Fundamentals of the Faith
By William Dudley Nowlin, D.D., LL.D.
1922


CHAPTER VIII

NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH

The Church, as an Institution, Was Established by Christ Himself while on Earth,
to Which He Committed the Evangelization of the Nations and the Keeping of the
Ordinances; and Was by Him Promised Continuity Until His Return.

Christ said (Matt. 16:18). “I will build my church.” It will be observed that Christ says “I will build my church” — not leave the building of it to any man, or set of men. Any church originated or built by man is not Christ’s church, for he said, “I will build my church.”

Let it be borne in mind, that when the author uses the phrase “The Church,” he refers to the church as an institution, and not as an organization.

WHAT IS A CHURCH

The Greek word ecclesia, translated church, in the New Testament means an assembly, called out, or called together. Dr. Jesse B. Thomas, in his splendid book “The Church and the Kingdom,” has forever settled the question of a New Testament church being a universal invisible church; showing that it is always a local assembly.

The late Dr. B. H. Carroll, of Texas, says (“The New Testament Church,” by T. T. Martin, pages 35-38, 39-40): “Matt. 16:18, 19, has been for many centuries a battle ground of theological controversies. Though millions of the disputants have passed away, the questions which arrayed them against each other still survive to align their successors in hostile array.

“The most important of these divisive questions is: WHAT IS THE CHURCH’?

“From the given list of passages, taken from the Englishman’s Greek Concordance, it appears that the word ecclesia, usually rendered ‘church’ in our version, occurs 117 times in the Greek New Testament (omitting Acts 2: 47 as not in the best texts).

“Our Lord and the New Testament writers neither coined this word nor employed it in any unusual sense. Before their time it was in common use; of well understood signification, and subject, like any other word, to varied employment, according to the established laws of language. That is, it might be used abstractly, or generically, or particularly, or prospectively, without losing its essential meaning.

“To simplify and shorten the work before us, we need not leave the New Testament to find examples of its classic or Septuagint use. Fair examples of both are in the list of New Testament passages.

“What, then, etymologically, is the meaning of this word?

“Its primary meaning is: An organized assembly, whose members have been properly called out from private homes or business to attend to public affairs. This definition necessarily implies prescribed conditions of membership.

“This meaning, substantially, applies alike to the ecclesia of a self-governing Greek state (Acts 19:39), the Old Testament ecclesia, or convocation of National Israel (Acts 7: 38), and to the New Testament ecclesia.”

“When our Lord says: ‘On this rock I will build my ecclesia,’ while the ‘my’ distinguished his ecclesia from the Greek state ecclesia and the Old Testament ecclesia, the word itself naturally retains its ordinary meaning.

“Indeed, even when by accommodation it is applied to an irregular gathering (Acts 19: 32, 41), the essential idea of assembly remains.

‘‘Of the 117 instances of use ii the New Testament certainly all but five (Acts 7:38, 19:32, 39, 42; Heb. 2:12) refer to Christ’s ecclesia. And since Hebrews (2:12), though a quotation from the Old Testament, is prophetic, finding fulfillment in New Testament times, we need not regard it as an exception. These one hundred and thirteen uses of the word, including Heb. 2: 12, refer either to the particular assembly of Jesus Christ on earth or to his general assembly in glory.

“Commonly, that is, in nearly all the uses, it means: The particular assembly of Christ’s baptized disciples on earth, as ‘The church of God which is at Corinth.’

“To this class necessarily belong all abstract or generic uses of the word, for whenever the abstract or generic finds concrete expression, or takes operative shape, it is always a particular assembly.

“This follows from the laws of language governing the use of words.

“For example, if an English statesman, referring to the right of each individual citizen to be tried by his peers, should say: ‘On this rock England will build her jury and all power of tyrants shall not prevail against it,’ he uses the term jury in an abstract sense, i.e., in the sense of an institution. But when this institution finds concrete expression, or becomes operative, it is always a particular jury of twelve men, and never an aggregation of all juries into one big jury.

“As when Paul says: ‘The husband is the head of the wife,’ the terms ‘husband and wife’ are not to be restricted in application to John Jones and his wife, but apply equally to every other specific husband and wife.

“But while nearly all of the one hundred and thirteen instances of the use of ecclesia belong to the particular class, there are some instances, as Heb. 12:23, and Eph. 5:25-27, where the reference seems to be the general assembly of Christ. But in every such case the ecclesia is prospective, not actual. That is to say, there is not now, but there will be a general assembly of Christ’s people. That general assembly will be composed of all the redeemed of all time.

“Here are three indisputable and very significant facts concerning Christ’s general assembly

“First, many of its members properly called out, and now in heaven.

“Second, many others of them, also called out, are here on earth.

“Third, indefinite millions of them, probably the great majority, yet to be called, are neither on earth nor in heaven, because they are yet unborn, and, therefore, non-existent.

“It follows that if one part of the membership is now in heaven, another part not yet born, there is as yet no assembly, except in prospect.

“We may, however, properly speak of the general assembly now, because, though part of it is yet non-existent, and though there has not yet been a gathering together of the other two parts, yet the mind may conceive of that gathering as an accomplished fact.

“In God’s purposes and plans, the general assembly exists now, and also iii our conceptions or anticipations, but certainly not as a fact. The detai1 of God’s purpose arc now being worked out, and the process will continue until all the

elect have been called, justified, glorified and assembled.”

When all the redeemed are called together in glory then the present concept of a general assembly will he a fact. Then, and only then, will all the children of God constitute an ecclesia.

CHURCH TO EVANGELIZE NATIONS

To this church Jesus committed the evangelization of the nations. The churches of Christ were expected to be missionary. Their first and greatest mission in the world is the evangelization of the nations; and as a church fails to be evangelistic, she ceases to be evangelical.

Is the religion of Jesus Christ world-wide in its application and obligations? We notice that the promise given to Abraham was world-wide. “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Every time this promise is repeated, “all the nations” are included. The sacrificial death of Christ was for all. John says: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Christ, in his death, removed the legal obstacle out of the way of the salvation of all, making it possible for all to be saved who really desire it, and are willing to accept it on the terms of the gospel. The commission is, “Go preach to all nations,” and the gospel invitation is extended to all. “Whosoever will, let him come.”

The gospel imposes obligations and prescribes penalties upon all, so we must conclude al1 men are subjects of gospel address. Then this commission is co-extensive with the existence of man; and so long as there is a son of Adam unsaved, it is our duty to go to him with the gospel. We should go, not so much from a sense of sympathy for the lost, as from a sense of love and loyal devotion to the Master. “There is no service like that of him who serves because he loves.” The commission, ‘‘go ye,” makes us all missionaries, and the task assigned, “disciple all nations,” makes it impossible to go beyond the limit.

The greatest business of this world is the evangelization of the nations. The mission of every disciple is to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and if there is one who can’t go across with the message, he should come across with the means.

Christ also makes his church the custodian of the ordinances. The ordinances —Baptism and the Lord’s Supper— are administered by the church, hut these will be discussed fully in another chapter.

CHURCH PROMISED CONTINUITY

This church which was established by Christ was promised perpetuity, or continuity, to the end of the age. This writer believes that there has been a continuity of New Testament churches from the days of Christ until now, and that there will be until he returns.

THE ARGUMENT

All admit that at least there was a gospel church as early as the day of Pentecost, and some believe that there was one earlier than this. Now, if the church has not been perpetuated it is because of one or both of two things: Christ either did not want it perpetuated or was unable to perpetuate it.

First, then, did Christ want his church, or churches, perpetuated?

Can anyone give any proof that Christ did not want his churches perpetuated? Is there anything in his teaching to that effect? Can anyone give any good reason why these churches should not be perpetuated? We think no one will attempt to give either. Now there are both good reasons why, and scriptural proof that these churches should be perpetuated. If the church was established because of certain existing conditions, and felt needs, then it should have been perpetuated for the same reason; for these conditions and needs have been perpetuated. Every argument in favor of the establishment of the church will hold good in favor of the perpetuity of it. Not a reason can be given in favor of the establishment of the church which is not a reason in favor of its perpetuity.

So, looking at the question simply from the standpoint of reason, we see no reason why it should not have been perpetuated, but good reasons why it should have been perpetuated. As to the scriptural proof, it seems to us if the Scriptures teach anything clearly and positively they teach that it was the purpose of the Master to perpetuate the organization which he established in the world.

We learn that “Christ gave himself for the church that he might present it unto himself without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” and said of this church, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” referring, no doubt, to its indestructibility. Again, when Christ instituted the ordinance known as “the Lord’s Supper,” and gave it to his church to be observed, he said, “This do in remembrance of me till I come.” Now, no one will deny that if the doing of a thing is to be perpetuated, the doers of that thing must be perpetuated. This is a self-evident proposition. If the observance of the Lord’s Supper is to be perpetuated ‘‘till I come,’’ then those who observe it (which all admit is the church) must be perpetuated ‘‘till I come.’’

Let me remind you again that Christ, when he gave the general commission to his disciples, said, “And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.” This commission was given, not to the apostles as such, for in that case when the last apostle died the commission would have been dead. The commission was given to Christ’s disciples in their organic capacity. The preaching of the gospel, the administering of the ordinances, the teaching and building up of Christian character is a work which the Master committed to his blood-bought, divinely appointed and spirit-guided churches. Christ promised to be with these churches from the day he gave the general commission to the end of the world. If this promise is made good the churches must be perpetuated from the giving of the general com mission to the end of the world.

One cannot be with a thing which is not. If “I am with you to the end of the age” you must be “to the end of the age.” Thus we see both reason and the Scriptures sustain the position that it was Christ’s purpose to perpetuate his churches. Certainly no sane person would say Christ did not want his churches perpetuated. This, to our mind, would be to charge the Master with folly. It is to say Christ made a mistake, established his churches too soon, or before “the fullness of time had come,” and, discovering his mistake, later attempted to rectify it by discontinuing them for a season. This is a serious charge, and the establishment of which would be to destroy the validity and the value of the churches altogether.

Let us now consider the second proposition, Christ’s ability to perpetuate his churches. Bear in mind that our claim is that if the churches of Christ have not been perpetuated, it is because Christ either did not want them perpetuated, or was not able to do what he wanted to do. In the foregoing it has been proven that it was Christ’s purpose to perpetuate his churches. Was he able to do it? The answer to this question involves the deity of Christ. If he was not able to do what he wanted to do, then he was not God. If he is God he can do whatever he wants to do. There are certain things which God cannot do, but they are only the things which God doesn’t want to do. The reason he can’t do them is because he doesn’t want to do them, and the reason he doesn’t want to do them is because they are not consistent with his nature. ‘God cannot lie.” Thus the question has narrowed down to this: Was Christ divine, did he have all power?

When we accept the doctrine of the Trinity, we admit the deity of Christ. For if he is the second person in the Godhead he must he divine; the same in essence with the Father and the holy Spirit. We put the argument in this form : 1. If Christ is the Son and equal with the Father he must he divine. 2. Christ is the Son and equal with the Father. . Therefore, Christ is divine. The major premise needs no proof. All must admit that ‘‘if Christ is the Son and equal with the Father,’’ he is divine. The minor premise ‘‘that Christ is the Son and equal with the Father” will admit of proof. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” “We know that the Son of God is come. * * * * This is the true God and eternal life.” That he is equal with the Father is established by these facts: The names which are applied to the Father are also applied to the Son—God, Lord, Creator, etc.

The attributes which belong to God the Father are also possessed by the Son: Eternal, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and immutability. All these are attributes of Deity. Again, divine works which are performed by the Father are also ascribed to the Son: Creation, Preservation, Redemption and Resurrection. We further conclude that if we should worship the Son he is divine.

1. We learn from the Scriptures that we should “worship only God.”

2. We learn from the Scriptures that we should “worship the Son.”

3. Therefore we should worship the Son as God. “What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he?” We believe he is “the Son of the Living God.” He was certainly able then to do what he wanted to do. There was a church of Christ in existence at least as early as the day of Pentecost, for members were added to it that day. If Christ wanted this church perpetuated, and it seems that he did, why has it not been perpetuated? “But, oh,” claims some overcautious one, “we have no reliable unbroken record of the churches back to the day of Pentecost.” That, however, has nothing to do with this question. Christ promised to preserve his churches, but he did not promise to preserve the record of these churches among men. The fact that I have no “reliable unbroken record” back to Adam is not sufficient ground to deny the fact that I am a descendant of Adam. The very fact that God started the race with Adam, told him to multiply and replenish the earth, and the very fact that at the flood, when nearly all of the race was destroyed, he saved a remnant, or seed, and sent them out with the same command to multiply, and the fact that I am here, with all the striking characteristics of Adam, are rather prima facie evidence that Father Adam has been perpetuated. To deny one is a descendant of Adam because one has no preserved history back to Adam is sheer nonsense, and to deny that the churches of Christ have been perpetuated from the establishment of the first church until now, because we have no preserved record of them through all these ages is equally nonsensical. We shall close where we began. Christ had a church at least as early as the day of Pentecost. If this church has not been perpetuated it is because lie either did not want it perpetuated, or was not able to do what he wanted to do. No earnest, conscientious Christian would be willing to accept either horn of that dilemma.

THE HISTORY

The following statements by church historians seem to show that a continuity of New Testament churches can be traced back to Christ and the apostles by their doctrines and practices.

All our church historians tell us that there have existed, from the apostles to the present time, companies, congregations, and sects of Christians dissenting from the established and generally accepted forms. As soon as the prevailing churches fell into errors, because proud, corrupt, and worldly, departing from the simplicity and spirituality of the gospel, then such as continued godly separated themselves, from the multitude, worshiped by themselves, and served God according to their understanding of the Scriptures. They maintained the doctrines and ordinances of Christ as they understood him to have delivered them to his disciples, and sought to be his true and faithful witnesses in the midst of the prevailing degeneracy. These “sects” have been called by various names, and have differed somewhat among themselves, but they have invariably been called “heretics” by the prevailing churches from which they were separated. The grandest heroes and martyrs for truth that the world has known are to be found among these despised and persecuted sects. The reproaches and persecutions which they suffered were all because they sought to maintain the gospel and protested against the errors and crimes that were practiced in the name of religion.

Of these sects, there were in the second century the Montanists. From the third to the tenth centuries there were the Novatians, Donatists, and Paulicians. All these professed to hold to the New Testament as the only rule of faith and practice, received none but regenerated persons into church membership, rejected infant baptism, and practiced immersion. In the eleventh and following centuries, up to the time of the Reformation, the dissenters took on new names, being called Henricians, Waldenses, Albigenses, and other names, and became very numerous notwithstanding their continued sufferings from persecution. All these ancient sects, though not known by the name of Baptists, held the prevailing opinions which now characterize the Baptist denomination. Some of our historians, however, are inclined to discover in them a greater resemblance to modern Baptists than are others.

1. Anabaptists. During the period of the Reformation (1520-1555), there sprang up all over Central and Western Europe in great numbers those who are called Anabaptists, that is, those who rebaptized, because they rejected both the baptism of the Romish Church and infant baptism, and insisted that all who came into the fellowship of their churches should be scripturally baptized. This name Anabaptist was a term of contempt and was applied by their enemies indiscriminately to nearly all those sects not in harmony with the leading parties of the Reformation. It was often given to those who had little or nothing in common with the Anabaptists, and with whom the Baptists have no connection.

As to the origin of the Anabaptists, church historians differ, but it is probable that, in many instances, they were the revival of the remains of the earlier sects or at least of their sentiments, which still lingered in many localities. Undoubtedly it was the quickened life and thought of the Reformation that brought them again into notice and resulted in the vast increase of their numbers. Anabaptists held to the complete separation of Church and State, liberty of the individual conscience, and the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice. They opposed infant baptism; admitted none but regenerated persons to baptism and church-membership; and practiced immersion only for baptism. As a result they were bitterly persecuted and outlawed. Nevertheless, they greatly increased in numbers, and extended over a large part of Europe. They were numerous in Poland, Holland, England, Switzerland, and Germany, but they centered largely in Moravia, where they were sometimes called Huttites, after one Jacob Hutter, a leader of great power among them. They were also numerous in Holland, where they were called Mennonites, after Menno Simons, a great leader in that locality. The persecutions suffered by the Mennonites or Anabaptists of Holland were cruel in the extreme.

2. Baptists of the Old World. The Baptists of the last three hundred years are the direct descendants of the true Anabaptists of the period of the Reformation; or perhaps, we might more correctly say, the Baptists were then called Anabaptists. So we find Mosheim, whose authority is great as a church historian, saying, “The true origin of that sect which acquired the name of Anabaptist, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is consequently extremely difficult to be ascertained.” So also Zwingli the Swiss reformer, and contemporary with Luther, says, “The institution of Anabaptism is no novelty, but for thirteen hundred years has caused great disturbance in the church.” Those Christians then who in the time of the Reformation were called Anabaptists, had a history extending back to within two hundred years of Christ, at least according to the confession of Zwingli himself, a man who had very few kindly feelings toward the sect.

Baptists were called Anabaptists by a historian in Kentucky as late as 1784. John Filson in his history of Kentucky (1784) says on page 301, “The Anabaptists were the first that promoted public worship in Kentucky.” This shows that the people whom the historians called Anabaptists were the same people who called themselves Baptists.

(a) Dutch Baptists. Not many years since Dr. Dermont, chaplain to the king of Holland, and Dr. Ypeij, theological professor at Groningen, received a royal commission to prepare a history of the Reformed Dutch Church. This history, though written in the interests of the State Church of Holland, contains the following generous and trustful statement concerning the Dutch Baptists: “We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists and in later times, Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and have long in the history of the church received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the apostles, and as a Christian society, which has preserved pure the doctrines of the gospel through all ages.”

Concerning the time when the Anabaptists of Holland and elsewhere assumed the name of Baptists, we cannot tell. It is probable that from the first they disowned the name of Anabaptists asserting that they did not re-baptize but simply baptized; for otherwise they would acknowledge infant baptism as scriptural baptism. It is probable that as enmity began to wear away, their own name Baptist was gradually accepted by other bodies of Christians. It was not until 1626, and after more than a century of persecution, that the Baptists of Holland received anything like freedom or toleration. In later years the government has sought to make amends by offering them special favors, but they steadfastly declined any alliance with the State, as their doctrine of separation of Church and State requires.

(b) English Baptists. Early in the sixteenth century, Christians holding Baptist sentiments fled from the continent into England for refuge from their persecutors. Some say they were found there much earlier. We know that as early as 1550, Baptists, or Anabaptists, were burned in England, thus showing that they had existed previous to this early date long enough to have acquired considerable importance and to be feared and outlawed. During all the period of religious persecution in England, they were objects of special hatred, and suffered more perhaps than any other sect. But though outlawed and persecuted, they have always had a strong hold upon the religious thought of the nation, and represent today a long line of noble and illustrious names. There are Baptist churches still existing in England that claim to have a history, as distinct organizations, reaching back over a period of more than three hundred years.

(c) Welsh Baptists. The Welsh Baptists have a peculiar history. They do not claim to have had any particular connection with the Anabaptists of Europe, but to have originated from the apostles direct. It is impossible in such a summary as this to set forth the reasons that are given to maintain this position; it must suffice to say, therefore, that the claim made by Welsh Baptists has never been successfully disproved. When Augustine or Austin, the Roman monk, visited Wales about the close of the sixth century, he found a community of more than two thousand Christians living quietly in the mountains, who rejected the authority of the Roman Church, and so far as can be discovered, held essentially the same doctrines the Baptists now hold. From that day to this, though often persecuted and compelled to hide in their mountain fastnesses, they have preserved an unbroken and well authenticated history.

3. Baptists of America. There were Mennonites, or Holland Baptists, among the first settlers of New Amsterdam (New York) in 1626, but they had no influence so far as known. There were Baptists also among the first settlers of New England, though they were not permitted to form any churches of their own. The first Baptist church of America, it is believed, which succeeded and perpetuated itself was founded at Newport, in Rhode Island, in 1638. (See “First Baptist Church in America” Graves & Adlam, page 13 ff.)  It was formed under the leadership of Dr. John Clarke, a Baptist minister from London, England, who was driven out of the Massachusetts Colony with many other Baptists recently arrived from England. Other churches were speedily formed in Rhode Island, in various parts of New England, on Long Island, in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. From one cause and an other, as the Baptist denomination increased, small bodies from time to time went off from it, viz., the “Seventh Day,” “Six-Principle,” “Free Will,” “Anti-Mission Baptist,” and others. Regular Baptists far outnumber all the others combined, and now extend over the whole of the United States; their growth and progress having been remarkable. In 1740 there were fewer than three thousand Baptists in the country. Fifty years from that time there were about sixty-five thousand. From this time on, religious liberty being accorded them, their progress was rapid and constantly accelerated. Recent statistics show that the number is about nine million. The past few years show an increase in membership of more than one hundred thousand per year.

Cardinal Hosius (Catholic), president Council of Trent, says, “Were it not that the Baptists have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in greater numbers than all the Reformers.”

Sir Isaac Newton: “The Baptists are the only body of Christians which have not symbolized with the Church of Rome.”

Mosheim (Lutheran): “Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay secreted in almost all the countries of Europe persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of the modern Dutch Baptists.”

Edinburgh Cyclopedia: “It must have already occurred to our readers that the Baptists are the same sect of Christians that were formerly described under the appellation of Anabaptists. Indeed, this seems to have been their leading principle from the time of Tertullian to the present time.” Tertullian was born just fifty years after the death of John the Apostle.

Prof. Wm. Cecil Duncan, professor of Latin and Greek, University of Louisiana: “Baptists do not, as do most Protestant denominations, date their origin from the Reformation of 1520. By means of that great religious movement, indeed they were brought forth from comparative obscurity, into prominent notice, and through it a new and powerful impulse was given to their principles and practices in all of those countries which had renounced allegiance to the Pope of Rome. They did not, however, originate with the Reformation, for long before Luther lived, nay, long before the Roman Catholic Church herself was known, Baptists and Baptist churches existed and flourished in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa.”

Do you think Christ has made good his promise that “the gates of Hades,” or powers of darkness and death, “should not prevail” against his Church?