CHURCH PARASITES Davis Huckabee
The dictionary defines a parasite as a person or thing that exists at the expense of another without contributing anything in return. Many parasites, if not eradicated, will so completely take over its host’s lifeblood as to cause it to die. Such, in effect, are many things in the ecclesiastical world today. There are practices and traditions of men which, without Scriptural basis, have crept into churches and attached themselves to their lifeblood, and are gradually weakening them, and hindering them from the fulfillment of their scriptural duties.
It goes without saying that many church members are parasites, because they never contribute any thing spiritually, physically or financially. In many cases, this is due to the fact that they have never been truly born again, and consequently they have no real love for the Lord, His church, or His people. Their main reasons for attending church are selfish reasons; i.e., as a balm to their conscience, to flatter their own exalted estimate of their piety, or simply to be seen of men. While these are the “hypocrites” that are such stumbling blocks to many outside the church, it is not with these that we wish to deal at this time. While these may and should attend church services, they certainly have no place on the membership roll until they have been genuinely saved. An occasional lost person in the membership of a church is not as likely to corrupt a church (the First Baptist Church had its Judas Iscariot) as when the church condones some parasitic influence which derives its very life from the church.
Several modern day practices should be recognized as church parasites, and eradicated from church life before they devour the spiritual life of the church. It shall be our purpose to examine several of these.
I. Alien Immersion is a Church Parasite.
Only a few short years ago one seldom heard of a Baptist church that was so inconsistent as to accept any and every immersion as scriptural. Churches then recognized that not only was it necessary to have a scriptural subject, purpose and mode for baptism, but that there must also be a scriptural authority as well. Why, then, do they not so recognize that today? Is it not because many churches fail to teach any doctrine whatsoever, and so, most church members are ignorant of duties? And is it not also because many churches, in their proud ambition to become the largest and most prestigious church in town, are willing to compromise on duty when they know it? And is it not also, in many cases, that in their zeal to promote the “program” of the denomination, they have forgotten that the denomination proceeds only from the local level, and only so long as the local church is kept doctrinally sound, will the denomination prosper? These and other equally unworthy reasons are the cause of much corruption.
Few things are so important to the church, and upon which its perpetuity is so contingent, as the right administration of the ordinances. Yet church doctrine and church history are presently the most neglected of Christian doctrines. All too many Baptist ministerial students have been taught that Baptists originated in the 17th century when John Smyth dipped himself and several others, and that Baptists are just “another Protestant denomination.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Smyth’s “baptism” was no more scriptural than if a man should accidentally slip and fall into the baptistery. Not only so, but history records no regular Baptist church descending from Smyth and his group, but it records numerous sound Baptist churches that antedated Smyth, many by centuries.
To accept any and all immersion as scriptural baptism is indeed a thing alien to the faith of the New Testament, and the practice of historic Baptists. Every baptism in the New Testament was not only immersion, but it was immersion that was backed up by proper authority. Most were by church authority, and the exceptions to this rule were performed on the authority of the Lord Himself. John, “a man sent from God” (John 1:6), was authorized to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17), by baptizing them upon their repentance and faith in the Coming One. His baptism was the only baptism that Jesus and His earlier disciples had, and it was Baptist baptism.
To accept the immersion of a church is to recognize that church as a valid New Testament church, and to so recognize it, is to condone its beliefs and practices. Not only so, but to accept a person as a member simply because he has been immersed is the height of folly, for most Protestant denominations, including those that immerse, baptize is order to save. Hence, any person accepted from such a group would corrupt the church that received him, because he would, in all probability come into the membership a lost person.
Even if there is little doubt that a person who has been immersed by another denomination is really saved, it is still unscriptural to accept him without a scriptural baptism, which he does not have if he was baptized by any other than a New Testament church. When a person becomes a citizen of this nation of ours, he must have the oath of allegiance administered to him by someone duly authorized to do so, not by just someone who may be inclined to do so. No less should the Christian have his oath of allegiance to Christ administered by some one who is duly authorized, else it is invalid, how ever much he may love the Lord. Baptism is “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19), and as such is a confession of discipleship and allegiance. Being a Christian no more gives authority to someone to baptize others than being an American citizen gives one the authority to administer the oath of allegiance by which one officially becomes a citizen of the nation.
There is but one scriptural administrator of baptism in the present dispensation—a New Testament church—and no group that originated as a distinct denomination this side of the First Century can lay claim to being such. It was no nebulous, indistinct and undefined group that Jesus called “My church.” It was in all fundamental points a Baptist church. Only Baptists can trace an unbroken perpetuity of faith and practice (and it is by faith and practice, and not by the name that Baptists are to be traced, since the name is only some four hundred years old), all the way back to the First Century. All Protestant groups can trace their lineage only back to the days of the Reformation. And the Harlot Rome only goes back to about the Fourth Century.
Any church that has reason to suspect the scripturality of the baptism of any individual should only accept him by experience and baptism. There can be no scriptural baptism unless there is (1) A scriptural subject—a saved person. (2) A scriptural mode—immersion in water. (3) A scriptural purpose—to confess one’s discipleship, and to picture the burial and resurrection of Christ, which is one’s only hope of salvation, and one’s own death to sin, and spiritual resurrection to walk in newness of life. And (4) A scriptural administrator—a New Testament church. To accept alien immersion that is not regular baptism because in some way foreign to the New Testament doctrine of baptism is to receive leaven into the church, something that will corrupt the church life, and that will contribute nothing to the church. It is a parasite !
II. Open Communion is a Church Parasite.
Here is another parasite that will eat out the very vitals of church life, but which contributes nothing more than a fleshly pride in the “open-mindedness” of the church which does so. Ask the churches that were pastored by Robert Hall and John Bunyan in the 1600’s. Both these men were, contrary to common Baptist beliefs, advocates of open communion, and based their arguments on the need to be loving and open to Christians of other denominations by inviting them to their observance of the Lord’s Table. The Baptist churches pastored by these men ceased to be Baptist churches in the next generation, and such is always the tendency of open communion.
Sadly, many of the professing Christians of our day are more open-minded on this subject than was either the Lord Jesus or His apostles. We cannot know the hearts of those that compromise on this matter. But whether it is because of ignorance of the Word of God, a mistaken zeal to encourage those that are in disobedience to the truth, or simply because they do not have the backbone to take a stand for the teachings of the Bible when it conflicts with the traditions of men, they are living in disobedience to the Scriptures.
But, someone says, “All other denominations commune with one another.” Yes! Because they have absolutely nothing to lose. One Protestant church has just as much scripturality about its polity and perpetuity as another, which is none. They cannot corrupt their church life by intercommunion, because they have no scriptural church life to begin with. And note carefully that I am referring to church life—life as a true, New Testament type church that has been born out of an already existing New Testament church—not eternal life—for individual salvation is not under discussion. One of the basic laws set in motion by the Creator in the beginning is that all organisms—living beings—are begotten “after his kind” (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25, etc). Man cannot create any living thing, for that is the province of God alone. Therefore if a church has not been biblically born of another already existing church, “after his kind,” it is not one of the Lord’s churches, but is only a man-made institution that is in competition with the Lord’s churches.
Even Protestants agree that a person cannot scripturally commune unless he has been scripturally baptized, which is one the bases of the Baptist position. Dr. William Wall, who wrote what is considered the most able defense of infant baptism ever written, says: “No church ever gave the communion to any person before they were baptized. Among all the absurdities that ever were held, none ever maintained that any person should partake of the communion before he was baptized”—History of Infant Baptism, Part II, Chapter IX. Because we base our beliefs upon Scripture alone, we do not believe that Catholics or Protestants have scriptural baptism, and on the basis of this, we axe no more inconsistent than they are in denying the Supper to the unbaptized, for we believe the same thing. The difference is in their and our view of baptism, not of the qualifications for the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, if we believe that others do not have scriptural baptism, what right do we have to invite them to the Lord’s Table with us. The New Testament nowhere gives any example of anyone partaking of the Supper except scripturally baptized believers.
But many miss the point completely on this issue. The scriptural teaching of the New Testament concerning this ordinance is that it is a church ordinance, not a Christian ordinance nor a denominational ordinance. It is to be observed only in and by the local church itself. No intercommunion of churches, even where they are of “like faith and order,” is to be found in the New Testament. Scripture says the Lord’s Supper is to be observed “. . .when ye come together in the church. . .” (1 Cor. 11:18), that is, in church capacity. Yea, the very elements likewise demand that only members of that church observing it are to partake of it, for the “cup” is one, as is the “bread.” And 1 Corinthians 10:17 expounds the “one bread” or loaf to signify the unity of the body partaking of it. This is something that cannot be true of participants that come from different churches of the same denomination, and even less true where participants are from other denominations with widely differing faiths and practices. There is no unity between such. Open and Inter Communion are both contradictions of the required unity for the right observation of the Lord’s Supper.
It is no reflection upon any individual or upon any other church to restrict the Supper to members of that church observing it only. It is simply the manifestation of love to the Lord in obeying His commandments. Do we invite others, even when they are “of like faith and order” to take part in our business meetings, and to vote upon local church business? If we did, we would have confusion upon confusion.
Let the reader search diligently in the New Testament but he will find no intercommunion between churches at the Lord’s Table. Many Baptists pride themselves upon their supposed scriptural observance of communion because they only commune with those “of like faith and order,” but the same Scriptures that condemn open communion, in the same breath condemn intercommunion even between those who believe and practice alike. Let it be repeated. The Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, never observed in the New Testament by any but members of the church observing it.
Both Acts 2:42, 46 and Acts 20:7, 11 are private meals, and are no proof texts for any kind of observance of the Lord’s Supper. From the first institution, the Supper has been restricted to local church observance, and to change from the original pattern to open or to inter communion is to corrupt the church life, as well as the ordinance itself, and it adds nothing that is profitable to the church. Any kind of communion except that which is restricted to the members of the local assembly, is a church parasite, and should be eradicated.
How sad that man presumes to be so “charitable” to those who reject the scriptural pattern of church life and practice, that he honors them more than the commandments of the Lord. Can we expect anything but censure from the Lord if we do?
III. The Universal Church Theory is a Church Parasite.
This is another men-pleasing doctrine that one does not attack with impunity. To say anything against this theory is, in the eyes of most of the religious world, tantamount to heresy of the worst sort. But let a man hold heretical views of the person and work of Christ, the plan of salvation, or the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and he will still be generally tolerated, and perhaps even considered a good fellow, so long as he admits that “we are all members of the universal church anyhow.”
As with all doctrines and traditions of men, this theory adds nothing of value to the local church. It does, on the other hand, promote unionizing with almost every professing Christian group on the aforementioned ground of a supposed common membership in “the big church.” With this spirit of unionizing, there naturally comes a tendency to grow lax upon doctrine, for why should one take a strict stand and incur the enmity of fellow “members” of the “universal church,” when by common consent membership in the “universal church” requires nothing more than salvation. This theory also promotes immorality in those who are naturally more carnal-minded. Why should one deny himself any carnal pleasure out of fear of the discipline of the local church, if he thinks that he also, at the same time, holds membership in the “universal church” from whence he cannot be excluded, no matter how corrupt his life may be?
Let it never be forgotten that it was not, and is not, the supposed “universal, invisible” church that does the work of evangelizing, baptizing, teaching, comforting, edifying, etc. It is always and only the local church! Why then should such a theory be entertained when it does absolutely nothing good, but only corrupts true churches in order to inflate the pride of carnal man?
Many Scriptures have been perverted and twisted to try to justify this theory, but it cannot be done. It is not to be denied that there is “glory church” which is in prospect, which, when it comes on the scene will truly be universal, even while it will yet be local, but to try to make this a present reality is to go beyond New Testament teachings. It is only “in the dispensation of the FULLNESS OF TIMES” that God will “gather together IN ONE all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (Eph. 1:10). How, indeed, could there be a universal church (assembly, as the word means), so long as there is, by common assent, no assembly at any time or place? “It follows that if one part of the membership is now in heaven, another part on earth, another part not yet born, there is as yet no assembly, except in prospect. And if a part are as yet non-existent, how can one say the general assembly exists now?”—B. H. Carroll, Ecclesia—The Church, p. 7.
Most Scriptures which are used as proof-texts of this theory make one of the following mistakes: (1) Taking a generic or abstract usage of the word ekklesia (church), as in Ephesians 1:22; 3:21; 5:24, et al., and trying to make it encompass all Christians or churches. But see what foolishness and confusion is wrought if the same reasoning is applied to other such generic usages. If we used the same reasoning in Ephesians 5:23, we must conclude that there is also a “universal husband and a “universal wife.” But who would be so silly as to advocate this. A generic or abstract usage has application simply to any given individual of the species, not to a specific one. And generic usages are common in most languages. When the abstract ekklesia becomes concrete, it is always a local, visible, congregation of believers like that found in the New Testament.
(2) The institutional usage is often made to mean the totality of believers or churches. But when ekklesia is so used, it deals with the church as an institution, and encompasses only a continuity of the faith; i.e., it views the Lord’s Church as having at least one such local assembly in every moment of time from its origin to the return of Christ. This is the sense of Matthew 16:18. It does not, and cannot comprehend the aggregate of all churches because many, in times past, have been overcome by the gates of Hades. But this guarantees that there will continue to be at least one true New Testament church in every moment of time until Christ returns.
(3) Passages which, when they are closely examined as to their context, are found to refer to some specific church, are applied to the supposed universal church, as, e. g., the phrase “THE church,” as found in the Ephesian epistle. While this phrase sometimes has a generic usage, it also has a primary application to the Ephesian church. A letter containing the phrase “the church” would naturally be limited if the letter is addressed to some specific church such as “Heritage Baptist Church,” unless the context admits application to some other church. But even if the phrase were used in a generic sense, it would still be limited to any other given church as it corresponded to the one addressed.
(4) Some supposed proof-texts for a universal church are the result of poor translations; e.g., Ephesians 2:21 which, in the A. V. seems to teach that all churches in the aggregate comprise a single building. But when rendered as it is literally in the Greek, “in whom each individual building, being fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord,” an entirely different sense is seen. This is proven to be the true sense by verse 22 where the Ephesian church is expressly excluded from being in some “universal” building by the words “ye also.” This shows that this church, while not a part of some general building, was nonetheless an example of the principle of verse 21.
(5) Other passages which have reference to the future “glory church” that will be comprised of all the saved, are twisted to mean a present universal assembly, when they have legitimate application only to the future.
The universal church theory in this dispensation: (1) Does not evangelize the lost, baptize new converts, teach the doctrines of the Word, edify God’s people, contend for the faith, nor any of the other things that are the responsibility of true churches. (2) Usurps the honor that is due to the local church. (3) Promotes many hurtful things for the local assemblies. (4) Has no Scriptural basis, but is, as F. J. A Hort, one of its most zealous advocates admitted, based only upon theological reasonings. (5) Is a parasite, and as such, it draws all of its life from the local institution, in return for which, it does nothing helpful, but does weaken the life, duty and glory of the local assembly. Like all parasites, it should be destroyed and buried unmourned. “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:21). Glory in which church? The one that faithfully serves Him, namely the local independent New Testament church.
IV. Extra—Church Mission Work is a Parasite.
It is not the writer’s purpose to pick on some particular board, fellowship, association, convention, etc. They are all built upon a rotten foundation, and as someone has rather humorously said, “No clever arrangement of rotten eggs will ever make a good omelet.” If one is wrong, then all that practice the same system are wrong, and the Scriptures conclude every organization that places itself between the church and the mission field in the category of a usurper, and an unscriptural machine.
The New Testament mission plan should be plain enough for anyone who can read. As given in Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 13:1-3 and other places, it requires the missionary to be called by the Holy Spirit to the work. He is then to be set aside and sent out under the authority of some church (which alone was authorized by the Head of the Churches to do this work) of which he is a member and be supported directly by other churches. His work is to go to whatever field the Lord has directed him, there to make disciples by preaching the Gospel, baptize the converts, then to teach them to make a practice of all the things that Jesus taught (which is comprised in the New Testament, John 16:12-14). Such a plan leaves little room for the glorification of human inventions and in such there will be no leakage of mission funds “to oil the machinery” of humanly devised mission boards. Such will prevent groups of men from usurping the authority of a church, or taking the place of the Holy Spirit by determining who can and who cannot go to mission fields, and sending those it thinks best fitted.
The New Testament mission plan makes the churches responsible for the propagation of the Gospel. It gives them the obligation of discipline over their members who are on the mission field, should any irregularity in doctrine or morals arise. This also makes it possible for them to know exactly who they are supporting, what is being accomplished, and what things need to be prayed for and supported in finances.
Most unscriptural mission programs have the right idea in cooperating together, but they go astray in sending the finances to a human organization for distribution to missionaries. Such an organization is a superfluous body, a parasite, for it requires part of the finances for its own maintenance, or else funds from some other source that could be used for the direct support of missionaries. Where the missionary is church sent and church-supported, there is no such parasite to support, and the mission funds may be used with peak efficiency. This is the New Testament plan, and it cannot be improved upon, and man may only try to do so to his own confusion.
In many cases, membership in such a convention, association, fellowship, etc., has been made a test of fellowship between Baptists, which is another unscriptural practice. This only goes further to show that such a church parasite saps the spiritual life, as well as the physical life of those churches that subject themselves to them.
Mission boards, etc., were unknown until only two or three centuries ago, which again speaks of their extra-biblical character, and most of them were organized in the knowledge that they had no divine authority. Dr. Thomas Armitage, himself a “board” Baptist, has well said that: “At first, in many places, these began as simple annual meetings for religious exercises simply, but they naturally drifted into organic bodies including other objects as well. The Baptists were very jealous of them, fearing that they might trench on the independency of the Churches and come in time to exercise authority after the order of presbyteries (as history has proven that they would—DWH.), instead of confining themselves to fraternal aims. This has always been the tendency in the voluntary bodies of Christian history, and for this reason Associations will bear close watching at all times, as they are simply human in their origins.”—History of Baptists, p. 715.
To condone such extra-biblical practices, is to say, in effect, either that God did not know the best way for mission work to be done, or else to say that the Divine revelation relative to church doctrine and practice is still open arid in the progress of development toward the ideal, which would be an indictment of the inspiration of the New Testament. If this is not what Baptists mean when they condone these things, they should make a clean break and get back to the scriptural pattern. No other praiseworthy path is open.
Inasmuch as the church is God’s chosen vehicle of Divine truth to the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Eph. 3:10, 21; Jude 3), it is little wonder that the devil is going to such lengths to corrupt and turn it aside. The strange thing is that the Lord’s people, who have been born again and indwelled by the Spirit of God should be so beguiled as not to recognize these worldly innovations as the parasites that they are. It would appear from the results that in many cases Baptists have been open-minded toward all except the leadership of the Spirit, and the Word of God, to which their minds are closed. It is indeed strange that Baptists, who have long maintained that the only safe rule of faith and practice is the New Testament, should now begin to follow the devious ways of men, and to depart from the New Testament practice in so many ways.
Let us never forget that a parasite takes but it never gives. It is a totally selfish creature, and all of these things which we have looked at are parasites. No other word can adequately describe them. What will Baptists do about them?
It resolves itself into a personal and individual responsibility. It is not enough to say, “What is my church going to do about it?” The question must be, “What am I personally going to do about it?” The first duty begins with the study of the Scriptures, which are God’s law for mankind. The next step is doing what the Scriptures prescribe as God’s will. “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25).
One thing is certain: a parasite cannot live without a host. If the Lord’s people would refuse to host such parasites, most would die a natural death. God grant that it may be so.