Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 9, 1960
NUMBER 6, PAGE 9a-11b

A Gospel Church

Herschel E. Patton, Shelbyville, Tennessee

Articles of faith are quite popular in today's religious world. It has been customary since the beginning of denominationalism, for various religious sects to compile a list of their beliefs, write them down, teach and exhort people to accept and be loyal to them. As a consequence of this, many things are believed and practiced today religiously, not because the Bible teaches it, but because it is in the creed. The numerous creeds in the land serve as barriers to the fellowship of all believers in Christ. The plea of my brethren and me is, and has been, to go behind the creeds of men and form our faith and practice by the scriptures and by them alone. Creeds are written to teach and promulgate practices and doctrines which people would not ordinarily learn from the scriptures alone.

As a general rule, scriptural citations are listed in all creeds which are thought to teach the thing affirmed. All should feel it their duty to study carefully the scriptures cited, in the light of what it says and its context, to determine if the teaching or practice derived therefrom is truly taught. This is the sort of investigation we are now making concerning the nineteen articles of faith recorded in the standard manual of those embracing these beliefs. We come today to the thirteenth article which bears the title "A Gospel Church."

Article No. XIII.

"We believe the scriptures teach that a visible church of Christ is a company of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws; and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his word; that its only scriptural officers are bishops or pastors, and deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus."

A "Visible" Church

This article describes what it calls a "visible" church of Christ. I think you realize there is nothing said in the scriptures about a "visible" or an "invisible" church. The reference to a "visible" church would imply there is such a thing as an "invisible" church. However, there is no distinction made in the scriptures between a visible church and an invisible church. The only feature of the church revealed in the scriptures is its head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the only reason he is invisible is that he is in heaven.

I believe a proper understanding of what the church is would eliminate all this talk about a visible and an invisible church. The word translated church in the New Testament is from the Greek "ekklesia," a word which literally means "called out." This would suggest that the term church would refer to a called-out group of people. This is exactly the case with those who compose the church of our Lord, for they are said to have been "called with an holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9), and delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col. 1:15).

Next, let us observe that the term church is used in two senses in the scriptures, a local sense and a general sense. This distinction is not recognized by professors of these articles, for they think of the term church only in the local sense. In the manual containing these articles of faith is a chapter entitled "A Christian Church" where we find this statement, "A church, therefore, is not a system of congregations confederated under a general government, but a single local congregation of Christian disciples associated in covenant and meeting together for worship." Thus, it is stated, they speak of the churches, but not of the church. The church, with these people, would mean nothing more than one local congregation. In failing to recognize the fact that the church does exist in a general sense, they construe all passages which thus refer to the church to mean some "invisible church." With these, the local churches would be the "visible" churches.

But, is the term church used in the general sense in the scriptures? Jesus, in Matthew 16:18, said "Upon this rock I will build my church." Was he promising to build some local church or congregation? He promised to build upon his divinity what he referred to as "My church," and the context will not allow us to think of it in terms of a local congregation. In Colossians 1:18 Paul said "He is the head of the body, the church." Is Christ just the head of some local church somewhere, or is he the head of a comprehensive society here called the church? It is not said that "he is the head of the bodies, the churches," but body and church are in the singular. A similar passage is Ephesians 1:22-23 "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Notice it is not said "head over all things to the CHURCHES, which are his BODIES. Surely, friends, you can see that the term church in these passages refers to all the called out — all the saved — all the members of his body wherever they may be. Another passage for us to consider is Ephesians 3:21 "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." It is not here affirmed that Christ is to have glory in the churches, but "in the church" — singular.

Friends, the scriptures teach that the church, in this general sense, is the body of Christ and all Christians are members of that body (1 Cor. 12:20; Rom. 12:4-5); that it is the household of God or family of God and all Christians are children in that family (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 2:19; Rom. 8:16); that it is the kingdom of God with Christ as its king and Christians as the citizens (Luke 23:1-3); that it is a temple of God and Christians are living stones therein (Eph. 2:21-22; I Cor. 3.9) Each of these figures presents the church in the general sense.

It is true that the term church is also used in the local sense; and when it is, it refers to the called out, the citizens of his kingdom, the members of his body, the stones in his spiritual temple, in some given locality. Hence, we read of the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), the church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1), and at many other places. These local congregations considered together make up the church in its entirety — the church in the general sense. There is nothing invisible about the church in this general sense, except as pointed out, Christ, its king, who is in heaven; but he still reigns as head just as though he were on earth.

How Enter The Church

No objection is offered to the statement that the church is a company of baptized believers, for Acts 2:42 and 47 clearly shows that penitent baptized believers on Pentecost were added to the church. Another error due to a failure to recognize the church in the general sense is seen in the modern idea that people get into the "invisible church" in one way and into the "visible" church another way. In New Testament times baptized, penitent believers constituted a church of Christ; but now, professors of these articles will not recognize a baptized, penitent believer as a member of the church until he or she complies with further requirements that are not laid down in the scriptures. This sort of thing is admitted on page 22 of the manual containing these articles of faith. Here it is said "It is most likely that in the apostolic age when there was but "one Lord, one faith. and one baptism," and no differing denominations existed, (wouldn't it be fine if it were that way today ? — HP) the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, 'baptism was the door into the church.' Now, it is different; (who made it different ? — HP) and while the churches are desirous of receiving members, they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons. The churches therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their 'experience,' and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members." Here it is admitted that what made people members of the church in New Testament times will not make one a member of the church today. But, the truth about the matter is what made people members of the church in New Testament times will not make one a member of a denomination today, but it will make them members of the Lord's church.

Associated In Faith And Fellowship

It will be admitted that members of the church are associated in the faith and fellowship of the gospel, that they observe the ordinances of Christ, are governed by his laws, and therein exercise their God-given privileges. The passages to which we are cited along this line-2 Cor. 8:5; 1 Cor. 11:2; Matt. 28:20; and 1 Cor. 14:12 — are very clear in so teaching.

Officials Of The Church

The last affirmation in this article concerning a gospel church is "that its only scriptural officers are bishops or pastors, and deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus." This is a true statement, as Philippians 1:1; Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1; clearly show. A serious mistake is made, however, by the professors of these articles and many others in looking upon the preacher as the pastor or the bishop. In New Testament times each church was to have a plurality of elders or bishops or pastors. These terms are used interchangeably in the scriptures. Acts 14:23 says "elders in every church" — notice "elders" is plural while "church" is singular. In Acts 20:17 Paul sent to Ephesus and called the "elders of the church." Again we see that "elders" is plural and "church" is singular. These elders in each local church were the spiritual overseers of the congregations (verse 28-31). A preacher may be an elder or bishop in a church along with others, or he may not be. There is no scriptural grounds for referring to a preacher or anyone else as "the pastor," "the bishop," or "the elder" of a church. I am not "the pastor," where I preach. We have four pastors or elders in the church here in Russellville. I am nothing more than a preacher, a minister, working under these pastors. Any church that has just one pastor does not measure up to the divine pattern, for in New Testament times each church had a plurality of elders or pastors.

It is clear from Philippians 1:1 that deacons composed a special office in the church. Since the term translated "deacon" means servant, we conclude that these serve in a special capacity; and that capacity, according to Acts 6:1-7, seems to have been in looking after material matters. The qualifications for those who serve the church in this capacity are clearly set forth in the first chapter of Titus and the third chapter of First Timothy.


It would be well for all to make examinations and see if they are members of the church we read about in the scriptures. Did you become a member of the church by having been baptized as a penitent believer, without further fanfare? Do you observe "all things commanded" and see church of which you are a member recognize only two sets to it that you worship "in spirit and in truth"? Does the of [SIC] officers — a plurality of elders, bishops, or pastors, and a plurality of deacons? These, of course, are officers in the local churches, and their authority is limited to their own congregation. They are subject to no man or group of men, only to Christ who is the head of the church. The church in the general sense knows no earthly organization and therefore has no earthly officers. Christ, who is in heaven, is its head and he has "all authority."