CHAIN-LINKED SUCCESSIONJesus, who was the builder and the head of His church, had and does have all power and all authority. Before He ascended, He commissioned the church He had built to continue and to carry out the work He designed it to do. It was Jesus design that His church and its successors be the sole administrators of scriptural baptism, "the baptism of John," which was "from heaven" (Mark 11:27-30). John 4:2 tells us that "Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples." It may be well to notice that we have no record of "Jesus himself" ever organizing any church but the one at Jerusalem. Jesus appointed His church and its successors as His only representatives, as His bodies, to do His business during His physical absence. The giving of a commission, with the intention that it be successfully executed, necessarily implies, even demands, the giving of the power and the authority required to accomplish the task. This does not mean that Jesus gave away any of His power or authority in the sense that He is subsequently in possession of less power or less authority than before. Some, either misunderstanding, or perhaps trying to build a "straw man" they can tear down, have attempted to caricature those who contend for the doctrine of church authority as usurping the Lords authority. Surely no one would perceive the swearing in of a deputy and assigning him certain duties as weakening the authority of the sheriff that deputized him. Why should there be any misunderstanding of the same principle when it comes to church authority?
The scientifically sound and proven and scriptural principle of "like begets like" should be beyond dispute by the open and honest mind. Many Landmark Baptists have properly taught the application of that principle in the perpetuity and succession of Jesus true churches, using illustrations such as the propagation of the human race, dogs, honey bees, or some other species. Baptists of all kinds have long used and accepted the term "mother church" in the context of church organization and succession. Some who oppose the doctrine of a chain-link succession and the requirement of church authority in church organization ridicule the use of such terms and illustrations by distorting, twisting, and misinterpreting them. One brother has said, ". . . I believe, that a church is not a physical thing such as a body, and to talk of reproduction of a church as a physical body is an absurdity. Churches are formed not conceived. . . . Churches do not necessarily have a formal connection with any other church but have a connection of baptisms." Another has written, "When folks try to prove something by comparing it with something that is totally different, it ends up looking and sounding ridiculous. If the pro-generation and lineage of animals and humans which requires both a father and a mother, proves the chain-link, vote-by-vote succession of churches, then it is appropriate to ask, Where is the father church?"
I agree with the "Remarks on the Use of the Term Mother Church" by Curtis Pugh in Three Witnesses for the Baptists. Brother Pugh wrote:
In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as a "wife" of God, and so is Judah. Isaiah 54:5-6 says to Israel:
In Jeremiah 3:8 God said:
In verse 11 He said:
Verse 14 says:
In Jeremiah 31:31-32, God said of Israel and Judah, ". . . I was an husband unto them." In Hosea chapters 1 and 2, Israel is pictured as the cast off wife.
Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly and unmistakably compares "the husband" and "the wife" to Christ and "the church." In 2 Corinthians 11:2, the church at Corinth is told:
Revelation 19:7 shows that there is to be a "marriage of the Lamb" to "his wife." We cannot simply dismiss the use of the term mother church and illustrations of reproduction as an absurdity and as ridiculous, without ignoring these and many other verses of Scripture. Is a church of our Lords not spoken of and referred to as a physical body throughout the New Testament? In 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, a New Testament church is likened to a living, physical body, performing normal body functions. In 1 Peter 2:3-6, a New Testament church is spoken of as living and having life. A church of our Lords is not merely an organization, but, having spiritual life, it is an organism.
Jesus, as head of His first church, sometimes gave special orders or instructions and sent certain individuals with certain instructions for a certain mission. In Matthew 10, He gave His twelve disciples certain power and authority. Verse 1 says:
Jesus sent them forth with specific instructions of where to go and where not to go. Verses 5-6 say:
He told those He sent what to preach. In verse 7, He said:
He gave instructions concerning the financial management of their work. Verses 9-10 say:
In the remaining verses of Matthew10, Jesus gave further instructions regarding their mission. Mark 6:7-13 tells of this instructing, commanding, and sending out of the twelve:
In Luke 10:1-24, after instructing, commanding, and giving them certain power and authority, Jesus "appointed other seventy also, and sent them." Verse 1 says:
Verses 2-16 tell of Jesus instructing, commanding, appointing, and sending of that other seventy, and in verse 17 we read that they returned later to give a report of their mission activity:
We have no record of Christ ever having withdrawn or revoked the ordination of that "other seventy" whom He had ordained ("appointed") and sent out "two and two" as representatives of the church He had organized. It is most probable that many churches were organized by these thirty-five pairs of ordained men when "they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." There may very well have been some organized by them even before then. Acts 8:1 does say that "there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem," rather than just simply saying, "against the church." Before the persecution and scattering, another seven men had been ordained. Acts 6:5-6 says:
By that time, Jesus had ascended and such matters as ordaining, appointing, sending out, and church organization were delegated to His churches, with the authority to act as His body, rather than executed by Him in person, as had previously been done. Notice in Acts 6:5-6, that it was the pleasure ("the saying pleased") and choice ("they chose") of the entire membership of the church at Jerusalem ("the whole multitude"). That chosen seven were "set before the apostles," no doubt to examine and determine their moral and doctrinal soundness, "and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them." We can be sure that that was the method prescribed by Jesus, and that He taught the apostles many things that we can know only by the teachings of the apostles and the practices of the churches in the New Testament. These are things Jesus taught the apostles while "being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Acts 1:1-3 says:
Another example of the exercise of church authority by church vote after Jesus ascension is found in Acts 1:15-26. Those verses describe the procedure followed by the church in ordaining Matthias as an apostle to take the place of Judas. In verse 20, Peter presented the need to the congregation of "about an hundred and twenty," to select a replacement. The qualifications were stated in verses 21 and 22. In verse 23, they appointed two for consideration. In verses 24-26 we see that they prayed and then finalized the matter with a formal and official vote. Acts 1:24-26 says:
The exercise of church authority in doing the Lords business of baptizing, ordaining and sending men, and organizing churches after His ascension is seen throughout the remaining chapters of the book of Acts. It was earlier noted that there was a number of churches around at the time of Sauls conversion in Acts 9 ("Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria"). In Acts 10, the Lord sent Peter to Cornelius house to preach to the people there. Peter did not go by himself. Verse 23 says, ". . . certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him." Those "certain brethren from Joppa" are mentioned again in verse 45 as "as many as came with Peter." After seeing evidence of the salvation of those who were at Cornelius house, Peter asked those "certain brethren from Joppa," in verse 47:
Those new believers were baptized into the Joppa Baptist Church and then probably organized into a new church at Caesarea. Instead of Peter just baptizing those new believers himself, verse 48 says, ". . . he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." They were baptized by church authority, not Peters authority. The propriety of the matter was questioned by some in the church at Jerusalem, but when Peter got there, he "rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them."
Acts 11:19-21 relates how that "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" at Antioch. Verse 22 says:
Here we have an example of the exercise of church authority in choosing a certain person and sending him out on a particular mission. A church was organized there, and taught by Barnabas and Saul. Verse 26 says that for "a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people."
Later, in Acts 13, Barnabas and Saul, as members of the church at Antioch, were set apart and sent out by that church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Acts 13:1-3 says:
Acts 13 and 14 tell of many places that Paul and Barnabas went on that missionary journey. The people that God saved were taught, baptized, organized into new churches, and taught more, by Paul and Barnabas under the authority of the church at Antioch. Acts 14:23 says they "ordained them elders in every church." There are, of course, many details that we are not told about that missionary journey, but we do know that a full report of "all that God had done with them" was given to the sending church at Antioch. Acts 14:26-28 says:
Every Baptist must admit that Acts 13 and 14 is an example from Scripture of churches being organized, established, and approved of by the express intentions and actions of another church, and that by the leading of the Holy Ghost. I think most would agree that that is the best method to follow.
Chain-link successionists have been criticized for dogmatically insisting upon following the pattern of Acts 13 and 14 and rejecting the possibility of alternate methods or exceptions for unusual circumstances. It has been said that if chain-link successionists were truly consistent in their patternism, they would pattern after the first church, allowing for direct or "vertical authority" coming from Christ Himself, rather than by one of His churches. We could just as well argue that the egg came before the chicken, or that we are to expect our children to come from the dust of the earth. The situation is different now. Jesus no longer physically walks and talks with us in person as He did with the first church. Jesus has left His churches to act as His "body," as His legally appointed representative until His return.
Having previously established the scriptural propriety of the use of such metaphors as "mother church," comparing a church to a physical body, and illustrating church perpetuity with the propagation of the human race, let us consider the following analogy. Genesis 2:7 says, ". . . and the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." God made Adam a wife and in Genesis 1:28 commanded them to "be fruitful and multiply." Jesus personally organized His first church and commissioned it to be fruitful and multiply. Ephesians 5:29-32, speaking of marriage of husband and wife, says, ". . . and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Today, a woman should not expect to find a husband in the dust and a man does not expect to have a wife made from his rib. Neither should we expect Christ to organize churches today by a supposed "vertical authority." 1 Corinthians 11:8 says, "For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man," and verse 12 says, "For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God."
The assertion has been made that "in times of severe persecution or unusual circumstances," true churches have been formed by two or more scripturally baptized believers covenanting together and receiving approval directly, or "vertically," from Christ. Probably the best argument from scripture to support such a theory is that the Bible does not say that it did not ever happen, so it might have. We could about as easily prove that the apostles had automobiles and computers.
Can anyone provide documentation of an instance wherein that, because of severe persecution or unusual circumstances, baptized believers have had to organize a church by covenanting themselves together without the approval of a previously organized church? Is Gods will and purpose subject to circumstance? Would it not be far better to live and even die as a scripturally baptized member in good standing of a true church, although having been involuntarily severed from it by persecution or unusual circumstance, than to be guilty of perverting or disobeying Gods revealed order and plan? In Genesis 15:5, God said to Abraham, ". . . and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them , So shall thy seed be." Abraham believed God (v.6), but when it seemed apparent that his wife Sarah could not bare him a child, Abraham, thinking it necessary in order to accomplish Gods plan, "went in unto Hagar, and she conceived Ishmael" (Genesis 16:4). When Gods order is ignored in church organization, a spiritual "Ishmaelite" is likely to be the result, and the troubles will be many and long lasting.
Another Bible lesson that is so very relevant to the subject at hand is found in 1 Samuel 13:8-14:
It is of extreme importance that we wait upon God and not alter His instructions in doing His work. God is under no obligation to honor our hasty actions and lack of faith in the precision of His plans. Like circumstance, good intentions do not validate nor excuse unauthorized methods. If there be any who are tempted to endorse an alternate or questionable method of executing the Lords work, let us urge consideration of 2 Samuel 6, where David "set the ark of God upon a new cart" (v.3). 2 Samuel 6:6-7 says:
As grand, glorious, and fitting as it may have seemed, God had not authorized the method of moving the ark on a cart. It was to be carried on poles. In Exodus 25:8-16, God said to Moses:
The same diligence and attention to detail is in order when transporting "the house of God, which is the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15) throughout the ages.
The covenanting of themselves together of saved, scripturally baptized persons is part of church organization, but it is by no measure the whole of it, nor the cause of it. We may say that repentance and faith are part of salvation, yet that is not the cause of it, but is instead a result and evidence of the choosing, redeeming, quickening, calling, and drawing that has been done by God. Similarly, we may consider the "covenanting themselves together" as part of church organization, not as that which causes the group to be a church of Christs, but, rather, a manifestation of that which God has wrought.
When opposition to a chain-linked succession is voiced, it is often accompanied with the phrase, "formal and official, vote by vote." As to formality, I do not know of any who would claim that the sending of missionaries, granting of authority for church organization, or any other church action, must always be executed in a "Roberts Rules of Order" formality in order to be valid. The mind of a church may be officially expressed by paper ballot or uplifted hands ("they gave forth their lots" Acts 1:26), or by unanimous agreement, as in Acts 13:1-4. It could be by shaking of heads, for yes or no. It may be expressed by one saying, "We ought to," another saying, "Well, lets do it," and the majority following in agreement. A church might give its official approval of a matter by a silent response to the question, "Can any man forbid ?" as in Acts 10:44-48.
In Acts 6:1-8, the church at Jerusalem, in some manner, made an official choice of seven men to be ordained. It was not the apostles who chose the seven men. "The twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them" (v.2), explained the need, and "the whole multitude chose" the seven to be ordained.