The Local Church
By Berlin Hisel
First Baptist Church
of Harrison, Ohio
It is amazing to see all the adjectives before the name Baptist today. In a
desire to be Scriptural or maintain identity, Baptists have "dressed
up" their name. Calvinistic Baptists abound. Evangelical Baptists abound.
Fundamental Baptists abound. These are not names given to the denominational
Baptists. These are adjectives that most non-affiliated Baptists have taken unto
themselves. It is an attempt to say, "Look at me. See how sound I am."
We have Missionary Baptists. We have Independent Baptists. We have Bible
Baptists. We have New Testament Baptists. Really, there is no end of adjectives
that describe Baptist churches.
Are all these good? Are they necessary? Can any harm come from these terms?
Will not just "Baptist" do? Do we have to label ourselves? In many
cases the Baptists, who take to themselves all these extra names, are sound in
the faith. In a holy desire to be what old-time Baptists were, descriptive terms
are applied. Anyone today can tell you that most "Baptists" are not
what the "old-time Baptists" were.
This writer believes that taking to yourself these titles carries with it a
great many dangers. We do not propose to examine all the titles. This article
will be concerned with just one of them. It will deal with Fundamentalism. If
you claim to be a fundamental Baptist, please give an honest reading to what
WHAT IS FUNDAMENTALISM?
According to Baker's Dictionary of Theology "the term denotes a movement
in Theology in recent decades designed to conserve the principles which be at
the foundation of the Christian system, and to resist what were considered
dangerous theological tendencies in the movement calling itself Modernism. Its
tenets are not those of any Protestant denomination, but comprise the verities
essential to the Christian gospel as inherited from all branches of the
This is a good definition. What Baptists must note is that this is the
definition of Fundamentalism that is accepted in our world today. We as Baptists
believe that the doctrines of the Word of God are to be preserved from the
attacks of Modernism. Yet under this definition Billy Graham would comfortably
sit. Baptists must go a little further and ask, "What do fundamentalists
consider as fundamental doctrines?"
WHAT ARE THE FUNDAMENTALS?
Again we quote from Baker's Dictionary of Theology: "Organizationally,
Fundamentalism took shape as a consequence of the World Conference in Christian
Fundamentals which convened at Philadelphia in May of 1919. Taking the name, the
World's Christian Fundamental Association, the organization required of its
members adherence to nine points of doctrine, namely:
- The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
- The Trinity
- The deity and Virgin birth of Christ
- The creation and fall of man
- A substitutionary atonement
- The bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ
- The regeneration of believers
- The personal and imminent return of Christ, and
- The resurrection and final assignment of all men to eternal blessedness or
W. B. Riley was president of the Association from 1930 to 1952, at which time
it merged with the Slavic Gospel Association."
As a Baptist I agree with all nine of the above articles and defend them as
best I know how. But, then, so would John R. Rice or any good Campbellite,
Presbyterian or Methodist. What Baptists who would call themselves
Fundamentalists must recognize is that the above nine articles are the articles
of faith for Fundamentalism today. If you say, "I am a
Fundamentalist," any good Presbyterian would say, "I am, too. Let's
get together." Baptists must go a little further and ask, "What does
the Bible say as to the fundamental doctrines?"
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one
teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God and are
become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat (Heb. 5:12). In
order to see what the Bible fundamentals are we need to observe some
definitions. Of the word translated "principles" in this verse
Thayer's Greek Lexicon says, "Any first thing, from which the others
belonging to some series or composite whole, take their rise; an element, first
principle." Mounton and Milligan's Vocabulary of the Greek N. T. gives the
following concerning the word: "... the thought of 'elementary principles,'
the ABC of a science, as in Heb. 5:12 ..." The idea of the first principles
in Hebrews 5:12 is then the fundamental oracles of God. While those fundamentals
are not listed in this verse, they are listed in this context. The early verses
of Hebrews 6 lists them.
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on
unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works,
and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands,
and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment (Heb. 6:1-2). Of
the Greek word translated "principles" in verse one Vine's Dictionary
of New Testament Words says the following: "The first principles of Christ,
lit., 'the account (or word) of the beginning of Christ,' denotes the teaching
relating to the elementary facts concerning Christ." If we are truly
interested in the elementary facts or the fundamentals of the faith, here they
are; listed for us by the Holy Spirit of God. Anything that falls short of these
surely falls far short of being Bible fundamentalism.
Verses one and two of Hebrews six list the six first fundamentals or
principles. They are:
- Repentance from dead works
- Faith toward God
- The doctrine of baptisms
- Laying on of hands
- Resurrection of the dead, and
- Eternal judgment
There are many other doctrines that we are to believe and go on toward
maturity, but these are the six basic fundamentals. These six fundamentals are
divided in our text into three pairs of two each. The first two fundamentals are
those at the beginning of the Christian experience: (1) repentance from dead
works and (2) faith toward God. The second pair of fundamentals are those during
the Christian experience: (1) the doctrine of baptisms and (2) laying on of
hands. The third pair of fundamentals are those at the end of the Christian
experience in time: (1) resurrection of the dead and (2) eternal judgment. We
propose to examine these three Bible pairs of fundamentalism and compare them
with what those who are called fundamentalists today believe. It should prove
THE FIRST PAIR
A fact of the very first order and believed by most who profess Christianity
is that repentance and faith are necessary in becoming a Christian. The Bible
states: Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance
toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). It is also
stated in Acts 11:18, When they heard these things, they held their peace,
and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance
unto life. Jesus said, I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall
all likewise perish (Luke 13:3-5). The from dead works refers to
any or all works done in the flesh in order to be saved or serve God (see Heb.
9:14). So then repentance is fundamental to life.
Faith toward God is also necessary to life. Verily, verily, I say unto
you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath
everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death
unto life (John 5:24). John 3:16 says also that believing (or faith toward
God) is necessary to life.
On the fundamentals at the beginning of the Christian life, the
Fundamentalists of today are in agreement with the Bible. Baptists believe them
also, so we are in agreement here with them. But what about the fundamental way
of living the Christian life? We move on to pair number two.
After one has become a Christian, there are two fundamentals by which he must
live his Christian life. Thus we have our second pair of fundamentals consisting
in the doctrine of baptisms and the laying on of hands. Whatever can these
fundamentals mean? Whatever do they say or point to? Let us look at them one at
Much is made in the commentaries about baptisms being in the plural. Some
well-meaning men say this refers to baptizing three times so this is what they
practice. Some of the Brethren (Dunkers) practice this along with others. Some
say it means the inward baptism of the Spirit and the outward baptism (which
makes two: plural) of water. Still others say it speaks of the baptisms of John
and Jesus. Many say it is referring to the proselyte baptisms or the divers
washings (Heb.9:10) of the Jews. Many well-meaning Baptists tell us it refers to
the five baptisms:
- Water baptism
- Holy Spirit baptism at Pentecost and the house of Cornelius
- Baptism of suffering
- Baptism for the dead, and
- Baptism in fire
It is true that these five are mentioned in the Bible, but they have nothing
to do with our text. That all the above explanations are wrong is very evident.
There is no possible way for any of them to be the correct one for our text.
Each one of them is a doctrine in itself. The word doctrine in our text is
singular. So all of these solutions do not form one doctrine but a plurality of
doctrines. It is "baptisms" that is plural.
DOCTRINE OF BAPTISMS
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:5, One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
There is no Holy Spirit baptism today. It is past. There is no baptism in fire
today. It is future, at the end of the millennium. The one baptism of today is
water baptism. What is a baptism? Every time a Baptist preacher immerses a saved
person in water by the authority of a Baptist church to picture the gospel, you
have a baptism. Every time a Baptist preacher does that twice or more, you have
baptisms: plural. This is what our text is teaching.
PURPOSE OF BAPTISM
What does baptism do? It is an essential to church membership. The candidate,
upon his or her profession of faith, and by the authority of the church, is
immersed thus uniting with the said church in baptism. This means that it is a
fundamental doctrine, that a believer should live his or her Christian
experience as a member of one of the Lord's churches. That means that he is to
support his local church in attendance, with prayers and with his offerings.
Today's Fundamentalists do not believe this. John R. Rice and the most of
today's Fundamentalists want you to support them, not a local church. Billy
Graham says that you may live outside the church, the Christian life.
LAYING ON OF HANDS
What is meant by the laying on of hands? Whatever it means, it is one of
God's fundamentals. John Gill says it refers to the laying on of hands on an
animal, symbolizing the transferring of sins to the animal. One can't help but
wonder if he felt the animals ought to be baptized as the subject of both
baptism and laying on of hands is the same.
Laying on of hands is done by the direction of the church to set apart men to
a distinct office. Hands are laid on those chosen to be deacons (Acts 6:1-6).
Hands were laid on Paul and Barnabas who were going to the mission field (Acts
13:1-3), Timothy had hands laid on him (I Tim. 4:14) to set him apart for the
ministry. Timothy is told by Paul to lay hands suddenly on no man (I Tim. 5:22).
Let them first be proved.
The meaning of laying on of hands is evident from the above references.
Churches authorize deacons to "deek" and preachers to preach. The whole of the
Christian experience is to be lived within the framework of the Lord's churches.
Today's Fundamentalists reject this Bible fundamental. It would rule out all
this freelance evangelism and radio begging and bragging. It would put glory
back in the Lord's church where it belongs (Eph. 3:21). Today's (by their own
definition) fundamentalists are not Bible fundamentalists.
THE THIRD PAIR
When the Christian experience is lived out in time, we come to the third pair
of Bible fundamentals. They are the resurrections of the dead and eternal
judgment. After this life is over, all the dead (in two separate resurrections)
will be raised. The purpose is that they might be judged. The first
resurrection, that of the saved, will be for the purpose of judgment for reward
at the judgment seat of Christ. ... for we shall stand before the judgment
seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10). The second resurrection, one thousand years
after the first, will be of the lost to be judged for the degree of punishment
before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
In this pair of fundamentals, the Fundamentalists of today, in general, are
in agreement with us. This means that in two out of three we generally agree. Is
this close enough that we may call ourselves Fundamentalists? Can we, in
reality, surrender the second pair, and maintain our reason for existence? Can
we lay aside church authority or church truth? If we do, we lay aside the pillar
and ground (the fundamental truth) upon which all truth rests.
THE GREAT DANGER
One might say that this is making a mountain out of a mole hill. After all,
you might argue, we are really the fundamentalists who believe all three pairs,
so let the others quit calling themselves after the same. What a simple
solution, but don't hold your breath until it happens.
Let me illustrate the danger. A well meaning Baptist pastor, who is truly
fundamental by Bible standards, tells his congregation week after week that he
is a Fundamentalist. After some time, in the providence of God, he is removed by
death or a call elsewhere. The church is now seeking a pastor. They will seek a
Baptist who is a Fundamentalist. There are many who belong to the International
Fellowship of Fundamentalists who seemingly qualify. They say they are Baptists.
They say they believe in the local church. All the while they are
Fundamentalists according to today's definition. They don't believe the middle
pair or at least not very strongly. The church calls them. Their true color
begins to show. The church either begins to accept alien immersion or splits.
This writer can show you plenty of both.
My dear Baptist friend, be satisfied with being just a plain old Baptist. The
people called Baptists have never chosen their own name. They have always been
named by their enemies. Our enemies cannot stand what we stand for. When some
who go by the name Baptist join the ranks of our enemies, they will keep the
Baptist name and rename us. We have not always been called Baptists. If the Lord
tarries, I do not think we always shall be called Baptists. It is a grand old
name. Let's keep it until providence gives us another that will best describe
our doctrinal beliefs.