WILL THERE BE A BAPTIST POPE?
A CLOUD OF WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENSE OF LOCAL CHURCH AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE
By Wayne Camp
TEXTS: Revelation 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Revelation 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.INTRODUCTION TO PART II
In the July issue of the paper, I began a review of an article called "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches in which the author took the position that Mother churches have authority over Daughter churches. I had seriously considered not continuing this discussion because I have no desire to do any harm to the brother who wrote the article. Two things developed which impressed me with the need of continuing the review.
First, I received a copy of the article in tract form. It has apparently been published in an effort to achieve wider circulation and influence. Second, I received a letter of clarification from the author of the article, in which he actually created more complications that his article had created. That will be explained in a moment.
When I closed Part I of the article, I had planned to deal with what I saw as "diminishing authority" set forth in the article. The article claimed that the church in Jerusalem was still exercising authority over the church at Antioch even after Antioch had sent forth Paul and Barnabas. Moreover, it asserted that the authority of the church at Jerusalem extended beyond Antioch to those churches started on the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. I see an indication of diminishing authority if Antioch had less authority than did Jerusalem. And, if the article is setting forth the truth of God's word, it follows that Antioch was the "Mother" of those churches started under the leadership of her missionaries. If Jerusalem had more authority than Antioch, and Antioch had more authority than the churches started on that first journey; that amounts to diminishing authority. I will come back to this but one wonders how diminished the authority has become in these last 1900 years.
In this article I want to deal first with the letter of clarification. Then, I want to begin calling a cloud of witnesses who have written in defense of the independency of local churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have gathered a large number of testimonies from various Baptists and Protestants on the subject of the independency of each and every one of the Lord's churches. In several hours of reading and research, I have not found a SINGLE BAPTIST WRITER that supported the contentions of the article "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches." But, I did find several that took just the opposite view concerning Jerusalem and Antioch's relationship. They held the relationship between these two congregations was that of equals and in no way was Jerusalem exercising any "motherly authority" over Antioch.
In fact, I will say that much of the doctrine advanced in "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" is BRAND NEW among Landmark Independent Baptists. It is the doctrine of Catholics and Protestants. And, I did find some recent articles by Southern Baptists refuting the idea because apparently there are some powerful men and churches in their number who are trying to advance the same idea in support of some of their Nicolaitan deeds. For those pastors and churches who love to lord it over other churches or "missions", "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" may have seemed like a real message from God. But, for those who love the biblical independency and autonomy of each and every local church, it is a signal to sound a warning trumpet.
A LETTER OF CLARIFICATION
As previously mentioned, since our first article on this matter was prepared and ready to publish the author of "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" has sent out a letter of clarification for publication in which he says:
My recent article MOTHER CHURCHES AND DAUGHTER CHURCHES has caused some controversy. I never intended that. Nor did I ever intend that my words be understood to mean that I advocate that any organized Church was to be subject to any other organized Church!
I believe, preach, and practice local, independent, autonomity under Christ for each and every New Testament Church. I believe all true Churches are "sisters" and equals.
I apologize to any and all Brethren who may have thought that I advocated that one organized Church [had] any authority at all over another Church! My purpose was to show that established Churches start other Churches which, until organization, were under the guidance of the starting Church through the missionary sent by her. All I can do is promise to try to write more clearly in the future.
I assure you that I mean to believe and follow the Bible in doctrine and practice and find myself in harmony with the practice of one Church starting another Church. Further, I believe that after a Church is organized, she is subject to no one other than Christ her Head!
If I am in error on these things, I sincerely ask for your prayers and your written counsel and promise, as God gives me grace, to change on my beliefs as I am enabled to see truth in God's Word.
I appreciate the spirit of the Brother and accept his apology, but, as I have told him, there are a some things in his letter that create more complications than clarification. He wrote:
"Nor did I ever intend that my words be understood to mean that I advocate that any organized Church was to be subject to any other organized Church!
I believe, preach, and practice local, independent, autonomity under Christ for each and every New Testament Church. I believe all true Churches are "sisters" and equals.
In the first paragraph just above, he said that he did not mean to advocate that "any organized Church was to be subject to any other organized church."
In his article he correctly declared that Antioch sent forth Paul and Barnabas. Yet, he asserted that even after their journey on which many were baptized and organized into churches the Antioch church was still a "Daughter" of Jerusalem and still under her "Motherly authority." Therefore, I raise some questions,
As already pointed out, the brother declares that Antioch was indeed a church, but a daughter church under the "motherly authority" of Jerusalem. Of the letter sent to Antioch and other churches, he wrote, "This was quite a high-handed thing to do if these Churches all had the relationship of "sisters," but if we understand that the Jerusalem Church was viewed not as a sister, not even a "big sister," but rather as having motherly authority over those younger Churches which came out of her, her actions were right and proper."
Is a church truly a church if it is unorganized? According to his letter of clarification, he did not intend to convey the idea that "one organized church" had authority over another "organized church". Therefore, we must assume that he was of the persuasion that Antioch was not an organized body. We must further assume that he did not believe that any churches were organized on the journey of Paul and Barnabas. But, is a church truly a church if it is unorganized?
Dr. B. H. Carroll was the founder and first president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of a number of books. Of the Greek word ekklesia that, in the KJV, is translated church, Elder Carroll said, "What, then, etymologically, is the meaning of this word? Its primary meaning is: An organized assembly, whose members have been properly called out from private homes or business to attend to public affairs. This definition necessarily implies prescribed conditions of membership . . ."
According to Bro. Carroll, a church IS an organized assembly with members. An unorganized group could never be a church. I do not believe the traditional type of church organizational service was ever held in New Testament times. Nevertheless, it is abundantly evident that the churches had entered into some kind of informal covenant to work together and each particular assembly was an organized church, a body of Christ.
I fully agree with another definition of a church found in the same book as the statement by Bro. Carroll. "If common sense and the normal usage of language prevails, there is absolutely no reason to think that "church" means anything other than an assembly of Scripturally-baptized believers in Christ who are organized according to the New Testament."
Again, "The word ecclesia always referred to an assembly gathered and organized to conduct business."
And again, "The men to be sent out were active teaching members in the church that was at Antioch' which was a real, functioning 'local' church" (Emp mine, RWC).
In his letter of clarification, the author of Mother Churches and Daughter Churches further stated, "I believe all true Churches are "sisters" and equals." Since, in his article, he denied that Antioch and a number of other churches were "sisters" and equals to Jerusalem but were, in fact, under her "motherly authority", we are forced to assume that he did NOT consider Antioch and those churches started on that first missionary journey to be TRUE churches. If they were "daughters" of Jerusalem, and not "sisters" and "equals" with Jerusalem, they were not, according to the writer, true churches.
If we harmonize the "letter of clarification" with the article "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" we are forced to the conclusion the writer of both DOES NOT BELIEVE Antioch was a real, functioning, true, organized church when she, under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent forth Barnabas and Paul to the work whereunto God had called them. Since he held she, and the churches started from her were "daughters" of Jerusalem, and not "sisters and equals", we must ascertain from that they were not true churches. They were not organized churches. He further stated in his letter of clarification, "I believe that after a Church is organized, she is subject to no one other than Christ her Head!" Since, in his article he affirmed that the church at Antioch, and a number of other churches, were under the "motherly authority" of Jerusalem when the events of Acts 15 and 16 occurred, we are forced to believe he holds that an unorganized, untrue church sent out Paul and Barnabas. If that were true, where would it leave us? Is there a true church in existence on this earth today?
The decisive factor in this entire matter of churches exercising authority over other churches, as alleged in the article "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches", is the independency of each and every church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe both Scripture, historic Baptist Church polity, and the array of witnesses whom I will call will bear me out on this statement.
Any organization worthy of the appellation of "CHURCH" must be independent of all other churches. If it is not qualified to act independently and autonomously without the interference or control of other churches, it is not worthy of the designation of "church". And, if it is not worthy of identification as a church, it has no scriptural reason to exist as a religious body. 1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Ephesians 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. For this age, there is only one scriptural religious institution ever mentioned in God's blessed book. It is distinguished as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything else is of man's invention.
THE INDEPENDENCY OF EACH AND EVERY CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
One of the precious gems of Scriptural church doctrine is the independency and autonomy of each and every local church of the Lord Jesus Christ. "A fundamental principle of the Bible has always been the entire and absolute independency of the churches."(Emp mine, RWC) No New Testament church should ever be subject to another organization, be it a church, an association, a convention, a synod, a cardinal, or a pope. Nicolaitanism is that Christ-hated doctrine in which pastors and their large churches sought to lord it over small churches. In the New Testament we find richer churches helping poorer churches, but in receiving that help they never gave up their independence or autonomy. I have known of cases where men loved overlordship so much that if a church got into financial trouble and needed help, they insisted on their disbanding and going back into "mission" status so that others could control their business. We see the church at Antioch sending a group of brethren to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and assembly there to get some advice concerning circumcision and salvation. But, in seeking that advice, they never surrendered one iota of their independence or their autonomy.
After much research into this one aspect of church truth, I can say emphatically and unequivocally that it has been and still is the almost unanimous testimony of Baptists down through the ages that New Testament churches are independent, autonomous bodies subject only to the Lord Jesus Christ. I can further say, that many who are aligned with churches with a hierarchical system of church government, affirm that for approximately 300 years after the ministry of Christ, the churches were independent and autonomous in their polity and discipline. They were subservient to no one but their Head, Founder, and Lawgiver, the Lord Jesus Christ.
But, the deeds and doctrines of Nicolaitanism that were hated by Christ and by the church in Ephesus, were tolerated and even nurtured in Pergamos, though they gained little ground for many years. Eventually they grew into the system of Popery. When the Protestants left Popery in the Reformation, they took a form of the hated baggage of Nicolaitanism with them in spite of the clear teachings of Jesus on this matter. Matthew 20:25-26 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.
Sadly, the love of preeminence did not die with Diotrephes. 3 John 9-11 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. 11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. There are, among us, those with the same love as Diotrephes.
WITNESSES FOR THE INDEPENDENCY OF EACH AND EVERY CHURCH
The witnesses for the independency of each and every church of the Lord Jesus Christ have not been few. Their range of scholarship is broad, and their declarations strong. Some of their testimonies will be short, some long. I now offer a list of such witnesses and call them to give their testimony. Due to constraints of space, we cannot give all in this issue, but we will call many witnesses now and in subsequent issues. I call as our first witness,
Eld. Milburn Cockrell
In 1976 Bro. Milburn Cockrell gave testimony in defense of the independency of the Lords churches. He wrote, "In the congregational form the governing power rests entirely with the people. This is sometimes called the independent or democratic form. All ecclesiastical power is exercised by each local church, assembled as a congregation and the decisions thus made in the individual church are subject to no reversal by any other religious body . . . A study of the New Testament churches reveals that the power to govern was given to the entire assembly of the church. Each church was a pure democracy in carrying out the will of her risen Lord. Many passages established this truth."
Bro. Cockrell further testified, "More shocking than all of this is that in some circles of Sovereign Grace Independent Baptists some prominent preachers dictate the doctrine of a dozen or more churches through their puppet pastors. This prominent preacher is an infallible guide to these puppets who derive their doctrine and authority from the lord bishop."
Again, Bro. Cockrell wrote, "The local church is the highest ecclesiastical authority on earth, and the only organization with a Divine commission from Heaven.
"Each church in New Testament times was a sovereign, autonomous, independent body. There is no example in the Bible of the subordination of a church to an organization outside of itself (Emp mine, RWC). Each particular church was absolutely independent in the exercise of its churchly rights, privileges, and prerogatives. It was separate from all other churches, individuals, and bodies so far as authority and control were concerned. Christ was its only head and lawgiver (Eph. 1:21-23). No church delegated to another body the right and function Christ committed to it."
There can be no question about the position this brother held in 1976 and 1977.
His continued testimony contains one of the most startling statements that I found along this line. In 1981 he wrote of a terrible act by a "mother church" that literally destroyed one of her "daughter" churches in her exercise of "motherly authority".
Bro. Cockrell wrote, "One of the reasons we call ourselves 'independent' Baptists is because of our bold contention for the absolute independency of each local church. Most of our churches and preachers preach and practice this principle. But in recent times some notable exceptions have come to light. These are of such serious nature as to demand our attention. I will cite a few cases.
"Nowadays when a problem arises in a local church the disgruntled party will summons some self-appointed bishop to come on the church field and to help get the pastor removed from the church. If this self-appointed bishop is too busy to come on the field, he will write letters to all the members, denouncing the pastor. These self-appointed bishops can be found in the midst of any trouble in our local churches, even if it requires that they travel many miles for a "good'' fight. Whenever they cannot find some trouble they will make some. Such men should be publicly rebuked and disfellowshipped by the brotherhood until they repent. Until strong measures are taken against these self-appointed bishops we can expect their number to increase.
"In one case in 1980 the 'mother church' which organized another church retained the church property of the new church. The 'mother church' attempted to sell the church building in which the new church met, although the 'mother church' had not paid one dime on this property. The new church was not even informed that the 'mother church' was trying to sell their property! This matter is still not resolved, and I ask the readers to pray for this young church in its trials. This is a clear-cut case of denial of church authority and church autonomy. It is plain for all to see that the 'mother church' has no respect for their own new church.
"I want to ask a question or two at this point. Wherein do our Baptists, with our self-appointed bishops who dictate to the churches, differ from the dictatorial policies of associational and convention Baptists? Wherein does one of our churches differ from association and convention churches when she seeks to sell the property of another church? Will someone please tell me? I see no difference. How can people who really believe in church authority justify such practices?
"If Sovereign Grace, Independent Baptists are to prosper we must preach and practice the independency of the church. Churches and preachers must immediately cease to interfere with the internal affairs of another church. Let us give advice only when asked as they did in the New Testament. Only by this can we retain our position as New Testament Baptist churches."
Shocking? Indeed, it was a deplorable situation. I am in possession of information at this time that the "mother church" in the matter described by Bro. Cockrell did succeed in stealing the property of the "daughter church." "Mother" sold the property and the members of the "daughter church" showed up for services on a Sunday morning and Pentecostals were meeting there. They had deed in hand showing they had purchased the building. The members of this duly organized "daughter church" were so discouraged and disappointed with what happened the young church folded. In the exercise of "motherly authority" this church killed her "daughter".
Again, let us hear Bro. Cockrell's additional testimony on the independency of the church. In 1980 he wrote a masterful defense of the independency of each local church. He resumes his testimony,
"BIBLE PROOF OF INDEPENDENCY
"The church at Jerusalem acted as a sovereign, autonomous, independent body in the selection of Matthias to the apostolic office. It is written in Acts 1:23-26 these words: 'And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.'
"The entire church participated in this selection. "They appointed" (v. 23), "they prayed" (v. 24), and "they gave forth their lots" (v. 26). The natural antecedent of the pronoun "they" is the entire group of the one-hundred and twenty persons who composed the church at Jerusalem.
"CHOICE OF SEVEN DEACONS
"The Jerusalem church acted again as a self-governing body in the choice of the seven deacons. In Acts 6:1-6 it is written: 'And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude and they chase Stephen, a man full of faith and of the, Holy Ghost., and Philip and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
"The, apostles did not assume the authority of appointing these deacons in the church. They recommended that the church make this choice. It was the multitude of disciples who chose the seven men and set them before the apostles. The Jerusalem church did this because she was a sovereign, autonomous, independent body.
"SENDING BARNABAS TO ANTIOCH
"This same church again acted as a self-governing body in sending Barnabas to investigate the spread of the gospel in Antioch. It is written in Acts 11:22: Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and, they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
"CHURCH SENT MISSIONARIES
"The church at Antioch acted as a sovereign autonomous independent body in sending out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. It is written in Acts 13:1-3: Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
"The church at Antioch did not ask the church at Jerusalem who to send. They did not contact any missionary board or committee as to who they should send. Observe in this passage that in New Testament times a local church sent missionaries out to the mission field from her own membership. There is no Scripture for a missionary board, or missionary committee, or missionary society sending out missionaries. These organizations are confessedly outside the purview of Biblical revelation. They are human in origin and of very recent date. There is no reference to them among the primitive ages of the church."
It is obvious from these statements that in 1980 and 1981 Bro. Cockrell did not believe Antioch was an unorganized, not-true church that was still under the "motherly authority" of the church in Jerusalem. In fact, he held that she was a sovereign, autonomous, and independent church and acted without any consultation with Jerusalem.
Let us hear more of Bro. Cockrell's testimony on this very important subject of church independency. He continues,
"EPISTLES REVEAL INDEPENDENCY
"The Apostles wrote to each church about their own particular difficulties and urged each to settle its own affairs (I Cor. 1:4-5; II Cor. 2:6). They recognized the right of each church to choose its own officers and to receive and exclude members.
"In writing to the seven churches in Asia, Christ recognized church independency. These epistles were not sent to the church in Asia, but to "the churches in Asia." Each is addressed individually through its pastor. The commendation, counsels, and censures are to individual and separate churches in Asia Minor. These churches were small democracies complete in themselves.
"ANTIOCH CONSULTS JERUSALEM
"The action of the church at Antioch is suggestive of church independency. When a difficulty arose about the influence of Jewish customs upon Christian doctrine, the Antiochian church 'determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question' (Acts 15:2).
"This company did not appeal to a select company, but to the complete church in Jerusalem: 'And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the, church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them' (Acts 15:4).
"After a fair hearing of the case and proper consideration of the matter, the Jerusalem church replied to the church at Antioch: 'Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: namely, Judas surnamed Barnabas. and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia' (Acts 15:22-23).
"Here we see one INDEPENDENT CHURCH, wishing advice, seeking counsel of another INDEPENDENT CHURCH whose wisdom and experience they trusted (Emp mine, RWC). The Jerusalem church acting as a sovereign, autonomous, independent body gave the advice sought. The Apostles did not dictate this information. They acted in cooperation with the elders and the whole church."
Again it should be noted that Bro. Cockrell obviously believed that the church at Antioch was an independent, autonomous, sovereign, organized and true Baptist church that simply sought the advice of the apostles, elders, and church in Jerusalem. He did not hold that the church at Antioch was acting in "daughterly obedience" to the "motherly authority" of the church in Jerusalem. It is obvious that neither of these churches considered themselves anything other than equals.
From the same article, let us hear the conclusion of Bro. Cockrell's testimony.
"A fundamental principle of the Bible has always been the entire and absolute independency of the churches. Each congregation is an independent republic, governing itself by Christ's laws, enacted and sanctioned by the people. With the church all ecclesiastical actions commence and with it all terminate.
"Jesus Christ left His church without any general organization to direct its government or its work. Throughout the New Testament we can discover not a trace of a convention, association, conference, council committee, or board. We read only of the establishment of individual churches. Associations and conventions are of modern origin devised by human wisdom and are not, like Scriptural churches, divine institutions. Many true churches of Christ existed and still exist without belonging to any of these fraternities."
CONCLUSION TO PART II
I had intended to call at least two more witnesses in this article, but the testimony of Bro. Cockrell was more extended than I had originally anticipated. Before I am finished with this study, we will hear from at least twenty or thirty more reputable witnesses in defense of local church autonomy and independence. If, in my continued research, I can find statements in support of the "motherly authority" advocated in "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" I will report it. At this time, I have found none.
(To be continued.)1"Mother Churches and Daughter Churches", The Berea Baptist Banner, Vol. XVIII, Number 4, April 5, 1998, P. 312.
2Three Witnesses for the Baptists, Eld. Curtis Pugh, P. 94.
3Ibid., P. 97.
4Ibid., P. 100.
5Ibid., P. 109.
6"The Independency of the Church, Eld. Milburn Cockrell, The Baptist Examiner, Vol. 50, No. 10, March 15, 1980, P. 6
7"The Government of the Church, Eld. Milburn Cockrell, The Baptist Examiner, Vol. 44, No. 34, August 28, 1976, P. 2.
8 Ibid. P. 5.
9"Who Are You?", Eld. Milburn Cockrell, The Baptist Examiner, Vol. 46, No. 33, September 3, 1977, P. 3.
10"Which Way Brethren", Eld. Milburn Cockrell, The Berea Baptist Banner, Vol. 1, No. 13, January 20, 1981, P. 4.
11"The Independency of the Church, Eld. Milburn Cockrell, The Baptist Examiner, Vol. 50, No. 10, March 15, 1980, Pp. 3, 5.
12Ibid., P. 6.
IN THE INTEREST OF FAIRNESS
In all fairness to Bro. Milburn Cockrell, I recognize that since 1981 he may have changed his position on the independency and autonomy of each and every local church. An article which he recently published in The Berea Baptist Banner called "Mother Churches and Daughter Churches" (Also a tract by the same title) directly contradicts some things he wrote during the period of 1976 and 1981. If Bro. Cockrell no longer holds the position set forth in his articles from which I have taken his testimony, and since a number of people receive this paper who do not receive the BBB, I hereby offer him space in the GP&P to explain his present position and how he came to abandon the position he espoused in the quoted articles. Wayne Camp, Editor
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