THE Gospel is admirably adapted to man. Its disclosures of grace meet his wants, as a fallen guilty creature; and its revelation of a future state satisfies the instinctive longings of his soul for immortality. The ecclesiastical polity of the New Testament is not less suited to him, as a social being. The instincts of our nature lead us to society, and many of our noblest qualities are called forth and nurtured by its influence. A particular Church is a society of believers baptized upon profession of their faith in Christ.
When the Apostles went forth, under the broad commission of their ascended Master, preaching the Gospel, they gathered together the fruits of their ministry, wherever they went, into local societies. These are the only Churches known to the New Testament. They constitute the external development of Christ?s kingdom; and are employed, as nurseries, to prepare the genuine children of the kingdom for their ultimate and permanent abode.
A Church of Christ is a single congregation of professed believers, formed by the mutual agreement of its members, and designed for religious purposes. In this sense the word is used by the sacred writers more than sixty times. This is the view which has always been held by Baptists. "A particular gospel Church," says one of the earliest authorities in this country, "consists of a company of saints incorporated by a special covenant, into one distinct body, and meeting together in one place, for the enjoyment of fellowship with each other, and with Christ their head, in all his institutions, to their mutual edification, and the glory of God through the Spirit."55 2 Cor. 8: 5 ; Acts 2: 1.
Several important principles are involved in the Scriptural definition of a gospel Church.
1. A Church is a single local society.
2. It is composed of professed believers.
3. It possesses the power of admitting to membership, exercising discipline, choosing its officers, and, in general, managing its own affairs.
4. It is independent of all other Churches.
Each of these points demands a separate investigation.
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