An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Preamble
THE PURPOSE OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH
INTRODUCTION: Everything exists for a purpose, Cf. Prov. 16:4; Eccl. 3:1; Rev. 4:11; 5:13. Not one person or one institution made by the God of glory exists without purpose. As the woman is the glory of the man (1 Cor. 11:7), so the church is the glory of Christ, Cf. Eph. 3:21; 5:27. Ephesians 3:21 makes a statement of fact; it does not give a command. God receives glory in the church by Jesus Christ; we do not have to “be glory” in the church, as some have erroneously contended.
PROPOSITION: BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH EXISTS FOR THE GLORY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Thus, the Preamble to our Constitution and By-Laws reads: “The purpose of this church shall be to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus, God the Father.” Cf. John 12:28.
FOUR MEANS BY WHICH BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH GLORIFIES THE LORD JESUS CHRIST:
I. THROUGH OBEDIENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD.
The Word of God is truth, cf. John 17:17. The Scripture of truth is inspired of God (Dan. 10:21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17). The inspired Scriptures have been preserved (Matt. 24:35) as the rule of faith and practice of the New Testament Church. The church has no other rule of faith and practice. In particular, that rule of faith and practice is the New Testament, Cf. John 14:17, 26; 16:13, 14.
The church glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ through subjecting itself to Him through obedience to the Word of God, Cf. Eph. 5:24. A church that does not subject itself to the Word of God does not glorify Him. In fact, any church which allows teaching contrary to the rule of faith and practice of the New Testament incurs a rebuke from the Lord Jesus, Cf. Rev. 2:14, 15, 20.
II. THROUGH WORSHIP OF THE TRIUNE GODHEAD.
The true God revealed in the Scriptures is one God (Deut. 6:4) in three persons, Cf. 1 John 5:7; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14. Although the persons are separate persons, they subsist in one essence; i.e. they are but one God, Cf. John 10:30. For this reason, the Lord Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1), but He is not the Father, nor is He the Holy Spirit, even as the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, nor is the Holy Spirit the Father or the Son, Cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-6.
To worship is to ascribe worth ship to the One worshiped. Each person of the triune Godhead (Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:20) is worthy of our worship. The Lord Jesus Christ received worship (Matt. 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; Luke 24:52; Rev. 5:13) because He is God.
Because of the teachings of the inspired Scriptures, we are Trinitarians, not Unitarians. A church that denies the doctrine of the Trinity and refuses to teach it is not a New Testament Church because it is not built upon the foundation of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, Cf. 1 Cor. 3:11.
III. THROUGH EXECUTION OF THE GREAT COMMISSION.
The first work of the church is that of preaching the gospel, Cf. Mark 16:15. True disciples to Jesus Christ can be made in no other way, Cf. Matt. 28:18-20. It is the proclaiming of the gospel, not the giving of an invitation to come to Christ, that makes true disciples of Jesus Christ.
The second work of the church is baptizing those disciples by immersion in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Cf. Matt. 28:19. Only believers who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are to be baptized, Cf. Acts 8:36-38. Obviously, infants have not professed faith in Christ and are not proper candidates for baptism, even as unbelievers are not.
The third work of the church is teaching baptized believers to observe all things Christ as commanded, Cf. Matt. 28:20; Acts 20:27. The only text book of the church is the inspired Word of God. What is commanded in the Scriptures is to be taught and observed or practiced. What is not taught in the Word of God is neither to be taught nor observed or practiced.
IV. THROUGH PERPETUITY OF THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.
Through the inspired Scriptures, the Lord Jesus has delivered but one faith or system of belief to the church, Cf. Eph. 4:5; Jude 3. While there are many conflicting systems of belief in Christendom, there is only one true faith (1 Tim. 4:1), which is that system of belief revealed in the Scriptures, that the church is to teach.
This one true faith is perpetuated from generation to generation through the instrumentality of the New Testament Church. No other institution is charged with this responsibility, neither will any other agency faithfully perpetuate the faith. If no other church in the world perpetuates this one true faith, Bethel Baptist Church, being a true New Testament Church, must and will perpetuate it by the grace of God, Cf. Eph. 3:21.
CONCLUSION: THIS PREAMBLE IS ALSO OUR MISSION STATEMENT.
Bethel Baptist Church will not abandon this Biblical Mission Statement to participate in man-made programs or worldly endeavors. We do not need new and better methods; we need more zeal for the old and precious truths of the infallible Word of God.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article One
THE DEFINITION OF THE CHURCH
Acts 8:1; 9:31
INTRODUCTION: What is the church? The answer to this question, found only in the New Testament, identifies Bethel Baptist Church, for what the church is in the New Testament, Bethel Baptist Church is. The definition given to the church influences everything that is believed about it, including its organization, nature, membership, ordinances, and practices. The constitution of Bethel Baptist Church reflects what it believes a church is.
PROPOSITION: THE CHURCH IS A CALLED-OUT ASSEMBLY OF BAPTIZED BELIEVERS, MEETING IN ONE PLACE, WHO HAVE ENTERED INTO A COVENANT WITH ONE ANOTHER UNDER THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST TO EXECUTE THE GREAT COMMISSION.
I. THE MEANING OF THE WORD “CHURCH” IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
The word church is the transliteration of the Greek word kuriakan which means “pertaining to the Lord.” An explanation as to how this word came to be used in northern Europe instead of assembly which translates ekklesia is wanting.
The Greek word ekkklesia, is composed of two words: the prefixed preposition ek, meaning out and the verb kaleo meaning to call. Ekklesia therefore means “a called-out assembly. It is translated church 112 times and assembly 3 times in the Authorized Version. In the instructions given to the translators, they were told, “The old ecclesiastical words are to be kept, viz. the word ‘church’ not to be translated ‘congregation’ etc.”
However, the three times ekklesia is translated assembly give to us the true sense of the word, Cf. Acts 19:32, 39, 41. From these passages we observe that the assembly had come together or actually assembled (v. 32). V. 39 further declares there was a lawful or regular assembly. In other words, the assembly of called-out citizens existed even when they were not assembled, even as Bethel Baptist Church does not cease to exist when not assembled. There is a particular, called-out group of people who can and do assemble. Finally, the assembly was dismissed (v. 41), as Bethel Baptist Church is dismissed after each service.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THE WORD “CHURCH” IN VARIOUS PASSAGES.
Words derive their meanings from their usages. Thus, words have several and varying meanings. Ekklesia is no exception to this rule, since it has an actual, generic, and figurative meaning.
The actual meaning of ekklesia in the New Testament is an assembly of professed believers in Jesus Christ, called-out by Him who have also been baptized by immersion by an administrator authorized by either the Father or the Son, and who recognize the Headship of Christ over them (John 1:6, 33; Matt. 3:1-6, 13-17; 21:25-27; Acts 1:21, 22; 2:41, 42;8:36-38; 9:17, 18; 10:44-48; 19:1-7). Because each church in the New Testament was local, capable of assembling in one place, there thus came to be many churches, Cf. Acts 9:31. These churches took their names from the cities or areas in which they were located, e.g. the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2), the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 1:4). Ekklesia is never used of a universal church, a national church, or a denominational church.
The generic meaning of ekklesia is found in a number of passages. Matthew 16:18 has both an actual and a generic meaning. While He referred directly to the first church, the words apply to any and every New Testament Church at any time. Ephesians 5:23-25 uses ekklesia or church in the generic sense. Christ is the Head of every church. Every church is to be subject to Christ. Christ loved every church.
The figurative meaning of ekklesia is evident in passages such as Ephesians 5:27 and Hebrews 12:23. While there does not exist now an assembly of all believers, one day all true believers will be assembled in one place and presented to Christ (Eph. 5:27). The church or assembly of the firstborn ones is composed of those whose names are written in heaven, but they are not yet assembled and are not a church in the actual sense. Thus, the word ekklesia is applied to them in a figurative sense (Heb. 12:23).
III. THE USE OF THE WORD “CHURCH” IN THIS CONSTITUTION.
Bethel Baptist Church is an assembly of professed born-again believers who have been baptized on the profession of their faith by immersion in water by duly authorized administrators. They have entered into covenant with one another under the Headship of Christ to carry out the Great Commission in obedience to the Word of God. It is obviously a local church, meeting at 2424 Ridgecrest Dr., Choctaw, OK.
When the word church is used hereafter in the Constitution of Bethel Baptist Church, it is used only in the sense of an actual local church, independent of all other churches or any so-called universal, national, or denominational church. The word church as used throughout the entire said constitution is further to be understood as defined in part two above as an actual local New Testament Church.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Two
THE ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH
INTRODUCTION: The church is an institution in the same way marriage is an institution. The institution of marriage exists in the individual marriages of men and women. In the same way, the church as an institution exists because of the existence of individual local churches. As long as one man is married to one woman, the institution of marriage will survive. Similarly, the New Testament Church will exist as an institution as long as there is one local church upon the face of the earth.
PROPOSITION: THE CHURCH IS AN INSTITUTION OF DIVINE ORIGIN EVEN AS MARRIAGE IS, Cf. Ephesians 5:23-33.
I. THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH.
When did the church begin? Was it on the first Pentecost after Christ was resurrected? Many say yes, but what do the Scriptures say? Since the church is an assembly of believers under the Headship of Christ who have been baptized on the profession of their faith by a duly authorized administrator, then the church began much earlier than the day of Pentecost. The first church, as well as the institution of the church, had its beginning in the early ministry of our Lord, Cf. Matt. 4:18-22. Let us try this statement by the words of Scripture.
First, were these men whom Jesus called professed believers in Christ? Yes, they were, Cf. John 1:35-41. Second, had they been baptized? Yes, they had, Cf. Acts 1:21, 22. Third, was the one who baptized them authorized to do so? Yes, John the Baptist was authorized of God to baptize, Cf. John 1:32, 33. Fourth, was this assembly under the Headship of Jesus Christ? Yes, it was, for He called them to follow Him, and in their following Him, they recognized His Headship over them, Cf. Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18. Fifth, was this church capable of assembling in one place? Yes, this church assembled daily with the Lord Himself in one place, Cf. Matt. 5:1; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:21. Thus, this group of four baptized disciples constituted the first church to which the other disciples were soon added. When the Lord ordained the 12 apostles (Luke 6:13-16), He placed them in the church (1 Cor. 12:28). How could He have placed them in the church when they were ordained if there were no church?
It is objected that the church could not have existed before Pentecost because it is a living organism, and could not have become such until the Holy Spirit was given to it. But the Holy Spirit was given to the church before Pentecost (John 20:22). Furthermore, the life of the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, was in the church long before Pentecost.
II. THE PERPETUITY AND HISTORY OF THE CHURCH.
The scripturally baptized believers whom Jesus called out constituted the first local church as well as the institutional church. All subsequent New Testament Churches have descended from this first church and have had the same nature and character it had, just as all marriages have come from the first marriage of Adam and Eve and have been of the same nature. Any so-called church not under the Headship of Jesus Christ and not composed of scripturally baptized believers can no more be a New Testament Church than a marriage between two men or two women can be a true marriage.
The church at Samaria came from the first or Jerusalem Church, Acts 8:5, 12, 14-17; 9:31. The church at Antioch also come from the Jerusalem Church, Cf. Acts 11:19-26. The churches Paul and his missionary helpers established came from the Antioch Church, Cf. Acts 13:1-3; 14:27. In this way, the church as an institution has been perpetuated through new local assemblies. While any local church may cease to exist, and many do, the perpetuity of the church as promised by our Lord (Matt. 28:20) has continued in newly organized churches through-out the ages. Bethel Baptist Church has actually descended through many generations of local churches from the Jerusalem even as all of us have descended through many generations from Adam and Eve.
Because of many errors in doctrine and practice, the early churches became divided as early as 251 AD into two main groups: the Bible-believing churches and those who courted the acceptance of the world. The worldly churches accepted the offer of Constantine to become the official religion of Rome and soon came to be known as the Church of Rome. The Bible-believing churches were calumniated and persecuted by Rome. These churches were called by various names after leading men or areas where they were located: e.g. Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicians, Albigenses, Waldenses. All of these groups were called Anabaptists because they baptized all of those who came to them from the Church of Rome even though they had so-called Roman baptism. The Particular Baptists of England and Wales trace their origin to the ancient churches of the Waldenses. The Baptist Churches of American have descended from the British Particular Baptists. Bethel Baptist Church traces its ancestry through the early American Regular Baptists back through the British Particular Baptists back through the Waldenses and the other ancestors mentioned above to the Jerusalem or first church. Read the messages in the book of Baptist History which Bethel Baptist Church helped Victory Baptist Church in Kansas City publish in 2008.
We are not suggesting a traceable chain link succession of churches. “All that Baptists mean by ‘Succession,’ or Church Perpetuity, is: There has never been a day since the organization of the first New Testament church is which there was no genuine church of the New Testament existing on earth.” (Baptist Church Perpetuity or History, W. A. Jarrel, p. 3) Obviously, we do not believe that, for a church to be a New Testament Church, it must have a so-called “mother” church to bring it into existence.
III. THE ORGANIZATION AND HISTORY OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH.
In the minutes of the organization of Bethel Landmark Missionary Baptist Church (the official name of the church) on June 8, 1952, no mention is made of a sponsoring or so-called “mother” church. The church began when certain baptized believers from Gotebo, OK moved to Choctaw and desired to start a church there. Two missionaries, Elder H. G. Bacot from the Macedonia-Plover Hill Association and Elder James M. Poynor from the Baptist General Assembly of Oklahoma, led in organizing this church. Each of these men were sent out as missionaries from their respective local churches and endorsed by these associations. Neither of these associations would endorse any man as a missionary who was not first sent out by his own local church. Thus, Bethel Baptist Church is linked with both of the churches which sent out these missionaries.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Three
THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE CHURCH
Acts 2:41, 42
INTRODUCTION: The membership of any church, if it is a New Testament Church, must not only be consistent with the definition of a church given in the New Testament but also have the qualifications of the membership of the first church our Lord established. For a local assembly or church to be a New Testament Church, it must be constituted with and composed of only those who are professedly born-again believers who have professed faith in Christ and openly confessed that faith by being baptized or immersed in water by a duly authorized administrator of a New Testament Church. If a local assembly is composed of those who are neither believers nor baptized as such, or if it is an assembly composed of both believers and non-believers or of baptized and non-baptized believers, it cannot be a New Testament Church. A church without members cannot exist, any more than a human body can exist without members, and neither can be alive without a head (1 Cor. 12:14, 20; Col. 1:18). The definition of a New Testament Church as set forth in the Scriptures is given in Article One of this Constitution. Bethel Baptist Church is constituted with—and is to be in the future by God’s grace—composed only of Scripturally baptized professed believers who have covenanted together under the Headship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Word of God to executed the Great Commission.
PROPOSITION: MEMBERSHIP IN BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH IS NOT A RIGHT BUT A PRIVILEGE GRANTED ONLY TO THOSE QUALIFIED FOR MEMBERSHIP BY THE SAID CHURCH.
I. MEMBERSHIP IN BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH TO BE GRANTED IN ONE OF THREE WAYS.
In keeping with Biblical doctrine and historic Baptist Church polity, Bethel Baptist Church grants membership in one of three ways. Each of these ways is confirmed by Biblical precedent.
First, membership is granted to those who have professed faith in Christ as their Savior, given credible evidence of their conversion, and been baptized by Bethel Baptist Church, Cf. Acts 2:41, 42. Baptism is not the door of the church; neither does being baptized automatically add one to the church. Baptism does not put one in the church membership; it qualifies the believer to be added to the church, even as John’s baptism prepared the disciples to be called-out as the first members of the church, Cf. Matt. 3:3; 4:18-22; Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 12:13. If baptism is the door of the church, then the Ethiopian eunuch was added to the church in Jerusalem without that church even knowing it (Acts 8:36-39). Acts 2:41 is very clear in stating that the adding to the church was after the baptism of the approximately three thousand that day. If baptism is the door of the church, then a member who has been disciplined by the church has also been un-baptized. The church may Biblically grant membership and fellowship only by the consent of the members, Cf. Matt. 18:15-18; Acts 9:26, 27. Those same members can withdraw both membership and fellowship from an offending member (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:4, 5).
Second, membership is granted to those who seek to unite with Bethel Baptist Church on the promise of a letter of recommendation from a church of like faith and order. If such testify of a genuine conversion from sin and give testimony they have received Christ as their Savior, have been baptized by another church of like faith and order, and are in good standing with said church, then they will be granted membership, and their letters of recommendation shall be requested from the church from which they are moving their membership. Because Bethel Baptist Church requires a personal testimony of their faith and baptism, membership is granted before the letter of recommendation is received because church membership is not in a letter. If it were, then their membership would be for a day or two actually in the mail. Biblical precedent for receiving members in this way can be found in the case of Saul of Tarsus, Ct. Acts 9:18, 23-28. Sending for a letter of recommendation not only notifies the other church that some of their members have united with Bethel Baptist Church but it gives opportunity for that church to commend these members to Bethel Baptist Church (Rom. 16:1). When a member moves from one church to another, it is proper for the receiving church to notify the church from which they are being received of the change in membership. Such is an act of courtesy.
Third, membership is granted in some cases to those who seek to unite with Bethel Baptist Church on the statement of their faith and baptism. While every member who comes to us from another church is technically received in this way, this method is used when the church from which the member is coming has either ceased to exist or will not for some unscriptural reason grant a letter. If Bethel Baptist Church judges the one desiring membership is a true believer and has Scriptural baptism, then Bethel can receive him or her on the statement of faith and baptism. In the case where the church has ceased to exist, a letter of recommendation cannot be obtained. When a church refuses to grant a letter of recommendation to one who desires to unite with Bethel and does not have a Biblical basis for granting said letter, Bethel Baptist Church will receive that member on their statement of faith and baptism.
II. MEMBERSHIP IN BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH TO BE GRANTED ONLY TO THOSE QUALIFIED FOR MEMBERSHIP.
All who seek membership in Bethel Baptist Church will first be interviewed by the pastor that he may examine their spiritual qualifications and determine whether they meet the Biblical qualifications for membership, Acts 8:36, 37. When he is satisfied they meet those qualifications as stated above, then he will commend them to the men of the church.
The men of the church will likewise hear their testimony of faith and baptism to ascertain whether they are qualified for membership, Acts 10:46-48. Having been assured such are indeed qualified for membership, the men will then commend them to the church for membership.
Because anyone who desires to unite with Bethel Baptist Church is not joining the pastor or even the men, the church must always judge the qualifications of those who seek to unite with it before granting membership. Having heard the prospective member’s experience of grace or testimony of salvation and when, where, and by whom he or she was baptized, the church, when satisfied that such meets the New Testament qualifications for church membership, will receive this person into the full rights and privileges of church membership by a unanimous vote.
III. MEMBERSHIP IN BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH TO BE GRANTED ONLY TO THOSE AGREEING TO UPHOLD THE PRINCIPLES OF THIS CONSTITUTION.
Those who express an interest in uniting with Bethel Baptist Church will be given a copy of this Constitution and By-Laws together with the Church Covenant and Confession of Faith. At all of his interviews with the pastor, the men, and the church, the prospective member will be asked if has read this constitution and agrees with it. The same will be asked in reference to the church covenant. One cannot really be a member of Bethel Baptist Church without entering into covenant with the church on the basis of the written church covenant. This same question will be asked in reference to the confession of faith of Bethel Baptist Church. Then the prospective member will be asked if he or she agrees to uphold the doctrines, principles, and practices of Bethel Baptist Church as set forth in these documents. Upon hearing the public testimony that he or she consents to do so, the church will then receive the candidate into its membership by means of a unanimous vote. If the one seeking membership should refuse to consent to uphold these doctrines, principles, and practices, he or she would be denied membership in the church (Tit. 3:10, 11).
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Four
THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH
1 Timothy 3:1-15
INTRODUCTION: There are but two offices in a New Testament Church which must be filled only by ordained men; these offices are that of pastor and that of deacon. Ordained men are particular men set aside by the church and invested with ministerial functions by the church, Cf. Tit. 1:6. While there may be many elders in the church, not every elder is the pastor or even a deacon in the church. There is no office of elder in the church, but the offices of pastor and deacon are according to the rule of Scripture.
The term elder has its origin in the Old Testament, and we must seek its meaning there. The first signification of elder is age, Cf. Ps. 119:100. Because of their age, experience, and wisdom, certain men were leaders in Israel, Cf. 3:16; Job 12:12. The elders were not the highest leaders in Israel. In fact, they were often subordinates to younger leaders or kings, Cf. Ex. 12:21; 2 Sam. 5:3. Elders were not chosen or elected but were known to be leaders by virtue of their age and the respect they had earned among the people on account of their wisdom, Cf. Num. 11:16.
The term elder has this same meaning in the New Testament. For this reason, to have a third office in the church composed of elders goes beyond the clear teaching of Scripture which presents but two offices in the church. When a man called of God is ordained to the office of pastor, he is an elder by virtue of being placed into that office, regardless of his age. The office, not his age, makes him an elder. Men who are called of God to preach and feed the flock are also called elders even when they are not filling the office of pastor in the church, Cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-4. In Bethel Baptist Church the elders in addition to the pastor and deacons are the spiritually men of the church who have earned the respect of the church as leaders by virtue of their years of faithful service to the Lord in the church.
PROPOSITION: THE ONLY TWO OFFICES IN THE CHURCH WHICH REQUIRE ORDAINED MEN TO FILL ARE THE OFFICES OF PASTOR AND DEACON.
I. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE PASTORS AND DEACONS OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH.
Any man—for no woman can meet the Biblical qualifications—who fills either the office of pastor or deacon in Bethel Baptist Church must meet all of the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. Because the church is governed solely by the Word of God under the Headship of Christ, it does not have the right to change the qualifications these offices in any way, neither does any church have the authority to create new offices in the church. For this reason, we reject all men-made offices such as pope, cardinal, arch bishop, general superintendent, etc.
The qualifications of the bishop—bishop means overseer, Cf. Heb. 13:17—or pastor are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The man who fills this office must be blameless (without cause of reproach, Jas. 3:1), the husband of one wife (not divorced and remarried), vigilant and sober (temperate and sensible), of good behavior (modest, 1 Tim. 2:9), given to hospitality (a lover of strangers, Cf. Heb. 13:1, 2), apt to teach (able and ready to teach), not given to wine (addicted to wine), no striker (fighter), not greedy of filthy lucre (eager for dishonest gain, Tit. 1:7), but patient (moderate, Phil. 4:5; gentle, Tit. 3:2), not a brawler, not covetous, one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity (honesty, 1 Tim. 2:2)—if he does not know how to rule his own house, how can he take care of the church of God?—not a novice lest he be lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18), having a good report (witness) of those who are without (the church) lest he fall into reproach and the snare (trap) of the devil (Rev. 12:10).
The qualifications of the deacon—deacon means servant (Matt. 23:11) or minister (1 Tim. 4:6)—are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The man—once again a woman cannot meet the qualifications set forth here—who fills the office of deacon must be grave (honest, Phil. 4:8), not double-tongued (not speaking out of both sides of his mouth), not given to much wine (not addicted to wine), not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. One who would serve as a deacon must first be proved—if he is qualified to be ordained to the office of deacon, he is doing the work of deacon before he is ordained—and then serve as deacons in the office as one who is blameless. The wife of the deacon is also to be grave, not slanderers (not a devil), sober (sensible), and faithful in all things. The deacon must be the husband of one wife (not divorced and remarried to another woman—no woman can be the husband of one wife—and rule his children and his own house well.
No man who does not meet all of these qualifications should fill either the office of pastor or deacon. It is better not to have the offices filled than to fill them with unqualified men. No man should be elected to the office of deacon for personal honor neither should a church seek to elect nearly every man in the church to the office of deacon. A church is setting itself up for real trouble when either of these practices is followed.
II. THE DUTIES OF THE PASTOR.
The duties of the pastor or elder who fills that office have been established and assigned by our Lord Jesus, the Head of the church, and the writers of the New Testament whose words were inspired by the Holy Spirit in many New Testament passages of Scripture. His first duty is to feed and shepherd the members of the church (called little lambs and sheep in John 21:15-17). The pastor or elder who is in the office of pastor is bidden to give heed to himself and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made him the overseer to feed the church (Acts 20:28) and to watch over the church to protect it against grievous wolves who would devour the flock (Acts 20:29-31). All of his duties involve the use of the Word of God which he is to preach at all times, Cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5.
The duties of the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church are never to be determined by Bethel Baptist Church. The pastor is placed in a leadership position by the Holy Spirit over the church; the church is not over the pastor (Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). When a church seeks to define the duties of a pastor, the views of men invariably are substituted for God’s Word, and the man of God is governed by the whims and fancies of the members instead of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The pastor is answerable to God, not the church, as to what he preaches and the work he performs. He is not a hired servant of the church.
III. THE DUTIES OF THE DEACONS.
The duties of the deacon or deacons have also been established and assigned to them by our Lord Jesus Christ. The office of deacon was created by the Church at Jerusalem at the direction of the twelve Apostles to meet a temporary material need in that church, Cf. Acts 6:1-7. That the office of deacon is a permanent office in the church is evident from the references made to it in the New Testament Scriptures, Cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8. While deacons are to be spiritual men with a sincere desire to proclaim the Word of God (Acts 6:1-8), their work is to oversee the material or temporal affairs of the church so that this burden might not fall upon the pastor and hinder him from fulfilling his duties. Obviously, some men may be at once both deacons and elders.
Since the duties of the deacons are established by the Scriptures, no deacon or board of deacons has the right to oversee the pastor and his work, His duties being also defined by the Scriptures. No board of deacons should ever assume the spiritual oversight of the church or of the pastor because such oversight is out of the purview of their duties as assigned by Word of God. For this reason, Bethel Baptist Church has stated in its constitution that no permanent board or committee of deacons will be established in the church lest it usurp authority over the church or the pastor in time.
IV. THE DUTIES OF OTHER OFFICERS.
The other offices in Bethel Baptist Church are that of church clerk and that of church treasurer. These two offices have been specially appointed by the church to take care of the recording of church business and the accounting of the receiving and dispersing of funds in the work of the church. In many churches these offices are filled by deacons since the very office of deacon is to serve the church in temporal affairs. When deacons are not available or unable to serve in these offices for various reasons, other men or even women may serve in these positions. While women cannot be ordained to the office of a deacon, they can be servants of the church (Rom. 16:1). The word translated servant is the same word translated deacon in 1 Timothy3:8f. Women and un-ordained men can and should be servants of the church, and they can fill offices the church has created, but it must be remembered the offices of church clerk and church treasurer are not offices of leadership requiring ordained men as do the offices of pastor and deacon.
V. THE ELECTION OF OFFICERS.
Those who serve in the offices of pastor, deacon, church clerk, and church treasurer are to be elected by the church by a unanimous vote. The standard of unanimity will be discussed at length in article six of this constitution. Unanimity is to be sought in all matters, for in the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) is the will of God is made known to the church (Acts 6:5). If the church cannot be in agreement in choosing its officers, how can it agree to do the work the Lord has assigned to it?
Those who serve in these offices should do so until either providence removes them (Acts 7:54-60; 8:5) or they seek a release from their work in these offices. Of course, should they be negligent in their duties or cause trouble in the course of filling their offices, the church has the right to remove them after confronting them in accord with Scripture (1 Tim. 5:1, 2).
VI. PASTORS AND DEACONS AND THIS CONSTITUTION.
It would be very unwise for the church to elect to the office of pastor or deacon anyone who does not agree to uphold the principles and practices as set forth in the Constitution and By Laws of Bethel Baptist Church. To do so would bring division to the church, for some would hold with the pastor and/or deacons, and others would hold with the constitution. Therefore, before anyone is considered for either of these offices, he should be asked whether or not he concurs with and will uphold this constitution. Since those seeking membership in the church must agree to uphold the doctrines, principles, and practices of this constitution, it is only right for one who fills the office of pastor or deacon to do the same thing, lest a double standard be established in the church (1 Cor. 14:40).
VII. THE PASTOR OF THE CHURCH.
The pastor of Bethel Baptist Church is not and must never be considered an employee of the church, no matter what the IRS or any other institution or man may claim. To make the pastor an employee of the church is to make him a hired servant and not a shepherd. The very term pastor means a shepherd. Pastors or shepherds of the Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ are appointed by Him who is also the Chief-Shepherd (John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). When a church extends a unanimous call to a man of God to become its pastor, it is not that vote that determines whether or not he will become pastor, but it is the leading of the Holy Spirit that makes the final determination (Rev. 1:20; 1 Cor. 4:19).
The pastor is answerable to the church for his moral conduct and subject to the discipline of the church as any other member is (See Article Seven). While he is subject to the church as to his membership, he is answerable directly to the Lord Jesus Christ for his leadership and ministry in the church. If he is answerable to His Lord, then he does not answer to the deacons or to any other group of leaders in the church (Matt. 6:24). The church can by its vote remove him from the pastorate, but any church should take heed how they treat the man whom God has called to that office when they have no Biblical basis for seeking to dismiss him as pastor.
The call Bethel Baptist Church extends to a qualified man to be pastor is to be an indefinite as opposed to a yearly call. Some churches get rid of pastors by simply not extending to him the call for another year. This kind of call cannot be found in Scripture. The God who calls a man to Bethel Baptist Church will call him to another work when He pleases.
The termination of a man’s pastorate at Bethel Baptist Church occurs when he believes the Lord is leading him to another church, when his health prevents his continuing in that office, when providence dictates to him that he must leave the church, or when he forfeits his right to the office of pastor as well as to membership in Bethel Baptist Church by immoral or unbecoming conduct, especially for a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The pastor of Bethel Baptist Church is not to be paid a salary but is to be given contributions toward his living expenses by the church from the tithes and offerings of its members. To pay him a salary is to make him an employee of the church. To contribute to his living expenses is to treat him as a servant of God as he in fact is (1 Cor. 9:7-14; 1 Tim. 5:17, 18; Phil. 4:15, 16).
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Five
THE ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH
1 Corinthians 11:2
INTRODUCTION: In accord with Scripture and historic Baptist doctrine, Bethel Baptist Church recognizes but two church ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. An ordinance is an “established rite or ceremony. Heb. IX. In this sense, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are denominated ordinances” (Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1826). “Christian ordinances are defined to be ‘institutions of divine authority relating to the worship of God, under the Christian Dispensation’” (The New Directory for Baptist Churches by Edward T. Hiscox). The Greek word for ordinance is paradosis, which appears thirteen times in the New Testament, and is translated tradition twelve times and ordinance only in 1 Corinthians 11:2.
Of the term ordinance, J.M. Pendleton writes, “This title is not used to convey the idea that a church has the right to institute ordinances. No such right exists. The Lord Jesus Christ is head of the church—Lawgiver of the Gospel dispensation. He is the only Institutor of ordinances. Apostles had no discretion in the matter. They could only teach the baptized disciples ‘to observe all things’ commanded by Christ. His will was to them, as to his followers, now the supreme law” (Baptist Church Manual, p. 63).
PROPOSITION: THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHES THAT BAPTISM AND THE LORD’S SUPPER ARE THE ONLY ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH.
I. THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM.
What is baptism? First, baptism is an immersion in water. The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma which is derived from baptidzo, meaning to dip, immerse. Dipping or immersing is further shown to be the meaning of baptism in the way it was administered, Cf. Matt. 3:16; Acts 8:36-39. That baptism is an immersion in water is also evident from the fact it is likened to a burial and resurrection. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6:4, 5).
Secondly, baptism is the immersion in water of a professed believer in Jesus Christ on the profession of his faith. John the Baptist baptized only those who confessed their sins and brought forth fruits worthy of true repentance, Cf. Matt. 3:1, 2, 6-8. Those who were baptized on the first Pentecost, after the resurrection of Christ, had first gladly received the word as preached by Peter (Acts 2:41). Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch only after he had confessed faith in Jesus Christ. “And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest [be baptized]. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).
Thirdly, baptism is the immersion in water of a professed believer in Jesus Christ on the profession of his faith by a duly authorized administrator. The commission to baptize was given by our Lord after His resurrection to the church through the apostles, Cf. Matt. 28:18-20. That baptism was given to the church as an institution and not to the apostles is evident from Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . .” If Paul could not claim he had been sent to baptize, who else could? It is therefore obvious that baptism is a church ordinance. Those who claim baptism is not a church ordinance do not deny the church was commissioned to baptize; they deny it is a church ordinance because it is administered to those outside the church instead of to those within the church as is the Lord’s Supper. While the church is the institution commissioned to baptize, someone within the church must administer the baptism. Who is therefore to administer the ordinance of baptism? The pastor is the duly authorized administrator of baptism by virtue of his office. If the church does not have a pastor, any other ordained minister either within or without the church may be chosen by the church to administer baptism. It is obvious that Peter, the first pastor of Church of Jerusalem (Acts 1:15; 2:14) was assisted by the other apostles in baptizing the three-thousand on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). If the pastor is physically incapable of administering baptism and no other ordained minister is available to perform the ordinance, one of the elders or deacons may be chosen by the church to administer baptism under these circumstances.
Finally, baptism is the immersion in water of a professed believer in Jesus Christ on the profession of His faith by a duly authorized administrator to identify himself with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, Cf. Rom. 6:3-5. To be baptized into Jesus Christ is to be baptized in relation to Him. Relationship identifies one with another. In this case, the believer in baptism in identifying Himself with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection as pictured in his baptism. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). In baptism the believer puts on as clothes or clothes on Christ in baptism, identifying himself as a believer even as a policeman identifies himself as such by putting on his uniform.
II. THE ORDINANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER.
What is the Lord’s Supper? To begin with, the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance. In the chapter dealing with ordinances, the Lord’s Supper is discussed (1 Cor. 11:17-24). It was delivered by the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. . .” (1 Cor. 11:23). To whom was he referring when he said “I delivered unto you”? “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:1, 2). The Lord’s Supper is a church, not a kingdom or family of God, ordinance.
Furthermore, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial church ordinance or ceremony. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, our Lord said, “. . . This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). See also 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25. It is especially a memorial service of our Lord’s death, for it pictures His death. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). Because the Lord’s Supper is a memorial ordinance, it is only to be observed in memory of Christ’s death, not to celebrate a wedding or to honor some worthy person.
Moreover, the Lord’s Supper is to be observed perpetually by the church until the Lord Jesus comes. As long as the church is in this world and the Lord has not returned, it is to commemorate the Lord’s Supper. There is no excuse for a church not to partake of the Lord’s Supper. While no church that is divided or has open sin in it is in the right spiritual condition to observe the Lord’s Supper, that church is to get its house in order that it might partake of it on a regular basis. No set time for observing the Lord’s Supper is stated; what is required is showing His death until He comes each time it is celebrated.
In the next place, the Lord’s Supper is to be observed by the use of unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine as symbols of His body and blood (Mark 14:22-25). Leaven is a type of sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Our Lord had no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22); therefore, leavened bread would be inappropriate to use in the Lord’s Supper because leavened bread would present an untrue picture of His body which the bread is to represent. The fruit of the vine should be fermented wine because fermentation destroys the leaven in grape juice. The same cup filled with wine which the Jews used in the Passover was used by our Lord in instituting the Lord’s Supper. “Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). See also Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; 1 Corinthians 11:21.
Lastly, the Lord’s Supper is to be observed only by the members of the church which is celebrating it. When Bethel Baptist Church observes the Lord’s Supper, only the members of Bethel Baptist Church may scripturally partake of it, Cf. Acts 2:41, 42; 20:7. The Lord’s Supper is to be observed only in the one place. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20). While there are other factors to be considered other than just celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a church in one place, this restriction is not to be ignored. Apparently the Church at Corinth either forgot or ignored these other factors, eliciting from Paul the aforementioned negative statement. He does not refute the fact that the local church is to meet in one place to partake of the Lord’s Supper; he simply spells out the other factors which nullify the idea that the church only needs to come together in one place to observe communion in a Biblical manner.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Six
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH
Matthew 18:17, 18; Colossians 1:18
INTRODUCTION: There are three different kinds of church government practiced by what are called churches in Christianity: episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational. Historical Baptists have always practiced a congregational form of church government. When New Testament Scriptures are followed very closely, there is a place for an element of both the episcopal and Presbyterian concepts of church government. However, the final decision in all matters of church business lies with the entire congregation as it is governed by the inspired Scriptures of the New Testament under the Headship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH.
Scripture consistently makes clear who the Head of the church is, Cf. Eph. 1:22; 4:15, 16; 5:23; Col. 1:18. As the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ alone can and has established the government of the church. No man or group of men has the right to establish the government of the church in a manner contrary to what He Himself has ordained Cf. Rev. 2:14, 15, 20.
The only rightful Head of the church has made the New Testament the sole rule of faith and order for the church, Cf. 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. The New Testament Scriptures were given to certain men chosen of God by inspiration, Cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13. These Scriptures are the law of the church under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, Cf. Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 2:9-16; 5:3-5; 7:25. The officers of the church must apply the teachings of the inspired New Testament to every situation confronting the church, following the leadership of the Holy Spirit in making the application, Cf. Acts 15:28; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30.
The church is to follow its officers as they follow Christ as both example and precept in the New Testament confirm, Cf. Acts 13:2, 3; 15:2, 23-31; 1 Cor.11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6. Even the Lord Jesus, the Head of the church, used the principles of Scripture as the rule He gave to the church, Cf. Matt. 18:16 with Deut. 17:6. While the church is bound by the Scriptures to follow the leaders of the church, the decision of the church in all matters is final, Cf. Matt. 18:18, 19; Acts1:15-26; 1 Cor. 5:1-13. There is no ecclesiastical authority on earth higher than the local church, Cf. Matt. 18:18. The decision of the church in all matters assigned to it is the court of final appeal, provided it follows the New Testament Scriptures which are the only basis of church law and rule. Because these Scriptures are the law of the church, one church may sit in judgment of another church’s action and reject any of its decisions which are contrary to Scripture, 1 Cor. 11:17-27. If, however, a church’s action is consistent with Scripture, another church that refuses to recognize its decision as valid is itself guilty of refusing to submit to the authority of New Testament Scripture.
II. THE ORDER OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
In keeping with the teachings of the New Testament, Bethel Baptist Church recognizes congregational church government as the standard Biblical form of government for the church. At the same time, we acknowledge the teachings of the New Testament that give the spiritual oversight to the pastor, (1 Tim. 3:1-5; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4) which oversight accords with Episcopal Church government. The above statement simply acknowledges there are decisions which a pastor alone must make in regard to the church. Such decisions do not negate congregational church government, but simply recognize the Lord has assigned certain responsibilities to the pastor that He has not given the entire church, Cf. 21:15-17.
In like manner, the elders or spiritually mature men of the church are regarded as leaders by the church, which leadership role is in accord with Presbyterian Church government. While the elders cannot and must not seek to act for the church, their counsel is most valuable and is to be sought by any church, Cf. Acts 15:2, 6, 23; Acts 20:17. This statement simply means the Lord has assigned certain responsibilities to the elders because of their age and wisdom that He has not given the entire church, Cf. Prov. 11:14.
In Bethel Baptist Church the three levels of church government may be observed working together for the good of the church. First, the pastor, providing the spiritual leadership he is responsible to give, presents policy issues and ministry opportunities to the elders and other men of the church for their consideration and input. After the elders and men of the church consider the matters, giving their wise counsel to the implementation of the proposed projects, they, when fully agreed upon the proposal, unanimously recommend the passing of such issues to the church. The church then, being notified in advance of the recommendations by the elders and men of the church, give consideration to the matters and pass them unanimously, in accord with the general New Testament principle of unanimity, Cf. 1 Cor. 1:10;14:33, 40; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 4:3-6; Phil. 2:1, 2; 1 Pet. 3:8.
III. THE SEEKING OF UNANIMITY.
Bethel Baptist Church does not attempt to pass any matter of business without first seeking unanimity. Since the elders and men do not recommend any matter to the church unless there is unanimity among them concerning it, divisive issues are not brought before the church. If it is ascertained that unanimity is lacking on a particular issue, the vote on that proposal is postponed and referred back to the elders and men for further counsel and seeking of wisdom until the desired unanimity is attained. Then the matter will be put before the church for a vote.
If division exists over an issue and further counsel and seeking of wisdom cannot bring unanimity and the church cannot further postpone deciding the matter, then the church may pass such routine matters of business as are necessary with a simple majority vote, Cf. 2 Cor. 2:6. In nearly two decades at this writing (8-24-11) Bethel Baptist Church has not had to decide any issue by a simple majority vote.
To prevent a small majority of members from voting to change the long established doctrines and polity of the church when other members are not present, any proposed major change in either doctrine or polity as expressed in this constitution can only be passed by a majority of 90% of the members of the church in a regular quarterly business meeting. Such proposed changes must be announced publically no less than three times in three consecutive meetings of the church. This policy will also prevent one or two members or a small minority of members from controlling the church because unanimity cannot be achieved. When a member is opposed to a matter the 90% or more of the church favors and refuses to give any consideration to it, then that member needs to be admonished and dealt with more than the issue at hand, Cf. Tit. 3:10.
IV. THE BUSINESS MEETINGS OF THE CHURCH.
All business matters pertaining to the ministry of Bethel Baptist Church are considered in its regularly scheduled quarterly business meetings which are usually conducted within the first three weeks of the first month of each quarter. Unless there are pressing issues which demand an immediate vote to maintain the worship services and the work of the church—such as funding for emergency repairs to the meeting place—all other matters will be deferred to the quarterly business meetings. When issues that demand a decision cannot be deferred to the regular quarterly business meeting, these matters are to be decided by a unanimous vote in one of the regular worship services of the church, Cf. 1 Cor. 5:4.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Seven
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE CHURCH
Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6
INTRODUCTION: Membership in a New Testament Church—Bethel Baptist Church is a New Testament Church—is always a privilege, not a right, because it is granted by the church to those seeking membership. Bethel Baptist Church can only grant membership to those who qualify for church membership in accord with the teachings of the New Testament, which qualifications are clearly explained in Article Three of the Constitution of Bethel Baptist Church. Since church membership can only be granted by the church to those who meet Biblical qualifications for membership, the church must also withdraw membership from any member who ceases to meet and live by these same Biblical standards.
Therefore, every member of Bethel Baptist Church is subject to the discipline of the church. Church discipline is of two kinds: formative and corrective. Formative church discipline occurs under the preaching and teaching of the Word of God (Eph. 2:21, 22; 4:12, 13; 2 Pet. 1:5-7; 3:18). When formative church discipline is not followed by church members, corrective church discipline will most likely become necessary because such members will invariably become guilty of various kinds of offenses which require the church to administer corrective discipline.
PROPOSITION: TO FULFILL ITS RESPONSIBILITES TO THE LORD, BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH MUST EXERCISE CORRECTIVE CHURCH DISCIPLINE FOR THE FOLLOWING OFFENSES:
I. MORAL OFFENSES GIVE OCCASION FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE.
Those who become members of Bethel Baptist Church have brought forth fruits of repentance and professed faith in Christ, giving evidence of a new birth (Luke 3:7, 8; Acts 11:18; 1 John 5:1). They profess to be a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). They have been baptized on the profession of their faith, declaring that their old man has been crucified with Christ and they are risen to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-6). Therefore, for a church member to become guilty of some moral offense is a practical refutation of the professed change in his life. To be true to the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, Bethel Baptist Church must exercise corrective church discipline toward any member guilty of any moral offense, Cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13.
What moral offenses give occasion for church discipline? According to 1 Corinthians 5:10, 11, moral offenses include fornication, covetousness, idolatry, railing, drunkenness, and extortion. Each of these terms has a broad meaning, identifying many acts as moral offenses. Fornication denotes sexual sins (1 Cor. 6:18) such as adultery, pornography, incest, sodomy (1 Cor. 6:9, 10), and all sexual uncleanness (Eph. 5:3, 5). Covetousness identifies the source of all kinds of offenses concerning money, including cheating, defrauding, dishonesty, and stealing (Eph. 4:28). Idolatry, which covetousness is also called (Col. 3:5), is the worship of any false gods and any form of witchcraft (Gal. 5:20). Railing is reviling others with reproachful and inappropriate language (1 Cor. 6:10). Drunkenness consists in an excessive use of alcoholic beverages and an overindulgence of food (Luke 21:34; Deut. 21:20, 21). Extortion denotes the unjust use of power or other means to take money or property from others (Luke 18:11). To commit or practice any of these acts is to sin against both the Lord and the church (Luke 15:18, 21). Sin committed against the church or any individual is also sin against the Lord (Ps. 51:4).
When a member of the church becomes guilty of these kinds of moral and public offenses, the pastor and elders of the church should seek to restore the offending member by appealing to him to repent of his sin and openly confess it before the church (Prov. 28:13). Their efforts should be attempted in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 which seeks the restoration of the offending member. If the offending member resists the efforts of the pastor and elders to restore him and refuses to acknowledge and confess his sins before the church and seek its forgiveness, then the church has no further recourse than the full exercise of church discipline in which the church terminates his membership and withdraws fellowship from him (1 Cor. 5:11, 12; 2 Thess. 3:6).
II. DOCTRINAL OFFENSES GIVE OCCASION FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE.
Doctrinal offenses bring damaging division to churches (Rom. 16:17). In some cases, the offending member uses heterodoxy or false doctrines to cause the division because he is a heretic or schismatic person (Tit. 3:10, 11). A member is guilty of a doctrinal offense when he knowingly denies a Bible doctrine or teaches anything contrary to the Doctrinal Statement of Bethel Baptist Church (See Article 8 and the New Hampshire Confession of Faith found in the Baptist Church Manual by J.M. Pendleton).
As in the case of moral offenses, a doctrinal offense is against both the Lord and the church.
When a doctrinal offense has occurred, the offending member is to be given two admonitions by the church through its pastor and elders. They will seek to determine why he holds heretical views and refute the false doctrines he holds with Scripture (2 Tim. 4:2-4). He is to be admonished not once but twice in the aforementioned way. If he receives the admonition given in love (Gal. 6:1), then the issue is resolved and the member is restored without corrective discipline. However, if he refuses to heed the two admonitions, then the church has no other recourse than to charge him with heresy, and every word being established in the mouth of two or three witnesses (2 Cor. 13:1), he is to be disciplined by having his church membership withdrawn (Tit.3:10) and considered as one to be avoided (Rom. 16:17). When a member is accused by two or more members of heresy, he should be given the opportunity to face his accusers and defend himself of their charges (Acts 24:19). Any member found guilty of falsely accusing another of heresy, and thereby causing division, shall himself become the object of corrective church discipline (Matt. 7:1, 2).
III. PERSONAL OFFENSES GIVE OCCASION FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE.
Personal offenses between individual members of the church are also grievous deeds which can have very serious consequences for a church if left undisciplined. When one member sins against the Lord and another member or members by some improper word, deed, or omission, a personal offense has been committed by that member. Being convicted of his offense, he should go at once and seek to make his offense right so that he can be reconciled to his offended brother (Matt. 5:23, 24).
What is the offended brother to do if the offending brother does not seek reconciliation? Is he then to tell the pastor, the elders, other members, or even the entire church what the offending brother did to him? Absolutely not! The pastor, elders, other members, or even the church have no Biblical basis to become involved in this offense at this point. If the offended brother cannot in all good conscience cover his brother’s offense in love (1 Pet. 4:8), then he alone has the responsibility to take the first step (Matt. 18:15). This passage is very explicit. The offended brother must himself first go alone to the offending member and explain to him his offense. If the offending brother realizes his fault and how he has offended his brother and confesses his trespass to him, then the offended member is to forgive him, and the issue is resolved.
If, however, the offending member will not hear his brother’s rebuke and refuses to confess his trespass, then the offended member is to take one or two other members with him to confront the offending brother (Matt. 18:16). These brethren are to be taken with him to be witnesses of what the offender and the offended say. The offended brother must not tell the witnesses his side of the issue before they go to speak to the offender, lest they be unable to be unbiased witnesses. After hearing both the offended and the offender, the witnesses may then admonish the offender to confess his fault, once the matter of is guilt has been determined by the witnesses who have heard both sides of the matter. If the offender recognizes his offense and confesses his trespass, the offended member is to forgive him, and the issue is resolved.
If the offender refuses still to acknowledge his trespass and will not hear their admonitions to confess his fault, then the offended member is to present the whole matter to the church (Matt. 18:17). At this point, the one or two witnesses are to confirm the veracity of his statements. Hearing the accusation, the church is then to admonish the offending member to acknowledge his fault and seek the forgiveness of his offended brother. If the offender hears the church and confesses his trespass, the offended brother is to forgive him and the matter is closed. But if the offending member refuses to hear the church and the admonitions given by its officers to repent, he is to receive corrective discipline in the form of excommunication from the church, for the church is to treat him as a heathen and a publican. To be considered an heathen and a publican is the same as being considered an unsaved person, and thus, disqualified for church membership, for no unsaved person can meet the qualification for membership in a New Testament Church.
IV. THESE OFFENSES EVIDENT IN CHURCH ABANDONMENT.
There are many occasions in which a church member ceases to attend the worship services of the church and no longer supports the church financially—although he has pledged to do both in the Church Covenant—without his or her having some providential cause (e.g. illness, a change in employment, military service, moving away from the area, etc.) for this change in practice. Ordinarily, the pastor will have contacted these absent members to determine the reason for their absences. If, however, he has made contact with said members and has not been given a reasonable explanation for their repeated absences, then the pastor and elders of the church are to seek to ascertain the real reason for their abandonment of the church and the promises they have made in their entering into a covenant relationship with Bethel Baptist Church. In many of these instances, the cause or causes for their withdrawing from the church may be traced to either a moral, doctrinal, or personal offense.
If no providential reasons can be found for hindering the member from participating in the worship services and support of the church, the pastor and elders will admonish (Col. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:12) him to repent of his abandonment of the church and resume the fulfillment of his responsibility as a member to attend the worship services of the church and to support the church financially. If the member fails to repent and become an active member of the church again, he is to receive a second admonition (2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 3:10). If he refuses to heed these admonitions, the pastor and elders will report their findings to the church and recommend the offending member be recognized as an inactive member who is to be made the object of prayer and continued exhortation by the church. If after three months there has been no change in his practice, then the member who has abandoned the church is to be dropped from the church in its regular scheduled business meeting. In dropping members from the church roll who have abandoned the church, the church is making official what the offending member has done unofficially.
V. AVOIDING OFFENSES IN CHURCH DISCIPLINE.
Regardless of how careful a church is to follow Scripture in administering church discipline, someone will invariably be offended by the church’s action. However, the church must seek, as far as is humanly possible, not to give unnecessary offense by failing to observe certain principles in administering its discipline (1 Cor. 10:32; 2 Cor. 6:3).
Therefore, in every situation in which church discipline becomes necessary, the member being charged with one of the above offences will be notified of the time in which he will be brought before the church for discipline so that he may have the opportunity to defend himself against the charges brought against him (Acts 23:28, 30, 35; 24:19). This notification can be given personally by the pastor or one of the elders or by means of a letter.
If the offending member repents of his sin and seeks forgiveness from the church, the church is to forgive him (Luke 17:3, 4). Even after the church has disciplined the offending member, it is to forgive him and restore him to fellowship when he experiences sorrow for his sin and repents of it, thereby confirming their love for the disciplined member (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Eight
THE DOCTRINES OF THE CHURCH
2 Timothy 3:16; Jude 3
INTRODUCTION: The doctrines or teachings of Bethel Baptist Church are those and only those that are set forth in the Holy Scriptures. This church does not teach for doctrines the commandments and beliefs of men derived from sources other than the Word of God. The doctrines as revealed in the inspired Scriptures constitute the system of belief or faith (Tit. 1:1) which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). It is these doctrines alone that Bethel Baptist Church is to preach through its pastor and elders, and only by these doctrines are they to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering (2 Timothy 4:2).
PROPOSITION: THE DOCTRINES OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH ARE THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINES PROCLAIMED BY HISTORIC, REGULAR BAPTISTS THROUGH THE AGES AS THEY HAVE BEEN EXPRESSED IN THEIR CONFESSIONS OF FAITH.
I. THE DOCTRINES OF HISTORIC, REGULAR BAPTISTS.
The terms historic and regular must be defined before discussing Baptist doctrines further. By the term historic, reference is made to that system of doctrines which have been held by Baptists historically from the time of Christ to the present day. Baptists are not of recent origin; neither are their doctrines. The faith or system of belief once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) has been believed and taught in every century by Historic Baptists from the first to the twenty-first.
By the term regular reference is made to Baptists who are true or historic Baptists as opposed to those who either claim to be Baptists—and are not—or those who hold to certain doctrines believed by Baptists while denying other doctrines Baptists hold dear. Regular Baptists can always be identified as those who accept the entire system of belief as taught in the New Testament and was delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3).
Bethel Baptist Church is to be identified as a Historic, Regular Baptist Church because of its doctrines. When comparing its doctrines to the Scriptures and the historic Baptist Confessions of Faith, it will be seen to be a Historic, Regular Baptist Church.
II. THE DOCTRINES OF THE NEW HAMPSHIRE CONFESSION OF FAITH.
When Bethel Baptist Church was organized on June 8, 1952, it adopted the New Hampshire Confession of faith as found in the Baptist Church Manual by J. M. Pendleton as its official confession of faith. This confession is also found in the Baptist Way Book written by Ben M. Bogard. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith, adopted by the Baptist Convention of New Hampshire in 1833, was written by J. Newton Brown who later added to the original sixteen articles of faith two more articles on Repentance and Faith and on Sanctification. This confession was designed to moderate the so-called rigid Calvinism or the earlier Philadelphia Confession of Faith. This confession, adopted in 1742 and printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 was essentially the Second London Confession of Faith of 1689 with two additional articles. The Second London Confession of Faith was issued by the Baptists in London to show their agreement with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists since all three groups were being persecuted by the Church of England. Various minor differences can be found in this confession and the earlier First London Confession of Faith of 1646. All of these confessions together with earlier confessions of faith among the Anabaptists and Waldenses give consistent witness to the historic faith of Regular Baptists.
III. THE DOCTRINES OF FREE AND SOVEREIGN GRACE.
Although many modern Baptists have departed from the doctrines of grace, Bethel Baptist Church shall forever acknowledge and preach the doctrines of free and sovereign grace. These doctrines are sometimes erroneously called Calvinism. While Calvin believed the doctrines of grace, he did not believe them as Baptists, for he also believed in baby baptism or sprinkling. Baptists do not get their doctrines from John Calvin.
Because many Baptists have departed from the faith once delivered to the saints, they not only do not believe the doctrines of grace but ridicule them. Most modern Baptists have become Free Will Baptists, adopting many of the beliefs of the Free Will Baptists whose rise in 1780 led to the adopting of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith to moderate the more rigid Calvinism of the older Philadelphia confession of Faith. Abandoning the doctrines of grace, modern Baptists have embraced decisional regeneration. They now teach that man’s will is free—even though he is a fallen creature and bound by sin (John 8:34; Rom. 5:12)—enabling him to make a free decision to choose or reject Christ as Savior. Of course, they deny the doctrines of unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual calling, and perseverance of the saints, along with the total depravity of man, all of which constitute the doctrines of grace.
IV. THE DOCTRINES CONCERNING THE CHURCH.
As Historic and Regular Baptists, Bethel Baptist Church holds to distinctive doctrines concerning the church, beginning with the definition of the church (Article One), the origin and nature of the church (Article Two), the membership of the church (Article Three), the offices in the church (Article Four), the ordinances of the church (Article Five), and the government of the church (Article Six). Because Bethel Baptist Church holds to the local and visible nature of the church as opposed to a universal, invisible church, it is very clearly a historic and regular Baptist Church.
V. THE DOCTRINES FROM THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD.
Bethel Baptist Church not only believes and preaches the doctrines of grace and the distinctive doctrines of the local, visible church; it believes and preaches all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, we preach the whole counsel of God in preaching from all the sacred Scriptures.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Nine
THE COVENANT OF THE CHURCH
Romans 12:4, 5
INTRODUCTION: The church is often compared to a body in the New Testament Scriptures (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12-20, 22-25, 27; Eph. 1:23; 4:4; 4:16; Col. 1:18;2:19; 3:15; Heb. 13:3). When a believer is baptized, it is with reference to the body or church in that it prepares him for membership in a New Testament Church (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is the body composed by all of the individual members who have been led to covenant together as one local, individual church. These individual members are bound together by a common faith in a common Savior (Tit. 1:1; Jude 3), a common baptism (Eph. 4:4, 5), and a common desire to be part of the same church (Acts 9:26, 27). This oneness of spirit is cemented by a church covenant or written mutual agreement stating all the terms of that agreement. Baptists have historically had church covenants in which they agree to give themselves up to God and to one another. An old example is here cited:
1656 COVENANT OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH IN LEOMINISTER, HEREFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND: The 25th of the 7th Month 1656 The Church of Christ meeting at Brother Joseph Patshalls House in Leominster was Constituted & the Persons undernamed did after Solemn Seeking of God by Prayer, give up themselves to the Lord, & to each other to Walk together in all the Ordinances of Jesus Christ according to his appointments, which was done in the presence of our Brother Daniel King & other Brethren. — Source: Champlin Burrage, The Church Covenant Idea: It’s Origin and Its Development (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1904), p.154.
PROPOSITION: THE SCRIPTURES PROVIDE THE FOUNDATION FOR A CHURCH COVENANT, AND HISTORY CONFIRMS THE USAGE OF CHURCH COVENANTS AMONG BAPTISTS.
I. THE ENTERING INTO A CHURCH COVENANT.
On June the 8th, 1952 six scripturally baptized believers entered into a covenant with one another to form a New Testament Church. They had moved to Choctaw, Oklahoma from different places, but they learned they held a common faith and had a common baptism. Thus, they began to meet, seeking the assistance of two missionaries, Elders H.G. Bacot and James M. Poyner. They constituted themselves as a New Testament Church when they agreed to give themselves up to the Lord and to one another by a mutual covenant. When they were so constituted, they adopted the church covenant found in the Baptist Church Manual by J. M. Pendleton to declare the terms of that mutual agreement. As baptized believers are added to Bethel Baptist Church, they, too, agree to enter into this same covenant.
Entering into a church covenant is a voluntary act. No one can force or compel another to unite with Bethel Baptist Church or agree to its church covenant. Because believers are added to the Lord (Acts 11:24), He in turn adds them to the church (Acts 2:47), to which adding they voluntarily comply.
II. THE SCOPE OF THE CHURCH COVENANT ENTERED.
The scope of the church covenant into which we have entered at Bethel Baptist Church concerns both the Headship and the teachings of Christ. The Head of the church is Christ (Eph. 5:23). Therefore, the church and each member is to be subject to Christ in all matters (Eph. 5:24).
Being subject to Christ, the church and the members which compose it are also subject to His teachings by which they are governed. No church has the right to develop its own teachings. The Lord has given to the church and all its members His inspired and preserved Word which is its only rule of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Unless the members of the church keep and obey His Word, they are not submitting themselves to His Lordship over them (Luke 6:46). Therefore, the scope of the church covenant in which we give ourselves to the Lord and to one another is limited to matters set forth in His Word. We need not and do not go beyond the teachings of God’s Word in keeping our church covenant.
III. THE PARTICULAR CHURCH COVENANT ENTERED.
As has been stated above, the particular church covenant adopted by Bethel Baptist Church when it was constituted and is still used today is the one found on pages 61 and 62 of the Baptist Church Manual by J. M. Pendleton. A large copy of this same church covenant is displayed on one of the walls in the foyer of the meeting house of Bethel Baptist Church.
The first paragraph of the church covenant concerns the common salvation and baptism of those who enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ. The second paragraph speaks of the common responsibilities of the members, aided by the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love and to seek the advancement of the church in the ways specified in the covenant. The third paragraph addresses the private and family life of the members in covenant with one another, emphasizing both what they are to do and to avoid. The fourth paragraph of the church covenant stresses the mutual responsibilities of the members to one another. The fifth paragraph emphasizes the mutual promise of the members to unite with another church of like faith and order, should it become necessary that they move to another place where the keeping of the church covenant with the present church would become very difficult, if not impossible.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Ten
ASSOCIATING WITH OTHER CHURCHES
Acts 9:31; 11:22-26; 15:2, 22; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2
INTRODUCTION: It is obvious from the above passages of Scripture that the churches in New Testament times associated together. Thus, churches of the Lord Jesus Christ have a Biblical precedent to associate together in executing the work assigned to them in the Great Commission.
Bethel Baptist Church is an independent and autonomous church. It has been such from its constitution to this day, and it will remain so in the future, if the principles of this Constitution and By-Laws are diligently followed. Being independent, Bethel Baptist Church does not belong to any association or fellowship of churches or to any type of convention composed of churches. Bethel Baptist Church is independent of every other independent Baptist Church as well as of any and all ecclesiastical authorities which have usurped power over churches.
Being autonomous, Bethel Baptist Church is self-governing under the Headship of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Word of God. Autonomous means to be: “Independent in government; having the right of self-government” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828). Bethel Baptist Church does not acknowledge any authority over its faith and practice from any earthly organization or power, whether that authority be ecclesiastical or civil (Acts 5:28, 29).
PROPOSITION: BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH IS SBJECT TO NO HIGHER AUTHORITY THAN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND THE SACRED SCRIPTURES.
I. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH WILL NOT JOIN ANY ASSOCIATION OR CONVENTION.
For any church to join an association or convention, as they are structured today, is for it to cede to a certain degree its independence and its autonomy. While a church’s giving up its independence and autonomy to an association or convention is denied in theory, in practice it is a reality. For a church of the Lord Jesus Christ to surrender its autonomy to anyone is a great offense (Rev. 2:20). Churches which join associations or conventions become more concerned about what the association or convention thinks about their work than they do what the Lord thinks. At the same time, the association or convention believes it has the right to dictate, to some extent, the direction a member church takes in its ministry. Although Bethel Baptist Church was in its early years associated with the American Baptist Association, the Baptist General Assembly of Oklahoma, and the Macedonia – Plover Hill Association, it has not been active in any of these associations for over twenty-five years at the time of this writing (12-7-2011).
II. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH WILL ENTER INTO FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER CHURCHES OF LIKE-FAITH AND ORDER.
A church does not have to join an association of churches in order to associate with churches. The issue to be avoided is not association or fellowship between churches, but the forming of an ecclesiastical organization that usurps authority from the local church and then seeks to exercise new authority over the church (Matt. 20:25-28). The Southern Baptist historian, W. W. Barnes wrote these words in his introduction in the book, The Southern Baptist Convention: A Study in The Development of Ecclesiology: “In the following pages the effort has been made to show that there has been an ecclesiological development in Southern Baptist life comparable to the development that took place in the first four centuries of Christian history—a development that laid the foundation of the medieval Catholic Church, out of which came the Roman Catholic Church of modern times.” While many Baptists give lip service to the doctrine of the independency and autonomy of the local church, they in reality believe the association has a greater and higher authority in ecclesiastical matters than does the local church.
Bethel Baptist Church does have regular fellowship with other churches of like-faith and order. Any regular Baptist Church which has adopted either the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, or the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, or the First or Second London Confessions of Faith, and whose beliefs and practices are consistent with these confessions is a church of like-faith and order. Such churches believe the doctrines of grace, the local and visible nature of the church, and the sacred Scriptures are the rule of the faith and practice of a New Testament Church. If any church holding these articles of faith desires our fellowship, Bethel Baptist Church will gladly have fellowship with it.
III. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH WILL NOT ATTEMPT TO LORD IT OVER ANY OTHER CHURCH.
Believing in the independency and autonomy of the church, Bethel Baptist Church will never seek to impose any conditions to fellowship, other than those required by the Word of God, upon another church. No minister, group of ministers, or any other church is to Lord it over the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2, 3). It would be inconsistent for Bethel Baptist Church to claim independency and autonomy for itself and then seek to force or coerce another church to conform to all its particular beliefs and practices as a condition of fellowship. The above mentioned confessions of faith identify the beliefs of historic and Bible Baptists, yet they are not creeds to which every church must be conformed in every matter. Churches within the same circle of fellowship never have and never will in this world agree perfectly on every particular of the faith (Eph. 4:13).
IV. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH WILL NOT PERMIT ANOTHER CHURCH OR GROUP OF CHURCHES TO DICTATE ITS FAITH AND PRACTICE.
While Bethel Baptist Church desires the fellowship of other churches of like faith and practice, it will never seek that fellowship at the cost of its independency and autonomy. Therefore, it will not permit any church or group of churches with whom it has fellowship to dictate to it in any area of faith and practice. For any church to attempt to dictate the faith and practice of Bethel Baptist Church will be considered a breach in the fellowship of the two churches. That church will be considered guilty of seeking lordship over Bethel Baptist Church, not fellowship with Bethel Baptist Church.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Eleven
THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
INTRODUCTION: Although the phrase separation of church and state does not appear in the Constitution of the United States or in the Bill of Rights, the principle suggested by this phrase is assumed throughout these documents. Moreover, this principle is emphasized in the teachings of the New Testament. For centuries the so-called church was wed to the state in practically every nation in Europe, which marriage was contrary to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom alone the church is to be wed (2 Cor. 11:2; 5:22-25).
Baptists, wrongly called Anabaptists, have consistently opposed the union of church and state in every century from the time our Lord Jesus Christ announced to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36) to this very day. They were especially vocal in their opposition to the church-state union at the time Constantine proposed and executed the marriage between church and state. Having suffered through the centuries at the hands of the state-church, Baptists came to America seeking religious freedom. When the War of Independence was won, the Baptists stood firmly against any kind of state-church, even one that included them. Their consistent and unwavering conviction of the necessity of the separation of the church and state is the primary reason there is such a separation today in the United States of America. In modern times, others have taken up the cause of the separation of church and state for different reasons than those advocated by Baptists. Those who clamor today for the separation of church and state actually seek a separation between God and state, seeking to remove any reference to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, from our national life.
PROPOSITION: BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH NOT ONLY BELIEVES IN BUT PRACTICES THE FULL SEPARATION OF THE CHURCH FROM THE STATE.
I. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH RECOGNIZES THE SPECIFIC AND LIMITED AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OVER THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH.
The members of Bethel Baptist Church have a dual citizenship. While they live in this world, they are citizens of the United States even as Paul was a citizen of Rome (Acts 22:25-28), but their lasting citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20; Heb. 11:13-16). As citizens of the United States of America and of the state of Oklahoma, these members are subject to the authority God has granted to these powers over them (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). The teachings of the Lord Jesus bind them to render unto Caesar—the government—the things that are Caesar’s ((Matt. 22:17-21).
The authority given by God to government is specific and limited, not ambiguous and unlimited. Government’s first responsibility is the punishing of the wicked, specifically murderers (Gen. 9:5, 6). Evil-doers, not those who are responsible and law-abiding citizens, are those whom government is to punish (Rom. 13:3-5). Having authority in temporal and civic matters, government is to limit itself to these matters and avoid becoming entangled with religious beliefs. Various Roman rulers from Pilate to Festus and Agrippa were reluctant to involve themselves in religious disputes. It has always been religious rulers that have sought to use the sword of the state to impose their beliefs on dissenting individuals. Today, governmental authority is used to enforce the beliefs of secular humanism upon all the citizens of the United States, and dissent in these matters is punished by fines and ostracism.
II. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH MAINTAINS THE CHURCH IS NOT SUBJECT TO THE LAWS OF THE STATE EXCEPT IN MATTERS OF PROPERTY, BUILDINGS, AND CODES.
Recognizing that the state has its proper sphere of authority in things temporal and material, Bethel Baptist Church readily submits itself to the state’s oversight of the use of property, the safety of buildings, and the enforcement of codes pertaining to the same. This church no more wants to meddle with the authority of the government in these areas than it welcomes the intrusion of the government into its beliefs and practices (John 18:33-38). Therefore, Bethel Baptist Church maintains it is not subject to the state or any of its officers as to its doctrines, offices, government, discipline, and practices.
If any government, however, seeks to influence, alter, or dictate to Bethel Baptist Church what it is to believe, teach, and practice, the church must resist all such efforts (Acts 4:18-21, 29; 5:27-29). The religious system known as secular humanism that dominates government today also permeates the various media in our country, forming and controlling all public opinion. A new dogma called political correctness has infiltrated churches, influencing them to abandon the long-established convictions of historical Christianity and to substitute the heresies of this dogma for the truth. Bethel Baptist Church must oppose all such intrusions into its faith and practices and refuse to be governed by this so-call political correctness, lest it be unable to preach and teach all of the counsel of God as it is found in His Word.
III. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH ASSERTS ITS RIGHTS AS GUARANTEED BY THE FIRST AMMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The first amendment to the Constitution, called Article I reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The first statement concerning an establishment of religion has been grossly misunderstood by courts and legislative bodies in modern times. Reference here is not made to the government’s establishing a religion, as it is argued that anything from the Bible and Christianity displayed in a public building amounts to establishing, ordaining, and setting up a religion. An establishment of religion is that which is in a fixed state already, as were the various denominations of Christianity when this nation and its government were founded. What the First Amendment forbids is government making any kind of law that dictates the faith and practice of any denomination of the Christian religion or of any other religion or the enacting of any law that would prohibit any established denomination or religion from preaching and practicing the tenants of its faith. Obviously, any newly-founded religion that violates long-honored systems of decency and morality are not and cannot be protected by the First Amendment, for such would violate the Preamble to the Constitution which states: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish, Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
IV. BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH REFUSES TO INCORPORATE ITSELF AS A CORPORATION.
For a church to become incorporated under the laws of the State of Oklahoma or any other state is for it to subject itself to the state. Incorporating a church in effect is uniting church and state once again. To quote another, “A powerful State never grants privileges to the church without requiring, sooner or later heavy payment.” When a church is incorporated, the corporation is a body, created by law, composed of individuals united under a common name, the members of which succeed each other, so that the body continues the same, notwithstanding the change of individuals who compose it. In other words, the incorporated church is not the same body as the church. There is the church as contemplated by law, and there is the church as recognized by our Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of Chief Justice John Marshall, “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” One of the purposes of a corporation is “to make by-laws or private statutes for the better government of the corporation, which are binding upon themselves, unless contrary to the laws of the land, and then they are void.” To state this fact another way, an incorporated church cannot have by-laws that are contrary to the laws of the land. If Bethel Baptist Church were incorporated, what would become of its by-laws concerning the offices of pastor and deacon? These by-laws would be considered void because they are contrary to the laws of political correctness in that they discriminate against women.
Why do churches incorporate? They incorporate to borrow money, to hold property, and to protect the members from law-suits. Not surprisingly, lawyers promote incorporation of churches, and then the very lawyers who advise churches to incorporate to protect themselves from law-suits are now suing the same churches they helped to incorporate. Since the church of Jesus Christ is not of this world, it is not to entangle itself with the laws of this world, and this rule includes the laws of incorporation, John 18:36.
An Exposition of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church Article Twelve
AMENDING THIS CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS
1 Corinthians 11:34
INTRODUCTION: The best documents ever written by men are fallible. Therefore, any constitution, however well-conceived it may be, cannot anticipate every contingency or circumstance the body governed by it may encounter. Even the Apostle Paul, whose epistle to the Corinthians was inspired of God (2 Tim. 3:16), recognized certain problems required a personal attention beyond what he had written (1 Cor. 11:34). Consequently, future problems or necessities may require that the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church, Choctaw, Oklahoma, be amended or improved to address more precisely these matters.
PROPOSITION: ARTICLE TWELVE MAKES THE AMENDING OF THE CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH POSSIBLE AND DOABLE BUT MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR A SLIM MAJORITY TO AMEND IT OR FOR ONE OR TWO MEMBERS TO PROHIBIT ITS BEING AMENDED.
I. THE TWO CONDITIONS TO BE MET TO AMMEND THE CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH.
The first condition which must be met in amending the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church concerns the percentage of voting members required to amend it. The amending of its Constitution and By-Laws requires more than a simple majority, a two-thirds majority, or a majority of 75%; it requires a 90% majority of the members of Bethel Baptist Church voting in a regular quarterly business meeting which has been announced in the three previous consecutive meetings of the church. (See Article Six of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church).
Why has Bethel Baptist Church adopted a Constitution and By-Laws that requires a 90% majority to amend? There are two reasons. First, this majority protects the minority of the church, should they be the ones seeking to preserve the spirit of this Constitution and By-Laws together with the doctrines and the covenant of the church. Second, this majority protects the greater part of the church from the domination of two or three members who might seek to use the desired rule of unanimity to oppose any amendment that is necessary to address a specific problem (3 John 9, 10).
The second condition to amending the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church concerns the occasion and time of its being amended. The occasion for its amending is to be in a regular, quarterly business meeting of Bethel Baptist Church (See Article Six of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church). This rule prevents a minority of the members of the church from calling a special business meeting and amending the Constitution and By-Laws by a 90% margin. When a proposed amendment to the Constitution and By-Laws of Bethel Baptist Church is to be made, the proposed amendment and the day and time of its consideration are to be announced in the three previous consecutive regular meetings of the church. This rule insures that all of the members of the church are given sufficient notice to be present for its consideration and is in accord with Article Six of this same Constitution and By-Laws. While these principles prevent certain unscrupulous practices, they actually promote the stated goal of unanimity in all that the church does.
II. THE IDEAL SPIRIT TO BE SOUGHT IN AMENDING THE CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS OF BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH.
All things done in and by one of the Lord’s churches must be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). What is done decently and in order are the things the Lord’s people are to follow, since only such actions as these promote peace (Rom. 14:19). To make any necessary amendments in its Constitution and By-Laws, the members of Bethel Baptist Church must pursue peace by doing things decently and in order in order to preserve the “unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Ideally, unanimity should always first be sought in accord with Article Six before seeking to amend this Constitution and By-Laws.
If, however, unanimity cannot be attained after reasonable effort to achieve it, this Constitution and By-Laws can be amended by a 90% majority vote of the members of Bethel Baptist Church in a regular quarterly business meeting in which the proposed amendment will be considered, provided it has been announced in three previous consecutive regular meetings of the said church.