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CONFLICTS IN THE CHURCH

On reading the admonitions contained in the communication published in this number from the pen of our esteemed brother E. Rittenhouse, a train of reflections have occupied our mind. Of the expediency of giving them wings, or sending them forth for the consideration of our brethren, we are not perfectly certain. But as we profess to hold no secrets on the things which pertain to, or concern, the church of the living God, we venture to expose some of them. And perhaps now, while the communication of brother Rittenhouse, whose equanimity is not so easily discomposed as that of some of us, will be under the consideration of our readers may be the most appropriate time for us to vent our views on the same subject. Although we wish not to detract from his views or to controvert them, we nevertheless feel disposed to present our own.

There may be divisions, disorders and offenses in some of our churches, of which we are not advised, notwithstanding our very widespread correspondence; and certainly our Lord has admonished us of the impossibility of their total absence, but he has added, Wo unto him by whom they come. In almost fifty years experience as a Baptist preacher, we have seldom if ever known a time in which no cases of trouble or division could be found in any churches of our connection; but we had flattered ourself that, considering the dire confusion of almost, if not quite every branch of anti-christ, and the unusually stormy aspect of the religious and political world, the Old School Baptist Church, throughout the States and territories of the American continent, are enjoying a greater degree of quietude and harmony than can be found in any other community on earth. It is not, however, to be denied nor can it be concealed, that in some localities there are painful trials in the churches, in which the ministers of the gospel, if true and faithful to their charge, are necessarily involved more or less. We are now, according to the firm conviction of many of our most sagacious and far-seeing brethren, on the verge of the fulfillment of some important and interesting predictions recorded in divine revelation, in the fulfillment of which some of the most astounding events this lower world has ever witnessed are to be developed. Preparatory to which, Jerusalem seems now to be subjected to a searching as with lighted candles, and many hypocrites and nominal professors are being scourged from our ranks. The “Reed like unto a rod,” so appropriately referred to by our brother R., is being applied with astonishing effect; and all that is not really embodied in the temple of the living God, or in the altar, or found by actual measurement among his true worshipers is being passed over to the Gentiles, or to the uncircumcised.

Now we fully agree with our beloved brother that a factious party spirit should not be allowed to exist among the disciples of Christ; they are commanded to endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, and to follow after the things which make for peace, and the things whereby one may edify another. But, let us not forget that the peace which is to be sought and cherished is that which comes to us from God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. A perfect submission to the doctrine and government of Christ, as the Head over all things to his church, will secure a permanent and valid peace among all the members of his body. Any peace obtained by compromising or sacrificing a particle of the truth, or departure from any of the laws of Christ will prove as deceptive and worthless as that cried by the false prophets when there was no peace. “There is no peace to the wicked, saith your God. For the wicked are like the troubled sea, which continually casts up mire and dirt.” Better we judge that there be parties, and that discordant elements, if found in our churches, be attracted to their appropriate centers, than that we work wood, hay and stubble into a building which is to be tried by a fiery ordeal.

We do not believe that our esteemed brother Rittenhouse would be less opposed than ourself to a peace that would require a sacrifice of truth and righteousness; but we were in fear that some of his remarks would be construed to censure some of our ministers for their uncompromising war upon error. As watchmen whom God has placed upon the walls of Jerusalem, they cannot too vigilantly watch the introduction of counterband doctrines or pernicious heresies which any may attempt to introduce into the church. Their charge is solenm; their responsibility is great. Let them beware!

Should an honest difference of opinion arise among brethren as to what is and what is not counterband, let the reed which is like unto a rod be applied, and let that which will not bear the strict measurement of the scriptures be at once given to the Gentiles.

A comparison of those ministers who have encountered trials and even divisions with those, if indeed any there be, who never have any trouble of the kind, may reflect as severely on those who do not as on those who do have trouble. Paul had considerable trouble at Antioch, at Galatian, and at Corinth, in battling disorder and error among the churches, but we do not read of as much with John and some other of the apostles. The writer of this article has held the pastoral care of churches forty-three years, and never has witnessed a division in the churches of his charge, or any parties formed in any of them, until within the last few months; but this long season of tranquillity has been ascribed to the goodness and grace of God, not to the peaceable proclivities of his disposition.

The Captain of our Salvation, in righteousness doth judge and make war, and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful; and at his command they fight the good fight, contend earnestly for the faith, and shall ultimately triumph through him.

But still, they shall not be crowned except they strive lawfully. No strife for the mastery, no outbursting of passion will bear the measurement of the reed like unto a rod, nor receive the approval of our King. We are commanded to “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17,18).” Now, it is of this kind of disturbers of the peace of Zion we understand our brother to speak. But great care should be taken lest in pulling up tares, we do not root up the wheat also; or when we censure the wrong, we do not implicate those who are right. Here the reed which is like unto a rod measures off to us the exact ground which we are to occupy in the warfare. Those who cause division, make or join parties, and occasion offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned under apostolic tuition, are to be avoided or given to the Gentiles; not retained in the temple, nor allowed at the altar. But those who observe this charge are by it required to mark and avoid the non-conformists. This, indeed, will make what is called parties; but the division will be such as will purge the church from unruly and vain-talkers and deceivers, and consolidate more closely those who conform to the measuring rod.

But while it is unquestionably true that in all former time, not excepting the days when the apostles were on the earth, those who have stood firmly on gospel ground and refused to countenance or wink at any departure from the faith and order of the house of God, have been reproached and reviled as troublesome and pestilent fellows, tight-laced, contentious, bigoted and captious, it is also true that the opposite extreme has been reached by those who are of the Diotrephes school. Neither the ministers nor churches of Christ, nor any of the members of the churches, are permitted to yield any part of the doctrine or order of the gospel, even though it were to avoid divisions, reproaches, persecution, imprisonment, stripes, or death itself; but let it be remembered that the spirit as well as the letter of the law of Christ is indispensable, and no conformity to the letter of the word or rule, in the absence of the spirit and temper of the gospel, will be approved of God. Even the truth may be held in unrighteousness. The apostle exhorts us to “Speak the truth in love.” Not that the heralds of truth are to love everything; for they should eschew evil, hate iniquity, and expose the hidden things of dishonesty. They are called to fight against error, and to contend earnestly for the faith; but this must be done in and under the influence of the love of God, the love of the truth, and the love of the saints. “In meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth: and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”

Brother R. enquires, “Will not the ministration of the gospel, faithfully ministered in its own spirit, bring saints together and restore peace?” Such will undoubtedly be the tendency, and if all the parties involved are governed by the word and spirit of the gospel, there must be harmony. But it is a lamentable truth, that even Christians are not always under the benign influence of the spirit of the gospel; they are sometimes led by the flesh, and while so led may and do resist the faithful application of the word, even when it is ministered in its own spirit.

The importance of Christians or churches being governed by the word and spirit in all things, but more especially in all things pertaining to the order of the house of God, cannot be too highly appreciated. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.” It is a fearful thing to fall under the discipline of a gospel church. “God is in the midst of her.” The King Eternal sits enthroned in Zion, and it were better that any one of her members should have a mill-stone hanged about his neck, and he be cast into the midst of the sea than that such an one should fall under the discipline of the church of God.

“The Son of David holds his throne,
And sits in judgment there.”

We agree with what we understand brother Rittenhouse to mean, that a wholesale exclusion of members, when the laws of Christ and the spirit of the gospel do not direct such expulsion, is an outrage on the order of the church of God, and such exclusions are not valid. But such exclusions seldom, if ever, occur in the church of Christ, however frequent they may occur in communities claiming the name. But, unless our own observation has been at fault, we have witnessed the opposite extreme run into by a class of members who have seemed almost totally indifferent in regard to the authority of Christ in his church. Such have seemed never to have recognized the church as the Judgment Seat of Christ, or as holding any authority to sit in judgment over them. They seem to regard their membership only as a matter of convenience, to be repudiated whenever their inclination is crossed. We have been greatly pained to witness instances, especially during the last few years, in which members have regarded their allegiance to human governments much more sacred than their obligation to be in subjection to the laws of Christ, which govern the church. They will brand as a traitor, and consign to the gallows, one whom they denounce as disloyal to a human government and a seceder from a humanly organized compact, and yet bid defiance to the kingdom of Christ, in the execution of the laws of the King of Glory. In our understanding of this subject, when any, whether few or many, defy the authority of the church, refuse submission to the laws of Christ, and assume a defiant attitude to the church, that church ceases to bear the peculiar marks of a church of God if she fails to withdraw her fellowship from them. Let it not be said to such that their exclusion is not valid. What is bound on earth by the laws of Christ, as expounded to the church by the enthroned apostles, is also bound in heaven. We hold that the laws of men, so far as they do not conflict with the laws of Christ, are binding upon all who live under them; but the laws of Christ, who is the “Only and blessed Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords,” are of infinitely higher importance. He that despised even “Moses’ law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, whereby he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done dispite to the spirit of grace?”

The solemn warning of the apostle Peter, in his second Epistle and second chapter, should be carefully read by those who may regard it as a small matter to forfeit the fellowship of the church of God; or a light thing to “despise government,” and speak evil of dignitaries, being self-willed. Such as have “forsaken the right way, and have gone astray following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (II Peter 2:15).” “For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (II Peter 2:18-22).”

Churches standing on apostolic ground are not responsible for the apostasy of those who leave her communion, disregard their order, or defy their authority. Better for all such to go out than that one particle of the laws and ordinances of the house of God should be violated. If the grace of God in their hearts, and the love of the truth as it is in Jesus, have not sufficient attraction to keep them within the gates of Zion, no unscriptural inducements should be employed. Being duly warned and admonished by the church, if still defiant and incorrigible, the law of Christ demands that they should be put away.

Nor are the ministers of Christ to be held responsible for the existence of divisions, disorders, or parties, provided he has faithfully ministered the word in its letter and in its spirit; for the faithful ministration of the word is designed to discriminate between truth and error, between the precious and the vile, between those who love and fear the Lord, and those who love and fear him not.

If a church becomes corrupted so that the faithful labors of her pastor are unavailing, he may be justified in going where his ministry promises to be more useful. Or if, in the honest judgment of a church, a pastor’s gifts have ceased to edify the church, or if his continuance is the cause of the disturbance, and his removal would secure a better state of harmony and gospel order, it is clearly expedient that he should go to some other field of labor. Indeed, we have been solemnly impressed that there are many excellent and able ministers, whose itinerant labors have been greatly blessed to the edification and comfort of the saints, who seem totally destitute of pastoral gifts. Comparatively few of the primitive ministers of Christ were settled pastors or bishops.

But we cannot regard it as a mark of a good minister of Christ if, when the pastor sees the wolf coming, he shall leave the flock exposed to his ravages and flee away. May the God of our salvation give us wisdom and prudence in applying the “reed which is like unto a rod,” that in ruling out of the temple that which is given to the Gentiles, we reject not that which the rule approves, nor retain that which it condemns; and “see that ye hurt not the oil and the wine.

Middletown, N.Y.
May 1, 1866.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 322 - 328