Many people have many different opinions as to the definition of a church.
Our desire is to obtain the same opinion as found in the Bible,
as presented to us by God Himself.
One view was promoted to popularity by C.I. Scofield in his Scofield reference Bible.
This view states that "The Spirit forms the church by baptizing all believers into the body of Christ."
He further states the church to be "composed of the whole number of regenerate persons
from Pentecost to the first resurrection,
united together and to Christ by the baptism with the Holy Spirit."
This is the popular view held by most Protestant churches.
Another view, not as widely held, is that of the "church consisting of all the redeemed in all ages."
From these two views we understand the church to be universal and invisible.
Baptists, in opposition, hold the church to be both local and visible.
These two prior views fail to take into consideration the difference God makes
The family of God is made up of all born again believers from Adam until this present time.
The family of God includes all the saved in heaven and on Earth.
The kingdom of God is made up of all believers on the earth at any given time.
The churches of God are made up of saved people who have been scripturally baptized
by a proper administrator and joined to a local, visible body.
Baptist have long held to a common definition of the church.
It is a local visible body of baptized believers who have covenanted together to fulfill the great commission.
It is only after an individual is saved that God adds them, by baptism, to the local church.
The universal invisible church theory excludes baptism as necessary for church membership.
It also perverts the meaning of the Greek word "ecclesia" which is translated "church" in our English Bible.
The fact that the word "church" exists in our English version of the Bible is due to King James of England.
He literally made a rule for the translators to follow that the word "congregation" which had been commonly used,
was not to be used,
but in it’s place they should use the word "church."
The word "ecclesia," "called out," means an assembly of people gathered together.
Once this definition is understood and used, the Scriptures using it make perfect sense.
Try the two definitions with the following verse. Acts 8.1
And Saul was consenting unto his death.
And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem;
and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria,
except the apostles.
Is it local or universal and invisible?
How about Galatians 1.2
And all the brethren which are with me,
unto the churches of Galatia:
First note Paul uses the word church in it’s plural form,
not universal invisible church of Galatia,
but local visible churches of Galatia.
There are few instances
where the word church has reference to a universal body of believers.
When it does it is referring to a future assembly that will then be both local and visible.
This usage does not make the church universal and invisible any more than it makes all husbands and wives universal.
When Did It All Start?
The first use of the word "church" in the New Testament is found in Matthew 16.18, which states:
"And I say also unto thee,
That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church;
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Christ calls it His church.
He is distinguishing it from any other.
It originated with Him,
He organized it, and He is building it.
Mr. Scofield and the Protestants would have us to believe the church started on the day of Pentecost.
It is this very fact that gives rise to the teaching of the universal invisible church theory.
Baptists teach from the Scriptures that the church began during the personal ministry of Jesus Christ.
This verse in Matthew does not teach Peter was the foundation of the church as the Roman Catholics would have us to believe.
Instead, it teaches that Peter (little pebble) should understand that the rock (huge strata)
upon which Christ’s church would be built was Jesus Christ and none other.
Lets get an additional definition of what is a Scriptural church.
"A New Testament Church is an assembly of people called out from the world by the preaching of the gospel,
accompanied by the regenerating work of the holy Spirit,
and baptized in the faith and fellowship of the gospel..."
Each of the twelve Apostles and the early disciples were scriptually baptized by John the Baptist, as was Jesus.
John was "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
These men were born again and baptized.
When Christ came to this Earth they were called out, assembled together, ordained, and sent forth at His command.
This fills the definition of what we know to be a true New Testament Church.
They sang, preached, collected offerings, had a Pastor (Jesus Christ), baptized, observed the Lord’s Supper,
they had rules and order, conducted business,
and they were given authority to carry out Christ’s commands.
All of this happened before the day of Pentecost.
Before the day of Pentecost Jesus was physically the single head of one church.
After the day of Pentecost, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit,
Jesus Christ was Spiritually the single head of many churches.
These two views make an extreme difference in how a church carries out its business,
how it accepts members, how it observes the rules of the New Testament,
and how it carries out the great commission.
It affects the teachings concerning the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Church authority,
church membership, church associations, and the perseverance of the autonomy of the local church.
The Pattern Of A New Testament Church
The pattern of a New Testament Church is to be found in the Bible.
The Bible is our final rule of faith and practice.
It is within the Bible we will discover the church’s government, purpose, plan, and directives.
Tradition and history must always be balanced with the Word of God not vice versus.
The Bible teaches that each church is to be autonomous, independent, and indigenous.
That means the church is to be self-governing, separate from all other bodies and organizations, and local.
The government of a Baptist church is to be democratic under the direction of its only head, Jesus Christ.
The local church is to determine its own course of action apart from any outside interference of other churches, associations,
councils, fellowships, presbyteries, preachers, or civil authorities.
The Lord’s church recognizes no higher authority than their Head, Jesus Christ.
This frees the church to follow the Lord’s direction in selecting their own officers, exercising their own discipline,
and adopting their own courses of action.
This also allows for co-operation with other true New Testament churches in carrying out the demands of the gospel,
without relinquishing their independence.
The early church met on the first day of the week.
This is not a Christian Sabbath as some might say.
It is the celebration of the rising of our Lord from grave and securing our salvation.
Sunday is the day set aside for the work of the ministry
not the work in the yard.
Sunday is the day set aside for the honor, worship, and praise of God.
It is on the first day of the week that we are to bring our offerings unto the Lord.
We are to come and worship God in Spirit and in truth not in ritual and formalism.
God’s plan for financing the ministry of the church is through the giving of offerings.
Giving is as much a part of our worship as is singing, preaching, or praising the Lord.
The Officers Of The Church
There are only two offices in the church that are recognized within the New Testament, pastors and deacons.
The pastor may be called a bishop, an elder, an overseer, or shepherd of the flock.
This office is designated as the overseer of the church of God.
He is the one, which has the responsibility to teach and preach the word of God
and to equip the saints of God to do the work of the ministry.
The pastor and deacon, or deacons, are to be chosen, or appointed,
by the church in a democratic method
and may be removed from that office in the same manner
by a majority vote of the church.
The pastor is charged with the spiritual oversight of the church
while the deacons are charged with the physical oversight
that would restrict the pastor or elders from prayer and ministry of the word.
Not all preachers are destined to be pastors any more than all servants of God are destined to become deacons.
The desire to fill the office of pastor comes from the leading and calling of the Lord
and is confirmed by a call from a local church to that position.
The qualifications of a pastor or elder are scattered throughout the New Testament.
The office of deacon seems to have risen over a dispute concerning the distribution of material resources
as seen in Acts 6.
Rather than requiring the Apostles to remove themselves from prayer and ministry of the word
they asked the church to seek out men among themselves to fill these rolls.
It was the church who decided who should be appointed to these positions based upon spiritual and scriptural qualifications.
We find these qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3.8-13.
The Purpose Of A New Testament Church
The Lord began and built His church because He had a purpose in mind.
There is a design and direction for the church.
He has entrusted the church with the responsibility of preaching the gospel to a lost and dying world.
He has called upon us to teach and to baptize those who believe and repent.
This gives us our primary goal as a New Testament Baptist church.
Matthew 28.18-20 gives us our commission.
"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying,
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:
and, lo, I am with you alway,
even unto the end of the world. Amen."
The goal of every church is not to entertain or to provide a social place to gather.
It is to instruct in and with the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This involves caring for and feeding the flock of God.
It involves teaching the whole counsel of God not just bits and pieces
or those that seem to best suit our purposes or attract the greatest amount of interests.
While the oversight of such a great task is given to the pastor
it is not his to do alone.
He is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.
An important fact to remember is that we are talking about the purpose or mission of the church.
Who is the church?
If you are saved, baptized, and have been added to this, or any, particular Baptist church,
the responsibility is yours.
Your mission is obedience to the commands of God and those commands are to go preaching, baptizing,
and then to teach the all things.
What About It’s Membership?
The first and foremost qualification for membership in one of the Lord’s churches is to be born again.
Only those who are baptized can be church members
and only those who give proof of regeneration and conversion are qualified candidates for baptism.
That gives us both the first and second qualifications for church membership.
We might easily add a third by dealing with the willingness of an individual to submit to the authority
of the local church to which he is requesting membership.
This is necessary to keep the unity of peace within the local body of Christ.
Each member has the privilege and responsibility to vote in matters of business.
If their vote happens to be in the minority there is the need to submit to the decision of the majority.
There is no right to stir dissension or be contentious when there is no violation of the Word of God.
Every member of the Lord’s churches must be aware they are accountable to the Lord and His church in matters of doctrine,
practice and the covenant into which they enter.
The Ordinances of The Church
The ordinances recognized by true New Testament Baptists is baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
While we hold each as important in their doctrine and practice
we believe neither has any saving merit attached to them.
It is our responsibility to "contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints" Jude.
We are to maintain the truth and application of both.
We believe both are symbols of spiritual truths.
The Lord’s supper was instituted by the Lord
and is to be observed until He returns to this Earth.
The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of the shedding of His blood and His death as our substitute.
This is strictly a church ordinance to be observed by the members of a local church.
This is a restricted communion, only to those who are members of a particular body.
We are instructed what to do and how to do it,
but we are given liberty as to the timing.
The Lord said "as oft" as you do it, do it in remembrance of me.
Some churches may observe the Lord’s Supper weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, some yearly,
and others at their discretion.