By Mike Willis
As we continue to consider the Baptist Church, we also need to study the pattern of organization which is found in the New Testament to contrast it with the present organization of the Baptist Churches in America. By so doing, I shall demonstrate that the Baptist Church cannot be the church of the New Testament because it is unscriptural in organization.
A Pattern Of Organization
Either one of two things is true; either God has revealed a pattern of organization for the church or He has not. In the event that God has revealed a pattern of organization, men are obligated to find the pattern of organization of the church and to abide within the revelation of God for the organization of the church. In the event that God has not revealed a pattern for the organization of the church, there can be no violation. Where there is no law, there can be no violation of law (Rom. 4:15). In this case, any form of church organization is just as scriptural as any other. The papacy in Rome is just as scriptural as elders ruling over a local church, in this case.
It is my contention that God has revealed a pattern of organization for the church. He has ordained that elders be appointed over every congregation (Acts 14:23 – “. . . they had ordained them elders in every church . . . “). The authority of elders is limited. They have no legislative authority (Jas. 4:12). Their authority is limited to making judgment decisions in administering and executing the law which is revealed by God. In these decisions, the authority of elders is limited to the local church (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). Elders have no authority over any congregation other than the local church of which they are members. A plurality of elders was always appointed in the local church (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). There is no authority for one elder to rule over a local church. Those who serve as elders are designated as elders (Acts 20:17), overseers (Acts 20:17, 28), bishops (Tit. 1:5, 7), pastors (Eph. 4:11), presbyters (I Tim. 4:14). The qualifications of these men are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.
The local churches were never tied together in any form of association or higher organization. The universal church of the New Testament had no earthly organization. Its Head is Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:21-23) and, therefore, the headquarters of the universal church is heaven. It seems preposterous to think that the Holy Spirit would give such detailed instruction regarding officers in the local church but remain silent regarding the offices and qualifications of officers on a district, state, national or universal level. Inasmuch as the Scriptures are silent regarding the offices and officers of the universal church, we conclude that there is no Bible authority for appointing officers in the universal church. Therefore, we conclude that any attempt to organize congregations together is unscriptural.
The Organization of the Local Baptist Church
The local Baptist Churches are organized with a preacher who is designated as “the Pastor” and with deacons. “The officers are the pastor and deacons, who, with such other persons as the church may elect, constitute a church committee, usually called the standing committee, and have general care of the affairs of the church, but no authority, except as it is specifically delegated to them by the church” (Religious Bodies: 1926, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, p. 83).
The local church is primarily ruled over by the preacher who is known as the “pastor.” There are several things wrong with this organization, including the following: (1) The New Testament always had a plurality of elders serving the church (see Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1; etc.). The doctrine of one elder ruling over the church and known as “the pastor,” “the bishop,” “the elder,” etc. is unscriptural. (2) The preacher frequently does not meet the qualifications for elders as given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Many Baptist “pastors” are younger men who have not lived long enough to have raised a family, with Christian children. Many “pastors” in the Baptist Church would insist that they are “young” men, not elderly men.
Hence, the first thing that is wrong with the organization of the Baptist Church is that it is under “pastor” oversight wherein the local preacher rules the local church. Such is a violation of the organization of the New Testament church. Preachers do not rule the church.
Majority Rule In The Local Baptist Church
Baptist Churches have been described as “one of the most democratic religious bodies in America” (Frank S. Mead, Handbook of Denominations, p. 27). “All members have equal voting rights in church matters, except that in some churches they are restricted to those over a certain age” (Religious Bodies: 1926, p. 83). My personal preference for democracy makes me appreciate democratic rule in politics. However, the church is not a democratic form of government. It is a monarchial form of government ruled by King Jesus (1 Tim. 6:15). Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Whatever laws have been legislated by Him must be obeyed by His subjects.
In matters of judgment, democratic vote is not the means authorized by God for making decisions. God has ordained that qualified men be appointed as elders and that they are to rule the flock of God (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7). In carrying out the affairs necessary to accomplish the legislated will of God, decisions must be made and God has ordained that they be made by elders.
Even in the absence of elders, majority rule is a poor means of governing the church. There are several weaknesses, including the following: (1) the most recent convert with his ignorances and weaknesses has the same say as a mature Christian; (2) voting tends to polarize the church into parties in favor of and against certain opinions, sometimes creating situations in which political men use underhanded methods to obtain majority vote (such as by encouraging men and women who do not usually attend to be present for a business decision). This method of governing the church is not revealed in the New Testament.
Universal Baptist Church Organization
Baptist Churches insist that they are locally autonomous (Mead, op. cit.). However, they are bound together in associations.
Baptist churches are commonly found grouped into associations, local and state, for purposes of fellowship. National conventions are established among many of them to carry on educational and missionary work. Most state conventions meet annually, with delegates representing all Baptist churches in the given area. They receive reports and make recommendations, but they have no authority to enforce their decisions (Ibid., p. 28).
The decision of the local church cannot be overruled by these associations.
On the New Testament theory of church government, the action of the individual local church is final. There is no power, either civil or ecclesiastical, that can reverse its decision or punish it for wrong-doing. It may make mistakes, but no human tribunal has authority to compel it to confess or correct them (Edward T. Hiscox, The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches, pp. 37-38).
Hence, the Baptists insist that the associations have no domination or rule over the local church. (I have reproduced this material in order for our brethren who make similar statements regarding the sponsoring churches and church supported human institutions to consider. Both the Baptists and our brethren repudiate the idea that their associations and church supported institutions have any dominating influence over the churches. Both are equally unauthorized in the Scriptures.)There is no Bible authority which authorizes tying two local congregations together into any kind of association, much less tying ten, one hundred, one thousand, or all of the Baptist Churches together into associations. The creation of these associations is sinful, inasmuch as no Bible authority can be found to authorize them.
These associations which have been created by men stand under the same condemnation as the church supported human institutions among us. Consider the chart below regarding these associations, conventions, and missionary, benevolent and educational associations of the Baptist Churches. The associations of the Baptist Church constitute another unscriptural organization of the Baptist Church.
Inasmuch as God has given us a pattern for the organization of the church, Christians are obligated to follow that pattern in their association together in the local church. The organizational arrangements followed by the Baptist Church violates the pattern of God’s word in many points. Consequently, the Baptist Church cannot be the church of the New Testament. It is an apostate religious group condemned by God.
|The Church||Church Associations|
|1. Originated in the mind of God (Eph. 3:10-11)||1. Originated in the mind of men|
|2. Is blood-bought (Acts 20:28)||2. Another, separate organization not blood-bought|
|3. Money raised through contributions of its members||3. Money raised through church contributions|
|4. Divinely revealed organization: Elders, Deacons
(1 Tim. 3:1-14; Tit. 1:5-9)
|4. Organization: Board of Directors, President, Vice-President, Secretary, etc.|
|5. Does its own work (Eph. 4:12)||5. Does the work in place of the church|
|6. Local church-only functioning unit (Phil. 1:1)||6. Organization larger than local church, smaller than universal church, yet trying to function for local churches|
|7. Creed & By-Laws: New Testament (Jas. 1:25)||7. Makes own creed and By-Laws|
|8. Competent to accomplish its mission
(Eph. 1:23; 3:10-11)
|8. Designed to give church greater efficiency in accomplishing its mission|
|9. Oversees its own work (Acts 20:28)||9. Oversees churches’ work|
|10. Local church – functioning unit (see no. 6)||10. Considered official functioning organ of an universal association of churches|
|11. Can accomplish its own mission (see no. 8)||11. Proposes to do what local churches alone cannot do|
|12. No universal structure, organization, mission, etc.||12. Seeks to activate a universal association of churches|
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 4, pp. 105-106
February 17, 1983