Category Archives: local churches

Numerical Church Growth And The Biblical Purposes Of Church Services

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD

NUMERICAL CHURCH GROWTH IS IMPORTANT TO CHURCHES. There are practical reasons for this. If churches don’t grow numerically, they will eventually die out as the aging attendees can no longer attend, or they pass away. If churches don’t grow numerically, they will eventually have no substantial reason to exist. If they don’t grow numerically, they will eventually run out of money and will, then, be unable to pay their expenses and will be forced to shut down. Most importantly, if churches don’t grow numerically, it means they have ceased to reach new persons in their communities with the Gospel message, and have failed to get them to attend their services.

ASTRAY FROM THE BIBLICAL PURPOSES OF CHURCH SERVICES. The fact that many churches are in serious numerical decline has caused a lot of them to stray from the Biblical purposes of church services. But what are the Biblical purposes for having church services? According to the New Testament, church services are to be held so that Christians can worship God together, pray together, be taught from the Word of God together, and to have fellowship with one another. But how have Bible-believing churches strayed from these God-ordained purposes? By making their services primarily a means of reaching non-Christians with the Gospel of Christ. This focus, they hope, will not only win many persons to believe in Jesus Christ, but also become  a means of increasing the number of attendees at their services, and thereby keep the church from going out of existence.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EVANGELISM BECOMES THE PRIMARY PURPOSE FOR CHURCH SERVICES? It is certainly true that churches can and should be evangelistic. The Gospel can be made known during church services through music, through personal testimonies, through literature,  and through preaching and teaching the Word of God. But when reaching non-Christians with the Gospel displaces the God-ordained purposes for church services, it has serious negative consequences. Even though a church which has made this shift in its purpose for its services might still have a strong emphasis on worshiping God,  it is certain to spend less time teaching and preaching the Word of God to the Christians in attendance. The non-Christians are fed what they need to learn, and the Christians get little of the meat of God’s Word. This is comparable to what would happen if a family is made up of a wide variety of ages, but at meal time everyone is expected to eat what the youngest family members are able to eat. The youngest family members might thrive on such a diet, but not the older ones. But this is not the only negative consequence of church services becoming primarily a means of reaching non-Christians with the Gospel. Another almost-inevitable negative consequence is that in such church services many truths of the Word of God will be skipped over because of their potential to offend and thus alienate the very ones the church is trying to reach with the Gospel. Preachers in such  churches will very likely not warn about specific false teachers and their falsehoods. Preachers in such churches will not likely specifically identify religious groups that claim to be Christian, but in fact are not. Preachers in such churches will not be likely to forthrightly say certain kinds of behavior are to be avoided because the ones they are trying to win to Christ are involved in those behaviors, and they don’t want to drive them away from the services. Such preachers might forthrightly condemn things that the Bible specifically condemns, and which most persons agree are wrong. But they will be hesitant to speak against things that might be only what could be called questionable, borderline, and known to lead to worse behavior. The moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages and moderate gambling are examples of what I mean. Preachers in such churches will most likely say, “Don’t get drunk.” But they won’t say, “Don’t drink alcoholic beverages at all.” Preachers in such churches will say, “Watch out so you don’t become problem gamblers.” But they won’t say, “Don’t gamble at all.” Another almost-inevitable consequence of making evangelism the focus of church services is that the  music used will be the kind that is more acceptable to non-Christians. This means, it will be more entertaining than is appropriate in church services. And it means it will be more worldly or secular in style than it should be. Another way to put it is, the music will not be appropriate for worshiping  the Holy God revealed in the Bible. Here is an example of that very thing: One preacher told me and a couple other preachers of an experience he had as a guest speaker at church in serious numerical decline, and which was made up of mostly elderly Christians. He said that as he visited with the church folks before a service, someone began to play taped Christian rock music over the loudspeaker. He asked them why they were playing THAT kind of music. He was told it was done to appeal to the younger people. In our day it is common for older Christians to be criticized for objecting to much of the music used in contemporary churches.But those older Christians are justified in saying such music has no place in Bible-believing churches. To summarize the point of this paragraph, let me say that what happens when a church makes evangelism the primary purpose of it services is that it often gives itself over to accommodating the persons it is trying to reach with the Gospel of Christ. This always weakens a church, even if it results in many more attendees. It weakens a church because this kind of accommodation is contrary Biblical teaching, and it, therefore does not develop strong Christians.

BIBLICAL STATEMENTS CONCERNING THE GOD-ORDAINED PURPOSES FOR CHURCH SERVICES. Above, I said the New Testament tells that God has specific purposes for church services. But where we can these be read in the New Testament? I will give some of the chapters and verses to read, and you can look them up yourselves. As you read them, look for the statements indicating that the teaching and preaching of God’s Word to Christians was central to the meetings of the Christians. (We now would call the meetings church services.) Acts 2:41 – 47; Acts 14:21 – 28;  Acts 15:22 – 41; Acts 16:1 – 5; Acts 18:8 – 11 & verse 18, first sentence; Acts 18:24 – 28; Acts 19:7 – 11;  Acts 20:17 – 38; Ephesians 4:11 – 16; Ephesians 5:17 – 20; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 3:16 & 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:5 & 16; 1 Timothy 4:6 & 13; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 17; 2 Timothy 4:1 – 5; 1 Peter 5:1 – 4.

Walmart And Local Churches

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD

WALMART AND LOCAL CHURCHES
Many of you who will read this attend Bible-believing churches. That is a good thing. After all, the Bible alone is God’s Book of truth. Here’s what the Lord said about this in John 17, verse 17,when he was praying to the Heavenly Father: “Father…..your Word is truth.” Every Bible-believing local church, small or large, seeks numerical growth. That, too, is a good thing. But what I have observed over the years is that many of the large Bible-believing churches are not large because they have won a lot of new persons to the Lord and then gotten them into their churches. Instead, many of them are large because they have drawn people away from other Bible-believing churches. This might or might not be intentional. But the effect is similar to the effect that Walmart has had on many smaller businesses in many communities. Walmart moves in, and after a period of time, many smaller businesses close down. Whether or not we should excuse this when it comes to a business is open for discussion. But we shouldn’t excuse it when it comes to Bible-believing local churches. It is not an honorable thing to build a Bible-believing church by drawing people away from another Bible-believing church. Not only is it not an honorable thing to do. It is not really an accomplishment to do it. It is simply a transferring of church people from one church to another. And many times those who leave one church for another do so for poor reasons. In some cases it is to make more business contacts. In some cases it is to find daycare for one’s children, or to get handouts of one kind or another. Some persons make how often a church has potluck meals a criterion for whether or not they will stick with a given church. Some persons leave one church for another because they are running from accountability for sinful behavior. A church should seek to grow primarily by winning people to faith in Christ, and by drawing in those who claim to be Christians but who are not plugged into a Bible-believing church. So, Bible-believing churches should make it plain to their regular attendees who they want to get into their churches. It might well mean slower growth than they desire, but it will be the Biblical and honorable way to grow.

WHEN THE WORLD SERIES IS OVER

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD

FRED SAYS, “Hi, John! How have you been? I haven’t seen you for a few days.”
JOHN SAYS, “I’ve been fine, Fred! I watched every game of the World Series, including all 12 innings of the last game. It was long, but it was worth it. How about you, Fred? Did you watch the World Series? I know you like baseball.”
FRED SAYS, “Well, I watched as much as I could. But I missed some of it so we could go to a Bible study that meets 1 night a week.”
JOHN SAYS, “Huh? You skipped part of the World Series so you could attend a week night Bible study? You attend church on Sundays, too. How many hours a week to you go to church? It sounds like too many to suit me!”
FRED SAYS, “We attend 2 hours on Sunday, and 1 hour on a week night. That adds up to 3 hours a week, plus the short amount of time it takes to drive there and back. How many hours did World Series last, John? Or just the last game of 12 innings?”
JOHN SAYS, “Never mind, Fred, never mind. I get the point!”

When My Friend, “Oh Shoot!” Larry, Became A Christian

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD
I told in a Facebook post about two of my friends from years ago. One was Clifford, the humorous man with Down syndrome. The other was Larry, with whom Clifford and I would have lunch in my car while we listened to Paul Harvey’s radio program. Larry is the one who said “Oh shoot!” when I interrupted an interesting Paul Harvey story by asking Larry to thank God for our food.
Well, let me tell you about when and how “Oh shoot!” Larry became a Christian. We lived in Miles City, MT and his sister lived in Glendive, MT. One day she called me and said she was concerned about Larry’s need to become a Christian. She then asked if I would go and speak to him about accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior. I said I would, and got Larry’s address from her. Then a deacon of church and I went to visit Larry at his apartment. He let us in, and we spoke to him about the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior. I told him that without the Lord as his Savior he would never be allowed into heaven. Larry said he was ready to ask Jesus Christ to forgive his sins and to save his soul. So, we bowed our heads and I led Larry in a simple prayer, during which he told the Lord he needed him as his Savior. After Larry’s prayer, I showed him some Bible verses that reassured him that if he had, indeed, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, he was now a forgiven and saved man, and would be allowed into heaven. Then, the deacon and I left his apartment and went back to my car to go home.
When we got in the car, I told the deacon that Larry’s prayer was so dry, figuratively speaking, that it made me wonder if he was sincere when he prayed to the Lord for salvation. But Larry soon showed the sincerity of his prayer to become a Christian. He did so by attending our church regularly, by reading his Bible, by letting me take him through some Bible studies for new Christians, by giving Gospel literature to those who might not be Christians, by being baptized as a profession of his faith in the Lord, and by joining the church. His life demonstrated by these and other ways that he had become a sincere Christian.
I have said all these things abut Larry to make one primary point: He proved that a person can be very sincere about accepting Jesus Christ as his or her Savior without showing a lot of emotion at the time. It’s not the emotion of a prayer to be forgiven and saved that proves its sincerity, but it is the changes that come into one’s life as a result of sincerely accepting the Lord as one’s Savior. The fact is, someone can cry a river of tears when they say what might be called “the sinner’s prayer to be saved,” but show little or no long-term proof that their heart was in that prayer. As someone else put it so well, we can call these persons “Alka-seltzer Christians” because they fizz for awhile and then disappear.

The Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke about this subject in one of his parables. The parable is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and is quoted here from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 8, verses 1 – 15. The quote is taken from the Modern English Version, which was published in 2014. For those not familiar with the Bible, the numbers seen in the Bible verses are the verse numbers. ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, all the way through number 15.)

Luke 8 Modern English Version (MEV)
Women Who Accompany Jesus

8 Afterward, He went throughout every city and village, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. With Him were the twelve 2 and some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had come out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who supported Him with their possessions.

The Parable of the Sower

4 When a large crowd had gathered together and people were coming to Him from every city, He told this parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 Some fell on a rock. And as soon as it sprang up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. 7 Yet some fell among thorns. And the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. 8 And other seed fell on good ground and sprang up and yielded a hundred times the amount sown.”

When He had said these things, He cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

9 His disciples asked Him, “What might this parable mean?” 10 He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but to others they are in parables, so that

‘seeing they may not see,
and hearing they may not understand.’

The Parable of the Sower Explained

11 “Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are those who hear. Then comes the devil, who takes away the word from their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rock are the ones who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root, for they believe for a while, then in the time of temptation fall away. 14 That which fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the seed on the good ground are those who, having heard the word, keep it in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.

Modern English Version (MEV)

The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.

This quote from the MEV was taken from this website: www.biblegateway.com.

Baptist Beliefs Compared To The Theology Behind The Authorized (King James) Version

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD

In this post I will present some beliefs common to Bible-believing Baptists and compare them with the theology behind the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible. To do so, the word “Baptists” will used, with each letter referring to beliefs common to Bible-believing Baptists. But it must be understood that these beliefs are not the private property of those who call themselves Baptists. Many others in the past have held these beliefs, but have not been known as Baptists. Many hold these beliefs now, but do not call themselves Baptists. They often are referred to as baptistic. The Bible does not say we must call ourselves Baptists, and it wrong to insist that the name be used.

“B” stands for the Baptist belief in the authority of the Bible. This means that, because Baptists believe the Bible alone is the infallible Word of God, it, therefore, is the authority upon which our beliefs are based. Did those who produced the King James Version hold this belief? Yes. But some of their beliefs are not truly derived from the Bible. These will be pointed out as this post progresses.

“A” stands for the Baptist belief in the autonomy of the local church. This means Baptists believe the local church is a congregation of Christians that govern their own affairs without having to answer to some person or organization outside of itself for its decisions. It also means that no one and no organization makes decisions for a  local church. Did those who produced the King James Version hold this view. Perhaps in theory, but not in practice, for they were a part of a government-approved church, the Church Of England, which had/has bishops who oversaw/oversee local congregations. Not only did/do their bishops have authority over the local congregations. So also did James I, after whom the King James Version got its name. His role in the Church Of England is clearly stated in “The Epistle Dedicatorie,” found in the front of the 1611 edition of the Authorized (King James) Version.” Another proof that those who produced the King James Version did not truly believe in the autonomy of the local congregation is the fact that the 1611 edition of their translation says in the front that it is “appointed to be read in churches.” This in contrast to the historic Baptist belief that each congregation decides which translation/translations it will use.

“P” stands for the Baptist belief in the priesthood of all believers in Jesus Christ. This means that we believe each Christian has direct access to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ’s name, they can pray directly to God the Father. In his name, they can ask him for, and receive forgiveness of sins. Did those who produced the King James Version hold this view? Yes. But they also had clergy called “priests,” something foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, and, therefore, not accepted by Bible-believing Baptists.

“T” stands for the Baptist belief in two officers/offices in the local church. These are pastors and deacons. The New Testament also calls the pastors of local churches by two other terms: bishops (meaning overseers) and elders (meaning those who lead by virtue of their age, maturity, and experience). Deacons are the officially elected servants of the local church. Did those who produced the King James Version hold this view? No. They believed in a hierarchical form of church government, with bishops having authority outside of their own congregations.

“I” stands for the Baptist belief in what is called “individual soul liberty.” This means that each person  is directly accountable to God for his or her own beliefs and behavior, and no government, whether political or ecclesiastical, can dictate his or her beliefs. Did those who produced the King James Version hold this view? Only in theory. Historians have proven that King James and his government persecuted those who did not conform to the Church of England.

“S” stands for the Baptist belief that there should be an obvious separation between church and state. It means that there should be no religion or Christian denomination that is the official religion or Christian denomination of a government. Although President Thomas Jefferson rejected Christianity, the Bible, and its doctrines, he understood the importance of the separation of church and state, and advocated it. But did those who produced the King James Version hold this view? No. That is why they were members of the Church Of England, a state church.

The second “t” in the word “Baptists” stands for the Baptist belief in two ordinances of the local church, which are baptism and the Lord’s upper. We believe these are ordinances, not sacraments. This means we believe they symbolically represent important truths about the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel. We do not believe baptism is required of one who wants to be saved. Instead, it is required of one who professes to have been saved by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe the saved should get baptized as a public profession of their faith. It is symbolic of their identification with the crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected Lord. It is symbolic of their commitment to live new lives as followers of Jesus. The Lord’s supper is symbolic of equally important Gospel truths. The bread is symbolic of the Lord’s body which was broken for us sinners. The cup is symbolic of the Lord’s blood, which was shed in payment for the sins of all humanity. Did those who produced the King James Version hold these views? Perhaps a safe answer, based on the thirtynine articles of the Church Of England, is yes and no. Their view of baptism was not Biblical because they believed in the baptism of infants. Infant baptism, even if it is done by the Biblical method, which is immersion, is not taught in the Bible. Infants cannot do what the Bible requires of those who want be baptized. That is, infants cannot believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and make profession of their faith in him. Therefore, they are disqualified from baptism. It is an interesting fact that, though the King James Version, in Acts 8:37 and elsewhere, clearly teaches a profession of faith is required of anyone who wants to be baptized, King James and the translators of the King James Version believed in infant baptism.

The second “s” in the word “Baptists” stands for the Baptist belief in a saved church membership. We require anyone who wants to join our churches to profess to have been saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we require that their profession of faith is credible. That is, they must give evidence of being true believers in the Lord. Their lives must show that they have believed in Jesus Christ and have become his followers. We do not assume that everyone who claims to be a Christian, and who has been baptized upon their profession of faith, is a true Christian. Sometimes thy prove to be otherwise. But we do require a credible profession of faith prior to admittance into church membership. Did those who produced the King James Version hold this view? No, for the simple reason that they believed baptism grafts one into the church, and they believed in infant baptism. Therefore, I am compelled to believe they believed in infant church membership. But we must remember that infants cannot believe in Christ, and belief in him is a Scriptural requirement for both baptism and church membership.

I encourage all readers of this post to read the thitynine article of The Church Of England. By doing so, you will learn firsthand the theology behind the Authorized(King James) Version. Here is a link to those articles: http://www.thirtyninearticles.org/basics/. If you are a King James Bible-only Baptist, you will find it very interesting to read the quote from Lancelot Andrews, who was one of the key persons in the production of the Authorized (King James) Version. Read the following from the same source given above:

Anglican Basics

History

Anglicans trace their history and doctrine back to the earliest church and through the first English speaking Christians. The English Reformation (when the Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church) was a pivotal event that resulted in the Anglican Formularies, our statements of belief. See below.

Beliefs and Doctrine

“One Canon (one Bible), two Testaments, three Creeds, four General Councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period determine the boundaries of our faith.”   

~ Bishop Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626)

If you want to learn firsthand what we call the Biblical distinctives of Baptists, they are derived from the pages of the New Testament. I suggest you start with reading the Book of Acts, and proceed from there. You are sure to find these distinctives as you read. It is a fact that many non-Baptists have become Baptists or baptistic simply by open-mindedly reading the New Testament. You can also read my two posts just prior to this one, and articles and books on this subject by other authors .

What follows is the testimony of one man who became a Baptist by reading the New Testament. It is taken with permission from this website: http://www.reformedreader.org.

Reading The Bible Will Make You A Baptist

 

Taken from the Baptist Reporter, October, 1858

To the Editor of the Baptist Reporter.

Dear Sir, — I am a young baptist, and have only seen your Reporter for Jan., 1858. Having recently joined the body, I inquired for one of the publications published by the baptists, and a minister directed me to the Reporter, with which I am quite delighted. It occurred to me that I would mention a few of the objections to believers’ baptism which I met with whilst I was among the Independents. I am a young man, and am occasionally engaged in giving a word of exhortation to my neighbours; but I am what is called a “self-educated man,” for I have had to pick up what little knowledge I have obtained; and therefore I trust you will excuse the imperfections which you may discover in this communication.

When among the Independents, in conversations with my fellow-members, the subject of baptism was at times introduced, when one or another would say, “Well; I do think that the baptists are right, and that their mode of administering the ordinance is scriptural.” “Well,” was my reply, “if you consider that the baptists are right, and that their mode is scriptural, why not join them, and be right too, and observe that which you say is scriptural?” The reply they generally gave was, “Oh, it is so inconvenient; and if we are baptized, we shall be expected to join the baptist body, and then what will our minister and the people say? I do not think it matters much.”

It appeared to me an odd thing for them so to acknowledge their duty, and then give such feeble reasons for declining. I could not but wonder what there could be in believers’ baptism that made the ordinance so objectionable.

I talked with other friends on the matter, but was annoyed by their ignorance. They knew not so much as he who was enquiring. Some said, “Oh, these baptists think all wrong but themselves. Have nothing to do with them.” Others said, “Such a mode would suit a warm climate very well, where the people are in the habit of constantly bathing, but not a cold country like ours.” Others “thought that there was something very indecent about it.” I then spake to a more intelligent class, and they informed me “that Christ only intended the ordinance to be observed by his servants in heathen lands, where Christianity was unknown, so that the converts to the gospel, by that ordinance, might publicly disown and cast off all their old heathenish practices.” Others reminded me, “that if I was going to enquire into such a subject, perhaps I would inform them why Christians do not recline at the table and take the bread and break it into pieces, instead of having it partly cut.”

Such were some of the helps I met with in the path of enquiry, from persons who professed to make the New Testament their rule of practice.

There are many in the Independent and other bodies who can say no more than the above. Why? Because, like those I have already mentioned, they have never thoroughly and impartially examined the subject. Ask them whether they have looked through the New Testament for instances of Infant Baptism; they reply, “No”. Ask them whether they have for evidence of believers’ baptism; they give the same reply.

Dissatisfied with such evasions, I resolved to search the New Testament for myself, with prayer for Divine guidance, and the result was that I became a Baptist.

 

Baptist Beliefs Versus Those Who Produced The King James Version

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen, First Baptist Church, Spearfish, SD

In this post, I will present the views of Bible-believing Baptists versus those who produced the King James Version, also known as The Authorized Version and the King James Bible. The beliefs of Bible-believing Baptists are presented below from volume 1 of John T. Christian’s 2-volume work that is a history of the Baptists. I have this 2-volume set in hardback, and have read it carefully. The important and interesting chapter given below is taken, with permission, from this website: http://www.reformedreader.org. This is a valuable resource for those interested in the history and beliefs of Baptists.

Before you read the chapter from John T. Christian’s book, consider a few Bible-based Baptist beliefs that differ considerably from the beliefs of those who produced the King James Version. Baptists believe in autonomous local churches, in contrast to state-controlled churches, believed in by those who produced the King James Version. Baptists believe that one must profess faith in Jesus Christ before being baptized, in contrast to the baptism of infants, practiced by those who produced the King James Version. Baptists believe in religious liberty for all, in contrast to those who produced the King James Version, who believed in and practiced the persecution of those whose beliefs differed from theirs. (My post right before this one documents the persecution experienced by many at the hands of the State-controlled church of which those produced the King James Version were a part.) As you read the following chapter from Christian’s book, you will learn more Bible-based Baptist beliefs that differ from the beliefs of those who produced the King James Version. This information should help Baptists who are King James Version-only re-evaluate their excessive exaltation of the King James Version. It is a good and honorable translation, but that should not make us overlook the false teachings and shameful persecution of others by those who produced it. Such men would not now be allowed in the pulpits of Bible-believing Baptist churches. Why then, are they so highly esteemed?

A History of the Baptists

Chapter I – The New Testament Churches


The Great Commission—A Definition of a Church—A Voluntary Association—A Church Not National or General—The Officers of a Church—The Ordinances—The Proper Subjects of Baptism—The Form of Baptism—The Lord’s Supper—The Ordinances as Symbols—The Churches Missionary Bodies—The Continued Existence of the Churches.


After our Lord had finished his work on earth, and before he had ascended into glory, he gave to his disciples the following commission: “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). Under the terms of this commission Jesus gave to his churches the authority to evangelize the world.

A New Testament Church is a company of baptized believers voluntarily associated together for the maintenance of the ordinances and the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The distinctive characteristics of this church are clearly marked in the New Testament.

Such a church was a voluntary association and was independent of all other churches. It might be, and probably was, affiliated with other churches in brotherly relations; but it remained independent of all outward control, and was responsible to Christ alone, who was the supreme lawgiver and the source of all authority. Originally the teachers and the people conjointly administered the affairs of the church.

In the New Testament sense of the church there can be no such an organization as a National or General Church, covering a large district of country, composed of a number of local organizations. The church, in the Scriptural sense, is always an independent, local organization. Sister churches were “united only by the ties of faith and charity. Independence and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I. p. 554. Boston, 1854). Gibbon, always artistic in the use of material, continues: “Such was the mild and equal constitution by which the Christians were governed for more than a hundred years after the death of the apostles. Every society formed within itself a separate and independent republic; and although the most distant of these little states maintained a mutual, as well as friendly, intercourse of letters and deputations, the Christian world was not yet connected by any supreme or legislative assembly” (Ibid, p. 558).

The officers of the church were first, pastors, indifferently called elders or bishops, and, secondly, deacons. These were the honorable servants of a free people. The pastors possessed no authority above their brethren, save that by service they purchased to themselves a good degree of glory.

The more recent Episcopal writers, such as Jacob and Hatch, do not derive their system from the ancient Scriptural form of government, but always acknowledge the primitive congregational form of government, and declare that episcopacy is a later development In the New Testament, elder and bishop are different names to describe the same office. Dr. Lightfoot, the Bishop of Durham, in a very exhaustive discussion of the subject, says:

It is clear, that, at the close of the Apostolic Age, the two lower orders of the three fold ministry were firmly and widely established; but traces of the episcopate, properly so-called, are few and Indistinct. The episcopate was formed out of the presbyterial order by elevation; and the title, which originally was common to all, came at length to be appropriated to the chief of them (Lightfoot, Commentary on Philippians, pp. 180-276).

Dean Stanley represents the same view. He says:

According to the strict rules of the church derived from those early times, there are but two orders, presbyters and deacons (Stanley, Christian Institutions, p. 210).

Richard B. Rackham (The Acts of the Apostles cii), A. D. 1912, says of the word bishop (episcopos):

We may say at once that it had not yet acquired the definite sense which it holds in the letters of Ignatius (A. D. 115), and which it still holds today, viz., of a single ruler of a diocese. From Acts xx..28, Titus i. 6,7, and comparison with I Timothy iii. 2f., we should conclude that episcopus was simply a synonym for presbyter, and that the two offices were identical.

Knowling (The Expositors Greek Testament, II. pp. 435-437) reviews all of the authorities, Hatch (Smith and Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, II. p. 1700), Harnack (Gebhardt and Harnack, Clement of Rome, ed. altera, p. 5), Steinmetz, etc., and reaches the following conclusion:

This one passage (Acts 20:28) is also sufficient to show that the “presbyter” and the “bishop” were at first practically identical.

Jerome, at the end of the fourth century, reminds the bishops that they owe their elevation above the presbyters, not so much to divine institution as to ecclesiastical usage; for before the outbreak of controversies in the church there was no distinction between the two, except that presbyter was a term of age, and bishop a term of official dignity; but when men, at the instigation of Satan, erected parties and sects, and, instead of simply following Christ, named themselves of Paul, of Apollos, or Cephas, all agreed to put one of the presbyters at the head of the rest, that by his universal supervision of the churches, he might kill the seeds of division (Hieron. Comm. ad Tit. 1:7). The great commentators of the Greek Church agree with Jerome in maintaining the original identity of bishops and presbyters in the New Testament. Thus did Chrysostom (Hom. i. in Ep. ad Phil. 1:11); Theodoret (ad Phil. 1:1); Ambrosiaster (ad Eph. 4:11); and the pseudo-Augustinian (Questions V. et N. T. qu. p. 101).

There were two ordinances m the primitive church, baptism and the Supper of the Lord. Baptism was an outward confession of faith in Christ. It thus expressed a belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and a subsequent resurrection of all believers through the eternal Spirit.

Only believers were baptized and that upon a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. The church was composed of believers or holy persons. The members were called in the New Testament “beloved of God, called to be saints”; “sanctified in Christ Jesus”; “faithful in Christ”; “God’s elect, holy, and beloved.” The conditions of membership were repentance, faith, righteousness, and the initiatory rite of baptism, which was symbolical of the changed life.

In this connection it is interesting to note that all the Pedobaptist Confessions of Faith include only believers in the definition of the proper members of a church, The following definition of a church is taken from the Augsburg Confession of Faith of the Lutheran Church. It fairly represents all the rest. It says:

To speak properly, the church of Christ is a congregation of the members of Christ; that is, of the saints, which do truly believe and rightly obey Christ.

So universal is this definition of a church in all of the Confessions of Faith that Köstlin, Professor of Theology in Halle, says: “The Reformed Confessions describe the Church as the communion of believers or saints, and condition its existence on the pure preaching of the Word” (Köstlin, Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopaedia, I. p. 474).

The above definition, consistently applied, excludes infant baptism, since infants are incapable of faith, which always, in the New Testament, is a prerequisite to baptism. The New Testament teaching is quite clear on this point. John the Baptist required that those who were applicants for baptism should experience repentance, exercise faith, make a confession of sin and live a righteous life (Math. 3:2; Acts 19:4). Jesus first made disciples and then baptized them (John 4:1), and gave distinct commandment that teaching should precede baptism (Math. 28:19). In the preaching of the apostles repentance antedates baptism (Acts 2:38): the converts were filled with joy, and only men and women were baptized (Acts 8:5, 8, 12). There is no account or inference implying the baptism of an infant by Jesus or his apostles.

This is generally conceded by scholars.

Döllinger, a Catholic scholar, Professor of Church History in the University of Munich, says: “There is no proof or hint in the New Testament that the apostles baptized infants or ordered them to be baptized” (John Joseph Ignatius Döllinger, The First Age of the Church, II. p. 184).

Dr. Edmund de Pressensé, a French Senator and Protestant, says: “No positive fact sanctioning the practice (of infant baptism) can be adduced from the New Testament; the historical proofs alleged are in no way conclusive” (Pressensé, Early Years of Christianity, p. 376. London, 1870).

Many authors of books treating directly on infant baptism affirm that it is not mentioned in the Scriptures. One writer only is here quoted. Joh. W. F. Höfling, Lutheran Professor of Theology at Erlangen, says: “The sacred Scriptures furnish no historical proof that children were baptized by the apostles” (Höfling, Das Sakrament der Taufe, p. 99. Erlangen, 1846. 2 vols.).

A few of the more recent authorities will not be amiss on this subject. The “Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,” edited by Professor James Hastings and Professor Kirsopp Lake, of the University of Leyden, says: “There is no indication of the baptism of children” in the New Testament.

The “Real Encyklopädie fur Protestantiche Theologie und Kirche” (XIX. p. 403. 3rd edition), the great German encyclopaedia, says:

The practice of infant-baptism in the apostolic and post-apostolic age cannot be proved. We hear indeed frequently of the baptism of entire households, as in Acts 15:32f; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16. But the last passage taken, 1 Cor. 7:14, is not favorable to the supposition that infant baptism was customary at that time. For then Paul would not have written “else were your children unclean.”

Principal Robert Rainy, New College, Edinburgh, Presbyterian, says:

Baptism presupposed some Christian instruction, and was preceded by fasting. It signified the forgiveness of past sins, and was the visible point of departure of the new life under Christian Influence and with the Inspiration of Christian purposes and aims. Here it was the “seal” which concerned a man to keep inviolate (Rainy, Ancient Catholic Church, p. 75)

The form of baptism was dipping, or an immersion in water. John baptized in the river Jordan (Mark 1:5); and he baptized in Aenon near to Salim “because there was much water there” (John 3:23). Jesus was baptized in the Jordan (Mark 1:9), and he “went into the water” and he “came up out of the water” (Matthew 3:16). The symbolical passages (Rom. 6:3, 4; Col. 2:12), which describe baptism as burial and resurrection make it certain that immersion was the New Testament act of baptism.

This, indeed, is the meaning of the Greek word baptizein. The word is defined by Liddell and Scott, the secular Greek lexicon used in all colleges and universities, “to dip in or under the water.” In the lexicon of J. H. Thayer, the standard New Testament lexicon, the word is defined as an “immersion in water.” All scholarship confirms this view. Prof. R. C. Jebb, Litt. D., University of Cambridge, says: “I do not know whether there is any authoritative Greek-English lexicon which makes the word to mean ‘sprinkle’ or to ‘pour.’ I can only say that such a meaning never belongs to the word in Classical Greek” (Letter to the author. September 23, 1898). Dr. Adolf Harnack, University of Berlin, says: “Baptism undoubtedly signifies immersion. No proof can be found that it signifies anything else in the New Testament, and in the most ancient Christian literature” (Schaff, The Teaching of the Twelve, p. 50).

Dr. Dosker, Professor of Church History, Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, says:

Every candid historian will admit that the Baptist. have, both philologically and historically, the better of the argument, as to the prevailing mode of baptism. The word baptizo means immersion, both in classical and Biblical Greek, except where it is manifestly used in a tropical sense (Dosker, The Dutch Anabaptists, p. 176 Philadelphia, 1921).

Nothing is more certain than that the New Testament churches uniformly practiced immersion,

The Lord’s Supper shows forth the death of the Saviour till he shall come again. It is a perpetual memorial of the broken body and the shed blood of the risen Lord. In the Scriptures the Lord’s Supper is always preceded by the act of baptism, and there is no account of any person participating in the Supper who had not previously been baptized. That baptism should precede the Lord’s Supper is avowed by scholars of all communions.

Dr. William Wall sums up the entire historical field when he says: “For no church ever gave the communion to any persons before they were baptized. . . Since among all of the absurdities that ever were held, none ever maintained that any person should partake of the communion before he was baptized” (Wall, The History of Infant Baptism, I. pp. 632, 638. Oxford, 1862).

The Baptists have always insisted that the ordinances were symbols and not sacraments. Indeed this is the heart of their contention.

President E. Y. Mullins has concisely stated the historical contention of Baptists in the following words:

They have seen with great vividness and clearness of outline the central spiritual elements of Christianity. With a like vividness and clearness they have perceived the significance of the outward form. For them it has seemed as if the very life of Christianity depended upon keeping the spiritual and ceremonial elements in their respective places. Christian history certainly justifies them in their view. Forms and ceremonies are like ladders. On them we may climb up or down. If we keep them in their places as symbols, the soul feeds on the truth symbolized. If we convert them into sacraments, the soul misses the central vitality itself, spiritual communion with God. An outward religious ceremony derives its chief significance from the context in which it is placed, from the general system of which it forms a part. If a ceremony is set in the context of a spiritual system of truths, it may become an indispensable element for the furtherance of those truths. If it is set in the context of a sacramental system, it may and does become a means for obscuring the truth and enslaving the soul. It is this perception of the value of ceremonies as symbols and of their perils as sacraments which animates Baptists in their strenuous advocacy of a spiritual interpretation of the ordinances of Christianity (McGlothlin, Infant Baptism Historically Considered, p. 7).

The early churches were missionary bodies. They were required to carry out the great commission given by our Lord. The obedience to the missionary program laid out by the divine Lord, the disciples in a few generations preached the gospel to the known world. The first church was organized by Jesus and his apostles; and after the form of this one all other churches should be modeled. The churches so organized are to continue in the world until the kingdoms of this earth shall become the kingdom of our Lord, even Christ. Prophecy was full of the enduring character of the kingdom of Christ (Dan. 2:44, 45). Jesus maintained a like view of his church and extended the promise to all the ages. He said: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The word church here is doubtless used in its ordinary, literal sense as a local institution; and in the only other passage where it is found in Matthew (18:17) it must be taken with the same signification. The great mass of scholarship supports the contention that this passage refers to the local, visible church of Christ (Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of Matthew).

The critical meaning of the word does not differ from this (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 197). The word “church” was used by our Lord and the apostles not so much in contra-distinction to the Jewish Theocracy, as to the Jewish synagogue, and the synagogue was always local (Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of the New Testament Greek, pp. 330, 331). The Roman Catholics have always denied the existence of a universal spiritual church (Alzog, Universal Church History, Vol. I. pp. 108, 109). Until the German Reformation there was practically no other conception of a church. When Luther and others split off from the Roman Catholic Church, a new interpretation of this passage was adopted to suit the new views; so they held that Matthew 16:18 merely pointed to the ultimate triumph of Christianity. But manifestly this interpretation was remote from the meaning of the Lord.

Paul gives a large promise: “Unto him be glory in the church of Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:21). Ellicott translates the passage: “To all the generations of the ages of ages.” The glory of Christ was to exist in all of the ages in the church. The church was, therefore, bound to exist in all of the ages. Even the redeemed in heaven are described in the Scriptures as a church.

The author believes that in every age since Jesus and the apostles, there have been companies of believers, churches, who have substantially held to the principles of the New Testament as now proclaimed by the Baptists. No attempt is made in these pages to trace a succession of bishops, as the Roman Catholics attempt to do, back to the apostles. Such an attempt is “laboring in the fire for mere vanity,” and proceeds upon a mistaken view of the nature of the kingdom of Christ, and of the sovereignty of God, in his operations on the earth. Jesus himself, in a reply to an inquiry put to him by the Pharisees (Luke 17:20-24), compares his kingdom to the lightning, darting its rays in the most sovereign and uncontrollable manner from one extremity of the heavens to the other. And this view corresponds to God’s dealings in the spiritual realm. Wherever God has his elect, there in his own proper time, he sends the gospel to save them, and churches after his model are organized (William Jones, The History of the Christian Church, xvii. Philadelphia. 1832).

The New Testament recognizes a democratic simplicity, and not a hierarchical monarchy. There is no irregularity, but a perpetual proclamation of principles. There is no intimation that there was not a continuity of churches, for doubtless there was, but our insistence is that this was not the dominant note in apostolic life. No emphasis is put on a succession of baptisms, or the historical order of churches. Some of the apostles were disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35), but there is no record of the baptism of others, though they were baptized. Paul, the great missionary, was baptized by Ananias (Acts 9:17, 18), but it is not known who baptized Ananias. Nothing definite is known of the origin of the church at Damascus. The church at Antioch became the great foreign missionary center, but the history of its origin is not distinctly given. The church at Rome was already in existence when Paul wrote to them his letter. These silences occur all through the New Testament, but there is a constant recurrence of type, a persistence of fundamental doctrines, and a proclamation of principles. This marked the whole apostolic period, and for that matter, every period since that time.

This recurrence of type is recognized even where error was detected. The disciples desired Jesus to rebuke a man who walked not with them (Mark 9:40), but this Jesus refused to do. The church at Corinth was imperfect in practice and life. The Judaizing teachers constantly perverted the gospel, and John the Evangelist, in his last days, combated insidious error, but the great doctrines of the atoning work of Christ, conversion and repentance, the baptism of believers, the purity of the church, the freedom of the soul, and the collateral truths, were everywhere avowed. At times these principles have been combated and those who held them persecuted, often they have been obscured; sometimes they have been advocated by ignorant men, and at other times by brilliant graduates Of the universities, who frequently mixed the truth with philosophical speculations; yet; always, often under the most varied conditions, these principles have come to the surface.

Baptist churches have the most slender ties of organization, and a strong government is not according to their polity. They are like the river Rhone, which sometimes flows as a river broad and deep, but at other times is hidden in the sands. It, however, never loses its continuity or existence. It is simply hidden for a period. Baptist churches may disappear and reappear in the most unaccountable manner.. Persecuted everywhere by sword and by fire, their principles would appear to be almost extinct, when in a most wondrous way God would raise up some man, or some company of martyrs, to proclaim the truth.

The footsteps of the Baptists of the ages can more easily be traced by blood than by baptism. It is a 1ineage of suffering rather than a succession of bishops; a martyrdom of principle, rather than a dogmatic decree of councils; a golden chord of love, rather than an iron chain of succession, which, while attempting to rattle its links back to the apostles, has been of more service in chaining some protesting Baptist to the stake than in proclaiming the truth of the New Testament. It is, nevertheless, a right royal succession, that in every age the Baptists have been advocates of liberty for all, and have held that the gospel of the Son of God makes every man a free man in Christ Jesus.


Books for further reading and reference:

George P. Fisher (Congregationalist), A History of the Christian Church, pp. 1-44.

Philip Schaff (Presbyterian), History of the Christian Churches, Vol. I.

John Alzog (Roman Catholic), Manual of Universal Church History, 4 volumes.

Thomas J. Conant (Baptist), The Meaning and Uses of Baptizein.

John T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism.

Edwin Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches.

The Pastor And His Former Pastorates

By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
First Baptist Church
Spearfish, SD

My theme is “The pastor and his former pastorates.” Before I get into the subject, let me say that I have deliberately referred to the pastor and HIS former pastorates, not HIS or HER former pastorates, for the simple reason that the Bible, the only infallible handbook on such matters, very clearly does not endorse women being pastors. I do not know all the reasons why God calls only men to be pastors, but I do know it is taught in the Bible. And because the Bible is the infallible Word of God, we do not need to know all the reasons for any of its teachings. We just need to accept them and follow them. If you will open-mindedly read what are called “the pastoral letters/epistles,” you will find God’s mind on this subject. Those letters were written by the apostle Paul, and  are his two letters to Timothy and his one letter to Titus. And if you read other parts of the New Testament, such as the Book Acts, you will find that God had only men put into positions of pastoral leadership in local churches.

Now, back to my theme: “The pastor and his former pastorates.” The main point I want to convey on this subject is that pastors must take their hands off their former pastorates. Their role of leadership in a local church ends when their role as pastor ends in that church. They no longer are to be involved in providing leadership to a former pastorate, unless officially asked to do so by the leaders of that church. And even then it must be done very carefully and only  temporarily. But what often happens is that a former pastor has difficulty giving up his role in a church, especially if he had been with a  church for a long time and was well-liked by the people of that church. So, even though it is done with good intentions, he continues to assert some influence on a former pastorate.  His friendships with individuals from a former pastorate do not end when his role in that church ends. Those friends often want to keep him informed of what is now going on in his absence, and seek his advice on church-related matters. Longtime church friends miss his leadership, and might tell him they do not like the changes that have taken place since he left the church. In such situations, it is easy for a former pastor to take sides with those friends, which only makes matters worse.

So, what should a former pastor do in such circumstances? He should tell them that their relationship with one another can never be same as it was when he was their pastor.  He should tell his friends that they should not talk to him about the inner workings of his former pastorate.  He should tell them to talk, instead, to the leaders of the church about their concerns. He should tell them to not stir up controversy in the church by secretly talking to others about their objections to the  new leadership and the changes that have been made in the church. He should tell them that change is inevitable with new leadership. He should tell them to accept change, so long as it does not contradict the Bible’s teachings, or the church’s church covenant and by-laws. In other words, a pastor should help the people from his former church make the transition to new leadership, and to accept harmless change in the church.