and dissimilar their ecclesiastical polity and relations may be.

2. Holiness. This marks a true Church, because only such as are born of the Spirit, and become “new creatures in Christ Jesus” are suitable persons to be, or can properly become, members of it. They are called “saints,” sanctified ones. “Unto the Church of God, which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.”—1 Cor. 1:2. “As the elect of God, holy and beloved.” Col. 3:12. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices.”—1 Pet. 2:5. This holiness may not be perfect and absolute as to any one member, much less as to the entire body; nevertheless it is what the gospel claims, and is the prevailing mark of those who are united to Christ, as the branch is to the vine. Being characteristic, therefore, of individual believers, it becomes characteristic of the congregation of believers. But the papal claim that holiness comes from a union with that, as the only true Church, is an absurd fiction, not to be credited, or seriously considered.

3. Catholicity. Various ecclesiastical establishments arrogate, each to itself, universality, and claim to be the only “Catholic Church.” Such a claim is made by the Latin, the Greek, the English, and other prelatical systems. Such claims, however, have no foundation whatever in the historical, or doctrinal teachings of the New Testament. But if catholicity may be interpreted to mean a recognition of the essential spiritual unity of the faith in all of Christ’s redeemed people, and a willingness to accord sainthood to all of every name and nation who bear the image and have the spirit of their Lord, then every congregation of evangelical disciples is a Catholic Church. “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of Him.” —Acts 10:34,35. “For the same Lord over all, is rich unto all that call upon Him.”—Rom. 10:12.

4. Apostolicity. It is the claim of the Roman, and of some other prelatical and High-Church communions, that they have an unbroken succession of ministerial gifts and ordinations direct from the Apostles—what is sometimes termed the historical episcopate.” And if a succession in the ministry, then a succession largely also in Church order, and sacramental efficacy. This claim is historically groundless, and doctrinally useless. But the true apostolicity consists not in succession, but in possession; for they who possess and exhibit the doctrines, the spirit and the life of the Apostles, have right to claim this mark of a true gospel Church. “For other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 3:11. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone.”—Eph. 2:19,20.

5. Perpetuity. This has reference, not to a continuance of official administration, as in the previous note, but to visible and corporate Church life. And, strange to say, some Baptists have been courageous enough, and indiscreet enough to assert that an unbroken succession of visible, organized congregations of believers similar to their own, and therefore substantially like the primitive churches, can be proven to have existed from the Apostles until now. Such claims may well be left to papal audacity. For those who learn from that storehouse of sacred truth—the New Testament—what are the spirit, doctrine, ordinances, and polity of a Church of Christ, and practice the same, it matters nothing whether the chain of organic perpetuity may never have been broken, or broken a thousand times. They are the true disciples of Christ who have His spirit; the true successors of the Apostles who follow their teachings, and imitate their lives. “They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”—Acts 2:42. “And you being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind, by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled, in the body of His flesh, through death, to present you holy and without blemish, and unreprovable before Him; if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.”—Col. 1:22-23.

Strictly speaking, perpetuity is predicated of the invisible Church only. It is “the kingdom of heaven” on earth; “the Messiah’s reign,” which is perpetual. “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.”—Dan. 2:44. “But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.”—Dan. 7:18. “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:18. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”—Matt. 28:20.

But visible churches—local congregations—are largely subject to the mutations of human society. They rise and fall; they grow and decay; they flourish, decline and disappear. Many a “candle- stick” has been removed out of its place, and many more will be. But the cause is imperishable, and the foundations shall never be removed.

V. Not a Confederation.

A Christian Church, therefore, is not a confederation of many local congregations, under some one general head, whether that be a person, as bishop, patriarch, or pope; or under some system of government, as presbytery, synod, conference, or assembly. It is not an ecclesiastical system, extending over a wide area of country, claiming the right of control over all of similar faith within such territory. Such, at least, is far from the New Testament idea of a Church. The expressions found in the Acts and the Epistles clearly define and fix the primitive notion of a Church.

We read: “Then had the churches rest,” and “were established in the faith.” Not “the Church,” mark, as if all disciples were grouped in one comprehensive body. “The churches of Christ salute you.” “The churches of Galatia;” not “the Church.” “The churches of Asia salute you.” “Messengers of the churches.” “The churches throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria;” “the churches of Macedonia;” “the Church which was at Jerusalem;” “the Church of the Thessalonians;” “the Church of the Laodiceans.” “As I teach in every Church.” ” Ordained elders in every Church.” “The Church which is at Cenchrea.” “Greet the Church that is in their house.” “If therefore the whole Church be come together into one place.” “With the Church in their house.” No one can fail to understand the force of such expressions.

Note 1.—An organization of professing Christians may fail in some respects to meet the requirements of the Gospel, and still be a Church, providing it fulfills the fundamental conditions of a Scriptural faith and practice, holding the headship of Christ, maintaining the Ordinances and the ministry of the word in their purity.

Note 2.—But if it ceases to recognize and submit to Christ as its supreme ruler, and to receive His word as its supreme law, then it ceases to be a Church of Christ, though it may still preserve its religious character and retain many evangelical marks.

Note 3.—No Church, however sound its orthodoxy, or perfect its order, can fulfill the conditions of its existence without the indwelling life of Christ in its members, they walking in the Spirit, and not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Its importance and efficacy, therefore, depend not on mere mechanical conformity to any, even a divine model, so much as on the life and power of godliness in its constituent elements.

VI. Analogical Definitions.

The Church is not unfrequently spoken of in the New Testament in figurative language, in which certain analogies are suggested, in the use of which the nature, purpose and relations of this institution are more clearly represented. The fact that these tropes were not intended as logical definitions, and do only incidentally define, makes them perhaps the more interesting. The similarities elucidate, and the comparisons, so far as they were intended to apply, are accurate and instructing.

“And gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body.”—Eph. 1:22. Christ the head, and the Church His body. This is equally true of the Church universal and invisible, and of the Church local and visible. Head over all things, and in all respects. The head is the intelligent director, the authoritative lawgiver, to the body, and furnishes the will-force for active obedience. The Church as the body is to obey the directions, and to execute the authoritative mandates of Christ, the head. The figure indicates the intimate, sensitive, and sacred relation existing between Christ and His people. Also observe, there are not many heads, but one only—Christ. A many-headed body would be a montrosity. In God’s methods and operations there are the beauty and the symmetry of a sacred unity.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies,” “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it, even as the Lord the Church.” “This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”—Eph. 5:23-32. Here is the relation subsisting between Christ and the Church, is illustrated by the relations of husband and wife. A relationship intimate, tender, affectionate, sacred; on the recognition of which relations, cherishing their proper spirit, and discharging their implied obligations, depends the success of the purpose for which they exist. If to the husband be accorded, in the divine economy, headship over the wife, it is not for her servile subjection, but for the common good; and that his affection, protection, and support, may be made the more manifest, and the more abiding. If the Church is to be subject to, and directed by, its Head, it knows that “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” And if He seems exacting in His requirements, for its service and its sanctity, it is, “that He might present it to Himself, a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”

“The house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”—I Tim. 3:15. If “the pillar and ground of the truth” refer to the “Church of the living God,” as is almost universally conceded, and indeed is almost necessary to suppose, and not to the “mystery of godliness,” as some would make to appear, but which would seem forced and harsh, then we have a vivid conception of the importance of each individual congregation of the saints, as the organized unit of the “kingdom of heaven,” in the Lord. The pillar supports the superincumbent portion of the building. The ground, literally foundation, is that on which the building rests, and upon which it is reared. Thus, while in an emphatic sense Christ is the only foundation for the faith of saints, the hope of souls, yet in a very important sense does the Church become the support of all Christian endeavor, whether for the edification or the sanctification of the saints, or the spread of the gospel and the evangelization of the world. As a historical fact the churches of Christ have acted this part, and served this purpose, and are now serving it—indeed, this is the very end for which they were instituted. Without them, all those Christian activities which are filling the world with light and blessing, would soon become inert and fail. It is from beneath the threshold of the sanctuary, the river of life flows forth to the nations. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.”—Ps. 50:2. No human influence is so much a pillar and foundation to the truth as a spiritual, orderly, active Church, composed of godly members, well ordered and faithful to their Lord.

But may there not be a still further resemblance, intended or implied, in this use of the “pillar?” The stylos often had a memorial as well as an architectural value. The obelisk was reared to perpetuate the memory of great men, and of noble deeds. It preserved the records of historical events, and both instructed and inspired succeeding generations, by its inscribed memorials. It cultivated a becoming pride in national character, and sustained a worthy patriotism for national defence. The churches of Christ are monumental. Their preservation is miraculous; their very existence is a wonder. They perpetuate the grandest events in human history: the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Mediation of Christ. They do not simply honor the name and the deeds of the greatest and best of men, but of Him who is Lord of lords, and King of kings. In all senses each true Church is a pillar for Him, who is the Truth, and aids to support and to proclaim the profound mystery of godliness.

“Ye are God’s building.” “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”—1 Cor. 3:9-17. This is true, in a very important sense, of each individual Christian. But here it was declared true of the Corinthian Church. The Apostle asserted that he had laid the foundation of the edifice, and others had built upon it. He declares the building to be holy, as the shrines of heathen gods even, were supposed to be; and cautions them not to defile this sanctuary. It is the abiding presence of the Spirit in a Church, that gives importance to its existence, and efficacy to its ministrations. As a mere human organization it would not rise above the level of other moral and benevolent institutions. But the divine element in it lifts it to a loftier position. An ornate and costly material structure, a magnificent and imposing ritual, numbers, wealth, fashion, social attractions, can never meet the demand, nor realize the sacred purpose of the churches’ life, without the indwelling presence of the Spirit, as the presence of the Shekinah in the Tabernacle of old.

All this is suggestive to those who are active in planting, and laborious in building up the churches. No mistake should be made as to what manner of institutions they are to be. A salutary discipline is implied, as is elsewhere plainly enjoined, since “the temple of God is holy.” While this spiritual house “groweth up,” each one in his place, and according to his ability, is to aid in rearing the sacred edifice, and at the same time each member as a “living stone,” is “builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”—Eph. 2:22. But Christ is the “Chief Corner-stone,” and the abiding life, “in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord.”—Eph 2:21

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.—Gal. 4:10. Here the household, or family idea, represents the Church in the Apostle’s mind, and gives direction to his counsel. The chapter begins with directions as to the proper spirit in which disciplinary culture is to be administered in the churches; for this epistle is dedicated, not to the saints at large, “but unto the churches of Galatia.” By a natural and easy transition the writer conceives of each particular Church as a family, a household, where mutual affection should rule; the members careful for each other’s good, bearing one another’s burdens, and with fraternal solicitude, striving to restore to the truth such as are faulty and out of the way. A similar idea underlies the Apostle’s address to the Ephesian Church. “Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”—Eph. 2:19. Here is a double metaphor. The Church is likened to a state, a commonwealth, of which the saints have been made citizens, now no longer strangers, temporarily sojourning, but naturalized and permanently abiding, entitled to all the immunities of citizens native born. And then, in a narrowed circle, but a more intimate and sacred relationship, they are represented as members of the holy family of God, the Father. And if it may be said that the family here bears a more general signification, a wider application than to the individual Church, yet it must be remembered that the whole address is to a particular Church, “the saints which are at Ephesus;” and out of this specific idea grows the more general notion of the larger fellowship of the saints, which the tropes supply, of citizenship in the state and membership in the family. Thus, again to the Ephesians, Paul says, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.”—Eph. 3:15. Or, as the New Version renders it, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” The thought is distributive, and the conception is individualized. If the idea be that of the completed company of the saints, the Church universal both above and below, it manifestly aggregates it out of all the individual families of the faithful, the separate and distinct churches of Christ, called to be saints.

In the closing chapter of the Revelation we have the Church idea brought to view in a somewhat strange commingling of figures. But it is the Church triumphant; and the unusual mixing of the metaphors gives a strange and vivid picturesqueness and beauty to the conception. It represents the company of the saved, both as a bride, and as a city, and Christ as a bridegroom, and as a lamb. “And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And there came unto me one of the seven angels….saying, ‘Come hither, and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”—Rev. 21:2,9,10. The purity, beauty and glory of the redeemed saints are implied in the bridal relation, and the affection of the Lamb, who is the Bridegroom, and his joy at the final reception of his bride, so beautiful, for whom he had suffered so much, and waited so long, that he might present her to himself, “a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” It realizes the prophet’s declaration to Zion, “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”—Is. 62: 5. The added conception of a city to represent the company of glorified saints, may imply the transcendent glory of the final habitation of the righteous; and that the Church triumphant shall be orderly and active as well as blissful and glorious; governed by a polity as really as is the Church militant, law-abiding and obedient, under the joyous and loving reign of their Lord, the prince of life, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible.”

Thus the teachings of Scripture as to the Church idea do show the peculiar place in human society which this sacred brotherhood, this divinely appointed institution holds, as well as explains the purpose which, in the economy of redemption, and in God’s purposes of mercy to a lost world, the Church was designed to serve.

VII. The Nature of a Church.

The Christian Church is the only divinely organized society among men. It was instituted for a purpose by Christ, who gave to it laws, and an economy of methods and order by which to accomplish its sacred mission, and who still retains headship and kingship over it. A Church is the ”Society of Jesus” in a truer and better sense than Loyola knew when founding the order of Jesuits. Each such organized company of saints constitutes a body politic in a spiritual realm; in the world, but not of it; being able to maintain its existence and discharge its functions in all conditions of social and civil life, under all forms of human government: while not untrue to any, yet is in subjection to none, but gives allegiance to a foreign potentate, “the Prince of the kings of the earth.” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”—John 18:36. And of his disciples he said, “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.”—John 17:16.

Members of the Church have all the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens in civil government, as others have, and owe allegiance to that under which they live, in all matters temporal, so long as such allegiance does not interfere with perfect obedience to the claims of Christ upon them. But if human laws, and the demands of human governments, contravene the divine claim, or in any way interfere with the rights of conscience or religious faith, and the freedom of belief and worship, then God is to be obeyed rather than man. His claims are supreme, and annihilate all rival claims. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Christian men should be good and law-abiding citizens, unless obedience to human law demands a violation of divine law. Their fealty to the higher law must be prompt and unquestioned. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”—I Peter 2:13-15. As to things spiritual, the state has no right of control over, or interference with, them. Matters of conscience, faith, and worship the civil power has no right to meddle with, so long as the government is not injured, nor the rights of others put in jeopardy by their exercise.

The nature of a Church is very different from that of other societies and associations. Its members may be connected with other organizations, whose objects contemplate the furtherance of commerce, literature, science or the arts; they may be moral, philanthropic, and even religious. But they do not reach the high ideal of the Church’s vocation, nor fill the broad sphere of the Church’s mission. That is no less than the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Fellowship in such other associations will be consistent and harmless—it may be even commendable—providing the objects they seek, and the methods by which they are sought, be consistent with Christian morals; and providing, also, their duties to these in no way interfere with their duties to, and usefulness in, the Church, whose claims are first and most imperative. In such other associations good may be accomplished by the wider diffusion of intelligence, the cultivation of social morals and of public virtue, the mitigation of human suffering, and the advancement of a true civilization.

All these aims are good, and all good men should encourage them. But all these aims are contemplated by a Christian Church, and can and will be better reached by a Church, if true to its calling and mission, than by any other society; while beyond and above all these remains the one special and unique object of the Church’s life, which all other societies lack; a regenerated humanity, in order to constitute the ultimate “Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven.”—Heb. 12:23. Did not He who founded the Church, who knew what was in man, and who understood the world He came to save, who gave Himself to restore the divine image in man, and the divine authority over man, know what sort of organized endeavor, what kind of a society would be best adapted to accomplish the simple but sublime object contemplated? Every effort at social virtue and moral reform should find its best example and its most efficient advocacy in the Church of God. It would be a shame for those who are expressly set forth to be the “light of the world,” and the “salt of the earth,” to fall below the standard of goodness in worldly societies, or the conceptions of virtue in carnal minds. Then would they no longer be “holding forth the word of life.”

VIII. The Authority of the Churches.

All associations of men are supposed to possess such and so much authority as may be needful to control their members within the limits of their associational relations, to guard their organizations against perversion and disaster, and to secure the objects for which they exist. This authority they have the consequent right to exercise, and power to enforce. It is derived either from voluntary compact, where each individual surrenders to the body a part of his personal freedom of action, or else is conferred by some external and superior authority. Thus with churches.

Its members, on uniting with a Church, do voluntarily surrender some personal prerogatives, that they may be invested in the body, the organic whole. But such personally surrendered prerogatives constitute but a small part of its authority. Its chief authority is given by Christ alone. The state cannot bestow it; nor can legislatures, or courts of civil jurisdiction, or princes, or parliaments, either bestow or annul the charter by right of which the churches of Christ exist and act. Quite as little can that authority emanate from any ecclesiastical source, since all ecclesiastical orders emanate from, and grow out of, the churches, and are created by them—do not create them. Popes, patriarchs, bishops, priests, synods, assemblies, conventions, conferences, supposing they were Scriptural, do not make churches, but are made by them; cannot invest churches with authority, since they possess no antecedent authority in the premises, but are invested by the churches, directly or indirectly, with all the authority they claim to possess. All rightful authority, therefore, is conferred by Christ, the king in Zion. He builds them: “On this rock will I build my Church.” He commissions them: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” He is personally ever with them, superintending, and giving them success: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 16:18; 28:19,20. What He does not give is not possessed. What He does not sanction is not legitimate. What He does bestow is a sacred trust, to be guarded and used for His purpose and praise. This, then, is the source, and the only authoritative source, of the Church’s right of rule. It can assume none and derive none from any other source.

This authority a Church can exercise on none but its own members. They can bring the moral force of their persuasion, of their consistent living, and of their Christian character, to bear on all around them, as indeed they should; but as to authoritative administration, they can claim no right of interference with any except those with whom they hold covenant relations in the fellowship of the body. Said the Apostle to the Corinthians, “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?”—1 Cor. 5:12. Nor can a Church exercise authority over its own members in any respect except as to spiritual concerns. With their personal rights and duties as members of society, it cannot interfere. It cannot dictate what they shall eat or drink, or wherewithal they shall be clothed; what business they shall pursue, what associations they shall keep, what privileges they may enjoy; except, that in all these they shall do nothing which shall be inconsistent with their position and profession as Christians; nothing that shall harm or hinder the gospel of Christ; nothing that shall destroy their influence for good, place a stumbling-block in the way of unconverted men, or cast a reproach on the Christian name. And of all these questions the Church has the right to judge. The sphere of a Church’s authority is therefore distinctively and exclusively moral and spiritual. Those so-called churches, whether of the past or present, that have assumed dictatorship over their communicants in all matters both sacred and secular, have forfeited their claim to be recognized as true churches of Christ, and are to be held as religious societies only. They have transcended all proper bounds, violating personal rights by their assumptions.

Nor yet can a Church dominate the faith or conscience of its members. With such personal religious liberty no man, or combination of men, has a right to interfere. For such liberty and its lawful exercise each one is responsible to God alone. The Church’s authority goes not so far. It can and should secure harmony in the faith and fellowship of the body. But to what extent it may require doctrinal conformity, and how it should treat dissent,whether it may or may not become a court of jurisdiction in matters of faith, or only of morals, and whether its acts may be punitive, will be considered more at length in the chapter on discipline.

IX. The Community of Churches.

Churches hold relations of comity and fraternal courtesy with each other, but sustain no legal governmental or organic connections. No Church can exercise discipline upon another, or for another, or interfere in any way with another’s disciplinary acts. No member has a right to vote in the meeting of any Church but his own, or even to be present at such a meeting, or participate in the Communion except by invitation and as a matter of courtesy. No pastor has a right to exercise his ministry in any Church but his own except on invitation. Churches, however, are fraternal and exchange courtesies, dismiss members by letter to each other, and receive those dismissed, respect each other’s disciplinary acts, but are not bound by them. Pastors exchange pulpits. Churches unite fraternally in associations for mutual benefit and for missionary work. They bear themselves toward each other with that respect and affection which become disciples of a Common Master, but to talk of an inter-dependence of organic and official Church life and action, as some have done, is most absurd. There is no such thing. These questions will be more fully considered in another place.

X. Churches Constituted.

Churches are constituted by voluntary covenant on the part of those who wish to become members. The constitution of a Church, strictly speaking, is to be found in the New Testament only, as regards both faith and practice. But it is customary to have these formulated, which thus become creed symbols, and to a certain extent serve as standards. And though no Church and no Church member is asked to sign them, or is required to pledge allegiance to them, yet a general and substantial assent and conformity to them is expected, in order that harmony in the churches and among the churches may be secured. And this harmony is secured to a remarkable degree among Baptists, when we consider the great number of their churches, the wide extent of territory over which they are scattered, and the great diversity of social life, local customs, and educational bias which naturally influence them; and especially when we consider the tenacity with which they maintain the independence of the individual Church, and the right of private judgment in the individual member.

The process by which new churches are constituted is very simple. The necessity for, and the practicability of, organizing one, must be decided by those who are to constitute it, and who are to bear the expense and the responsibility of its support. These may be persons belonging to some other Church or churches, who find themselves living where there is none, but where one is believed to be needed, and where the increase of population shows a need for increased religious privileges. Or such persons may be converts from some recent revival in a neighborhood where there seems both room and a demand for another Church. After mature deliberation on the part of such persons, meeting together for consultation, canvassing all sides of the question, taking counsel of wise and discreet brethren, with much prayer for divine direction—since such a movement is one of grave concern—general agreement being secured, a meeting is finally called for the organization. A committee most likely has been previously appointed to secure some approved form of Church Covenant, and Articles of Faith, to be considered and adopted by the body. [Such a form of Covenant, prepared for this work, widely adopted, and many years in use, may be found in this volume, as also well-known and extensively used Articles of Faith. See Appendix.]

Before the organization actually takes place, however, such persons as propose to constitute the body, should procure letters from the churches of which they are members, given for the purpose of forming a new Church. Should there be among them persons who have been members of regular Baptist churches, but have for any reason lost their membership without special fault of their own, who are living consistent Christian lives, and are acceptable to the others, they can, by consent of the company, be admitted as constituent members. So can others who have been baptized on profession of their faith in Christ, for the purpose of so uniting in the formation.

The “Constituting act” would properly and appropriately be the unanimously voting—perhaps by rising—a resolution like this:

“Resolved, That, guided as we believe by the Holy Spirit, and relying on the blessing of God, we do, here and now, by this act, constitute ourselves a Church of Jesus Christ to perform His service, and to be governed by His will, as revealed in the New Testament. And to this end we do hereby adopt and agree to the following Covenant and Articles of Faith.” Here let the Covenant be read, to which agreement may be witnessed by each one raising the right hand. Prayer for strength, guidance, and blessing should follow. Such an act makes such a company of disciples, ipso facto, a Church of Christ with all the rights, powers, and privileges of any New Testament Church. Officers can afterward be chosen, as seems to them best, a pastor, deacons, trustees; only that some one should at once be selected, temporarily or permanently—unless previously chosen—to act as clerk, to preserve a minute of these and of all subsequent proceedings, as well as the antecedent proceedings which have led to this organization.

Some churches, at their organization, adopt a very elaborate and complicated “constitution and by-laws” for their guidance, a course of very doubtful expediency. They are never necessary, and often more trouble than help. The well understood teachings of the Scriptures are a sufficiently plain guide in all matters of morals and discipline, and such special cases as may arise can be dealt with on their merits at the time, or provided for by standing resolutions to be placed upon the records, as subsequent guides in all similar cases. For instance, if the body wishes to make any deliverance or establish any rule, as may be the case, on the subjects of Temperance, Missions, Sunday-schools, Sabbath-keeping, or Covetousness, they can embody their views in standing resolutions, place them on their minutes, and hold them as standards for subsequent action in similar cases. [See “Optional Resolutions” in Appendix.]

Note 1.—The multiplication of feeble churches should be guarded against; and the organization of new interests without the prospect of becoming independent and efficient, should not be encouraged, especially in a community already well supplied with religious privileges.

Note 2.—More particularly should the formation of new churches as the outgrowth and fruit of strife and dissension in older ones, be avoided and discountenanced, except in extreme cases. A large and careful observation proves that very few churches so constituted ever attain to any considerable degree of prosperity or usefulness.

Note 3.—The existence of officers is not essential to the existence of churches, possessing all ecclesiastical possibilities and powers. Officers are developed out of the membership by election and investiture by the Church. And in the absence of formally invested officers, the Church can select some of its members to officiate, temporarily, in all departments of its service; either to conduct its Worship, dispense the Word, or administer the Ordinances.

XI. Churches Recognized.

It is customary for a new Church to call a Council to recognize it. Occasionally this precautionary act takes place at the time of the constitution of the body. More frequently at a subsequent period. The object of the Council is to examine their doctrines, inquire into the circumstances, and the reasons for their organization, so as to be able to express approval of their course, and certify to the churches they represent, their fellowship for the new body as a regularly constituted Church of the same faith. The calling of a Council for this purpose is entirely optional with the Church. It is a prudential measure, very proper and well to be continued as a guard against irregularities in doctrine or practice, and is likely to secure the sympathy and approbation of sister churches; but it is in no sense essential. The body is no more a Church for having the approval of a Council, and no less one for being without it.

The object of the Council, after being organized, is to inquire into the facts of the case for which they were convened. They hear a statement made by some person selected to speak for the Church; examine their Articles of Faith and Covenant, the letters by which those from other churches have united in the organization; carefully consider whether there be apparent need of a Church in that particular field; and when the whole subject is fully before them, vote approval of the steps taken, if they do approve, or advise to the contrary if they disapprove. It is customary to hold some public religious service appropriate to the occasion, calculated to give them encouragement in their enterprise, and assure them of the fellowship and sympathy of sister churches. Such services may take any form preferred by the body or advised by the Council; usually there is a discourse preached, a charge given to the Church, and the hand of fellowship extended, with remarks, through some one chosen by the Council, to some one selected by the Church to receive this expression of fraternal goodwill.

Note 1.—If a Council should decline to recognize a newly constituted Church, deeming the organization unwise and uncalled for, still that Church would have the right to maintain its organization and to continue its work and its worship. The Council could not unmake it, and it would as really be a Church without, as with their sanction. It would seldom, however, be wise to proceed against the wisdom and advice of pastors and members of other churches assembled in a Council. Such adverse decision would lessen their influence in the community, and abate the sympathy and confidence of sister churches.

Note 2.—It not unfreauently happens that a Council doubts the propriety of recognizing a new Church, and yet hesitates to refuse, lest a refusal might be a mistake, place difficulties in the way of a struggling interest, and hinder a good cause. In such cases the wise course is for the Council to adjourn for a specified time—three or six months—and wait developments. At the end of that time the case may be clearer, and admit of definite settlement.

Note 3.—To prevent mistakes in organizing churches, some hold that the Council should be called before constitution, to advise as to whether it is best to constitute, rather than afterward to recognize. This course would doubtless avoid some mistakes, though it is open to some objections, and is not usually followed—possibly because of the independency of those concerned in the formation of new churches.

XII. Churches Disbanded.

It sometimes happens, under stress of circumstances, that it becomes needful, or at least seems wise, to abandon Church organizations and to transfer the efforts made for their support to new fields, or to a union with other churches. It is always a matter of serious concern thus to remove the candle-stick out of its place, and should be determined on only after long consideration, much prayer, and consultation with wise and unbiased brethren. But duty may require that it shall be done. Cases have occurred, where complicated and inveterate troubles in the body have been so long continued as to discourage all hope of further comfort, edification or usefulness, promising only further contention and scandal to the Christian name. The only resort may be to disband, and the members go into other churches, or, such as believe they can free themselves from the old troubles, and work harmoniously together, unite in forming a new Church, leaving out the old roots of bitterness and seeds of contention.

Of the wisdom and propriety of such a step the body itself must be the judge, with all the light it can obtain; and since this step will most likely be opposed by some, the question must be finally decided by a majority of the members, as in other cases. There are some things, however, that majorities even cannot rightfully do, and they must proceed cautiouslly.

1. Each member has an indefeasible right to all the immunities of Church membership, whether moral, spiritual, social or otherwise; which rights cannot be abrogated or alienated, and must be regarded as sacred. If the Church be disbanded, therefore, letters must be given to all the members, which will secure them admission to other churches, without loss of position or privilege.

2. There are rights of property also to be considered, if the Church holds property, purchased or given for religious uses. The deed by which such property is held, or the charter by which the Church has become a body corporate for the purpose of holding and controlling temporalities, would have to be well understood, so that such property might not be lost, or diverted to other uses than those for which it was given or purchased. The laws of the state, and the decisions of courts would have to be consulted, so that such property should still be used according to its original design.

3. If a Church be disbanded, and absolutely dissolved, and a new one constituted on the same ground, and of the same materials, the new one cannot hold the property, retain the officers, perpetuate the history, or claim the immunities of the old one, but must begin anew, unless, indeed, it may so far be allowed by legal process to hold the property, appropriating it to its legitimate use.

The process by which the organization is disbanded, or dissolved, is very simple.—After all preliminary preparations are attended to—for no Church acts can be performed after the final act of dissolution has been passed—letters having been voted to its members, and the clerk authorized to give such letters to any person who may subsequently appear, and have right to them; then a simple vote, “that we do here and now, by this act, disband as a Church, and cease to exist as a corporate and covenant organization,” will accomplish the purpose. What disposition shall be made of the records, of any furniture, or other effects belonging to them, would previously have been determined.

Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).