Elders and Deacons

You Can Listen to This Sermon Here.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.

Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins and ends this passage with commendations for those who aspire to serve as elders or has served well as deacons; it is a privilege to serve in either role. He describes these two roles within the local fellowship of saints, both having very similar qualifications, but very different roles (which are explained elsewhere in Scripture). Both are described as servants with responsibility, not rulers with authority. The Bible has authority in the church; the men do not.

The Apostles, forerunner of church elders, were to devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word; deacons are to tend to the physical needs of the dynamic and diverse body of Christ. In Acts 6 the people did not vote for who would serve as deacons; they nominated seven godly men to the Apostles, who appointed the men to serve. This passage does not show a democracy in action as many Baptists falsely believe. It shows the active participation of the members, recognizing the role of those God had appointed to lead them. As the church matured, the Scripture shows us that elders had oversight on all the church did and deacons provided much more service than “waiting tables.” As there are spiritual issues behind every temporal matter a deacon might be called upon to help with, these men must be qualified and there must be a good rapport between the deacons and elders, so the body of Christ gets the best care possible.

Deacon. The Greek (diaconos) and English words refer both to one who serves the local church in this capacity as well as those who are simply known for being servants to the body of Christ. Deacons are not required to be spiritual guides, feeders of the flock, or teachers; they are required to be trustworthy and of moral character as they deal with matters of temporal importance and the related spiritual foundations. The health of the church depends on deacons functioning well, which requires the cooperation of the elders and the people. It is painfully apparent that many of us have lost sight of the completeness of the wisdom our Lord has provided us and the reason for it. How we serve Him and one another is be to the glory of His name and the good of His people.

Robert Boyt C. Howell laments “much confusion and division of sentiment regarding the nature of the office”; and he points out how so many miss the Scriptural teachings that describe the role of those who hold the office of deacon.

Nearly all the churches have made them ministers of the gospel. In the Roman Catholic church he is an inferior ecclesiastic, the second in the sacred order, who, with the permission of the bishop, has authority to preach and baptize. In the English church the Deacons are clergymen, but of the lowest grade; who can perform all the offices of priests, except the consecration of the sacred elements and the pronouncing of the absolution. In the German Protestant churches, when more ministers than one in the same congregation are necessary, the second, or assistant minister, is called the Deacon; and if there are two assistants the first is called the Arch-Deacon. In the Presbyterian church, the office is commonly merged with that of ruling elder, and, therefore, mostly disused. Where it is still retained, it embraces, as among Congregationalists and others, merely the distribution of alms. The Methodist and Episcopal churches in this country adopt, substantially, the practice of the English church, of which they are descendants. In the Baptist churches, the Deacons are not ministers who preach, on the one hand, nor mere distributors of alms on the other, but serve in a different capacity. They are a board of directors, and have charge of all the secular affairs in the kingdom of Christ

It is not unusual for Baptist deacons to have hire & fire authority over elders (a corollary error in this circumstance is the absence of a plurality of elders). In the end, nobody escapes unscathed! This all-too-common Baptist practice is blatantly taken from the modern business world, and puts the lower office of deacon as overseers of those called of God to be overseers, turning Scripture on its head.

We need to ask, is the Bible so unclear on the nature and duties of the office of deacon? Brothers, this is not the case! It is sin that keeps God’s people from seeing clearly, not a lack of clarity in God’s Holy Word. We must abide by what the Book reveals, and guard against traditions not found therein. If Scripture is not our guide, we are adrift on the sea of man’s wisdom; and that is dangerous.

The qualifications of deacons differ from those of elders on the single requirement of elders, but not deacons, being able to teach the Word of God. Deacons are to be men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These bedrock character traits often neglected when selecting deacons, as people focus on the man’s record of financial giving, business acumen, and abstinence from alcohol. While those traits can be easily measured, they cannot be found in the Bible as qualification for this office. The traits found in Scripture are not so easily quantified. It takes serious thought and hard work to determine if a man has a good reputation among his neighbors and work colleagues. It takes time and discernment to see if there be evidence of the Holy Spirit in a man. Who wants to put a man on the spot and see if he holds the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience? Can you even explain this requirement, much less investigate it? Installing men to serve the local church as deacons is sober work, not to be taken lightly or without serious prayer and reflection.

A deacon must be the husband of one wife. The literal meaning of the text is “a one woman man” – which means that if there was a biblical divorce and subsequent marriage, the man is not disqualified. If one holds that no divorce is biblical, the on-going sin in a second marriage becomes an on-going problem within the body. I see 2 reasons in Scripture wherein YHWH permits divorce, for unrepentant adultery or for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. The goal of marriage is for each to last until death parts the couple. But even redeemed saints can fall into sin and be stiff-necked for a season; and the One Who knows our frailty has provided a narrow window – much narrower than in the Mosaic Covenant.

The requirement that deacons be tested first gives us a hint that we should invest the time and energy in examining would-be deacons; and not merely assuming these traits be theirs. This testing also provides the opportunity to see if his wife is sober minded and faithful, if his children are “managed well”. We must exercise the full measure of the biblical text to prove the men who would serve as deacons; they are care-takers of God’s sheep and co-laborers with His under-shepherds. This is a high calling (those who serve well gain a good standing) and we cannot allow our lazy human minds to rest on our own wisdom, or the taking of shortcuts or reliance on the traditions handed to us by other men. Finding men who tithe and do not frequent bars is wrong-headed and too low a bar for the office our Lord established for the temporal care of His redeemed.

As we desire our men to provide for their families, spiritually as well as physically, our deacons are to help families in each arena, with boundaries in both. Neither the church nor either office therein can unreasonably meddle with a family. God has established three spheres in this age, with specific roles and limits. It’s been said that to the state God gave the sword, to the church He gave the keys to the kingdom, and to the family He gave the rod of correction. We should not cross these boundaries without a clear biblical basis. Wisdom and care is needed if we are to tend to God’s people without ruling over them as “Gentiles” tend to do.

Healthy church members let their deacons know ahead of time when they will miss, and explain why. They will be more inclined to assemble with another local body while away if they properly understand church membership. This exercise of membership responsibilities is representative of any number of other earthly matters that deacons are likely to get involved with, each of which most often reflects the spiritual condition of the person. Lack of attendance and interest in church life, neglecting to worship in giving money, and many other concerns can be prompted by earthly things: illness, loss of work, death in the family, etc. In order to be wise stewards of the office, deacons must not presume to know the cause without investigating it, learning from Job who investigated the cause of what he did not know (Job 29:16). This keeps us from the sin of presumption and all that tends to follow closely behind.

As we examine men who would and do serve in our churches as deacons; as we consider how we determine the role of the office and how we select these men, let us humbly petition our God for wisdom and grace to do what is right in His sight – aligned with His scriptures and not resting on our own wisdom.

Elder. This role can only be fulfilled by a qualified man who is called and equipped by God for this service. There is no possible interpretation that allows self-identified or unconverted men, or women to serve in this capacity; and yet many churches do just this. This latter error is always the first big step to total apostasy for a church, preferring fallen man’s view of order over creator God’s declared view.

As mentioned earlier, the only different qualification for this role is that an elder must be able to teach. In our English Bibles we see the words Elder/Presbyter, Overseer/Bishop, Shepherd/Pastor. Each pair of these words comes from one Greek word; Elder/Presbyter is from presbyteros; Overseer/Bishop from episkope; and Shepherd/Pastor from poimen. They are used interchangeably and they all refer to a single office in the church which has several important functions, each of which is designed by the Lord to insure the health of each local church. The terms elder and presbyter refer to a man’s experience; in the Word and in the church. Overseer and bishop convey the act of being a spiritual guardian or protector, while pastor and shepherd refer to the spiritual care and feeding of God’s flock. We see overlap among these three functions in 1 Peter 5:1-5, where elders are exhorted by the Apostle Peter to shepherd God’s people with the right motive and attitude, serving as examples for the less mature Christians. In Acts 20:28, elders are instructed by the Apostle Paul to pay careful attention to themselves and the flock of God, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church. One aspect of being a faithful elder that is implicit in these passages is that of being among the saints, knowing them as a shepherd knows his flock and being known as the shepherd is by the sheep. A man who does not live among his church members, who lives at a higher station of life, who spends all his time with other preachers is not faithful to his call. The elder must be an able teacher of the Word (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 3:1-8) and a diligent servant of God’s people (1 Timothy 5:17 & 18).  He must also be able and willing to rebuke those who contradict the Word of God within the local church (Titus 1:7-9), and he must be about training others to work alongside him as under-shepherds of Christ (2 Timothy 2:1-3). One who would hold this office must lead the church, serving as a proper example (2 Thessalonians 2:11 & 12; 2 Timothy 2:15), and the saints are commanded to submit to them, not being burdensome for them (Hebrews 13:17). Elders were given to the church, by God, to equip the saints for the work of the church, bringing them to maturity and the fullness of Christ so they would not be vulnerable to the deceptive schemes of the enemy (Ephesians 4:11-14). This means the biblical elder must feed God’s sheep the whole counsel of His Word, not trusting his opinion or theirs as to what is true nor picking some Scriptures from which to teach and ignoring others. His teaching is to be tested in light of Scripture; not accepted nor rejected by personal whimsy or blind friendship. All of these responsibilities of elders are beyond any man’s abilities, so the Bible reminds us that elders, like the Apostles who preceded them, must be men of prayer (Acts 6:4).

There is another requirement of the man who would serve as an elder. While some read 1 Timothy 3:2 to mean a single man cannot serve as an elder, the view most compatible with Scripture is that an elder who is married must be in a biblical marriage and work at keeping it. Elders must be one-woman men, and they must lead their churches to defend marriage in the face of reprobates. 1 Timothy 3 goes on to say the elder must be sober minded and not quarrelsome; all the more so in defending God’s people from unrighteous men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).

Being God’s spokesman is no job for a new convert, one who is unsure of God’s Word, unwilling to proclaim God’s Word, unable to rebuke those who contradict God’s Word, or unworthy of being followed as God’s servant. The times in which we live are treacherous, with many professing Christians embracing abominable sin in order to be well thought of by those outside the camp of Christ. Christians are never to compromise God’s truth for the applause of men (Galatians 1:10) and elders must be held to a high standard so that the Lord’s name not be disgraced among the pagans and the local church not be led astray.

Ezekiel 33 & 34 describes watchman appointed by God with responsibilities to warn, guard, and care for the people of God. In these two chapters we see a contrast of the watchman with the shepherd: the watchman warns, the shepherd tends. In each passage, unfaithful watchmen and shepherds are contrasted with those who are faithful. Ezekiel 34:1-10 describes the failures of the leaders of Israel, showing what shepherds are supposed to fulfill. Shepherds are supposed to care for the flock. These men were feeding on the sheep; fleecing the sheep. These men had all the appearance of shepherds, but they were wolves. Pastoral ministry is hard work, not glamorous. Those who pose as celebrities, living the high life, are not pastors. Pastors should smell like sheep, walking in the mud and mess, scarred by the teeth of biting sheep. This is difficult but rewarding work. Every man should aspire to be a commendable man who leads his family as a shepherd leads the flock. He must diagnose and treat appropriately – you don’t strengthen the stray, you strengthen the weak; you don’t bind up the lost – you search for the lost. Each spiritual condition requires the correct spiritual remedy. The pastor must know illnesses and the people, else he cannot properly treat the sheep. Verse 10 in Ezekiel 34 shows the omnipotent hand of God rescuing His sheep from the teeth of the wolves. A true pastor will watch the flock like a man who must give an account to the God who has purchased the sheep with the blood of His own son. Because that is what God’s Word tells us the truth about those who would call themselves “pastor”.

Even with the best of intentions, we can go astray from the narrow path of biblical truth. Over time, man has developed unbiblical structures, imagining that Bishop is more honorific and must carry more responsibility (by which they mean fame). Most men who preach call themselves “pastor” regardless of whether they shepherd the flock God has gathered there or not. One who preaches but does not work to know and care for the saints the Lord has put under his watch cannot rightly call himself pastor; he is merely a preacher. These words are not titles by which the men who serve are to be called, but descriptions of service they provide within the local church. Because God has given these terms to describe the roles of men He calls to the office, we must be careful to use them correctly.

Plurality of elders. Most churches in every denomination and across the spectrum of Baptists miss the point of Scripture on this point. The Bible repeatedly shows us that even the early churches that met in houses had two or more men serving as elders, a plurality of elders.

Acts 14:22&23 – Paul and Barnabas had traveled to Antioch, Derbe, Iconium, & Lystra, where they strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 20:17 – Paul passed by Ephesus to Miletus. Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

James – Was written to the churches resulting from Saul’s scattering of the saints (1:1), this letter shows elders in the local church (5:14).

Philippians is addressed (1:1) to overseers (elders) and deacons in that church, in addition to the entire congregation.

Hebrews recognizes leaders (elders) in that congregation (13:7, 17, 24).

1 Tim – Timothy was recognized by the elders of his church for his calling as an elder (1 Tim 4:14) and a plurality of elders is seen again in 5:17.

In large and small fellowships, having only one elder can lead to a kind of “cult of personality” as a solitary man is seen as the public face and voice of that church. One man alone, coping with a job, his family, and the ministry is vulnerable to being drawn aside by pragmatism in what may start as an innocent desire to do all things well and unto the Lord but which soon go astray. If the saints YHWH has gathered and gifted in the local church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are encouraged to serve the body, those serving as elders and deacons will have a much lighter load and the local church will marvel to see the Lord working in their midst!

Having two or more men who preach and teach provides several benefits, in addition to aligning with the examples and teachings from Scripture (Acts 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 20:7; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; et. al.). Two or more men can sharpen one another and hold each other accountable, while the church sees the true Shepherd more clearly when they see Him work through more than one man. The church will see strengths and weaknesses in each man and those men will have the opportunity to be examples of how to serve in unity without letting egos derail the ministry. As they seek to identify others and train them for this service, more men will have opportunity to serve the saints in myriad ways. This is part of life in the body of Christ that is vital and often undervalued. It is not, as one man said to me, a matter of money. It’s a matter of caring for the people of God as He has shown us.

Baptists used to be known as “people of the Book.” This topic of deacons and elders is one where many Baptists discard the Book and cling to traditions handed down by men. Brothers, this should not be so! We are servants with responsibility. The Bible is our only authority for life and godliness. We are to seek His will, revealed in Scripture, and not rely on our own wisdom or traditions.

A Baptist Look at the Reformation and the Covenants

A Baptist Look at the Reformation and the Covenants

Baptists have historically been called people of the Book, based on a devotion to knowing Christ through His written revelation, seeking wisdom from God as His Spirit guides us.

Our charge is to be faithful to the One who called us, not to those dear brothers who went before us, some 400 years past.

May my imperfect message provoke you to dig into the Word and not be content with being a disciple of men.

Captive to the Word of God

Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine bookstores. In four parts, Captive to the Word of God examines the history of Baptists and the distinctives that mark them; how Baptists fit into and should view reformed theology; a Baptist view of the covenants in Scripture; and what these theological and doctrinal concepts look like when practiced in a local church.

Here’s what people are saying about this book:

Mike Ratliff

As a fellow Baptist I am extremely grateful to Stuart for writing and publishing this well written and well researched book. When God drew me out of the mediocrity of American Evangelicalism in 2004 I had the Word of God and works of Luther, Calvin, Sproul, Pink, Packer, Boice, Clark, Edwards, Owen, Horton, Spurgeon, and Bunyan to wade through in an attempt to get a grasp on what Stuart has clearly organized and presented in this fine work. In the above list of names only two of them are Baptists (Spurgeon and Bunyan). I did learn much of my Reformation Theology from all those listed, but I learned how to get things right Biblically through the teachings of those two men. If I had had this book back then it would have been most useful! Why? Stuart gives us the history of the Baptist very succinctly and then history of the Reformation itself and why it was necessary. In part 3 Stuart gives us the proper interpretation of Covenant Theology by Baptists which keeps us from the errors made by so many in todays mess of Evangelicalism. Lastly, Stuart gives us proper soteriology in Part 4 which is sadly missing in our day, which is a large part of why Evangelicalism has lost its way.

I highly recommend Stuart L Brogden’s new book to you. If you are being drawn by God to know Him and your role in His Church then this book is a wonderful place to start. You won’t be disappointed.

Jon J. Cardwell, pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Anniston, Alabama and author of Christ and Him Crucified

As we live in times of enormous dysfunction, disagreement, and even disunion in local gatherings professing to have faith in Jesus Christ, Stuart Brogden’s voice rises in the wilderness as a servant and workman of Christ who, by God’s grace and in His providence, has been made manifest among us. Although his message is couched in a Particular Baptist perspective, the underlying theme of his treatise is found in the main title of his book: Captive to the Word of God. A thorough and thoughtful passion for God’s Word has always been needed by the Christian believer, and today, more than ever. Too many, these days, are departing from their First Love, Jesus Christ, because they have divorced who He is and what He has done from what has been written of Him from Genesis to Revelation. Whether you identify with Baptists or not, Stuart Brogden provokes us to love God’s Word unto loving Christ… and loving Christ and His holy Word as much as a sinner saved by grace is able, by God’s grace.

Rev. Jeff Canfield, D. Min., Pastor at Word of Life Church, Sullivan, Indiana and author of A Call to Honor and When Church and Government Collide

Stuart Brogden’s excellent work, subtitled, A Particular Baptist Perspective on Reformed and Covenant Theology, is not only rich in church history, but also in theological substance. Mr. Brogden details the Baptist view of Reformed and Covenant Theology in a scholarly and authoritative manner. Without a doubt, this work should be considered a necessary addition to any serious theological student’s study library, as well as a wonderful resource for any pastor, teacher, or professor.

Jeffrey D. Johnson, pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Conway, Arkansas and author of The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism

Eliza Spurgeon told her son: “I have often prayed for your conversion, but I never thought you would become a Baptist.” With his quick wit, the young Charles responded: “Mother, that shows you that God has not only answered your prayers, but has done exceeding abundantly above all you asked or thought.” Like Charles Spurgeon, I am joyful to be a Baptist but concerned we have lost sight of what it means to be a Baptist. With confessions of faith being stored in the attic as archaic relics of the past, it is no wonder that the labels defining denominational distinctives are being dropped from churches’ names. To recover the Baptist name, it is vital that we recover the historic Baptist distinctives. For this reason I cannot recommend Captive to the Word of God enough. Stuart Brogden covers all the major components of the Baptist faith and traces every doctrinal tenant back to the Scriptures. Above everything else, Brogden explains why Baptists are called “people of the book.” In my opinion, this helpful work needs to be required reading for all Baptist seminary students. In fact, everyone who wants to know what it means to be a Baptist should read this book. Since I love the historic Baptist faith, I love this book.

Click the pic or the link to be taken to the Amazon page. Also, now available on Kindle!

My goal in writing this is to examine my own beliefs, strengthen my fellow Baptists, provoke fellow Christians to think biblically, and be a faithful steward of all the Lord has given me. My goal in life is to serve our God for the glory of His name and the good of His people, and to be remembered by my family and our God. May all who have benefited from anything I have said or done forget my name; may it be the name of the Lord Jesus that is remembered. A more excellent way to sum this up was written by an 18th century pastor, William Mason in his booklet, The Believer’s Pocket Companion:

The design of my writings is to stir up and quicken the Lord’s children in the way of . . .

greater trust in Christ,

 more intense looking to Christ,

greater dependence upon Him,

and more consistent abiding in Him

  • so that they may . . .

enjoy more sweet fellowship with Him,

find more of the His inestimable preciousness,

and experience more of His wonderful love, which surpasses knowledge.

Amen and amen!

Baptist – What Does it Matter?

Anyone passing through Pittsburg County will see many different labels on churches: Methodists, SDA, Presbyterian, Cowboy, Baptist, and more.
sola scripturaWhat is the significance of being a Baptist church and why does Arpelar Baptist matter, in this grand sea of varied churches? There are four significant reasons it matters that Arpelar Baptist is a Baptist church. These are not mere denominational distinctives – every group has those. These four characteristics emerged as spiritual truths that should mark any Christian church. First, a little history.

Where did the name Baptist come from? In the 1500s and 1600s, Anabaptist (the word means “re-baptizer”) was a label widely used for all sorts of religious groups that did not submit to the state church, in England and on the European continent. People who practiced believer’s baptism and held to a few other key doctrines took measures to describe themselves to the state, in an effort to distance themselves from the factions that posed a threat to the state and its church. They protested that they weren’t Anabaptists, and it appears that after a time of protesting this, in answer to the inevitable question (if you’re not Anabaptists, what are you?), the name “Baptist” emerged. The manner and meaning of baptism was, from the earliest times, a distinctive doctrine and practice that has divided people for centuries. We are called Baptists because we see the importance of practicing believer’s baptism – that’s the only baptism we find in Scripture. This alludes to a long-time description of Baptists as “people of the Book.” To depart from His special revelation we call the Bible means we rely on our wisdom. And of that we find no approval of in God’s Holy Scriptures.

There are some who hold to various views of successionism which claims that Baptists have existed since the time of Jesus, often pointing to John the Baptist. History does not bear this out. John the Baptist had that label because of his main mission – baptizing people for repentance. What is true is that we find in Scripture and in history, credible accounts of people who held to certain distinctive doctrines that, when Baptists emerged from the chaos of The Reformation, were true of Baptists. We have kin-ship with them. But until 1609, history knows nothing about a people calling themselves Baptists.

Baptist Distinctives. It’s my experience that we are not well informed on what it means to be Baptist. So let’s first take a look at…

Baptism. This is the best-known Baptist distinctive, although why it’s significant is often not well understood. We will quickly look at three aspects of baptism, which will demonstrate why people have misunderstood and fought about it. Books have written about each of these points, this will be a brief summary.

  • Mode.How is baptism administered? It ought not to be contested; the only mode found in Scripture is immersion. Many teachers of baby sprinkling admit this, but most of the professing Christian world sprinkles babies and calls that baptism. All we see, beginning with the baptism of our Lord Jesus, is clearly the manner of immersion – being dunked under the water. There’s not an exception to this mode and there are many example of it. Consider the eunuch with Philip, they went down into the water and came back up. If sprinkling was the mode, there was undoubtedly water in the chariot that would be plenty. They stopped at a river and went down into the water. The very word baptism comes from a Greek word that primarily refers to a ship that has sunk. We are people of the Book – we dunk people under the water.
  • Candidates. Who is eligible to be baptized? Most recognize faith of some sort is required. Since babies cannot be examined to see if they believe, at least 8 reasons are presented by those who sprinkle infants. Advocates of baby sprinkling read between the lines of lines in Scripture and imagine babies being baptized in a few passages. There is no mention of small children being baptized in God’s Word. ‘Tis far more straightforward and biblical to require the individual presented for baptism to declare his faith in Christ; to be examined by parents and pastor to see if there be evidence of a new creature. Another man’s faith will not serve well on Judgment Day when we each stand before the Lord.
  • Significance. What does baptism mean? This gets to the reason we cannot compromise on these first two points. The main reason baptism is given in Scripture is to point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He said of His baptism, (Luke 12:50), I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! By this, Jesus was not referring to John’s baptism of Him in the Jordan, though that is a type and shadow of the spiritual truth of what Jesus speaks of in Luke 12. The Lord’s true baptism was when He was punished for our sins on the tree. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did – cursed by God for the sins of others, He laid His life down for us, knowing He would pick it back up again. When we baptize believers, we read, We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. This gives us a picture of what has been done to us, that as the Lord Jesus was put to death and raised up, so are we – spiritually. This is why baptism is significant and why we cannot compromise on this topic. The Lord’s death and resurrection are the keystones of our faith.

Nature of the local church. There are three forms of government given to man by our Creator: The family, which teaches children the things of God and is the smallest government of all. The civil government, which is to reward those who do good and punish evil-doers; handling disputes involving citizens of the world. The church, which is the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), represents the kingdom of God in this age and handles disputes amongst the saints. It is here that people gather, for worship, instruction, prayer, and fellowship. It is here, primarily, that God meets with His people, having given the church shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:12-14). The church, both its local form and the universal form, represent the bride of our Lord.

With that background, we will take a look at 4 aspects of the local church.

  1. Local autonomy. This is another area in which the vast majority of Christian churches differ with us. We see in Scripture local churches in various towns that had relationships with other local churches, but not subject to men outside the church. The Council of Jerusalem, found in Acts 15, shows how the Apostles handled a contentious issue that affected many of the new churches. It was a one-time event, handled gently, with the desire that Christians stand before God with a clean conscience. The office of Apostle does not continue, and we see nothing in God’s Word about popes, presbyteries, or other denominational hierarchies that populate the professing Christian world and hold local churches under the thumb of elevated religious offices. The local church was founded by Jesus – these other religious institutions were dreamed up by man. Each church stands before the Lord, and her pastors will give an account to God for how they have served Him and them. This is why no man-made group can insert itself as lord over a local church – each pastor answers to Christ for his service and needs the love and support from the people the Lord has gathered there. The Scriptures are clear in describing two distinct offices or positions with defined responsibilities within the local church: elder/overseer/pastor and deacon are identified and qualified in 1 Tim 3. The men who serve in these offices are co-laborers, with distinctly different roles within the church. The qualifications from God’s Word for service in these offices are identical, with the exception that the elder/pastor must be able and willing to teach. Acts 6 gives us the best insight as to the function of these offices. The Apostles, forerunner of church pastors, were to devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word. Deacons were to tend to the physical needs of the dynamic and diverse body of Christ. As there are spiritual issues behind every temporal matter a deacon might be called upon to help with, these men must be qualified and there must be a good rapport between the deacons and pastors – so the body of Christ gets the best care possible.
  • Deacon: Who can serve as a deacon in the church is a hotly contested issue. This issue exists because of the use of the Greek and English words refer both to one who serves the local church in this capacity as well as those who are simply known for being servants to the body of Christ. Deacons are not required to be spiritual guides, feeders of the flock, or teachers; they are required as to be trustworthy and of moral character as they deal with matters of temporal importance, each of which has a spiritual foundation. The Greek word, diaconos, means servant and oft times in Scripture refers not to those in this office, but to others who serve the local body of Christ in many ways. The health of the church depends on deacons functioning well, which requires the cooperation of the pastors and the people. As with all things, our stand as Baptists must be in line with Scriptures.
  • Elder: This function can only be fulfilled by a qualified man. There is no possible interpretation that allows women to serve in this capacity; and yet many churches do. This is always a step to total apostasy for a church. In our English Bibles we see the words Elder/Presbyter, Overseer/Bishop, Shepherd/Pastor. Each pair of these words comes from one Greek word. They are used interchangeably and they all refer to a single office in the church. Man has developed unbiblical structures, imagining that Bishop is more honorific and must carry more responsibility (by which they mean fame). These words are not titles by which the men who serve are to be called, but descriptions of service they provide within the local church. The terms elder and presbyter refer to a man’s experience – in the Word and in the church. Overseer and bishop convey the act of being a spiritual guardian or protector, while pastor and shepherd refer to the spiritual care and feeding of God’s flock. And though these words are not meant to be used as titles, we find it convenient to put labels on functions and people. So one church will call these men elders, another, pastors. As long as the men serving in those offices are not being exalted, there’s really no harm.
  • Membership. Local church membership important for two over-arching reasons: it reminds the members that we are not of the world, but aliens and sojourners; and it tells the world that we do not belong to them, but serve a different King. Membership is, for most churches closely related to baptism. For the vast majority of churches which sprinkle babies and call that baptism, this means the infants are declared “covenant children” unless they rebel later in life. The Bible does not talk directly about church membership, we learn about it by seeing it in practice: the unrepentant sinner is thrown out of the local church, the sinning elder is rebuked in front of the local church, disputes between members are settled within the local church, and the Lord’s Supper is taken together as church. None of these make sense if small children and unregenerate people are considered members, as they cannot judge accusations in light of Scripture nor examine themselves to see if they be in the faith. Everything we do see in the Word of God around local church membership tells us it does have a relationship with baptism: both require a credible profession of faith in Christ and a willingness to walk in obedience to Him. So we do what we can to insure that every member of our church is, as best we can tell, a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Submission to the command to be baptized is an evidence of that faith.
  • Relationship to civil government. In the apostolic record of the Bible, each local church existed as on outpost for Christians in a hostile world. Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire because the church did not embrace the fable of the Caesar being a god. Until Constantine legalized Christianity, governments either persecuted Christian churches or tolerated them. When infant baptism was settled upon, initially for superstitious reasons, it was quickly seen as a wonderful tool for the newly crafted state church to determine how many little tax payers lived within her boundaries. Even to this day, the state church in Scotland allocates geographical regions to each local church. If you live there, that’s where you go to church – very much the way our government schools operate in this country. This is an issue that shows one reason the state churches hated the Anabaptists. All the so-called radical reformers had one thing in common – they believed the local church answered to Christ Jesus directly and that polluting the church with politics works against God’s people. Baptists developed this topic and embraced a healthy separation of church and state, a doctrine that recognizes the different spheres of responsibility God has given to each and recognizes that governments need counsel from churches so they can fulfill their roles – how else will a pagan government know “good” and “evil”? And contrary to many of the Anabaptists, who thought it sinful for Christians to serve in government offices, Baptists think such service is one way God’s church can influence civil governments to be better ministers according to Romans 13.

Liberty of Conscience. In practice, liberty of conscience is a product of one’s view of the nature of the local church. If the local church answers to none but Christ, then He alone rules the hearts of those in the church. If, however, the local church answers to a regional bishop, a pope, or a governor; that political/religious hierarchy inevitably asserts itself and demands obedience. Here’s how this doctrine worked out in the 1500s. Just as the Roman network of roads and the wide scale influence of Greek language and culture were orchestrated by God to bring about the fullness of time for the Lord’s first advent, so He brought about the printing press and common language Bibles to a people who were awakening from the dark ages and beginning to see a great light. Men such John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were used of God to bring His Word to the common people in their own tongues. As time progressed, Puritans refused to submit to the Roman Catholic Church regarding salvation – they believed in salvation by grace alone. They were persecuted by the Roman Church, which had the power of the state in hand, and fled to the colonies. Baptists who had fled from England, where the Anglican Church used the power of the state to persecute them for not sprinkling babies, landed in the American colonies and were persecuted by the Puritans for not submitting to their requirement that babies be sprinkled and churches submit to the colonial government. This shows what is meant by each Christian being part of the priesthood of believers – we each stand before God as individuals and our conscience can be bound by Him alone. Christians have minds that can comprehend spiritual truths but are still affected by inherited sin and active sin, keeping us from understanding Scripture perfectly. Hence, these tensions between Christians and the various views of secondary issues. This leads to my last point.

Authority of the Scriptures. Each of these points presented depends on the Bible being regarded as the express revelation from God. If we give passing assent to this but our lives are no different from the unsaved, we are either backslidden and in need of repentance or we are unsaved. How we see and submit to Scripture is a key indicator of whose we are. Two short observations: 

  1. Necessity of individual knowledge of Scripture. If we do not read and prayerfully study God’s Word we cannot properly exercise this precious gift of liberty of conscience nor will we understand the spiritual significance of baptism, the nature of the local church, or God’s love for us and wrath for the ungodly. As people of the Book, we must cherish and study His Word so we can be faithful servants to His people and faithful witnesses to the lost and dying world.
  1. Living in light of eternity, not for things that will perish. Our natural tendency is to live for what our flesh craves; this is, as James teaches us, the cause of conflict among us. We are to be focused on the heavenlies, mindful of who we are in Christ and live for His glory, not our own. If the Scriptures are all we need for life and godliness, let our lives be marked the One who authored them and live not for ourselves but for the glory of the One who gave Himself for us.

Four points on why it matters that we are Baptists. Having that name is not the important thing. Being true to the Scriptures is. Each of these 4 points reminds us of Whom we serve and where our hope lies, not that our label is “Baptist”. We live as citizens of God’s kingdom; traveling through a world at war with Him, proclaiming His life-giving gospel and walking as children of the Light. Let us love one another in word and deed, spurring each other onto good works prepared for us before the foundation of the world – as people of the Book, to bring glory to the name of our Lord and Savior and do good to all in the household of God.

The Glory of a True Church

Now available! A book by Benjamin Keach that has been out of print for more than 100 1425078955676-1024x1024years. Brought to you by Free Grace Press. Check it out, see who recommends it – for pastors and all saints.

Benjamin Keach was one of the best and most well-known baptist, puritan theologians of the 1600s. He was instrumental in introducing hymns into the church’s worship, and also was one of the framers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. He also had a profound love for the church. He began preaching at 18, and pastoring at 28 and his ministry was tremendously blessed by God with growth in truth and defense against error. He was despised by the authorities of the Church of England and often persecuted for his faith. – See more at: http://www.freegracepress.org/products/the-glory-of-a-true-church-by-benjamin-keach/#sthash.7vwpKTyb.dpuf

Baptist – What does it mean and why is it important?

It was my privilege to preach at a small country Baptist church this past Sunday. My sermon for that eveningBaptists-logo  was to help them better understand why being a Baptist church matters. The outline for the sermon is this:

Baptists – where did the name come from?
Four Distinctives:
1) Baptism: Mode, Candidates, Significance
2) Nature of the local church: Local autonomy, Offices, Membership, Relation to civil governments
3) Liberty of Conscience
4) Authority of Scripture: Individual responsibility to know the Word of God and live in light of eternity.

Declaration of the Faith and Practice of the Church of Christ

A Baptist perspective on how to do church, from the mid-1600s.Clipboard01

Declaration of the Faith and Practice of the Church of Christ,

in Carter-Lane, Southwark, under the Pastoral Care of Dr. John Gill, Read and assented to, at the Admission of Members.

HAVING been enabled, through divine grace, to give up ourselves to the Lord, and likewise to one another by the will of God, we account it a duty incumbent upon us, to make a declaration of our faith and practice, to the honour of Christ, and the glory of his name; knowing, that as with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, so with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; (Rom. 10:10) a which declaration is as follows, viz.,

I. We believe, That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, are (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21) the word of God, and the only (John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Peter 1:19, 20) rule of faith and practice.

II. We believe, That there is but one (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jer. 10:10) only living and true God: that there are (1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19) three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who are equal in nature, power, and glory; and that the Son ((John 10:30; Phil. 2:6; Rom. 9:5; 1 John 5:20) and the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3, 4; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18) are as truly and properly God as the Father. These three divine persons are distinguished from each other, by peculiar relative properties: The distinguishing character and relative property of the first person is begetting; he has begotten a Son of the same nature with him, and who is the express image of his person; (Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:3) and therefore is with great propriety called the Father: The distinguishing character and relative property of the second person is that he is begotten; and he is called the only begotten of the Father, and his own proper Son; (John 1:14; Rom. 8:3, 32) not a Son by creation, as angels and men are, nor by adoption, as saints are, nor by office, as civil magistrates; but by nature, by the Father’s eternal generation (Ps. 2:7) of him in the divine nature; and therefore he is truly called the Son: The distinguishing character and relative property of the third person is to be breathed by the Father and the Son, and to proceed from both, (Job 33:4; Ps. 33:6; John 15:26 and 20:26 and 20:22; Gal. 4:6) and is very Properly called the Spirit, or breath of both. These three distinct divine persons, we profess to reverence, serve, and worship as the one true God. (1 John 5:7; Matthew 4:10)

III. We believe, That before the world began God did elect (Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:4 and 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; 1 John 3:1; Gal. 4:4, 5; John 1:12) a certain number of men unto everlasting salvation whom he did predestinate to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ of his own free grace, and according to the good pleasure of his will; and that in pursuance of this gracious design, he did contrive and make a covenant (2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 89:2, 28, 34; Isa. 42:6) of grace and peace with his son Jesus Christ, on the behalf of those persons; wherein a Saviour (Ps. 89:19; Isa. 49:6) was appointed, and all spiritual (2 Sam. 23:5; Isa. 55:3; Eph. 1:3) blessings provided for them; as also that their (Deut. 33:3; John 6:37, 39 and 10:28, 29; Jude 1) persons, with all their grace (2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:3; Col. 3:3, 4) and glory, were put into the hands of Christ, and made his care and charge.

IV. We believe, That God created the first man, Adam, after his image, and in his likeness, an upright, holy, and innocent creature, capable of serving and glorifying him: (Gen. 1:26, 27; Eccl. 7:29; Ps. 8:5) but he sinning, all his posterity sinned in him, and came short of the glory of God; (Rom. 5:12 and 3:23) the guilt of whose sin is imputed; (Rom. 5:12, 14, 18, 19; 1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:3) and a corrupt nature derived to all his offspring descending from him by ordinary and natural generation: (Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; John 3:6; Ezek. 16:4-6) that they are by their first birth carnal and unclean; averse to all that is good, incapable of doing any, and prone to every (Rom. 8:7, 8 and 3:10-12; Gem 6:5) sin: and are also by nature children of wrath, and under a sentence of condemnation; (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 5:12, 18) and so are subject, not only to a corporal death, (Gen. 2:7; Rom. 5:12, 14; Heb. 9:27) and involved in a moral one, commonly called spiritual; (Matthew 8:21; Luke 15:24, 32; John 5:25; Eph. 3:1) but are also liable to an eternal death, (Rom. 5:18 and 6:23; Eph. 2:3) as considered in the first Adam, fallen and sinners; from all which there is no deliverance, but by Christ, the second Adam. (Rom. 6:23 and 7:24, 25 and 8:2; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:45, 47)

V. We believe, That the Lord Jesus Christ, being set up from (Prov. 8:22, 23; Heb. 12:24) everlasting as the Mediator of the covenant, and he having engaged to be the (Ps. 49:6-8; Heb. 7:22) Surety of his people, did In al. 4:4; Heb. 2:14, 16, 17) human nature, and not before, neither in whole, nor in part; his human soul being a creature, existed not from eternity, but was created and formed in his body by him that forms the spirit of man within him, when that was conceived in the womb of the virgin; and so his human nature consists of a true body and a reasonable soul: both which, together and at once the Son of God assumed into union with his divine person, when made of a woman, and not before; in which nature he really suffered, and died (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:3; Eph. 5:2; 1 Peter 3:18) as the substitute of his people, in their room and stead; whereby he made all that satisfaction (Rom. 8:3, 4 and 10:4; Isa. 42:21; Rom. 8:1, 33, 34) for heir sins, which the law and justice of God could require; as well as made way for all those blessings (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7) which are needful for them both for time and eternity.

VI. We believe, That eternal Redemption which Christ has obtained by the shedding of his blood (Matthew 20:28; John 10:11, 15; Rev. 5:9; Rom. 8:30) is special and particular: that is to say, that it was only intentionally designed for the elect of God, and sheep of Christ, who only share the special and peculiar blessings of it.

VII. We believe, That the justification of God’s elect, is only by the righteousness (Rom. 3:28 and 4:6 and 5:16-19) of Christ imputed to them, without the consideration of any works of righteousness done by them; and that the full and free pardon of all their sins and transgressions, past, present, and to come, is only through the blood of Christ, (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13; 1 John 1:7, 9) according to the riches of his grace.

VIII. We believe, That the work of regeneration, conversion, sanctification, and faith, is not an act of (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16 and 8:7) man’s free will and power, but of the mighty, efficacious, and irresistible grace (Phil. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; Eph. 1:19; Isa. 43:13) of God.

IX. We believe, that all those, who are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by the Spirit, shall certainly and finally (Matthew 24:24; John 6:39, 40 and 10:28, 29; Matthew 16:18; Ps. 125:1, 2; 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 24; Heb. 2:13; Rom. 8:30) persevere; so that not one of them shall ever perish, but shall have everlasting life.

X. We believe, That there will be a resurrection of the dead; (Acts 24:15; John 528, 29; Dan. 12:2) both of the just and unjust; and that Christ will come a second time to judge (Heb. 9:28; Acts 17:31; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 1 Thess. 4:15-17) both quick and dead; when he will take vengeance on the wicked, and introduce his own people into his kingdom and glory, where they shall be for ever with him.

XI. We believe, That Baptism (Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of Christ, to be continued until his second coming; and that the former is absolutely requisite to the latter; that is to say, that those (Acts 2:41 and 9:18, 26) only are to be admitted into the communion of the church, and to participate of all ordinances in it, (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12, 36, 37 and 16:31-34 and 8:8) who upon profession of their faith, have been baptized, (Matthew 3:6, 16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38, 39; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) by immersion, in the name of the Father, (Matthew 28:19) and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

XII. We also believe, That singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs vocally, (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) is an ordinance of the Gospel, to be performed by believers; but that as to time, place, and manner, every one ought to be left to their (James 5:13) liberty in using it.

Now all and each of these doctrines and ordinances, we look upon ourselves under the greatest obligation to embrace, maintain,, and defend; believing it to be our duty (Phil. 1:27; Jude 3) to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel.

And whereas we are very sensible, that our conversation, both in the world and in the church, ought to be as becometh the Gospel of Christ; (Phil. 1:27) we judge it our incumbent duty, to (Col. 4:5) walk in wisdom towards them that are without, to exercise a conscience (Acts 24:16) void of offence towards God and men, by living (Titus 2:12) soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.

And as to our regards to each other, in our church-communion; we esteem it our duty to (Eph. 4:1-3; Rom. 12:9, 10, 16; Phil. 2:2, 3) walk with, each other in all humility and brotherly love; to watch (Lev. 19:17; Phil. 2:4) over each other’s conversation; to stir up one (Heb. 10:24, 25) another to love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as we have opportunity, to worship God according to his revealed will; and, when the case requires, to warn, (1 Thess. 5:14; Rom. 15:14; Lev. 19:17; Matthew 18:15-17) rebuke, and admonish one another, according to the rules of the Gospel.

Moreover, we think ourselves obliged (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26) to sympathize with each other, in all conditions, both inward and outward, which God, in his providence, may bring its into; as also to (Rom. 15:1; Eph. 4:12; Col. 3:13) bear with one another’s weaknesses, failings and infirmities; and particularly to pray for one another, (Eph. 6:18, 19; 2 Thess. 3:1) and that the Gospel, and the ordinances thereof, might be blessed to the edification and comfort of each others souls, and for the gathering in of others to Christ, besides those who are already gathered.

All which duties we desire to be found in the performance of, through the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit whilst we both admire and adore the grace, which has given us a place, and a name in God’s house, better than that of sons and daughters. (Isa. 56:5)