The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Norman H. Wells
From The Church That Jesus Loved, 1973 (Chapter 12)
Which Way Are We to Follow — Conventions, Associations and Fellowships, or God's Way, The Local Church?
I Samuel 8
The eighth chapter of I Samuel tells a very familiar story. From the time of their beginning until the time of be event recorded in this chapter, the Israelites had lived under a theocratic type government. The dictionary tells us that a theocracy is a government recognizing the immediate sovereignty of God. This was God's will for Israel. They were continually to look to Him as their King.
In this chapter a strange thing happens. Israel demands a king! Many reasons were advanced for this action. First, Samuel's two sons, Joel and Abiah, had proved a great disappointment to their father and to the nation. Samuel had made his two sons judges in Israel and they had corrupted the office. The people protested against this and because of the failure of Samuel's sons they wanted to reject God's form of government.
Secondly, the nations bordering on Israel now gave signs of renewed uprisings to threaten Israel. The people were fearful of the situation as it stood and they clamored for a strong king with a strong army. God's way didn't look strong enough for them.
Thirdly, they wanted to be like the nations around them. "That we also may be like all the nations," was their cry. (v. 20) They coveted the grandeur, pomp, regality and power of the surrounding nations.
These, then, were the excuses Israel gave for demanding a king. Bear them in mind. They claimed God's way had failed, that God's way wouldn't get the job done and it just wasn't fancy enough.
It seems obvious that Christians in general, and Baptists in particular, are still guilty of using the same old excuses for rejecting God's way. Seemingly no effort has been put forth even to invent new excuses.
Jesus Christ established the church and until He comes again. God has chosen to accomplish His work on earth through the churches. His program for evangelization, maintenance of the ordinances, teaching, benevolence, etc., were all entrusted to the churches. The New Testament will be searched in vain for any organization other than a local church to accomplish God's program. This, then, is God's way — God's will!
Man has never been satisfied with God's way! They have continually rejected the church and tried to build something better and, as has been said, they still use the same old tired excuses! See if they don't sound familiar. We will confine our remarks to Baptists.
Few Baptists have ever been satisfied with God's way through individual local churches. It just never seems to measure up to the world's standard of success. Individual local churches scattered all over the world with no organizational ties binding them together would seem, by man's standards, certain to fail. So rather than risk failure with God's way, most Baptists have tried to build something bigger and stronger than local churches. It is reasoned that individual Baptist churches would never get the job done —there must be some powerful, central government holding these churches together. God's plan can't work; it must be improved upon is the conclusion the majority reach!
Again, Baptists have reasoned, if we were all bound together in a real organization we would be so much stronger, so much better equipped to oppose the enemy. This excuse for rejecting God's way has been used over and over. It seems to make good sense according to man's reasoning. By organizing all the Baptist churches together, it is argued, a great force is presented, elaborate publications can be sent forth, missionary boards formed, great schools built, etc. Why, after a while we'll even become a force in politics! All of this sounds fine and the purpose is good, except this is not God's way. Regardless of how good the purpose is, it is a grievous wrong to reject God and His plan. It is a calamity to reject God's plan of salvation and is also a calamity to reject God's plan for service.
Again, the same bug that bit Israel has bitten Baptists. The majority of Baptists desire the pomp and grandeur of other religions. "That we also may be like all the denominations," is the cry heard today. Prosperity and popularity which the world will accept has become the goal of many. The world's standards are met in order that Baptists might he accepted with the same favor as other denominations.
It is not too difficult to see that the same reasons Israel used for rejecting God's way and demanding a king are the same reasons that Baptists now use for rejecting God's way through local churches, and demanding conventions, associations, fellowships and other means of binding Baptist churches together under one central authority. The amazing thing is that this is so obvious, and yet is so vigorously denied! It would be amusing, if it were not so tragic, to listen to one organized group of Baptists condemn another organized group for being organized!
Is all this important? Does it make any difference how the job is done? Notice the expression in verse 7 where God speaks, "they have rejected me." For Israel to demand an earthly king was to reject God! For local Baptist churches to bind themselves together in unscriptural organization is to reject God! Christ is the Head of each local church, but headquarters are changed in large organizations of churches.
Through Samuel, God warned Israel concerning an earthly king. In verses 11 through 18 conditions under such a king are described. The king would ride in great pomp and dignity in a chariot. There would be chariots and horsemen which would ride in great style before the king. The king's organization would be highly organized, captains over thousands and captains over hundreds. The king's organization would be extremely costly with heavy taxes and conscription!
Can anyone fail to see how this picture not only fits what was going to happen to Israel under a king but also what happens to Baptists under organizational rule of denominations, conventions, associations, fellowships, etc.? Saul, riding in all his pomp and glory, is a fitting picture of the convention, association or fellowship president! The Big Wheel!
"Captains over thousands, and captains over fifties" — state presidents, field secretaries, board chairman, etc. — the picture is too clear not to fit!
Costly! Is there anything more costly or more demanding upon the churches than the support of the machine? Every year a greater percentage of the money given is needed to run the machine and less gets to the work!
It is well to note that for a while there was great success under Israel's kings. Under David and Solomon the nation reached great heights. It is also well to note that nearly every Baptist organization of churches that has ever existed started out well! Great things are accomplished—for a while Israel did fine as long as David was on the throne. It continued to do well under Solomon, but when these two passed on the trouble began. So it has ever been with Baptist machines. Strong men with strong personalities will bind Baptists together and flourish for a while, but with their passing, lesser men cannot fight over the remains!
After the temporary success in Israel, the decline and decay began. They made treaties and intermarried with the pagan nations around them. Idolatry again reared its ugly head. Compromise and cowardice was on every hand. Israel lost its purpose! They divided and died! Israel has never come back. Her glory will only be restored when she again accepts her rightful King!!
Temporary success nearly always comes in the attempt to organize Baptists. Just like Isreal of old, however, decay and decline almost immediately. When Baptists become successful in their organizations, success itself demands compromise: treaties, compromise and intermingling with all other religions. Compromise becomes a necessity. It produces a complicated method, a compromised message and a corrupted mission! They lose their purpose! They divide and die! They never come back!
Almost without exception every organized group of Baptists will recognize the truth of what has been said thus far. However, most of them will prefer to remain blind to the fact that what has happened to others is also happening them!
When will we learn that huge, ecclesiastical machines are man's way and glorify man, and that the simple organization of a local church is God's way and glorifies God?
As editor of this paper and author of this article I would like to digress from my usual procedure and interject a personal word or two. For several years now, through this paper and my pulpit, I have been humbly trying to show the error and danger of Baptists organizing themselves into conventions, associations, fellowships, etc. The response in the majority has been favorable! There have been some, well, not so favorable! Not one single time has anyone from any organization even attempted to deny the truth we have published concerning this error! Those who have vigorously protested, however, almost without exception, made the same accusation. They seem to think that machine Baptists with their missionary boards are the only ones getting missionaries on the field and that true, independent Baptist churches are not getting the job done. I submit the following truths:
One of the biggest of these organizations requires over 300 churches to get one missionary on the field. Another organization, new and aggressive though it be, still takes over 100 of their churches to get one missionary on the field. Hundreds of unsung and unheralded, independent Baptist churches all over this country are easily beating that kind of record and many others would equal it!
Again, over and over, I have heard it stated that it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you get the job done.
God has a plan of salvation and it makes a difference whether we follow that plan.
God had a plan for the ark and Noah was expected to follow. God's plan for Moses the second time was to speak to the rock and water would be supplied. It made a difference when Moses disobeyed. It made a difference when Israel did not follow God's plan and possess all of Canaan. It made a difference in Israel when Achan did not follow God's plan.
The whole book of Leviticus is given to God's plan of worship for Israel to follow. It made a difference how they came. God gave the plan and method for handling the ark and men lost their lives by failing to follow God's plan. It made a difference. God gave minute instructions for building the temple and tabernacle. It made a difference.
Jesus Christ carried out in minute detail God's plan of redemption. It made a difference. Christ established the church to carry out God's plan for this age, and it makes a difference whether we follow this plan or substitute another.
Our humble prayer is that God will touch hearts with the kind of conviction that will cause Baptists to return to Bible methods.