What Is the Church?

One of the most precious promises found in Scripture regarding the Church is in Matthew 16:18, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” Christ’s people. The Lord has promised that his Church will always stand. Satan and the world can never finally conquer the Church. Victory has been won on the cross. And so the Church marches forward awaiting the return of her Lord Jesus Christ.

The promise to the Church is not without qualification. Christ’s Church is made up of local outposts of the kingdom of heaven, and these churches sometimes stumble and even fall.  If such a church falls far enough, the head of the Church has promised, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5).  The Lord’s words apply not only to individual congregations but even to collections of churches called denominations. The victory promised to the Church is sure, but the victory of individual churches is one of struggle, reformation, retreats, advances, and sometimes defeats and destruction.

Christ's promise of victory to the Church and the threat of Christ to remove a lampstand requires that the Church exist in two forms—the heavenly and perfected Church and the earthly and imperfect church. Both the perfected Church and the earthly outposts share in a common profession—“the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

The faith is an act of trust in a body of doctrine called “the faith.” Faith has an object in Christ Jesus our Lord as described in the Bible. Having the faith unites the believer to Christ and “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23, NIV). Men and women of the faith are united to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, Peter, John, James,  and Paul, but most of all to the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of David and the Son of God.

The true Church on earth is then a body of believers gathered in local congregations which hold to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

The Historical Roots of Andover’s Faith

The deposit of the “faith” is found in the Bible alone. Yet one of the difficulties that face all churches is that confused Christians may misunderstand the Bible and the enemies of Christ often twist the Scriptures for their own purposes. Peter warns us that such twisting and confounding can lead to destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).

The early church battled the challenge of Scripture twisting and the danger of confusing the gospel by the writing of creeds or doctrinal statements. At first such creeds and formulas tended to focus on gospel issues like the incarnation of Christ, the Trinity, and things of this nature. But as the Church expanded and consolidated, a practice arose of making the tradition of the earthly church dogma. Such doctrinal development was safe and wholesome as long as the doctrine and practice of the church could be found and defended within the Bible. In general the early church returned to the fount of the Scriptures as it defined itself over and against those who would twist and confuse Scripture to their own destruction. But there were exceptions.

For instance, when pressed, Augustine (354-430) defended the doctrine of infant baptism as part of “the faith” without Scripture. Instead, he declared the current practice of the church “the faith” with statements like this, “What the whole church holds and has always retained, although it has not been decreed by any council, that it is just and proper for us to believe, as if it had been delivered and handed down by apostolic authority” (Ursinus, The Commentary, 369).

Augustine’s misstep on infant baptism became the habit of mind of the Western Church. And the process of dogmatizing current practice accelerated under the likes of Peter Lombard (1100-1160) and others. The institutional faith became a wax nose of indulgences, human merit, and outright idolatry. By the time Martin Luther (1483-1546) had his crisis of faith, European Christianity was a cesspit of immorality and spiritual darkness. Glimmers of reform and godliness were often crushed or marginalized.

The Reformation

Luther was an Augustinian monk. And through his study of Scripture and the church fathers, he discovered that the salvation offered by the contemporary church was not the salvation offered in Scriptures or taught by the likes of Augustine. And so he wrote, preached, and agitated for the reformation of the church around the Scriptures alone.  The true Church heard the message and formed congregations that clung to “the faith once and for all handled down to the saints.”

The Christians that were called out of the church of Rome faced a daunting task. They were required to sift through a millennium of developed doctrine and compare it to the light of Scriptures. But they were also hounded by new heresies and new pressures as they attempted to organize themselves around the Bible alone. Recognizing their own propensity towards error and sin by studying the past and God’s Word, their motto became semper reformati—always reforming.

The different denominations that we have today arrived at somewhat different conclusions about what practices were biblical or indifferent. All godly Protestants agree that salvation is by faith alone; yet, the Episcopalians retained the historical hierarchy of bishops, but dropped the pope and cardinals. The Presbyterians moved away from the hierarchy. The Congregationalists rejected a national presbytery and moved to a congregational polity, but retained infant baptism. From the English Congregationalists sprang the Baptists who embraced congregationalism and believers' baptism.

The Baptists

The first English speaking Baptists came to baptistic convictions while in Holland. They were influenced by the continental Anabaptists' believers' baptism by pouring, their understanding of free will, and the possibility of falling away from Christ, but they rejected the Anabaptists' first-sight reading of the Sermon on the Mount and the attendant pacifism and cultural separatism. On their return to England they established the first Baptist church in England in 1611/12 and developed into the General Baptist denomination.

Further theological development among the emerging Congregationalists and the Baptists lead to Particular Baptist congregations in the 1630s.  These congregations believed in the eternal security of the believer and were the first to formulate immersion as the mode of baptism. The Particular Baptist tradition gave rise to such luminaries as John Bunyan (1628-1688), John Gill (1697-1771), William Carey (1761-1834 ), and Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892).

In the United States Baptist churches were scattered throughout the colonies from the mid-1600s. However, in the First Great Awakening there was a surge of Congregationalists who came to baptistic convictions. These “New Lights” refreshed and reinvigorated the Baptists just prior to the Revolutionary War under the leadership of men like Isaac Backus (1724-1806). The Particular Baptists organized themselves into the Triennial Convention for the purposes of missions, propelling Baptists to the forefront of church planting and evangelism on the Western frontier and in foreign missions. At the same time there was a steady stream of German, Swedish, and Danish Baptists founding congregations and associations.

As the United States approached the Civil War, the Triennial Convention was split over the issue of slavery in 1845. One group became the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the other the American Baptist Missionary Union. The end of the Civil War did not reunite the two denominations, but instead furthered the divide between the SBC and what became the American Baptist Convention.

The Modernist Crisis

All denominations in the United States were riven by what is sometimes called the modernist crisis. Essentially, a group of European theologians like Schleiermacher (1768-1834) developed a theological system which held to traditional vocabulary but rejected “the faith.” The Bible became more or less true, and precious truths like the incarnation, virgin birth, and vicarious atonement were cast aside. Overtime this new theology or “liberalism” trickled into American churches. By the early 1900s, the trickle became a torrent, and Protestants were again forced to reform their churches.

Those who held to the “faith once handed down to the saints” within the American Baptist Convention fought long and hard for reform. But by the 1930’s it became clear to some leaders that internal reform was unlikely and so a group separated and became the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches in 1933 (GARBC). While this group originally clung to the traditional teaching of Baptists, they soon added to their doctrinal distinctions a newly developed understanding of the end times called Dispensationalism.

The History of Andover Baptist Church

October 26, 1948

“A group of people who were discouraged with conditions existing in the First Baptist Church of Brooklyn, [Maryland,] met for prayer in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Alford Miller, Sr. 4010 Sixth St. A glorious time of fellowship was enjoyed, and some of the people present decided that they would not go back to First Baptist for Sunday Services, but would meet in the home of Mr. Miller. Others, who held places of service, went back for Sunday Services, and then told the Pastor, Rev. E. C. Dean, they were severing their relationship with the First Baptist Church from that date forward, said date being October 31, 1948."

“Later, (exact date not remembered) a group of twenty-two (22) people, stood in circle and joined hands determined with God’s help, to start a ‘Fundamental, Bible teaching’ testimony in Brooklyn.”

So begins the official record of what is now Andover Baptist Church of Linthicum, Maryland. Andover was originally a split from First Baptist Church of Brooklyn which was and is a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The testimony of the founders varies to a degree on the exact causes of the split, but it appears that doctrine, personality, and cultural differences between the more established Baltimoreans and newer immigrants from West Virginia and Tennessee all played a role.

The church was incorporated on November 23, 1949 as The Independent Baptist Church of Brooklyn, Maryland. The four “sober and discrete men” who served as the first trustees were Conner E. Manley, William L. Houghton, Sr., LaMar G. Miller, and Ned Wolfe. The first minister was Lloyd Morris who served from November 1949 to September 1952. The articles of incorporation required that the church “shall be affiliated with and subject to the constitution and by-laws of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, North.”

Prior to incorporation the little group struggled through business meetings considering names; Friendship Baptist Tabernacle and Bible Baptist Tabernacle were entertained, and then they settled on Baptist Tabernacle of Brooklyn. They voted for chairs and to give 10% of their budget to missions. The flock also voted on making “a long distance” telephone call to the Reverend Reese of Ohio of the Fellowship of Baptists for Home Missions about finding a pastor to serve the congregation.

By December of 29, of 1948, a “Rev. Johnson from Indianapolis, Indiana” was contacted and served the congregation until the end of March 24, 1949. The Reverend Reese then suggested Pastor Lloyd Morris as the pastor.

The minutes show that during this first year the little flock struggled to identify itself. There are explanations as to what the GARBC is and does. On May 4, 1949 the congregation briefly considered aligning themselves with the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, but the “Group decided to remain in Baptist work.”

By May 11, Pastor Morris begins to appear and slowly helped the church identify themselves and organize through the purchase of property, incorporation, and fundraising.  Morris’ original support from the group was $50 a month. By God’s grace the owner of three corner lots donated the land to the church after Morris suggested he donate a parsonage.

Without explanation or much fanfare the Rev. Morris resigned in September of 1952. In the next four years the church would have three pastors, Charles Miles (1952-1954), George V. Cosby (1955-1956), and then the Reverend Howard Stoughton who served from November 1956 to his death on June 25, 1983.

Pastor Stoughton provided the church with 27 years of faithful service. His daughter Gayle King is still supported by the church as a missionary to the Ivory Coast.  Like the church he came from a Southern Baptist tradition, but he carefully integrated the church into the local GARBC association and expanded the work through evangelism and missions. His warmth, humor, godliness, and careful handling of God’s word are still remembered. When he passed away the church was full and the work booming. But the neighborhood around Townsend Avenue Baptist had begun to decline. What had once been a blue-collar community was steadily becoming a neighborhood sprinkled with drug dealers and prostitutes.

After Pastor Stoughton passed on to be with the Lord, Pastor Derwin G. Hauser served the church from early 1984 to December 1989. Hauser understood his role as helping Townsend Avenue Baptist Church transition from the long service of Pastor Stoughton to a new permanent pastor.

Scott Neiswender became the pastor in August of 1990 and served until his resignation in November 2000. During his tenure Townsend attempted to respond to the changes in the neighborhood and to formulate the best form of worship and outreach possible to serve the local community and the existing congregation. Sadly, the congregation was wracked by disagreements on issues of styles of music and direction.

Pastor Brent Brewer became the new pastor in early 2001 and served until May of 2007. He led the congregation to remove themselves from the GARBC. The congregation then briefly considered merging with another church near Annapolis. When the merger fell through they purchased land in Linthicum in May of 2005. The Townsend Avenue property was sold at the end of 2005. The congregation rented the 7th Day Adventist building on Andover Road in Linthicum and changed their name to Andover Baptist Church. Andover met in the Adventist’s building until the completion of the current building in the summer of 2011.

In 2006, Pastor Brewer led the congregation to change its doctrinal statement to the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith and to change the constitution of the church to include multiple elders and deacons. He and the newly chosen elder candidate then began searching for a replacement pastor in late 2006 and early 2007.  Brewer resigned after beginning the search and stepped down in May of 2007.

Pastor Shane Walker came to Andover Baptist in June of 2007. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to becoming a pastor he was an editor of a theological journal and worked in Congress as a Legislative Assistant.

The Future at Andover

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8). The faith once handed down to the saints remains the same, because Jesus is the same. Disbelief remains fundamentally the same as well. The enemies of Christ and his church—the world, the flesh, and the devil—are clever but not creative. And so the modern church must respond to the “newest” version of infidelity in much the same manner as the Church always has. The gospel remains the same, but the richness of individual Christians and churches’ understanding of both the gospel and the Bible can ebb and flow.

Andover Baptist Church is committed to God’s Word and we are committed to fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil through the proclamation of the gospel and worship. We are taught that our father Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (Rom. 4:20), and so we come together to worship God so that we might face our enemies and love our Lord.

We strive in charity to understand both the victories and defeats of our Christian brothers and sisters in the past, so that we might be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). It is our desire to recognize and celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the past and present among all those who cling to the same gospel that we do.

It is our hope that when the Son of Man returns, he will find faith at Andover Baptist Church (Luke 18:8). While Christ tarries, we are committed by God’s grace to evangelizing the lost, maintaining the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, worshiping our Lord in conformity to his word, and encouraging each other to greater and greater conformity to the image of Christ.