My Dear Brother Beebe; To the astonishment and distress of many of your patrons and brethren, the following language appears in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, over the signature of James Janeway, concluding remarks in his third letter, in the 15th of April, and beginning of his fourth letter, in May 1st:
“Do not some churches admit their members in their uncleanness into the Lord’s courts? Are not many members defiled by observing and doing things which God has not commanded? Such as shaking hands, washing feet, secret societies, and other things practiced by members of the church of God. All things which are not of the law of faith, to do such things are sinful … instead of attending to the words of the Lord, they have introduced washing feet for their faith and fellowship, but left it discretionary with the members whether they practice it or not, and it should make no bar of fellowship. From these things have arisen two faiths in one church.”
If our brethren with whom we correspond endorse the sentiments of brother Janeway, and believe that the practice of literally “washing one another’s feet” has grown out of churches admitting members in their uncleanness into the Lord’s courts, and many members are defiled by washing feet, &c., and that this practice amounts to uncleanness or filthiness, and is contrary to God’s command, they should not suffer such as wash one another’s feet in the churches to correspond with them, much less court their correspondence. Shaking of hands he also considers filthy and defiling. We have witnessed on some occasions where brethren have gone so far in this practice as to manifest more human excitement and confusion than godly edifying and peace. But surely there can be nothing filthy, or defiled in giving members the right hand of fellowship when received into our churches, and to give evidence of our christian fellowship, again and again, by shaking of hands or even with a kiss of charity. Read Acts 20:37, also I Pet.5:14.
As to secret societies, we have nothing to do with them in our churches, but have greatly desired to learn to be content with watching one another as brethren in a church relation alone; and as long as members remain sound in the faith, and walk orderly, being at their places in the church, endeavoring to discharge their duties in a church relation, we wish not to interfere with their outside worldly matters, as we in our church relation did not unite to control or discipline each other in our outside worldly matters. If, however, members go into filthy or defiling practices, it would amount to disorderly conduct, and should be noticed by the church, and discipline executed.
I hope that when brother Janeway calmly considers this matter he will openly confess that he has gone too far, and written things well calculated to hurt the feelings and interrupt the peace of the brethren who have long been in christian fellowship and correspondence. I am pleased, however, to believe that none of the brethren with whom we correspond, directly or indirectly, endorse the sentiments of the brother on this subject. If I thought they did, I should feel miserable. We have known for many years past that many of our brethren with whom we correspond do not practice feet-washing openly in their churches, as we do, but I never before conversed with or read from one who has denied that it ought to be done in some way, much less one who has presumed to consider the example an unclean or filthy practice; and, moreover, many of our dear brethren who had not been accustomed to practice feet-washing as we do, when they have been with us have united with us in brotherly love, and have given evidences that they realized the truth of what Jesus said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” John 13:17. We have heretofore considered it a mere matter of opinion, connected with the circumstances surrounding us in our different localities, and never intended that it should be made a test of fellowship or of correspondence; and I think I can speak for the brethren generally when I say, we are heartily sorry that such sayings should have appeared in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. In my judgment, the best and most able defense for the truth, and for a channel of christian acquaintance and correspondence I ever read, apart from the holy book of God.
My dear brother, I hope I have written the foregoing from proper motives. If you think it will do no harm, nor create unpleasant or unprofitable discussion, to interrupt the peace of the saints, you can give it a place in the SIGNS; however, I leave this with your better judgment.
Your unworthy brother in tribulation,
Near Lexington Georgia, May 18, 1875.