(Prepared by Elder J. M. Fenton)
Circular Letter from the Delaware River Association to the churches come posing the same.
Dearly Beloved in the Lord: The subject under consideration will be Associations. The first appearance of such a body we find recorded in Hassell's Church History, mentioning the Philadelphia Association in 1707. The Kehukee Association was formed in 1765, with seven churches, and is still in existence. On page 662, Hassell's History, is recorded as follows: “Before these churches were organized into an associate body they held yearly meetings, wherein matters of consequence were discussed and determined.” In their articles of faith the Kehukee Association says: “We believe that every church is independent in matters of discipline, and that associations, councils and conferences of several ministers or churches are not to impose on churches the keeping, holding or maintaining any principle or practice contrary to the churches judgement.” “Much discussion arose as to the power of associations over churches, which resulted in an understanding to leave the churches their entire independence, and permitting the association (which is but a collection of churches) to act as an advisory council only.” - Hassell's History, page 702.
Continuing, it further says: “Should the churches ever allow the associations, or any body of men formed by their combination to dictate to them against their consent, it has ever been held that their liberties in such case will have passed away, and they become no longer churches of Christ, but tools of tyrants.” “A church of Christ has ever been considered, by genuine Baptists, the highest ecclesiastical power on earth.” - Hassell's History, page 702. Thus is seen clearly set forth by the Lord's servants in their day where the association as a body composed of several churches of the same faith and order were to occupy. We do not understand that the associations acting as an advisory council implied that their advice was to church or churches, but only to embrace associational relationship. Associations receive church letters and observe the writing of circular letters and corresponding letters; should it be expedient for the association to withdraw correspondence from any church or association, it does not imply that there is any barrier for the servants of God to labor among the Lord's people from whom the association has withdrawn correspondence. There is no headship to the church but Christ; he is “the head over all things to the church, which is his body.” (Eph. 1:22,23) We “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Eph. 4:15) “Christ is the head of the church: and he is savior of the body.” (Eph. 5:23) “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” (Col. 1:17-19) “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” (Col. 2:10)
It would seem that the apostle, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was instructing the church in all ages by the above Scripture, that we fall not away to seek instruction or guidance from any power, principality, assembly, council or body as over the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This would not imply that any church would reels independence from other churches, for the love of God would constrain them to seek the love and fellowship of sister churches, and their advice and counsel if necessary. The assembling of yourselves together for the worship of God is by command of the apostle, and we desire to see the same observed. The assembly of the saints we believe has ever been observed since the Savior set up his kingdom in the earth, and all that was necessary in the observance of that worship was given by our Lord and Savior and by his apostles in the New Testament. Therefore we regard the associations as a creation of the churches, and subject to the churches, and not the churches subject to the association.
S.H. Durand, Moderator
William Hobensack, Clerk
Signs of the Times - Republished
Volume 127, No. 11