THE CHURCH OF GOD: WHAT IS IT?

How indefinite and vague is the popular idea of the church of the Living God; and how various are the applications of the word church in the parlance of the learned and unlearned theologians of the present times. A building erected for the convenience and accommodation of religious convocations, by almost universal consent, is called a church; and by that name, with great ceremony, is frequently consecrated, and with much parade given to the Lord! A church made of wood, or of bricks and mortar, so consecrated is by many regarded as a most holy place. Others with scarcely less absurdity apply the term to all religious organizations; as the Catholic church, the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Mormon church, and these with very many other religious bodies are very generally regarded as churches of God, but of different denominations, alike entitled to be known as churches of God, and all in their different ways, real worshipers of God, and alike acceptable to him. But the scriptures of truth can only recognize the church of God as one body, having but one head, built upon one rock, by but one builder. The inspired apostle Paul says, "There is one body, and one spirit; even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Will this apostolic description of the church of God apply to all the discordant and conflicting organizations which claim the name, but deny all the essential characteristics which divine inspiration has shown to be indispensable to the church of God? Do all these towering piles of brick, or lumber which men call churches, stand vitally united to Christ as their head? Have all the various denominations alluded to above kept the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace? Have they all but one Lord, one faith, and one baptism? Are they all one body, having but one spirit; and do they all even profess to be called in one hope of their calling? They certainly do not.

If these great popular denominations, when weighed in the balance, are found wanting, and when tried by the scriptures are rejected; does it not become us, who profess to the Old School, or Primitive Baptists, most carefully to examine, in the light of divine revelation whether we possess the marks by which the holy scriptures identify the church of God?

When the rising Savior brought the immortality of his church to light; when he had vanquished death and finished transgression, made an end of sin, having obtained eternal redemption for all his members he ascended up on high; went to his Father and our Father, to receive the kingdom which the Father had appointed him, and his coronation as King of Righteousness and Priest of the Most High God; he was raised up far above all principalities and powers; and all thrones and dominions were made subject to him; and he was given to be Head over all things to his church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. In evidence of all this he sent the Spirit down, as he had told his disciples he would, which came like a rushing mighty wind, immersing all who, obedient to his command, were in the house, and recognizing them as the only body vitalized by his Spirit and baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. On this occasion the church appeared in the first disclosure of her gospel organization; and was expressly recognized as the church, unto which God continued to add such as should be saved. The constituents of the church of Christ are, first, our Lord Jesus Christ himself, as the Head, the King and only and blessed Potentate, the Prophet and Priest, the Way, the Truth and the Life; in whom is vested exclusively all legislative power. Second, the apostles of the Lamb are seated, by the special command of Christ, on twelve thrones of judgment, not of legislation, immediately inspired by the Holy Ghost to rule in judgment, as infallible expounders of the laws, ordinances, doctrine and order of their Sovereign. Next to the apostles are evangelists, and pastors and teachers. These are solemnly required to recognize, and be governed by the laws of Christ the King, as laid down and expounded by the enthroned apostles; with express instructions to be governed by the laws and institutions of Christ, without presuming under any circumstance to alter, revise, add to or diminish from the decisions made and recorded by the apostles. Deacons, exhorters, helps and every gift as found in the apostolic rules are to be recognized precisely as it has pleased God to distribute them among the members of Christ's body for the profit and benefit of all the church.

All the members which the church has power to recognize must come in by the door; all who would climb up some other way are thieves and robbers, who come in only to steal, to kill and to destroy.

As all the laws of the church of Christ are immutable and irrevocable, the same rule which was observed at the day of Pentecost for admitting to fellowship are in force throughout all ages in Christ's church; and any community claiming to be his church that does not recognize them is an harlot and not the church of God. This declaration may seem uncharitable; but let those who fear God beware how they controvert it.

We hold, first, that Christ has no church in earth or heaven over which he does not positively preside.

Second, there is no church existing over which Christ presides except where his apostles rule in judgment. For he himself has said, "When the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory; (his Mediatorial throne is the throne of his glory) then shall ye also set upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." We know that the apostles are not here now in the flesh, nor is the Savior now here in the flesh; for henceforth know we them no more in the flesh. But all their doctrine, order and decisions are here in every church or branch of the church where Christ presides as the King; for Christ has further said that whosoever rejects his apostles rejects him also. They cannot be separated in the organization of his kingdom or church.

Now then, let the laws of Christ embracing all the doctrine which he established, as settled forever by the decisions of the holy apostles, as left on record in the New Testament, be regarded as the infallible standard or test by which the church of Christ is identified, and, it must follow that all who are deficient in these essential and indispensable points are weighed in the balance and found wanting. This cannot be the case with the church of Christ; for she is the ground and pillar of the truth. She is the perfection of beauty. She is the workmanship of God, and all his work is perfect. It therefore follows invariably that all who profess to be the church of Christ and reject him, his apostles, his doctrine, his ordinances, or his government, are base impostors.

In view of these well defined principles, let us look well to the order established by the apostles for the reception of members to church fellowship and membership. Of those who were received on and about the day of Pentecost it is written that the Spirit was poured out in a most astonishing manner, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, by virtue of which many heard the preaching of the apostles, so that they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Thus quickened by the Spirit and made to feel and know their lost and helpless condition, their minds were directed to the apostles for instruction, and when the way of life and salvation was opened to their understanding, and the word applied to them by the Holy Ghost, they gladly received the word. A wonderful change was wrought in them; insomuch that the word which had no attraction, and of the spirit and power of which they had always been so profoundly ignorant before, now seemed to them as apples of gold, in pictures of silver; as words of life, peace and comfort to their hearts. The apostles' doctrine, which so recently they could ridicule and reject with scorn, was more to be desired than all the glories of the world. Without reluctance now, they gladly received the word. It was perfectly adapted to their renewed state; for now being born again of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God, they desired the sincere milk of the word, that they might grow thereby. Hitherto they had despised and hated the apostles and their doctrine; but now by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit which God had poured upon them, they not only received, but gladly received the word, and according to the word as preached to them by the apostles they were baptized, and added to the church. That is, they were brought manifestly into the fellowship of the apostles, and the apostolic church. And they continued steadfast in the apostles' doctrine; having gladly received it, they continued to be perfectly satisfied with it. The record given that they continued steadfast in the apostles' doctrine implies that they encountered opposition; which they certainly did, for it was a time of severe persecution. But so deeply were they rooted and grounded in the truth, that neither the bitterness of cruel persecution, nor the specious allurements of new doctrines zealously promulgated by Judaizing, or other teachers, could shake their confidence in the apostles' doctrine. The apostles' doctrine, and the apostles' fellowship are so joined together that they cannot be separated. If steadfast in the one we are equally so in both. But if we depart from the one, we cease to enjoy the other. In departing from the apostles' doctrine, we may secure the fellowship of the world, or of anti-christ; but we cannot depart from their instruction, and still retain their fellowship.

Thus, quickened by the Holy Ghost, recipients of the doctrine of the apostles, baptized on profession of faith in obedience to the command of Christ, fully recognizing Christ as the Head over all things to his church, and the apostles as divinely authorized and qualified exponents of all the laws, order, ordinances and doctrine of his kingdom, we have described the Old School, or Primitive Baptist Church, built upon the foundation of the apostles, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone. And being thus steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, they will be steadfast also in prayers, and in breaking of bread; and they may confidently expect the Lord will add to them such as shall be saved. How very different in all respects is the church of the First Born, from those humanly constructed religious organizations which have become so numerous and diversified in these times. However much they may differ from each other in some characteristic peculiarities, they are all alike in adopting the spirit of the proposition of the "Seven women, who shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach (Isaiah 4:1)." They dislike to be called anti-christian, or false churches, as that would be too humiliating; but to live on every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God by no means suits their taste. They have no relish for the apostles' doctrine, nor do they desire their fellowship; they desire rather to make a figure in the world, and be at liberty to believe whatever doctrine they please; conform to such rites and ceremonies as they please; get religion when they please, or whatever kind of quality they please; keep it as long as they please, and lay it aside or exchange it when they please. Such churches, as they presumptuously call themselves churches, are fond of receiving such members as will find themselves, having self-righteousness enough to live upon and only desiring to have a name to live while they are dead. For them the apostles' doctrine is quite too stale; it is behind the age of progression in which we live; it is too slow, it waits for God to add to his church such as shall be saved; while their plan is to add themselves such as shall not be saved; or such as give no evidence that they shall be saved.

Middletown, N.Y.
March 15, 1866.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 305 - 309