CHURCH FELLOWSHIP

Much Esteemed Brother Beebe: I once more drop you a few lines. We have passed through hard times, and troublesome times, and dangerous times, in this country, but through the mercies of an all wise Creator and Benefactor, we are yet alive, and among the living, and peace is now measurably restored, and we put our trust in him who said, “I am the Resurrection and the life.” If you will not think me troublesome, I would like to ask a few questions as you are an old man, and have been acquainted with Baptists and Baptist usages for a long time. Did they receive members in the church when there was no fellowship in the church, or did they go to and try to restore fellowship? The United Baptists have laid aside the call for fellowship, but the regulars still call for fellowship here; and if broken, they try to restore it, and then travel on, when the cloud is taken up, or removed; but while the cloud of disunion or non-fellowship hangs lowering over us, we do not travel. If the Regular or Old School Baptists have done away with the rule of calling for fellowship, how long since? I learned from an old member of Double Spring Church it was done away there in that church in 1827 or 28, about the time the split took place, when nearly all went off with the Missionary movement. If it is not too much trouble, or to impertinent, please answer through the “Signs of the Times” and also which do you look on as the door in to the visible church, fellowship or baptism? I will not ask any more at present, lest it keep out more interesting matter.

Yours in Christian love,
Charles Hunsaker.
Oakpoint, Missouri.
April 15, 1866.

Reply to enquiries of brother Hunsaker: We are not sure that we fully comprehend the questions proposed by our brother, in all their bearings, but we feel bound to the extent of our ability, which is limited, to give such views as we have on any and all subjects relating to the faith, order, ordinances and discipline of the church of Christ, whenever called on to do so. In regard to fellowship, we hold,

First, that gospel fellowship cannot exist out of the church of God. Other religious bodies may call themselves churches as those blasphemers of whom John wrote in Revelation 2:9, and Revelation 3:8, calling themselves Jews, who were not, but did lie, for they are the synagogue of Satan, but their profession without gospel fellowship does not make them a gospel church. As no confederacy of persons can be a church of God but those who are born of God, and called in one hope of their calling, having one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, one God and father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all, so neither can the church of Christ be recognized as such where the unity of the Spirit is not kept in the bond of peace. In the organization of the gospel church at Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, all the constituent members gladly received, and steadfastly continued in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers. They were of one heart and one mind. Laying all that they were, and all they possessed at the apostles’ feet, calling nought that they possessed their own, they fully submitted themselves to be governed entirely, and in all things, by the rules laid down by the inspired and enthroned apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. All who can now be recognized as members of the church of God must hold themselves and all they possess subject to the instructions, orders and decisions of the same apostles, all of which will be found written in the New Testament.

Second, in the reception of members, the church should be in union, love and fellowship, without which they have no right to claim to be the church of the First Born, for how can any but the church receive members into the church? The various branches of anti-christ, who imitate the gospel mode of baptism, but who are not embraced in the fellowship of the gospel church, cannot receive members for her, nor administer ordinances which the church can consider valid; for how can they baptize or receive members into our fellowship, who are not themselves in our fellowship?

Third, in the reception of members, there are three particulars in which fellowship should be considered:

A. The general fellowship existing in the church, by which she must be identified as such. The fellowship being with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, and this characteristic fellowship can only be manifested by a steadfast continuance in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. There may be disorderly and unruly members connected, if their disorder and disregard for gospel rule be not approved by the church, without disqualifying her for the discharge of her duties; her travel is indispensable in the execution of the order of the house of God. She is not at liberty to stop her travel, because there are refractory members, under process of discipline, and she is not therefore disqualified from receiving members to her communion.

B. The unanimity of the church in regard to the reception of members has always, so far as we are advised, been considered indispensable in our Old School Baptist churches. Still should the church generally feel satisfied, and one or more should object, the church should carefully investigate the objection and decide whether it be right or wrong, and the objector in such case should submit to the judgment of the church in that case.

C. The applicant for membership should give satisfactory evidence that he or she is in fellowship with the church, born again of the same Spirit, and led to rejoice in the same Christ, trust in the same finished salvation, feed upon the same spiritual food, and believing the same doctrine, an evidence of which is desiring to take the yoke of Christ, and willing and ready to give up all things else which are incompatible with the Christian walk, and be subject to all the laws, ordinances, rules and regulations of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. All who can bring these evidences will be most cordially received, however weak, trembling, or unworthy they may feel themselves to be.

We know of no Old School Baptist churches that have suspended or laid aside any rule which is laid down by the apostles; for should they do so, they would cease to be Old School Baptists. All the school recognized by them in religious matters is the school of Christ and his apostles. We know of no Old School churches who receive members without the unanimous agreement of all the members present.

If by the door into the visible church our brother means the public and formal recognition of persons uniting as visible members of the church, we regard baptism as the ordinance by which they are so made visible. We may, and do, gain a fellowship with those who give evidence that they are born of God and led by his Spirit, but we can have no unbaptized members in a visible Baptist church. As Jordan separated between the wilderness and Canaan, so Jordan, or gospel baptism, divides between the world and the anti-typical land of milk and honey to the spiritual Israelites now. Baptism without fellowship, however visible, can only fill up the church with nominal members, but fellowship for the persons who desire membership, as to their being subjects of grace and proper subjects for baptism, without baptism cannot make them visible members, nor gratify them for a seat at the Lord’s table, nor for any other of the peculiar privileges of church members.

As to the order of usages of the so-called Missionary, Free Will, or United Baptists, we know but very little, and we care still less. The church of Christ is a unit, with the faith and practice, given by Christ, and expounded by his apostles.

We may have missed in our remarks the points on which our views were desired, but we have replied according to our understanding of them, and what we have written we submit to the consideration of brother Hunsaker, and our readers generally, with strong desire that they may be useful to some extent at least to some enquiring minds.

Middletown, N.Y.
June 1, 1866.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 343 - 346