William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)

Article 16 – The Constitution Of The Church

Articles Of The Faith And Order Of A Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptist Church Of The Lord Jesus Christ, Based On The Declaration Of Faith And Practice Of John Gill, D. D., 1720

XVI. The Constitution of a Church.

We believe that a Church is an independent and organised body of spiritual men and women[1] who have been baptised and are agreed upon the essential truths and ordinances of the Gospel,[2] and have voluntarily given themselves to the Lord and to each other, for their common benefit and the glory of God;[3] and that it is subject (in all spiritual matters) to no authority save that of the Lord as made known in His holy word.[4]


[1] Acts 15:41,42; 18:22; Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 2:14; Rev 1:4

[2] Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 7:17; 11:16; 14:40; Col 2:5; Amos 3:3; Rom 12:16; 1 Cor 1:10; 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 1:27; 3:16; 4:2; 1 Pet 3:8

[3] Rom 15:7; 1 Cor 14:26; 2 Cor 8:5; Gal 5:10

[4] Matt 22:21; Jn 13:13,14; 18:36; Acts 4:19; 16:4; 1 Cor 7:17; Eph 5:23; 1 Thess 4:1—From the nature of the case it is not possible to cite texts in support of church order as definite and decisive as those quoted in corroboration of doctrinal truths. The New Testament gives us broad, general principles, and enjoins us to “do all things decently, (or in a manner which is becoming to and in harmony with these,) and in order.” (1 Cor 14:40) The Holy Spirit dwells in the churches, and leads them to apply these principles as circumstances arise. The ways of our predecessors when m undoubted harmony with the Word of God, therefore demand our regard and respect. Paul speaks with deference of the “custom of the churches.” (1 Cor 11:16; Cant 1:8) Hence, those who have departed from the long-established usages of Particular Baptist Churches, should rather be required to justify their conduct by the word of God than demand of us “chapter and verse” for abiding by the well-considered precedents set by the eminently godly and enlightened men who went before. Jer. 6:16)


Note 1.—The term Church (which is derived from the Greek word kuridkon—belonging to the Lord, kurios) is the accepted and proper translation of the Greek word ekklesia, “an Assembly called out.”[1] It is used, in current English, in a variety of senses; but, in the New Testament, mainly in three. (1) For the whole number of the saved from the beginning to the end of time, (Eph. 5:25, 27; Col. 1:18.) (2) For all God’s people on earth at one period, (1 Cor. 10:32; 1 Tim. 3:15); and (3) For a local congregation as defined in this Article.[2]

Note 2.—The people of God are a vital unity, through their union to their glorious Head, the Lord Jesus. Christians compose one family, (Eph. 3:15) having the living God for their Father. Their faith rests, their hopes arise, their love centres in the one only Saviour. Their holiness they all ascribe to the “one Spirit” who (as the Church Catechism witnesses) “sanctifieth…… all the elect people of God.” All profess allegiance to the same Lord, whose authority is paramount and final. All appeal to the same Bible as the only source of Divine truth, (Eph. 4:1-6).

All heaven-bom persons believe that it is their duty to render this vital unity a visible one (John 17:21-23; Eph. 4:3); yet the ways in which this is done differ so widely, as to necessitate the most earnest and prayerful enquiries as to which method of Christian profession most nearly corresponds with the will of God as revealed in His word. To indicate this is our present object.

Episcopacy; Congregationalism or Independency; Presbyterianism, with its more recent modification, Methodism; Quakerism; and Brethrenism—are the accepted names of the five systems of religious association adopted by different Christians, by the maintenance of which they seek to give effect to their loyalty to Christ, and their obedience to His precepts. The Church order of the Strict and Particular Baptists is Congregational or Independent.

These views were first professed at the close of the sixteenth century—not long after the Protestant Reformation. Ere long a division took place on the question of Baptism. As opinions became defined, those Congregationalists who sprinkled infants became technically known as Independents—while those who practised the immersion of believers were styled “Ana­ baptists”[3] by their opponents—though they ordinarily called themselves Baptists. The title still applies to Christians who “maintain the congregational order of churches inviolate” and practise the baptism by immersion of professed believers.

Note 3.—Our article states that a Church is a body[4]—that is, “a number of persons united by common ties, which in this case are their common participation in “the salvation of God,” and their common adherence to the doctrines and ordinances of the New Testament. Hence the essence of Church membership is stated to be “fellowship in (the truths and practices of) the Gospel,” (Phil. 1:5.)

Note 4.—Each Church is independent, namely, it has no organic relation to any other body of men or of Christians. It is independent of the State, and does not regulate its movements or proceedings by the Laws of the Land, and has even sometimes to act in opposition to them. It is independent of other Churches, and neither defers to their opinions nor submits to their authority. Hence it is neither national nor parochial, but in submission to the will of Christ, as revealed in the New Testament, frames its own creed, adopts its own rules, and choses its own officers, without interference or dictation of any kind from without.[5]

Note 5.—A church is an organised body—that is, it is constituted on a defined basis, acts on defined principles, and allots to all of its members their appropriate positions, privileges and duties, according to the word of God. In this its power is not legislative. It can originate no laws for its own guidance, but is bound to adhere to those made and provided in the Book to which it appeals as its sole and supreme authority. Hence it is purely an executive body—following, according to its light, the principles and precepts of Christ and His apostles.

The government of a true Church is therefore Congregational—that is to say, every member has a voice in the management of its affairs. No business can be done; no members can be admitted or withdrawn from; no officers can be elected with­ out the consensus of the entire Assembly, every one having an equal right to vote.

Independency and Congregationalism are not the same. A Church is Independent when it has no organic connection with any other religious body. It is Congregational when its affairs are regulated by the voice and vote of all the members.

Churches in which the Minister alone decides on the fitness of candidates for membership, and admits them on his own authority, (like those of William Huntington and George Abrahams) are Independent, but not Congregational— whereas an ideal Gospel Church, such as is portrayed in these notes, is both.

Note 6.—Church membership is voluntary. In deference to the Master’s will, all Christians are free to join a particular Assembly or not, and its members are at liberty to use their discretion as to receiving or rejecting such as seek membership.

Church Membership involves surrender. In joining a Church, persons “give themselves to the Lord and to each other”—willingly undertaking to give their convenience, their influence, their gifts, their time, and their money to the common good. Having used all lawful efforts by diligence in business (Rom. 12:11) to provide “things honest in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17) and duly to maintain those of their own house. (1 Tim. 5:8.) Church members are bound to serve each other “by person and by purse” in every possible way.

Note 7.—The object sought by our associated Church life is our common good, and especially the glory of God. Isolated Christians may serve Him, but it is only when banded together in the way which He ordains that we can fully do so. This motive should weigh on the conscience of every saved sinner. The people may be poor, obscure and uncultured; but if they compose a true Church, every Christian should connect himself with the congregation nearest the home in which Providence has placed him.

Our Conduct Towards Churches Not Of Our “Faith And Order”

Note 8.—From this follows the obligation to own no religious community as a Church that is not Scripturally constituted as such. “Every heap of bricks is not a wall. Every group of sheep is not a flock. Every multitude of soldiers is not a regiment—and all congregations of [even true and devoted] Christians are not Churches,” (John Hazelton.) If their terms of admission are not scriptural; if they do not consist wholly of baptised believers; if there is no doctrinal basis, or if this be lax, insufficient, or unsound; if the presence of improper persons for Transient Communion at the Lord’s Table is sanctioned; or if immoral persons, or such as hold error, are retained—other Churches (without denying the personal godliness of any of their members) are bound to repudiate them as bodies. Hence such should never be asked to dismiss their members to true and orderly Churches; nor should true and orderly Churches dismiss members to them.

If it is or is not Scriptural to call such irregular assemblies Churches, is a moot point. But whether we disown them as Churches, or recognise them as such and simply consider their creed unsound, or their practice unscriptural—on either ground we are compelled to decline ecclesiastical fellowship with them.[6]

Harsh things are said against Strict and Particular Baptists for their refusing to receive members from irregularly constituted Churches and declining to transfer members to them; as if by so doing they denied the personal godliness of the individuals composing such Churches, and declined all spiritual fellowship with them.

Such allegations arise from failing to recognise the distinction (which we deem most important) between, 

Christian Communion and Church Communion.

Note 9.—“Gospel fellowship on earth is two-fold; namely Christian fellowship and Church fellowship. We desire to have fellowship and communion with all that love Christ in sincerity. When someone, whether he belongs to the Church or not, pours out his heart in prayer to God, we feel a union of soul to him, and recognise that he is our brother. We possess the same spirit, and have fellowship with him in the feelings he thus expresses. Those, howevor, who compose a Christian Church are said to be in Church fellowship. All Christian fellowship is not Church fellowship, but all Church fellowship is or should be Christian fellowship.” (John Hazelton.)

“Such brethren may be amiable as Christian gentlemen; earnest as workers in the cause of morality. Their excellence we appreciate: their zeal we respect. Their anomalous and unscriptural position, however, precludes our recognising in any way their ecclesiastical standiug.” (From an Address in The Gospel Herald for July, 1875—the joint production of Israel Atkinson, of Brighton, William Crowther, J. P., of Comersal, and the Editor, W. Jeyes Styles.)


[1] The derivation of the word is instructive as it comes from the verb, ek-kaleo, “I call out.” It implies that Christians are called out of the world by and to the Lord. It is, however, accurately rendered Church, and readers should avoid the affectation of the Plymouth Brethren, who (to serve their purpose) frequently render it “assembly.” In Acts 19:32,39,41, it is, however, rightly so translated. It occurs in Acts 7:38, where it means, not “the church” in a religious sense, but the people who were called out of Egypt and gathered together “in the wilderness.” “The church in thy house” meant either the believing and baptised persons in a locality who statedly met for worship at the residence of the person referred to, or such members of his household (oikon) as were Christians (Rom. 16:5; Phil. 2.)

[2] Editor’s Note: See Benajah Carroll’s booklet on the church, entitled “Ecclesia”—https://www.baptists.net/history/category/benajah-carroll-ecclesia-complete/. —Jared Smith)

[3] “Ana-baptist,” literally, one who baptises over again. It is wrongly applied to Baptists, commonly so called, since they deny that Infant Sprinkling is Baptism at all, and insist that the immersion of professed believers only is Baptism. Our brethren of the modern “Keswick” school who, with Rev. F. B. Meyer, B.A., hold that believers should be re-immersed whenever favoured with new light (founding their views on Acts 19:3-5) might accurately he styled “Anabaptists.”

[4] This word is more familiar to us in its French representative. Corps (a body.) Thus we speak of a Rifle Corps, of the esprit de corps or the animating spirit of a number of persons who are formed into one body; or of an incorporated society—an assemblage of persons who have combined for a specified purpose, and who unitedly compose a corporation, or a Company authorised by law to act as one individual—the personality of each being merged into the body of the whole.

[5] In opposition to Episcopalians and Presbyterians, the early Independents held that “every particular society of visible professors, agreeing to walk together in the faith and order of the Gospel is a complete church, having full power within itself to elect and ordain all church officers, to exclude all offenders, and to do all other acts relating to the edification and well-being of the Church. They disavowed the power of all synods, presbyteries, convocations and assemblies of Divines over particular churches. Advice they were ready to receive, but the exercise of jurisdiction over them they totally renounced.”— Quoted from Calamy in “Bunhill Memorials,” page 30, by J. Andrews Jones, who adds, “This is religious liberty, the unalienable right of man, and any infringement thereof is arbitrary and despotic.” Unions or Associations of churches for Scriptural purposes are, of course, permissible; though without much watchfulness, these have a tendency to exalt men of wealth and secular influence; to give prominence to gifted rather than to gracious ministers; to bring forward popular subjects, instead of such as are solemn, heart-searching, and condemnatory of worldliness and fashionable errors; and thus to repress and hinder the truth.

[6] “I might call the members of a church, practising open communion, Christians, but I could not call them a Church duly organised, or a Church at all.”—John Foreman. “I do not say that I would unchristianise or unchurch (such). I should say that they are not walking orderly, but are pursuing a practice forbidden by the word of God.”—Samuel Milner. “Strictly speaking, I should not call it a Church.”—George Wright. Report of the Norwich Chapel Suit, 1860; Norton’s Edition, page 97.

William Styles (1842-1914) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”.

William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)
William Styles, A Memoir of John Hazelton (Complete)