The Church: Her Origin, Purpose, Doctrine, and History

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The Church: Her Origin, Purpose, Doctrine, and History is a lengthy Christian theologial treatise published in 1962 (updated 1973) by the American Baptist Association clergyman L. L. Clover, a Missionary Baptist pastor from Arkansas and Louisiana.

Clover, who lived from 1902 to 1975, was pastor of the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church and the founding president of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary, both in Minden, Louisiana. The Church is an exhaustive study of the history of the local unit of believers ordained by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry but implanted much earlier in the mind of the omniscient God even prior to the creation of the earth and mankind. Under this view, the church falls within the eternal purpose of God as the vehicle established to accomplish the salvation of the Gentiles.[1]

Purpose of the Church

The English word "church" is derived from the Greek meaning "called-out assembly".[2]

Clover lists a five-fold purpose of the church:

  • As the medium through which God reveals Himself to man
  • As the agency through which to preach the gospel of salvation
  • As the personal representative of Christ: His Bride, His Body, His Kingdom, Teacher of His Law, and Reflector of His Light
  • As the foundation and pillar of the Christian Truth,
  • As the medium through which God receives Glory.[3]

Clover traces the origin of the church in Old Testament prophecy (Book of Daniel 2:44) through the coming of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2), the predecessor to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Clover writes that the building of the church, commissioned only through the Blood of Christ, must continue until the Second Coming of Christ, at which point the institution is removed from the secular world.[4] In the words of Jesus, "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."[5]

Church government

Clover stresses that Christ alone is the head of the church:

"His word is her only law. If she [the church] should surrender herself to the dictates of a man, a board, or a presbytery, she would have turned away from Christ. Neither does she have the prerogative to appoint, outside of her membership, any man or group of men to carry out her mission programs or her teaching program. To do this, she has surrendered her God-given responsibility and privilege. ... The church cannot delegate that authority thus given to her."[6]

Clover stresses the autonomy of the church, "a democratic body; complete within itself, [with] each member responsible for her acts."[7]

Clover attributes the Holy Spirit as essential to guide the church to an understanding of the inspired word: "The Holy Spirit will always point the church to Christ her head; His law as the only law which she is bound to obey."[8]

Salvation, baptism, and communion

Clover emphasizes the requirement of salvation to escape hell. He describes the unregenerate as "by nature the children of wrath," "alienated from God," "dead in trespasses and sin," and "having no hope and without God in the world."[9]

Clover discusses the two authorized church commissions recognized in the Baptist denomination: baptism and the Lord's Supper, also known as communion. Baptism is recognized only by immersion; it is the individual signal to the world that a believer has accepted the truth of Christ. Reformation figure John Calvin, who did not object to sprinkling as a substitute for immersion, wrote that the word "baptize" means immersion, and "it is certain that immersion was observed by the ancient church."[10]

Communion is the memorial service commemorating the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptists use unleavened bread crumbs and grape juice, rather than wine, in the ceremony. Baptists stress from 1 Corinthians 11:26, "For as often as ye eat of this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death until he come." [11] Baptist congregations usually administer communion four to six times a year, not as a part of every church service. The supper is symbolic: "This is my body. This is my blood ... Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. ..."[12] Because communion is committed to the local church, Missionary Baptists, like Roman Catholics, restrict the practice to their own members in good standing within the church. Other Baptist groups and most Protestants as well permit any professed believer in Jesus Christ, regardless of church membership, to partake at the communion table.[13]

Other church doctrines

Clover discusses church discipline of wayward members, false religions, and the end of times. He refers to the practice of speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues as gifts of the Holy Spirit, available only to certain men but not to any women.[14]"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law."[15]

Clover discusses in some details the promise of Jesus to the first church to return in bodily form at an undisclosed later date known only by God the Father.[16] "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works."[17]

Clover writes: "Many present day churches do not place much emphasis upon the Lord's Second Coming; however, the first churches were taught [that] this event was to be their comfort and hope. [The Apostle] Paul gave the church at Thessalonica [later Salonika] a word picture of the first phase of the Lord's coming; then in I Thessalonians 4:18, he [said], Wherefore comfort one another with these words."[18]

Clover equates false religion to include not only the worship of idols but to a doctrine of works which surpasses the need for salvation in Christ. "After the fall of man and the institution of the blood sacrifice which pointed to the Savior and his redemptive work, the Devil through Cain attempted to reduce the price of salvation to a system of works [charitable deeds]. These works ... would make man independent of Christ so far as salvation is concerned. The Devil's religion has not changed; it is to all extents the same as when he first introduced it into the world. ... Satanic religion involves a system of rituals and works by which man may earn salvation for his soul."[19]

Church practices

Clover stresses that in the first century A.D. individual churches, not denominational organizations, sent out missionaries to proselytize nonbelievers into a knowledge of Christ. This belief separates Missionary Baptists within the American Baptist Association, based in Texarkana, Texas, from the much larger Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. In Clover's words, "God would hold the local church responsible for the men [missionaries] that were sent out and the gospel they preached. Thus it is clear that the local church must be the authority behind the missionaries that are in the field."[20]

Clover disputes those denominations in which church officials rule over the local congregations. "Sometimes the preacher becomes imbued with the idea he is the church boss. Many times the board of deacons [seeks] to lead the church. This is the exception rather than the rule in Baptist ranks. But it is the general idea among many denominations [in which] the idea of ruling elders, bishops, and presbyteries arose to direct the affairs of the church."[21] Clover said that such church leaders must command not through their own interpretations and viewpoints but solely act "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."[22]

The Church in the New Testament

The growth of the Christian church began after the Day of Pentecost: "Then they that gladly received His word were baptized: and the same day were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."[23]

Clover writes that after Pentecost no records have been found of converted people who were not members of a local church. The early church, he maintains, "formed one group and had all things common. However, this was voluntary and a not a rule of church practice."[24] Clover says that deacon boards "are not given authority to rule over the church [but are] only ordained to serve the church."[25]

Clover discusses in the case of Paul how God can "take the evil deeds of the unsaved and use them to his own glory."[26]"Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Acts 2:47), according to Clover, requires the church to go beyond its comfort zone to spread essential gospel teaching, particularly where it is resisted.[27]

Clover discusses the status of the church in Corinth, then a world center of commerce and "an extremely wicked city [because of] her sensual religious practices."[28] Clover continues: "The city's location along with its political importance and large population made an ideal place for the spread of the gospel. Paul's labors in this city were indeed fruitful. Many souls were saved, and a great church was established. As in all of the cities where Paul labored, the congregation was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles...."[29]

The Waldenses

In his study, Clover examines many Christian sects, some considered heretical. The Waldenses, who originated from the area near Turin, Italy, "remained pure" in traditional teaching from the first quarter of the 4th century to the time of the Reformation. According to Clover, the Waldenses, who followed a literal interpretation of Scripture, in time were "hated simply because they stubbornly refused allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church."[30]

Yet, the Waldenses had existed two centuries before the establishment of the universal pope. The Waldenses claimed descent from the apostles and maintained that heritage from one generation to the next through the 17th century.[31]

According to Clover, the Waldenses should not be confused with the Waldensians, founded in the latter 12th century by Peter Waldo, who was a merchant in Lyon, France. Clover disputes whether Waldo even founded the separate Waldensian sect but does consider him a "precursor of the Reformation."[32] Other scholars make no distinction between the Waldenses and the Waldensians.


Clover discusses the early Christian movement begun in the middle of the second century A.D. by Montanus of Phrygia, who sought a life of holiness separate from secular concerns. As Clover explains, the Montanists stood for "a pure and a spiritual church, based upon New Testament principles, as they knew and understood ... It is well to remember that none of the churches at this early date had complete knowledge because the Bible was not yet put together. Few, if any, of the churches had more than a copy of a few of the epistles."[33] Clover added that "in light of all of the evidence that is possible to gather ... dogmaticallty the Montanists were similar to his own Missionary Baptists."[34]

The Montanists defended the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and the thousand-year reign of Christ at the end of time. They believed that the church is "the bride of Christ" who must "keep herself pure, anxiously watching, and longing for the return of the bride-groom Baptist people have always believed and taught these things. ... The principles of the Montanists were, after all, only the carrying out of orthodox doctrine ... .".[35]


Clover studies the original Anabaptists, early churchmen who required baptism by immersion for believers entering their ranks, persons who had previously come from other denominations that may have required neither baptism nor immersion. Quoting Religious Denominations of the World, Clover writes:

"In church history, the name of Anabaptists is generally applied to a class of fanatical men who at the beginning of the Reformation in the 16th century, raised violent disturbances in the center of Europe and brought upon themselves a lasting odium. These men ... rejected the baptism of infants and baptized all who adopted their views, which were really more political than religious. These religio-political fanatics ... differed from the Baptists except in the single point of baptism. ... "The fanatical Antibaptists ... were originally from Germany, where ... they had made known their displeasure at the oppressions of the so-called feudal system ... at the time of the Reformation, sought in the new religion [Anabaptists] an augmented power and made the most shameful misuse of it ...The Antibaptists ought by no means to be considered the same as the Baptists. ...[36][37]


The Novatians were followers of the third century Christian philosopher Novatian, who was baptized while ill, possibly on his death bed. Unable to be immersed, he was wrapped in a sheet, which was in turn wet, a procedure since called clinic baptism. The Novatian movement began in the year 250 A.D. as a protest to the election of Cornelius as the bishop of Rome. Novatian did not desire the office himself but pleaded for the upholding of strict standards. While Cornelius was considered negligent in principle and discipline, Novatian was, in Clover's words, "just the opposite. ... The minority followed Novatian and withdrew fellowship from the unscriptural majority."[38]

Novatian was consecrated by three obscure Italian bishops. He was excommunicated from Roman Catholicism. His followers were strongest in Asia Minor, where in spite of persecution survived until the sixth or seventh centuries.[39] Clover continues, "the Novatians were only trying to maintain the true teachings and practices of the early churches. Again, as with the Montanists, it was not the minority, but the majority that went away from the truth."[40]

The Church in America

Clover's final chapter examines the growth of the church from the time of Roger Williams at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1639 to the individual states created under the Constitution of the United States.

Though Clover refers to Williams as a "fine Christian gentleman", he disputes the account that Williams established the first Baptist congregation in the USA. According to Clover, "There is no doubt that Mr. Williams held many Baptist views. His sincerity is beyond question. His knowledge, however, was limited. He had not yet learned that a succession of churches and baptism are essential to a true church of the Lord."[41]

Clover questions the validity of Williams's own baptism by a layman who lacked divine authority to perform the commission. John the Baptist, however, had God-given authority to baptize Jesus. Clover writes that only the church has the authority to baptize converts:

"John had the authority to baptize; Jesus had authority to baptize. Now, if any group or any individual outside of the church has authority to baptize, no record of it is given. One may search the Scriptures as he will, but he will not find one instance of accepted baptism that was not administered by Divine Authority."[42]

Clover contends that the first Baptist church, following New Testament doctrine, was not established in the USA until 1684 and under the leadership of Thomas Dungan in Cold Springs, Pennsylvania, not Roger Williams in Rhode Island.[43]

Clover reviews the early Baptist history in many of the respective states, beginning with Rhode Island and concluding with Texas. He recounts the organization in 1902, the year of his own birth, of the General Association of Landmark Missionary Baptists, precursor to the formation of his own American Baptist Association in 1924, well after the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Clover quotes the clergyman O. H. Griffith, who described divergent views between the ABA and the SBC on the sovereignty of the churches and the method of the implementation of the Great Commission of the Church explained in the last four verses of the Book of Matthew.[44]

See also

  • I. K. Cross, Missionary Baptist clergyman from Texarkana, Texas


  1. L. L. Clover, The Church: Her Origin, Purpose, Doctrine, and History, Minden, Louisiana: Louisiana Baptist Press, 1962, p. 18
  2. Clover, p. 94
  3. Clover, p. 22
  4. Clover, p. 73
  5. Matthew 16:18
  6. Clover, p. 99
  7. Clover, p. 103
  8. Clover, p. 101
  9. Clover, p. 109
  10. Clover, p. 115
  11. Clover, p. 119
  12. Clover, p. 119
  13. Clover, p. 120
  14. Clover, p. 123
  15. I Corinthians 14:34
  16. Clover, p. 124
  17. Matthew 16:27
  18. Clover, p. 126
  19. Clover, p. 128
  20. Clover, p. 143
  21. Clover, pp. 146-147
  22. Clover, p. 147
  23. Clover, p. 151; Acts 2:41-42
  24. Clover, p. 151
  25. Clover, p. 152
  26. Clover, p. 152
  27. Clover, p. 153
  28. Clover, p. 165
  29. Clover, p. 165
  30. Clover, pp. 299-300
  31. Clover, pp. 301, 306
  32. Clover, pp. 306-308
  33. Clover, p. 177
  34. Clover, p. 179
  35. Clover, p. 175
  36. Clover, pp. 330-331
  37. Religious Denominations of the World, pp. 564-567
  38. Clover, p. 179
  39. Clover, p. 180
  40. Clover, p. 182
  41. Clover, pp. 353-354
  42. Clover, p. 114
  43. Clover, p. 355
  44. Clover, p. 429