The Church - Baptist Faith & Message, Article 6
by Gregory Wills
Associate Professor of Church History;
Director, Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention
The article on the church in the recently adopted Baptist Faith and Message affirms that God has revealed the doctrine of the church in Scripture. It teaches that the church's form of government, its officers, its ordinances, its mission and its laws are those of the churches of the New Testament.
Baptists in the past generally held that the doctrine of the church was a revealed doctrine. Many still do. Others are returning to this conviction. Ecclesiology, in its fundamental aspects, is a matter of revelation.
Christ commissioned his apostles to establish his churches. Their practices in all areas essential to the churches are normative.
The New Testament teaches congregational church government. Such verses as Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13; 2 Corinthians 2:6; Acts 2:15-23; 6:2-6; 15:22; and Revelation 2:2, 14-16, 20 place the authority for discipline, doctrine and government in the members jointly.
Each church is a democracy operating under a constitution established by Jesus Christ. It is an "autonomous local congregation." All the members jointly have responsibility to do everything that Christ commanded the churches to do and should govern the church by his laws.
The New Testament requires that the churches admit those alone who are qualified. Belief in Christ and scriptural baptism are prerequisites to membership.
Believers become a church of Jesus Christ when they jointly pledge to be a church of Jesus Christ. Implicitly or explicitly (it ought to be explicit), they covenant together in the faith and fellowship of the gospel. To covenant in the faith includes teaching and upholding the truths of the gospel.
Each congregation is responsible under Christ to interpret Bible truth, proclaim it and defend it. This is not possible unless they agree together on the central truths of Scripture and gather these truths into a confession of faith.
To covenant together in the fellowship of the gospel implies agreement to maintain the discipline by which Christ intended the preservation of fellowship. The discipline includes admitting those only who credibly profess faith in Christ; correcting, warning and rebuking those who stray from truth or righteousness; excluding those who refuse the church's loving entreaties to return to the path of truth and righteousness; and restoring the repentant to fellowship.
Other church duties include maintaining the two church observances ordained by Christ - baptism and the Lord's Supper (see Article 7) - and exercising spiritual gifts in the congregation for mutual edification.
Christ has also given the churches their mission. They are to seek to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth (see Article 11). Christ gave this mission to the churches, not to boards, conventions and agencies.
Churches can better fulfill this mission by cooperating together and establishing such efficient channels as boards and conventions. But each congregation bears the responsibility to advance the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Boards and conventions are not the church; they are merely means to accomplish the church's mission. There is no Southern Baptist Church or Kentucky Baptist Church. Conventions are the creation of the churches and subject to them. They are large committees appointed by the churches (see Article 14).
Christ has ordained deacons and pastors as the officers of his churches. The churches democratically elect and appoint persons who fulfill the scriptural qualifications for these offices.
Ordination consists in this election and appointment. The Bible uses three synonyms to refer to the pastoral office: pastor, elder and bishop. Qualified men alone may serve in this office. Ordination councils, when taken seriously, are excellent means for assisting a church to determine if a man possesses the scriptural qualifications.
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