Ecclesiology

Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Part 2

Read part 1.

The doctrine of baptism

Baptists believe the New Testament teaches that baptism is only for a believer, by immersion, upon a profession of faith, as a step of obedience and public testimony. Baptists do not believe baptism is a means of grace or regeneration. Novatian disagreed with all of these propositions.

On the Apostolic Tradition (possibly written by Hippolytus) records the practices of the church in Rome in the early third century.1 Since the Decian persecution, and the subsequent Novatian schism, took place during the early to late 250s AD, the Apostolic Tradition is a very important resource for understanding how the church at Rome likely operated in Novatian’s day. It is a fact that the church practiced infant baptism:

You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family, should speak. Then baptize the grown men and finally the women, after they have let down their hair and laid down the gold and silver ornaments which they have on them. Nobody should take any alien object down into the water.2

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 4)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read the series so far.

Chapter Four: Requirements for Membership

The Synagogue

Proselytes

It goes without saying that one must be a Jew, part of the nation of Israel, before one is qualified for inclusion as a constituent member of the synagogue. However, this did not absolutely ban Gentiles either from attendance at the weekly Sabbath meetings, or from becoming a part of the congregation through the conversion process. Acts is replete with example after example of interested Gentiles, whether proselytes or not, in attendance, often in great numbers, at the Sabbath synagogue service (see, e.g., Acts 13:44; 14:1).

In the NT, we commonly find Gentiles, whether described as “proselytes” (proselutos) or “God-fearing” (sebomenos, lit. pious or reverent), associated with the synagogues. Philo (d. ca. A.D. 50) explains the term “proselyte” and the status of such people: Read more about The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 4)

Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission. Related: “De-Churching” Trends.

It is my conviction that every Christian should be an active member of a Bible-teaching local church. As believers in Christ, we are members of His body and must discipline ourselves to be actively involved in ministry as a way of life. Here are some specific reasons why you should be a committed member of a solid, Bible-teaching local church.

You follow the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Although the word “membership” itself is not used in the New Testament, the principle is present nonetheless. For example, most of our New Testament books are letters that were written to specific groups of people who had chosen to identify themselves with Christ and each other. The word “church” is almost always used to refer to a specific group of people who in some way had committed themselves to serving the Lord and one another in the same ministry location. Numbers were known (Acts 1:15, 2:41, 4:4), rolls were kept (1 Timothy 5:9), servants were selected (Acts 6:2-5), discipline was practiced (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), worship was corporate (1 Corinthians 14:23), and shepherds knew for whom they were responsible (Hebrews 13:17). If you are a part of the body of Christ by virtue of repentant faith in Jesus Christ then you should want to make that association visibly known through church membership.

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gifts. At the moment of your conversion the Holy Spirit came to live inside of your body (1 Corinthians 6:19). When He did this, He brought along the spiritual gift(s) that He sovereignly chose for you to possess for the blessing of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). As we use our gifts, we are being good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). Can you use your spiritual gift without joining a church? Yes, but in most churches many ministry opportunities are limited to church members only. This is as it should be. Unity in doctrine, purity of life, and submissive accountability to one another and leaders are necessary for a healthy Christian life. The process of becoming a member also gives the existing leadership the opportunity to discern one’s agreement in doctrine, ministry purpose, and goals; thus enabling them to know where best you may serve. Read more about Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?

"De-Churching" Trends

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission.

One of the least obvious—and yet most tragic—changes that American Evangelicalism has experienced in the past fifty years is the diminishment of the centrality of the local church in the life of many Christians. The Lord’s Day, once considered a special day dedicated to the worship and service of God, is now treated like any other day by many professing believers. And local church life, once considered the center of indispensable relationships within our spiritual family whom we love, encourage, and to whom we remain accountable, is now treated like an extra-curricular activity rather than an essential ingredient of the Christian life.

The signs of the diminishing priority of the church are many. However, I will only mention the six trends that Kent Hughes highlights in his book Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003).

Hitchhiker Christians

Hughes writes:

The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas—and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of many of today’s church attendees: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills—and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” (128)

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The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 2)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read the series so far.

Chapter Two

The Prima Facie Case

Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), an expert in rabbinic and other early Jewish literature, asserted that, “The outward form of the Church was in great measure derived from the synagogue.”1 Nineteenth century Baptist historian David Benedict similarly affirmed, after studying the matter in detail, “I have settled down in the belief, that the ecclesiastical polity of the Jewish synagogues was very closely copied by the apostles and primitive Christians, in the organization of their assemblies.”2 Additional authors could be quoted in support of this thesis.3 The question that must be asked is, is this conclusion a valid one? Is it in truth supported by the facts of the case? Read more about The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 2)

The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 1)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

Chapter One

Introduction

The purpose of this study is to compare the practical functioning of the ancient Jewish synagogue and the New Testament church,1 to determine if and to what degree the structure and workings of the church are patterned after the synagogue. While the origin and historical development of the synagogue in the period before the coming of Christ is a subject of considerable interest, as is its development in the post-New Testament era, these are outside the parameters of this present study.

The chief source of information for both synagogue and church practices will be the New Testament Scriptures, supplemented by post-New Testament literature. For the synagogue, this will be primarily the Mishnah (ca. AD 200) and the Babylonian Talmud (completed ca. AD 500), while for the church, the writings of the early church fathers will be the most accessible and valuable source. Read more about The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 1)

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