Dictionary says that a misnomer is; “An error in naming a person or thing,
also a misapplied name or designation.” We say that the self-constitution
of churches is a misnomer, first of all, because it is an error in naming.
These are not churches. They may be religious societies, they may be social
clubs, they may be service organizations but they are not New Testament
Churches. Secondly, it is misapplied because they are not self-constituted
bodies. They are the product not of themselves but of a preacher or group
of preachers by whom they are constituted after their pattern of church
formation. Better, and more appropriate, to call them preacher-constituted
rather than self-constituted.
We agree with J. R. Graves who in The Great Iron Wheel (1855 edition page 547) said the following. “The teachings of Christ and of his apostles furnish sufficient principles by which to determine the peculiar form and structure of church government, as well as all the laws and regulations necessary for the proper administration; and that those teachings also determine the number of offices, and the relative rank, powers and duties of its officers; finally, that the First Church at Jerusalem, formed by the directions and under the eye of the Saviour, and the apostolic churches organized by the apostles, are the authoritative models for the formation of churches for all future time; a departure from which by a religious society is a forfeiture of its claims to be considered a Christian church, and involves its origination in the sin of impiety.”
The church at Jerusalem was indeed the pattern for all subsequent churches. Certainly the apostles did as they were taught by Christ in the organizing of churches. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles.” (I Corinthians 12:28) So in following the apostolic example we go back to the very beginning of the Lord’s churches.
The New Testament churches were apostolic. In that, we mean to say, that they both had apostles and many were organized by the apostles themselves. We cannot imagine the apostles, after the resurrection, under the inspiration and moving of the Holy Spirit doing anything other than that which Christ had taught by his word and example during His personal ministry.
As the scripture is clear; “There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” (Ephesians 4:4) This must be one of a kind. As Oscar Mink points out in The Baptist Examiner Forum for April 22, 1978. “If the one body of the text can be dualized, then the other six elements which constitute the foundation of church unity may also be dualized. The impossibility of which is seen when one considers such an interpretation as Paul saying, there are two bodies, two spirits, two hopes, two Lords, two faiths, two baptisms and two Gods. Such an interpretation would be ludicrous if it were not so ridiculous. The one body in the text does not mean one in number, but one in kind, the same as one baptism in the text means one in kind.”
The church at Jerusalem then is our shining example. But, the church at Jerusalem was not self-constituted. The Church at Jerusalem was organized by Christ himself. J. C. Settlemoir points out in his book Landmarkism Under Fire, in speaking of the views of J. R. Graves; “Rather it teaches that the authority is directly from Christ and from Christ alone.’
Jesus said “I will build my church.” He did not say that the material which John the Baptist prepared for Him to build with would come together by themselves and constitute themselves as a church. He said “I will build my church.” The First Baptist Church at Jerusalem was constituted not by itself but by Jesus Christ. Christ called them, Christ organized them, and Christ authorized them.
Self-Constituted churches may be religious bodies but they are not churches of Christ. I point your attention to the Stein-Ray debate held in 1880 and published by the Western Book Exchange in 1881. D. B. Ray was certainly an Old Landmarker. The question put forth in the debate was; “The Brethren (or Tunker) churches possess Bible characteristics entitling them to be regarded as churches of Christ.”
D. B. Ray in his first negative, after relating an account of the organization of the first Brethren church says the following on page 14. “This account shows that the first Tunkers organized themselves into a church! They were not organized by Christ or the apostles, but they organized themselves into a church!! Jesus Christ built his church, but these Tunkers built one for themselves. Therefore, they are not the church of Jesus Christ.”
In fact J. W. Stein says in his reply; “My friend thinks because our Brethren organized themselves, they cannot be churches of Christ. Can he mention one church since those planted by apostles, not self-organized under the supervision of uninspired men.” (Page 17)
To which D. B. Ray replied; “The reader will observe that Mr. Stein has admitted our allegation, upon which our second negative argument is based, namely that the Tunker churches are self-organized under the supervision of uninspired men. The original church of Christ was organized by Jesus Christ himself. But the original Tunker church was organized by uninspired men. Therefore the original Tunker church was not a church of Christ. Consequently the Tunker churches which sprang from this self-organized human society are not churches of Christ.”
One of the recent contenders for this self constitution theory sees two essentials of a true church. “Landmarkism teaches there are only two essentials of a true church. One, it must preach the true gospel and two; it must practice the ordinances properly. In this definition Landmark Baptists agree with all other denominations. Because Landmarkers believe immersion alone is scriptural baptism and that scriptural baptism is essential to church membership, they believe those who are not scripturally baptized are not members of a Scriptural church. Churches composed of those who are not scripturally baptized are not in gospel order and therefore cannot give scriptural baptism regardless of the mode. Nor can they execute properly any gospel act any more than a society not in legal order can organize a posse, pass legislation, or appoint an ambassador.” (J. C. Settlemoir in Landmarkism Under Fire page 10)
Let us think on this for a moment however. If Landmarkism is so it must rise or fall on a link-chain succession. If we accept the theory of a succession of ordinations, we ask where the authority for ordaining either a preacher or a deacon rests? In the local church. If we accept a chain of baptisms, then who administers baptism? The local church. If we accept baptized believers carrying out the commission, who baptized them and where did they get the commission? The local church. Therefore unless we accept a spiritual succession that eliminates Landmarkism completely we must contend for a link chain succession of New Testament churches.
It is a strange thing to me that those who disagree with us on this question will readily admit that a church organized by another New Testament church (the so-called essential mother-daughter authority theory) is a New testament Church. In fact most of those who advocate the self-constituted theory at one time were one with us. They have participated in church organizations using a mother church (so-to-speak) to organize another church. Since we are all in agreement that as to those churches being true churches who were organized by a mother church, as long as they preach the true gospel and practice the ordinances correctly, why not come to an agreement then to organize all churches in this way? We brethren who use a mother church pattern may be considered weak. If so, then why not help out a weaker brother, and for the sake of peace among the brethren do it our way (which is the Bible way after all is said and done)?
I count some of the brethren who contend for self-constitution as strong in the faith, but will all their disciples be so? The Southern Baptist Convention after all was started by giants but now that the giants are long gone there are many pygmies in the convention churches. In my own lifetime I have seen this happen as concerns the so-called priesthood of the church. The original proprogaters were in many ways good men but their disciples have taken the teaching a lot farther than the originators ever did.
I am very afraid that fifty years from now those future disciples of those who teach the self-constitution theory will take it several steps farther and become no more than immersed protestants. As Brother Oscar Mink used to call them Deep Water Presbyterians.
It is essential to continue to recognize as New Testament churches only those who were organized by another New Testament church. That is the Bible way. Anything else is mere tradition.
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