Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 24, 1960
NUMBER 29, PAGE 6,14a

Beyond The Horizons

By Wm. E. Wallace, Box 407, Poteau, Oklahoma

Local Church Authority

(Note: This article sets forth the Baptist position on congregational autonomy. It was written by Adrian W. Coleman and appeared in the Baptist Standard September 7, 1960)

A basic Baptist conviction arises from the Bible doctrine concerning the autonomy of the local church. The Biblical concept of the church is that of a local congregation completely independent of other ecclesiastical rule with the congregation as the governing body and Jesus Christ as its head. This is hard to perceive with a world so composed with complexities in all forms of organization. The difficulty of perception on the part of those who do not understand our pure and efficient democracy as seen in the local church requires us to reaffirm our stand.

Almost 90 per cent of the New Testament references to the church are to a local congregation or assembly. Never does it refer to a national or world group. Ancient practices adhere to a local church autonomy, prefaced by New Testament activities that were not only impossible but also impractical for any group except a local congregation. To mention the word ekklesia, which was the New Testament word for church was to speak synonymously with concepts of freedom, independence, and democracy in the day of Jesus.

Our church government is not from the level of speculation but it is scripturally sound. This elevates it to the plan of doctrine. Church government as we know it is not separate from the teachings of the Bible, but is found in its pages.

When one has the right concept of this doctrine, he will have many of his religious problems solved.

A real scriptural concept of the authority of the local church shows the utter folly of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The local congregation must be self-ruling under God's guidance if it is to be effective in propagating the Gospel. Armies that are built from volunteers will outfight those composed of draftees.

A group of churches voluntarily cooperating will exceed that organization that finds coercion as its incentive. The New Testament church won souls because of its burning compassion wrought from their new found liberties, liberties which exist only as men voluntarily yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

A really scriptural concept of local church will answer man's problems concerning the Bible teaching of church ordinances. This one teaching plants firmly one's convictions on baptism and the Lord's Supper.

The scriptural subjects for baptism were confessed believers. The scriptural act of baptism was immersion. The scriptural design for baptism was a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection. The scriptural authority to ad minister baptism rested in each individual body of believers.

The Lord's Supper was observed, according to the New Testament account, by scripturally baptized members of the local church. These were not denominational ordinances but local church ordinances. To accept baptism as a world ordinance would appear unreasonable to men of "Baptist conviction," but it is no more unreasonable than to accept the Lord's Supper as a denominational or "Christ-world" ordinance. They were local ordinances observed under the authority of the local congregation. To open doors to our ordinances without scriptural authority is to recognize substitutes for immersion and to forfeit the autonomy of the local church.

It is unreasonable to think that God intended for these ordinances to become "blessings" or "sentimental observances." They were and are to be testimonies about Christ, the believer, and Christ's anticipated return.

A scriptural concept of the local church's authority will correct many false concepts about denominational affiliation.

There is no such organization as "The Southern Baptist Church." We are independent local congregations banded together with a common purpose and voluntarily carrying out the commission of our Saviour.

No church is forced to cooperate. Neither is any church bound by the policies or methods which are not in harmony with the best interests of that congregation. A church cooperates because in cooperation it finds suggested plans and policies that will contribute to the winning of souls and to the edifying of believers. The local congregation is its own safeguard to this vital doctrine of the New Testament.

The doctrine of local church authority is ripe for emphasis in our day, not simply because it has been held as a Baptist distinctive but because it is a New Testament teaching and essential to the life of our churches. To relax our stand is to endanger our privileges and to expose the church to the treachery of unscriptural dogmas.

Note: The above article sounds like something Guy Woods might write in defense of some of the cooperative arrangements he champions.

* * *

"The End Of The Independence Of Southern Baptist Convention Churches"

Under the above title, Noel Smith, editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune presented a different view of the Baptist churches which are tied to the Southern Baptist Convention. Mr. Noel wrote as follows:

It is generally recognized that a constitutional revolution in the Convention is far advanced. The Convention is no longer a convention of "messengers;" it is now to all practical purposes, a federation of churches. This was one of the revelations of the North Carolina trial. The Convention is a "general church." While the terminology is not used, the Convention, to all practical purposes, is just that; so much so that a church, once integrated with its ecclesiastical system, cannot withdraw and at the same time retain its property.

This involves centralized ecclesiastical authority. I ask this question: For what purpose is this centralized Southern Baptist Convention ecclesiastical authority being created? Certainly not in order to make the Convention bigger; it is already so big and sprawled that none of its leaders dares hazard a guess as to where it is going. Then why the creation of this ecclesiastical power?

As to the remedy Mr. Noel writes further:

What is the remedy?

It is not further debate. All these matters have been debated for nearly fifty years. Nearly everybody is agreed as to the basic issues.

It is not remaining on the "inside" of this ecclesiastical system and attempting to clean it up. History does not record that any ecclesiastical system ever was cleaned up, either from "the inside" or from the outside. The scribes and Pharisees were never cleaned up. Herod's Temple was never cleaned up. The only remedy is Heaven's judgment.

The real remedy is for Baptist people to come out of such a system and form themselves into genuine New Testament Baptist churches. Come out with your property if you can; but if you can't come with your concrete and steel, come out with your self-respect and your honor.

The local, visible New Testament church is the last citadel holding out against the One World Church. The Devil has never had too much difficulty making compacts with ecclesiastical organizations; he has always had tremendous difficulties when he has tried to make compacts with local churches. He has seen them split; but his compact also split. Don't forget that.

The remedy, and the only remedy, for this arrogant ecclesiasticism that is leading the Baptist people down the same road which all the other denominations have traveled to totalitarianism, is local New Testament Baptist churches, whose Head is Christ alone, whose sole rule of faith and practice is the Holy Scriptures.

Better be on the back side of the desert where God is, than be on a throne in Egypt where God is not. The Wise Men didn't traverse those long, hot, desert miles to reach the scribes and Pharisees and the great and splendid Temple in the ecclesiastical capital; they patiently and bravely made that arduous journey to find an Infant in swaddling clothes. They didn't find the King in the temple of the ecclesiastical headquarters; they found Him in the smallest of all the thousands of Judah.

Something more than buildings and ecclesiastical prestige and pensions is involved here. The truth of God is involved, the Gospel is involved, high principle is involved, and religious liberty is involved. And say what you will, when religious liberty perishes from the earth, the clanking of the chains of slavery will be heard, again, throughout the earth.

A brilliant biographer of Napoleon wrote a profound and discriminating thing about him. He said that when Napoleon stood on Saint Helena, no great principle stood with him.

Southern Baptist ecclesiasticism has everything — but principle.