By Norman H. Wells
(18 April 1918 - 21 June 1978)
Former Pastor, Central Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio
(Scriptures added by John Henry)
Churches, after the order of the one Christ established, have existed in every age and are in existence now!
Matthew 16:15-18: "He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 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 28:18-20: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 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."
The only organization presented in the New Testament is the local church, a pure democracy, self-owned, sovereign and autonomous.
John 20:19-23: "... Jesus [came] and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."
Matthew 18:15-18: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
A true church, after the New Testament order, will possess those characteristics that will identify it with the New Testament model, the church that Jesus built. May we submit the claim that only a true Baptist church possesses those characteristics! That only a true Baptist church can make the claim of being a pure democracy, self-owned, sovereign, autonomous and of presenting pure New Testament doctrine. May we hasten to add that any Baptist church that finds itself a part of any outside organization loses these characteristics.
The church was established by Christ in the days of His sojourn in the flesh and the work of its construction was begun with the material prepared by John the Baptist. This church was in existence at the close of His earthly ministry.
Acts 1:15-26: "And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." (cf. John 1:32-42; Matthew 3:13-17)
This church, that Christ established, was a local sovereign body, responsible only to God and acknowledging no other authority than Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
Colossians 1:18: "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (cf. Ephesians 1:22, 5:23)
Apostasy grips the land! Spiritual foundations are crumbling! The Word of God is being deserted! Men and women are stumbling blindly into hell! Never has the work of the churches faced such a challenge yet never has the New Testament organization of the local church been so ignored and neglected as today! If we are to have real New Testament revival it will come through real New Testament churches! Religion and so-called Christianity are set to destroy the local church.
1 Timothy 4:1: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils."
2 Timothy 3:1-2, 5-7: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, ... Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Man has never been satisfied with God's way and the local church is God's way. Man has always desired to organize something greater than the local church, something that would glorify man! The evidence is on every hand. Note the efforts of Catholicism to bring all men into one huge church they call Catholic. Can anyone make the claim that any single Catholic church is a pure democracy, self-owned, autonomous or sovereign. Their purpose is to build a super organization with absolute powers over the people and over the churches. How, in the wildest stretch of the imagination could this monstrous hierarchy ever claim to be a New Testament Church?
Revelation 2:15: "So hast thou [the Pergamos Church] also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." (Note: The "Nicolaitans" were a sect that sought an hierarchy. They were tolerated in the Pergamos Church. The City of Pergamos was where Satan’s seat was [Rev. 2:13], and this is where this heresy entered the church. Pergamos means: "per" meaning "mixed" and "gamos" meaning "marriage" forming the meaning, "mixed marriage." A mixture of truth and paganism. Observe the picture of their mixed marriage of in Revelation 2:14 and Numbers 25:1-5.)
Protestants seek the same thing as the Catholics. The main purpose of united Protestantism is to build one Super-Church. This is the declared purpose of the National Council of Churches.
Huge denominations seek the same thing. Denominational machinery subordinates the local church and it loses its God-given rights.
The amazing thing is that Baptists do the same thing! We have the "'voice" of Catholicism, the "voice" of the National Council of Churches, the "voice" of the huge denominations, the "voice" of organized Baptists, etc.
Where is the "voice" of the local church? This voice has almost been stifled by the rush of men to build greater organizations that meet the world's standard of success and power!
We must return to New Testament doctrine and methods. Let's give God's way an opportunity! God's way for this age is the local church.
The only organization presented in the New Testament is the local church, a pure democracy, self-owned, sovereign and autonomous.
One will search in vain to find any other organization! Any organization other than the local church has no New Testament foundation.
This eliminates any denominational, convention, association or fellowship organization of any kind. The local church is a pure democracy complete in itself, and therefore cannot join anything like or unlike itself. If it did join anything, it would then, in the larger unit, be only a representative democracy and not the pure democracy that God made it.
For a local church to become a part of any organization outside of the church is to forfeit its claim of being a pure democracy. Any organization that encourages greater loyalty to itself than to the local church is Satanic!
One has only to follow the history of all these man-made organizations to know what will be the ultimate end. The New Testament churches drifted away from the New Testament faith and practice and drifted into the man-made organization known as Catholicism and the New Testament teachings concerning the local church were almost forgotten. All the leading Reformers who fought so gallantly against Roman Catholicism were guilty of establishing "State Churches" and persecuting true local New Testament churches.
Luke 20:25: "And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s."
Denominationalism has always endeavored to build huge ecclesiastical structures that destroy the local church.
These great man-made organizations have always failed!! When will we learn that this is not God's way? Observation will reveal that every time local churches bind themselves together, regardless of sincerity and fine motive, eventually they will become involved in a complex organization and the independency of the local church is forgotten.
We are living in a time of organized religion and organized religion has always been the enemy of the New Testament faith.
Whenever independent Baptist churches have banded themselves together with any extra-scriptural organization the result has always been the same. A hierarchy develops! The organization assumes the responsibility and work of the local churches. Every organization of Baptist churches has always followed this trail!
Revelation 2:6: "But this thou [the Ephesian Church] hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (Note: The "Nicolaitans" were a sect that sought an hierarchy. The Greek word means: "nikao" meaning "victory" and "laite" meaning "the people," thus "victory over the people." The Lord Jesus and the Church of Ephesian hated "the deeds of the Nicolaitans." Should we any less?)
From time to time there will be groups of churches that will protest against these man-made organizations and will break relationship with them. The amazing thing is that they will then band themselves together and proceed to build the same kind of organization that they had so vigorously protested against. These churches possibly have the finest motives in the world but they are following the path of every religious organization before them.
It is a hard thing to follow the simplicity of God's plan. Just as the lost stumble at the simplicity of salvation, Christians stumble at the simplicity of God's plan in the church. Their desire is for something bigger, grander and more elaborate. A powerful organization is man's way ญ a local church is God's way.
When is a church independent?
When it is not subordinate, subject to, or dependent upon, or associated with any other organization. A church that is part of any organization outside of the church loses its independence.
In the New Testament, the churches were not cut off from one another because of a lack of organization. The greatest united missionary effort ever put forth in the history of the churches was in the New Testament times and the only organization used was the local, New Testament church. These churches all cooperated without the urging of any outside organization. Organized religion is always a sign of apostasy.
What was the basis of this cooperation and fellowship among the churches of the New Testament?
First, there was doctrinal unity! They were identified by what they believed in, not what they belonged to!! These first churches stood united in doctrine.
1 Timothy 3:15: "... the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
Jude 3: "... ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
Second, these churches stood united in their missionary activities. This was achieved without a missionary Board, missionary Committee, missionary Association , etc. The missionaries were ordained in the local church, approved by the local church, sent forth by the local church, supported by the local church and reported to the local church. The approval of a missionary by one local church was recommendation to all churches. This was accomplished without any Missionary Organization other than the local churches. It worked then and it will work now if we give it a chance!
Philippians 2:25, 4:18: "Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. ... But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God." (cf. Acts 13 & 14; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9)
Third, these churches stood united in the standards they set for their members. They presented a united front in clean, godly, sacrificial living.
Fourth, their efforts were always through local churches.
Fifth, these churches maintained their identity by their baptism. There was no room for heresy.
Many, many reasons could be given to explain the harmony, unity and close fellowship of the New Testament churches. They stood shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm. They worked together and evangelized the world together and yet there was never any organization except a local New Testament church. Let's give God's way a chance!