It's now been a few months since I last wrote in my analysis of one chapter, "Landmarkism," in a book, Baptist Distinctives, by Kevin Bauder. The next section in this chapter he entitles, "Baptists and Other Denominations." Bauder sees what he identifies as Landmarkism as having a positive effect for all churches that call themselves Baptist, namely that it forces them to consider how to view other denominations. He writes, "Much of the debate revolves around the marks of a true church." The rest of this section talks about this subject and is a helpful discussion.
Bauder says that one must judge between what is at least a true church and then what is a healthy church. What marks distinguish churches from non-churches? At what point does something that calls itself a church dip below the standard for being an actual church? Bauder thinks there are at least three characteristics that allow a church still to at least cross the bar of being a church: (1) "pure preaching of the Word," (2) "correct administration of the ordinances," and (3) church discipline. I have found myself not calling certain institutions, "church," which self-identify as a church.
For number one above, Bauder sees this as the preaching of a true gospel, not a false gospel. If a church isn't preaching a true gospel, then it is likely a church full of unsaved people. He relates number two to the gospel too by saying that a disqualifying administration of the ordinances is observing them in a way that rejects or denies the gospel. Bauder says number three is gospel related too, in that church discipline disallows members to live in discord with the gospel. Bauder doesn't prove his three from scripture. He doesn't mention a single verse, but it is an interesting discussion.
There isn't a chapter or verse in the Bible that says, this is a church and this isn't a church. However, we know from Revelation 2 and 3, that there is a point where a church slips below Jesus' criteria for a church to be one, because He removes His candlestick from that church. He threatens that with the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:5) and Jesus Himself isn't in the church of the Laodicians (Rev 3:14-22).
I can't judge what Bauder himself would do. I am pleased that he has such a high view of church discipline, but many churches, who self-identify as a church, do not practice church discipline. It is rare to see what calls itself a church still practice church discipline. I would imagine that there are churches that do not practice church discipline that Bauder still calls a church, since there are so many, including many to possibly most of fundamental Baptist churches.
Bauder argues for his marks of a true church in his next section, "Baptist Definitions of a Church," quoting various historical sources in their definitions of a church. He parks on a quote by Augustus Strong in his systematic theology in which Strong says that we should call "churches" those which we might not think match up to that designation, such as Presbyterians. Since they call themselves a church, then it would be a matter of politeness for us to call them that, he posits. However, Strong continued by saying that Baptists shouldn't call something a "regular church" if that group doesn't follow Christ's laws. Bauder picks up on this use of "regular," the idea being that it might be a church, but it might not be a "regular church."
Bauder quotes John Dagg as advocating a general use of the word "church," like the Greek word, ekklesia, had a broader meaning. It might not be a New Testament church, but it is still assembling for some purpose, so it must be an ekklesia, or a church. Bauder also refers to Hiscox's very generous inclusion of any church within the "catholic church," that is, any evangelical assembly.
It is true, and as Bauder asserts, that Baptist churches through history have denied an institution to be a church if it rejected a true gospel. This criterion could be actually strict today, because the gospel has become so diminished for various reasons that a near majority of Baptist churches have perverted the gospel to the extent that it is a non-saving message. Those are still called churches. There are Baptist churches and their leaders that for sure put more emphasis on closed communion to determine the veracity of a church, than the particular gospel a church preaches.
In is conclusion to the section on "Baptist Definitions of a Church," Bauder writes:
The Landmark approach -- refusing to accept baptism from anything other than a Baptist church -- is surely mistaken.Bauder admits too though that there isn't unity among Baptists on this subject. He does know, however, that Baptists are surely mistaken for refusing to accept other than Baptist baptism.
Baptists who were not calling themselves Landmarks, decades before Graves among the 19th century Southern Baptists, would accept only Baptist baptism. A reason for the exclusion, as has already been discussed in this series, is because someone's baptism did not have proper authority. Is someone truly baptized without authority? No. If you have a group of people then that are not really baptized, because they lack authority, then are they a church? No. A church forms through salvation and then baptism. Without the latter, it still isn't a church.
The issue isn't whether a church is Baptist or not. The issue is, does the baptism have authority? Any church that comes out of Rome does not have authority, which leaves only those churches that preached a true gospel and stayed separate from Rome. Those are the Baptists.
Even reading Bauder on this chapter, one can see the contradictions of any other position but the historical Baptist position, what he calls Landmark. There is no agreement among the non-Landmark churches on the marks that distinguish a true church. The "catholicity" of these churches revolves around their willingness to accommodate differences. The unity proceeds from overlooking doctrine and practice.
Is a church a church if it doesn't have baptism? It can't be. People are baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41). If someone is not baptized, he is not added to the church. He is not baptized without proper authority. The trajectory of proper authority runs through independent, New Testament assemblies separate from the state church. Those are Baptists. True churches are Baptist churches.
Are all Baptist churches true churches? Definitely not. Many professing Baptist churches are liberal. Some of the churches reject a true gospel. Church membership is regenerate membership. A false gospel is not regenerate. It is apostate. Those are not true churches.