Chapter 8 – The Government Of The Church
The government, or constitution, of the baptized Churches of Christ:
We might insert here a biblical principle. The government of the Church is “congregational.” That is, the “Church” determines what will or will not be done, and this is done by “unanimous consent,” and must have the Scriptures for the basis of their deliberation. These Churches do not go by “majority rule,” or Robert’s Parliamentary Rules of Order, as worldly societies do. The elder, or as this office is called in its business session, the Moderator, does not rule the Church. In fact, in most of their written decorum, the Moderator is not allowed to address the subject under discussion unless he is called upon by the Church to give his advice. Still, the Church is not under any obligation to “take his advice.” Some Churches even require that the Moderator vacate the office, appoint another Moderator pro tempore, before he can participate in the discussion, and only then if his membership is in that given Church.
Remember, we are discussing “customs” developed to do all things in “decency and in order.”
The Church is not considered a “democracy,” but a “theocracy,” and the view is that every member’s conscience is a veto. If a member votes in the negative, the Church “tables” the item under discussion, and the individual that “tabled it” is expected to bring it forward if he ever agrees with the rest of the Church. Otherwise, it stays “tabled.” Very little business is so pressing that it can’t wait, rather than divide the sentiments of the Church and Congregation. The government of Christ’s Church is referred to as their “Order.”
The word “order” has multiple meanings, and therefore needs to be better identified. When the Catholic Church, which is an “umbrella” of various “orders,” combined together under one episcopal head – a pope or patriarch, or even a king – the word describes a separate but integral organization in that religious institution. The word “order” very often has reference to a group of churches and/or associations under the rule of a minister, or a presbytery of ministers (elders, deacons, delegates), as in “our order or affiliation of churches.” Many Old School and Primitive Baptists use the word in this sense. As used in this book, by this author, the word “order” refers to “The Rule of The Gospel, or government of the church(es), – hence: “gospel order.”
Gospel Order: Christ is the Head of His body, the Church. As such, He is called “King in Zion.” A king must have a kingdom, and Christ’s kingdom includes: His church, the congregation of born-again believers, and such as live too distant to assemble together with others.
Citizens of a kingdom are known as “subjects,” and are in subjection to their king. In such a kingdom, the King is the chief executor of His kingdom. As such, Christ rules by His Spirit over His vast domain. Because Christ is an Absolute Monarch, His kingdom does not have a legislative branch. The legislative power is embodied in the Scriptures under the authority of Christ and His apostles. The expressed rule of the whole “Baptist” order of churches is: “We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament is the inspired word of God and the only rule of faith and practice.”
It is very shamefully noted that those in gospel disorder do not take this rule seriously. Disorder refers to any deviation from the rules established in the Scriptures for the churches and believers to obey.
Such can be equally applied to an individual as to a Church. For instance, it is the rule of the gospel given by Paul, that he received from Christ, that a “wife not depart from her husband.” That is a gospel rule the believer and Church is under. Yet, if she does depart, “let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.” (I Corinthians 7:11)
No other alternative is provided. For a husband, “Let not the husband put away his wife.”
Again, no other provision is given. With all kinds of reasoning available by the carnal mind, the Church and the believer is under the clear instruction of the gospel government of the King of Zion. He has spoken; it is recorded; it is understandable as written. The proper place for a believer in such a case is to remain in the congregation in subjection to the order of the gospel. Certainly they should not disturb the Church over their own state, which is contrary to the gospel order given by Christ and the apostle.
The Church has no authority to re-write the Scriptures.
Another example is useful also: First, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” (I Corinthians 6:1). If a member of the Church does so, he is in disorder. If the Church allows it, the Church is in disorder.
So, what is one to do?
Follow the governing rule of the King of Zion: “If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are the least esteemed in the Church.” (verse 4).
[And what shall we write pertaining to the awful rebellious practice of associations taking churches to courts to have the courts determine who is the Church, or to steal the Church’s property? What is written above is written! It is one of the worst disorders known in the gospel kingdom!]
This is what “gospel order” means; doing things according to the instructions given by the King of Saints without subterfuge, deceit, cunningness, guile, or carnal reasoning. The Scripture is the Law Code of the Kingdom of God on earth. It is to be taken seriously, and followed carefully. This, within itself, requires the members of the church to be quite studious of even small details of the written word of God.
Again, membership in a gospel church is not an honorary position. It carries grave duties that, if not followed, allow the Church to leave the principles of Christ her King, and eventually depart totally from the “faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
There are multitudes of examples of this occurrence ever around us. Every member can cite an example of it by casual observation. If the “least esteemed” in the Church are to be given judgment of things pertaining to “the smallest matters” (I Corinthians 6:2); that of “things that pertain to this life,” then it is obvious that even the very least esteemed member must be an informed member in the rules of gospel order.
In this Kingdom, there is very little “business” that needs attending. Christ is the Head of the Church; the Spirit works in the members both to will and to do of His own good pleasure; the executive branch is thereby covered; the rules of the gospel are set in a fixed fiat; and judgment is prescribed according to the rules given therein. The Church has no authority to go outside of the government of Christ for helps, inventions, and novelties. God has provided all things needful for His people to know and to do.
A somewhat uniqueness of the baptized churches of Christ is their views relative to a money-based religious enterprise. They are against it. They have no collection plates to pass among the congregation; do not preach “tithing,” and conscriptions, nor allow auxiliary societies to make merchandise of the Church and congregation.
Andrew Fuller’s sorry practice of going to William Huntington’s Chapel, and others, to collect money for missions from Huntington’s listeners as they exited the Chapel would not fair very well among them!
Each Church and congregation is expected to, by voluntary gifts, to support their ministry. If one does not, the business is the Lord’s, not the minister or the Church. And the Lord can take care of His own. As the ministers travel, the New Testament practice prevails: the congregation and Church to whom he ministers, through private gifts, carries him onward to other places of his service.
As Paul wrote to one church: “But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you [the Roman church] in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company” (Romans 15:24).
The New Testament is clear that the laborer is worthy of his heir, and the oxen his master’s crib. But to make the Church and congregation a house of merchandise, or worse, a “den of thieves,” they are unwilling to do.
Having said all this, there are some minor areas that require a Church to do things in order to fulfill these given fundamentals. We will continue these under the topic of “customs,” or things “customary.”
Some “customs” developed out of the frontier experience of believers. As the settlers moved westward, they had a craze for writing “charters.” Wagon-train charters, town charters, township charters, business charters, church charters, etc. were written everywhere a wagon train settled. Almost all “baptized Churches of Christ” followed about the same pattern. They first wrote a “constitution.” Then, due to the diversity of people called “Baptists” they felt it necessary to express their peculiar beliefs in an abstract of principles, or Articles of Faith. They most often had a set of rules to guide their business deliberations. These are stated as “Rules of Decorum.” “Decorum” is another way of saying: “doing our business in decency and in order.” None of these are Biblical.
None are necessary, per se, but they are still in existence whether written or unwritten.
For instance: Great Britain is a “constitutional monarchy,” even though it has no “written” constitution as the United States. Its constitution is by “precedents” in English Common Law. So too, whether it is written or not, the customary way reaching a commonality for unity is a “constitution.” Any time a preacher says, “I believe this Bible is true,” he just stated his article of faith on that topic. If a member says that: “We believe sinners are saved by the sacrifice of Christ,” that member has stated an article of his faith. So while Articles of Faith are unnecessary to be written down, they are, in fact, indispensable for a Church to have a peaceful union of diverse members. So too, for such Churches as the one this writer is in, the business is conducted without a set of Rules of Decorum written down. (They were burned in a fire many years ago.)
However, the peaceful way in which the Church has accepted the conduct of business is an unwritten “decorum.”
Rejecting something merely because it is “customary,” or because it is “written down” is a poor (and perhaps ignorant), and can be, a dangerous reason. Why should a Church and congregation reinvent the “wheel” every time they meet together, and do things totally different each time they meet, when through years of orderly conduct the Church has peacefully, decently, and orderly, resolved how they are pleased to conduct themselves, and what they are satisfied with as the “doctrine of Christ.”
All that is required is that they do not step outside of the commandments of God, or contrary to the examples given in the government of Christ’s Church.
To answer a question put to us as to whence we came, and how we developed, we are baptized Churches of Christ holding to the “old school” of divinity that existed prior to Andrew Fuller’s New Divinity (1782) and the development of the New School, or Missionary Baptist movement that commenced in 1813 in America. We still hold to the doctrines our forefathers stated in the London Confession of Faith of 1647 [See Appendix A, page 65] and 1689, which are predestinarian, or free grace.
Hence, we are rightly called “Predestinarians” when considered by our doctrinal basis. Since our Churches predate the Missionary Baptists, we are rightly called “Primitive.” Insofar as we baptized believers by immersion, we are also rightly called “Baptists.” In that we rebaptize individuals that were immersed, sprinkled, or poured (affusion) by religious or other societies that do not have the gospel of the grace of God, and hence do not have gospel ordinances, we are truly Anabaptists. We are “strict” in discipline, and believe in godly living of all our Church’s members, insisting that each believer is accountable to God for his personal conduct (we did not say “responsible), we are therefore, Cathrari, or “Puritan.” Being of the persuasion that Christ died only for a particular people, we remain “Particular Baptists.” And, finally, insofar as we predate John Calvin, and believe in baptism by immersion and that all God’s elect were saved by Christ, when He died for our sins, were baptized by immersion with Christ, and justified by the faith of Christ which Calvin did not believe or practice, we are truthfully called “Hypercalvinists.”
Those of whom I have written above believed in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things, creatures, events, history and nations. One significant part of that faith is that God elected His people in Christ before He ever created anything. This is clearly taught in the Bible. (Ephesians 1:4).
This being true, the actual number of the elect, therefore, is absolutely set or fixed and “cannot be increased or diminished.” So, each time one of them dies and goes to the “General Assembly, the Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23) in heaven, there is one less on earth to suffer the daily afflictions all are subject to in this life.
Also, daily, the number of Predestinarians here on earth is diminishing, as the number in glory is increasing. Some day they all shall be in glory together. In the meanwhile, the baptized Church of Christ becomes smaller and smaller as you see it today. We are encouraged to believe that “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” Christ promised, saying, “Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” to encourage that small number in Israel when He ascended into glory, and we here in this latter day as we find our numbers decreasing. He also promised, and we yet find it so, that “where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20).
By experience, our dear friends, we find Him faithful to His word. It is not a cause for embarrassment to us to see the true church in decline. It is a matter of faith and rejoicing in the faithfulness of Christ, in fulfilling His revealed and bright design in the salvation of all His elect.
Our next topic, then, will discuss the great and final apostasy of the latter day, as prophesied by Christ and the Apostles, and which has come upon us, beginning about 1800 in the Western Civilization.