Continuity of the Church

by Gene Plaskett
(Preached at the Alisal Baptist Church Bible Conference 2007)
 

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 28:20 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.

Ephesians 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

 

INTRODUCTION: Regarding this year’s theme, I have read to you three texts that are widely used to substantiate the truth of the continuity, succession, or perpetuity of the Lord’s church that he has built, is building, and shall build until the Lord returns to receive His bride unto Himself. It may be that I have bitten off on more than I can chew and may run the risk of receiving a mark. This subject has been disputable among Baptists for ages and I have my doubts that the little I say may resolve the issue. I do not believe that any of us present deny this blessed promise of our Lord, but there are certain issues relating to this subject that can brood up a spirit of divisiveness and I surely do not desire to be the author of such a spirit.

            Concerning the three words above, all three may not reveal the whole picture and may be used in erroneous ways, but I am in agreement with them. Continuity is uninterrupted connection. I believe that the LMBC of Greenfield is a continuation of the first church. We did not just pop up on a whim! There were fathers of the faith laboring under the authority of Christ’s commission who looked out on the fields and saw that there was a harvest in Greenfield . Succession is a “following of things in order” and I do believe that the Lord’s churches have come through the order of which He has instructed in His word. We are not talking about the succession of kings or popes who have their successors when they die. The Hayward LMBC did not die when the Greenfield LMBC was organized. Perpetuity is a “continued, uninterrupted existence of which there will be no end”. J. B. Moody states that perpetuity fits the kingdom better than the church. The kingdom endureth forever and is everlasting while the church is an organized body within the kingdom. One is born into the kingdom but not into the church, and the church is composed of citizens of the kingdom. Regardless, so long as the kingdom perpetuates, so will the church.

 

Ø  We should not need a strong analysis of Matthew 16:18. Peter is Pe/tro$, a stone or a detachment of a massive ledge. “This rock” is Pe/tra|, a cliff of massive rock. And so it is, Christ is that Rock. He is a sure Foundation upon which He will build His church and He is the Architect. He is the chief cornerstone and places living stones upon that Rock which constitute His ecclesia, a called out assembly of elect, regenerated, and baptized saints. “I will build” is oi#kodomh/sw, a future active meaning He will build, embellish, and amplify His church. And now, the perpetuity of the church is guaranteed. The “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The gates of Hades signifies death; hence all the powers of evil and darkness shall not katisxu/w overpower, predominate, or get the upper hand of her. Christ overcame death, hell, and the grave, and those living stones in the house He is building have been given the gift of eternal life. There is no grave that is going to hold me down and so it is with all in His church.

            This does not mean that any particular local church may have a continuance everlasting as we know that many churches have disbanded, but this secures the continuity of the aggregate (Formed by a collection of particulars into a whole mass or sum) of the Lord’s churches which is (I shudder to say this as my fathers did) the mystical body of Christ. I will use the aggregate of the Lord’s churches as the “institution” of Christ’s church. There are some who do not want to believe this is a local church that Christ refers to, but rather it is a future eschatological church. Sounds to me that this makes it invisible, but since when did Christ have two kinds of churches? It is local and visible ecclesia.  Yes, Christ loved His church and gave Himself for her and the day is coming when He shall present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle. And where is this church now? It has been on this earth since the Lord uttered those words in local visible churches.

 

Ø  The Great Commission. I am with you unto the end of the age. Why can’t we leave it as the Lord has spoken it? Evangelize, Baptize, and Catechize. Some say this is not a church commission but rather a ministerial commission since Christ is addressing the 11 disciples or apostles. Amazingly, the apostles were the first souls placed in the church – 1 Corinthians 12:28. Let’s do a shindig on the authority. All power (e#cousi/a) is given unto ME, ME , ME. Did He vertically delegate this ALL authority to the church, and now there is nothing but horizontal authority in the continuity of the church? I think it is strange that Christ would say in Matthew 18:20, Where two or three are gathered together in my name , there am I in the midst of them. But Lord, you gave us the authority! Who said You could be there? And more than that, the church didn’t give those two or three the authority to gather themselves together.

I have heard it preached time without number, as well as, I myself have preached that if you are going to have a proper succession of churches, it must be through the proper authority of a scriptural New Testament church. After reading numerous histories through the years, I must admit that my mindset has been changed and I was fearful of exposing the conviction lest I be cast out. This does not mean that I reject continuity, succession, or perpetuity. I do adhere to it and things must be in its proper order. But now, let us look to…………….

 

Ø  What our Fathers have Spoken.

·         W. A. Jarrel: (Baptist Church Perpetuity) quotes S. H. Ford, page 1 – Succession among Baptists is not a linked chain of churches or ministers, uninterrupted and traceable at this distant day… the true and defensible doctrine is, that baptized believers have existed in every age since John baptized in Jordan, and have met as baptized congregations in covenant and fellowship where an opportunity permitted.

·         W. A. Jarrel himself says, page 3 – All that Baptists mean by church succession or Church Perpetuity is: There has never been a day since the organization of the first New Testament church in which there was no genuine church of the New Testament existing on earth.

·         G. H. Orchard: ( History of Baptists) quotes Dr. S. Miller, page iv introduction essay – This promise (shall not prevail) seems to secure to His people that there shall be, in all ages, in the worst of times, a substantially pure church; that is, there shall always be a body of people more or less in numbers, who shall hold just the doctrines and order of Christ’s house, in some good degree, in conformity with the model of the primitive church.

·         John T. Christian: (A History of the Baptists) referring to Ellicot, page 21 – The author believes that in every age since Jesus and the apostles, there have been companies of believers, churches, who have substantially held to the principles of the New Testament as now proclaimed by the Baptists. No attempt is made in these pages to trace a succession of bishops, as the Roman Catholics attempt to do, back to the apostles. Such an attempt is “laboring in the fire for mere vanity,” and proceeds on a mistaken view of the nature of the kingdom of Christ , and of the sovereignty of God, in His operations on the earth. Wherever God has his elect, there in His own proper time, he sends the Gospel to save them, and churches after His model are organized.

·         Thomas Armitage: A History of the Baptists  – page 1, And many who are not Catholics think that if they fail to unroll a continuous succession of regularly organized churches, they lose their genealogy by a break in the chain, and so fail to prove that they are legitimate Apostolic churches. Page 3 – That Christ never established a law of Christian “primogeniture” by which He endowed local churches with the exclusive power of moral regeneration, making it necessary for one church to be the mother of another, in regular succession, and without which they could not be legitimate churches. Those who organized churches in apostolic times went forth simply with the lines of doctrine and order in their hands, and formed new churches without the authority or even the knowledge of other churches.

Note: I have heard it said that Armitage has been slam-dunked for his views on perpetuity. Consider Antioch : I wonder if the apostles at Jerusalem knew where all the saints had been scattered? Did the brothers that came to Antioch from Cypress and Cyrene preaching Christ and many Grecians believed, did they have to tell the converts that they had to become members of Jerusalem until they had the authority to organize? Who baptized them? What did Barnabas see? He saw God’s grace! Did he organize them? No, but he exhorted them. Under his ministry many more souls were saved – more than he could handle. He fetched Paul and they returned to the “church”. Also, Damascus was a long shot from Jerusalem . Was there a church there and how did it get there? If no church, would we assume that Saul had unscriptural baptism by Ananias?

      Consider a hypothetical situation: We have several New Testament churches in different states. Our government overturns and tries to stamp out Christianity. Severe persecution sets in and saints from these churches take to running. Haphazardly, in a distant region, they meet and discover they are brothers and sisters in Christ having the same faith and baptism. They covenant together to meet in secret for prayer and bible study. Are we going to declare that they are not a church? The bottom line: With no baptism, there can be no visible churches. That is the LINK!

·         Edward Hiscox: (Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches) – 34,  Some Baptists have been courageous 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 the 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. 52, Churches are constituted by voluntary covenant on the part of those who wish to become members.

·         Ben Bogard (The Baptist Way Book) – 43 The Master has not changed His method of work. If He has, it is certain that He has not notified His servants of it, and until He gives notice of change of methods Baptists should continue to work by the methods revealed in the Scriptures. The first step necessary in the organization of a new congregation or church is for as many as three baptized disciples to agree to meet statedly for worship, for mutual edification and united effort for the evangelization of the world.

·         J. E. Cobb (Baptist Church Manual) – 20 Christ gave the church the quality of perpetuation. We cannot truthfully say that He gave her the quality of “self”-preservation, for the quality to perpetuate herself is a divinely given one.

·         Waldensian Confession 1655 (Churches of the Piemont) Samuel Morland – 25, – That the church is the company of the Faithful, who having been elected before the foundation of the world, and called with a holy calling, come to unite themselves to follow the word of God, believing whatsoever He teaches them, and living in His fear. 26 – That the church cannot err, nor be annihilated, but must endure forever, and that all the elect are upheld and preserved by the power of God in such sort, that they all persevere in the faith unto the end, and remain united in the holy church, as so many living members thereof.

A letter was written by Prince Palatine to the Duke of Savoy in 1566 where a Proverb had been begotten among the Christians : The ashes of the martyrs are the seed of the Christian Church.

Note: There are many other authors having similar thoughts on perpetuity. I know that I could have taken many quotes from a recent contemporary book, but these quotes came from my library, the books that I have purchased through the years and that which I have read, studied, and compared to the Scriptures. I used to want to believe that these authors were not Landmarkers and did not know what they were talking about, but after making some “date” comparisons, my thoughts changed. How can so many historians, writing at different times, and almost harmoniously saying the same thing, be wrong?

 

Ø  What is it that gives the church its Continuity?

·         First and foremost, it is the Lord as He has promised.

·         Secondly, it is through the commission He has given His church to carry out. They were to be witnesses unto Him in Jerusalem , Judea, Samaria , and the uttermost parts of the earth – Acts 1:8. Is it not time that we remember what we are here for? The early church reminds me how stubborn the civilization was after the flood. They were to scatter, multiply, and replenish the earth, but they stayed put. To get them on the move the Lord confounded their tongues. But now in this age of grace, God had given his church the gift of tongues where they could speak all dialects with ONE message. But the Lord had to stir them out of nest of contentment by the fires of persecution. This was the beginning of the One Gospel going throughout Judea and Samaria .

The Lord saved Paul on the road to Damascus , put him in the ministry, and now we begin our witness to the uttermost parts of the earth. All I can read in the scriptures is that the Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Paul gave report to Antioch of the churches that had been established.

·         A most important factor for the continuity of any scripturally organized church – Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. If any other Gospel is proclaimed, let them be accursed. There is only one way of salvation. Works for salvation, or baptismal regeneration is not the apostles’ doctrine. I realize that this verse speaks of the one Jerusalem church, but the apostles’ doctrine can bind and bring sister churches together in fellowship (As we are now). Sad it is when you cannot pray for a brother in Christ as if he is the adversary and you pull the lamp stand out from under them.

 

Ø  A Notable Sign of Continuity.

At this point, some may say that I am departing from the theme, but let me assure you that there is much more involved concerning the continuity of the church. The everlasting Gospel perpetuated through the church. There is only one way of salvation and that is by the grace of God alone. . There is only one baptism and when any of these have been departed from, I would not acknowledge them as a New Testament church. There is a lot of religion in the world, and some of them look good but can bring strong delusion. Jeroboam built himself up a false religious system but God didn’t accept that no more than He did the strange fire offered up by Nadab and Abihu.

The church is not a building here and there, but it is the people of the Lord who have been saved, baptized by the authority of the Lord’s church, who have covenanted together to carry out the commission of the Lord. When you walk in the truth of God’s word and doctrine, that people is very distinct from the people of the world that they have been called out of. They are new creations of God’s grace. All things have become new and they can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. As Barnabas saw God’s grace at Antioch , the world should see God’s grace in His saints today – they called them Christians!

But what is the distinction wherein others would state, “There have been Baptists throughout all ages going back to Christ”? What had been seen by others to where they recognized a continuous succession of Baptists? Surely a prominent answer would be the doctrine they embraced. They believed in a regenerate membership and would not receive alien baptism and so were called “Anabaptists”. But there is more than believing the truth – there is also the living and practicing   that truth. Hence, Baptist perpetuity is not only recognized by their doctrine, but also by their practice.

Such a one we can observe was Novatian. He was a presbyter of the church of Rome. Decius had succeeded the Roman throne and wanted all people in the empire to conform to pagan worship. This resulted in many being martyred in the churches. Many turned tail like the stony ground professors. Tribulation or persecution came and they were offended. But when peace came, they wanted to return to the church. Cornelius was ready to receive the apostates, but Novatian opposed it. More pastors were concerned about numbers than the purity of communion.

Novatian departed from the church of Rome and was accused of giving birth to an innumerable multitude of congregations of puritans in every part of the Roman Empire . They held to strict communion and rigid discipline. Puritan was a name of reproach as well as Cathari. Are we looked upon as Puritan or Cathari today?

 

CLOSE: I am going to notate a few things in closing, but let me be right up front to say that I certainly am not slam-dunking any person or church. Let me assure you that the Greenfield LMBC has experienced or is experiencing some the problems that I present to you.

·         Where is the continuity of the sanctity of marriage?

·         Where is the continuity of abstinence from sexual activity outside of wedlock?

·         Where is the continuity of temperance, or should I say the abstinence of alcoholic beverages.

·         Where is the continuity of modest apparel.

May the Lord’s blessings be upon His word. May we all continue in the faith.

Hebrews 13:1 Let brotherly love continue.