LETTERS OF DISMISSION

“BROTHER BEEBE: – The apostle saith, ‘Be of the same mind,’ &c., and we do think it very important indeed that the people of God should be well established in the truth; not only in the doctrine of the gospel in reference to the plan of redemption, but in the discipline of the church; and as a difference of opinion exists among our brethren in this part of the country on a subject which has caused some trouble, (and is not yet settled,) I thought I would request you or some of your correspondents to give their views on the same through the SIGNS; and let it be fully investigated. Should you be disposed to give your views, and they should differ from some others, then let those give theirs.

“The question is: ‘When a member receives a letter of recommendation and dismission from a church, with liberty to join another church of the same faith, is he or she still accountable to the church from which they have received such letter until they are joined to another? Especially when they continue in the same place and within the bounds of the same church which gave the letter, and perhaps are guilty of immoral conduct, which is better known to the church that gave the letter than any other, and other churches are perhaps communing with such members because they have such letter, when they cannot be admitted by the church which gave the letter, and perhaps such member be a minister.’

Yours in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,
REED BURRITT.”

WITH the Old School Baptists we think there can be but one opinion in regard to the matter of inquiry submitted by our brother. When a member is received by any church, he continues a member until he is regularly disconnected, which may be by dismission in fellowship, exclusion from fellowship, or by death. If he is disconnected by dismission in fellowship, his letter is a passport from the church from which he received it to some church of the same faith and order; and such letters can only provide that when the bearer is regularly received into such a church as his letter allows him to join he is dismissed from the immediate discipline and watchful care of the church where he has formerly held his membership, but not before. A member can only be dismissed into the world by exclusion. All letters transferring members from one church to another are made to read, “when received by you – dismissed by us.” Therefore, a person having obtained such a letter from his church stands in the same relation and is equally amenable to it, until he has become actually a member of another church of the same faith and order as through he had never received such a letter. No orderly brother, whether a minister or otherwise, would wish to be shielded from the wholesome discipline of the church; nor can any orderly church fail to exercise her authority in calling an erring brother to order, because he shrinks from investigation by shielding himself under his letter of dismission which cannot take effect so long as he retains it in his own hands. It is always a suspicious circumstance and calculated to injure the reputation of a brother, when he holds on to his letter beyond a reasonable time; especially if he has an opportunity to unite with a church of his order; but as in a case supposed in the query, a person guilty of departure from the order of faith of the gospel, would endeavor to prevent a fair investigation of his conduct by pleading that he is not amenable to any church, because he holds a letter, he should be required to return his letter to the church that gave it, and appear also and answer to the charges that may be against him in the church, and on his refusing to do so, he should be excluded, and if he still refuse to give up the letter, he should be published as an excluded person, that other churches of the order be not imposed on by him.

The course of the order which we have briefly sketched, so far as our knowledge extends, is the uniform order of all our Old School Baptist churches. This rule, however, has no bearing upon churches which are not in our correspondence or fellowship. There are cases where persons become dissatisfied with churches which they believe have departed from the faith and order of the gospel, and on that account desire to withdraw their membership from such corrupt churches, as commanded of God to do; in all such cases we believe it is improper to ask for or receive letters of dismission, as the asking for a letter implies that they are satisfied with the faith and order, and only ask to be transferred to another o the same faith and order, which is not the case, and is, therefore, dishonest. If a member does not conscientiously believe that the church to which he is connected has departed from the faith and order of the gospel, he should not withdraw from it only to unit where the very same faith and order is held; and if his honest conviction is that the church is in disorder and not in the faith, he is bound by his allegiance to Christ, to protest against the disorder and heresy, and withdraw without asking for or consenting to recognize them in their disorder as an orderly church, by asking for or receive a letter. The asking for or receiving a letter is a virtual declaration of fellowship. Many have reasoned thus: “I only want a letter to show that the church has nothing against me, or to shield my character,” &c. But how can it be that the church and the individual are at antipodes in faith and practice, and yet the church has nothing against him? And is this not, at least, an effort to avoid the offence of the cross? It is human policy, it is conferring with flesh and blood, it is making provision for the flesh, and it is inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel. True, we are not to court persecution; but it is equally true we ought not to shun it when it is for righteousness’ sake. If a person in good faith should become a member of a professed church of Christ, and that church should prove to be a Mormon, Mahometan, or Jewish congregation, should he ask for a letter in fellowship to join a body of the same order, would he act consistently? By no means; yet it would be no more inconsistent than in the cases supposed above. Or should a Pagan, Jew, or Turk apply for admission into a regular Old School Baptist church, and present a letter of transfer, certifying that he is a member and in full fellowship with either of these bodies, would he not be required to renounce such connection, and be received only on profession of the faith of the gospel?

New Vernon, N.Y.,
April 1, 1845

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 536 – 539