by Norman Edwards
What makes a nation a nation? What makes a church congregation a church congregation? What makes an alliance an alliance?
Initially, these may seem pointless questions. The countries of France, England, Egypt, etc. have existed for hundreds of years and everybody knows where they are. Everybody knows the country in which they live and in which they are citizens. Countries have clear borders, signs, currency, flags, customs, etc., that make them unique. With regard to independent church congregations, one can ascertain their existence by seeing their building or by attending one of their meetings. What more does anyone need?
With a national alliance, such as NATO, the issue is more complicated. A nation can be part of one or more alliances—of which its citizens may or may not be aware. There may be little or no clear visible evidence that a country is a part of a specific alliance. We might ask, is there a treaty or some other kind of document which states the names of the nations that are a part of that alliance, as well as the rights and responsibilities of being a member? The answer is “Yes”. An alliance such as NATO (“North Atlantic Treaty Organization”) has founding documents which define its existence, its purpose, its membership, etc. (these documents can be found on the Internet at www.nato.int/docu/basics.htm). These defining documents are essential for member nations to know what to expect from the organization, to determine if the organization is fulfilling its mission and to determine how they will support the organization and continue to be a member.
The reason that founding documents are important for alliances—and for nations and church congregations—is that there is no other human governance with authoritative jurisdiction over them. There is no human group that determines their right to exist or that regulates their existence. They are all ultimately responsible to God. If some individual or group has a disagreement with the activities of a country, church congregation or alliance, the only way to resolve it is to plead one’s case directly to the country, congregation or alliance; to take one’s petition to God in prayer; or take the matter into one’s own hands, which sometimes results in war.
Because existence is such a vital subject, many countries do have documents declaring their existence. The USA has its Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), Constitution (September 17, 1787) and Bill of Rights (December 15, 1791). The USA did not “send in an application to the United Nations” (which did not exist then) to become a country, but declared its existence through the Declaration of Independence and asked other countries to recognize it. Similarly, other countries have also declared their existence, and then later wrote constitutions and other governing documents.
Churches, whether they are large organizations or local congregations, have also declared their existence at various times. While this writer believes that multi-level church hierarchies are unscriptural, history shows that they have had a big part in translating, printing and teaching the Bible. Their overall impact has often been good, in spite of their errors.
But even small, independent ministries that serve God directly (not being accountable to some other church group of civil government) should have documents declaring their existence and stating their purpose. This provides a means whereby anyone who cares to know can be sure that they properly understand the purpose and function of the ministry. Church congregations and ministries can both be accountable directly to God and still coexist with civil governments. If the church disagrees with the civil government, they should be free to preach to the individuals involved and encourage them to change—but not use economic or physical force. If someone in a ministry or congregation is committing a crime, then the civil government should prosecute them, but not attempt to change their Scriptural teaching. Civil governments should neither favor nor persecute any specific church groups.
With this understanding, please read the declaration and the governing documents of Church Bible Teaching Ministry below: