I. DEFINITION OF THE CHURCH.
( a ) The church of Christ, in its largest signification, is the whole company of regenerate persons in all times and ages, in heaven and on earth ( Mat. 16 :18 ; Eph. 1 : 22, 23 ; 3 :10 ; 5:24, 25 ; Col. 1 :18 ; Heb. 12:23 ). In this sense, the church is identical with the spiritual kingdom of God ; both signify that redeemed humanity in which God in Christ exercises actual spiritual dominion ( John 3 : 3, 5 ).
Mat. 16 :18 "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church ; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" ; Eph. 1 : 22, 23 "and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all " ; 3 :10 "to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" ; 5:24, 25 " But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it " ; Cob 1:18 "And he is the head of the body, the church : who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead ; that in all things he might have the preeminence " ; Hob. 12 : 23 " the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven " ; John 3 : 3, 5 " Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Cicero's words apply here : " Una navis est jam bonorum omnium " all good men are in one boat. Cicero speaks of the state, but it is still more true of the church invisible. Andrews, in Bib. Sac., Jan. 1883: 14, mentions the following differences between the church and kingdom, or, as we prefer to say, between the visible church and the invisible church : ( 1 ) the church began with Christ, the kingdom began earlier ; (2 ) the church is confined to believers in the historic Christ, the kingdom includes all God's children ; (3 ) the church belongs wholly to this world not so the kingdom ; (4 ) the church is visible, not so the kingdom ; (5) the church has quasi organic character, and leads out into local churches, this is not so with the kingdom. On the universal or invisible church, see Cremer, Lexicon N. T., transl., 113, 114, 331; Jacob, Eccl. Polity of N. T., 12.
H. C. Vedder : " The church is a spiritual body, consisting only of those regenerated by the Spirit of God." Yet the Westminster Confession affirms that the church "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children." This definition includes in the church a multitude who not only give no evidence of regeneration, but who plainly show themselves to be unregenerate. In many lands it practically identifies the church with the world. Augustine indeed thought that "the field," in Mat. 13:38, is the church, whereas Jesus says very distinctly that it "is the world." Augustine held that good and bad alike were to be permitted to dwell together in the church, without attempt to separate them ; see Broadus, Corn, in loco. But the parable gives a reason, not why we should not try to put the wicked out of the church, but why God does not immediately put them out of the world, the tares being separated from the wheat only at the final judgment of mankind.
Yet the universal church includes all true believers. It fulfils the promise of God to Abraham in Gen.15 :5 "Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them : and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." The church shall be immortal, since it draws its life from Christ : Is. 65 : 22 "as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people " ; Zech. 4:2,3 "a candlestick all of gold . and two olive-trees by it." Dean Stanley, Life and Letters, 2: 242, 243 " A Spanish Roman Catholic, Cervantes, said : 'Many are the roads by which God carries his own to heaven.' Dellinger : ' Theology must become a science not, as heretofore, for making war, but for making peace, and thus bringing about that reconciliation of churches for which the whole civilized world is longing.' In their loftiest moods of inspiration, the Catholic Thomas a Kempis, the Puritan Milton, the Anglican Keble, rose above their peculiar tenets, and above the limits that divide denominations, into the higher regions of a common Christianity. It was the Baptist Bunyan who taught the world that there was a common ground of communion which no difference of external rites could efface.' It was the Moravian Gambold who wrote : The man That could surround the sum of things, and spy The heart of God and secrets of his empire, Would speak but love. With love, the bright result Would change the hue of intermediate things, And make one thing of all theology."
(b) The church, in this large sense, is nothing less than the body of Christ the organism to which he gives spiritual life, and through which he manifests the fulness of his power and grace. The church therefore cannot be defined in merely human terms, as an aggregate of individuals associated for social, benevolent, or even spiritual "purposes. There is a transcendent element in the church. It is the great company of persons whom Christ has saved, in whom he dwells, to whom and through whom he reveals God (Eph. 1 : 22, 23 ).
Eph. 1 :22, 33 "the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." He who is the life of nature and of humanity reveals himself most fully in the great company of those who have joined themselves to him by faith. Union with Christ is the presupposition of the church. This alone transforms the sinner into a Christian, and this alone makes possible that vital and spiritual fellowship between individuals which constitutes the organizing principle of the church. The same divine life which ensures the pardon and the perseverance of the believer unites him to all other believers. The indwelling Christ makes the church superior to and more permanent than all humanitarian organizations; they die, but because Christ lives, the church lives also. Without a proper conception of this sublime relation of the church to Christ, we cannot properly appreciate our dignity as church members, or our high calling as shepherds of the flock. Not "ubi ecclesia, ibi Christus," but "ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia," should be our motto. Because Christ is omnipresent and omnipotent, "the same yesterday, and to-day, yea and forever" ( Heb. 13 : 8), what Burke said of the nation is true of the church : It is " indeed a partnership, but a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born."
McGiffert, Apostolic Church, 501." Paul's conception of the church as the body of Christ was first emphasized and developed by Ignatius. He reproduces in his writings the substance of all the Paulinism that the church at large made permanently its own : the preexistence and deity of Christ, the union of the believer with Christ without which the Christian life is impossible, the importance of Christ's death, the church the body of Christ. Rome never fully recognized Paul's teachings, but her system rests upon his doctrine of the church the body of Christ. The modern doctrine however makes the kingdom to be not spiritual or future, but a reality of this world." The redemption of the body, the redemption of institutions, the redemption of nations, are indeed all purposed by Christ. Christians should not only strive to rescue individual men fromthe slough of vice, but they should devise measures for draining that slough and making that vice impossible ; in other words, they should labor for the coming of the kingdom of God in society. But this is not to identify the church with politics, prohibition, libraries, athletics. The spiritual fellowship is to be the fountain from which all these activities spring, while at the same time Christ's "kingdom is not of this world" ( John 18:36 ).
A. J. Gordon, Ministry of the Spirit, 24, 25, 207 " As Christ is the temple of God, so the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As God could be seen only through Christ, so the Holy Spirit can be seen only through the church. As Christ was the image of the invisible God, so the church is appointed to be the image of the invisible Christ, and the members of Christ, when they are glorified with him, shall be the express image of his person The church and the kingdom are not identical terms, if we mean by the kingdom the visible reign and government of Jesus Christ on earth. In another sense they are identical. As is the king, so is the kingdom. The king is present now in the world, only invisibly and by the Holy Spirit ; so the kingdom is now present invisibly and spiritually in the hearts of believers. The king is to come again visibly and gloriously ; so shall the kingdom appear visibly and gloriously. In other words, the kingdom is already here in mystery : it is to be here in manifestation. Now the spiritual kingdom is administered by the Holy Spirit, and it extends from Pentecost to Parousia. At the Parousiathe appearing of the Son of man in glorywhen he shall take unto himself his great power and reign ( Rev. 11:17 ), when he who has now gone into a far country to be invested with a kingdom shall return and enter upon his government (Lake 19:15 ), then the invisible shall give way to the visible, the kingdom in mystery shall emerge into the kingdom in manifestation, and the Holy Spirit's administration shall yield to that of Christ."
( c ) The Scriptures, however, distinguish between this invisible or universal church, and the individual church, in which the universal church takes local and temporal form, and in which the idea of the church as a whole is concretely exhibited.
Mat. 10 : 32 "Every one therefore, who shall confess me before men, him will also confess before my Father who is in heaven" ; 12:34, 35 "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things" ; Rom. 10 : 9, 10 " if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved : for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness ; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" ; James 1 ; 18 " Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures " we were saved, not for ourselves only, but as parts and beginnings of an organic kingdom of God ; believers are called "firstfruits," because from them the blessing shall spread, until the whole world shall be pervaded with the new life ; Pentecost, as the feast of first-fruits, was but the beginning of a stream that shall continue to flow until the whole race of man is gathered in:
R. S. Storrs : " When any truth becomes central and vital, there comes the desire to utter it," and we may add, not only in words, but in organization. So beliefs crystallize into institutions. But Christian faith is something more vital than the common beliefs of the world. Linking the soul to Christ, it brings Christians into living fellowship with one another before any bonds of outward organization exist ; outward organization, indeed, only expresses and symbolizes this inward union of spirit to Christ and to one another. Horatius Bonar : "Thou must be true thyself, If thou the truth wouldst teach ; Thy soul must overflow, if thou Another's soul wouldst reach ; It needs the overflow of heart To give the lips full speech. Think truly, and thy thoughts Shall the world's famine feed ; Speak truly, and each word of thine Shall be a fruitful seed ; Live truly, and thy life shall be A great and noble creed."
Contentio Veritatis, 128, 129 " The kingdom of God is first a state of the individual soul, and then, secondly, a society made up of those who enjoy that state." Dr. F. L. Patton: "The best way for a man to serve the church at large is to serve the church to which he belongs." Herbert Stead : " The kingdom is not to be narrowed down to the church, nor the church evaporated into the kingdom." To do the first is to set up a monstrous ecclesiasticism; to do the second is to destroy the organism through which the kingdom manifests itself and does its work in the world ( W. R. Taylor ). Prof. Delman, in his work on The Words of Jesus in the Light of Postbiblical Writing and the Aramaic Language, contends that the Greek phrase translated" kingdom of God " should be rendered " the sovereignty of God." He thinks that it points to the reign of God, rather than to the realm over which he reigns. This rendering, if accepted, takes away entirely the support from the Ritschlian conception of the kingdom of God as an earthly and outward organization.
( d ) The individual church may be defined as that smaller company of regenerate persons, who, in any given community, unite themselves voluntarily together, in accordance with Christ's laws, for the purpose of securing the complete establishment of his kingdom in themselves and in the world.
Mat. 18:17 " And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church : and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican " ; Acts 14: 23 "appointed for them elders in every church " ; Rom. 16:5 "salute the church that is in their house" ; 1 Cor, 1 :2 "the church of God which is at Corinth " ; 4:17 "even as I teach everywhere in every church " ; 1 Thess. 2 :14 "the churches of God which are in Judas in Christ Jeans."
We do not define the church as a body of " baptized believers," because baptism is but one of "Christ's laws," in accordance with which believers unite themselves. Since these laws are the laws of church-organization contained in the New Testament, no Sunday School, Temperance Society, or Young Men's Christian Association, is properly a church. These organizations 1. lack the transcendent element they are instituted and managed by man only ; 2. they are not confined to the regenerate, or to those alone who give credible evidence of regeneration ; 3. they presuppose and require no particular form of doctrine ; 4. they observe no ordinances ; 5. they are at best mere adjuncts and instruments of the church, but are not themselves churches ; 6. their decisions therefore are devoid of the divine authority and obligation which belong to the decisions of the church.
The laws of Christ, in accordance with which believers unite themselves into churches, may be summarized as follows : 1. the sufficiency and sole authority of Scripture as the rule both of doctrine and polity ; (2) credible evidence of regeneration and conversion as prerequisite to church-membership ; ( 3 ) immersion only, as answering to Christ's command of baptism, and to the symbolic meaning of the ordinance ; ( 4 ) the order of the ordinances, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, as of divine appointment, as well as the ordinances themselves ; ( 5') the right of each member of the church to a voice in its government and discipline ; ( 6 ) each church, while holding fellowship with other churches, solely responsible to Christ ; (7 ) the freedom of the individual conscience, and the total independence of church and state. Hovey in his Restatement of Denominational Principles ( Am. Bap. Pub. Society ) gives these principles as follows : 1. the supreme authority of the Scriptures in matters of religion ; 2. personal accountability to God in religion ; 3. union with Christ essential to salvation ; 4. a new life the only evidence of that union ; 5. the new life one of unqualified obedience to Christ. The most concise statement of Baptist doctrine and history is that of Vedder, in Jackson's Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, 1 : 74-85.
With the lax views of Scripture which are becoming common among us there is a tendency in our day to lose sight of the transcendent element in the church. Let us ' remember that the church is not a humanitarian organization resting upon common human brotherhood, but a supernatural body, which traces its descent from the second, not the first, Adam, and which manifests the power of the divine Christ. Mazzini in Italy claimed Jesus, but repudiated his church. So modern socialists cry : "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," and deny that there is need of anything more than human unity, development, and culture. But God has made the church to sit with Christ "in the heavenly places" (Eph. 2 :6 ). It is the regeneration which comes about through union with Christ which constitutes the primary and most essential element in ecclesiology. " We do not stand, first of all, for restricted communion, nor for immersion as the only valid form of baptism, nor for any particular theory of Scripture, but rather for a regenerate church membership. The essence of the gospel is a new life in Christ, of which Christian experience is the outworking and Christian consciousness is the witness. Christian life is as important as conversion. Faith must show itself by works. We must seek the temporal as well as spiritual salvation of nien, and the salvation of society also " (Leighton Williams).
E. G. Robinson : "Christ founded a church only proleptically. In Mat. 18 :17, ...... is not used technically. The church is an outgrowth of the Jewish Synagogue, though its method and economy are different. There was little or no organization at first. Christ himself did not organize the church. This was the work of the apostles after Pentecost. The germ however existed before. [Even in the Old Testament, ed.] Three persons may constitute a church, and may administer the ordinances. Councils have only advisory authority. Diocesan episcopacy is antiscriptural and antichristian."
The principles mentioned above are the essential principles of Baptist churches, although other bodies of Christians have come to recognize a portion of them. Bodies of Christians which refuse to accept these principles we may, in a somewhat loose and modified sense, call churches ; but we cannot regard them as churches organized in all respects according to Christ's laws, or as completely answering to the New Testament model of church organization. We follow common usage when we address a Lieutenant Colonel as " Colonel," and a Lieutenant Governor as " Governor." It is only courtesy to speak of pedobaptist organizations as " churches," although we do not regard these churches as organized in full accordance with Christ's laws as they are indicated to us in the New Testament. To refuse thus to recognize them would be a discourtesy like that of the British Commander in Chief, when he addressed General Washington as "Mr. Washington."
As Luther, having found the doctrine of justification by faith, could not recognize that doctrine as Christian which taught justification by works, but denounced the church which held it as Antichrist, saying, " Here I stand ; I cannot do otherwise, God help me," so we, in matters not indifferent, as feet-washing, but vitally affecting the existence of the church, as regenerate church-membership, must stand by the New Testament, and refuse to call any other body of Christians a regular church, that is not organized according to Christ's laws. The English word' church' like the Scotch kirk ' and the German 'Kirche,' is derived from the Greek ..... , and means 'belonging to the Lord.' The term itself should teach us to regard only Christ's laws as our rule of organization.
(e) Besides these two significations of the term church,' there are properly in the New Testament no others. The word ...... is indeed used in Acts 7 : 38 ; 19 : 32, 39 ; Heb. 2 : 12, to designate a popular assembly; but since this is a secular use of the term, it does not here concern us. In certain passages, as for example Acts 9 : 31 (...... , sing., .. ABC), 1 Cor. 12 : 28, Phil. 3 : 6, and 1 Tim. 3 : 15, ...... appears to be used either as a generic or as a collective term, to denote simply the body of independent local churches existing in a given region or at a given epoch. But since there is no evidence that these churches were bound together in any outward organization, this use of the term ....... cannot be regarded as adding any new sense to those of 'the universal church' and the local church' already mentioned.
Acts 7: 38 -"the church [marg. 'congregation'] in the wilderness "= the whole body of the people of Israel; 19: 32 " the assembly was in confusion "the tumultuous mob in the theatre at Ephesus ; 39 " the regular assembly " ; 9 : 31 "So the church throughout all Jadaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified" ; 1 Cor. 12: 28 "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers" ; Phil. 3 : 6 " as teaching seal, persecuting the church " ; I Tim. 3 :15 " that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." In the original use of the word ......, as a popular assembly, there was doubtless an allusion to the derivation from 4a and ......, to call out by herald. Some have held that the N. T. term contains an allusion to the fact that the members of Christ's church are called, chosen, elected by God. This, however, is more than doubtful. In common use, the term had lost its etymological meaning, and signified merely an assembly, however gathered or summoned. The church was never so large that it could not assemble. The church of Jerusalem gathered for the choice of deacons (Acts 6:2, 5 ), and the church of Antioch gathered to hear Paul's account of his missionary journey ( Acts 14: 27 ).
It is only by a common figure of rhetoric that many churches are spoken of together in the singular number, in such passages as Acts 9 : 31. We speak generically of ' man,' meaning the whole race of men ; and of the horse,' meaning all horses. Gibbon, speaking of the successive tribes that swept down upon the Roman Empire, uses a noun in the singular number, and describes them as "the several detachments of that immense army of northern barbarians," yet he does not mean to intimate that these tribes had any common government. So we may speak of " the American college " or " the American theological seminary," but we do not thereby mean that the colleges or the seminaries are bound together by any tie of outward organization.
So Paul says that God has set in the church apostles, prophets, and teachers (1 Cor. 12 : 28), but the word Church' is only a collective term for the many independent churches. In this same sense, we may speak of "the Baptist church " of New York, or of America; but it must be remembered that we use the term without any such implication of common government as is involved in the phrases the Presbyterian church,' or the Protestant Episcopal church,' or 'the Roman Catholic church' ; with us, in this connection, the term church' means simply ' churches.'
Broadus, in his Corn. on Mat., page 359, suggests that the word ....... In Acts 9:31, "denotes the original church at Jerusalem, whose members were by the persecution widely scattered throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and held meetings where-ever they were, but still belonged to the one original organization When Paul wrote to the Galatians, nearly twenty years later, these separate meetings had been organized into distinct churches, and so he speaks ( Gal. 1 :22 ) in reference to that same period, of "the churches of Judaea which were in Christ." On the meaning of ......, see Cremer, Lex. N. T., 329; Trench, Syn. N. T., 1 : 18 ; Girdlestone, Syn. 0. T., 387; Curtis, Progress of Baptist Principles, 301; Dexter, Congregationalism, 25; Dagg, Church Order, 100- 120 ; Robinson, N. T. Lex., sub voce.
The prevailing usage of the N. T. gives to the term ..... the second of these two significations. It is this local church only which has definite and temporal existence, and of this alone we henceforth treat. Cur definition of the individual church implies the two following particulars :
A. The church, like a family and the state, is an institution of divine appointment...
B. The church, unlike the family and the state, is a voluntary society...
A.H. Strong, Baptist minister, President and Professor of Biblical Theology in the Rochester Theological Seminary, 1907. Systematic Theology, Three Volumes in One, pp 887-892. For three years president of the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. When the Northern Baptist Convention was formed in 1905, he became its first president.