Curtis Pugh

Poteau, Oklahoma

            As a boy I remember my mother making her own dresses. In order to turn out the product she desired she followed a pattern, making sure to cut the material according to the proper shapes as dictated by the one pattern. She did not need nor make use of more than one pattern for each garment. One pattern was enough. It enabled her to reproduce the dress pictured on the pattern envelope.

We have a pattern in the New Testament showing how new churches were gathered and by whom and by what authority. We have no pattern in the New Testament of any group of scripturally baptized persons forming themselves into a church apart from an ordained man sent out by a previously existing scriptural church. There are some churches about which we know nothing, but the argument from silence proves nothing. All competent students of the Word are agreed: silence proves nothing! Those who do not insist on following this pattern claim that we just do not have sufficient patterns in the Bible. But, I ask, how many patterns did my mother need to make a garment? Only one was necessary to turn out what she wanted. And this preacher insists that the one pattern found in Acts 13:1-4 is a clear and sufficient revelation from God. Surely one is enough: we need no other!

Acts 13:1-4 is very instructive. It says: “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.   As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost…”

Notice these six things: (1) All the persons involved here were “in the church that was at Antioch.” No freelancers here! (2) In the midst of their service (preaching?) and fasting (probably here in connection with prayer) the Holy Spirit made His will known regarding two of them. (3) It is stated that the Holy Spirit had called them (past tense) to this work. This explains the willingness of these men to go forth. (4) The congregation fasted, prayed and as a public demonstration of giving these two church authority they laid their hands on them. (5) Then the church sent them away. Implied in that statement is that the church gave unto them money and other things they might need for their travels. (6) So it is stated that they were “sent forth by the Holy Ghost” – but not without the involvement of the congregation. Church involvement was a part of being sent forth by the Holy Spirit! Those who are familiar with the New Testament know that these men went forth making disciples, marking them by baptism, and maturing them by teaching them – they carried out the commission Christ left to His church. Being members of that congregation and having been authorized by her, they were laboring on behalf of that church to fulfill the commission given to Christ’s churches. It is also significant and stated in other places in the Book of Acts that Paul always returned to his home-church after each of his evangelistic/baptizing/teaching tours.

Today we are told by some Brethren that this pattern is insufficient and has no bearing on how mission work is to be done or how new churches are to be started started. Those who give to a group of scripturally baptized folk the authority to organize themselves into a church do so without any biblical basis. There is no statement in the Bible saying that baptized folk have such authority. Nor is there any example in the New Testament of a group of scripturally baptized folk who are stated to have independently formed themselves into a scriptural church. In fact, is there any statement in the New Testament giving scripturally baptized folk any authority other than to serve Christ in one of His churches? Theirs is a theory based on silence which proves nothing whatsoever. Does silence prove that Cain killed his brother with a stone? We are only told that “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him,” (Genesis 4:8). We may surmise about a great many things in the Bible because of that Book’s silence, but we dare not presume to challenge clear statements in the Bible with our suppositions. Whatever spontaneous-combustion-theorists may say about us, at least we do have and do follow a pattern found in the Word of God!

Those who espouse this “spontaneous combustion theory” – those who claim that scripturally baptized folk have authority to start a church apart from an ordained man sent by a previously existing church – those people, to my knowledge, refuse to address the question as to whether or not members may dismiss themselves from membership in a scriptural church for whatever reason. And this preacher has found none who address the question as to whether or not excluded members of a scriptural church may form themselves together and by their own independent act constitute themselves into a church. It would seem that they disregard the authority of sister congregations to discipline their members by giving them the authority as excluded members to organize themselves into a new church. Do such men even believe in church discipline?

By their pattern-less doctrine – that is, that scripturally baptized persons, even excluded ones, may constitute themselves into a church – they seem to be saying that at least some of the Campbellite churches are scriptural.  After all, the first Campbellite churches were self-constituted congregations made up of scripturally baptized Baptists who had been excluded from various Baptist congregations. Selah!


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