By Eschol Cosby
Cosby is 94 years old
Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" Matt. 15:3.
We Baptists of today feel so free to criticize the Pharisees for their tradition, or the Catholics for theirs, and we fail to realize that our own denomination is also seething in Church Tradition today. The Israelites were the people in blessing when the Lord Jesus came to earth the first time; for "Unto them were committed the oracles of God." Rom. 3:2. They were in possession of the Scriptures, and God had dealt with them as He had dealt with no other people on earth.
And yet we find that they were the most unprepared people of all, to receive their Messiah when He did come, for they failed to recognize the time of their visitation. Vanity, pride and conceit had entered in, and along with it, the TRADITIONS which made them blind leaders of the blind. They confused the prophecies concerning the first coming of their Messiah with those concerning His second coming, rejected Him, and, as a result, they have been cast aside, taken from their place of blessing, and a dispensation has been given over to the Gentiles.
WE ALSO CONFUSE SCRIPTURES
So, in like manner, we Baptists have taken all the Scriptures concerning the Church (Proper) and the church (Local), and dumped them all into one basket, so to speak. We have failed to differentiate between the two, and have arrived at a similar misunderstanding. In our case, we have succumbed to the conceited idea that all the Scriptures concerning the Church mean "The Baptist Church"; and we fail to see that the Church (Proper) is that body of people who have been born again, and is to be distinguished from a local, visible congregation.
So, being a Baptist myself, and realizing, to some extent, how far reaching this tradition has extended into our denomination, and realizing also that many others do not embrace this idea, may we turn the searchlight of "The Word" upon the subject in order to see "What saith the Lord"; for "The entrance of thy words giveth light"(Ps. 119:130).
Here is the contrast:
which am I to believe--
to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly
dividing the word of truth."
BASED ON ASSUMPTION
As we investigate, we find that our tradition is based almost entirely on assumption. In the first place, it is assumed that "The Church" of Matt. 16:18 is a local, visible, tangible organization. The Bible makes no such statement. Rather, just the opposite is the truth, as the preceding Scriptures reveal.
Then, it is further assumed that this visible organization is our Baptist denomination. Then, on a basis of these assumptions, it is still further assumed that it was to this Church that the Great Commission was given, that the authority was given to it to baptize, and to administer the Lord's Supper, and so forth. But we find that the Scriptures make no such statements. Let's speak where the Scriptures speak and be silent where the Scriptures are silent. For when you have a false assumption for a foundation, I think it is easy to understand how unlimited the extent of the error can become.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
In view of the fact that a person is so often accused of denying the local church altogether, when he does not embrace our tradition on this point, let it be clearly stated here that the Bible does make ample provision for our local churches. Giving their geographical location, their faults, the things for which they were commended, and so on, in the book of Acts and the Epistles. And realizing that two cannot walk together "Except they be agreed" (Amos 3:3), we Baptists are perfectly in order when we have something to stand for. And having Scriptural provision made for our local churches, as we do, it never becomes necessary to embrace some self-assumed tradition in order to substantiate our position.
THE BIBLE A UNIT
One of the main reasons for error in our Bible study is that we too often study it in isolated portions. When we do that, we are just guessing. When we study it as a unit, tracing a subject through the Bible, finding its type in the Old Testament, and its fulfillment in the New, then it makes a complete picture, just as a jig-saw puzzle does when every piece is in its place. But if you take one part out of its place, then it disrupts the entire picture.
So in this case, when we try to make the Scriptures concerning "The Church" apply to the Baptist Church, or only the local church, we disrupt a chain of teaching beginning back in the Old Testament and continuing on through the New, to such an extent that we completely disrupt and mar one of the most beautiful pictures in Holy Writ.
JESUS CHRIST THE ROCK
upon this rock I will build my church
We find many, many references to Jesus in Scripture as a Rock or Stone. The rock which was struck by Moses (Ex. 17:6) is a type of Christ. For here, Moses struck the rock and life-giving waters flowed forth to all who would partake.
What a wonderful picture we have thus portrayed of Jesus in His rejection, crucifixion, saving power, judgment and coming King. How can we have the audacity to offer a substitute for the Body of Christ as His Church? To break one link in the chain is to break the chain. How narrow is our vision! How true to human nature is our conceit! "And we forbad him because he followeth not with us" (Luke 9:38). What an obstruction is wrapped up in that little word "Us."
"When a man becomes wrapped up in himself, he makes a very small package."
THE LIVING STONE AND THE LIVELY STONES
Now what I say may not amount to much, but what the Scripture says is final. So please read very carefully the following Scripture quotations:
"To whom coming as unto a LIVING STONE, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also as LIVELY STONES, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4-5).
Does not the "Living Stone" here refer to the Lord Jesus, the same Stone upon which the Church is to be built? Do not the "Lively Stones" refer to those who are to build upon this foundation and form the church? Well, our Baptist tradition says that a person can be a member of the church and not be saved and that he can be saved and not be a member of the Church.
Now that is true if the reference is made only to a local church, but again the reference is made to "The Church" which is to be built upon the Rock, Christ Jesus. In that case, here are four questions I want to ask:
THE CHURCH AND THE BODY THE SAME
I never did like to base eternal things on suppositions, but I find great enjoyment and spiritual blessing in a study of the Book. It will enlighten, spiritually invigorate and bless its reader as no other book can. So let's read on. "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY" (Eph. 1:22-23). There we have it in a clear statement, that the church is the body of Christ. How can we reverse the order and say it is the local assembly and that we are admitted by water baptism?
What does the Book say? "FOR BY ONE SPIRIT are we ALL baptized into ONE BODY, whether we be Jews or Gen-tiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into ONE SPIRIT" (I Cor. 12:13-14). Why interpolate by means of a long remote process and say the Scriptures teach certain things? These things are clear and precise statements of fact.
"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the HOUSEHOLD OF GOD, and are built upon the FOUNDATION of the apostles and prophets, JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF being the CHIEF CORNER STONE; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth into an holy temple in the Lord: In whom YE ALSO are builded together for an habitation of God THROUGH THE SPIRIT" (Eph. 2:19-22).
Please note that there are four specific questions answered in that quotation.
Also notice how perfectly this agrees with all the other quotations. Is not this Chief Corner Stone the same Jesus as that of Matt. 16:18? Does the word "Ye" refer to members of a Local church or the Body of Christ? Do they enter by water baptism or "Through the Spirit"? Is not the building fitly framed together that they form, the same Body or Church into which we are "All baptized by one Spirit"? Is this not also synonymous with the Church and the Rock referred to in Matt. 16:18?
once again I ask the question:
SAVED TO SERVE
The further we go, the richer it gets. Here is some more Scripture: "But now hath GOD set the members every one of them IN THE BODY, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (I Cor. 12:18-22). In this quotation we have four specific facts set forth. First, God sets the members into the Body. We do not admit them ourselves, by water baptism. Second, we, though individual members, compose one Body. What is that Body? Third, God has a place of service and responsibility for each member, though they do not have the same calling. Fourth, we have a spiritual relationship to each other. "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom. 12:5). Notice how all of these Scriptures concerning "The Body", "The Church" and its foundation agree when we take them to mean what they say. So again I ask: Is the Church of Matt. 16:18 the local Church or the Body of Christ?
THE CHURCH TO BE THE BRIDE
The Church is not complete now. It is in the process of being formed. "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Acts 2:47. When the body or Church is complete, He will present it to Himself in Heaven.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved THE CHURCH, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. (Now notice) That he might PRESENT it to HIMSELF, a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch angel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I These. 4:16-17).
This is the "Glorious appearing" that we are admonished to look for. Titus 2:13. And when this "Glorious appearing" takes place, then the Church will be presented to Himself as the Bride.
"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Rev. 19:7-8).
Now there are three things here that I want us to notice in particular:
once again I ask the question:
SELF ASSUMED AUTHORITY
On a basis of previously mentioned assumptions, our church tradition further assumes the authority concerning The Great Commission. The claim is made that when Jesus gave this commission, He was talking to His Church (now the Baptist Church, or your church) and that to such a church was this authority given.
What an assumption that is! It is about like a man saying all sparrows are birds, therefore all birds are sparrows. A church is an assembly; therefore any assembly is a church.
As a matter of fact, there was no local church recognized until Pentecost.
You cannot establish doctrine by apostolic experiences.
Apostolic experiences and apostolic teachings do not agree. They experienced things that we can never experience.
lived under the Law.
How foolish of us to endeavor to substitute their experiences for their teachings in establishing doctrine. In this case, it would mean that a man who was genuinely saved but not a Baptist would have no part in the Great Commission at all. On the other hand, if a man was unsaved, but was a Baptist, he would be commissioned of the Lord to preach the Gospel. "And we forbad him because he followeth not with us" (Luke 9:38).
AUTHORITY TO BAPTIZE
By virtue of this same self-assumed authority, our churches also claim to be the only authority to administer water baptism. This too, goes back to the same place for its foundation. If our church is "The Church," and if it was to this Church that the commission was given, then we do have that authority. If not, then we don't. Right there is where the whole thing hinges.
According to our man made and creed bound tradition, we have that authority.
According to the Scriptures, we do not.
THE LORD'S SUPPER
The same thing is true concerning the Lord's Supper. The Scripture says, "But let a man examine HIMSELF, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (I Cor. 11:28). But we just reverse the order by virtue of our tradition and WE examine the man and if he be Baptist (Brethren, Nazarene, Pentecostal etc) WE let him partake, and if not, then WE forbid him.
Of course, it should be made clear that only saved people should observe this ordinance and the importance of this self-examination should be emphasized. Nevertheless; after having done this, the responsibility of this self-examination must rest upon the individual, not with the church. No place in Scripture is there any provision made otherwise.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
A writer once wrote in effect that the Lord gave John the name "Baptist," that he was a missionary and that he was a preacher; therefore, he was a Missionary Baptist preacher (in our sense of the term). He further wrote in effect that Jesus was a Missionary Baptist preacher because He identified Himself with John's baptism.
You might call a canary a crow, but it would not change his song.
Neither can we change the mission of John the Baptist by misrepresenting his name. He was never called to be a preacher of the Gospel of Grace as we preach it today at all. If so, here is a question I would like to ask:
So it is no wonder that Paul said, "Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said unto them, unto John's baptism. Then said Paul; John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saving unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:3-5). We have a similar account in Acts 8:14-16. So if John the Baptist was the first Baptist preacher (in our sense of the term), how strange it is that the Apostle Paul would not accept his baptism!
BASED ON HISTORY
I have talked with many Baptists who would admit, finally, that the Baptist Church could not be identified as the one referred to in Matt. 16:18, but would contend that history would prove that the Baptist Church of today is a direct descendant of the First Church at Jerusalem. Well, I wouldn't even attempt to prove or disprove this statement, one way or another. It is completely beside the point.
When you consider the scores of differences existing within the Baptist denominations, even today, what do you suppose the possibilities of apostasy would be in nineteen hundred years? Of course, we claim that our church has remained true all this time, but if taken from a historical standpoint alone, every other church has a right to claim the same thing. Therefore, the historical foundation is out.
The only authority we have for our doctrine now, or ever have had, is "The Book."
THE FAITH VS. THE BRAND
Now, I realize that we are told that many false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many, and that we should beware of them. I also realize that we are admonished to come out from among them and be a separate people, and to contend for the faith. And I believe in doing just that. But I also find that we are told to avoid contentions and strivings about some things, for they are unprofitable. So for this reason, I believe in standing for something and being true to it. But, I believe that that something should be our FAITH and not so much our BRAND.
Sometimes our churches are prone to endorse a man in a big way, even though he may be a modernist or even though he may deny the faith in many ways, just because he has our denominational brand and approval on him. On the other hand, you very often see a man who will stand for all the fundamentals of the faith that we do, and yet, some of our leaders will denounce him in a most vehement manner, just because he does not have our BRAND on him. And this is the very thing that our tradition contributes to. It is the same old weakness of the Pharisees, to follow the popular or political trend, to receive the praises of men.
Which should we contend for, the FAITH or the BRAND?
After long observation, there is no doubt in my mind as to the demoralizing effect of this tradition on our spiritual power. Our object soon becomes, building the church numerically, rather than seeking the lost. We become self-centered rather than Christ centered. This in turn creates factions and jealousy where no factions should exist. The evangelistic zeal and spiritual fervor is soon re-placed by a greed and a desire for potential power to subdue and command in ecclesiastical circles.
I remember one preacher saying, concerning another faction with whom he differed only slightly, "We just don't allow them to come into our country at all." I was told of another man who wanted to turn out of his church, a man who had won hundreds of people to the Lord, and whose life was unquestionable and above reproach, just because he didn't believe in this tradition.
On the other hand, this same pastor was on perfectly good terms with other members of his church who went out on beer parties, to say nothing of what accompanies such procedure. On one occasion a Bible class was started in a town, and the meat of the Word was being given out, and Christians were feeding upon it and growing in grace. It could have been a blessing to every Bible believing church in town, but pastors became enraged merely because their members were attending.
Would you call this a Godly concern for their members, or a personal jealousy? Some pastors became so dictatorial that they would put their members on the spot and practically force them to either stop going to the Bible class, or withdraw from the Church. Is this what we call church democracy? Or would these men look more fitting and proper with their collars turned around?
One pastor emphasized the fact that it was the BEST members of their churches who were attending this class. Does he not realize that it is the CARNAL Christian, not the spiritual Christian who is led astray by false doctrine? Will he thus admit that he is not feeding his flock? Does he not realize that he is helping to drive out of his church the spiritual element and retain the carnal? Or is this what we might call zeal without knowledge?
Instead of realizing that a good Bible class is a contribution to any church, these pastors seemed to imagine a competition to exist, and became jealous. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth" (Prov. 28:1). I would think that a preacher would be interested in promoting all the good Bible study possible, instead of denouncing it.
Evidently, some of them are not so interested in defending the faith as they are in defending the BRAND.
Another place where the effect of our tradition is being found is in our invitations. They are becoming, for the most part, a two-fold proposition.
So it is no wonder that the spiritual Christians are prone to leave a diet of this kind and go where they can feed on the meat of the Word. This is rather a stale diet for a growing Christian.
Now, in conclusion, may I say this:
is not the Lord's purpose in this age to build a large,
That is in keeping with the Post-Millennial viewpoint.
is not His purpose for us to build a large powerful
This is in keeping with the Catholic program.
purpose in this age is to take out of the Gentiles
is in keeping with the Pre-millennial position and evangelism.
There is nothing wrong with organizing in order to carry this out. The thing is, will we be able to master our organization, or will our organization master us? Which will we exalt, the organization of Christ, or the Christ of the organization? As long as we exalt the Christ, His words of assurance will ever come back to us saying, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, d no man can shut it" (Rev. 3:8).
But, regardless of what I say, and in spite of admonitions of caution which we give one another, we know that the element of tradition with its political conquest is going to prevail, even as we can see it so much in evidence today. "I know thy works that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Now notice this) Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten, be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:15-19).
There is a lot of difference in having potential or political power and having spiritual power. There's a lot of difference in being able to command in worldly affairs and being able to win souls to the Lord.
There's a lot of difference in an attitude of dictatorship and an attitude of evangelism.
So, "Why do (we) also transgress the commandment of God by (our) tradition?" (Matt. 15:3).
Let us stand by the Word of God, and the God of the Word will stand by us.