Is the Baptist church the church you can read about in the New Testament? When first reading the question, many would ask "Which Baptist church are you talking about?" There are more than 100 different, religious groups that go by the name Baptist. The list includes: American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Separate Baptists, Freewill Baptists, General Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists and many more.
Let's examine the New Testament Church and compare it with the Baptist church. We will look at three areas of disagreement: Name, Organization and Practice.
Does it make any difference by what name you are called? In the Old Testament, Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28). The "el" in his name was a constant reminder of Elohim (God). Every time the word Israel was uttered, God was glorified.
In the New Testament the followers of Christ were divinely "called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26). The word Christian means "an adherent of Christ." Every time the name Christian is uttered, Christ is glorified.
There are several terms used to designate the individual followers of Christ. Among them, we find: "disciples" (Acts 11:26), "brethren" (Galatians 6:1), and "saints" (Romans 1:7). These names show the relationship of the saved to the Lord or to other Christians.
When congregations are spoken of in the New Testament, they are referred to as: "the church of God" (1 Cor. 1:2), "the church of Christ" (Rom. 16:16), "the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:16) and "the church of the Firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23). These terms give glory to God -- not man.
When a man calls himself a "Baptist," he is either giving honor to a mortal man (John the baptizer) or to a Bible doctrine (baptism).
It comes as a shock to many when they learn the New Testament church did not have any organization larger than, smaller than or other than the local congregation. Many Baptist groups understand this concept, and have striven to maintain the independence of each local congregation. Other Baptist groups, ignoring the Bible pattern, have developed massive regional and national organizations.
One Baptist manual makes this interesting observation: "Because churches are the only Christian organizations provided for in the New Testament, it may be said that they are the only ones really essential to the accomplishment of the purposes of Christ. Experience, however, has demonstrated that churches in fellowship with one another are able to fulfill the work of the gospel more effectively than churches alone." (Hiscox Standard Baptist Manual, p. 120). Hiscox believed the New Testament church was completely autonomous (independent), but that man could improve upon God's original design by developing Associations, State Conventions and Conferences.
In the Divine pattern, every local congregation consisted of elders, deacons, preachers and members (Phil. 1:1). Elders are older men who oversee the work of the local church. The only authority they have is in the congregation where they work (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4). The qualifications for elders can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The qualifications are not to be taken lightly. Most Baptist groups do not have elders.
Qualifications for deacons can be found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Since deacons must "be the husbands of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:12), women can never fill this office.
Preachers in the New Testament are never referred to as "Reverend." Jesus prohibited His followers from heaping titles of praise upon themselves (Matthew 23:5-10). The clergy/laity system, which originated in Catholicism and practiced in most Baptist churches, is in direct opposition to the plan of Jesus.
Since the church was paid for with the blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28), it must have a mission so holy and divine that no other organization could fulfill its work. Some have prostituted the Lord's church by turning it into a glorified YMCA or some sort of social club. As you study your Bible, you will find the church of Christ has three great works before it:
Preaching The Gospel To The Lost. This is the greatest and most urgent need of today. When Jesus gave the great commission, He said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:15,16). The gospel was preached to the known world in less than forty years. When Paul wrote to the church at Colosse, he spoke of the gospel "which was preached to every creature under heaven" (Colossians 1:23). This mammoth task was accomplished without the use of radio, television or national organizations. It was done by Christians teaching their neighbors (2 Timothy 2:2).
Early Christians did not employ gimmicks such as "Karate For Christ" or "Weightlifters for God" to lure people into their assembly. The message of the cross was the only drawing power they ever used (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).
Preaching The Gospel To The Saved. The early church assembled together every Lord's day to partake of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7), sing (Ephesians 5:19), pray (Acts 2:42), give of their financial means (1 Corinthians 16:1,2), and hear preaching from God's word (Acts 20:7). These elements of worship served to edify (build up) the saved (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Jesus set elders and evangelists in the church "for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, (and) for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12).
Care Of Needy Saints. Benevolence to those Christians in financial need was another obligation of the church. The Christians in Macedonia and Achaia sent a contribution to the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-33). In order for widows to be taken into the regular care of the congregation, they have to meet certain requirements (1 Tim. 5:3-16). The general care for world's hungry was not a work assigned to the church.
When Jesus gave the parable of the sower, He explained that the seed of the Kingdom was the word of God (Luke 8:11). When we plant that seed in a man's heart, the only thing it will produce is a Christian, a member of the body of Christ. In the New Testament, when penitent believers were baptized God washed away all their sins and added them to the church belonging to Christ (Acts 2:38,47; 22:16). Jesus only promised to build one church (Matthew 16:18); in the end, He will only save one church (Ephesians 5:23, 4:4, 1:22-23). The denominations and organizations devised by human wisdom will be uprooted (Matthew 15:13). Are you a member of the New Testament church?