Arthur W. Pink
The ignorance which prevails in Christendom today concerning the truth
about the Churches of God is deeper and more general than error on any
other Scriptural subject. Many who are quite sound evangelically and
are well taught on what we call the great fundamentals of the faith,
are most unsound ecclesiastically. Mark the fearful confusion that
abounds respecting the term itself. There are few words in the English
language with a greater variety of meanings than "church." The man in
the street understands by "church" the building in which people
congregate for public worship. Those who know better, apply the term to
the members in spiritual fellowship who meet in that building. Others
use it in a denominational way and speak of "the Methodist Church" or
"Presbyterian Church." Again, it is employed nationally of the
state-religious institution as "the Church of England" or "the Church
of Scotland." With Papists the word "church" is practically synonymous
with "salvation," for they are taught that all outside the vale of
"Holy Mother Church" are eternally lost.
|"For ye, brethren, became
the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also
have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of
(1 Thessalonians 2:14).
Many of the Lord's own people seem to be strangely indifferent
concerning God's mind on this important subject. One from whose
teachings on the church we differ widely has well said, "Sad it is to
hear men devoted in the Gospel, clear expounders of the Word of God,
telling us that they do not trouble themselves about church doctrine;
that salvation is the all-important theme; and the establishing of
Christians in the fundamentals is all that is necessary. We see men
giving chapter and verse for every statement, and dwelling upon the
infallible authority of the Word of God, quietly closing their eyes to
its teachings upon the church, probably connected with that for which
they can give no Scriptural authority, and apparently contented to
bring others into the same relationship."
What constitutes a New Testament church? That multitudes of professing
Christians treat this question as one of trifling importance is plain.
Their actions show it. They take little or no trouble to find out. Some
are content to remain outside of any earthly church. Others join some
church out of sentimental considerations, because their parents or
partner in marriage belonged to it. Others join a church from lower
motives still, such as business or political considerations. But this
ought not to be. If the reader is an Anglican, he should be so, because
he is fully persuaded that his is the most Scriptural church. If he is
a Presbyterian, he should be so, from conviction that his "church" is
most in accord with God's Word. So, if he is a Baptist or Methodist,
There are many others who have little hope of arriving at a
satisfactory answer to the question, What constitutes a New Testament
church? The fearful confusion which now obtains in Christendom, the
numerous sects and denominations differing so widely both as to
doctrine and church-order and government, has discouraged them. They
have not the time to carefully examine the rival claims of the various
denominations. Most Christians are busy people who have to work for a
living, and hence they do not have the leisure necessary to properly
investigate the Scriptural merits of the different ecclesiastical
systems. Consequently, they dismiss the matter from their minds as
being one too difficult and complex for them to hope of arriving at a
satisfactory and conclusive solution. But this ought not to be. Instead
of these differences of opinion disheartening us, they should stimulate
to greater exertion for arriving at the mind of God. We are told to
"buy the truth," which implies that effort and personal sacrifice are
required. We are bidden to "prove all things."
Now, it should be obvious to all that there must be a more excellent
way than examining the creeds and articles of faith of all the
Denominations. The only wise and satisfactory method of discovering the
Divine answer to our question, What constitutes a New Testament church?
is to turn to the New Testament itself and carefully study its
teachings about the "church." Not some godly man's views; not accepting
the creed of the church to which my parents belonged; but "proving all
things" for myself! God's people have no right to organize a church on
different lines from those which governed the churches in New Testament
times. An institution whose teachings or government are contrary to the
New Testament is certainly not a New Testament "church."
Now if God has deemed it of sufficient importance to place on record
upon the pages of Inspiration what a New Testament church is, then
surely it should be of sufficient importance for very redeemed man or
woman to study that record, and not only so but to bow to its authority
and conform their conduct thereto. We shall thus appeal to the New
Testament only and seek God's answer to our question.
1. A New Testament church is a local
body of believers. Much confusion has been caused by the employment of
adjectives which are not to be met with in the N.T. Were you to ask
some Christians, To what church do you belong? they would answer, The
great invisible church of Christ-a church which is as intangible as it
is invisible. How many recite the so-called Apostles' Creed, "I believe
in the holy catholic Church," which most certainly was not an article
in the Apostles' "creed." Others speak of "the Church militant" and
"the Church triumphant," but neither are these terms found in
Scripture, and to employ them is only to create difficulty and
confusion. The moment we cease to "hold fast the form of sound words"
(2 Tim. 1:13) and employ unscriptural terms, we only befog ourselves
and others. We cannot improve upon the language of Holy Writ. There is
no need to invent extra terms; to do so is to cast reflexion on the
vocabulary of the Holy Spirit. When people talk of "the universal
Church of Christ" they employ another unscriptural and antiscriptural
expression. What they really mean is "the Family of God." This latter
appellation includes the whole company of God's elect; but "Church"
Now the kind of church which is emphasized in the N.T. is neither
invisible nor universal; but instead, visible and local. The Greek word
for "church" is ecclesia, and those who know anything of that language
are agreed that the word signifies "An Assembly." Now an "assembly" is
a company of people who actually assemble. If they never "assemble,"
then it is a misuse of language to call them "an Assembly." Therefore,
as all of God's people never have yet assembled together, there is
today no "universal Church" or "Assembly." That "Church" is yet future;
as yet it has no concrete or corporate existence.
In proof of what has been said above, let us examine those passages
where the term was used by our Lord Himself during the days of His
flesh. Only twice in the four Gospels do we find Christ speaking of the
"church." The first is in Matthew 16:18 where He said unto Peter, "Upon
this Rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it." What kind of a "church" was the Savior here
referring to? The vast majority of Christians have understood it as the
great invisible, mystical, and universal Church, which comprises all
His redeemed. But they are certainly wrong. Had this been His meaning
He had necessarily said, "Upon this Rock I am building My church."
Instead, He used the future tense, "I will build," which shows clearly
that at the time He spoke, His "church" had no existence, save in the
purpose of God. the "church" to which Christ referred in Matthew 16:18
could not be a universal one, that is, a church which included all the
saints of God, for the tense of the verb used by Him on this occasion
manifestly excluded the O. T. saints! Thus, the first time that the
word "church" occurs in the N. T. it has no reference to a general or
universal one. Further, our Lord could not be referring to the Church
in glory, for it will be in no danger of "the gates of hell"! His
declaration that, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,"
makes it clear beyond all doubt that Christ was referring to His church
upon earth, and thus, to a visible and local church.
The only other record we have of our Lord speaking about the "church"
while He was on earth, is found in Matthew 18:17, "If he shall neglect
to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the
church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Now the
only kind of a "church" to which a brother could relate his "fault" is
a visible and local one. So obvious is this, there is no need to
further enlarge upon it.
In the final book of the N. T. we find our Savior again using this
term. First in Revelation 1:11 He says to John, "What thou seest, write
in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia." Here
again it is plain that the Lord was speaking of local churches.
Following this, we find the word "church" is upon His lips nineteen
more times in the Revelation, and in every passage the reference was to
local churches. Seven times over He says, "He that hath an ear, let him
hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," not "what the Spirit
saith unto the Church"-which is what would have been said had the
popular view been correct. The last reference is in Revelation 22:16,
"I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the
churches:" The reason for this being, that as yet, the Church of Christ
has no tangible and corporate existence, either in glory or upon earth;
all that He now has here is His local "churches."
In further proof that the kind of "church" which is emphasized in the
N. T. is a local and visible one we appeal to other facts of Scripture.
We read of "The church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1). "The church
that was at Antioch" (Acts 13:1), "The church of God which is at
Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2)â€”note carefully that though this church is
with, yet is it definitely distinguished from "all that in every place
call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,"! Again; we read of
"churches" in the plural number: "Then had the churches rest throughout
all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria" (Acts 9:31), "The churches of
Christ salute you" (Rom. 16:16), "Unto the churches of Galatia" (Gal.
1:2). Thus it is seen that, that which was prominent and dominant in N.
T. times was local and visible churches.
2. A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers. By
"baptized believers" we mean Christians who have been immersed in
water. Throughout the N. T. there is not a single case recorded of any
one becoming a member of a church of Jesus Christ without his first
being baptized; but there are many cases in point, many indications and
proofs that those who belonged to the churches in the days of the
apostles were baptized Christians.
Let us turn first to the last clause of Acts 2:47: "And the Lord added
to the church daily such as should be (the V. R. correctly gives it
"were") saved." Note carefully it does not say that "God," or "the Holy
Spirit," or "Christ," but "The Lord added." The reason for this is as
follows: "The Lord" brings in the thought of authority, and those whom
He "added to the church" had submitted to His lordship. The way in
which they had "submitted" is told us in vv. 41-42: "Then they that
gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were
added unto them about three thousand souls," etc. thus, in the earliest
days of this dispensation, "the Lord added" to His church saved people
who were baptized.
Take the first of the Epistles. Romans 12:4-5 shows that the saints at
Rome were a local church. Turn back now to Romans 6:4-5 where we find
the apostle saying to and of these church members at Rome, "Therefore
we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was
raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also
should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in
the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His
resurrection." Thus, the saints in the local church at Rome were
Take the church at Corinth. In Acts 18:8 we read, "Many of the
Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." Further proof that
the Corinthian saints were baptized believers is found in 1 Corinthians
1:13-14; 10:2,6; 1 Corinthians 12:13 rightly translated and punctuated
(we hope to deal with this passage separately in a future article)
expressly affirms that entrance into the local assembly is by water
Ere passing to the next point let it be said that a church made up of
baptized believers is obviously and necessarily a "Baptist church"-what
else could it be termed? This is the name which God gave to the first
man whom He called and commissioned to do any baptizing. He named him
"John the Baptist." Hence real "Baptists" have no reason to be ashamed
of or to apologize for the scriptural name they bear. If someone asks,
Why did not the Holy Spirit speak of the "Baptist church at Corinth" or
"The Baptist churches of Galatia"? We answer, for this reason: there
was, at that time, no need for this distinguishing adjective; there
were no other kind of churches in the days of the apostles but Baptist
churches. They were all "Baptist churches" then; that is to say, they
were all composed of scripturally-baptized believers. It is men who
have invented all other "churches" (?) and church-names now in
3. A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers in
organized relationship. This is necessarily implied in the term itself.
An "Assembly is a company of people met together in organized
relationship, otherwise there would be nothing to distinguish it from a
crowd or mob. Clear proof of this is found in Acts 19:39, "But if ye
inquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a
lawful assembly." These words were spoken by the "town clerk" to the
Ephesian multitude which was disturbing the peace. Having "appeased the
people," and having affirmed that the apostles were neither robbers of
churches nor blasphemers of their goddess, he reminded Demetrius and
his fellows that "the law is open, and there are deputies," and bade
them "implead one another." The Greek word for "assembly" in this
passage is ecclesia, and the reference was to the Roman court, i.e., an
organization governed by law.
Again, the figures used by the Holy Spirit in connection with the
"church" are pertinent only to a local organization. In Romans 12 and
in 1 Corinthians 12 He employs the human "body" as an analogy or
illustration. Nothing could be more unsuitable to portray some
"invisible" and "universal" church whose members are scattered far and
wide. The reader scarcely needs to be reminded that there is not a more
perfect organization on this earth than the human body-each member in
its appointed place, each to fulfil its own office and perform its
distinctive function. Again, in I Timothy 3:15 the church is called the
"house of God." The "house" speaks of ordered relationships: each
resident having his own room, the furniture being suitably placed, etc.
Further proof that a New Testament "church" is a local company of
baptized believers in organized relationship is found in Acts 7:38,
where the Holy Spirit applies the term ecclesia to the children of
Israel - the church in the wilderness." Now the children of Israel in
the wilderness were a redeemed, separated baptized, organized
"Assembly." Some may be surprised at the assertion that they were
baptized. But the Word of God is very explicit on this point.
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that
all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor.
10:1-2). So, too, they were organized; they had their "princes" (Num.
7:2) and "priests," their "elders" (Ex. 24:1) and "officers" (Deut.
1:15). Therefore, we may see the propriety of applying the term
ecclesia to Israel in the wilderness, and discover how its application
to them enables us to define its exact meaning. It thus shows us that a
New Testament "church" has its officers, its "elders" (which is the
same as "bishops"), "deacons" (1 Tim. 3:1,12), "treasurer" (John 12:6;
2 Cor. 8:19), and "clerk"â€”"number of names" (Acts 1:15) clearly
4. A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers in
organized relationship, publicly and corporately worshipping God in the
ways of His appointment. To fully amplify this heading would
necessitate us quoting a goodly portion of the N.T. Let the reader go
carefully through the book of Acts and the Epistles, with an
unprejudiced mind, and he will find abundant confirmation. Attempting
the briefest possible summary of it, we would say: First, by
maintaining "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42).
Second, by preserving and perpetuating Scriptural baptism and the
Lord's Supper: "keep the ordinances" as they were delivered to the
church (I Cor. 11:2). Third, by maintaining a holy discipline: Hebrews
13:17; 1 Timothy 5:20-21, etc. Fourth, by going into all the world and
preaching the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).
5. A New Testament church is independent of all but God. Each local
church is entirely independent of any others. A church in one city has
no authority over a church in another. Nor can a number of local
churches scripturally elect a "board," "presbytery," or "pope" to lord
it over the members of those churches. Each church is self-governed,
compare 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:19. By church-government we
mean that its work is administrative and not legislative.
A New Testament church is to do all things "decently and in order" (1
14:40), and its only authoritative guide for "order" is the Holy
Scriptures. Its one unerring standard, its final court of appeal, by
which all issues of faith, doctrine, and Christian living are to be
measured and settled, is the Bible, and nothing but the Bible. Its only
Head is Christ: He is its Legislator, Resource, and Lord.
The local church is to be governed by what "the Spirit saith unto the
churches." Hence it necessarily follows that it is altogether separate
from the State, and must refuse any support from it. While its members
are enjoined by Scripture to be "subject unto the higher powers that
be" (Rom. 13:1), they must not permit any dictation from the State in
matters of faith or practice.
The administration of the government of a New Testament church resides
own membership, and not in any special body or order of men, either
within or without it. A majority of its members decide the actions of
the church. This is clear from the Greek of 2 Corinthians 2:6,
"Sufficient to such a man (a disorderly brother who had been
disciplined) is this punishment, which was inflicted of many." The
Greek for the last two words is hupo ton pleionon." Pleionon is an
adjective, in the comparative degree, and literally rendered the clause
signifies "by the majority," and is so rendered by Dr. Charles Hodge,
than whom there have been few more spiritual and competent Greek
scholars. Bagster's Interlinear renders it "by the greater portion,"
and the margin of the R.V. gives "Greek the more." The definite article
obliges us to render it "by the more" or "by the majority."
To sum up. Unless you have a company of regenerated and believing
people, scripturally baptized, organized on N. T. lines, worshipping
God in the ways of his appointing-particularly in having fellowship
with the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, maintaining the ordinances,
preserving strict discipline, active in evangelistic endeavor - it is
a "New Testament church," whatever it may or may not call itself. But a
church possessing these characteristics is the only institution on this
earth ordained, built, and approved of by the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence,
next to being saved, the writer deems it his greatest privilege of all
to belong to one of His "churches." May Divine grace increasingly
enable him to walk as becometh a member of it.
From Rev. Pink's magazine: Studies in the
Scriptures, Dec. 1927, pp. 277-281