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Church Polity and Order

As a prerequisite for this course you must have completed
and passed the courses on
    The Church
    The Bible

This course is based upon and uses the entirety of the classic book:

The New Directory for Baptist Churches
by Edward T. Hiscox

Edited by Dr. T.E. VanBuskirk
That book has been divided into lessons with questions; and,
links to the tests have been added where necessary.

The text itself has been edited only slightly and then mostly for
purposes of clarification or arrangement into lesson form and
correction of spelling and punctuation errors caused when
the book was originally scanned into electronic medium.
Archaic spelling of words has been left generally intact.

Some small amount of editing of content has also been done to
bring the book into exact agreement with the scriptures.
These places are clearly marked as "Ed. Note."

How to complete this course.

1. Read the workbook and look up all references in your Bible.

2. As you finish each section of the workbook, take the corresponding section test.  Section test may be taken on or after the last day of the week of attendance required for each section.  If you fail any test, you MAY NOT retake the test on the same day.  You must study the material, find the correct answers in the textbook for all missed questions and then you may retake the test on or after the next day.
Do not go on to study the next section of the workbook until you have passed the current section test and found the correct answers to any questions missed.  You must look up the answers to any questions missed even if you passed the test.  Your week of study for the next section begins on the day after you have passed the test for the previous lesson and found the correct answers in the workbook to every question missed on that test.

3. After finishing all required reading and study and passing all of the Section tests and finding the correct answers to all questions missed on any test, whether or not you passed the test, then you can proceed to the Final Test.

4. You may not take the Final Test on the same day that you passed the last Lesson Test for the course.  You can take the final on or after the next day following the day that you passed the last Lesson Test.

5. The Final Test is "closed book" so you must submit a Closed Book Test Contract form in order to retrieve the password for the Final Test.















Thirty-four years ago (1859) the Baptist Church Directory was published as an ecclesiastical manual for use among Baptists. It met with immediate and hearty approval by both pastors and members of the churches, and was welcomed at once by a large circulation. That such a book is still needed is proven by the fact that after a constant and uninterrupted use for an entire generation, it is in as great demand as ever. This, for a book of the kind, is declared by the publishers to be a case "altogether phenomenal." Since its first issue, within its field of denominational literature, probably a dozen different books treating of some departments of Baptist Church polity have appeared, had a brief run, then disappeared. The Directory, by its general plan, method of treatment, and exposition of principles, has so commended itself to the denomination* as to be declared as nearly a " standard" on the subjects of which it treats, as anything short of the New Testament can be. About sixty thousand copies have been circulated in this country, while it has been translated more or less fully into at least seven different languages, by our missionaries in foreign lands, for use among the native churches. For such signal service rendered to Gospel truth and our distinctive faith, the author is devoutly thankful.

* [Ed. Note: Brother Hiscox was of one group of Baptists, the American Baptists, that considered themselves to be a denomination as well as Protestant. This is but one group of Baptists. Although there are many other Baptist groups that believe the same thing there are also other churches, numbering in the many thousands, that believe that historically they are neither denominational nor Protestant.  These Independent Baptists, and the tens of thousands of independent churches down through the centuries from whom the Independent Baptist churches of today are descended, are, and always have been, self-governing, independent congregations that have never had, and still have, no ecclesiastical hierarchy nor recognize any head except Christ.  Neither were they ever part of the Roman Catholic Church and actually predated that group by 200 or more years.  Generally today these are called Independent Baptist Church congregations.  Review the course on The Church, one of the prerequisite courses for taking this current course, for further explanation and historical as well as Scriptural treatment of this subject.]

Since the first appearance of the Directory the author has published several other manuals, mostly smaller, designed to meet the needs of specific departments in our Church life, usage, and order. In all, there are now nine of these manuals, the combined circulation of which, in this country, so far as can be ascertained, is not less than one hundred and sixty thousand copies. The Standard Manual has been translated into Spanish, for use in our churches in Mexico, Cuba, and elsewhere, among Spanish speaking peoples.

The present work, though constructed on the same general plan as the Directory, is an entirely new book, much more comprehensive, and contains more than double the amount of matter. It is entirely in harmony with previous manuals, as to Baptist polity, and neither abrogates nor antagonizes any of the fundamental principles announced or advocated in those previous issues. During the past quarter of a century the author has been written to repeatedly, asking his opinion and advice as to perplexing cases in Church order and discipline, such as will frequently arise, and which no prescriptive rules can possibly anticipate. This work is intended, so far as possible, to meet such cases, by more extended explanations of general principles. The arrangement of subjects and matter is lucid, the style is plain and simple, and the arguments are believed to be convincing. The book, it is confidently expected, will commend itself to the people as a careful and sound exposition of Baptist Church polity and practice.

When the Directory was issued in 1859. American Baptists numbered less than one million Church members. Now they have about three and one half millions. Many thousands of young people, and persons from other denominations and from families without religious instruction, are yearly gathered into our churches. These recruits came among us with all the rights of franchise, but with little or no previous instruction as to their exercise. They need to be taught as to the nature, duties and privileges of membership in the Church of Christ if mission is to be made a blessing.  Our Church members also, both young and old, need instruction as to our distinctive principles, and the reasons for them If there be reason for the maintenance of a distinct denominational existence, there is special urgency for the declaration and the defense of those reasons. The principles on which this manual is constructed are drawn from the New Testament and never in our history was there so much need of such an exposition and guide for members in our Church fellowship, as there is today. Let the necessity be recognized and met.

May the favor of our gracious Heavenly Father attend this, as it has sanctioned previous efforts in the same direction, and make it a means of furtherance to the unity, harmony, spiritual vitality and efficiency of the churches, resulting in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the salvation of souls and the edification of the saints, is the sincere and prayerful desire of the writer: E. T. H.





Prop. I. The Bible is a Divine Revelation given of God to men, and is a complete and infallible guide and standard of authority in all matters of religion and morals; whatever it teaches is to be believed, and whatever it commands is to be obeyed; whatever it commends is to be accepted as both right and useful; whatever it condemns is to be avoided as both wrong and hurtful but what it neither commands nor teaches is not to be imposed on the conscience as of religious obligation.

Prop. II. The New Testament is the constitution of Christianity, the charter of the Christian Church, the Authoritative code of ecclesiastical law, and the warrant and justification of all Christian institute. In it alone is life and immortality brought to light, the way of escape from wrath revealed, and all things necessary to salvation made plain; while its messages are a gospel of peace on earth and of hope to a lost world.

Prop. III. Every man by nature possesses the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and in all religious concerns; it is his privilege to read and explain the Bible for himself without dictation from, or dependence on anyone, being responsible to God alone for his use of the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and in all religious concerns; it is his privilege to read and explain the Bible for himself, without dictation from, or dependence on, any one being responsible to God alone for his use of the sacred truth.

PROP. IV. Every man has the right to hold such religious opinions as he believes the Bible teaches, without harm or hindrance from any one on that account, so long as he does not intrude upon, or interfere with, the rights of others by so doing.

PROP. V. All men have the right, not only to believe, but also to profess and openly declare, whatever religious opinions they may entertain, providing they be not contrary to common morality, and do no injustice to others.

PROP. VI. All men possess the common right to worship God according to the teachings of the Scriptures as they understand them, without hindrance or molestation, so long as they do not injure or interfere with the rights of others by so doing.

PROP. VII. Civil governments, rulers and magistrates are to be respected and in all temporal matters, not contrary to conscience and the word of God, to be obeyed; but they have no jurisdiction in spiritual concerns, and have no right of dictation to, of control over, or of interference with, matters of religion; but are bound to protect all good citizens in the peaceable enjoyment of their religious rights and privileges.

PROP. VIII. No organic union of Church and State should be tolerated, but entire separation maintained; the Church should neither ask for, nor accept of, support from civil authority, since to do so would imply the right of civil dictation and control The support of religion belongs to those who profess it.

PROP. IX. Christian men are to be good and law-abiding citizens, sustaining and defending the government under which they live, in all things not contrary to conscience and the word of God; while such government is bound to protect them in the full enjoyment of all their rights and privileges, both civil and religious.

PROP. X. Religion is to be free and voluntary, both as to faith, worship and service; neither conformity to, nor support of, religion in any form, should be compulsory. Christian faith and practice are matters of conscience and personal choice, and not subject to official dictation; and for either civil or ecclesiastical authority to enforce conformity, punish dissent, or compel the support of any form of worship, is a crime against the rights of man, an assumption of divine prerogatives, and treason against Christ, the only Lord of the conscience and sovereign of the soul.

PROP. XI. None but regenerated persons ought to be, or properly can be, members of a Christian Church, which is a spiritual body separate from the world and distinct from the state, and to be composed of spiritual members only.

PROP. XII. Pastors are not to be imposed on churches nor taken from them without their consent; but are to be chosen by them, each for itself, at its own option, as by free men in Christ, who have a right to the choice and election of their religious teachers.

PROP. XIII. Christ is the only Head over, and Lawgiver to, His churches. Consequently the church cannot make laws, but only execute those which He has given. Nor can any man, or body of men legislate for the churches. The New Testament alone is their statute book, by which, without change, the body of Christ is to govern itself.



In what respects do Baptists differ from other Christian denominations?

This is a question sometimes asked, and one which even Baptists themselves not unfrequently find it difficult to answer. If others misunderstand or misinterpret them, they should understand their own position, and be able to give a reason for it; they of all men, should be well instructed in the "kingdom of heaven," especially so far as relates to their peculiar faith and order. Every honest mind searching for truth will ask, "What does the Bible teach?" rather than, " What do men believe? " Yet the former is often better learned by well understanding the latter. The opinions of men and the creeds of the churches are important to be known, for information if not for authority.

The following points indicate the more important respects in which Baptists differ from others, as to religious opinion and practice;

1. As to a Christian Church

They hold that a Church is a company of disciples, baptized on a profession of their faith in Christ, united in covenant to maintain the ordinances of the Gospel, and the public worship of God; to live godly lives, and to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ as the Saviour of men.

Consequently an ecclesiastical system consisting of many organic units, a confederation of religious societies under one general government or head, is not a Christian Church, though sometimes bearing that designation.

2. As to Baptism

They believe that baptism is the immersion, dipping, or burying a candidate in water, on a profession of his faith in Christ, and that such is the only form of baptism taught in the New Testament, or practiced by the Apostles and first Christians. Consequently the form is essential to the ordinance, and nothing but immersion can be scriptural baptism.* Therefore sprinkling, pouring, and whatever other use of water may be resorted to, are not baptism at all, but substitutes for it. On the contrary, Pedobaptists hold that sprinkling and pouring are equally valid baptism with immersion, and because more convenient, are to be preferred.

* [Ed. Note: For those who believe in the historical fact of the direct descent of Baptists from the original Church that Jesus started, an additional note must be added. That being the subject of "Proper Authority." The Church administering the ordinance must have this authority and it is necessary that it does so in order for baptism administered by it to be scriptural Baptism.  

See the course on The Church, which was a prerequisite for taking this current course, for expanded treatment of the subject of Proper Authority to administer baptism.]

3. Proper Subjects for Baptism

Baptists assert that the only proper subjects for baptism are regenerated persons; those who have exercised and professed a saving faith in Christ, and are living orderly Christian lives.*

* [Ed. Note: Scriptural references to baptism, most prevalent in the book of Acts, plainly teach that those who believed were then baptized. There would have been no time to observe, nor is there a scriptural mandate to do so, the lives of the converts to be baptized to see what kind of life they were living after their conversion. They believed and were baptized with no mention of a time of observation in between.  That leaves us with belief and acceptance of Christ as Saviour as the only prerequisite.

Now concerning "orderly Christian lives." Those living disorderly Christian lives after being baptized and added to the Church would have been spoken to one to one and then in the presence of two witnesses and, if they failed to heed these attempts to lovingly restore their lives to proper order, then they would be taken before the church for church discipline and possible disfellowshipping should they then not heed the Church. However, this matter is a matter concerning those already having been baptized and added to the Church. Evidently then "living orderly Christian lives" is a matter that falls into the area of church discipline upon those who are already members and in no way could possibly have been a prerequisite for baptism. Therefore, upon a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, and dependent upon that alone, they were then baptized.]

On the contrary, some hold and teach that unregenerate persons may be baptized as a means of grace; while all Pedobaptists claim that unconscious infants, unregenerate and incapable of faith, should receive baptism on the faith of parents, or sponsors. All of which Baptists declare to be plainly contrary to the word of God and the economy of grace.

4. Proper Subjects for Communion

As to who have the right and properly should come to the Communion of the Lord's Supper, Baptists claim that only regenerate persons, baptized on a profession of their faith, and living in a godly and Christian manner as members of a church, have a right to, or can properly partake of, the Supper. Of course, then, baptism is prerequisite to the Supper; of course, also, the Church is to judge the qualifications of those who enjoy its privileges.

On the contrary, some believe and teach that baptism is not prerequisite to the Communion, therefore unbaptized persons may rightfully come to the Lord's table; some also teach that conversion is not prerequisite to baptism and church-membership, while others assert that each one should judge of his own fitness, and the Church cannot properly deny the privilege to any one who desires it.

All Pedobaptists invite to the Supper persons only sprinkled, whom Baptists regard as unbaptized; the Roman Church gives to the laity the Communion in one kind only, withholding from them the cup, and the Greek Church gives the Eucharist, as they do baptism, to unconscious infants.* All of which Baptists consider contrary to the Scriptures, and subversive of Gospel order in the churches.

*[Ed. Note: By "unconscious infants" the author means the infants are not yet mature enough to consciously understand the Gospel and make a conscious decision to accept Christ as Saviour.]

5. Subjects for Church Membership

What class of persons should be admitted as members to the fellowship of Christian churches? Baptists say that godly persons, baptized on a profession of faith, are the only proper and suitable persons. That all others should be denied admission, and if already within the Church should be cast out.

Consequently, to receive unconverted persons, whether infants or adults, destroys the spiritual character of the body, and forms an unholy alliance with the world, instead of maintaining a broad and distinctive separation between them.

6. The Form of Church Government

Is there any form of government for the churches taught in the New Testament? And if so, what is it? Baptists assert that each particular local Church is self-governing, and independent of all other churches, and of all persons and bodies of men whatever, as to the administration of its own affairs; that it is of right, and should be, free from any other human authority, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and that this is the New Testament idea of church government.

Others, however, with great diversity of opinion hold and teach that local congregations of Christians should not govern themselves, but be governed by popes, bishops or priests, assemblies, conferences, conventions, councils, consociations synods or presbyteries.  All of which Baptists consider as contradictory of the New Testament and the practice of the primitive churches.

7. As to Church officers

What and how many are the Scriptural officers of a Christian Church? Baptists hold that they are two; pastors and deacons: besides these, there are no others. They assert that bishop and elder in the primitive churches were identical in office and authority, being pastors when holding the superintendence of churches, and evangelist's when preaching from place to place; and that ruling and teaching elders were not, and properly should not be, distinct and separate offices in the churches. Consequently bishops are not a superior order of the clergy, nor ruling elders an order distinct from teaching elders.*

* [Ed. Note: A careful study of the scriptures will show that "Elders" is not an office at all but rather a reference to the group of more mature Christians in the local churches and areas out of which group the bishops/pastors were chosen and ordained as leaders in the churches.  See the prerequisite course on The Church.]

On the contrary, other denominations claim more than two orders in the ministry and officers in the churches, running through a long list from pope to pastor, from cardinal to curate, from dean to deacon.

8. As to Doctrinal Belief

In doctrine, Baptists agree very nearly with other evangelical Christians. They are what is usually called *Calvinistic, as opposed to Armenian views of free-will and the sovereignty of grace. They hold the unity of the Godhead, and the equal Divinity of the Father, Son and Spirit: a full and free salvation proclaimed to all in Christ; the atonement and redemption by the meritorious sacrifice of Christ; justification by faith, not by works; the absolute necessity of regeneration in order to have salvation; the Holy Spirit the author and finisher of saving faith and sanctification; the personal election of believers; the perseverance of the saints by upholding grace; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; also the endless duration of rewards and punishments, to be assigned by Christ, the judge of quick and dead, at His coming and glory.

*[Ed. Note: This is not to be construed to mean that Baptists believe in predestination to Heaven for some and predestination to Hell for others as was taught by Calvin but is not taught in the Bible.  Rather, according to the author, it is to be taken to mean that in most matters we lean just a bit more toward Calvinism than toward Armenianism in general concerning free-will and the sovereignty of grace.]

There may be others, but the above named constitute those which chiefly mark the difference between Baptists and other Christians. These are the questions in respect to which misapprehensions most frequently arise, and on which information is most likely to be sought. And on all of them, while Baptists do not claim to be faultless, nor beyond the possibility of mistake and error, they appeal to the Bible, to history, to philology, in justification of their views, and in support of their position.




Should the test fail to open properly, please use F5 to reload or click the refresh symbol on the top of your browser page. 

If you failed the test, then restudy this lesson and retake the test on or after the next day.
Once you have passed the test, do not take it again.

If you missed any questions on the test, then restudy the section and find all of the correct answers to any questions that you missed.  A copy of your test was sent to you with the correct answers on it.  You may use that for comparison purposes to make sure you have found the correct answers.
You may begin the next Section the day after you passed the test for this Section.


Chapter 2



A CHRISTIAN CHURCH is a company of regenerate persons, baptized on a profession of faith in Christ; united in covenant for worship, instruction, the observance of Christian ordinances, and for such service as the gospel requires; recognizing and accepting Christ as their supreme Lord and Lawgiver, and taking His Word as their only and sufficient rule of faith and practice in all matters of conscience and religion.



The word Church is of uncertain derivation: English, Church; Scottish, Kirk; Anglo-Saxon, Cyric; German, Kirche; Danish, Kyrke; Swedish, Kyrka; Russian, Zerkow. It is used as the equivalent, if not derived from the Hebrew Kahal; Latin, Curia, and has usually been derived from the Greek Kuriakon—"belonging to the Lord." This is, however, disputed by good authority. But Ekklesia (ekklhsia) [pronounced "ek lay see' ah] is the accepted equivalent Greek word used in the New Testament, and translated Church. This word is used to designate the visible "Kingdom of heaven" on earth, the company of God's elect people chosen in Christ Jesus; His spiritual Israel of the New Dispensation. What Alford calls "the congregation of the faithful." *
* See Mat 16:18, 18:17.

[Ed. Note: To clarify the previous statement by the textbook author.  Although the Church is a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, the "visible Kingdom of heaven on earth" as the author wrote, it is not the whole Kingdom of Heaven in and of itself.  In like manner the Church is also part of the Kingdom of God even as it is part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Contrary to what some teach, those two kingdoms are scripturally not two different names for the same Kingdom but obviously two different Kingdoms.  And although the Church is part of both, it is not wholly either.  For further explanation refer to the prerequisite course, The Church.] *
    * See III below for further explanation by the textbook author.

Ekklesia is composed of ek, from, or out of, and kaleo, to call—called out from. It denotes a company, or assembly of persons, called out, selected, chosen and separated from a larger company, a more general concourse of people. According to the usages of Greek civil life, the Ekklesia (ekklhsia) was, as the lexicons define it, "an assembly of citizens called together for deliberative purposes ; a legislative assembly, called to discuss the affairs of state." It was an orderly and an organized assembly, consisting of those possessing the rights of citizenship, for the consideration of public affairs, and the enactment and enforcement of laws pertaining to the public welfare, as distinguished from the common populace at large, an incidental concourse, or a disorderly crowd of people. **
** See Grimms-Wilkes N. T. Lexicon, Liddell & Scott, Robinson, et at.

Bishop TRENCH gives the following elucidation:

"We have Ekklesia in three distinct stages of meaning.—the Heathen, the Jewish, the Christian. In respect of the first, Ekklesia, as all know, was the lawful assembly in a free Greek city of all persons possessed of the rights of citizenship for the transaction of public affairs. That they were summoned, is expressed in the latter part of the word; that they were summoned out of the whole population, a select portion of it, including neither the populace, nor yet the strangers, nor those who had forfeited their civic rights; this is expressed in the first part. Both the calling, and the calling out, are moments to be remembered when the word is assumed into a higher Christian sense, for in them the chief part of its peculiar adaptation to its auguster uses lies. "—Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 17, 28; Ed. 1857.

Still true to its original classical idea and scope of meaning, when the word was adopted into Christian literature and applied to higher and more sacred uses, it designated a company called out from the world, elected, chosen and separated—Eklecktoi, the elected, the faithful, called to be saints. And thus a selected and separated company, to constitute "the Kingdom of Christ," "the Church of the living God," "a peculiar people" sanctified to Himself. Here, also, we have the further idea, fundamental to its primitive meaning, of an organized company, with laws, officers and ordinances for the orderly transaction of affairs, and the performance of service contemplated in their calling and institution.


The word Ekklesia is found one hundred and fifteen times in the New Testament. In one hundred and ten of these instances it has reference to the institution known as the Church. In three instances it is used in what Trench calls the" heathen sense," being applied to the assembly gathered at Ephesus, on the occasion of the riot incited against Paul and his associates—Acts 19:32, 39, 41. Notice, however, that the excited and riotous multitude was the okios —a crowd, a confused and disorderly multitude, Acts 19:35, and not the Ekklesia, which was the official and authoritative assembly, to which such cases of popular disturbance and disorder were appealed for suppression and settlement. In two cases this word is used in the "Jewish sense," being applied to ancient Israel as God's chosen and separated people. In the address of Stephen before his accusers, when referring to Mosaic history, he said "This is he, that was in the Church (Ekklesia) in the wilderness, with the angel which spoke to him..."— Acts 7:38; and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a citation from the Twenty-second Psalm, according to the Seventy,* "... I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the Church (Ekklesia) will I sing praise unto thee."—Heb 2:12; Ps 22:22. The Alexandrian translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek used this word to designate the entire congregation of Israel, the whole Hebrew commonwealth, as an organic unity. Under the theocratic government of the Old Dispensation, the seed of Abraham constituted a distinct congregation, called out and separated from all other peoples and races, organized under a polity peculiarly their own, with laws, ordinances and services as distinct as their own calling and race life. Hence the propriety and force of this word as a designation of the Hebrew people.

* [Ed. Note: The "Seventy" is a reference to the Septuagint which is a corrupt Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  We do not use it nor should we when the Hebrew Text has been accurately translated into the English in the King James Bible and the Massoretic Text of it in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Chaldee, is widely available for translational purposes into other languages.  The reference to the Septuagint by brother Hiscox is not a commendation of the corrupted text but merely a mention of it.]

In the "Christian sense" the word Ekklesia has a twofold signification in the New Testament. First, it is used, in its primary and literal sense, to designate a visible, local congregation of Christian disciples, meeting for worship, instruction and service. Second, it is used in a secondary and figurative sense, to designate the invisible, universal company, including all of God's true people on earth and in heaven. There is, then, the visible, local Church, and the invisible, universal Church. In the latter case the word represents a conception of the mind, having no real existence in time or place, and not a historical fact, being only an ideal multitude without organization, without action, and without corporate being. Of the one hundred and ten instances in which Ekklesia is rendered Church in the New Testament, more than ninety are applied to a visible, local congregation, or company of disciples, meeting in a given place, for a given purpose. This is the primary and literal signification of the word. Thus it is said, "Paul called the elders of the church;" "The church of God at Corinth ;" "The Seven churches of Asia;" "The church of Ephesus;" "The churches of Galatia." But when it is said, "... Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it... that he might present it to himself a glorious Church..." etc., Eph 5:25, 27, it presumably refers to no particular congregation of believers, but to the entire company of the saved—the universal, invisible Church.*  In the same way is interpreted the much quoted declaration of Jesus: "On this rock I will build my Church..."— Matt. 16:18. Also, "To the intent that now... might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." — Eph 3:10, "And he is the head of the body, the Church." — Col 1:18. "To the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven..." — Heb 12:23. These, with a few other passages, are supposed to refer not to any localized congregations of believers, but to the universal fellowship of the faithful. And yet it is likely that some of the passages usually thus interpreted might, by a more careful exegesis, be found to bear the primary and literal meaning of a particular congregation. Certain it is that this literal meaning of the word is its first and ruling signification, as is certified in a vast majority of cases. And if in certain cases another meaning attaches to it, such other meaning is purely tropical and secondary. And such secondary meaning grows directly out of, and bears a strict resemblance to, the primary.

* [Ed. Note: This universal Church only exists in Heaven at this time and will not exist on earth until Christ brings it back with Him when He returns to set up His Millennial Kingdom.  See the prerequisite SLBC course on The Church. Also see ** below.]

The word Church, in common language, is used with a large latitude of meaning. It is applied to a congregation of Christian worshipers, to a religious establishment, to a given form of ecclesiastical order, to the aggregate of all the saints, and to a building used for religious purposes. This last-named use, though common, is hardly legitimate, and the passages of Scripture sometimes cited to justify it (Rom 16:5; I Cor 11:18; 14:19, 28) will not warrant such application. And to call the aggregate of those who profess the Christian faith—of all names in all the world—" the Christian Church," is a misuse of the word not warranted by the Scriptures. There is no such thing as a universal Church on earth embraced in one grand communion.**  Equally baseless and unsupported by Scripture is the claim that all the religious congregations of a nation, or of a given form of faith in a nation, constitute a national, or a denominational church. It contradicts the New Testament idea. It is common to speak of "the Church of England," or "the Church of Russia," or "the Church of Rome." We understand what is intended, but such terms are extra-evangelical, and untrue to the New Testament idea.



Are there any marks, or signs, by which a true Church can be known? If so, what are they? If our ideas as to what constitutes a true Church be erroneous or confused, we shall be likely to go astray as to all that follows, and misinterpret its polity, order, ordinances, its structure, government and purpose. All the various Christian communions, both ancient and modern, have, in their dogmatic symbols, more or less fully, given their conception of a true Church. These definitions are found in their standard creeds and confessions of faith; and it is to be observed that they all assume to start with the New Testament idea. But as they proceed they do more and more diverge, and complicate the primitive simplicity with their ecclesiastical surroundings, their educational prepossessions, or with what trusted authority decides a Church ought to be, rather than what it is.

It may be noted that our Savior used the term Ekklesia but on two occasions, in both briefly, and without definitions or explanations, as reported in the Gospel narratives—Matt 16:18; 18:17. His oft-repeated expression was, "the Kingdom," "the Kingdom of God," many times repeated; "the Kingdom of heaven;" "the Son of man coming in His Kingdom;" " my Kingdom;" "the children of the Kingdom." Now, it is manifest that the Kingdom and the Church are vitally related, but not identical. The Kingdom is a fact in the world, being a moral and spiritual reign of truth and righteousness in the hearts and lives of men, Christ Himself being King, His word law, and His Spirit the indwelling life. But there is no outward form, no organization, no corporate life. The Church is the outward, visible, organic expression and development of this spiritual, real, but invisible Kingdom of Christ; not a perfect counterpart, but an imperfect representation; since the Church may contain some not in the Kingdom, and the Kingdom may contain many not in the churches.

THE LATIN CHURCH gives this definition of a Church:

"The company of Christians knit together by the profession of the same faith, and the communion of the same sacraments, under the government of lawful pastors, and especially of the Roman bishop, as the only vicar of Christ on earth. "—Bellarmine De Ecci. Mil., III. 2.


THE GREEK CHURCH gives this definition:

"The Church is a divinely instituted community of men, united by the orthodox faith, the law of God, the Hierarchy, and the sacraments."— Full Catec. of the Orthodox Est. Church.


THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND defines after this manner:

"A congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinances, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."—Thirty-Nine Articles, Art. XIX.


THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION has the following:

"A congregation of saints, in which the gospel is purely preached, and the sacraments are rightly administered." —Aug. Conf., Art. VII.



"The Church is a community of believers, or saints, gathered out of the world, whose distinction is to know and to worship, through the Word and by the Spirit, the true God in Christ the Savior."—Helv. Conf., Art. XVII.


THE BELGIC CONFESSION gives this definition:

"A true congregation or assembly of all faithful Christians, who look for their salvation only from Jesus Christ, as being washed by His blood and sanctified by His Spirit." —Beig. Conf., Art. XX VII.


THE SAXON CONFESSION defines in these words:

A congregation of men embracing the gospel of Christ, and rightly using the sacraments. "—Saxon Conf., Art. XII.


THE SCOTTISH CONFESSION puts it in these words:

"The Church is a society of the elect of all ages and countries both Jews and Gentiles; this is the Catholic, or universal Church. This Church is invisible, and known only to God."— Scot. Conf., Art. XVI.


THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY'S definition is this:

"Particular Churches in the primitive times were made up of visible saints, viz., of such as being of age, professing faith in Christ, according to the rules of faith and life taught by Christ and his Apostles, and of their children."  _ West. .Assem. Directory; Neal's Hist. Puritans, Vol. II., p. 469, Appendix.


Baptists have attached less importance to creed statements than most other denominations. Nevertheless they, too, have some historical symbols which they respect and use, but to which they are not bound.

A CONFESSION OF FAITH, issued by seven Baptist Churches in London, put forth A. D. 1643, as a vindication from the aspersions and calumnies of their opponents and enemies, defines a Church as follows

"Jesus Christ hath here on the earth a spiritual kingdom which is His Church, whom He hath purchased and redeemed to Himself, as a peculiar inheritance: which Church is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world by the Word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the gospel; being baptized into that faith, and joined to the Lord, and to each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances by Christ their head and King."—Baft. Conf., 1643, Art. XXXIII.

*See Schaft's Creeds of Christendom; Smith's Bible Dict.; Append. B., Art. Ch.; Cyclop. Bib. Eccl. and Theo. Lit. Art. Ch. ct al.


A BAPTIST CONFESSION, put forth by the elders and brethren of many Baptist congregations in London, 1677, evidently based on that of 1643, and adopted by the "General Assembly" of ministers and delegates of more than one hundred "baptized Churches," in I689, says:

"The Lord Jesus Christ collecteth out of the world to Himself, through the ministry of His Word by His Spirit, those that are given to Him by the Father, that they may walk before Him in all the ways of obedience, which He prescribeth to them in His Word. Those thus called He commandeth to walk together in particular societies or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of the public worship which He requireth of them in the world. The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing their obedience unto the call of Christ; and do willingly consent to walk according to the appointment of Christ, giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the gospel." *_Art. XXVI., sees.5, 6. * In 1742 the old Philadelphia Association adopted, with some additions and changes, this English Confession of 1689, since which it has been known in this country as "The Philadelphia Confession."


THE NEW HAMPSHIRE CONFESSION more briefly gives the following definition of a Church:

"A visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ, governed by his law, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word."—N. H. Conf., Art. XVI.


[Ed. Note: A brief biblical definition of a Church would be: "A local, called out, baptized, body of believers."]



By what signs, notes, or attributes may a true Church of Christ be known?


To this question the Roman Catholic Catechism answers: "Unity, holiness, catholicity, apostolicity, and perpetuity." To these, Bellarmine and others, from the ultra papal standpoint, add various others. These attributes Protestants accept as signs, only with their own definitions. But, if accepted, they must be predicated, to a certain extent, on "the invisible, universal Church." More distinctively Protestant, however, are added these marks, oft-repeated in their definitions, "the preaching of the pure Word of God, and the right administration of the sacraments." But these have reference rather to the action of the Church's life, than to the substance of that life—to what is done in the Church, rather than to what constitutes the Church.


  1. Unity. This is true from the New Testament point of view, which Baptists emphatically accept as thus taught: "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." — Eph. 4:3—6. There is one head—Christ. There is one body—the Church. But the doctrine that the unity of the Church consists in the combination of many separate congregations of Christians into one general or universal assembly of like faith and order, whether taught by Catholics or Protestants, is not taught in the Scriptures, and is repudiated by Baptists. There is, however, a spiritual unity in the "Communion of Saints," existing among all who are truly born of God, however various and dissimilar their ecclesiastical polity and relations may be.


  2. Holiness. This marks a true Church, because only such as are born of the Spirit, and become "new creatures in Christ Jesus" are suitable persons to be, or can properly become, members of it. They are called "saints," sanctified ones. "Unto the church of God, which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints..." — I Cor 1:2. "... as the elect of God, holy and beloved..." — Col 3:12. "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices..."—I Peter 2:5. This holiness may not be perfect and absolute as to any one member, much less as to the entire body; nevertheless it is what the gospel claims, and is the prevailing mark of those who are united to Christ, as the branch is to the vine. Being characteristic, therefore, of individual believers, it becomes characteristic of the congregation of believers. But the papal claim that holiness comes from a union with that (church), as the only true Church, is an absurd fiction, not to be credited, or seriously considered.


  3. Catholicity. Various ecclesiastical establishments arrogate, each to itself, universality, and claim to be the only "Catholic Church." Such a claim is made by the Latin, the Greek, the English, and other prelatical systems. Such , claims, however, have no foundation whatever in the historical, or doctrinal teachings of the New Testament. But if catholicity may be interpreted to mean a recognition of the essential spiritual unity of the faith in all of Christ's redeemed people, and a willingness to accord sainthood to all of every name and nation who bear the image and have the spirit of their Lord, then every congregation of evangelical disciples is a Catholic Church. "... Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." —Acts 10:34, 35. "... for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him."—Rom 10:12.

  4. Apostolicity. It is the claim of the Roman, and of some other prelatical and High-Church communions, that they have an unbroken succession of ministerial gifts and ordinations direct from the Apostles—what is sometimes termed "the historical episcopate." And if a succession in the ministry, then a succession largely also in Church order, and sacramental efficacy. This claim is historically groundless, and doctrinally useless. But the true apostolicity consists not in succession, but in possession; for they who possess and exhibit the doctrines, the spirit and the life of the Apostles, have right to claim this mark of a true gospel Church. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."—I Cor 3:11. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone;" — Eph. 2:19, 20.


  5. Perpetuity. This has reference, not to a continuance of official administration, as in the previous note, but to visible and corporate Church life. And, strange to say, some Baptists have been courageous enough, and indiscreet enough to assert that an unbroken succession of visible, organized congregations of believers similar to their own, and therefore substantially like the primitive churches, can be proven to have existed from the Apostles until now.* Such claims may well be left to papal audacity. For those who learn from that storehouse of sacred truth—the New Testament—what are the spirit, doctrine, ordinances, and polity of a Church of Christ, and practice the same, it matters nothing whether the chain of organic perpetuity may never have been broken, or broken a thousand times. They are the true disciples of Christ who have His spirit; the true successors of the Apostles who follow their teachings, and imitate their lives. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."— Acts 2:42. "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel..." — Col 1:21—23.

    *[Ed. Note: Brother Hiscox did not have access to some documents to which we do now have access.  The unbroken physical line from the church that Jesus Christ started while here on earth, carried down in the first link of the chain through the Apostle John, and through many following links, all matter of historical fact, is now proven beyond a doubt.  See the prerequisite course which you studied on The Church.  The rest of this section of the textbook must be viewed through these new and clear facts from history as shown in the prerequisite course.]

Strictly speaking, perpetuity is predicated of the invisible Church only. It is "the kingdom of heaven" on earth; "the Messiah's reign," which is perpetual. "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed..." —Dan 2:44. "But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever." —Dan 7:18. [Ed. Note: Those scriptures are not speaking of the Church. The belief that they are is predicated upon the erroneous belief, quite prevalent in Hiscox's day and in many groups today, both Catholic and Protestant, that the Church is the Kingdom of God."... upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." — Matt 16:18 "... lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." —Matt 28:20.
   But visible churches - local congregations - are largely subject to the mutations of human society. They rise and fall; they grow and decay; they flourish, decline and disappear. Many a "candlestick" has been removed out of its place, and many more will be. But the cause is imperishable, and the foundations shall never be removed,


A Christian Church, therefore, is not a confederation of many local congregations, under some one general head, whether that be a person, as bishop, patriarch, or pope; or under some system of government, as presbytery, synod, conference, or assembly It is not an ecclesiastical system, extending over a wide area of country, claiming the right of control over all of similar faith within such territory. Such, at least, is far from the New Testament idea of a Church. The expressions found in the Acts and the Epistles clearly define and fix the primitive notion of a Church. We read: "Then had the churches rest," and "were established in the faith." Not "the Church," mark, as if all disciples were grouped in one comprehensive body. "The churches of Christ salute you." " The churches of Galatia; " not " the Church." "The churches of Asia salute you." "Messengers of the churches." "The churches throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria;" "the churches of Macedonia;" "the church which was at Jerusalem;" "the church of the Thessalonians;" "the church of the Laodiceans." "As I teach in every church." "Ordain elders in every church." "The church which is at Cenchrea." "Greet the church that is in their house." " If therefore the whole church be come together into one place." "With the church in their house." No one can fail to understand the force of such expressions.

Note l. An organization of professing Christians may fail in some respects to meet the requirements of the Gospel, and still be a Church, providing it fulfills the fundamental conditions of a Scriptural faith and practice, holding the headship of Christ, maintaining the Ordinances and the ministry of the word in their purity.

Note 2.– But if it ceases to recognize and submit to Christ as its supreme ruler, and to receive His word as its supreme law, then it ceases to be a Church of Christ, though it may still preserve its religious character and retain many evangelical marks.

Note 3. - No Church, however sound its orthodoxy, or perfect its order, can fulfill the conditions of its existence without the indwelling life of Christ in its members, they walking in the Spirit, and not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Its importance and efficacy, therefore, depend not on mere mechanical conformity to any, even a divine model, so much as on the life and power of godliness in its constituent elements.



The Church is not unfrequently spoken of in the New Testament in figurative language. In which certain analogies are suggested, in the use of which the nature, purpose and relations of this institution are more clearly represented. The fact that these tropes were not intended as logical definitions, and do only incidentally define, makes them perhaps the more interesting. The similarities elucidate, and the comparisons, so far as they were intended to apply, are accurate and instructing.

"... and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body..." – Eph 1:22, 23. Christ the head, and the Church His body. This is equally true of the Church universal and invisible, and of the Church local and visible. Head over all things, and in all respects. The head is the intelligent director, the authoritative lawyer, to the body, and furnishes the will-force for active obedience. The Church as the body is to obey the directions, and to execute the authoritative mandates of Christ, the head. The figure indicates the intimate, sensitive, and sacred relation existing between Christ and His people. Also observe, there are not many heads, but one only— Christ. A many headed body would be a monstrosity.

In God's methods and operations there are the beauty and the symmetry of a sacred unity. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it... So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies... for no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church... This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." - Eph 5:25-32.

Here the relation subsisting between Christ and the Church, is illustrated by the relations of husband and wife. A relationship intimate, tender, affectionate, sacred; on the recognition of which relations, cherishing their proper spirit, and discharging their implied obligations, depends the success of the purpose for which they exist. If to the husband be accorded, in the divine economy, headship over the wife, it is not for her servile subjection, but for the common good; and that his affection, protection, and support, may be made the more manifest, and the more abiding. If the Church is to be subject to, and directed by, its Head, it knows that "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it." And if He seems exacting in His requirements, for its service and its sanctity, it is, "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." - Eph 5:27

"... the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." I Tim. 3:15. If 'the pillar and ground of the truth " refer to the " Church of the living God," as is almost universally conceded, and indeed is almost necessary to suppose, and not to the "mystery of godliness," as some would make to appear, but which would seem forced and harsh, then we have a vivid conception of the importance of each individual congregation of the saints, as the organized unit of the "kingdom of heaven," in the world. The pillar supports the super incumbent portion of the building. The ground, literally foundation, is that on which the building rests, and upon which it is reared. Thus, while in an emphatic sense Christ is the only foundation for the faith of saints, the hope of souls, yet in a very important sense does the Church become the support of all Christian endeavor, whether for the edification or the sanctification of the saints, or the spread of the gospel and the evangelization of the world.

As a historical fact the churches of Christ have acted this part, and served this purpose, and are now serving it— indeed, this is the very end for which they were instituted, Without them, all those Christian activities which are filling the world with light and blessing, would soon become inert and fail. It is from beneath the threshold of the sanctuary, the river of life flows forth to the nations. "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined."—Ps 50:2. No human influence is so much a pillar and foundation to the truth as a spiritual, orderly, active Church, composed of godly members, well ordered and faithful to their Lord.

But may there not be a still further resemblance, intended or implied, in this use of the ''pillar?" The stulos often had a memorial as well as an architectural value. The obelisk was reared to perpetuate the memory of great men, and of noble deeds. It preserved the records of historical events, and both instructed and inspired succeeding generations, by its inscribed memorials. It cultivated a becoming pride in national character, and sustained a worthy patriotism for national defense. The churches of Christ are monumental. Their preservation is miraculous; their very existence is a wonder. They perpetuate the grandest events in human History: the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Mediation of Christ. They do not simply honor the name and the deeds of the greatest and best of men, but of Him who is Lord of lords, and King of kings. In all senses each true Church is a pillar for Him, who is the Truth, and aids to support and to proclaim the profound mystery of godliness.

"... ye are God's building... Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? - I Cor 3:9-16. Thus is true, in a very important sense, of each individual Christian. But here it was declared true of the Corinthian Church. The Apostle asserted that he had laid the foundation of the edifice, and others had built upon it. He declares the building to be holy, as the shrines of heathen gods even, were supposed to be; and cautions them not to defile this sanctuary. It is the abiding presence of the Spirit in a Church, that gives importance to its existence, and efficacy to its ministrations. As a mere human organization it would not rise above the level of other moral and benevolent institutions. But the divine element in it lifts it to a loftier position. An ornate and costly material structure, a magnificent and imposing ritual, numbers, wealth, fashion, social attractions, can never meet the demand, nor realize the sacred purpose of the churches' life, without the indwelling presence of the Spirit, as the presence of the Shekinah in the Tabernacle of old.

All this is suggestive to those who are active in planting, and laborious in building up the churches. No mistake should be made as to what manner of institutions they are to be. A salutary discipline is implied, as is elsewhere plainly enjoined, since "the temple of God is holy." While this spiritual house groweth up, each one in his place, and according to his ability, is to aid in rearing the sacred edifice and at the same time each member as a ''living stone" is ''builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." — Eph. 2:22. But Christ is the Chief Cornerstone," and the abiding life, "In whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord." — Eph. 2:21. 

"As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" - Gal. 6:10. Here the household, or family idea, represents the Church in the Apostle's mind, and gives direction to his counsel. The chapter begins with directions as to the proper spirit in which disciplinary culture is to be administered in the churches; for this epistle is dedicated, not to the saints at large, "but unto the churches of Galatia." By a natural and easy transition the writer conceives of each particular Church as a family, a household, where mutual affection should rule; the members careful for each other's good, bearing one another's burdens, and with fraternal solicitude, striving to restore to the truth such as are faulty and out of the way. A similar idea underlies the Apostle's address to the Ephesian Church. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." — Eph 2:19. Here is a double metaphor. The Church is likened to a state, a commonwealth, of which the saints have been made citizens, now no longer strangers, temporarily sojourning, but naturalized and permanently abiding, entitled to all the immunities of citizens native born.

And then, in a narrowed circle, but a more intimate and sacred relationship, they are represented as members of the holy family of God, the Father. And if it may be said that the family here bears a more general signification, a wider application than to the individual Church, yet it must be remembered that the whole address is to a particular Church, "the saints which are at Ephesus;" and out of this specific idea grows the more general notion of the larger fellowship of the saints, which the tropes supply, of citizenship in the state and membership in the family. Thus, again to the Ephesians, Paul says, "... I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named." —Eph. 3:14, 15. Or, as the New Version renders it, "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named." The thought is distributive, and the conception is individualized. If the idea be that of the completed company of the saints, the Church universal both above and below, it manifestly aggregates it out of all the individual families of the faithful, the separate and distinct churches of Christ, called to be saints.

In the closing chapter of the Revelation we have the Church idea brought to view in a somewhat strange commingling of figures. But it is the Church triumphant; and the unusual mixing of the metaphors gives a strange and vivid picturesqueness and beauty to the conception. It represents the company of the saved, both as a bride, and as a city, and Christ as a bridegroom, and as a lamb. "And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband... And there came unto me one of the seven angels... saying, Come hither, and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God," Rev 21:2, 9, 10. The purity, beauty and glory of the redeemed saints are implied In the bridal relation, and the affection of the Lamb, who is the Bridegroom, and his joy at the final reception of his bride, so beautiful, for whom be had suffered so much, and waited so long, that he might present her to himself, "a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." It realizes the prophet's declaration to Zion, "... as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee."— Is. 62:5. The added conception of a city to represent the company of glorified saints, may imply the transcendent glory of the final habitation of the righteous; and that the Church triumphant shall be orderly and active as well as blissful and glorious; governed by a polity as really as is the Church militant, law-abiding and obedient, under the joyous and loving reign of their Lord, the prince of life, "the King eternal, immortal, invisible."

Thus the teachings of Scripture as to the Church idea do show the peculiar place in human society which this sacred brotherhood, this divinely appointed institution holds, as well as explains the purpose which, in the economy of redemption, and In God's purposes of mercy to a lost world, the Church was designed to serve.



The Christian Church is the only divinely organized society among men. It was instituted for a purpose by Christ, who gave to it laws, and an economy of methods and order by which to accomplish its sacred mission, and who still retains headship and kingship over it. A Church is the "Society of Jesus" in a truer and better sense than Loyola knew when founding the order of Jesuits. Each Such organized company of saints constitutes a body politic in a spiritual realm; in the world, but not of it; being able to maintain its existence and discharge its functions in all conditions of social and civil life, under all forms of human government: while not untrue to any, yet is in subjection to none, but gives allegiance to a foreign potentate, 'the Prince of the kings of the earth." Jesus said, ''... My kingdom is not of this world." — John 18:36. And of his disciples he said, " They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." John 17:16.

Members of the Church have all the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens in civil government, as others have, and owe allegiance to that under which they live, in all matters temporal, so long as such allegiance does not interfere with perfect obedience to the claims of Christ upon them. But if human laws, and the demands of human governments, contravene the divine claim, or in any way interfere with the rights of conscience or religious faith, and the freedom of belief and worship, then God is to be obeyed rather than man, His claims are supreme, and annihilate all rival claims. "... Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Christian men should be good and law-abiding citizens, unless obedience to human law demands a violation of divine law. Their fealty to the higher law must be prompt and unquestioned. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:" — I Peter 2:13-15. As to things spiritual, the state has no right of control over, or interference with, them. Matters of conscience, faith, and worship, the civil power has no right to meddle with, so long as the government is not injured, nor the rights of others put in jeopardy by their exercise.

The nature of a Church is very different from that of other societies and associations. Its members may be connected with other organizations, whose objects contemplate the furtherance of commerce, literature, science or the arts; they may be moral, philanthropic, and even religious. But they do not reach the high ideal of the Church's vocation, nor fill the broad sphere of the Church's mission. That is no less than the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Fellowship in such other associations will be consistent and harmless—it may be even commendable—providing the objects they seek, and the methods by which they are sought, be consistent with Christian morals; and providing, also, their duties to these in no way interfere with their duties to, and usefulness in, the Church, whose claims are first and most imperative. In such other associations good may be accomplished by the wider diffusion of intelligence, the cultivation of social morals and of public virtue, the mitigation of human suffering, and the advancement of a true civilization.

All these aims are good, and all good men should encourage them. But all these aims are contemplated by a Christian Church, and can and will be better reached by a Church, if true to its calling and mission, than by any other society; while beyond and above all these remains the one special and unique object of the Church's life, which all other societies lack; a regenerated humanity, in order to constitute the ultimate "... church of the first-born, which are written in heaven..." — Heb 12:23. Did not He who founded the Church, who knew what was in man, and who understood the world He came to save, who gave Himself to restore the divine image in man, and the divine authority over man, know what sort of organized endeavor, what kind of a society would be best adapted to accomplish the simple but sublime object contemplated? Every effort at social virtue and moral reform should find its best example and its most efficient advocacy in the Church of God. It would be a shame for those who are expressly set forth to be the ''light of the world," and the "salt of the earth," to fall below the standard of goodness in worldly societies, or the conceptions of virtue in carnal minds. Then would they no longer be "holding forth the word of life."



All associations of men are supposed to possess such and so much authority as may be needful to control their members within the limits of their associational relations, to guard their organizations against perversion and disaster, and to secure the objects for which they exist. This authority they have the consequent right to exercise, and power to enforce. It is derived either from voluntary compact, where each individual surrenders to the body a part of his personal freedom of action, or else is conferred by some external and superior authority. Thus with churches, its members, on uniting with a Church, do voluntarily surrender some personal prerogatives, that they may be invested in the body, the organic whole. But such personally surrendered prerogatives constitute but a small part of its authority.  Its chief authority is given by Christ alone. The state cannot bestow it; nor can legislatures, or courts official jurisdiction, or princes, or parliaments, either bestow or annul the charter by right of which the churches of Christ exist and act. Quite as little can that authority emanate from any ecclesiastical source, since all ecclesiastical orders emanate from, and grow out of, the churches, and are created by them — do not create them. Popes, patriarchs, bishops, priests, synods, assemblies, conventions, conferences, supposing they were Scriptural, do not make churches, but are made by them cannot invest churches with authority, since they possess no antecedent authority in the premises, but are invested by the churches, directly or indirectly, with all the authority they claim to possess. All rightful authority, therefore, is conferred by Christ, the king in Zion. He builds them: "... upon this rock I will build my Church..." He commissions them: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." He is personally ever with them, superintending, and giving them success: "... lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." — Matt. 16:18; 28:19, 20. What He does not give is not possessed. What He does not sanction is not legitimate. What He does bestow is a sacred trust, to be guarded and used for His purpose and praise. This, then, is the source, and the only authoritative source, of the Church's right of rule, It can assume none and derive none from any other source.

This authority a Church can exercise on none but its own members. They can bring the moral force of their persuasion of their consistent living, and of their Christian character, to bear on all around them, as indeed they should; but as to authoritative administration, they can claim no right of interference with any except those with whom they hold covenant relations in the fellowship of the body. Said the Apostle to the Corinthians, ''For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?" - I Cor 5:12. Nor can a Church exercise authority over its own members in any respect except as to spiritual concerns. With their personal rights and duties as members of society, it cannot interfere. It cannot dictate what they shall eat or drink, or wherewithal they shall be clothed; what business they shall pursue, what associations they shall keep, what privileges they may enjoy; except, that in all these they shall do nothing which shall be inconsistent with their position and profession as Christians; nothing that shall harm or hinder the gospel of Christ; nothing that shall destroy their influence for good, place a stumbling-block in the way of unconverted men, or cast a reproach on the Christian name. And of all these questions the Church has the right to judge. The sphere of a Church's authority is therefore distinctively and exclusively moral and spiritual. Those so-called churches, whether of the past or present, that have assumed dictatorship over their communicants in all matters both sacred and secular, have forfeited their claim to be recognized as true churches of Christ, and are to be held as religious societies only. They have transcended all proper bounds, violating personal rights by their assumptions.

Nor yet can a Church dominate the faith or conscience of its members. With such personal religious liberty no man, or combination of men, has a right to interfere. For such liberty and its lawful exercise each one is responsible to God alone. The Church's authority goes not so far. It can and should secure harmony in the faith and fellowship of the body. But to what extent it may require doctrinal conformity, and how it should treat dissent, whether it may or may not become a court of jurisdiction in matters of faith, or only of morals, and whether its acts may be punitive, will be considered more at length in the chapter on discipline.


Churches hold relations of comity and fraternal courtesy with each other, but sustain no legal governmental or organic connections. No Church can exercise discipline upon another, or for another, or interfere in any way with another's disciplinary acts. No member has a right to vote in the meeting of any Church but his own, or even to be present at such a meeting, or participate in the Communion except by invitation and as a matter of courtesy. No pastor has a right to exercise his ministry in any Church but his own except on invitation. Churches, however, are fraternal and exchange courtesies, dismiss members by letter to each other, and receive those dismissed, respect each other's disciplinary acts, but are not bound by them. Pastors exchange pulpits. Churches unite fraternally in associations for mutual benefit and for missionary work. They bear themselves toward each other with that respect and affection which become disciples of a Common Master, but to talk of an interdependence of organic and official Church life and action, as some have done, is most absurd. There is no such thing. These questions will be more fully considered in another place.


Churches are constituted by voluntary covenant on the part of those who wish to become members.

[Ed. Note: It should be noted here that, biblically, only churches can beget churches.  In the New Testament, every church was started by someone authoritatively sent out from an existing church who then, subsequently, when the need arose by conversion of persons in particular places, the one(s) sent out, as Paul and Barnabas for example, would organize and commission the new church. In this way, every New Testament Church can trace it's lineage directly back to the original Church started by Christ at Jerusalem. See the prerequisite course on The Church for a more detailed explanation of this process. Also see *2 below.]

The constitution of a Church, strictly speaking, is to be found in the New Testament only, as regards both faith and practice. But it is customary to have these formulated, which thus become creed symbols, and to a certain extent serve as standards. And though no Church and no Church-member is asked to sign them, or is required to pledge allegiance to them, yet a general and substantial assent and conformity to them is expected, in order that harmony in the churches and among the churches may be secured. And this harmony is secured to a remarkable degree among Baptists when we consider the great number of their churches, the wide extent of territory over which they are scattered, and the great diversity of social life, local customs, and educational bias which naturally influence them; and especially when we consider the tenacity with which they maintain the independence of the individual Church, and the right of private judgment in the individual member.

   The process by which new churches are constituted is very simple. The necessity for, and the practicability of organizing one, must be decided by those who are to constitute it, and who are to bear the expense and the responsibility of its support. These may be persons belonging to some other Church or churches, who find themselves living where there is none but where one is believed to be needed, and where the increase of population shows a need for increased religious privileges. Or such persons may be converts from some recent revival in a neighborhood where there seems both room and a demand for another Church. After mature deliberation on the part of such persons, meeting together for consultation, canvassing all sides of the question, taking counsel of wise and discreet brethren, with much prayer for divine direction— since such a movement is one of grave concern general agreement being secured, a meeting is finally called for the organization. A committee most likely has been previously appointed to secure some approved form of Church Covenant, and Articles of Faith,* to be considered and adopted by the body.


* Such a form of Covenant, prepared for this work, widely adopted, and many years in use, may be found in this volume, as also well-known and extensively used Articles of Faith. See Appendix.


Before the organization actually takes place, however, such persons as propose to constitute the body, should procure letters from the churches of which they are members, given for the purpose of forming a new Church. *2  Should there be among them persons who have been members of regular Baptist churches, but have for any reason lost their membership without special fault of their own, who are living consistent Christian lives, and are acceptable to the others, they can, by consent of the company, be admitted as constituent members. So can others who have been baptized on profession of their faith in Christ, for the purpose of so uniting in the formation.

The "Constituting act" would properly and appropriately be the unanimously voting— perhaps by rising a resolution like this:

"Resolved, That, guided as we believe by the Holy Spirit, and relying on the blessing of God, we do, here and now, by this act; constitute ourselves a Church of Jesus Christ to perform His service, and to be governed by His will, as revealed in the New Testament. And to this end we do hereby adopt and agree to the following Covenant and Articles of Faith." Here let the Covenant be read, to which agreement may be witnessed by each one raising the right hand. Prayer for strength, guidance, and blessing should follow. Such an act makes such a company of disciples, ipso facto, a Church of Christ with all the rights, powers, and privileges of any New Testament Church. Officers can afterward be chosen, as seems to them best, a pastor, deacons, trustees ; only that some one should at once be selected, temporarily or permanently— unless previously chosen—to act as clerk, to preserve a minute of these and of all subsequent proceedings, as well as the antecedent proceedings which have led to this organization.

Some churches, at their organization, adopt a very elaborate and complicated constitution and bylaws for their guidance, a course of very doubtful expediency. They are never necessary, and often more trouble than help. The well-understood teachings of the Scriptures are a sufficiently plain guide in all matters of morals and discipline, and such special cases as may arise can be dealt with on their merits at the time, or provided for by standing resolutions to be placed upon the records, as subsequent guides in all similar cases. For instance, if the body wishes to make any deliverance or establish any rule, as may be the case, on the subjects of Temperance, Missions, Sunday-schools, Sabbath-keeping**, or Covetousness, they can embody their views in standing resolutions, place them on their minutes, and hold them as standards for subsequent action in similar cases.*

* See "Optional Resolutions" in Appendix

**[Ed. Note: Rather than "Sabbath-keeping" as the author calls it, this would better be called "Sunday observance" because Sunday is not nor has it ever been the Sabbath as some, including some Baptist groups, have mistakenly believed.]

NOTE 1. - The multiplication of feeble churches should be guarded against; and the organization of new interests without the prospect of becoming independent and efficient, should not be encouraged, especially in a community already well supplied with religious privileges.

NOTE 2.—More particularly should the formation of new churches as the outgrowth and fruit of strife and dissension in older ones, be avoided and discountenanced, except in extreme cases. A large and careful observation proves that very few churches so constituted ever attain to any considerable degree of prosperity or usefulness.

NOTE 3.—The existence of officers is not essential to the existence of churches, possessing all ecclesiastical possibilities and powers. Officers are developed out of the membership by election and investiture by the Church. And in the absence of formally invested officers, the Church can select some of its members to officiate, temporarily, in all departments of its service; either to conduct its Worship, dispense the Word, or administer the Ordinances.



It is customary for a new Church to call a Council to recognize it.* Occasionally this precautionary act takes place at the time of the constitution of the body. More frequently at a subsequent period. The object of the Council is to examine their doctrines, inquire into the circumstances, and their reasons for their organization, so as to be able to express approval of their course, and certify to the churches they represent, their fellowship for the new body as a regularly constituted Church of the same faith. The calling of a Council for this purpose is entirely optional with the Church. It is a prudential measure, very proper and well to be continued as a guard against irregularities in doctrine or practice, and is likely to secure the sympathy and approbation of sister churches; but it is in no sense essential. The body is no more a Church for having the approval of a Council, and no less one for being without it.

* [Ed. Note: The calling of such a council has no precedent in Scripture and may have been a tradition in brother Hiscox' time but the practice is not generally found, and has not been generally found, in the true non-denominational, non-Protestant, Baptist Churches from antiquity to the present time.  It is merely a tradition of men followed in some denominations.  However, the section is left in to show the bounds and purposes of such a council should the new Church decide to call one.]

The object of the Council, after being organized, is to inquire into the facts of the case for which they were convened. They hear a statement made by some person selected to speak for the Church; examine their Articles of Faith and Covenant, the letters by which those from other churches have united in the organization; carefully consider whether there be apparent need of a Church in that particular field and when the whole subject is fully before them, vote approval of the steps taken, if they do approve, or advise to the contrary if they disapprove. It is customary to hold some public religious service appropriate to the occasion, calculated to give them encouragement in their enterprise, and assure them of the fellowship and sympathy of sister churches. Such services may take any form preferred by the body or advised by the Council; usually there is a discourse preached, a charge given to the Church, and the hand of fellowship extended, with remarks, through some one chosen by the Council. to some one selected by the Church to receive this expression of fraternal goodwill.

NOTE 1.—If a Council should decline to recognize a newly constituted Church, deeming the organization unwise and uncalled for, still that Church would have the right to maintain its organization and to continue its work and its worship. The Council could not unmake it, and it would as really be a Church without, as with their sanction. it would seldom, however, be wise to proceed against the wisdom and advice of pastors and members of other churches assembled in a Council. Such adverse decision would lessen their influence in the community, and abate the sympathy and confidence of sister churches.

NOTE 2. — It not unfrequently happens that a Council doubts the propriety of recognizing a new Church and yet hesitates to refuse, lest a refusal might be a mistake, place difficulties in the way of a struggling interest, and hinder a good cause. In such cases the wise course is for the Council to adjourn for a specified time—three or six months—and wait developments. At the end of that time the case may be clearer, and admit of definite settlement.

NOTE 3.—To prevent mistakes in organizing churches, some hold that the Council should be called before constitution, to advise as to whether it is best to constitute, rather than afterward to recognize. This course would doubtless avoid some mistakes, though it is open to some objections, and is not usually followed—possibly because of the independency of those concerned in the formation of new churches.



It sometimes happens, under stress of circumstances, that it becomes needful, or at least seems wise, to abandon Church organizations and to transfer the efforts made for their support to new fields, or to a union with other churches. It is always a matter of serious concern thus to remove the candlestick out of its place, and should be determined on only after long consideration, much prayer, and consultation with wise and unbiased brethren. But duty may require that it shall be done. Cases have occurred, where complicated and inveterate troubles in the body have been so long continued as to discourage all hope of further comfort, edification or usefulness, promising only further contention and scandal to the Christian name. The only resort may be to disband, and the members go into other churches, or, such as believe they can free themselves from the old troubles, and work harmoniously together, unite in forming a new Church, leaving out the old roots of bitterness and seeds of contention.

Of the wisdom and propriety of such a step the body itself must be the judge, with all the light can obtain; and since this step will most likely be opposed by some, the question must be finally decided by a majority of the members, as in other cases. There are some things, however, that majorities even cannot rightfully do, and they must proceed cautiously.

1. Each member has an indefeasible right to all the immunities of Church membership, whether moral, spiritual, social or otherwise; which rights cannot be abrogated or alienated, and must be regarded as sacred. If the Church be disbanded, therefore, letters must be given to all the members, which will secure them admission to other churches, without loss of position or privilege.

2. There are rights of property also to be considered, if the Church holds property purchased or given for religions uses, The deed by which such property is held, or the charter by which the Church has become a body corporate for the purpose of holding and controlling temporalities, would have to be well understood, so that such property might not be lost, or diverted to other uses than those for which it was given or purchased. The laws of the state, and the decisions of courts would have to be consulted, so that such property should still be used according to its original design.

3. If a Church be disbanded, and absolutely dissolved, and a new one constituted on the same ground, and of the same materials, the new one cannot hold the property, retain the officers, perpetuate the history, or claim the immunities of the old one, but must begin anew, unless, indeed, it may so far be allowed by legal process to hold the property, appropriating it to its legitimate use.

The process by which the organization is disbanded, or dissolved, is very simple. After all preliminary preparations are attended to — for no Church acts can be performed after the final act of dissolution has been passed — letters having been voted to its members, and the clerk authorized to give such letters to any person who may subsequently appear, and have right to them; then a simple vote, "that We do here and now, by this act, disband as a Church, and cease to exist as a corporate and covenant organization," will accomplish the purpose. What disposition shall be made of the records, of any furniture, or other effects belonging to them, would previously have been determined.



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The character of a building depends very much on the materials of which it is constructed. Christian disciples "are builded together for an habitation of God, through the Spirit." Any society or association is largely what its constructive elements are. Combination and intercourse may, to a certain extent, modify individual peculiarities, but the corporate character will be the result of the various personalities which compose the body. The estimation in which will be held its internal life and order, the efficiency with which it will work toward its purposed end, will all be determined by the character of its individual elements.

It is sometimes said that a Church is a voluntary society. This is true in a sense, and only with an explanation. It is true in that no external force or authority can compel the relation of membership to be forced, or dissolved. The Church can compel no one to unite with it, nor can the individual oblige the body to receive him. But it is not true that it is a matter merely optional and indifferent whether or not a believer identifies himself with the Household of Faith. He is under moral obligation to do that. It is for his own spiritual good to do it; it is one of the appointed means of grace; the Church needs his presence and influence, and the cause of Truth is furthered by a combination of Christian influence and effort. All are under law to Christ, and are bound by sacred obligations to obey and please Him. He has ordained that His followers should associate themselves together in these brotherhoods of faith and affection. A Church, therefore, is more than a voluntary society: it is a society under law to Christ. Church membership, therefore, becomes a question of grave moment, and should be carefully studied and well understood.


Let it be observed:

Note 1.– The character of the persons who are to constitute the churches and hold membership therein, is fixed and prescribed by Christ Himself, and is to remain permanent and unchanged.

Note 2. - Consequently, the Church, by whose act persons are to be formally admitted to membership, has no right or authority to alter the terms or conditions of membership, but must conform strictly to those prescribed by the Lawgiver; much less can the wish or the will of the pastor be allowed to change these conditions, since he has no authority in the case; still less can the desire or judgment of the candidate himself modify the divinely prescribed conditions.

Note 3.– The benefits to be derived by Church association and fellowship, whether to the individual or to the body, can be certainly anticipated only by exact conformity to the prescribed qualifications of admission, and subsequent conformity to the principles of the Church's internal polity.

Note 4.– Decline, perversion and decay of spiritual life and evangelical doctrine, are more likely to result from the admission of unsanctified and unsuitable materials into its membership than from almost any other deviation from the divinely constituted order of building the spiritual temple.

Note 5.– The moral purity and spiritual vitality of the membership is the best conservation and the surest guaranty of the doctrinal soundness and spiritual vitality of the ministry itself. Where vital godliness rules in the body, the same will be demanded and supported in a teacher and leader, and there an unevangelical ministry will not long be tolerated. But a carnal membership will endure, and even demand a carnal ministry. "Like people, like priest."



The very great importance of the subject hereby becomes apparent, and the question of who may and who may not be admitted to membership is one of primary moment. What are the scriptural qualifications for citizenship in this spiritual kingdom, for brotherhood in the family of the faithful, for membership in the society of Jesus ? What are the conditions on which this privilege depends?


These conditions are four:

  1. A regenerate heart.

  2. A confession of faith.

  3. The reception of baptism.

  4. A Christian life.


I. A regenerated heart.

None but converted and godly persons have any right in the Church of Christ as members. To admit the ungodly and the profane to the fellowship of the holy, to share the privileges of the faithful, and partake of the sacred Communion of the Body and the Blood of Christ, would be a scandal and a shame, not to be perpetrated or endured by those who profess to be His disciples. Nor is it enough that one's moral character be without reproach, and his life orderly. He must give good evidence that he is "a new creature in Christ Jesus," that he "has passed from death unto life," and that "Christ is formed in him," or he has no place in His body, which is the Church. If our churches are to fulfill their mission, remain true to their traditions, and honor their apostolical pretensions, they must insist, with unabated vigor, on a regenerated membership. Nor must they insist on it in theory only, but take every precaution to maintain it in practice.

This position, however, is one with which many Christians, deemed evangelical, not a few Christian teachers, and some entire denominations do not agree; such persons claiming that nothing more than good moral character and a serious disposition to attend to religious instruction should be demanded in candidates for Church membership. Their theory is, that within the Church regeneration and salvation are to be found, rather than before entering it. By this practice the holy and the profane are brought into unseemly fellowship in the body of Christ, the broad distinction between the Church and the world is diminished or obliterated, the salt loses its savor, and the city set on a hill to that extent is hid, and ceases to be a monument of grace to men. This becomes more emphatically true, since churches which hold this theory hold also to infant baptism and Church membership without pretension of saving faith or spiritual birth. Such associations lose the foremost characteristic of Christian churches, and become religious societies, where carnal and spiritual mingle in inharmonious fellowship, only a part of which can pretend to be members of the body of Christ.


The teachings of the New Testament are clear and emphatic on this point. Both Jesus and His Apostles made it manifest that His kingdom was not of this world, and those who constituted it were such as are born of the Spirit. In the constitution of the first churches, both Jewish and Gentile, the persons who composed them were not indiscriminately gathered, but those called out from the masses of the people on a confession of faith in Christ, and a change which betokened a regenerate nature. This was the case at the Pentecost, and subsequently it was " the saved" who were added to the churches. So was it at Samaria, at Antioch, at Ephesus, at Corinth, at Philippi – everywhere. The Church at Rome was addressed as "... beloved of God, called to be saints..." – Rom 1:7. And these same disciples Paul reminds of their former condition, "... when ye were the servants of sin..." and contrasts it with their present condition: "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." – Rom. 6:20, 22. The salutation to the Corinthians is, "Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints..." – I Cor 1:2. His second epistle he inscribes: " ... unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia." – II Cor 1:1. The Ephesians he addresses as: "... the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:" He says they "were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." Also, they "were dead in trespasses and sins;" but God had "quickened us together with Christ." – Eph 1:1, 13; 2:1, 5.

The broad distinction between what they once were and what they had become, indicative of the great change, is carried through all the epistles. To the Philippians, it is, "... to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi..." – Phil 1:1.  Elsewhere it is the same: "To the saints and faithful brethren which are at Colosse..." – Col. 1:2  He says: "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." - Col 3:3. Peter, addressing the saints, says: "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." And further, he declares: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:" – I Peter 2:5, 9. The unvarying tone of New Testament utterance is the same. Those gathered in fraternal fellowship to constitute the churches of our Lord, are such as have been called out of darkness into light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Once were they darkness, now are they light in the Lord.

Were it not for a too ready disposition in many quarters to admit to the churches almost any one who might desire to enter, or could be induced to come – not only gold, silver and precious stones, but wood, hay and stubble as well – it would appear puerile to insist on a spiritual nature, a regenerate heart, as the first requisite for membership in the Church of Christ.


2. A professed faith

Before the Church can consistently welcome one to its fellowship, the members must obtain the evidence that he, too, is of like precious faith with themselves; that he has also passed from death unto life, and become a new creature in Christ. The bond of fellowship among the saints is the love of Christ shed abroad in all hearts alike, binding all in a common experience, a common hope and a common sympathy to the Cross, the one common center of their new life. In order to make this fellowship real and personal to each, the newcomer who seeks admission to their company must give them the evidence that he, too, has been born of the Spirit, and become an heir of God. How is he to give and they to obtain this evidence? By a confession to that effect, and by such change in character and conduct on his part as he is able to show. Without this, no evidence of fitness for membership with the disciples becomes apparent, and no fraternal fellowship is begotten. This confession of faith is made verbally, by a declaration of the great change which has transpired. He who remains silent, and can bear no testimony to the loving kindness of the Lord, gives small reason to believe that he is a child of God. The declaration of those who experience this spiritual transformation in all ages, climes and conditions, is substantially the same: "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul." – Ps. 66:16. And thus is realized the declaration: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." – Rom 10:10. Without a confession of saving faith in Christ, and a profession of pardon and peace through the blood of the Covenant, there can be no spiritual fellowship, and membership in the Church would be little more than a pretense. Those who accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour are expected to declare their new obligation. By this confession largely the Church gains the evidence that they have passed from death unto life. The old Baptist way, from times immemorial, is, to have persons wishing to unite with the Church, to come personally before it and "relate their experience," tell what the Lord had done for them and in them. However much such matters may be referred to pastor or deacons or committees, as preliminary, candidates must come personally before the Church and speak for themselves. And this custom should be heroically maintained. They need not plead timidity, and say they cannot speak in the presence of others. They deceive themselves. If they have experienced anything, they can say something about it. If their hearts have been changed, they can speak of it. If they know the love of God, they can say so.


3. A Reception of Baptism

Especially is a confession of faith to be made in baptism. A regenerate heart constitutes the spiritual qualification for Church membership. A professed faith and a consistent Christian life constitute the moral qualifications. And baptism constitutes the ritual or ceremonial qualification for that sacred fellowship. Except by baptism no person can be received as a member of the Church, without violating the prescribed conditions, and vitiating the divine method. One may become a member of "the kingdom of heaven" by being "born from above" but he cannot become a member of the visible Church except he confess that spiritual change in the waters of baptism. In that symbolic act he declares himself dead to the world and sin, buried, and raised up to newness of life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The spiritual change of the new birth begets Christian fellowship; but to secure Church fellowship, that change must be confessed in baptism. This is the New Testament order. At the first it was so; they repented, they believed, they were baptized, then added to the Church. Without confession in baptism there could be no Christian churches.


4. A Christian deportment

This condition must appear manifest. The first act of Christian obedience after conversion, is, naturally, baptism. In most cases, in primitive times, it followed immediately after an exercise of saving faith. "They believed and were baptized." There was, consequently, little or no opportunity to test the sincerity of their profession, or prove the genuineness of their conversion by a well-ordered life and godly conversation. With us it is usually somewhat different; for while no specified time is required for probation, or proof of sincerity, some time usually does, and prudently should, elapse after a profession of faith, before Church membership is consummated. Union with the Church usually follows baptism immediately, but baptism does not usually follow conversion immediately, as it might lawfully do.

But whatever time and opportunity there may be for observing the spirit and conduct of professed converts, that spirit and conduct should be found in harmony with the professed change of heart. If they still choose their old companions, find pleasure in their old pursuits of worldliness, are captivated with the vanities and frivolities of life, to say no more, who could believe that any vital and radical change by grace had passed upon the soul? If the old things have not passed away, and all things become new, how can a Christian character be detected in them? And if that be not apparent, how can they be fit members for the Church of God?

An external Christian life must corroborate the profession of an internal Christian faith. This apostolic injunction must, to a good degree, be made manifest to all in every professed disciple. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." – Col 3:1-3.  No amount of attestation can make the world believe that he is a Christian whose conduct does not correspond to his profession. And if there cannot be a good degree of conformity between the professed and the practical, persons had better remain out of the Church than to enter it. Positively so, if there be a manifest disparity and contradiction between the two.

Note I.– Not every person can give an equally satisfactory relation of Christian experience before the Church, not are those always the most certainly regenerate who can tell the most remarkable experience. But no person can consistently be admitted to its fellowship unless the Church in some way obtains satisfactory evidence of his conversion, and hears him personally declare his faith.

Note 2.– Persons on entering a Church may be ignorant of many things in Christian doctrine, and must be ignorant of many things in practical Christian life, which they will afterward learn. Nor should they be rejected simply on that account. Indeed, they enter the Church as a school of sacred learning to be instructed. But no one should be admitted who holds and maintains matters, either of faith or morals, contrary to the Scriptures, as understood by the Church. Especially so, if such differences are likely to be proclaimed and advocated. For, even admitting that the candidate may he right and the Church wrong in the matters wherein they differ, such opposition would produce discord and dissension interrupting the harmony of the body, and thus becoming obstructive, both to its peace and to its usefulness.

Note 3. - In all matters fundamental, both as to faith and practice, members of the same Church should hold and act alike, since harmony in the body is of the greatest importance. But it would be unreasonable to demand or expect that considerable numbers of persons, differing in education, habits of thought, constitution of mind and independent opinions, could attain perfect uniformity of belief in all matters of Christian truth. This would be impracticable, and in minor matters large Christian liberty should be allowed.

Note 4.– The relation of Christian experience before the Church, while the practice should be maintained, cannot usually give full and satisfactory evidence of conversion. The excitement of the occasion and the timidity of the candidate may do injustice to the most devout and pious persons. The pastor, deacons and others should, by personal intercourse and private conversation, obtain the facts in the case, and lay them before the body as evidence.

Note 5.– In the relation of experience it is not so much the words spoken as the manner by which, and the spirit in which they are spoken, that convince and satisfy those who hear. And it is more difficult to judge, and requires more caution in the case of strangers, with whose history, manner of life and habits of thought they are unfamiliar, than of those well known.

Note 6.– Those pastors make a grave mistake, and are grievously in fault, who hurry persons into the Church without giving the body a fair and full opportunity of gaining evidence of their regenerate state. They may ask a few leading questions themselves, which any one, saint or sinner, could answer, and virtually debar others the privilege of asking others, call a vote on their reception, to which a few will respond and many remain silent. No fellowship is accorded by the body, since no evidence is obtained. The Church may seem to be prosperous, because baptisms frequently occur; but the moral strength of the body is weakened, rather, and disorder introduced where order should prevail.

Note 7.– Neither age, sex, race, past character, nor condition in life should serve to keep one out of the Church, if the evidence be abundant and satisfactory that such an one be a subject of renewing and saving grace; and that the character and conduct since professed conversion be in accordance with the gospel of Christ.



It is not proposed to admit persons to membership by an imposing ceremonial, the better to impress on them and others the importance of the act, as is done in some societies, and even in some churches. For, though the act be an important one, the simplicity of Christ does not call for parade to make it seem impressive. The form is simple, though the act be serious. While no gorgeous pageant marks initiation to the fellowship of the Christian mysteries, it may well be questioned if we do not hold too lightly and make too little of admission to membership in this sacred brotherhood. There are three ways in common use, by either of which persons may be admitted to the Church, according to their religious standing and their relation to a profession of faith. But the difference in either case has reference to the form or mode, the substantial act in all these cases being the same, viz.: a vote of the body to receive the candidate. Each new member must be admitted by the free and voluntary consent and approval of those already members, which consent is usually expressed by a formal vote. By this method alone, and not by the personal action of the minister, nor yet by the decision of a board of official members, nor yet by some executive committee specially appointed for this purpose, are new members to be received, if the sympathy and confidence of the body are to be secured to each one added. An examination before the pastor and deacons, or before some official consistory or committee, might be preferred by many candidates, and even to others might seem more desirable, because more private. All this may be had, but if had, it is preliminary and precautionary. The final and efficient act is the vote of the Church in its corporate capacity, after having listened to the candidate's personal statement, and being satisfied as to his fitness.


The following are the three modes of admission:

1. By Baptism – A person may be admitted to the Church, on a profession of faith in Christ, by baptism. This is the more common method. Such an one makes known his Christian hope and desire for baptism and union with the Church, to the pastor or brethren. If they, after proper investigation of the case, become satisfied of his fitness for that step, he is encouraged to come before the Church at such time as they are accustomed to receive candidates, relate his Christian experience and his desire to be received to their fellowship. After he has made this relation and retired, the Church considers the question of his reception, hears the testimony of those who have become familiar with the case, and then, if satisfied, it is moved and voted that he be received as a member, on being baptized.

2. By Letter – In the changes of social and domestic life, which are constantly transpiring, members often remove from the vicinity of the Church with which they have united. Then it becomes their duty, and should be their desire, to connect themselves with a Church of the same faith near their new home, where they can conveniently work and worship. By the comity of Christian fellowship, and by that courtesy which each Church owes to each other, the one of which he is a member gives him a letter of commendation and dismission by which his membership may be transferred to the other. This letter certifies to his good Christian character and regular standing, and commends him to the confidence of, and membership in, the other Church. If satisfied, he is received by a vote of the Church, as in the former case – the letter serving as a certificate of character and standing, with permission to unite. Though not considered essential, yet it is desirable that the person should be present when his letter is read, and verbally express his desire to be received.

3. By Experience – It sometimes happens that persons who have been baptized, but by some means have lost their membership, desire to unite with a Church. They bring no letters, nor are they rebaptized; but give an account of their conversion and Christian life, which, being satisfactory, they are received by vote on their confession – or, as it is usually stated, "on experience."


Note 1.– In some churches the names of all candidates are announced at a meeting previous to that on which action is to be taken, in order that all may be acquainted with the fact, and make objection, if they know of any good reason for objection.

Note 2. – In some churches, also, there is a standing committee, before which all applicants for membership must first go, and if that committee regard the application unfavorably it is not presented to the Church at all. Such action may at first appear somewhat arbitrary, perhaps, but in cities and other crowded communities great care is needed to guard against imposition by designing and unworthy persons, who may be influenced by sinister motives in such a step. Of course, a final appeal is to the Church, and not to a committee.

Note 3.– In some churches, particularly in large communities where individuals may not be so well known, the pastor requests some careful and competent member to act as committee to ascertain the facts in the case of each one applying for membership. Or there may be a standing committee, to which all such cases are referred. Or if there be a prudential committee, through which all applications must come, they act in the matter. In either case a report is made to the church, when action is taken. But, in addition, a careful pastor will personally investigate every case.

Note 4, - Persons cannot be received to membership on the credit of letters from other denominations. Such letters are accepted as testimonials of previous Church standing and Christian character; but the applicants are to be received by baptism – if not already baptized – or otherwise on their Christian experience, related in person before the Church.

Note 5. – It is a rule generally acted on, that no person shall be taken into the Church to the grief of any one already a member. Hence, members should be received not simply by a majority, but by a unanimous vote. If objection be made, the case should be postponed, to ascertain the facts. If the objections be found to be factious and unreasonable, they should not be further regarded; and if persisted in, would subject the objectors to reproof and censure.

Note 6.– At times it may be found expedient to postpone the reception of a candidate for a better acquaintance, and for greater harmony in action respecting him. Moreover, it is always better to use great deliberation than to proceed with great haste in such a matter. But the Scriptures certainly do not authorize any system of probation by which all candidates are required to wait a specified time before being admitted to the full fellowship of the body.

Note 7. - To baptize persons who do not unite with any Church, is considered bad policy, as subversive of good order and destructive of Church organization. They should be approved and received by the body for full fellowships when baptized. Yet there are possible exceptions to this rule where no Church exists, or where they are baptized to constitute one, and in some other unusual circumstances.

Note 8.– Nor is it expedient, or promotive of good order, for ministers to baptize persons who wish to unite with churches of other denominations. Such persons should receive the ordinance from the pastors of the churches with which they are to unite. Nor is it consistent Christian walking for such persons to unite with churches which uphold and practice a form of so-called baptism which they themselves reject and condemn.

Note 9.– Persons who fulfill all the Scriptural conditions and possess all the requisite qualifications for membership, have a right to be admitted to baptism and the privileges of the Church, if they request it; though no extraneous force or authority can compel their admission.

Note 10. - Uniting with a Church must be a free and voluntary act on the part of the individual; there is neither civil nor ecclesiastical authority among us to compel or require it. But there is a moral obligation resting on every professed lover of the Saviour to identify himself in fraternal union with the company of His disciples.

Note 11,– No civil or religious disability can, with us, be inflicted on those who are not communicants as is the case in countries where there is a state Church, and where religion is supported as a civil establishment. The gospel idea of religious faith and service is, that all should be voluntary and free, and that civil authority has no right of control over, or interference with, matters of religion.

Note 12.– It is customary, when members are admitted to the Church, whether by baptism, letter or experience for the pastor to give them the right hand of fellowship. This is usually done at the communion service immediately before the elements are distributed. The candidate rises, while the hand is extended with a few words of kindly welcome. The act is fraternal, but not essential; is designed simply as an expression of the Church's welcome.  It does not make them members, and adds nothing to their standing, but recognizes them in the presence of the body as fellow-disciples. In some churches – particularly at the South – in addition to the pastor's hand of fellowship, the various members pass by in order, each extending the hand of welcome; a practice which, though somewhat less conventional, is more expressive.

Note 13. - The reception of persons by restoration is not essentially different from that by experience. Members who have been excluded from fellowship may be received back, when the causes which led to the withdrawal of fellowship are removed, and the individual requests restoration – the Church, being satisfied with his fitness, votes his reception. The "hand of fellowship" properly follows in this case, as in the others. Such cases are reported as additions by "restoration."

Note 14. - Persons received to membership have equal rights and immunities with any and all other members, without distinction of sex, age or condition, unless for cause under discipline and censure. Persons not members enjoy the privilege of worship with the Church, but can claim no corporate rights, including the ordinances.



Church membership is held to be of perpetual obligation. What has been elsewhere said as to its voluntary character will apply to the dissolving as well as to the forming of this relation. No human authority can hold one in the Church, who resolves to go out of it. The Church is more than a mere confederation of men and women; it is "the body of Christ," where each one, "is a member in particular." Each one who unites with it does so, presumably, not as a mere matter of convenience, or personal caprice, but from a sense of religious obligation. Voluntarily and of choice indeed, yet still doing it, "as unto the Lord." When he becomes a member therefore, it is for life, unless some providential interposition should break the bonds. Baptists hold that Christians should not live outside the fold of the Good Shepherd, but within the shelter of its fellowship; unless, indeed, they become unworthy the position, and have to be " put away."

Provision is, however, made for a transference of membership from one Church to another. There are three ways, by either of which the relation of members to the body may be dissolved:


1. By Letter – A member may, on application, receive a letter of commendation and dismission from his Church, with which to unite with another of the same faith, and thus, not pass out of Church relations, but be transferred from one fellowship to another.

2. By Exclusion – When the Church, in the exercise of its lawful authority and discipline, withdraws fellowship from one proven to be an unworthy member, his connection with the body is dissolved and thenceforth ceases.

3. By Death – The death of members of course dissolves the relation, and transfers them from the Church on earth, to that above.


No other modes of dismission or disconnection are recognized among our churches.

Note 1.– It is customary for the validity of letters to be limited to some specified time – usually six months – after the expiration of which time they are worthless; but may be renewed, if satisfactory reason be given the Church for their non-use,

Note 2. - The one receiving a letter is still a member and subject to the authority and discipline of the Church granting it, until he has used it by actually connecting himself with another Church,

Note 3. - Letters thus given can be revoked, for cause, by the Church at its discretion, any time previous to their being used.

Note 4.– Any member in good standing has the right at any time to ask for, and receive from the Church a certificate of his membership and standing; but subjects himself to discipline if he use it for any improper purpose.

Note 5.– Letters cannot properly be given to be used in uniting with a Church of another denomination. It would be manifestly inconsistent for a Church to commend and dismiss its members to unite with those with whom it did not hold Church fellowship.

Note 6.– When a member unites with a Church of another denomination, the hand of fellowship is withdrawn from him, though otherwise of good Christian character, and though he may have acted conscientiously in what he had done. This act implies no censure; but since his Church is not in fellowship with that to which he has gone, they cannot consistently continue fellowship with him in that Church.

Note 7. - No member can withdraw from the Church. He must be regularly dismissed by the action of the body. Nor can one have his name dropped, or be excluded at his own request. Such action, if taken at all, must be taken by due process of discipline on the part of the Church.

Note 8.– Nor can the Church compel a member to take a letter and withdraw, without his consent. This would be a virtual exclusion from its fellowship; in order to which, due course of discipline must be pursued, on charges made, and for sufficient reasons.

Note 9.– When members remove their residence so far as to render worship with their Church impracticable, they should take letters, and unite where they go. Their churches should require this of them, if at all practicable. The too common practice of holding membership in one Church, and worshipping in another deserves severe reproof.

Note 10. - In voting on the reception, dismissal, discipline or exclusion of members, several cases should not be included in the same vote, but each one be acted on separately, and decided on its own merits.

Note 11.– The dropping of members is merely placing on a separate list the names of those of whom the Church has lost all knowledge. They are neither dismissed, nor reported as members; and whenever found, their names are restored to the record. No one can be dropped as an act of discipline, nor when his residence is known, nor simply to get rid of a disturbing element.

Note 12.– Persons excluded from one Church should not be received to the fellowship of another, except after careful investigation, and when most manifest injustice has been done such members; and also when the excluding Church refuses to correct the wrong done. Yet cases may, and do occur, where it is the duty of one Church to bear this testimony against the wrong done by another, and receive the unjustly excluded member to its fellowship.

Note 13.– Sometimes a letter of simple commendation, or occasional communion, is given to a member who is to be temporarily absent from home, for the purpose of affording him Christian introduction where he may visit, or worship during his absence. This may be given by the pastor, or clerk, or by the action of the Church, and should be limited to the time of his probable absence.

Note 14.– The conception of a perfect Christian brotherhood is not to be realized on earth. Many defects and faults may be expected, both in the individual, and in the body. The member may think the Church little better than the world; and the Church may regard the member as a burden rather than a blessing, and wish to be rid of him. But those who are truly Christ's, "have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," and must " bear one another's burdens," and take no unlawful or unkindly means to break the bonds of their fellowship, and sever their connection.



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Every form of organized society, whether civil, social or religious, is supposed to have officers, duly constituted to execute the laws, administer the government, and secure the ends contemplated by the organization. The Church is a commonwealth, a society, a family, and has its officers as leaders and administrators of its affairs. Officers, however, are not essential to the existence of a State, nor are they to the existence of a Church. They are nevertheless important to their highest efficiency, and the best exercise of their legitimate functions. The State does not lapse and cease to be, because its executive dies, resigns, or is removed. Nor does the Church cease to be a Church though it may be without officers. It was a Church before it had officers, and supplied these administrative functionaries from among its own members. And should they all resign, or be removed, the Church would still survive, and supply the deficiency by the election of others to fill their places. What are the officers of a Christian Church? How are they secured? What are their functions? And whence is their authority? These are questions of importance to be asked and answered; and to which various replies will be given, according to the ecclesiastical theory on which the reply proceeds.

But suppose we make the questions somewhat more specific, and ask, "What are the Scriptural officers of a Christian Church?" We shall by this means simplify the inquiry, and be directed not to ecclesiastical standards, but to the New Testament for an answer—a source of authority which to all Christians ought to be more satisfactory than any other, in such matters; and to Baptists, certainly will be, if they be true to their convictions as Bible Christians.


They are of two grades

In the New Testament we find but two orders pertaining to the ministry; but two officers to a Church. These are pastors and deacons. And, yet, this is a question still to some extent in dispute. All prelatical churches insist there are, and of right should be, three orders, and the Romish Church has carried the number up to ten or twelve.

But if the Scriptures be appealed to, and primitive churches be accepted as examples, it would seem to be a question settled, that in apostolic times, and for many years after, pastors and deacons only were known as permanent Church officers, The introduction of other orders subsequently, was a part of that system of change and perversion, which eventually reared a gigantic and corrupt hierarchy on the ruins of the simplicity of the Gospel, and substituted an oppressive and tyrannical worldly establishment for the Church of Christ. All of which changes and corruption come largely through the unwarranted assumptions of the clergy themselves.



In the New Testament the term episcopos, (episkopoV) which is usually rendered bishop, and presbuteros, (presbuteroV) which is rendered elder, are used interchangeably, and often applied to the same person. The episcopos was an overseer, what the term properly denotes; it was the word used chiefly by the Greek Christians as applied to the pastor, who had the oversight of the flock, and performed the work of a shepherd in spiritual concerns. The term presbuteros or elder, was evidently derived from the synagogue, and used chiefly by Jewish Christians, to designate the same person, especially as in the synagogue elderly and dignified persons were selected as the official directors of religious affairs.

The term pastor signifies a shepherd, and well indicates the nature of the relation he sustains to the Church; that of leading, feeding, guiding and guarding the flock committed to his care. He is also called a minister (diakonos), one who serves and ministers to others; as the pastor is supposed to minister in holy things to the Church. Thus the prelatical distinction of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, constituting three orders in the clergy, corresponding to the three orders, High Priest, Priest and Levite, in the Jewish hierarchy, finds no warrant in the use of the terms, episcopos, presbuteros, and diakonos, in apostolic writings. And to this many distinguished prelatists, historians and commentators agree.

NEANDER, the most distinguished of Church historians, gives the following explanation

"The name of presbyters, which was appropriated to this body, was derived from the Jewish Synagogue. But in the Gentile churches, formed by the Apostle Paul, they took the name (episcopoi) bishops, a term more significant of their office, in the language generally spoken by the members of these churches. The name of presbyters denoted the dignity of their office: that of bishops, on the other hand, was expressive rather of the nature of their office, to take the oversight of the Church. Most certainly no other distinction originally existed between them." "They were not designed to exercise absolute authority, but to act as presiding officers and guides of an ecclesiastical republic; to conduct all things with the cooperation of the communities; as their ministers, and not as their masters." "I can discover no other difference between the elders and bishops, in the Apostolic age, than that the first denotes the dignity, the second the duties of the office, whether the reference is to one or more." —Ch. Hist. Vol. I., p. 584; Plant, and Train, p. 147; Intro. to Coleman's Prim. Ch., p., 20; Plant, and Train, p. 148.


"The rulers of the churches were denominated sometimes presbyters or elders — a designation borrowed from the Jews, and indicative rather of the wisdom than the age of the persons; and sometimes also bishops; for it is most manifest that both terms are promiscuously used in the New Testament of one and the same class of persons." "In those primitive times each Christian Church was composed of the people. the presiding officers, and the assistants or deacons.
   These must be the component parts of every society. The principal voice was that of the people; or of the whole body of Christians." — Eccl. Hist. Cent. I. part 2, Ch. II.. secs. ,5, 8.


"It is also true that in the earliest government of the first Christian Society — that of Jerusalem, not the elders only but the whole Church, were associated with the Apostles; and it is even certain that the terms bishop and elder, or presbyter, were in the first instance, and for a short period, sometimes used synonymously, and indiscriminately applied to the same order in the ministry." —Hist. Ch., chap. II., sec. 2.


"The new churches everywhere formed themselves on the model of the mother Church at Jerusalem. At the head of each were the elders (presbyter, bishop), all officially of equal rank, though in several instances a peculiar authority seems to have been conceded to some one individual, from personal considerations." —Ch. Hist., Period I., div. I., chap. II., sec. 29.


"It is generally admitted by Episcopal writers on this subject that in the New Testament, and in the earliest ecclesiastical writers the terms bishop and presbyter, or elder, are synonymous, and denote one and the same office." "The office of presbyter was undeniably identical with that of bishop, as has been shown above." "Only two orders of officers are known in the Church until near the close of the second century. Those of the first are styled either bishop or presbyters; of the second, deacons. "—Ancient Christianity Exemplified, chap. VIII., sec. 6; chap. VI., sec. j.

This author still further cites many of the early Christian Fathers, who took the same view of the subject, declaring that only two orders existed in the primitive ministry, and that all pastors were of equal rank among themselves. Of these writers are: Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenius, Jerome, Chrysostom, Theodoret and others; authorities extending from A. D. 100 to A. D. 1000, and nearly all of them defenders of prelatical supremacy.

DR. JACOBS, an Anglican churchman, says:

"The only bishops mentioned in the New Testament were simple presbyters; the same persons being called bishop (episcopos), superintendent, overseer, from his taking an oversight of his congregation, as is distinctly shown by Acts 20:28 and other passages; and a presbyter (presbuteros) or elder, from the reverence due to age. It may, however, be observed that the term elder is of Hebrew origin, while that of bishop is Hellenic, and is applied in the New Testament only to the officers of Gentile churches, though it did not supersede the use of the word presbyter among them." —Eccl. Polity of N. T., pp. 72-3.

SCHAFF says:

"Bishops or presbyters. These two terms denote in the New Testament the same office: the first signifying its duties; the second, its dignity." —Hist. Christ. Ch., First period, sec. 42, 5.

KURTZ says:

"That originally the presbuteroi (elders) were the same as the episcopoi (bishops), we gather with absolute certainty from the statements of the New Testament, and of Clement of Rome, a disciple of the Apostles." —Textbook of Ch. Hist,, Vol. I., p. 67.


"Until we approach the close of Elizabeth's reign there is no trace in the Anglican Church of the juri divino idea of episcopacy—the doctrine that bishops are necessary to the being of a Church, and that without Episcopal ordination the functions of the ministry cannot be lawfully discharged."—. History Christ. Church, p. 373.

PROF. PLUMPTRE, a Church of England clergyman, and a prominent biblical scholar, declares the identity of episcopos and presbuteros in New Testament usage, and adduces four reasons from the Acts and the Epistles for this opinion. To his statement and proofs he adds: "Assuming, as proved, the identity of bishops and elder: of the New Testament, we have to inquire into: 1. The relations which existed between the two titles. 2. The functions and mode of appointment of the men to whom both titles applied. 3. Their relations to the general government and discipline of the Church." —Smith's Bible Dict., Art, Bishop.


"The identity of the office of bishop and presbyter being thus clearly established, it follows that the presbyterate is the highest permanent office in the Church, and that every faithful pastor of a flock is successor to the Apostles in everything in which they were to have any successors." —Art. Presbyterian.


"There is no scriptural difference between bishop and presbyter." Furthermore, the same competent authority adds: "To this purpose the declaration made of the functions of bishops and priests, signed by more than thirty civilians and divines, among whom were thirteen bishops, Cranmer and others included, affirm that in the New Testament there is no mention of any degrees or distinctions in orders, but only of deacons, or ministers, and priests or bishops. "—Arts. Bishop and Presbyter.

In Acts 20:17 it is stated that Paul called together the elders (presbyters) of the Ephesian Church. But in Acts 20:18, he calls these same persons bishops (overseers). In this case both terms were applied to the same office, and were used interchangeably to designate the same officer.


"The E. V. has hardly dealt fairly in this case with the sacred text in rendering episcopous, v. 28, overseers; whereas, it ought there, as in all other places, to have been bishops, that the fact of elders and bishops having been originally and apostolically synonymous, might be apparent to the English reader." —Com. on Acts, 20:17. "The episcopoi of the N. T. have nothing in common with our bishops." "The identity of the episcopos and presbuteros in apostolic times is evident, from Titus 1:5-7." —Com. on I Tim 3:1.

PAUL and TIMOTHY, in their address to the Philippian Christians, specify three classes as composing the Church, and manifestly consider these as constituting the entire body. They say: "... to all the saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:" — Phil. 1:1. Saints, bishops and deacons, therefore, comprised the entire membership—the whole Church. Bishops and pastors were identical.

TIMOTHY is instructed by Paul as to the qualifications necessary for those who should be chosen as pastors and placed over the churches. These officers are called bishops. Particular directions are given as to the choice of bishops and deacons, but no mention is here made of elders or presbyters, clearly because they were the same as bishops. — I Tim. 3:1—10.


TITUS is in like manner directed by Paul to place pastors over the churches in Crete. These pastors he calls elders in the fifth verse and bishops in the seventh. Here both terms are applied to the same persons, and must indicate the same office.—Titus 1:5, 7.

But little discussion would be needed on a question so clear, at least when viewed from the position of the apostolical epistles, were it not for the pertinacity with which the somewhat arrogant, and not seldom offensive assumption is put forth by Episcopal denominations — both clergy and laity — that there are no genuine churches save those duly organized with three orders in their ministry, and no scripturally ordained ministers except such as have been ordained by the imposition of hands by Episcopal bishops, as a superior order of the clergy. How groundless and absurd such lofty pretensions are, let any careful reader of the New Testament judge. The "historic episcopate" finds no foundation and no warrant in the New Testament. During their lifetime the Apostles would, of necessity, be regarded with peculiar veneration, as having been the companions of, and received their appointment directly from, Christ Himself; and, also, as having been specially inspired and qualified for their work. But in all of this, they had no successors. After their death, such pastors as had associated with them, or had been appointed to office by them, would, for that reason, receive special regard from the churches and the younger ministry, and this special regard might deepen into reverence so profound as to concede them a foremost official position—a kind of patriarchal attitude among the churches, with a larger dignity of office and a larger liberty of action than was allowed to others. This in time could easily lead to the recognition of a higher rank and a superior order in the ministry.

Moreover, in process of time, as the first planted churches in the more important cities grew older and stronger, they might readily claim, and have accorded to them, a preeminence over the newer and feebler- especially the suburban and rural churches. In like manner the pastors of the older city churches could, without difficulty, assume a preeminence over the pastors of the smaller churches about them. In this way grew up the rule of the metropolitan churches over the provincial churches, and the authority assumed by the pastors of the former over their brethren in humbler positions, resulting finally in a clerical caste, or higher order of the clergy.

GIESELER, in his history of the Church, declares that:

"After the death of the Apostles and their pupils, to whom the general direction of the churches had always been conceded, some one among the presbyters of each Church was suffered gradually to take the lead in its affairs. In the same irregular way the title of bishop was appropriated by this first presbyter." —Ch. Hist., Period I., div. I., chap. III.. sec. 32.

To the same effect is the testimony of Neander and nearly all early Church historians, including many prelatists. Moreover, it appears that each Church usually contained several elders, and the one among them who presided in their meetings, and, whether for age or ability, was more prominent, would come to be recognized as peculiarly the episcopos, though all were of equal rank. Thus gradually matured, through a course of years, either because of assumption on the one hand, or of concession on the other, or of both, that vast, complicated and despotical system of ecclesiastical domination and hierarchical tyranny, which culminated in the oppressive rule of the Greek and Roman establishments, falsely called churches. This broad departure from apostolic practice, and from the order and simplicity of the Gospel, was natural, though unfortunate, and no imitation of it, however remote, should be countenanced or continued now. Its course of evil progress is easily traced in history, and generally conceded by scholars and divines. Not the less to be deplored that it was begun soon after the Apostles and their immediate successors had ceased to watch over and guide, by their wisdom and piety, the churches they had planted.



The Pastorate and the Ministry are related, but not identical. A pastor is a minister, but a minister is not necessarily a pastor. The minister is the kerux, the herald, who preaches the Gospel, who proclaims the glad tidings to men. The pastor is the poimen, who folds and feeds and leads the flock. The pastor has the care of a Church; the minister is a preacher, and may or may not have the care of a Church. James is understood to have been pastor of the Church in Jerusalem; but Paul and Barnabas, Apollos and Cephas preached the Gospel from place to place, as ambassadors of Christ and heralds of the great salvation, planting churches and setting in order affairs, but without a local and permanent cure of souls.

In our time — though we have evangelists, missionaries and other ministerial service without pastoral responsibility — yet, for the most part, ministerial service is identified with the pastorate. It may be, as some have supposed, that in primitive times, when in each Church the Spirit developed a plurality of ministers, some — according to their peculiar gifts and graces — devoted themselves especially to pastoral work, as each Church might desire or have need, and some to preaching only, or chiefly. Certainly, in all ages, some have been better adapted to the one department of the ministry, and some to the other. Thus could the churches have the largest amount and the best application of the ministerial service, and be most edified.

The present discussion will be confined to the pastorate, its functions and relations, leaving a more general consideration of the ministry to another chapter.


I. Nature of the pastor's work

The religious cultivation of his Church and congregation constitutes the peculiar work of the pastor. It is the shepherding of the flock. He is not to be indifferent to their temporal interests, but their spiritual welfare is his special charge. He is to be the ever ready, sympathizing and helpful friend to all; but his endeavors should aim at, and be made subservient to, the ultimate purpose of the Gospel— to win souls to Christ, and edify the saints. The details of his work will be manifold; and while he should not assume too many duties, or take responsibilities alien to his proper calling, he must not too hastily repulse those who repose confidence in him, and whom he may be able in many ways to benefit by a variety of service.

The pulpit will constitute the stronghold of his power on his congregation and the community. For though a pastor, he must still be a preacher, a Gospel herald to his flock. The minister is, perhaps, first of all, a teacher. Therefore he must not neglect his preparations for the pulpit. If he cannot hold the people by his preaching, he cannot in any other way. Many devices may be resorted to, to draw and hold an audience, some of which deserve no better name than tricks, which if they serve their purpose at all, are short-lived, and fail utterly to command the confidence of thoughtful people. For, while some men have not, and cannot have the same attractive power in the pulpit as others, yet sound Gospel sermons, ably prepared, and earnestly delivered, constitute the only kind of pulpit service which can long commend itself to the consciences of the people. He who neglects his pulpit preparations for any cause whatever, will find frequent pastoral changes to be imperative— and possibly, not always in the most pleasant way. The same will be true of him who relies on a facility for extemporaneous discourse, under the inspiration of a present audience, to the neglect of previous careful preparation.

Emphasis must also be laid on pastoral visitation. Here peculiarly he is the pastor. He may not visit so much as many would wish. Some are never satisfied. Nor should he visit to the detriment of his pulpit preparation. Since, according to the present constitution of religious society, the Christian minister is expected to fill the twofold office of preacher and pastor, he should labor to discharge the functions of both, with the greatest possible fidelity and success, giving to each conscientiously its appropriate share of his ability. He must know his people in their homes; must know their joys and sorrows as they themselves will relate them. They must know him, as they cannot know him in the pulpit simply. Both he and they miss boundless good, if this be not done. These visits should be brief and religious. They should not degenerate into social chit-chat, or even into religious gossip. They must not be morose nor melancholy, but genial, gentle and sympathetic. Young ministers may find it hard work, and dread it as a drudgery; but they will come to feel differently when for a few times they have been able to comfort the sorrowing, relieve the burdened, and know the luxury of doing good to those in trouble. It would not be just nor true to say, that the pastor's sphere is exclusively the spiritual life of the Church, while the deacons are assigned to its temporalities. The pastor has the oversight and superintendence of all the interests of the Church, and of' all departments of its work, both spiritual and temporal. And while he should not lord it over God's heritage, he should feel himself responsible for the guardianship and watch-care of all with which he is put in trust. Nor should he needlessly interfere with the deacons, or trustees, or Sunday school workers, nor assume dictatorial authority over others in their service. Yet it is his privilege and his duty to hold a watchful supervision over all, that all may be done to the edifying of the body of Christ. The pastor should have great care for the religious culture of children and the youth. But not to the neglect of others. Class distinctions are invidious, unhappy in their influence in a Church, and should never be encouraged, or countenanced. As this is not a treatise on pastoral duties, it need be pursued no further than to say, the pastorate should be assumed, not of constraint, nor for selfish ends, but out of love to Christ, and for the triumphs of His truth.

N0TE.—Ministers are not priests in any ecclesiastical sense to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, or propitiate an offended Deity; nor yet do they mediate between God and men, as is taught by the Romish, and other sacramentarian communions. They cannot consecrate elements, and have no exclusive right to the ministration of sacraments— indeed, there are no sacraments, in the commonly understood sense of that term, as means which in themselves effectually convey grace. The minister is not a priest, save in that sense in which all true Christians constitute a "royal priesthood." Sainthood, therefore, without distinction of rank or office, constitutes a spiritual priesthood. Thus also said Peter to the elect believers, scattered abroad. "Ye also as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ." "A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people..."— I Peter 2:5, 9. Christ Jesus, the Great High Priest of our profession, is the one only mediator between God and men.


2. How pastors are obtained

If it be asked how the churches are to secure pastors, the reply is, by election, as the free choice of the people, in each individual Church. It is an essential part of the independency of the churches, the right to choose their pastors and teachers; and that no individual, or combination of men, can appoint pastors over them, or compel a Church to accept as officers those whom they have not chosen by their free suffrages. This is the polity of the New Testament, and has ever been the usage of our people. A free people demand and maintain the right to choose their own rulers. They may ask, or accept advice; but no man is a pastor to any people until he has been chosen by a majority vote of that Church. Nor does it require the consent of any synod, presbytery or council for him to enter at once upon the duties of the office. Primarily and properly, though not necessarily, the pastor is chosen from among the members, after the Church has had evidence that the Spirit had called to, and fitted him for, the work of the ministry; and after having abundant evidence of his adaptation to the position. But if not a member of that particular Church, he should become such before entering upon his official duties as pastor of it.

The selection and election of a pastor is one of the most important acts — if not the most important — pertaining to the independency of the Church. The interest of the body, and the welfare of religion depend so largely on it, that it should be entered upon with the utmost care, deliberation and prayer — prayer for divine direction. That a wise and safe leader, an able and instructing teacher, a devout, spiritual and holy man may be secured for the sacred office, and that the choice be influenced by no carnal ambition, by no personal prejudices, and for no selfish ends. When the choice is made, and the pastor secured, then let him be received, loved, supported, honored and obeyed, as one sent of God for this sacred work.

And let it be further considered that no man can do of himself all that is desired and expected of a pastor. He must not only have divine help, but he must have the sympathy, cooperation, and prayers of the Church. Some miserable failures in the ministry are due to the faults of the ministers themselves; still more are due to the churches, which too often abuse what they professed was the gift of God, when they secured their pastors.


3. The Pastor's Authority

The pastor is to be loved, honored and obeyed, in the Lord. He is placed over the Church by both the Head of the body, and by the free and voluntary act of the body itself. Though he professes no magisterial authority, and has no power, either spiritual or temporal, to enforce mandates or inflict penalties, yet the very position he occupies as teacher and leader supposes authority vested in him. On the one hand, the minister is not to be regarded with ignorant and blind devotion, as if possessed of superhuman attributes, whose official acts must be venerated even though his private life be scandalous; nor yet, on the other hand, is he to be considered a mere puppet for the capricious mistreatment of such as wish to show their independence, and "use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness."

As a rule, the pastor who maintains a dignified and consistent Christian and ministerial life, commending himself to the confidence of the people, will receive all the deference he desires, and will have accorded to him all that personal respect and official reverence which he needs to claim. His authority will be a moral force, to which those who love and honor him will yield. He need not worry and fret because he does not receive the respect which he thinks his due. Let him command it by his character and deportment. He may too much attempt to enforce his authority. As a preacher of the gospel his authority is of another and a higher kind, in that he is an ambassador from the king, and speaks with an authority more than human. True, his words, even in the pulpit, are not beyond question, since they are to be judged by the infallible standard of the word of God. But in the administration of Church affairs he should secure the cooperation of his members, and gain his object by reason and persuasion, rather than attempt to force compliance by authoritative dictation.


4. Length of the Pastorate

The spirit of Christian liberty, and the voluntary principle on which all Christian institutions should be supported, control the relations of pastor and people. There is no power that can compel a Church to accept a pastor, or a pastor to accept a Church. The relation is formed by mutual agreement between them. And when once formed, the relation can be dissolved by no external authority, civil or ecclesiastical, but by the mutual consent of the parties themselves. In some of the other denominations, where ecclesiastical systems instead of Church independency prevail, the relations of the pastorate are regulated by higher official authority, instead of by the mutual agreement of the parties. Even there, however, the free spirit of religious life manifests itself, indirectly, if not directly, and the churches do not quietly consent to receive pastors unwelcome to them, nor to retain them when the relation becomes irksome, notwithstanding the action of bishops, conferences, or presbyteries.

The ideal pastorate is, no doubt, life-long; but in practical life this is seldom realized. In theory there is something beautiful in the case of a minister who spends his whole life among the same people, loved, honored and venerated till his death; around whom the new generation grows up as his supporters, when the fathers have passed away. Honored by his compeers, loved by the young, venerated by the children, he becomes the typical patriarch and shepherd of the flock. Such things have been; but seldom can they now be found — certainly not in our denomination.* And perhaps, on the whole, it may be just as well. The restless spirit of a headlong age and a busy life demands change — change in hope of progress, but change at any rate. The romance of a beautiful theory cannot control the activities of society, not even in Christian circles, since there, also, a carnal, utilitarian spirit is likely to rule.

* [Ed. Note: This may still be true in other Baptist circles, including the American Baptists, but among the Independent, non-denominational, non-Protestant Churches it is still frequently seen that pastors devote their whole lives to one Church.  This is the ideal still aimed for and often realized among Independent Baptists.]

It is unquestionably true that the long pastorates have their trials no less severe — sometimes more painful — than short ones. The pastor has more than once seen the time when, restless and uneasy, he would gladly have resigned, had any eligible field elsewhere opened for him. And the Church has more than once seen the time when it would have rejoiced at a change, but had too much regard for him, and too much respect for themselves, to force a change. Many a pastor, who has the faculty of "holding on," has outlived his usefulness on a given field, either because devoted to the theory of long pastorates, or because he saw no way to better his situation; and that, too, very likely, when he knew the people would be quite willing for a change. Quite willing for a change for the sake of the cause, though they loved and honored him.

Quite as unfortunate in its effects, and more frequently than long and fruitless pastorates, is the sudden and hasty change so often made by many, and sometimes on the most trivial occasion. There are in every Church, most likely, mischief-makers, whose influence is chiefly felt in opposing others and stirring up strife. Let a pastor possess his soul in patience, and not be made unhappy by every little cross current in his affairs. But if any considerable number of his kind, prudent and judicious brethren think a change is desirable; or if he himself, after long and prayerful consideration, believes it his duty to leave, let him act accordingly. But let a minister flee "Church quarrels" as he would a pestilence. He may not be responsible for them, but if he becomes involved in them, though the merits of the case may be on his side, yet he cannot remain to fight them out without suffering more in peace of mind and reputation than any victory he can win will be worth. Let him retire to more quiet fields, where he can live in peace and do good without conflict, and leave the fighting to those who have less at stake. The world is wide, and he can do good and be happy in many another field.


Pastoral Support

A pastor should be well and generously supported as to his salary, according to the ability of the Church he serves. Few things exhibit the essential meanness of human nature — Christian human nature even — more clearly than for a people to stint and crowd a pastor down to the smallest pittance, while they have an abundance, or live in affluence. The true minister of Christ will cheerfully share necessities with his people. But it is cruel and contemptible for them to lade him with heavy burdens which they are not willing to help him bear. He will not expect to live up to the standard of the wealthiest; he ought not to be expected to live down to the standard of the poorest. And if there be one thing more dishonorable than cramping him to the smallest amount of salary, it is that refinement of cruelty of not paying him the salary agreed upon, when it is due, compelling him to endure the shame and grief of living in debt, unable to pay for the necessaries of life, while they have an abundance. When the Church extends a call they name the amount they are willing to pay. Of course it is optional with him whether to accept the call on such conditions. If he does, he cannot find fault that they give no more. Unless, indeed, as is not unfrequently the case, they delude him with the promise that they will increase the amount the next year; a promise often made, but very seldom kept. But let the stipulated sum be regularly and promptly paid, otherwise he will not be able promptly to pay his debts, and his reputation will be compromised, and his character imperiled. It is a fearfully bad and injurious thing for a clergyman to get the name of not paying his debts. In the payment of salary, never allow donations and personal presents to be counted. It is little less than an insult to ask a minister to discount his salary for a bushel of potatoes, a bag of meal, or a barrel of apples. These personal presents are of value in the family; can often be made without sacrifice, and will go far to eke out a scanty support. But let them be personal presents and the salary come by itself, in full tale, and promptly. It may be added also, with propriety, that a minister devoted to Christian work should not engage in secular employments simply for the purpose of making money. But if the Church cannot, or will not, support him in comfort, he may, if opportunity offers, add by the labors of his hands what will relieve himself and family from want — as Paul sustained himself by tent-making that he might the better preach the Gospel.


6. The Pastor a Peacemaker

Troubles in Church life unfortunately do sometimes arise. And whether the pastor be the cause, or only the victim of them, he always more or less suffers from them. Very many of these troubles are no doubt to be charged upon pastors themselves. If they do not originate them, their indiscreet and unwise management and partisan conduct foment instead of allaying dissension. Some pastors, like some private members, are imprudent, irascible, impetuous and severe. It is not wise to give heed to everything said and done. Many exasperating things are cured or conquered by letting them alone. A minister of the Gospel, of all men, should be a peacemaker. He should soothe and heal. It is better for himself and better for all concerned. He must "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." Of course he has his rights, which are not to be lightly invaded; he is not required to be trifled with, or trampled on, for the sport of the envious or the vile. But he is to be an example to the flock in patient endurance.

On the other hand, the Church should carefully guard the reputation and the feelings of their pastor, and not allow the gossip loving or the envious to assail him. His people are bound to protect him. If he be in fault, let them tell him so, and win him from his mistakes. A pastor ought not to be compelled to stand guard as a watchful sentinel over his own good name, to defend it against the idle but wicked calumnies of mischievous tongues. There ought to be advocates and defenders on every side. Ordinarily there will be. Both pastor and people should regard all dissension and strife with so much dread as to check it by any amount of effort and sacrifice at the very beginning. If, however, it defies all attempts at repression, and involves the peace and harmony of the Church, the pastor will find it wise to flee from the windy storm, and serve the cause he loves in some more quiet sphere.

Churches cannot be expected to prosper, or the Gospel to have free course, while rent by dissension and strife, especially if it be strife connected with, or on account of the pastor. The philosophy of spiritual and religious growth is the same now as at first, when this record was made: "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied."v—Acts 9:31.

NOTE 1.—Great care is needed in the selection of a pastor. Grave interests are committed to his charge, as the religious teacher, leader, and example for the flock. Very serious responsibility devolves on the deacons and leading members of the Church especially. An act so vitally connected with the welfare of the cause and the spread of the Gospel, should be preceded by, and accompanied with, earnest and protracted prayer for divine direction in the choice.

NOTE 2.—In calling a man to the pastorate, the Church should take deliberate care to know his record; what he has done elsewhere, and how he is esteemed and valued where he has previously lived and labored. It is a piece of reckless folly, of which churches are often guilty—and for which they justly suffer—that on the credit of a few flashy or fascinating sermons, wholly ignorant of his private character and of his ministerial history, they call and settle a pastor. A man of deep piety, thoroughly in love with the word of God, is much to be preferred to the brilliant platform declaimer.

NOTE 3.—If a young man without a record is called to be ordained and begin his pastorate, his reputation for piety, sound sense, and pulpit ability should be carefully considered and well understood. If he be of the right spirit and the right material, he will grow into larger usefulness through study, the endowment of the Spirit, and the prayers of the people.

NOTE 4.—In giving a call, the Church usually appoints a meeting for that express purpose, notice being publicly given two Sundays in succession, the purpose of the meeting being distinctly stated in the notice, and a three quarters vote of all present at such a meeting should be deemed essential to a call. Certainly no prudent or self respecting man would accept a call on anything less than that. Nor even on that if but a very small number are opposed to him. Such meeting should be managed with Christian sincerity, without caucusing or partisanship for the purpose of electing a favorite man. The candidate should be informed exactly how the vote stands, and what the feeling toward him is, concealing nothing. Let there be transparent honesty in so delicate and important a matter, and no deception practiced.

NOTE 5.—The connection between pastor and people is sometimes made for a specified and limited time. But more generally—now almost universally— for an indefinite time, to be dissolved at the option of either party, by giving three months notice; or otherwise by mutual agreement. Permanency in this relation is greatly to he desired, as tending to the best good of all concerned, if it be the permanency of active concord. Trifling disadvantages are better endured than remedied at the expense of more serious evils, which frequent changes seldom fail to bring to both pastor and people.

NOTE 6.—The too common practice of hearing many candidates preach on trial cannot be approved, and usually works evil to the Church which indulges in it. A few sermons preached under such circumstances form no just criterion of a man's ministerial ability, pastoral qualifications, or personal worth. If the churches wish to avoid men unsuited to them, and especially if they wish to escape the plague of unworthy men in their pulpits, they must use more caution in the calling and settlement of pastors.

NOTE 7.—Is it right for one Church to call a pastor away from another Church? Merely to call a man would be neither wrong nor   dishonorable—would violate no law of personal courtesy or of Christian comity as among the churches. Let the responsibility, then, rest with him of accepting or declining the call. But if one Church should use other means to unsettle him by arguments, persuasions, and the offer of special inducements, it would be both unchristian and dishonorable. It would surely not be doing as they would wish to be done by.



The term deacon (diakonos) in the New Testament means a minister; a servant; one who ministers to, or serves others. This, taken in a large sense, gives a very wide range of meaning to the word. It is applied to the Apostles and even to Christ himself. In ecclesiastical usage however, it designates an officer in the Church. But precisely what relation the diaconate sustains to the Church and the pastorate is a matter of opinion or of interpretation, in respect to which men differ.

Those who favor prelatical forms of Church organization and government, claim, as has been heretofore stated, a threefold ministry, and demand an episcopate, a pastorate, and a diaconate. The deacon, then, is the first and lowest order of the ministry. But Presbyterian and Independent Churches reject the episcopate, holding that bishop and pastor are the same, and the deaconship does not constitute an order in the ministry, taking that word in its ordinary sense, though the deacon be in the primitive sense a minister, but a minister of temporalities, and a helper to the pastor in his ministry of the Word.


1. Their Origin

The diaconate is usually supposed to have originated in the election of the Seven, as helpers to the Apostles, recorded in Acts 6:1-6; though they were not called deacons. Some, however, have regarded the election of the Seven as a temporary expedient to meet that special emergency, and claim that they had no successors. But inasmuch as a similar service in Church work became permanent, similar help would be permanently needed. Also since the Apostle subsequently recognized the office in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, giving specific directions as to the qualifications necessary for those who should fill it, we are in no great perplexity as to the fact or the nature of the diaconate as permanent in the churches.

Subsequent to the Pentecost, the large ingathering of converts had so multiplied the number, that the care of the needy among them and such temporal concerns as were a necessity, became a burden to the Apostles, so great as seriously to interfere with their spiritual duties in the ministry of the word. Hence, having called the multitude of the disciples together, they explained the matter and requested them to select "seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" to whom this service should be committed, that they themselves (the Apostles) might "give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." This request was complied with and seven men selected, whom the Apostles set apart to the work for which they were chosen, by prayer and the laying on of hands.


2. Their Duties

They are to be chosen by a free vote of the Church — "the multitude of the disciples"—and are to be faithful, prudent, experienced, and devout men. They are to have charge of the sick and needy members, and whatever temporal affairs may require attention. They are also to act as counselors and assistants of the pastor in advancing the general interests of the body, both temporal and spiritual. Of the original seven, Philip and Stephen were most effective preachers of the Gospel, but it was not for this they were specially chosen. With many of our churches the deaconship has come to be a merely nominal affair, regarded as of small importance, and accomplishing a questionable service, This ought not so to be.


3. Their Number

The number of deacons in a Church is a matter discretionary with the body. Usually it is from two to seven, according to the conditions and necessities of the case; the latter being the original scriptural number, many unwisely consider it needful to have seven, whether the Church be large or small. Deacons, however, should not be appointed merely to keep the ranks full, nor as official ornaments, but only for real and needed service to be rendered by them. And the men appointed should be fit men for that service.


4. Their Time of Service

The period of time for which they are chosen, as well as the number, is discretionary with the Church, since no scriptural precept or precedent directs. More commonly they have been chosen for an indefinite period, which was substantially for life, unless they resigned, died, or removed. * But since it not infrequently happens that persons in the office become inefficient and sometimes obstructive, the practice of electing them for a limited period has come to be quite prevalent; generally for three years. In this way the office expires by limitation, and if better men are available they can be chosen without offense.

Which is the better rule, each Church must judge for itself. Other things being equal, permanency in this as well as in the pastoral office, usually tends to secure a higher regard for the office itself and greater usefulness on the part of those who fill it.


5. Their Ordination

The Seven were set apart to the discharge of their duties by prayer and the laying on of hands by the Apostles, as indicating the sacred and important duties committed to them. In our older churches this practice was carefully adhered to, as it still is by some, particularly at the South. But in many parts, of late, it has fallen very much into disuse, and the diaconate is regarded as little more than a Committee service. The office is coming to be far too little esteemed, and the scriptural qualifications of the men chosen, too little insisted on. Ordination, if generally practiced, would invest both with more importance. Too much care cannot be taken to secure the right kind of men for the office, when we consider that the permanent influence of a deacon is scarcely surpassed by that of the pastor himself. A good deacon is a peculiar blessing both to the pastor and the Church.

NOTE 1.—Notice that the deaconship was not instituted by Christ, but by the Apostles, and grew out of the emergencies of the case. The fact that Paul subsequently recognized the office and specified the qualifications which the incumbents should possess, shows that it was to remain a part of the permanent constitution of the churches.

NOTE 2,—The Seven were elected by the Church, that is by "the multitude of the disciples;" they were chosen from among their own number, but their setting apart or designation to their work was by the Apostles with prayer and the laying on of hands. This is called their ordination, and gave added importance and impressiveness to the office, and the work to which they were chosen.

NOTE 3.—It deserves notice that while no instance is found in the New Testament in which any preacher of the Gospel was inducted into his office by formal ordination or by any ceremony whatever—hands were laid on Paul and Barnabas when sent to the heathen, but they had then been in the ministry many years— now ceremonial ordination to the ministry is strenuously insisted on.* And yet, while we have primitive precedent for formal ordination of deacons, now that ceremony is very generally disregarded.

* [Ed. Note: Ordination to the ministry is not to be confused with ordination to the pastorate.  Men are ordained to the ministry, and there is scriptural precedent for that ordination (see the epistles of I Timothy and Titus).  However, that is not to be confused with ordination to the pastorate.  The latter, ordination to the pastorate finds no scriptural precedent.  Although most churches desire, and many require, that the man selected to be the pastor be an ordained minister, which is what bro. Hiscox is discussing here, that is quite a different thing than requiring that they have been "ordained to the pastorate."]

NOTE 4.—The qualifications made requisite for the office sufficiently indicate its importance, and the care with which it should be filled. "Men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom." Indeed, these qualifications differ but slightly from those required for bishops or pastors.

NOTE 5..—It is evident from the character of the Seven, and the personal history of some of them subsequently, that while their specific official duties were the temporalities of the Church, yet at the same time they were foremost as counselors and coadjutors with the Apostles in the spiritual interests as well. Having been among the most devout, prudent, and faithful before their election, and as the reason for their election, they would not be less so afterward. Such are the men for the office.

NOTE 6.—Some people and some churches seem to think, that about the only duty of a deacon is to pass the elements at the celebration of the Supper. And so the office becomes almost a nullity. Any one on whom the pastor may call can pass the elements. The original "serving of tables" was quite a different work from this. The diaconate implies a substantial and an important service in the Church of which the serving at the Supper is a proper, but only an incidental adjunct. If their practical relations to the Church be reduced to this, they may well be considered as little more than an ornamental appendage to an organization.

NOTE 7.—The secular concerns of the Church, including its financial affairs, would seem legitimately to be embraced in the duties of the deaconship according to the original purpose, as belonging to its temporalities, but now these matters are usually committed to an entirely different class of men known as trustees, elected under the specific direction of State laws.*

* [Ed. Note: It would seem that the most scriptural handling of the matter of "trustees" would be to use only those who were already deacons as trustees.  However, this may not be possible at the institution of a church because there may be no deacons at the outset.]

NOTE 8.—Deacons should be watchful guardians of the purity and good order of the churches, striving to maintain a healthful tone of piety and Christian activity in the body. But they do not constitute a coordinate branch for the administration of its government, and in the exercise of their functions must act only in conjunction with the pastor, not independent of him; possibly, except in very rare and urgent cases. Hence, while it is desirable for the pastor to have meetings with his deacons often or statedly for consultation and advice, it is not proper for them to hold meetings as a "board of deacons," independent of and without the advice of the pastor, as sometimes is done.

NOTE 9.—In the absence of a pastor it becomes the duty of the deacons to conduct the devotional meetings, provide for the supply of the pulpit and administer the affairs of the body generally. In case there be no pastor it would be legitimate for them to bring before the Church, as by them directed, such persons as were deemed suitable candidates for the pastorate. But this is often, perhaps usually, performed by a "pulpit committee" appointed for that purpose.

NOTE 10. *[see Ed. Note below] —The deacons' wives (gunaikos), mentioned in I Tim. 3:2, were probably not the wives of deacons, as has usually been inferred, but deaconesses or female assistants, appointed by the churches to minister to the sick and perform other services to those of their own sex, which could with more propriety be done by them than by the deacons or other male members A few churches retain the practice; and since female members in all the churches are the more numerous, and as a rule, the more efficient in charitable ministrations, it is difficult to see why such a class of helpers, more or less formally designated for Christian work, should not be continued in our churches.

* [Ed. Note: An analysis of both the Greek Text and the English translation drawn from it shows that this note puts forth a view that is unscriptural.  Context as well as choice and arrangement of language demands the understanding that the wives spoken of in I Tim 3:2 were the wives of the deacons and not separate female persons acting as deaconesses as brother Hoscox has stated as a probability. However, because this segment was a part of the original work by bro. Hiscox, it has been left in the textbook only to show that this view is erroneously held by some groups; but a word of negation was deemed necessary because of the true scriptural teachings in the matter.]


The above named officers constitute a twofold ministry for the churches, and all that are provided for by the New Testament economy, and all that are necessary to the best organization and highest efficiency of these bodies, since all the functions essential to a working Church may be efficiently discharged by these alone. Yet it is usual to supplement these by several called "Church officers," merely as a matter of convenience or of expediency.

* [Ed. Note: Again it would seem that the most scriptural handling of the matter of "other officers" would be to use only those who were already deacons as trustees.  However, this may not be possible at the institution of a church because there may be no deacons at the outset.]

Thus a clerk is appointed to take minutes and preserve records of its business proceedings, with all other papers belonging to the body. A treasurer is chosen to hold, disburse, and account for moneys for Church purposes. In most of the States, if not all, trustees are elected, as required by law, according to specified procedure, in order legally to hold property and rightly to administer its financial affairs. But the duties of these various offices could well be performed by the deacons and constitute a part of their appropriate work. Yet it may be right and wise to distribute the labors of the Church among its members, all the more so if those better fitted for these peculiar services can be found. Especially should the requirements of civil law be conceded, as in the case of trustees, in order to enjoy the legal rights of corporate bodies as property holders.

Note 1. .—The laws for the incorporation of religious societies differ in the different States. In some the Church itself can become an incorporate body, and thus control and administer its temporal affairs as it does the spiritual, without interference by any persons not Church members. This is right, and, according to the independent theory of Baptist Church government, they ought everywhere to be able to do this. In other States the corporate body is a society composed of all attendants who are regular contributors, whether members of the Church or not. This admits persons not Christians to participation in the management of Church affairs. Though usually no harm arises, yet harm is always liable to arise and the theory is wrong. Still, the churches should conform to the legal requisitions of the States where they are located.

NOTE 2.—Trustees are really a standing committee, appointed for a specific purpose. And since the Church is the responsible and authoritative body, even though there be a society, the trustees should hold themselves bound by every consideration of morality and honor to carry out the wishes of the Church and to act under their instructions, whatever technical rights civil laws and the decisions of courts may give them in certain emergencies.

NOTE 3.—The trustees have a treasurer through whose hands pass the funds for current expenses, including pastor's salary and other items, provided for by *1 pew rents, subscription, and gifts for these uses. It is customary also to have a Church treasurer, usually one of the deacons, who receives and disburses, as directed, funds for benevolent purposes, moneys for the needy, and other uses not included in current expenses, or for care of the property.*2

* [Ed. Notes:  1. "pew rents" is an outmoded means of raising funds that is no longer practiced - it has been replaced by the scriptural precept of "tithing" which is taught in the scriptures and practiced by bible-believing churches.  2. Today there is usually but one treasurer for all of the finances of the church rather than one for the deacons and one for the church in general.]



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Christian ordinances are defined to be "institutions of divine authority relating to the worship of God, under the Christian Dispensation." In this general sense there are various ordinances; since preaching and hearing the word, prayer, singing, fasting, and thanksgiving may all be considered as institutions of divine authority.

But in a narrower and a more distinctive sense it has been common to call Baptism and the Lord's Supper by this name, and to say they are the only Christian ordinances committed to the churches, and are for perpetual observance. These rites are also by some called sacraments,* the number of which the Catholic Church has increased to seven, including, with Baptism and the Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Matrimony, and Orders. But in the sense in which the Roman and Greek Churches explain the meaning of sacrament, to which meaning other ritualistic churches do strongly incline, Baptism and the Supper are not sacraments at all. Sacraments, by them, are interpreted to mean not simply outward signs of inward grace and spiritual operations, but outward rites which work grace and produce spiritual operations. This view of sacramental efficacy Protestant confessions reject, and against it Baptists do strongly protest.


* From the Latin "Sacramentum," a soldier's oath of fealty end consecration to the military service in which he enlists.


These two, therefore, Baptism and the Supper, are the two sacred rites, and the only ones, enjoined by Christ for perpetual observance in His churches, They are not only visible signs which appeal to the senses, but they are teaching institutions which appeal to the understanding and the heart. They are the two symbols of the new covenant; the two visible pillars of the spiritual temple; the two monuments of the new dispensation. Christ has appointed no others. They are positive institutions, as distinguished from those of a purely moral character, their claim to honor and obedience arising exclusively from the fact that Christ has appointed and made them obligatory. Their claim to respect and observance rests not on their peculiar fitness, though that is manifest, but on the simple fact that Christ has established them and commanded their observance.

These ordinances, so simple in form, so expressive in action, and so intelligible in meaning, have been the occasions of heated, sometimes of bitter controversy through all the ages of Christian history. Their forms have been changed, their purpose perverted, the manner of their administration encumbered by numerous and puerile ceremonials, and their entire effect and efficacy misinterpreted and misstated. Baptists claim to hold and use them in their original simplicity and purity. But a fuller discussion of the subject must be reserved to another place.



Baptism is sometimes called "the initiatory rite," because persons are not received to membership in the churches until they are baptized. Rut baptism of itself does not admit to the fellowship of the churches; it, however, stands at the door, and admission is only on its reception. It has by some been called "the seal of the new covenant," as circumcision was the seal of the old. It is, however, a witness and a testimony to the covenant, since it is naturally and properly the first Christian act of the believer after an exercise of saving faith. It certifies therefore to the acceptance of Christ, and the union and fellowship of the renewed soul with its Saviour. It becomes a badge of discipleship, and is, in that sense, a seal of the covenant of grace.

1. Its Institution

Christian baptism was instituted by Christ, when He submitted to John's baptism, adopting its form, with some change of meaning. John's baptism was unto repentance and faith in Him who was to come. Jesus baptized (or His disciples did) into Himself, as the Messiah who had come, and as the sign that His kingdom had already been established in the hearts of those who received it.

This baptism did not come in the place of circumcision or any other sign or seal of the old covenant, but was ordained for the new. Thus, "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." – Mark 1:4. "John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." – Luke 3:16. "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him." "And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." – Matt 3:13, 16, 17. He said to His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." – Matt 28:19, 20. The circumstances in which this characteristic Christian rite was inaugurated, as well as the personal glory of Him who appointed, and who commanded it as a badge of discipleship for all who confess His name, make it impressive and august in its simple form, and sacred in its influence on both those who receive and those who witness it.

2. Its Administration

Christian baptism is defined to be the immersion of a person in water, on a profession of his faith in Christ, in, or into, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism, therefore, is an immersion or dipping in water, with this meaning, and for this sacred purpose; and without this dipping there is no Scriptural baptism. The immersion is essential to the rite, and pouring or sprinkling water upon a person is not, and cannot be, baptism, as will hereafter be shown.

And this sign of the Christian dispensation is distinguished from all the ablutions, washings, and sprinklings of the Mosaic dispensation, for none of which was it a substitute. "And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." – Matt. 3:6. "... and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him." – Acts 8:38. " Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death..." – Rom. 6:4. "Buried with Him in baptism..." – Col. 2:12. This impressive form and manner of administration was practiced by Christ and His Apostles, and continued unchanged in the churches for generations; but finally, at the dictate of prelates, or for the convenience of priests, it underwent changes which destroyed its beauty and robbed it of its significancy, and a human device was substituted for a divine ordinance.

3. Its Subjects

Baptism is to be administered to those, and to those only, who have exercised and professed a saving faith in Christ; that is, to believers. This saving faith supposes an exercise of godly repentance for sin, and a turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart.

Pedobaptists say baptism is to be given to believers and their children. But that is a fiction of human ingenuity. The New Testament knows nothing of the baptism of unconscious infants,*1 nor of unbelieving persons, either young or old. Neither does it teach or admit the inference that children can be partakers of the benefits of grace simply because of the faith of their parents. Each one must believe for himself in order to be saved. " He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." — Mark 16:16. "But when they believed ... they were baptized, both men and women." — Acts 8:12. "Then they that gladly received His Word were baptized..." —Acts 2:41. " If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest." — Acts 8:37.*2 None but believers were baptized. If baptism be "an outward sign of an inward grace," showing forth the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, then it can have no significancy to those who have not received the inward cleansing of the Spirit.

*[Ed. Note:*1 unconscious infants" meaning babies too young to make a conscious decision to accept Christ as Saviour.
*2 Acts 8:37 - This verse has been eliminated in many of the New Versions. To do so promotes the unscriptural cause of Baptismal Regeneration which is a tenet held to by many churches that use the New Versions.  Instead of changing their beliefs to agree with the Scriptures, a move has been under-foot for a century to change the Scriptures to agree with their beliefs.  See the required First Year course on The Bible.]

4. Its Obligation

All men are under obligation to repent of sin, and believe on Christ as the only means of salvation. And all believers in Christ are bound by the most sacred considerations to obey their Lord's command, and confess Him before men in baptism. No one who trusts Him for salvation can lightly esteem His authority, or willingly disregard His command, nor yet neglect to profess a faith which to him is precious, by submitting to this ordinance. It is not a question as to whether he can be saved without baptism; but whether he can be a true disciple, and refuse or neglect thus to obey and confess his Saviour. "... Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ..." — Acts 2:38. "... arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." — Acts 22:16. Baptism may not be essential to salvation, but it is essential to obedience. The wish to live unrecognized as a Christian, unwilling to share the responsibilities, or discharge the duties of discipleship, and yet hoping for all its blessings and rewards, is both selfish and mercenary, and indicates that the new birth has not yet transpired.

5. Its Efficacy

It may well be asked, What is the efficacy of baptism?  What does it do for him who receives it?  Is it an efficacious means of grace?  In what respect is the disciple different, after his baptism, from what he was before?  In reply it may be most positively stated that baptism does not produce faith and a new heart. It possesses no magical power to convert the soul. Baptismal regeneration, as taught by some, is altogether a false and pernicious doctrine. Regeneration is by the Holy Spirit alone, and should precede baptism. Out of this mistaken view of its efficacy grew the unscriptural dogma of infant baptism, in the early ages, since it was feared that dying infants could not be saved without it.

But as an act of obedience to Christ, the reception of this ordinance usually brings peculiar light, joy, and comfort to the soul. This is especially true as a witness usually borne soon after conversion, when every act of obedience is a service of love, and the soul's sensibilities are alive and tender. Moreover, the disciple feels that in baptism he has effectually and openly come out from the world, and committed himself to Christ and His service. This gives to the spirit a moral triumph, and fills it with boundless peace. Baptism, therefore, is an act of obedience, and as such brings the candidate into a more intimate and exclusive fellowship with his Lord; but it possesses no power in itself to remit sin, to change the heart, or sanctify the spirit.


6. It is Commemorative

Baptism has its retrospect. It points back to Christ in His humiliation, death, burial and resurrection; and keeps constantly in the minds of both candidates and spectators Him "who died for our sins and rose again for our justification." It testifies that He suffered, died, was buried, and rose from the dead, to perfect the work of redemption. What Christ did and suffered gives to this ordinance its significance and its force. "... so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death." – Rom. 6:3. "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him..." – Col. 2:12. The past is brought to view. There is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism..."– Eph. 4:5 – thus forever connecting the disciple in this act with his Lord. "... we are buried with Him by baptism into death..." – Rom. 6:4. If the past could be forgotten, this sacred ordinance would lose its moral power.

7. It is Predictive

That is, in the sense of looking forward and anticipating things to come, it foreshadows. Most impressively does it prefigure the resurrection of the body from the grave, when one rises from the baptismal waters " as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father..." – Rom. 6:4. "... if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" – I Cor 15:29. Though this passage is of doubtful interpretation, yet in some sense it clearly connects baptism with the resurrection from the dead; thus uniting the hopes of the future with the memories of the past, binding both in the realities of the present by baptism.

8. It is Emblematic

Baptism is a creed; a confession of faith. The symbolism of that sacred rite teaches the great cardinal doctrines of the gospel. It represents Christ's death and burial for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead for our justification. "But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" – Luke 12:50. It represents the candidate's death to sin, and his rising to a new spiritual life in Christ; and, therefore, his fellowship with his Lord, both in dying and living. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." – Gal 3:27. It teaches the resurrection of the saints, of which the resurrection of Christ is the prophecy and the pledge. "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." – Rom 6:5. The life everlasting follows in sacred proximity the death to sin; for "...if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." – Rom 6:8. It represents in an outward sign the inward work of renewal and cleansing. "... according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." – Titus 3:5. This inward cleansing by the precious blood of Christ, through the operation of the Spirit, is symbolized in the submersion and ablution of baptism. "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." – I Peter 3:21.

It also shows the unity of the faith, and the fellowship of the true people of God, who, in the one baptism, profess their trust in the one Lord, and their acceptance of the one faith. "For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body..." – I Cor 12:13. Is not this impressive ordinance, therefore, a proclamation of the great cardinal doctrines of the gospel?

Note I. The beauty, impressiveness, and general effect of the sacred rite of baptism are not a little affected by the manner of its administration. It should be so carefully arranged, and performed with such propriety that no mistakes could occur, on the part either of the candidate or the administrator, to excite any other emotions, on the part of spectators, than those of reverence and devotion. Great haste and all excitement should be avoided, and all infelicities carefully guarded against. If the administrator be calm, self-possessed, acting under a sense of the importance and solemnity of the occasion, the candidate will usually be calm and free from agitation. The moral force of the ordinance, somewhat to the candidate, and largely to observers, depends on the dignity and propriety of its administration.

Note 2. Baptism is usually administered by ordained ministers. And this is proper, regular, and orderly. But should occasion require, and the Church so direct, it would be equally valid if administered by a deacon or any private member selected for that service. The validity depends on the character and profession of the candidate, and not on that of the administrator. As to the qualifications of administrators the New Testament is silent, except that they were disciples. Nor need the churches deprive themselves of the ordinances because an ordained minister is not obtainable, as they, unwisely, often do.

Note 3. The question has often arisen, in receiving to membership in our churches persons who have been immersed by ministers not themselves immersed, Is such baptism valid? or, should they be rebaptized in order to admission? In the South and Southwest our churches quite generally insist on rebaptism in such cases; at the North, East, and West they do not. It has been almost universally conceded that the validity of baptism depends on the character of the candidate, and not on that of the administrator. If the candidate has received the ordinance properly administered in good conscience, in obedience to Christ, and on a profession of faith in Him, giving evidence of genuine conversion at the time, such baptism cannot be invalidated, whoever may have performed the ceremony.*

* [Ed. Note: I must take scriptural exception with this.  The authority to baptize resides in the Church and is passed from it to the Churches it starts through the men that the church sends out to start the new works.  Likewise, the authority to baptize is descended from the Church that Christ started through an unbroken lineage of Churches carrying the authoritative Baptism of John the Baptist which was recognized by Christ when He went to John to be Baptized. Therefore, for a person that has not been scripturally baptized themselves to baptize others would be a breach in the chain of authority.  No Church would allow such a person to baptize with their descended authority.  Only scripturally baptized persons could be members of that church; therefore, the unbaptized person could not administer scriptural baptism in the name of that church because lacking it themselves would preclude the possibility that they could be a member of the baptizing church and, thus, could not administer the ordinance. Ergo, the baptism would not be valid and the person so baptized would need to be re-baptized by someone who was a member of a Church, who themselves had been scripturally baptized either there or in a previous church, who had then, as a member, been given the authority of that church to baptize.]

Note 4. Both ordinances are usually administered on Sunday, and commonly each month, particularly the Supper. But both the time when and the place where they shall be observed, are in the discretion of the Church, as circumstances may require. [Ed. Note: It should be taken into consideration that Christ instituted the Lord's Supper on the Passover night which is but once a year.  Many churches thus administer the Lord's supper accordingly- once a year. But, as brother Hiscox has stated, it is in the discretion of the Church.  As to baptism, in the Scriptures they "believed and were baptized."  The plain inference was that baptism immediately followed Salvation.  Therefore, baptism should take place on any day at any assembling of the Local Church when someone is saved.  As brother Hiscox stated, it is "in the discretion of the Church."]

Note 5. Baptism, strictly speaking, is not to be repeated. But cases may occur in which it had been administered in form to candidates, who, at the time, as subsequently appeared, had not exercised a saving faith in Christ, and had not made an intelligent confession of such faith. In such cases baptism may be repeated, when the candidate becomes duly qualified. This would be rebaptizing in form, but not in fact, since, in the former case, a lack of faith made the act invalid. Such cases seldom occur, and, when they do, can be mutually adjusted by the candidate and the Church.




The Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, is the other ordinance established by Christ, and ordained to be observed in His churches till the end of the time. It has equal simplicity and impressiveness with baptism, but holds a very different relation to the economy of grace, and the order of the Church; and as a teaching ordinance represents a different phase of vital doctrine. This, too, perhaps still more than baptism, has been the occasion of heated and often of bitter controversy among the professed followers of Christ, through the ages of Christian history.


1. Its Institution

The Supper was instituted by our Lord during, or at the close of, the last paschal supper which he observed with His disciples, on the evening before He suffered. It is thus described: [Ed. Note: The following as presented by brother Hiscox is a compendium of the various accounts as found in various scriptures.] "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, and brake, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till He come." – Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:22–26; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor 11:23–26.

It will be noticed that in the various accounts of the institution there is a substantial agreement, with slight verbal differences. But each of the added sentences gives additional interest and impressiveness to the scene. It was at the close of, or immediately following, the Passover supper, which was the seal of the Old Dispensation, now passed away, and sanctified by the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, that Jesus inaugurated His own memorial, which should be a seal of the New Dispensation, and a memorial of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. The sad, tender, and sacred associations of the time and the place have all passed into history, and are reproduced in the hearts of all true and loving disciples, as they surround the table of their Lord.

2. Its Administration

The Supper is a provision of bread and wine * – the loaf, and the cup – as symbols of Christ's body and blood, partaken of by the members of the Church assembled, to commemorate His sufferings and death for them, and to show their faith and participation in the merits of His sacrifice. The loaf is to be broken, and the wine to be poured. Usually this is observed either at the close of a preaching service, or as a special service on Sunday afternoon, when more time and more prominence is given to it, though fewer usually attend at that time. Occasionally it is observed in the evening, being, as some think, a more appropriate time for a supper, but less favorable for the attendance of the members. If held as a distinct service, it is preceded with singing, prayer, reading the Scriptures, and brief remarks. If as a supplementary service, the introduction would be much abridged.

*[Ed. Note: Although brother Hiscox uses the term "wine," it is used in the old sense of the word which does not infer that it was alcoholic. In this case it could not have been alcoholic. The wine would have to have been unleavened because, as a Jew celebrating Passover, Jesus would have allowed no leaven in the house; and without leaven there can be no alcohol in the juice.  God wanted no mistakes made concerning the drink used at the Lord's Supper, no misunderstanding, so He never uses the word "wine" oinoV, oinoss, but instead used the phrase "the cup" poithrion, poitayreeon.
   Leaven is a symbol of sin in the Bible.  And Christ was sinless. Therefore, no symbol for sin, such as the leaven which produces the alcohol, could be associated with the symbol for the sinless blood of Christ. Which is what the cup symbolizes at the Lord's Supper. Thus God's use of the term "the cup" which, according to Jewish Passover requirement would contain the fruit of the vine, grape juice as we would call it, but could contain no alcoholic wine, no leaven.]

The pastor breaks the bread, and fills the cups in order, preceding each with a brief prayer of thanksgiving, as did the Lord, and passes the plates and cups in order to the deacons, who distribute to the members. It is customary for the deacons and pastor to partake after all the others are served.

Some ministers seem to lose sight of the real purpose of the service, or else lack the spirit of the occasion, and talk during the exercises. After very brief remarks to introduce the ordinance, and the equally brief prayer of thanksgiving, complete silence should prevail; a silence which the attendants, in passing the elements, should be careful not to break. It is presumption and folly for the pastor to draw the thoughts of the worshipers to himself, when they should remember only Him whose symbolic body is broken, and whose symbolic blood is shed. "This do, in remembrance of me."

It is an almost universal custom among our churches to take a collection at the close; "the offering for the sick and needy," of which the deacons are the custodians and almoners. [Ed. Note: This particular offering is peculiar to only certain types of Baptists and was never "universal among our churches" other than the in the group known as American Baptists with whom brother Hiscox was associated.  This offering may be taken by some churches but it is not much in vogue any longer.] It is also a well-nigh unvarying custom to close with singing, in imitation of Jesus and the Apostles; "and when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives."

3. Its Obligation

It is a sacred privilege for every disciple to remember his Lord in the observance of the Supper, and it is his solemn duty as well. Few signs more effectually tell of a spiritual decline in the individual soul or in the Church than a neglect of the sacred Communion. It is the duty of every believer to be baptized, and the duty of every baptized believer to commemorate the dying love of his Lord at the Supper. "Take, eat, ... drink ye all of it... divide it among yourselves... do this in remembrance of me." Such were the words of Jesus Himself. Let no disciple who loves his Lord lightly esteem or neglect this sacred rite.

Sometimes negligent Christians attempt to excuse their failures by saying there are unworthy members present, or that some member has done something wrong. That is no excuse. If Judas himself were present, it should keep no one else away. "This do in remembrance of me," not in remembrance of some one else deemed unworthy of the place. The communion is not with each other, save incidentally, but each one with his Saviour, who has promised to be present. Few Christians ever plead such excuses until their own hearts, and perhaps their lives likewise, are far out of the way. A neglect or misuse of the Supper not only reveals but produces spiritual derangement and decay. It was for this reason the Apostle reproved the Corinthians, when he wrote, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." – I Cor 11:30.

4. Its Subjects

Who ought, and who have a lawful right to come to the Lord's Table will be seen by a careful study of the Scripture narratives. From these it is manifest that baptized believers, walking orderly in the faith of the Gospel, and in the fellowship of the Church, constitute the proper subjects for this privilege. And no others. Some have insisted on its having a wider scope; some even going so far as to hold that no limitations or restrictions whatever should be imposed on the privilege. This question is argued at length in another place.

Observe that our Saviour at the institution "... sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him." – Luke 22:14. Here was a very restricted, and, so to say, close Communion. Neither His own mother, nor His brethren, nor the many relatives and friends who had followed Him, were invited to be present; for what reason we do not know, but they were not there. Only the twelve Apostles. He gave the bread and the cup to His disciples, and said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves." – Matt. 26:26; Luke 22:17. He did not tell them to distribute it to others, nor invite others to come in, and partake of it. That little company in the upper chamber was substantially the incipient Church; and the Supper was with and for the Church alone.

[Ed. Note: Today this would be called a "closed" Communion.  Closed to all not members of that local Church; which manner is completely in accord with the scriptural commentary on the subject.  Also, brother Hiscox calls the group that partook, "the incipient Church."  In actuality it should be called "the Church" because it was in actuality the Church in fact and already in existence.  It was started by Christ while here on earth and empowered at Pentecost; and not, as some believe, started at Pentecost.  "Incipient" would seem to suggest that it was not yet the Church in its fullness and actuality, which would lead one toward the unscriptural belief that it was only there in seed form until Pentecost when, as some erroneously believe, it was "birthed" into the world.  See the prerequisite course on The Church for further explanation.]


5. It is Commemorative

It was designed to commemorate the death of Christ for human redemption, and to be a perpetual memorial in His churches and to His people of His sacrifice for men. The loaf and the cup represent His broken body, and His shed blood, as sealing the covenant of grace. "... this do in remembrance of me." "This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." – I Cor 11:24, 25).

The paschal feast, and the slain lamb, commemorated the death of Egypt's first-born, and the deliverance of Israel from death and bondage. The Eucharist is sometimes called the Christian Passover, and is the fulfillment of that ancient and expressive type. It is when partaking of this sacred feast, the soul looks back to see the anguish of Him, who suffered as a lamb without spot and without blemish.

6. If is Predictive

The Supper not only points the Christian back to the sufferings of the Cross, but onward to the triumph and glory of Christ's second coming. It is a kind of mediator, a middle link, binding the shadowy past, the radiant future, and the joyous present in one. He who was dead is alive again; the sufferings of death could not hold Him. The past lays the foundation of the saint's hope, while the future holds the bright fruition. "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's Kingdom." – Matt 26:29. "For as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." – I Cor 11:26.

7. It is Emblematic

While it perpetuates the significance of the work of redemption by the death of Christ, the Supper is a teacher of vital Gospel doctrine. This, too, is a creed, a confession. It proclaims the love of Christ to the believer as a seal of the Covenant of grace, and a token of His faithfulness to them that trust Him. "... the new testament in my blood..." – Luke 22:20. It is not a communion of the partakers, one with the other, but of each one with Him whom it commemorates. It expressly declares their union with Him. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" – I Cor 10:16. As intimate as is the relation between the loaf and the cup which we take to nourish our physical nature, so intimate is the fellowship of the partaker in the sacred rite with his remembered Lord. It expresses, inferentially indeed, a fellowship of all who partake with each other, though this is not the special object of the ordinance. As they sit together in one place, with the same hopes, with common joys and sorrows, and a common interest in the same Lord, they, though many, constitute the one body, and Christ the one head. "For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." – I Cor 10:17. The Supper declares this vital doctrine. That the Christian's spiritual life and nourishment are derived from Christ. As natural bread and wine feed the body, so Christ, the bread of life, feeds the renewed soul. "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." – Col 3:3. "... For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven... but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." – I Cor 5:7, 8.

For, though the reception of the elements cannot convey grace to the soul, yet they teach the doctrine of effectual grace conveyed from Christ as the only and abounding fountain of grace. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." – John 6:51.

Note I. As in the case of baptism, the Supper is commonly and properly administered by the pastor, or some other ordained and accredited minister. But should occasion require, and the Church so direct, it would be just as valid if served by a private member. A deacon, or any devout member, could, with propriety, give thanks and distribute the elements. The churches should not deprive themselves of these means of grace, nor fail to remember their loving Lord for want of a clergyman. Baptists are not such sacramentarians as to suppose the ordinances invalid unless ministered and made holy by priestly hands.

Note 2.– The deacons usually and properly distribute the elements. But any member can be called on for that service, should occasion require, and the service would be just as lawful, valid and proper.

Note 3.– The doctrine taught by the Roman Church, and some other communions of the "real presence" – that is, that, after consecration by the priest, the bread and wine do actually become the very body and blood of Christ – is to be held as an absolute falsehood, a most pernicious error, and a monstrous absurdity.

[Ed. Note: This is called Transubstantiation and is taught by the Roman Catholic Church and believed by the Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, although they reject the Roman term "Transubstantiation" and is also held by the Anglican Church which is also a form of Catholicism.]

Note 4,– When Jesus therefore said, "this is my body," and "this is my blood," He did not mean, and could not have intended, it in a literal sense, since His body and His blood at that moment were not in the loaf and cup, but in His corporeal person. He must, therefore, have meant what Protestant Christendom* holds, generally, that He did mean, namely, that these elements represented His body and blood.

There is, therefore, no transubstantiation, or change of elements, and the bread and wine, when received by the communicant, are literally the same as before their use and distribution, and nothing different.

*[Ed. Note: It needs to be understood that the Baptists are not Protestants but rather are descended from the various Independent Christian churches that co-existed with and even preceded the Catholic Church which were called by various names at various times.  There are some Baptist groups, such as the American Baptists and Southern Baptists, that have declared themselves Protestants recently; but those groups, and their error in perception and study of history, do not represent the Independent Baptist Churches or even Baptists in general but represent only their own groups.  Because of their history of institution and descent, the Independent Baptist churches cannot truthfully be called Protestant because they did not come out of The Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation as the Protestant churches did. This is, as I said, because those Independent Christian Churches and the Baptists which are descended from them were never part of the Romish Church in the first place.  It is patently impossible to come out of something if you were never a part of it in the first place.  You will learn the historic evidence of this view in the required SLBC course on "The Church."]

Note 5.– Nor is there any such thing as a consecration of elements in the Supper. Jesus did not bless the bread and the cup at the institution. He blessed God, not the bread; that is, He "gave thanks," as in one record it is rightly rendered.– Luke 22:17, 18. The minister's part, therefore, is to thank God for the elements, and for the glorious realities they represent and ask His blessing on them as applied to a sacred use.

Note 6.– The " hand of fellowship" is usually given to new members at this service, just before the distribution of the elements. This act is simply a fraternal welcome, and has no other significancy; it does not make them members, but only recognizes their membership, already effected by vote of the Church.

Note 7.– * It has been the prevailing custom for the pastor, before the ordinance, to give an invitation for "members of sister churches," or " members of churches of the same faith and order," or "members of other Baptist churches," who might be present, to remain and partake with them. But some pastors give no invitation at all. It is not, however, the right of the pastor to give or to withhold any invitation, except as the Church directs. It is the prerogative of the body to decide that question.  The pastor should assume no responsibility in the matter, but let it all rest with the Church. He is their servant, not their master, in these matters.

*[Ed. Note: This custom may be common in the American Baptist Churches but not in Baptist Churches in general.  See the earlier note on the scriptural practice of "closed communion" and it is obvious that such an invitation is not scriptural.  See Note 8, below, and you will see that brother Hiscox explains this in a stricter sense.]

Note 8 – Strictly speaking, however, the privileges of a Church are coextensive with the authority of the Church. A right to the communion, therefore, is limited to those over whom the Church exercises the right of discipline; that is, its own members. Consequently, if the members of sister churches are invited to partake, it is an act of courtesy proffered, and not a right allowed. This rule would of itself forbid a general, open, or free communion, since that would bring in persons whose characters the Church could not know, and whom, if they were unworthy, the Church could not discipline or exclude.

Note 9 – It often happens that members of Pedobaptist churches, or other persons not entitled to the privilege, being present at communion service, remain and receive the elements. No harm is done by this, and neither the pastor, nor any one else, need be disturbed by it. They were not invited and could not lawfully have been – and probably knew it to be contrary to the custom of the churches. It would not be wise to ask them to retire, and thus disturb the service. But if the same individuals should often repeat the act, the pastor, or some judicious member, should take occasion privately, in a kindly way, to talk with and dissuade them from such a course, unless, indeed, they were prepared to unite with the Church in full communion.

*[Ed. Note: If the church practices the ordinance in a scriptural manner, that is with a "closed communion," then it would be wise in those churches for the pastor to precede the communion with an announcement that visitors are more than welcome to watch the proceedings but that it is scripturally for members only to partake.  Some churches even have a special service to observe the ordinance on some night other than a regular service night, to which only members are invited.  Some churches allow visitors to the service but only if they have been informed ahead of time that they may only watch but not partake.]

Note 10 - Since the Supper is distinctively a Church ordinance, it is to be observed by churches only, and not by individuals, even though Church members; neither in private places, nor in sick-rooms, nor on social occasions, and not by companies of disciples other than churches, though composed of Church members. But a church may by appointment, and in its official capacity, meet in a private house, a sick-room, or wherever it may elect, and there observe the ordinance.

Note 11. - There is no Scriptural rule as to the frequency with which, nor the time or place at which, it shall be observed. The primitive Christians evidently kept this feast daily. "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." – Acts 2:46. [Ed. Note: There is controversy over whether Acts 2:46 is even referring to observance of the ordinance.  It probably is not; and, thus, should not be used as a proof text concerning the frequency of observance of the ordinance in the primitive church.] Subsequently it came to be a weekly service, at each public assembly. By some it is still so observed. Some churches observe it quarterly, some bi-monthly; but with our people it has come to be a general custom, especially in cities, towns and villages, to have the Communion monthly, and usually on the first Sunday in the month. This is not so often as to impair its sanctity by frequency, and not so seldom as to allow it to pass out of mind and be forgotten.*

*[Ed. Note: In many Baptist churches it is observed but once a year and generally around Passover time.  The scriptural basis for this is that Jesus specifically instituted the ordinance at Passover and Passover comes but once a year.  However, there is no specific scriptural prohibition to more frequent observance.  All the Scriptures state is that "as oft as ye," leaving it to the congregants concerning the frequency of the ordinance observance.]

Note 12. - A neglect of the Supper by Church members is a grave evil, It betokens a decline of spirituality, and promotes it. And it is usually without excuse. If there be but one service in the month that a member can attend, that service should be the Communion; and if there be but one other, that should be the Covenant Meeting. Pastors and deacons will do well to watch with jealous care this index to the churches' vital piety, and strive to inspire the absentees with a sense of its importance, and their own duty in respect to it. To disregard it is an indignity to Christ's ordinance, a breach of good order, and a violation of covenant obligations, which the Church should endeavor promptly to correct. Some churches, by a rule of discipline, have each member visited, who is absent twice in succession, to learn the cause of such absence. To a devout Christian it is a sacred privilege which he would not willingly forego.

Note 13. - Pastors often blame their members for a neglect of the Supper more than they instruct them as to its nature, significancy, and claims. The people should be well taught as to the meaning of the ordinance, and its true relation to their faith and spiritual life.

Note 14. - The objection to the "individual communion cups,"* and the practice of holding the bread till all are served is, that it tends to exalt the form over the spirit and make the service ritual rather than spiritual.

* [Ed. Note: In today's moral climate, and the plague of sexually transmitted diseases (1 in 10 of some type of STDs even among teenagers) as well as the proliferation of such diseases as AIDS (1 out of 200 are carriers), hepatitus (50+ million carriers), mononucleosis and herpes (untold millions), brought about by that atmosphere of general immorality, and because of our extremely mobile society that carries diseases from one population to other populations who have no resistance, and the development of drug resistant strains (sometimes called "super-bugs") because of our injudicious overuse and misuse of antibiotics which has bred them stronger and stronger, plus the general  proliferation of diseases for which we have no immunity from countries with atrocious health habits to our country through food imports, makes it mandatory that individual communion cups now be used in the observance of the ordinance.  Today, 2009, and the health hazards of our modern society, is a far cry from those of the late 1800s when brother Hiscox wrote this manual.  Obviously some adjustments are necessary concerning the physical mechanics of the observance of the ordinance.]




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