Book Review: Edification and Beauty by Dr. James Renihan

This week I finished a book that I truly enjoyed written by Dr. James Renihan entitled Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705, and this book is also a part of the Studies in Baptist History and Thought series.  I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Renihan and a small portion of his family in December, and so I was excited and interested to read this book (which also happens to be his dissertation, but it’s still very readable).

In a nutshell, this book is a history book, but a very intriguing history book about Particular Baptist history in England through the late 17th and into the very early 18th centuries. It is divided into six chapters (with plenty of subtitles….which I love) all expounding on the formation of the Particular Baptist churches (including the adoption of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689), church government, the officers of the church, the practice of the regulative principle of worship, and the formation, necessity, and activities of church associations.

Now, I say this book is more intriguing than you would expect because Dr. Renihan spent countless hours examining old church records, minutes from church meetings, and lots of other primary sources that we wouldn’t even think exist today. Some specific topics that I found particularly interesting were

  • the demographic breakdowns of various congregations
  • how churches formed (especially in less populated areas)
  • the question and outworking of who holds the authority and exercises the power within the church
  • the role of “gifted brethren”
  • the outworking of “the communion of saints” among the churches
  • and all of the actual examples of how these Christians handled problems within their churches.

And after reading, you can’t help but be left with the deep impression that these Baptists were extremely serious about what they believed and equally as diligent to practice their faith very carefully. Faithful precision was of the utmost importance.

In terms of reviewing this book, if I had to capture my thoughts with a verse from Scripture, I would use Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, which says:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

 

And this passage comes to my mind because I think that books like this can help us. It’s important to remember the past, and it’s even more important to learn from the past, especially Church history. And I know that there is a plethora of books out about the Reformation and the history of various Protestant denominations, but as Reformed Baptists, we should make sure that we’re learning our own history too so that we can continue to grow in wisdom, understanding, and Christian maturity as knowledgeable Reformed Baptists.

Now I confess that this is my first time reading anything about Baptist history, but I enjoyed it and want to read more. It reminded me of my own upbringing in a Baptist church, and although my church wasn’t Reformed, they practiced many things that I read about in Dr. Renihan’s book (i.e. the yearly review of church history and being active members in the local Baptist Church association). In particular, I remember when I came to faith as a child (around age 6), and most members (including my pastor) did not believe that children could truly come to saving faith in Christ. But my mother made me get up near the end of the service and go to my pastor to tell him that I believed the gospel. My pastor stopped before he gave the benediction to actually question me on the gospel and what I believed in front of the congregation. He was surprised and satisfied with my responses, and then he told the congregation that unless there was an objection from anyone, he was putting me forward to be a candidate for baptism. Thankfully, there were no objections, but they made me take foundation classes for a while before my baptism. And when I participated in the Lord’s Supper the Sunday of my baptism, I had to stand beside the table to receive “the right hand of fellowship” from every member of the church. Later, when church meetings were convened, I stupidly thought that I could run around and play with all my friends outside, but my mother made sure that I knew that as a member, it was expected that I would be in the church meeting and paying attention, although everyone else my age was outside playing. In fact, as the youngest believer in my church, everyone had a hand in “rearing” me and making sure that I was not thinking and behaving like the other children (my actual peers) in the church because I had made a confession of faith, and my whole life was changed and dedicated in service to the Lord and my church.

My church took membership very seriously, and even from childhood, they made sure that I was involved (i.e. serving as an usher, cleaning before and after services, serving in the choir, teaching Sunday School, helping with Vacation Bible School, helping with fellowship meals, and much more) and they made sure that I knew that I had to be involved because I was an actual member of the church. I believe this is one of the lasting impressions I have from this book: the need and duty of every member of the church to be actively dedicated and involved in the edification and sustainment of the church. And I am grateful that this tradition and practice was passed down in such a way that I was able to see it modeled faithfully in my church as a child.

Shortly after starting this book, I figured that it was a good idea to read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment so that I would learn to be content and patient with the providence of God in my life currently, and that was a good decision. But I can honestly say that this book does not exalt Particular Baptists or their practical ecclesiology over and above other denominations in any way. It just gives you a brief window into Particular Baptist church life in the late 1600s, nothing more and nothing less. The picture that you see looks amazing and promising at times, and at other times, it’s difficult and disheartening because even with all of the hard work put into it, things don’t always end the way we want them to. Nevertheless, it is the Lord who is building His Church, and this book shows you His faithfulness in that work among the Particular Baptists. I heartily recommend this one!

Loving the Local Church

As mentioned in the previous blog, the local church is the ordinary and primary means in which God sanctifies and grows believers, which means that church membership is non-negotiable for Christians. However, the trends in church membership and church attendance have created a new category of Christians in social science research who “love Jesus but not the Church”. We know that there is significant pressure from the unbelieving world to reject the institutional church. However, the sad reality is that the most popular polemics against the institutional church comes from other Christians. There have been numerous blogs in which professing Christians air their disgust for institutional Christianity. This mentality appears to be pervasive within our culture, but it’s an attitude that is contrary to the core teachings of the New Testament.

I don’t speak about this topic from an air of aloofness or indifference. About 10 years ago, I was once part of the crowd of Christians who loved Jesus but was burned by multiple local churches. As a Christian, I’ve been a member of churches in which individuals have been found guilty of sexual molestation of minors; individuals have been involved in adulterous relationships; individuals have split churches due to gossip, slander, and tertiary doctrinal matters (such as head coverings); elders have been found guilty of financial exploitation of its members; and members have harbored resentment towards other members for years. Observing the faults of various local churches drove me away from the institutional church. However, it was the testimony of older saints (who have walked through worse issues within the local church) who reproved me of this attitude. The central passage worthy of consideration is the following

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

Let those words sink in. Nothing can be plainer: it is impossible to love God without loving your brother. Applying this to the church, to say that “I love Jesus but not the Church” means that you do not love Jesus. This may be a harsh statement to some, but it’s the direct teaching of the New Testament. How can you claim to love Christ yet you are unwilling to love those for whom Christ has died? How can you claim unending love for Christ, yet you are unwilling to stick through the difficulties of your local church? The Apostle John makes even more penetrating statements regarding the necessity of loving your brothers:

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in Him. 1 John 3:10-11, 14-15

Let this passage sink in. The Apostle John connects our love for fellow brothers with our individual salvation. In other words, one is deceiving himself if he believes that he can truly know God apart from loving his brothers. The objection that usually follows is that it is possible to love fellow Christians without joining or committing to a local church. However, John continues his exhortation

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

This was the passage that cut me to the core as a young Christian. Practically, how is it possible to lay down your life for your brothers apart from local church? It’s easy to love your select group of Christian friends, but you don’t have the authority to pick and choose who are the members of your local church. If you aren’t committed to the fellow members of the body in the local church, can you honestly say that your love is “in deed and in truth”? There are many who are willing to point out the sins and flaws of members within their local church, but they are unwilling to aid in their sanctification. Is this truly the heart of someone who genuinely loves their brother?

There are many who will use the hypocrisy of the institutional church as a reason to reject her, but they rarely ever see their own hypocrisy. It is hypocritical to decry radical individualism within American Christianity while, at the same time, rejecting the community that God has formed in your local church. It’s hypocritical to say that the Church has become nothing more than a social club while, at the same time, rejecting the diversity of gifts, viewpoints, and personalities that God has formed in your local church. This is the mentality of one who is “dating the church” and then criticizes her to strangers after the breakup. As our Savior has said, you must take the log out of your own eye so that you can see clearly how to the speck out of your brother’s eye (cf. Matthew 7:5). In other words, you are not in position to judge the sins and blemishes of the institutional church until you are committed and willing to lay your life down for the members of your local church.

This is a call for perseverance and patience towards the local church. If you have walked away from the local church, I implore you not to forsake the local assembly. If you are a member of local church, I implore you not to keep your brothers and sisters at a distance. For those who are committed to your local church, I pray that you will excel still the more. I’ll end this blog with a quote from Thabiti Anyabwile:

…The proper response to the church, the church of worship, the people of God when they look upon the church isn’t critique and evaluation. It isn’t to spot all the limitations… The proper response of a heart oriented toward God that loves God and loves all that God does is, ‘Oh my God! Oh how staggering! Oh how beautiful … He’s my God and we are His people. Oh my God, look at the church!’

Why Church Membership

As mentioned in the previous blog, God visits and dwells with His people in a special way within your local church. However, our anti-institutional age has convinced us that we can piece together all of what we need from the local church through 21st century technological advances. Consider the number of ways in which technology can replace the elements of worship at any local church

  • If you want to sing as a form of worship to God, then you can listen to your favorite Christian artists on your phone. If you like traditional hymns and sacred music, you can listen to RefNet or Lutheran Public Radio or any number of other stations.

  • If you want to hear preaching, then you can click on SermonAudio.com, SermonIndex.net, or listen to any number of your favorite preachers on their ministry page.

  • If you want to have fellowship, you can join a local community group or join an online forum of likeminded individuals

  • If you want to hear pastoral prayer, you can read The Valley of Vision or read excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer

  • If you want to receive the sacraments, you can receive “drive-through communion” at certain locations.

If you are tech savvy enough, then you can, in essence, piece together your own liturgy. Moreover, these technological advantages give the impression that you can enjoy the benefits of church while ignoring its inevitable drama. While there are providential hindrances that may require some Christians to use these alternative resources outside the church temporarily, the reality is that much of this arise from a more sinister motive. In many cases, the “church-a-la-carte” mentality comes from a heart that rejects authority. Mark Dever has helpful words to address this mentality

It would seem that rejecting authority, as so many in our day do, is shortsighted and self-destructive. A world without authority is a world were desires have no restraints, cars have no controls, intersections have no traffic lights, games have no rules, lovers have no covenants, organizations have no purpose, homes have no parents, and people have no God. Such a world might last for a little while, but how quickly it would become pointless, then cruel, and finally tragic.

Regardless of how our culture views authority, the difference between what people call “community” and what the Scriptures calls the “church” comes down to the question of authority. In an attempt to escape this reality, many have simply walked away from the institutional local church. However, the New Testament clearly established that the governing authority of Christians belongs to the local church (cf. Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:1-5).

The local church is not just a fellowship of friends; in the local church, we are committed to another in a covenant/vow of membership. This is why participating in the life of your local church is mandatory. We are held accountable to each other through the vows that we take at membership and through the oversight of our elders. This is why gathering together with Christian friends does not provide the same level of genuine accountability as a true church. As a governing institution, the local church preaches the gospel, administers the sacraments, and exercises oversight and discipline to all of its members.

However, the cultural milieu in which we live provides Christians with a multitude of excuses for their lack of commitment to the local church. Some stay away from the local church because they are afraid of getting hurt (or being hurt again). While we must never minimize the pain that many have felt within local churches, a good dose of honesty is needed. Pain is never an excuse for disobedience to God’s Word. The local church was created for our sanctification and God’s glory, not for your convenience. Furthermore, if you are united to Christ, then He has given you spiritual gifts that are designed for the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, staying away from the local church means that you are burying the gifts that God has given you in the ground rather than using it for the sake of the local church (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

Some stay away from the local church because they believe that most pastors are crooked. This is perhaps the most pervasive lie that our culture constantly promotes and it is the lie that most people believe about the church. First, we are told explicitly in Scripture that false teachers will arise (cf. Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1-3) and therefore, we are told to be discerning. More importantly, the reality is that most pastors (within our country and around the world) labor with diligence and godly integrity in relative obscurity with congregations of less than 100 people. These pastors will never receive media spotlight because they are performing the basic task of the ministry. These are men who do not come with flattering speech, nor with a pretext for greed, nor by way of deceit, but these are men who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-7). Dear Christian, have you believed Satan’s lie that there are only a few good pastors doing their job?

The local church is not just a group of believers at a park; it preaches the gospel and possesses the keys of the kingdom for binding and loosing through the ordinances (cf. Matthew 16:17-19). This means that it is the task of the local church who declares who does and does not belong to kingdom. This statement grinds against our modern sensibilities, but a question must be raised: if you refuse to be part of a local church, how do you know that you’re saved? If you have walked away from the local church, then who’s inspecting the fruit of your life? Gathering a few friends at the park and “doing life together” is no substitute for the objective evidence which is biblical church membership.

Book Review: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. 254pp. $16.00.

0cec69c028853f708858c875b6693795_400x400In his 1952 book by the same name, C.S. Lewis attempted to defend what he coined ‘mere’ Christianity. He described Christianity as a house that included Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various strands of Protestantism. When a person is first converted, that person is a mere Christian in the great hallway of the house. From that hallway, a mere Christian can and should choose to go into one of the various rooms (denominations). Lewis was not as concerned with getting unbelievers into his particular room as he was with getting them into the great hallway. In keeping with Lewis’ emphasis on converting unbelievers to mere Christianity, Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, seeks to meet unbelievers in their doubts and lead them into the great hallway. In Keller’s own words, “I am making a case in this book for the truth of Christianity in general—not for one particular strand of it” (121).

Summary

In The Reason for God, Keller strikes a very pastoral, almost conversational tone. He is not primarily speaking to Christians; his intended audience is made up of doubters. Like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Cornelius Van Til’s Why I Believe in God, rather than being an apologetics textbook, The Reason for God presents as a conversation piece for Christians and unbelievers. The main body of the book is broken up into two main parts—Part 1: The Leap of Doubt, and Part 2: The Reasons for Faith.

The Leap of Doubt

In this section, Keller addresses a host of misconceptions about God and Christianity. In the first chapter, he addresses the assumption that exclusivity in religion leads to bigotry by demonstrating that Christianity, while being exclusive, is a religion comprised of members who should themselves have been excluded. Writing Chapter Two, in dealing with the problem of suffering, Keller paints pictures of God and of heaven that are so desirous that, in theory, it retroactively erases all pain experienced this side of death.

Chapter Three is a case for the glory of slavery in the service of a King who became a Slave and died for His subjects. Keller’s goal in the fourth chapter is to point out the inconsistency of committing injustice while claiming the name of Christ. In Chapter Five, he demonstrates the fact that the God of the Bible is not a God primarily comprised of an all-inclusive love, but neither is such a god found in any of the texts of the myriad religions of the word. The seventh and final chapter of Part One demonstrates the folly of trying to interpret God and the Bible through the lens of a modern approach to history and culture.

The Reasons for Faith

After a brief intermission where Keller offers a brief apologetic for his approach to the subject matter, he returns with Part Two: Reasons for Faith.  Having briefly dealt with several reasons unbelievers may have to doubt Christianity, he turns to a positive case for faith. Chapter Eight is Keller’s case for the Christian approach to empirical evidences and against evolutionary science’s unsatisfactory attempt at dismissing divine evidences. He points to internal evidences such as moral obligation, in Chapter Nine, as evidence for God’s existence.

With Chapter Ten, Keller attacks the issue of sin and shows the necessity of the cross. Chapter Eleven is devoted to the demonstration of grace’s triumph over self-righteousness. His twelfth chapter is a demonstration of the relational and social implications of the cross. In Chapter Thirteen, he lays out his apology for the resurrection. The fourteenth and final chapter is a brief treatise on the glories of heaven. Keller concludes this work with an epilogue titled: Where Do We Go from Here? In this section, he walks the unbeliever through the process of conversion and incorporation into the body of Christ.

Critical Evaluation

Christians can gain much from reading The Reason for God. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that no one can write on this subject without upsetting some, if not all, parties: believers and unbelievers, liberals and conservatives, evidentialists and presuppositionalists. However, Keller strikes a tone in this book that can be described in no other way than pastoral. While a case may be made that he makes too many concessions, he does not draw lines in the sand and die on hills where it is not dictated by the subject matter. When writing with such pastoral overtones, it can be difficult to toe the line between unbiblical compromise and gross reactionism. Keller is not always successful in toeing this line, but no one could argue that he has not made a valiant effort at doing so.

Furthermore, though Keller is very accessible and pastoral in his writing, it must be noted that he is widely read on the subject matter at hand. He quite obviously reads broadly, quoting from a wide array of Christian and non-Christian authors. The subject is doubtlessly one of great importance to him, one that he does not think worthy of minimal research and much conjecture. Keller’s heart and his effort in The Reason for God is to be commended highly.

However, there are a few concerns that arise in his method of argumentation. Keller approaches the doubt of an unbeliever as something that is ethically neutral. He makes the gross error of equivocating the common with the honorable. Everyone has their doubts. Thus, it must be honorable to put your doubts on display, right? Wrong. If Christians were to understand doubt for what it is: the sinful suppression of truth, they would reject this equivocation and cease treating the doubts of Christians and non-Christians as something to be praised.

At the end of Keller’s “Introduction,” he describes two scenes where Christ dealt with doubt in others. When found in the apostle Thomas, Christ is said to exhort Thomas to believe and to give him the evidence for which he asked. This is an incomplete account of the confrontation. Christ also rebuked his sinful doubt, “do not be unbelieving” (John 20:27; NASB), and compared him in a negative light with those who do not doubt (vs. 29). In the same way, the father of the epileptic boy in Mark 9 obviously understood the sinfulness of persistent doubt when he said, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (vs. 24). The Greek word here rendered “help” is a word meaning “come to the rescue of.” The direness and sinfulness of doubt are not adequately conveyed in Keller’s approach to unbelievers. Rather, he appears content to applaud their honesty, and join them in it, as long as it moves them to the next point in the discussion.

Of further concern is Keller’s doctrinal minimalism. He admits, as does Lewis in Mere Christianity, that he does see a point where every Christian ought to assume a broad-reaching doctrinal and corporate identity. However, his primary concern in the book is to make a case for “the truth of Christianity in general” (121). As such, the question must be asked how soon a new Christian ought to find a local church. Keller addresses this issue only as a byword, and only after much admitted trepidation, in his Epilogue. He affirms that new Christians must find local congregations with which to identify, but all-the-while passively validating their residual disdain for the bride of Christ (246-247).

Conclusion

In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller sets a commendable example for approaching unbelievers. He is always very cautious to breach the tough topics with much gentleness and humility. However, his method is not representative of a proper hamartiology (doctrine of sin). Doubt is not neutral as it relates to sin; it certainly is not commendable. Christians who engage the unbelieving world do them no favors by pretending that it is, whether in word or deed. Readers would do well to imitate Keller’s tone and patience with the unbelievers with which they come into contact. They would do just as well to approach his many concessions with great discernment, careful not to die on non-essential hills, but willing to draw the line in the sand on matters that are unquestionable in God’s Word.

________________________

 

Pick up The Reason for God today:ReasonForGod_040809.inddThe Reason for God paperback

by Timothy Keller

A Brief History of Catechetical Instruction – Philip Schaff

“Religious instruction preparatory to admission to church membership is as old as Christianity itself, but it assumed very different shapes in different ages and countries. In the first three or four centuries (as also now on missionary ground) it always preceded baptism, and was mainly addressed to adult Jews and Gentiles. It length and method it freely adapted itself to various conditions and degrees of culture. The three thousand Jewish converts on the day of Pentecost, having already a knowledge of the Old Testament, were baptized simply on their profession of faith in Christ, after hearing the sermon of St. Peter. Men like Cornelius, the Eunuch, Apollos, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, needed but little theoretical preparation, and Cyprian and Ambrose were elected bishops even while yet catechumens. At Alexandria and elsewhere there were special catechetical schools of candidates for baptism. The basis of instruction was the traditional rule of faith or Apostles’ Creed, but there were no catechisms in our sense of the term; and even the creed which the converts professed at baptism was not committed to writing, but orally communicated as a holy secret. Public worship was accordingly divided into a missa catechumenorum for half-Christians in process of preparation for baptism, and a missa fidelium for baptized communicants or the Church proper.

“With the union of Church and State since Constantine, and the general introduction of infant baptism, catechetical instruction began to be imparted to baptized Christians, and served as a preparation for confirmation or the first communion. It consisted chiefly of the committal and explanation, (1) of the Ten Commandments, (2) of the Creed (the Apostles’ Creed in the Latin, the Nicene Creed in the Greek Church), sometimes also of the Athanasian Creed and the Te Deum; (3) of the Lord’s Prayer (Paternoster). To these were added sometimes special chapters on various sins and crimes, on the Sacraments, and prayers. Councils and faithful bishops enjoined upon parents, sponsors, and priests the duty of giving religious instruction, and catechetical manuals were prepared as early as the eighth and ninth centuries, by Kero, monk of St. Gall (about 720); Notker, of St. Gall (d. 912); Otfried, monk of Weissenbourg (d. after 870), and others. But upon the whole this duty was sadly neglected in the Middle Ages, and the people were allowed to grow up in ingnorance and superstition.  The anti-papal sects, as the Albingenses, Waldenses, and the Bohemian Brethren, paid special attention to catechetical instruction.

“The Reformers soon felt the necessity of substituting evangelical Catechisms for the traditional Catholic Catechisms, that the rising generation might grow up in the knowledge of the Scriptures and the true faith. Of all the Protestant Catechisms, those of Luther follow most closely the traditional method, but they are baptized with a new spirit” (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I: The History of Creeds, pp. 245-246).

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Twenty-Eight, Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

1. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world.
( Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:26 )

2. These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ.
( Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 4:1 )

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Twenty-Six, Of the Church

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
( Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32 )

2. All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
( 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:20-22 )

3. The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.
( 1 Corinthians 5; Revelation 2; Revelation 3; Revelation 18:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12; Matthew 16:18; Psalms 72:17; Psalm 102:28; Revelation 12:17 )

4. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.
( Colossians 1:18; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11, 12; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-9 )

5. In the execution of this power wherewith he is so intrusted, the Lord Jesus calleth out of the world unto himself, through the ministry of his word, by his Spirit, those that are given unto him by his Father, that they may walk before him in all the ways of obedience, which he prescribeth to them in his word. Those thus called, he commandeth to walk together in particular societies, or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which he requireth of them in the world.
( John 10:16; John 12:32; Matthew 28:20; Matthew 18:15-20 )

6. The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ; and do willingly consent to walk together, according to the appointment of Christ; giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel.
( Romans. 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 2:41, 42; Acts 5:13, 14; 2 Corinthians 9:13 )

7. To each of these churches thus gathered, according to his mind declared in his word, he hath given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which he hath instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting, and executing of that power.
( Matthew 18:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 )

8. A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.
( Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1 )

9. The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands.
( Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6 )

10. The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.
( Acts 6:4; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Timothy 5:17, 18; Galatians 6:6, 7; 2 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Corinthians 9:6-14 )

11. Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.
( Acts 11:19-21; 1 Peter 4:10, 11 )

12. As all believers are bound to join themselves to particular churches, when and where they have opportunity so to do; so all that are admitted unto the privileges of a church, are also under the censures and government thereof, according to the rule of Christ.
( 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15 )

13. No church members, upon any offence taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence at any of their fellow members, but to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church.
( Matthew 18:15-17; Ephesians 4:2, 3 )

14. As each church, and all the members of it, are bound to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ, in all places, and upon all occasions to further every one within the bounds of their places and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces, so the churches, when planted by the providence of God, so as they may enjoy opportunity and advantage for it, ought to hold communion among themselves, for their peace, increase of love, and mutual edification.
( Ephesians 6:18; Psalms 122:6; Romans 16:1, 2; 3 John 8-10 )

15. In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.
( Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 25; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 John 4:1 )