WILL THERE BE A BAPTIST POPE?
ARE TRUE CHURCHES LOCAL, INDEPENDENT, AND AUTONOMOUS?
By Wayne Camp
Luke 22:25-26 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
Revelation 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
According to Baptist historians, one of the earliest errors to creep into the early churches was the larger churches and their pastors assuming they could exercise authority over smaller and younger churches.
Of this error J. M. Carroll writes,
The first of these changes from New Testament teachings embraced both policy and doctrine. In the first two centuries the individual churches rapidly multiplied and some of the earlier ones, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, etc., grew to be very large; Jerusalem, for instance, had many thousand members (Acts 2:41; 4:4, 5:14), possibly 25,000 or even 50,000 or more. A close student of the book of Acts and Epistles will see that Paul had a mighty task evenin his day in keeping some of the churches straight. See Peter's and Paul's prophecies concerning the future (II Pet. 2:12; Acts 20:29-31. See also Rev., second and third chapters).
These great churches necessarily had many preachers or elders. (Acts 20:17.) Some of the bishops or pastors began to assume authority not given them in the New Testament. They began to claim authority over other and smaller churches. [Emp. Mine, RWC]. They, with their many elders, began to lord it over God's heritage (III John 9). Here was the beginning of an error which has grown and multiplied into many other seriously hurtful errors. Here was the beginning of different orders in the ministry running up finally to what is practiced now by others as well as Catholics. Here began what resulted in an entire change from the original democratic policy and government of the early churches. This irregularity began in a small way, even before the close of the second century. This was possibly the first serious departure from the New Testament church order [The Trail of Blood, P. 12].
John T. Christian also mentions this error. He wrote,
There was, however, a constant tendency towards centralization. As the pastor assumed rights which were not granted to him by the Scriptures, some of the metropolitan pastors exercised an undue authority over some of the smaller churches. Then the churches in some of the cities sought the patronage and protection of the pastors of the larger cities. Finally Rome, the political center of the world, became the religious center as well. In time the pastor in Rome became the universal pope. All of this was of slow growth and required centuries for its consummation[A History of the Baptists, Vol. 1, P. 28].
After discussing the trend toward this unwarranted exercise of authority by some, G. H. Orchard wrote,"During the first three centuries, Christian congregations, all over the East, subsisted in separate independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another" [A Concise History of the Baptists, P. 36].
S. H. Ford wrote concerning the absolute independence of the early churches and said, "The first thing that strikes the reader of this paragraph (one which he had just quoted) is that the churches, even in the times of Eusebius, were separate and independent . . ." [The Origin of the Baptists, P. 92].
J. B. Moody deplored this race for the exercise of authority over other churches in these words,
These delegates were generally the pastors of churches, and in two or three centuries they succeeded in wrenching authority from some of the churches, and thus arose an unscriptural congregational episcopacy. But not satisfied with authority over their church, they sought and fought to extend their authority over several churches contiguous to them. When they succeeded in this, they sought and fought to conquer more churches, and to conquer them the more[My Church, P. 7].
Francis Wayland wrote,
"If my conscience is to be bound by my fellow men, it matters not whether these men be a conclave of bishops and cardinals, or whether they be my brethren whom I meet every day, and with whom I sit down around the same communion table. My brethren will, I doubt not, use their usurped authority more mildly, but this alters not the fact that the authority is usurped, nor does it offer any guarantee that it may not, in the end, be as oppressive as the other" (Terms of Communion At The Lord's Table, R.B.C. Howell, p. 31, 1987 reprint by Baptist Heritage Press.)
As indicated by Carroll and Christian, this trend eventually led to the hierarchical system of what evolved into the Roman Catholic Church with its tiered priests, bishops, cardinals and pope that is rightly deplored by most Baptists. To one degree or another, her Protestant daughters have retained this system.
This exercise of authority by one church and pastor over other churches and pastors was totally rejected by true churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most Baptists were true to the doctrine of equality of the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ until the formation of the various conventions and some associations. In the SBC the equality of churches was denied. Thus they have a system whereby each church is entitled to a minimum number of delegates. But, a church gains the right to more delegates as it grows in its membership and in its contributions to the Cooperative program. Thus, a small church may have three delegates while the larger church down the road might have ten delegates. This allows the larger churches to have more say in the business of the Convention which is tantamount to lording it over the smaller churches.
Historically, other Baptists, including associations, have rejected this inequality fostered by the convention system. For instance, in the American Baptist Association, each church is entitled to three messengers regardless of its financial support of associational activities. No difference is made based on membership. Church A may have 1,000 members and give a hundred thousand dollars to the various associational endeavors and is entitled to three messengers when the annual messenger body convenes. Church B may have ten members and give nothing to the associational activities and is entitled to three messengers when the messengers meet.
Among independent Baptists, there has existed a policy of equality among the churches. Bro. J. M. Holliday wrote,"Every New Testament Baptist church is local, sovereign and autonomous: acting under the headship of Jesus Christ, practicing the principles laid down in the Word of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit" [The Baptist Heritage, P. 11].
All my life as a Christian I have been a Baptist. I have never, until recently, read after any Baptist who advocated the authority of one true Baptist church over another. Nearly every independent Baptist I know has been a strong contender for the equality of churches. Recently I have read something that should be the sounding of an alarm to those who hold to the independence and autonomy of every local, visible Baptist assembly.
This article is not intended to be a refutation of the "mother" church terminology although some may interpret it to be so. Neither is it intended to be a discussion of how churches are to be formed. It is intended to warn of a doctrine that advocates churches exercising authority over other churches. In Scripture it is called"the doctrine of the Nicolaitans." Revelation 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
While I object to the terminology of "mother church" and "daughter church" because it is extra-biblical, my real objection is to the implications some draw from the terminology. Some time ago, I warned that the idea of Mother-Daughter churches could lead to churches exercising authority over other churches. Some thought that idea foolish and ridiculous. In some circles I have been severely criticized for my objection and warning. But, I personally know of two cases in which this occurred. (Since this was written and published another atrocious example of "motherly authority" has come to my attention. Read about it in the August issue of the GP&P.
Twenty-five years or so ago, in a southern state, there was a young ABA church which was having some difficulties. The pastor of an older church about 20 miles away heard of their difficulties and heard that they were having a special business meeting on a Wednesday night to try to settle the matter. The pastor of this much older church showed up and announced he had come to moderate their business meeting and help them solve their problems. The young church and pastor sent him packing, and rightfully so.
Another happened in another state. An independent Baptist church was having problems and had a meeting to try to solve it. The church had been organized for a number of years but the pastor of the "mother" church showed up and when asked by what authority he was there replied that his church was their "mother" and this gave him authority to be there to assist them. If I remember correctly, he was sent packing also.
I am not suggesting that every person or church that espouses the "mother church", "daughter church", and "grand-daughter" church terminology believes in the "mother church" having authority over the "daughter church". Most who endorse and use this terminology would protest this exercise of authority of one church over another as strongly as I or any other would.
As indicated, recently I have read an article that advocates the Mother Church-Daughter Church idea. But, unlike most who espouse this idea, this article advocates the authority of a mother church over the churches formed out of her. In fact, it even claims to demonstrate that the "Mother" church, the church at Jerusalem, exercised authority over the church at Antioch. Even more astounding, the article, while affirming that Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, further claims that the church at Jerusalem exercised authority over the churches formed under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas as missionaries from Antioch, not Jerusalem. This amounts to Jerusalem exercising authority over the so-called "daughters" of Antioch who, if one espouses this scheme of "Mother-Daughter" Churches, were actually "granddaughters" of the Jerusalem congregation. But, that is not all. The article asserted that Jerusalem had authority over all churches descending from her, even if started by churches other than Jerusalem. The article said,
So, then, the Jerusalem Church, not the apostles and elders alone, sent letters of instruction to these other Churches! This was quite a high-handed thing to do if these Churches all had the relationship of "sisters," but if we understand that the Jerusalem Church was viewed not as a sister, not even a "big sister," but rather as having motherly authority over those younger Churches which came out of her, her actions were right and proper(Emp. Mine, RWC). According to the article, Jerusalem had authority over every church descending from her. Since she was the first church and all true churches have, in some sense, descended from her, if she were still in existence, she would have authority over all true churches on earth today, according to the article. Thus, I have asked the question, "Who will be the first Baptist Pope?" The article has provided an answer to a puzzle.
AN ANSWER TO A PUZZLE
There is something that has always puzzled me. I have often wondered why the Lord has permitted apostate Rome to continue to exist century after centuries as the old harlot has. On the other hand, all those early true churches have died out. While perpetuating his churches, the Lord has allowed individual churches to die out in one manner or another. There is not a single church of the New Testament period still alive today! I have been to Jerusalem, Ephesus, Antioch, Philippi, Pergamos, Thyatira, Smyrna, and several other places where churches named in Scripture were located but none exist today. Even here in the United States, most of the churches that were started in our early history no longer exist as a true church. They have either apostatized or died in one manner or another. Thus, those who love to push the necessity of a pedigree that extends back can rarely go link by link more than two or three churches. Then they must resort to associational links. For instance, I have an alleged link by link succession of one church back to Christ. Link #6 is given as follows,"Eld. H. Roller came from the Hilcliffe church to the Philadelphia Baptist Association 1809 (See Minutes of The Philadelphia Association, year 1809).
Does a man from another country and church attending an associational meeting in the U. S. A. form a legitimate link? Some think I am a heretic because I do not believe a vote is essential in the organization of each and every church and that Scriptural Baptism and ordained ministers of the gospel can compose informal links between churches. But, there are churches that claim chain-link succession back to Jerusalem merely on the basis of a minister from Hilcliffe church attending a meeting of the Philadelphia association. Folks, that is a weaker link than I have proposed must exist. In fact, it is no link at all.
Consider also some facts about another alleged chain-link succession back to Jerusalem. There are many weak links but I will only deal with this.We are told that Elder Abel Morgan was one of the messengers at the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Association when the Opekon Baptist Church was officially received into the Philadelphia Association. Note that no evidence is given that Elder Abel had any connection with the Opekon church other than he was present and a messenger when she was received. Morgan, we are told, came from the Welsh Tract Baptist Church in Newcastle County, Delaware which was organized in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Is chain-link succession established here? Can chain-link succession be maintained by some visitor being present when a church is received into the Association because the messenger was a member of a church that came to the US from South Wales? There is absolutely no chain-link succession maintained or proven here.
I believe the article I recently read gave me the key to the puzzle. Why does God permit the continued existence of the Roman Harlot? Why has he permitted all those early true churches to die, even though he has promised and maintained the perpetual existence of his churches? If Jerusalem were still alive today, and if she did have authority over all the churches descending from her, according to this article, she would have authority over all other true churches on earth. If she had authority over Antioch, and over those formed under the leadership of the missionaries sent forth from Antioch, why not all churches in the world today? After all, in one manner or another, every true church in the world today has descended from the Jerusalem church and would, according to the article, be under the authority of Jerusalem. And, her pastor, if he were inclined to believe older churches could exercise authority over younger and smaller churches, would, among Baptists, be almost an equivalent to the Catholic pope. We would have a Baptist hierarchical system older than that of the Roman Catholic Church.
After coming to this conclusion recently (two or three weeks ago, now), I was surprised later, while doing other research for another purpose, to find this statement concerning Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek Church. Cathcart wrote,
He was undoubtedly one of the greatest ministers that ever presented Jesus to perishing multitudes, and one of the most successful soulwinners that ever unfurled the banner of Calvary. Had he been a Romish priest, with as flattering a record of service to the church of the popes, long since he would have been canonized, and declared the "patron saint" of North Carolina, and fervent supplications would have ascended to the most blessed of American intercessors from devout Catholics, and stately churches would have been dedicated to the holy and blessed St. Shubal Stearns, the apostle of North Carolina and the adjacent States.(P. 1100).
In the kind providence of our all-wise God, his churches have been perpetuated through the forming of new churches but have been protected from the hierarchical system that would have developed if churches such as Jerusalem and Antioch had been kept alive and active all this time. Had God, in his wise providence, not allowed the church in Jerusalem to apostatize or die out there would doubtless be those who would pay homage to her much as the Roman Catholics do the Vatican today. With the love that some Baptist preachers have for preeminence, there would end up a Baptist hierarchical system and some preachers would be competing with one another to become pastor of the Jerusalem church, making him Supreme Pastor of all Baptist churches. 3 John 9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
Do you think it is unbelievable that an independent, Sovereign Grace Baptist preacher would advocate the authority of churches over other churches? Consider this bold statement from the afore mentioned article called Mother Churches and Daughter Churches.
Some who object to the idea of "Mother Churches" and "Daughter Churches" admit that the gender of a Church is feminine. They would have us view the Churches as all sisters. Sisters are equals. Neither has authority over another, they tell us. I will grant that sisters are equal and that sister Churches have no authority over another sister Church! But I intend to demonstrate from the Scriptures that there were Churches in the apostolic age which DID HAVE authority over other Churches! (Underlining mine, RWC). And in so demonstrating this authority one over another, I will demonstrate that some of these Churches were viewed, not as sisters and equals but as "mothers" and as having authority over the younger Churches! I submit that if I can demonstrate this authority of one Church over another, I can demonstrate the concept of "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches"!
The article further said,
I propose to ask two questions and answer them from the clear and evident practice of the apostles and the Churches of their day. 1. Was it the practice of any Church of the apostolic age to send preachers to preach and administer the ordinances in any other Church? If so, this will demonstrate that one Church had authority over another and that the "Mother Church-Daughter Church" concept was known and practiced. 2. Was it the practice of any Church of the apostolic age to give direct instructions to be obeyed by any other Church? If so, this will further demonstrate that one Church had authority over another. The "Mother Church- Daughter Church" concept will be demonstrated in this way also.
To his credit, the author did point out that the apostles did not start "missions." This editor has pleaded for the biblical basis for starting "missions" for 25 or more years but no one has ever provided one instance of an apostle, church, or missionary of New Testament times ever starting a mission. On this the author of the article wrote,
Let me submit also, as an aside, that I think we should be careful to observe that the apostles did not purpose to start "missions." Their purpose was to start Churches! They did indeed start "Churches." I believe there is a great evil done when we start a "mission" and in spite of spiritual, numeric and financial growth, continue to retain such "missions" as "missions" when they could be organized into "Sister Churches." I am not quibbling about words or terms. I am trying to be concerned about Scriptural concepts and practices!
Though I have long advocated the incorrectness of starting "missions", I have never been so bold as to say,"I believe there is a great evil done when we start a 'mission' . . . " This statement of this brother is especially interesting since I have before me a picture on the back of which the name of his work appears. It is _______ Baptist Mission. If he considers it a great evil to start a mission, why did he ever agree to start one? Why did he send out pictures labeled ________ Baptist Mission? When his work was organized, did it become a "sister church" to the sending church or did it become a "daughter church", still under the authority of the sending church? Did it become an independent and autonomous church or is it neither independent nor autonomous?
That does not puzzle me as much as does his statement,"I believe there is a great evil done when we start a "mission" and in spite of spiritual numeric and financial growth, continue to retain such missions as missions when they could be organized into Sister Churches." In the article he advocates that churches do not start "Sister churches"; they start "Daughter churches". Yet, here he seems to suggest that if they are first started as "missions" they should be "organized into "Sister Churches." Since he says that "Sister Churches" are equals, it seems to me it would be better to start missions and organize them into "Sister Churches" than it would be to start "Daughter Churches" and have a "mother church" continue to exercise authority over that daughter church.
The article further argues that the assembly of baptized believers gathered under the ministry of Philip was a "daughter church" of the "mother church" at Jerusalem. He argues that the church at Jerusalem exercised authority over this assembly by sending Peter and John down there. The writer asked,"Was it the practice of any Church of the apostolic age to send preachers to preach and administer the ordinances in any other Church?" He definitely considered the assembly at Samaria to be a church before Peter and John arrived there. While he had argued that the folks in Samaria were actually members of the church at Jerusalem, he called them a "daughter church." He wrote, "Looks like to me what we have here is a 'Daughter Church'!" How can a church be a "Daughter Church" if she has no members? Or, do the members of the "Daughter Church" have dual membershipmembership in the "Mother Church" and also membership in the "Daughter Church"? If the members of this "Daughter Church" the writer found in Samaria are members of the "Mother Church" at Jerusalem, are they also members of the "Daughter Church" in Samaria? The writer said, "I believe these converts were baptized into the only body ("local" Church) that Philip had any connection withthe body of which he was a member, that is, the Jerusalem Church." Yet, he argues just as forcefully that there was already a church in Samaria and that the Jerusalem church sent Peter and John down there to baptize converts or whatever, the Bible doesn't say, and thereby exercised authority over her. If the folks Philip baptized became members of the church in Jerusalem, who were the members of the church in Samaria? Either he has a church at Samaria with no members, or he has a church at Samaria whose members have dual church membership. Personally, I have never found the idea of dual church membership in Scripture. The brother wrote, "I am not quibbling about words or terms. I am trying to be concerned about Scriptural concepts and practices!" Can he show us Scriptural concepts and practices that answer the questions I have suggested and restate.
If the folks baptized by Philip were members of the Jerusalem assembly, who were the members of the church he found in Samaria?
Can a church exist without any scripturally baptized members?
If the folks in Samaria were members of the "Mother" church in Jerusalem and members of the "Daughter" church in Samaria, where is the Scripture for folks holding dual church membership?
There is still another problem. I believe the author of the article claims to be a strictly local church believer. Yet, he has two assemblies hereone meeting in Jerusalem and the other meeting in Samariaall of whom are members in Jerusalem. This is certainly something other than a local church. Is a church truly local if it has members who regularly, and purposely assemble in two different cities? Is a church truly local if it has members who regularly and purposely congregate in two different countries?
In Hebrews we are admonished be faithful in attendance at the assembling of the church of which we are members. Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. This verse does not refer to occasionally missing church but to totally absenting one's self from the assembling of the church. According to Strong, the word translated forsaking, as used here, means "totally abandoned, utterly forsaken." I wonder if any can show any Biblical evidence that the members of the church in Jerusalem who were assembling in Samaria (according to the article they were members in Jerusalem) had ever assembled, or ever did assemble with the church in Jerusalem. Were they members of a church with which they had never assembled? Had they not done worse than totally abandoning and utterly forsaking the assembling? They had never assembled with them the first time as far as any biblical record is concerned. In the effort to prove the authority of Jerusalem over this body of Scripturally baptized believers in Samaria which he himself declares is a church, it would seem the brother has painted himself into a corner on some of his assertions and assumptions.
Another question comes to mind. I believe the Bible teaches that we are to support the church with our tithes and offerings. I am sure the writer would agree. If the folks in Samaria were members in Jerusalem, would they not be supposed to support the church in Jerusalem? If they held dual membership, were they supposed to split their tithes and offerings between the two bodies? I ask again in closing, "If there truly existed a 'Daughter Church' in Samaria, but, the folks baptized by Philip were members in Jerusalem, who were the members of the church in Samaria?
Next time we will look at the problem of diminishing authority.
(This review will continue next issue, if the Lord wills).
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Friday, March 04, 2011