Recently I came across a person who insists that Baptists are the only true church because only Baptists can trace their heritage to John the Baptist. Is this Scriptural?
Very interested. Really want to hear Norm's answer. I read the answer. Ouch. Terrible answer. Garbage answer. Norm was just preaching to the choir. I want to go through his answer paragraph by paragraph to show how awful it is, starting in detail with the fourth paragraph.
The first three paragraphs poison the well about the people Norm targets. He isn't trying to make them look credible, so he spends the first three paragraphs with a subtle smack down in general. The question itself is loaded. The term "landmarkism" itself is being used as a pejorative. He suspects that few want to be known as a "landmarkist." And then I don't know of anyone who even believes like the very question represents. In other words, I know of no one who insists that Baptists are the true church because they can trace their heritage to John the Baptist, as if "the Baptist" is the important factor in the search for the true church. That right away creates a bit of a straw man. However, I want to look at the basic doctrine itself, which he starts dealing with in the fourth paragraph.
As my most fundamental criticism, Norm Olson does not take a grammatical-historical understanding of "the body of Christ." This is his downfall. He writes near the end of the third paragraph: "we believe that all true believers compose the Body of Christ." That's what he will have to prove if he is going to debunk local only ecclesiology. Just before writing this paragraph, I read this:
[W]e should seek the meaning of the text that: (1) it had at the time it was written; (2) is found in the words chosen and arranged by the writer; and (3) is consistent with the overall message and doctrine of the Scriptures. The technical way of saying that is that we should use the historical, grammatical, theological method of interpreting Scripture.
I enjoyed those two sentences written by Dave Doran. It's exactly how I want us to work on this subject. Unfortunately, it is not the method employed by Norm Olson in his answer to the question. It is not how most people come to their position on their understanding of "the body of Christ." They've heard a point of view and then try to fit it into Scripture. What Olson does in this article is a good example of that.
In the fourth paragraph, Norm Olson expresses a desire for us to look at some passages "that refute Landmarkism," and he refers first to "Ephesians 2." He uses Ephesians 2:19 to say that "all (emphasis his) born-again believers compose the household of God." I don't have a problem with someone saying that "all born again believers" compose the household of God, but I wouldn't make that point from Ephesians 2. Ephesians 2 doesn't say that. Paul writes that "ye are . . . of the household of God." When a person exegetes, he makes the point from Scripture, unlike what Olson did here. Paul excludes himself by saying "ye." That doesn't mean that Paul isn't in the household of God, but the text does not say that he is in the household. The Greek term translated "household" is found three times in the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 5:8, in the KJV it is translated "of his own house," or in other words, family members.
In the Greek, Paul is actually utilizing a pun here. These saints of the church at Ephesus were not "foreigners" (paroikoi--those who are around or outside the house as non-family members), but instead were "of the household of God" (oikeioi), that is, they were family members. Paul isn't talking about "the church" with his "household" metaphor, but the family of God. "Family of God" is a soteriological designation (cf. John 1:12), not an ecclesiological one, so it proves nothing about the nature of the church.
Olson goes to Ephesians 2, and especially verse 19, to say that "the body of Christ" is all believers. His evidence is found in this sentence: "This chapter also presents the Body of believers as something beyond the local assembly." Where? If you want to disprove something, you've got to do better than that. You've got to show something from the Bible that proves your point. Olson doesn't do that.
Then he states: "Hebrews 12:22–24 bears out this truth as well." That is, the "truth" that "the Body of believers" is something beyond "the local assembly." Really? If you look at Hebrews 12:22-24, you'll see that "body of believers" or even the word "body" isn't found there.
Olson ends that paragraph with this: "we still recognize the Biblical truth that all believers everywhere and in every age do compose something—the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23)." I agree that "all believers" compose something---the family of God. All believers everywhere and in every age are not "the body of Christ." He refers to Ephesians 1:22-23, which doesn't show the body of Christ to be "all believers." Those two verses say nothing about that.
In the fifth paragraph, Olson moves to Ephesians 4:1-6. He simply asserts that the "one baptism" of v. 5 is not water baptism, but "the baptism of the Holy Spirit." Why is it "the baptism of the Holy Spirit?" No reason. It just is. Worse than that though, he says that believing that "baptism" there is water baptism "positions the movement dangerously close to those who embrace baptismal regeneration." That's a false and ridiculous statement. He then says that the failure to believe that "baptism" is not water baptism, but spirit baptism, "keeps the movement from realizing that not just Landmarkers have been baptized into Jesus Christ." Using the term "movement" itself is a smear. What basis is there for calling this a movement? He doesn't explain. What Olson fails to recognize about those who believe the church is local only do not believe that spirit baptism is for today and it has little to do with their view of Ephesians 4:1-6. However, what Olson should reveal is how that Ephesians 4:5 says "one baptism," but that there actually are "two baptisms," water and spirit. I'm confident that Olson believes there is water baptism. So if there is also "spirit baptism," that would mean "two baptisms." That deserves an explanation.
The last sentence of the fifth paragraph is this: "Water baptism does not place a person into one Body (1 Corinthians 12:13); the baptism of the Holy Spirit does." He just states this with no proof. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says nothing about "placing a person into the body of Christ." It does say that "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." The terminology "baptism of the Holy Spirit" isn't anywhere in the Bible, and especially isn't in 1 Corinthians 12:13. I believe it is "water baptism" in 1 Corinthians 12:13. I'm not going to argue for that here (though I have here), but Olson doesn't prove anything with his statement.
Olson states this: "Landmarkers hold that a believer’s water baptism isn’t legitimate unless one of their men performs it in one of their churches, and they will not accept for membership someone from another Baptist church even if that person was baptized by immersion after salvation." I've never ever either read or seen the situation he describes here. It's sheer propaganda to make these churches sound like a cult. There are situations where churches will not accept someone's baptism, but this is a total misrepresentation of the type of position that I've read.
Then Olson says that Paul condemned this unscriptural attitude, referencing 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. The attitude in 1 Corinthians 1 was an attitude among various men in one church, that was causing division in that one church. It had nothing to do with not accepting someone's baptism because a church does not believe the church performing the baptism was an authoritative church. Many churches believe that proper authority is a requirement for biblical baptism, which is why Jesus walked 70 miles to receive His baptism from John the Baptist, who had received his baptism from heaven.
Olson criticizes a "closed communion" position, and then he represents it in the worst way possible. Our church practices closed communion. This doesn't mean that we don't fellowship with believers outside of our church. What it does mean is that we believe Scripture teaches closed communion. We think we should practice what the Bible teaches. The Lord's Table is the communion of the body of Christ and the body of Christ is the church, which is local only. We limit the Lord's Table to our church because Scripture limits the Lord's Table to the body of Christ.
Norm Olson should look at 1 Corinthians 12:27, where Paul gives a definition of the body of Christ, when he writes to the church at Corinth: "ye are the body of Christ." Are all believers in Corinth? If the body of Christ is all believers, we would think so. But we know that there are believers in other places. So the body of Christ is local, or else Paul would have said "we are the body of Christ." He didn't.
Olson finishes with this: "We have no right to bar an immersed, doctrinally sound believer from obeying the Lord by observing His Supper." A believer can obey the Lord by partaking of the Lord's Supper in his own church. A church isn't holding anyone away from the Lord's Table by not allowing non-members to partake. They are practicing like they see the Bible teach it.
Olson's next to last paragraph says that the church started at Pentecost, not with John the Baptist. He gives no proof except for some references. The church didn't start on Pentecost. Jesus sang in the church (Heb 2:12). Those saved on the day of Pentecost were added to the church (Acts 2:47). Jesus talked like the church already existed (Matthew 18:15-17). There are other good exegetical proofs that the church existed before Pentecost. We believe that the church started with John the Baptist in an embryonic form. There were already immersed believers gathered around him. They were an assembly. No doubt Jesus is the Head of the church. Scripture says that, but that doesn't mean that the church isn't traced back to John the Baptist. And it has nothing with the name "Baptist."
The last paragraph is absurd, bizarre. He writes: "Examples of a group thinking it is the only true church have existed through time. Roman Catholicism is one example." None of these Baptist groups think of themselves as the only true church. They believe there are true churches since Christ. The Bible backs that up. Olson makes the pathetic parallel of these Christians with Roman Catholics. It's a desperate criticism from someone who offers no biblical basis to believe differently. It's also ironic coming from Olson. He believes the true church is a catholic church, when the Bible teaches something just the opposite. That is not how the word "church" is used in the New Testament.
Norm Olson does a bad job of answering this bad question. But you might not expect otherwise, because Norm Olson has not come to his understanding of "body of Christ" or "church" from the Bible.