WILL THERE BE A BAPTIST POPE?
A CLOUD OF WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENSE OF LOCAL CHURCH AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE
By Wayne Camp
INTRODUCTION TO PART III
In the last two issues of the paper we have been reviewing an article and tract titled "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches." Let me state again that, although I prefer to not use the terminology of the article, this review is not an effort to refute the extra-biblical terminology of "mother church" and "daughter church." My purpose in these articles is to show that the thesis of the article is in direct contradiction of the Scriptures and representative Baptistspast and present.
In our last article we called on Bro. Milburn Cockrell as a witness in the defense of local church autonomy and independency. From 1976 to 1981 we saw that he faithfully championed the doctrine of the independency and autonomy of each and every local church of the Lord Jesus Christ. As I pointed out last issue, from 1976 to 1981, Bro. Cockrell believed, in fact, that Antioch was an organized true church. "The church at Antioch acted as a sovereign autonomous independent body in sending out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries."
In contra distinction, in his letter of explanation, the author of "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" wrote, "I believe, preach, and practice local, independent, autonomity under Christ for each and every New Testament Church. I believe all true Churches are "sisters" and equals." In his next paragraph, he further declared, "I apologize to any and all Brethren who may have thought that I advocated that one organized Church [had] any authority at all over another Church!" Yet, in his article he advocated that Antioch and those churches started on the first missionary journey were all under the authority of Jerusalem. In other words, he did not believe that Antioch or any of those churches started on that first journey were either organized or true churches when the group from Antioch journeyed to Jerusalem to discuss the problems referenced in Acts 15. His letter of clarification, when harmonized with his article, classifies Antioch as an unorganized, untrue church.
Bro. Cockrell held the church at Antioch was and independent, autonomous, organized, and true church when she sent forth Paul and Barnabas to the work to which God had called them. We say a hearty "Amen!" to that.
Contrariwise, the author of "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches," desperately trying to "scripturalize" the terms "mother churches" and "daughter churches", denied that Antioch was either a true church or an organized church when she sent forth the missionaries, Paul and Barnabas. Does an untrue, unorganized church have the authority to send out missionaries? I suggest not!
I will now call as my second witness,
THE HEAD AND FOUNDER OF EACH LOCAL CHURCH, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
There are two distinct instances set forth in Scripture that show that Jesus Christ intended that his churches be independent and autonomous in church polity and government. The first is seen in his instructions on church discipline. Matthew 18:15-18 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The latter part of this passage is especially applicable to our discussion. After the first two efforts at reconciliation had failed, the Lord instructed them to "tell it to the church." He did not tell them to tell it to the apostles or the pastor. He did not instruct them to take the matter to their "mother church." He did not instruct them to tell it to the synod, the convention, or the association. The instructions are simple. They were to tell it to the church of which they and the offending brother were both members.
If, when the church spoke, and churches can speak by church action, he did not hear the church he was to be treated as "as an heathen man and a publican." As with the incestuous man at Corinth, the offender was to be put away from among them and denied the privileges of church fellowship. Until he repented he could not participate in the business or partake of the Lord's Supper with the church. The church had the authority to carry out this discipline without consultation with any other body, be it another church, an association, a synod, a council of pastors, or any other body or person.
The independency and autonomy of the church is clearly spelled out in this message of Jesus. He closes it with words that unmistakably prove the church to be independent and autonomous. Matthew 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Dear Reader, there is no indication in these instructions that there could ever be a "church" that was not independent and autonomous in nature. If an body is qualified to have the appellation of "church" it can carry out the discipline taught by our Lord Jesus Christ without consulting any other church in the matter.
Second, the messages of Christ to the seven churches of Asia show the independency and autonomy of each and every local church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I encourage you to read the first three chapters of the book of Revelation in connection with what I am going to say. But, these three chapters show unequivocally that every church belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ is independent and autonomous in nature. There is not a atom of evidence that any of these churches were subject to any other church. Since all these churches "came out of" the church at Jerusalem, one wonders why the church at Jerusalem did not write them a letter commanding them to correct all these errors which were rebuked by Jesus. According to "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" she would have had "motherly authority" over them. One wonders why the Lord did not simply appear to the Jerusalem church and rebuke them for not keeping their daughters on the straight and narrow in their church life.
The reason is simple. Every individual church in New Testament times was independent and autonomous in matters of polity and government. They were answerable to no one but the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why it is he who was seen walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks. Revelation 1:12-13 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. Revelation 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
As one reads the first three chapters of Revelation, it is apparent that Jesus regarded every church named as an independent, autonomous body. The independent nature of these churches is especially evident when Jesus addressed their faults.
When Jesus addressed the church at Ephesus, he pointed out her faults and commanded her to repent. He did not threaten to report them to their "mother" church in Antioch, nor to their "grandmother" church in Jerusalem. They were not subject to any authority from those two bodies though they were older. When Jesus commended Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, he made no mention to this church that Pergamos also had problems with that doctrine. Ephesus was responsible to the Lord, not to Pergamos and Pergamos was responsible to the Lord, not Ephesus. And neither were responsible to Jerusalem. Ephesus had left her first love and Ephesus must repent or her status as one of the Lord's churches would be removed. The Lord addressed this church through her pastor, not through the pastor of Jerusalem nor the pastor of Antioch. Each and every church is answerable only to the Lord Jesus Christ. No pastor or church had any business meddling in what was going on at Ephesus.
In the August issue, we saw some instances of churches and pastors meddling in the affairs of other churches and pastors. That should not be so and proper respect for the independency and autonomy of each and every church of the Lord Jesus Christours as well as otherswould prevent this intrusion into the autonomous purview of others. Though it is used in a different context, I wonder if there might not be a message for some who meddle in the church life of other bodies in 2 Thessalonians 3:11. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
Pergamos was a church that had some who had gone deeply into some doctrinal error. They seemed to be tolerating those who taught the doctrine of Balaam, and that is serious compromise. They also had those who were teaching the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. But, I notice that Jesus made no mention of these problems at Pergamos to any other church. I note also that he did not instruct the other churches in Asia to call a council and investigate Pergamos as I recall some churches in Arkansas doing about 35 years ago. Nor did he instruct the other churches to censor Pergamos. These problems at Pergamos were between Pergamos and her Lord. It is he who is the examiner of his churches. It is he who is the corrector of his churches. It is he who disciplines his churches. It is he who removes the candlestick from his churches when they do not repent. It is he who spews his churches out of his mouth when they do not repent. Therefore, he makes no threat to Pergamos that she will be disfellowshipped by other churches unless she repents. Other churches had not one whit of authority over what was going on in Pergamos. She was a local, independent, autonomous body answerable to no man or body outside her own membership. What a vivid illustration of the independency and autonomy of the local churches the Lord has left us.
In the letter addressed to the church in Thyatira, there is also a complaint, a serious complaint from the Lord Jesus. They suffered a woman called whom the Lord calls Jezebel. Revelation 2:20-21 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
The Lord goes on to tell them how he will punish her and her childrenthose who have followed her ways. The thing that stands out again is the fact that Jesus made no mention of this problem at Thyatira to any other church. He addressed this one single church about her problems. What is said here can be said of every church in the group. No instructions were given for any action on the part of any other church relative to this matter. It was a problem between the offenders in Thyatira and the Lord. It was not the problem of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, or any of the other churches. Local church problems are to be handled by the local churches and their Head. No church has any authority to intrude into the purview of another church. The Lord is the "faithful witness" and he has faithfully testified to the independency and autonomy of each local church.
Let me call as our third witness in the defense of church independency,
ELD. T. P. SIMMONS
I imagine that Eld. T. P. Simmons is familiar to many of our readers. His book, A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine is a standard in the library of most pastors among us. Bro. Simmons was a strong advocate for the independence of each local church. He wrote, "New Testament churches were independent and democratic in government. This fact is seen in the selection of Matthias . . . the selection of the seven deacons . . . the exclusion and restoration of the incestuous man at Corinth . . . the selection of traveling companions for Paul . . . the duty and responsibility of the whole church to maintain unity of action . . . preserve pure doctrine and practice . . . [and] guard the ordinances."
Let us particularly note his discussion of the setting apart of Barnabas and Saul to the work to which God had called them. He wrote, "THE SETTING APART OF BARNABAS AND SAUL. In this we see the independence of New Testament churches. The church at Antioch, although it was much younger than the church at Jerusalem, acted in this matter independent of the church at Jerusalem and without so much as consulting the church at Jerusalem [Emp. mine, RWC]. Cf. Acts 13:1-3. Neither did the church consult the apostles."
In addition to his testimony to the independency of each and every local church of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is also evident that he had no notion that Antioch was a "daughter church" under the "motherly authority" of the church in Jerusalem. Bro. Simmons held that Antioch sent out these missionaries without so much as consulting the church at Jerusalem, or the apostles. They acted in their total independency and autonomy in this matter of church business. According to this witness, they were, in no way or degree, in submission to the "motherly authority" of the church in Jerusalem as was advocated in the article and tract called "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches." That concept was apparently foreign to the thinking of this staunch Baptist and theologian.
CONCLUSION TO PART III
Once again we have seen the fact that it is the teaching of Scripture and the historic teaching of true Baptists that each and every church of New Testament times and since have been independent and autonomous bodies. They were subject to no other church. They were subject to no synod, convention, association, super-bishop, pope or council. The only institution for the exercise of religion and bringing God glory is a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any organization worthy of the appellation of "church" is scripturally an independent body. The New Testament names no other institution through which we are to serve God in this age except the church. Therefore, there is no scriptural commission for the existence of any other institution.
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Updated Friday, March 04, 2011