AN OPEN LETTER TO A BROTHER IN CHRIST AND IN THE MINISTRY CONCERNING THE SCRIPTURAL REQUIRMENTS FOR STARTING A TRUE CHURCH
By Wayne Camp
My Dear Brother in Christ,
It was good to hear from you and I appreciate the kind words you said about me very much. You wrote to inquire about my position on starting a church. I am glad you wrote and inquired for I was thinking about writing an article on this matter and your letter gave me the needed impetus to do so. I am not going to publish your letter in full but the crux and purpose of it is embodied in one paragraph.
Do you believe a church has to be started by another church? Please answer this question specifically. I am not saying you said a church could not trace this back to Christ. This is not the question. How you start churches is not the question. Whether or not it would be right for a church to start a church is not the question. The one and only question is: "Do you believe that, in order for a church to be a true church, it has to be started (authority of"mother" church) by another true church?
My Brother, I am a Baptist and we Baptists believe in both the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures in matters involving church order, practice and doctrine. Sola Scriptura is our claim. It was our claim long before any reformers, including Reformed Baptists, took up the cry. True Baptists, especially those who claim to be Landmark Baptists, also believe in the authority of the Scriptures in matters of church polity and practice.
It is my position that if one is going to insist that something is essential for being a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, that something must be commanded clearly in the word of God. Or, if not commanded, it must be set forth by example and precedent. I will answer your question based, not on tradition, but on "thus saith the Word of God."
It was often the practice of Jesus to ask a question, or questions, before answering one posed to him. I will ask some questions of you and all who read this and then I will specifically explain my position.
FIRST QUESTION: Where in Scripture is the term "mother" church" authorized or used? The only possible "mother" church I read of in Scripture is mentioned in the book of Revelation. Revelation 17:5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE "MOTHER" OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. That was certainly not a true church, if a church at all. I believe, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE "MOTHER" OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH includes false churches but is not restricted to false churches. I believe it is acceptable to use it with reference to the Roman Catholic Church as long as one does not hold that it is limited to the Roman Catholic Church.
To me, the idea of one church being the "mother" of another church infers some things that are undesirable. Lets just suppose that today, March 15, 1997, we meet in Possum Grape, Arkansas (There is such a place!), to organize a church. The so-called "mother" church" goes through the traditional formalities of organizing a church. Since there is a "mother" church, the new church must be her "daughter". Does the "mother" have authority over her new-born "daughter"? Are they "mother" and "daughter" church? Or, are they sister churches? Does a "daughter" church need to honor and obey her "mother" church? How long does a "mother" church have authority over a "daughter" church? If, after a couple of years, a "daughter" church does something wrong, does the "mother" church have any authority to correct her two-year old "daughter"? I know the word "mother" may be used in different ways. Sadaam Hussein spoke of conducting "the "mother" of all wars" a few years ago. If I understand your position, you believe that every church must be started by a "mother" church." Can you cite a specific verse that commands this, or sets forth the terminology "mother church" or, at least, infers such terminology? I am not asking for tradition, nor only what you and/or others think. I am asking for Scripture in which a true church in New Testament times, such as the church at Antioch, was ever referred to as a "mother church". I am not asking for ten verses, or two. One will do!
SECOND QUESTION: Can you cite chapter and verse where any church mentioned in the New Testament ever voted to start a specific church at a specific place at a specific time? When the church at Antioch was commanded to send out Paul and Barnabas they were simply commanded to send them forth to the work to which God had called them. Acts 13:2-4 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. There is no indication, whatever, in the Biblical account that they did more than that.
Paul and Barnabas went forth to the work and did what God had called them to do. They preached the gospel; they baptized those who were saved, they organized them into churches, they set them in order with pastors. After at least nine months, they returned to Antioch "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). It is obvious that the congregation at Antioch did not know what had transpired during this first journey of Paul and Barnabas. This sending church did not even know how the Lord had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Can you imagine that? They had started churches with Gentile members in them and did not even know it? But, they did not draw back in horror and charge Paul and Barnabas with spiritual adultery. It was good news to their ears. Obviously Paul and Barnabas had not asked them to vote to baptize a single person whom they baptized during that time. It is equally evident from Acts 14:27 that Antioch did not vote to start each, or any, of the churches started on this first journey.
Some use the fact that Paul was an apostle as grounds for his doing this. Therefore, I ask you, are there instances in the New Testament where other men started churches only after a specific church voted to start a specific church?
Again, I am not asking for tradition. Nor am I asking for opinion. One verse of inspired Scripture will do. Just one! But, at least one! Can you give me one verse?
QUESTION THREE: Can a living, conscious, healthy, intelligent "mother" give birth to a "daughter" or "daughters" without knowing it until someone tells her? If each individual church must have an individual "mother" church that votes to establish that specific church, surely that "mother" church would not have to be told she had done it. Paul and Barnabas came back to Antioch and told them what had happened. Would that have been necessary, if they had voted to start each and every church individually?
Brother, I believe the Bible to be an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. I trust you believe the same. If this vote of a "mother" church to start a "daughter" church were essential to the "daughter" being a true church, the Bible would surely give us one, at least one, example of same. As Zedekiah asked Jeremiah on a matter, I ask you, "Is there any word from the LORD?" (Jeremiah 37:17) If a definite requirement to be a true church is for a "mother church" to vote to establish a church, surely there is word from the Lord on the matter. I would be pleased to learn what it is for I have searched and cannot find it.
QUESTION FOUR: Can a New Testament Church receive and dismiss members without knowing she has done so? I recently had a discussion on these matters with a dear brother who took the position that Paul and Barnabas, when they baptized a believer, baptized him into the church at Antioch. I asked him if a church could receive members and dismiss them and not know they had received them or dismissed them. I still await his answer.
When Paul and Barnabas went into a new location, they preached the gospel and folks were baptized. Into what church were these baptized? Were these folks then dismissed from that church when a new church was organized? It was Antioch that sent Paul and Barnabas out to do the work to which God had called them. Do you believe Paul baptized them into the church at Antioch? If so, did Antioch receive members into their fellowship without knowing they had done so? When they did organize a church in a city, such as the church at Thessalonica, were the members of Antioch who were in Thessalonica dismissed from the Antioch assembly to become a part of the Thessalonian assembly? I guess we are back to the question again. Can a church receive and dismiss members and not know at the time of reception she has received them and not know at the time of dismissal that she has dismissed them? Can you cite for me a single verse of Scripture which indicates that Antioch, or any other church, received and dismissed members whom they never knew they had and never knew they had dismissed? I cannot accept that on blind faith. I must have some Scripture before I can believe it. Can you help me with a verse of Gods all-sufficient word?
QUESTION FIVE: Can you cite Scripture which proves unequivocally that Paul ever operated what is called a "mission" in any city where he established a church? I have no idea what your position on this is. I do know there are folks who believe there must be a mission in a place before there can be a church organized. Some even hold that a mission cannot be organized into a church until it is completely self-supporting. I even know of one ABA preacher who has published a book with the main thesis being that a mission must be completely self-supporting before it can be organized into a church. I am sure you do not hold that position. But, can you give me any verse or passage of Scripture which shows Paul ever had what is called a "mission" that was later organized into a church?
QUESTION SIX: Can you cite Scripture which affirms that Paul and Barnabas always asked for and received a vote from the church at Antioch, or another New Testament Church, before organizing a church in each instance? If you cannot, would you then charge them with spiritual adultery in starting churches without the vote of a "mother" church? If not, why not?
I understood from a message I heard you preach recently that you believe it is spiritual adultery to start a church without the vote of a "mother" church to start that specific church. I may have missed it, but I do not recall your giving any Scripture to support that contention. If you did, I missed it.
I am not charging you with neglecting to back up this solemn and serious charge with Scripture. If you did give such a Scripture I missed it, even though I was listening carefully, waiting for your "thus saith the Lord" on the matter. Therefore, I am kindly asking that you give it to me again. Surely, there is Scripture for such a serious and solemn charge as "spiritual adultery" which is committed by any who start a church without the vote of a specific "mother" church. I repeat, "If it is spiritual adultery to start a church without the vote of a "mother" church to start that specific church, as I believe you advocated in your message, surely you have Scripture which says so!
QUESTION SEVEN: Do improved communications increase requirements for starting churches properly? I was told recently that Paul and his co-workers definitely started churches without a specific vote of a "mother" church to start any specific church. But, the brother justified their actions in this because communications were so difficult in that day and time. I maintain that improved communications do not change the Word of God, nor the Scriptural requirements for starting a church. If it was acceptable for Paul and Barnabas or Paul and Silas to start a church without a specific vote by a "mother" church, have improved communications made mandatory a method that is not found in their practice?
We now have computers and electronic mail. My son sent me an electronic letter from Germany the other day. It was of a nature that he needed to call me about some attachments he had added to it. He sent it, immediately called me, I checked my mail, it was there. With such electronic communications, will "mother" churches be required to keep even closer tabs on their missionaries and exercise even more authority over them. Will they be guilty of "spiritual adultery" if they dont?
QUESTION EIGHT: Since the Bible is an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice, will not every thing necessary for such an all-important matter as starting Scriptural churches be spelled out clearly in Scripture? If the Bible is silent on a matter, I have no right or authority to lay down a rule and demand it be followed. No church nor pastor has such authority. A church is not a legislative body. Our great lawgiver is God. Our great law library is the 66 books composing the Bible. If requirements for being Scriptural are imposed, by churches and/or preachers, which are not found in the Word of God, that is tantamount to adding to the Word.
QUESTION NINE: Can you show from Scripture where an actual church organizational service took place? Tradition causes us to conduct a service and go through a ritual in which, at a certain point, the presiding elder, usually the pastor of the "mother" church, declares the group that is being organized a church. He may say something to this effect, "I now declare this assembly a church of the Lord Jesus Christ." Can you, or any one reading this, show me that such a service was ever conducted by Paul, or any other preacher in New Testament times? I am not objecting to this service. But, since we are into this matter of how churches are to be started, I am asking for Scriptural mandate or precedent that would make it necessary.
QUESTION TEN + SOME SECONDARY QUESTIONS: Do you believe that the church at Antioch took a vote and voted each time Paul started a church? If you answer in the affirmative, would you give me chapter and verse for that belief? If you answer negatively, do you hold that Paul and his co-workers committed spiritual adultery by starting churches without a vote of Antioch each and every time?
QUESTION ELEVEN: If it is your contention that Antioch took a separate vote each and every time their missionaries started a church, would you please explain Acts 14:27? "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).
WHAT I BELIEVE ON THE MATTER OF STARTING CHURCHES
I will now give you a specific answer to your question. You wrote, The one and only question is: "Do you believe that, in order for a church to be a true church, it has to be started (authority of"mother" church) by another true church?
If you had written, "Do you believe that, in order for a church to be a true church, it has to be started by another true church?" and left it at that, I could have given an emphatic "Yes!" as my answer. As revealed above I have a real problem with this term "mother church." My problem is that I cannot find any Scripture supporting that term. Perhaps, when you answer my questions above, I will have Scripture. I wish you had not added this reference to an "alleged mother" church. Surely there is Scripture for a "mother" church voting to start a "daughter" church or you would not classify the lack of that as spiritual adultery!
I believe that a church, when she sends forth a missionary to do the work to which God has called him, gives him the authority to preach, make disciples, baptize them, and organize them into a church or churches. As long as he remains faithful to his calling to which she has sent him forth, I know of no verse or passage of Holy Writ that requires any additional action from the church. Until someone gives me chapter and verse that contradicts what I believe, I will continue to believe it.
I dont accept things as essential on blind faith. True faith is based on precept, command, or precedent and example from the Holy Word of God. Blind faith believes things essential that are not found in Scripture. Yes, I believe in church authority in starting churches. But, I believe that authority must be exercised in a strictly Scriptural manner and no one has authority, be it church or preacher, TO ADD TO THE BIBLICAL requirements and "unchurch" folks who do not meet those "extra-biblical" standards.
As I said before, so say I again, "Until someone gives me chapter and verse that contradicts what I believe, I will continue to believe it. I dont accept things as essential on blind faith. True faith is based on precept, command, or precedent and example from the Holy Word of God. Blind faith believes things essential that are not found in Scripture."
When the church at Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them forth to the work to which God had called them, that included the full work of the gospel ministry. It apparently included preaching, baptizing, and organizing the baptized into churches, for that is what they did. They had church authority and I am convinced that every church they started was a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ though no one has ever been able to show me that Antioch ever voted to start a specific church at a specific place at a specific time. Perhaps you can give me that Scripture. Furthermore, I do not believe they were guilty of spiritual adultery by so establishing churches.
I also believe that Scripture teaches that when Paul went to a city, preached the gospel, and baptized the saved he had a church. He did not have a mission for several days, weeks, months, or years; he had a church. He did not have to wait for a vote from Antioch to organize; he did not have to wait for the pastor of Antioch to come down, bring some men from the assembly at Antioch, call in a number of pastors from other churches, read a confession of faith, read a church covenant, and then go through the formality of declaring that body of Scripturally baptized believers a church.
The Holy Spirit commanded the church at Antioch, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). The folks at Antioch obeyed promptly. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:3) I believe that in that one simple action of that church, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, the Antioch church did all that was and is needed to start churches Scripturally. Sending them forth to do the work which God had called them to do was all that was necessary. In that simple action was the indication and conveyance of church authority to baptize and organize churches.
When a qualified man of God is sent out to do mission work (Thats the only kind that should be sent out.) by a local New Testament church, it is not necessary for the sending church to vote on every thing he does. Sadly, that is not the way most do. I have known of a church in the ABA fellowship that would not let their missionary in Mexico even baptize a person without a specific vote by the "mother" church to baptize that specific person. If that missionary felt he needed to move from one location to another location to do mission work the "mother" church had to vote to let him move. When the missionary felt it was time to organize the "mission" assembly into a "church" assembly, another vote must be taken. Then, the pastor of the "mother" church would travel to Mexico with a band of as many preachers and church members as he could get to go at their own expense, and organize the assembly of Scripturally baptized believers into an assembly of Scripturally baptized believers. At a point in the organizational service he would declare the mission a church.
Oh, for a return to the simplicity of New Testament practices in church polity! If a vote is required each time a church is established, I would simply like to see some Scriptural precept or precedent which mandates that. If it is spiritual adultery to start a church without the vote of a specific "mother church" to start that particular church, surely there is Scripture which declares that. If it is necessary to hold a formal service in which a certain ritual is followed and finally declare the assembly of baptized believers a church there must be a Scriptural record of such a service. If the church that sends out the missionary is a "mother" church, as you teach, surely you can give me chapter and verse in which some New Testament preacher called Antioch, or another congregation, a "mother" church. If improved communications, such as we enjoy today, increase the requirements for starting Scriptural churches, the Bible is not an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. When we impose qualifications for being a true church not imposed in Scripture, we are adding to the word of God whether we are willing to admit it or not. If I insist that anything is essential in the starting of new churches for which I cannot produce command, example, or precedent from Scripture, I am requiring what God did not require. That is adding to the Word!
Sola Scriptura! My Brother, Sola Scriptura! That may have been the cry of the reformers during the Protestant reformation and today, but, it has always been the cry of true Baptists. Sola Scriptura!
Finally, My Brother, I trust you will receive this letter in the spirit yours was sent and received, and in which this one is sentbrotherly and in the interest of truth, Biblical truth.
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Last updated on Friday, March 04, 2011