It is not our desire or intention, either by special or common pleadings, to encourage a controversy on the subject of Associations, as, to our mind, there are many other subjects at this peculiarly trying time of vastly greater importance to the peace, comfort and edification of the people of God, which claim our columns. Especially should we regret to enter the list with a veteran of the cross whom we so highly esteem as our brother Blakeslee. Indeed, had he confined his remarks to the issue, as stated and defined by himself in the closing portion of his article, there would probably have been no room for controversy, but the principal part of his letter is confined to the extravagant proceedings of two New School Baptist associations, which probably all but New School Baptists would blush to be concerned in. Now, in justice to the Old School Baptists, it should be known that no such high-handed proceedings have ever been tolerated among them.
In our reply to brother Ausmus we stated that an association of churches may be anything the associated parties choose to make of them. We admit that brother Blakeslee has given two sad examples of the prostitution of the name, but we cannot perceive that he has even attempted to show that all associations of churches are unscriptural. He says the question at issue is not whether they have been productive of more good than evil, neither is it, we presume, whether there have been instances in which they have been perverted to be the most outrageous instruments of tyranny and oppression. We presumed that the question of brother Ausmus related only to associations of churches as they are recognized by the Old School Baptists. Two questions seem to us to be involved: first, Do the Scriptures warrant any association of gospel churches for any purpose whatever? Second, If they do, are ours such as the Scriptures sanction? If, by a careful and prayerful searching of the Scriptures, we find that the primitive churches did associate together, then we have clearly authority for them by apostolic example, and however much wicked men may pervert them, the example of the primitive churches cannot be thereby invalidated. The pattern and example of primitive saints associating in churches is admitted by brother Blakeslee, although it is known to him that there are very many religious organizations called churches whose practice is as grossly antichristian as that of the two associations instanced by him.
The primitive christians and churches either did or did not, under the direction of the apostles, associate together. We assume that they did, as individual christians, associate in church relation, and, as churches, so far as to recognize, correspond, and, so far as practicable, unite together for social devotion and for mutual advice and edification, while none were allowed to lord it over God's heritage. Without any kind of association there could be no union, sympathy or identity; but we have palpable evidence that the apostolic churches did maintain a correspondence with each other, and their members met together in such harmony for the worship of God whenever they found opportunity, without regard to what particular branches of the church they belonged. This is evident from the fact that Timothy and Titus, though pastors (or bishops) of particular churches, had a charge to ordain elders and attend to other services in sister churches. All the churches of Galatia were addressed as one community, or association of churches, in one epistle written to them by Paul. Messengers were sometimes sent from one church, or churches, to another church of the same faith and order. It would be difficult to find an instance where christians or churches of the primitive faith and order ever refused to associate together when favored with opportunity because they were members of different branches of the church of Christ. It is not our impression that the churches of the apostles' day were as formal in their distinct organization as they are now, but where two or three were gathered together in Christ's name, there Christ himself was in their midst; and if, as at Pentecost, the number were increased to thousands, they were still of one heart and one mind. Hence we read of "the church in thy house," as well as the church in a city or nation.
None of the branches of the church of Christ can any more be independent of the other branches than any one member of a natural body can be independent of its fellow members. The hand cannot say to the foot, I have no need of thee, nor the eye to the ear. Christ says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." This figure seems to represent the perfect vine as embracing all the branches which have grown out of it, and all alike invigorated and made fruitful by their common relation to the whole vine. A still stronger figure is used by the apostle, 1 Cor. xii. 12, 13: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." The same apostle also in Ephesians iv. dwells largely on the vital and inseparable unity and fellowship of all the saints at Ephesus, and all the faithful in Christ Jesus, wherever they may be: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all;" and in the twenty-fifth verse he adds, "For we are members one of another." Now can such identity and vital union exist without association, without harmony of action? Can one member be independent, or have no need of all the other members? Can the foot travel on and leave all or any of its fellow-members behind? Can all these members, which make up the perfect and complete body of Christ, being many, keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and yet hold no correspondence or association together? We presume brother Blakeslee will not assume that they can. But still the inquiry returns, Do all these Scriptures justify the association of churches in the manner in which they are held by the Old School Baptists of our day? The affirmative or negative response must depend on how they are held or practiced by the Old School Baptists. It is more than possible that some of our Old School Baptist associations may practice some things which are not justified by the law of Christ. We would all do well to look at this. Brother Blakeslee found in the New School Baptist associations which he has referred to, "legislative, judicial and executive" powers assumed, none of which have we ever found in any of our Old School Baptist associations. Neither the churches, nor even the apostles, were ever invested with legislative power. Christ has made all the laws his kingdom can ever require. The apostles are enthroned in the church to judge the twelve tribes, but not to make any new laws; nor has the church any judicial or executive power beyond that of strict obedience to the laws of Christ as adjudged and defined by the inspired apostles. In obedience to Christ's laws, as expounded by the apostles, the church, and every member thereof, whether individually or associated, are required to withhold their fellowship from the hidden works of darkness, and to withdraw from every brother that walks disorderly. But the rule of order by which the extension or suspension of fellowship is to be regulated is the law of Christ. Those unassociated churches in the north and northwestern part of this State are only unassociated in form; that is, they reject the name and formalities of associations, because, as we presume, they became so disgusted with the abominations which they have witnessed in the associations in their vicinity that they are jealous of all formal associations; but they are in reality associated in a form of their own, which they consider less objectionable. It is common with them to hold yearly meetings, at which brethren and sisters and Elders come together for social worship and mutual correspondence, and, for aught we could perceive, they really associate freely by meeting and greeting each other in the love and fellowship of the gospel, and they appear to be as fond of associating in their way as those who organize for conducting a more general correspondence with the churches and associations scattered abroad. Our ministering brethren from that vicinity also occasionally visit our associations and associate with us, and we hope enjoy the seasons with us. Now we do not wish to be understood as advocating any of the excesses or abominations which prevail among the New School order, which are complained of by brother Blakeslee, but we wish to discriminate between a christian and an antichristian association. There is something social in the very spirit of christianity which should be cherished by all who can appreciate it. "Let brotherly love continue." "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together." These injunctions are not restricted to organized branches of the church of God, but they are addressed to the whole brotherhood, and we believe if ever there was a time when they that fear the Lord should meet frequently and speak often one to another, that time is now. Some have objected to associations because they drop from their connection such churches and associations as they believe have departed from the faith. But do not the unassociated churches do the same? And are not the brethren individually required to do the same? "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth." When churches depart manifestly from the faith and order on which our fellowship is based, we are bound, individually and collectively, to withhold from them our fellowship, or recognition, until they return to the order of the house of God. Indeed, we are greatly mistaken if we have not witnessed great evils growing out of the oft reiterated cry of the independence of churches. How far is a church independent? It is simply this: A church of Christ in gospel order, governed only by the word and spirit of the gospel, has authority to discipline her own members without interference from any other organized body, court or council on earth, and her decisions are entitled to be respected by all other churches. But churches, as well as individuals and associations, are liable to err, both in the spirit and letter, and in such cases she has no right to drag other churches or individuals into any disorder or heresy whatever; and any church who feels a consciousness that she has acted in the fear of the Lord, been governed in her actions by the divine rule, will rather court than shun investigation. She will frankly say, Come and behold our order; for if she is governed by the spirit of the gospel she will desire to secure the confidence and fellowship of all her sister churches. We always regard it as a suspicious circumstance when churches, ministers or other individual members put themselves upon their dignity and bid defiance to their sister churches under the plea of independence. It is virtually saying, We regard not your approbation; we do not appreciate your fellowship or care for your correspondence. Certainly such is not the way pointed out in the divine rule for keeping "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. Hut he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." John iii. 20,21. This rule bears the sacred seal of the eternal King, and may be relied on with implicit confidence.
Again in conclusion, we wish to say that our object in this article is not to disagree with the views of brother Blakeslee, for we as decidedly disapprove of the ungodly course which he condemns as he does, but our design is, while we repudiate and condemn the wrong, to discriminate between the right and the wrong, and we trust that he will understand and appreciate our motive. We cannot resist the conviction, from an experience of fifty-two years, that a general meeting of the Elders, brethren and sisters of churches of the same faith and order once a year, or oftener, if convenient, is both lawful and expedient. The primitive churches and members did meet as frequently as possible for mutual edification, without any restriction on account of distinct organization into separate branches, and every expression of admonition recorded, to our understanding, tended to encourage, if not to absolutely enjoin such gathering, as both duty and privilege. If churches are to isolate themselves from each other, pay no regard to the order nor seek the general welfare of the whole body, what is to become of that sympathy, concert and identity which is to distinguish all the members of Christ as one body, animated by one life, fed at one table, on the same food, having but one and the same interest, and all bound to the same destiny? Why should a single branch of the church wish to isolate herself from her fellow-branches and eat her morsel alone? The very spirit of vital christianity calls for association. "Come and hear, all ye that fear God," whether belonging locally to this or that branch. All who fear the Lord and obey the voice of his servant, are members of one Christ, governed by one Head, constituting but one body, and members one of another in union so close, and sympathy so vital, that if one member suffers all the body feels the pain. We do not argue that for such association any distinct organization or written constitution is indispensable, only so far as may be useful to preserve harmony and good order. The yearly meetings in some sections, and conferences, or corresponding meetings, in other sections of the country, may secure all that is desirable, but those who are partial to the one form should be slow to censure their brethren who see cause to promote the same object substantially in another form, unless such form shall be manifestly subversive of the order of the gospel. Not only the organized associations, but all other forms of meetings are liable to abuses and it becomes the saints to watch diligently, and see that all things be done decently and in order. Let us prove all things and hold fast that which is good.
December 1, 1863
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Signs of the Times
Volume 150, No. 11 - November 1982