How to Constitute a Church Today
Matthew 16:18; Acts 11:19-26
With the multiplicity of churches (so-called) in existence today we need to consider some very important questions, because there are some who even think that people are saved by being a member of a certain religious organization. How do churches come into existence? Is there more than one kind of true church? When did the first true church originate? How do we start a new church today? These and other questions we will attempt to answer in this lesson.
The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). In Matt. 28:18-20, we are given what is commonly known as the “Great Commission;” or the marching orders of a Baptist church. Four things are stated here as to what each church is to do GO - TEACH (disciple-make converts) - BAPTIZE - TEACH (train members to reach others - 2Tim. 2:2). Since that time believers would go out under the authority of their church to another area - make converts, baptize and teach the all things, then those people would go into another area and do it all over again, and again and again, down to the present time. Like bee hives come about, each new church, to be a scripturally true church, must come out of a previously organized church. When an old bee hive sends out a new swarm, the new swarm becomes instantly and forever independent of the old one.
The disciples in the N.T. habitually and regularly assembled for worship (Acts 2:41-47; Heb. 10:25). A properly organized assembly of baptized believers is a church. The Greek word “ekklesia” means “called out” and refers to a church, an assembly, or a congregation. It is eminently proper for a congregation, as well as an individual, to “give a reason of the hope that is in them with meekness and fear.” (I Pet. 3:15) This reason concerning the hope that is in them may be stated orally or it may be written. If written it is what is commonly called a Confession or Declaration of Faith. Such declarations are not laws, but only statements of what the congregation understands the law of the lord to mean. The Baptist creed is the Bible, but what they understand this creed to teach, they express in their Confession of Faith. Preachers declare what they believe every time they preach. It surely is right for a church to tell the world what it believes the Bible to teach. To fail to publish such a confession is to have the world in doubt concerning what we believe.
Now we come to the matter of just how do you organize a new church. We will give scriptural examples later. Usually it is a preacher who desires, under the leadership of God, and being sent out by his home church, to go to an area in which he feels that there is a need for a true Baptist church. Although it can be brethren and sisters living in a certain area obtaining letters dismissing them from the church or churches to which they belong, for the purpose of entering into the new organization. They do not do this on their own though. The home church (commonly called the mother church) will take as many as three baptized members who agree to meet for worship, for mutual edification and united effort for the evangelization of the world, and organize them into a new church. The object of a church is two-told, i.e., that the membership may be mutually helpful to one another and to work for God's glory in the evangelization of the world.
The agreement to meet regularly for worship and work is commonly called a "church covenant". The word "covenant" means agreement. This covenant should be in writing, lest some misunderstand the terms. When this covenant has been entered into. the church is fully organized.
Now because this may seem to be too simple, we will back up and give what is most often done to make a new church organization meeting more meaningful and blessed.
The preacher who has been working in the field (particular town or area) holding preaching services, gathering converts, will call for an organizational meeting. His home church (mother church - the one sending him out) pastor and supporting pastors with their people, will come to this service. When they meet together at the appointed time, a moderator and clerk pro-tem are appointed. The meeting is opened with devotional exercises. A sermon is preached (called the charge) by one of the pastors of the supporting churches. Reading the scriptures and prayer should be considered indispensable. This being done, the letters of dismissal (those who have such) from the mother church are read, and the parties concerned resolve by solemn vote to consider themselves an independent church. What is called a “church covenant” is adopted and also “Articles of Faith.” A pastor should be elected, most likely the preacher who has been working for this new organization. Since it is proper that a record should be kept of the doings of the church, a clerk may be elected to commit to writing the business transactions of the congregation. A name for this new church shall be selected and times of services stated. Now an invitation can be given for others to join this new church whether by letter or baptism. Giving the hand of fellowship between the church members will close the first service of this new church. This new church is now complete and possesses all the rights, privileges and authority of a N.T. church of Christ, without the sanction, permission or authority of any man, or body of men whatever, aside from their own number.
Acts 11:19-26. People were saved, baptized and became a church in Antioch. Barnabas became a missionary from the Jerusalem church to the church at Antioch to confirm the church members (not to give consent). Every church in the N.T. was started by baptized believers going out as missionaries.
Acts 14:23. A gospel church may exist with or without officers (Acts 6). Officers are not necessary to the “being of a church,” but they are necessary to its “well being.” In the absence of scripturally baptized believers there cannot be a church. Study also Mal. 3:16-17; Acts 10:44-48; Acts l8:4-ll; Acts 19:1-10.
In 1964, I (DeWayne Austin) wrote out a series of seven questions (of which I knew the answers) and sent them to John Gilpin, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Ashland KY., and who as editor, put them in the “Baptist Examiner” paper. The questions were answered by four different pastors. These questions and answers created quite a bit of comment and interest. They were later put into booklet form. One question leads to the next question as follows:
1. Would one scripturally baptized Baptist Church member, a thousand miles from his church and having no designated authority, and no means of communication with his home church (as in the early days of the West), have the scriptural authority to baptize converts and establish them into a church?
2. If not, what would be the minimum number required to so authorize baptism and the establishment of a new church?
3. When a group of saved people meet and say, “We want to become a church,” do the baptized ones of that group constitute a church and therefore have the authority to baptize the others?
4. Must one have designed authority from his church before he can baptize?
5. Must a church be established only on the consent and authority of another church, as The Mother church, or is this only tradition or custom?
6. If we cannot trace a definite linked-chain of churches back to the Lord, can we hold to and require a linked chain of baptisms? And can one who has been scripturally baptized then go out, baptize and establish new churches without specific designated church authority?
7. If one cannot have a definite linked-chain of churches, as surely there have been many breaks in the chain in the past as to churches all being established on the consent and authority of a mother church, therefore can any of us be sure that we are in a true church?
What test can be used to determine the True Church of Christ today and the spurious claims of rival factions? Test of:
1. Time - Matt. 16:18
2. Place - Palestine
3. Founder - Jesus
4. Perpetuity - Matt. l6:l8; 28:l8-20
5. Doctrine – Bible I Jn. 4:1.