What Is It?
Bishop Doggett’s position touching a Christian church—The apostles built churches by a divine model—No organization should be called church unless conformed to that model—The unmistakable features of that model—1. Its origin, divine—2. Visible—3. Its locality, this earth.
"For see that thou make all things according to the pattern shown thee in the mount" (Heb. 8:5).
The following statements I copy from an editorial article in the Methodist Quarterly when published in Richmond, and edited by Bro. D. S. Doggett, now bishop of the M. E. Church South, as eminently worthy the consideration of every reader, and Methodists most especially:
"Unless the professed followers of Christ organize upon the apostolic model they are not a church of Christ, although there may he members of the body of Christ or Christians among them. . .
"Ministers and members professing the religion of Christ may congregate together for the purpose of worship, and may organize, yet they will not be a church of Christ unless they organize upon. apostolic model. . . .
"We do not suppose that any unprejudiced mind would call any body of men and women the true church—so particularly described by the inspired writers as the true church has been—unless it comes up fairly and fully in every minute particular to a description proceeding from that wisdom that could not err in the description in any remote or conceivable degree."
There is no misunderstanding these statements. It is the conviction of Bishop Doggett—1. That Christ did leave a church as a model of church building to the apostles, and for all subsequent ages. 2. That the marks or features of this divine pattern are so particularly described by the inspired writers that no intelligent inquirer need mistake it. 3. a a body of ministers and members, all Christians, congregated for worship, and organized, should not be called a church of Christ unless they are organized upon the apostolic model. I most heartily indorse these statements. Their truth must be apparent to all. If the officers and members of a Masonic lodge were all Christians, the lodge could not therefore be called a church of Christ, because not scripturally organized as a church. We may unchurch an organization, then, without unchristianizing its members—i.e., declare a body to be destitute of the marks or qualifications of a church of Christ, without calling in question the Christian character of its members.
Let us now dispassionately inquire for some of the unmistakable and essential marks of the "pattern" after which Christ commanded his apostles and ministers to the end of time to build.
Moses at his peril would not have varied the tabernacle in the least thing, from the divine pattern, and may we dare to build churches altogether different from the pattern Christ has given?
The Church and Kingdom of Christ is a Divine Institution.
Proofs—Daniel 2:44, 45; Matthew 16:19; Hebrews 3:3-6.
I understand these Scriptures to teach that this organization, called here "kingdom" and "church" is the conception of the divine mind, the expression of the divine thought, and the embodiment of the divine authority on earth. No created being, angel or man, assisted in its origination or construction; it is the "stone cut out without hands;" it is a perfect product of infinite wisdom. For man or angel to presume to modify it in the least, by additions, changes, or repeals, is to profane it and offer an insult to its divine Founder; far more sacred and inviolable is it than God’s altar of rough ashlers: "If thou lift up thy tool upon it thou hast polluted it." (Ex. 20:25). And for man to set up any form of church as equal, or in opposition, to it, and influence men to join themselves to it, under the impression that they are uniting with Christ’s church, is an act of open rebellion to Christ as the only King of Zion; while it is "offending"—deceiving, and misleading these that desire to follow Christ; and He has said, that "it were better that a mill-stone were hanged about the neck of that man, and he cast into the midst of the sea." (Matthew 18:6). It must be true that those who originate such false churches, and those who support them by their means and influence, occupy the positions of rebels against the rightful and supreme authority of Christ. Designed as the "house and church of the living God" was by an architect possessing infinite wisdom, who saw the end from the beginning, every conceivable exigency that could effect it to the end of time, must have been foreseen and provided for; and the very intimation that changes have become necessary, the better to adapt it to fulfill its mission, is impiously to impugn the divine wisdom that devised and set it up.
If I am right in my conception of the character of this divine institution, then it follows that the sanctity and authority of its divine Founder are so embodied in its government, as they were in its type—the Jewish theocracy—that as men treat His church, its doctrine, its laws or its members, ‘they treat its Author. To despise and reject its teachings is to despise the Author of those teachings; and those who hate or persecute its members for their obedience to its laws and fidelity to its principles, will be confounded at last to learn, that, inasmuch as they did it to one of the least of Christ’s followers they did it to Christ Himself. (Matthew 25).
Christ enjoined it upon His apostles and ministers for all time to come, to construct all organizations that should bear His name according to the pattern and model He "built" before their eyes; and those who add to or diminish aught, do it at their peril. (Rev. 22:18,19). Organizations bearing the name of Christ devised and set up by men are manifestly counterfeits, and certainly impositions upon the ignorance and credulity of the people. Human societies are but the expression of human opinion; only human authority is embodied in their laws and regulations; and to observe and obey them is only obeying the men who established them; and it is written: "His servants—slaves—ye are whom ye obey." It is rejecting Christ as king, and choosing men for our masters when we unite with human societies instead of a church of Christ set up as the home of His children.
Now it cannot be truthfully denied that the Catholic and the various Protestant sects were originated and set up by men many ages after the ascension of Christ; since all their own standard Church Histories frankly admit the fact. They are therefore not divine—but human institutions, which rival and antagonize—or, in the strong language of Bro. Bright of the Examiner-Chronicle, N. Y.: "They are an organized muster against the church and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ." One thing can not be denied, so long as they had the power, they assaulted His kingdom and shed the blood of His brethren. Every reader can easily satisfy himself of the truth of this statement if he will but turn to Protestant histories. See History of "Religious Denominations."
Second Mark of a Church of Christ.
It is a Visible Institution.
Notwithstanding the contradictory teachings prevalent, this is a self-evident fact that an institution or organization must be visible. But the church and kingdom of Christ is an institution, an organization; He, as Cod of heaven, "set it up," He built it, and it must therefore be visible. Every term selected by the inspiring Spirit to designate the institution Christ was to originate when He came to this earth, in both Testaments, is a term necessitating form, and therefore visibility, e.g., "Kingdom of God," "of Heaven," "of Christ," "Bride," "wife," "Church," "House," etc.
And this, too, is manifest, that the only church that is revealed to us is a visible church, and the only church with which we have anything to do, or in connection with which we have any duties to perform, is a visible body. It has a specified organization, officers, faith, laws and ordinances, and a living membership, and therefore it must be visible. Christ never set up but one kingdom, was never constituted King of but one kingdom, and His Word recognizes but one kingdom; and if this is visible, He has no invisible kingdom or church, and such a thing has no real existence in heaven or earth. It is only an invention employed to bolster up erroneous theories of ecclesiology.
Third Mark of the Church of Christ.
Its Locality is upon this Earth.
Since I have used the terms church and kingdom, it may be well to explain here what I understand by them and their relation to each other. They were used as synonymous terms by the evangelists so long as Christ had but one organized church for they were then one and the same body. So soon as "churches were multiplied," a distinction arose. The kingdom embraced the first church, and it now embraces all the churches. The churches of Christ constitute the kingdom of Christ, as the twelve tribes, each separate and independent of itself, constituted the kingdom of Israel; as the provinces of a kingdom constitute the kingdom; as all the separate sovereign States of these United States constitute the Republic of America. Now, as no foreigner can become a citizen of this Republic without being naturalized as a citizen of some one of the States, so no one can enter the kingdom of Christ without becoming a member of some one of His visible churches.
Baptism is an ordinance of, and in, each local church—not of the kingdom, and Christ himself says: "Except a man be born of water, and the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." It was of a visible earthy organization He spake—His church. (See John 3:12.)
The locality of Christ’s church, and therefore kingdom, is this earth; all the subjects of His kingdom are here; all the work of His church is here. This earth was given to Him by His Father to be the sole seat of His throne and His kingdom. (See Psalms second chapter.) All authority, power and judgment over all flesh were vested in Christ, and He was appointed to reign on this earth until He should put all His enemies under His feet, and then will come the end when He will give up his kingdom to His Father, when the Godhead will rule with undivided scepter over it, as before sin entered it. Christ, then, has no church in heaven—never had; nor has He, as Messiah, any kingdom in heaven, or will He ever have; nor, if we will believe the Scriptures rather than mere theorists, will He always have a kingdom on this earth: "Then cometh the end when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father." Did He not teach His disciples to p ray: "Our Father, who art in heaven; thy kingdom come"? Not Christ’s kingdom, for that had already come, and the disciples were in it; but the Father’s kingdom; and when the Fathers will shall be done on this earth as it now is done in heaven, will not this earth then be a heaven as much as any other place in the universe?