Rippon, Wisconsin, Jan. 12, 1860.
Friend Beebe: Although a stranger, yet I take the liberty of addressing you. I happened to get a few copies of your paper, through a friend, a short time ago; I have taken much pleasure in reading them; they have unfolded to my mind many things which have always appeared hidden things to me. I feel that it is the true doctrine which you defend. I am placed in a very unpleasant situation at present, and I would be pleased to have your views in regard to what action I should take in the matter. In the spring of 1857 I became awakened to a sense of my lost condition, and indulged a hope that Christ had washed away my sins, and that through him I had obtained forgiveness. I felt that it was necessary I should unite with the church. The question arose in my mind as to what church I should join. I became convinced there was but one mode of baptism. Thus far I thought I was a Baptist, but then I found a great wall in that church, which I could not get over, which was the doctrine of election. I had a conversation with the pastor of the Baptist church, and he gave me to understand that their doctrine was “softened down a great deal” from that of the Old School, and, in fact, as he explained it, there was more of the Arminian doctrine about it than there was of the Regular Baptists’. I united with the church, and for a while thought I enjoyed myself in attending prayer and covenant meetings; but I soon began to study their doctrine, and I felt that it was impossible to make it harmonize; one portion was in direct conflict with the other. I believe that I tried as hard to believe it as any one ever did, but I could not reconcile my mind to both portions, but found that the Arminian portion of it suited my views the best, yet still I could not rest satisfied with that. I often doubted that God had spoken peace to my soul, and felt that I was wandering in darkness, and could not discern truth from error. I read the Bible, but it was a sealed book to me, I could not understand it, I thought at times that it taught the free-will doctrine, and then again I would find passages which were so plain on election that I could not get around; and thus matters passed along for two years or more. I became cold and indifferent, neglecting the prayer and covenant meetings; I felt that I could not enjoy myself in the meetings of the church; I could not feel the same interest that I did when I first united with the church. I saw so much of the follies and fashions of the world in the church that I was led to doubt that the Spirit of the Lord was with them; they were so mixed up with the world.
About six weeks ago I began to get awakened as to the course that I was pursuing; I felt that I was not doing my duty as a church member or a christian. I chanced to read an article in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, on God’s electing grace, wherein was quoted many passages of Scripture which seemed new to me. I then began to read the Bible anew; it seemed that the scales had fallen from my eyes, and the Bible was a new book to me. Although I had read a chapter every morning and evening for nearly three years, and read it a considerable besides in the meantime, yet it suddenly seemed to unfold a new doctrine to me, there seemed to be so much there that I had never seen before. The doctrine of election was written so plain that I wondered that I had never seen it before. I felt that I could not remain with the church, believing they held erroneous doctrines. I attended the church meetings and asked to be dismissed, but was told there was no such thing as withdrawing from the church, and that I could not get out of the church unless by expulsion or death. I have since had a conversation with the pastor, and he told me he did not think it was profitable to be looking after those points of doctrine. He thought it was so designed by God that christians should differ, for if they all believed in one doctrine they would become careless, and would not read the Scriptures; he said he believed in election as strong as any Old School Baptist, but he went farther; he believed in man’s free agency. I told him I could not make it harmonize. He said he could not, but seemed to think it was immaterial. I cannot feel at home in the church, nor I do not feel it my privilege to commune with them. I do not wish to be recognized as a member, but do not know what action to take, for they will not dismiss me, but still wish me to remain with them, but I cannot, for I feel that the church is groping in darkness, and they they do not hold the true doctrine as taught by the apostles. I feel that I have a hope in Jesus, and that if ever I am saved, it would not be anything that I have done, or can do, for when I would do good, evil is before me, but that it must be entirely by grace through Jesus Christ. Please give your views in regard to what course I should pursue in regard to the church, and oblige.
HENRY M. LOVELESS.
Reply: The trying circumstances which so greatly perplex our friend, are by no means strange or unusual. Very many of God’s dear children have in their early experience been allured by what they have mistaken for the church, the doctrine and the ordinances of the kingdom of Christ, and have afterwards been enlightened to see their mistake, and to feel themselves to be starving in a foreign land. Some of the children of God are seemingly born at once into a clear understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus, but very many are brought to rejoice in their early love, their burden of guilt is removed, their deep depression of mind relieved, and they feel an assurance that their sins are forgiven, and that love which transports them, like the infant gaze of a new-born babe, seems to regard everything which professes the name of Christ as equally lovely. The unrenewed nature which remains in them is still fond of a work-mongrel system, and they are easily drawn into the snares of the enemy. But if they have indeed passed from death unto life, the Lord will not suffer them to live comfortably in such company, or to feed and fatten on such doctrine. That which is born of God can only feed on the Bread of Life which comes down from God, while earthly religion can feed and feast on earthly things. As all the children of the kingdom shall be taught of God, and as every one that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto Christ, so those who have been scattered in the dark and cloudy day, shall be gathered by our gracious Shepherd’s arm, and carried in his bosom.
Our friend appeals to us for counsel. We refer him to 2 Cor. vi. 17, 18: “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” As to the manner of coming out, no letter of dismission or of commendation is required. If they be the church of God they will listen to his word, obey his precepts, walk in his statues, and maintain the doctrine, order and ordinances of the gospel, and then there will be no occasion for coming out. But if they only have a form of godliness and deny the power thereof, then from such, God’s children are commanded to turn away. If our friend can regard the people with whom he has stood connected, as the church of Christ, then he is bound to remain with them and be subject to their rules and authority, but if he is convinced that they are not the church of Christ, although he may indulge the hope that there are some of God’s children among them, he is commanded to come out and be separate from them.
Their expulsion has no terror in it. It is but the withdrawal of a professed fellowship, a mere nominal fellowship, on their part, as, if we understand him, he has already withdrawn his fellowship from them. How then could they give, or how could he consistently receive from them a letter of dismission in fellowship? If there is fellowship, why come out? And if there be no fellowship, why ask for a letter certifying full communion and fellowship?
With the statement contained in the above letter, any Old School or Regular Baptist church would receive him on a profession of his faith as a candidate for gospel baptism, the same as though he had never been connected with a false church, if satisfied with the relation of his christian experience. Of course, the Old Order of Baptists cannot recognize the baptism administered by those outside the fellowship of what we regard to be the church of God, for if their baptism is valid, then their order and standing are also valid, and there is no occasion for leaving them. But if convinced that they are not the church of God, as you had supposed them to be when you joined them, and from a conviction of this you are constrained to come out from them, remember that in coming out you are to be separate, and to touch not the unclean thing. We wish to deal tenderly, but at the same time honestly and faithfully with our inquiring correspondent, on this subject. If now convinced that the church with which you have been connected is impure and unclean, and not such an one as you would now apply to for baptism, certainly their administration of baptism must be unclean, for it is written, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” - Job xiv. 4. If then the church be unclean, she cannot sustain a clean ministry, and if her minister be unclean, the thing administered by him is also unclean, and however honestly or with however much sincerity you received the administration at his unclean hands, in the reception of it you touched an unclean thing. Do not then bring the unclean thing out with you, but cut entirely loose, and discard all that is polluted.
While on this subject we will also notice a letter of inquiry, which we have had on hand for a long time, and which involves the same subject in part as the above. The letter is from our brother, Elder James Strickland, of Indiana. The following is a copy:
Gibson Co., Ind., Aug. 18, 1859.
Dear Brother Beebe: The universal practice of the Old School Baptists in this part of the country has been, and is now, to reject the baptism of all other denominations of professed christians, on the ground of the illegality of the administration of the ordinance; and therefore we require them to be baptized. Now we will suppose a case, about which I desire counsel from my brethren, for I feel somewhat difficulted on the subject, and do not know how to act. The case is this: A man comes to your church and asks for membership, telling you that he loves your church, and your doctrine, that he is willing to obey her rules, but that he has been a member of the Missionary Baptists, and was baptized in the fellowship of said church by a man that he believed was a christian, (and you believed the same) and was called of God to preach, and that if he ever knew anything about regeneration, and sanctifying grace, it was before he was baptized, and that in his baptism he verily believed that he received the answer of a good conscience toward God, and was fully and entirely satisfied with his baptism, but notwithstanding all this, he was willing to be baptized by you, in order to obtain fellowship in your church. (I use the term your church, meaning the Old School Baptist, or Church of Christ.) In this case what would you do; and your reasons?
There is still another question about receiving members, and that is this: It is a well known fact that there are a great many factions among the Old School Baptists that are not numbered among the Missionary or Arminian Baptists. These factions have split off from us on some doctrinal questions, and it has become us to withdraw our correspondence and our fellowship from them. Now, inasmuch as we have withdrawn our fellowship from them, is it order to receive their baptism? Have we done so? What say you? We are aware that many who call themselves Old School Baptists have embraced errors that we cannot fellowship, having as much fellowship for the Missionary Baptists as what we have for them. Therefore, if we receive the baptism of any so-called Baptists, with whom we do not correspond, and have fellowship, should we not receive the baptism of all that call themselves Baptists?
The next matter of inquiry is, Is not the church of Christ the highest ecclesiastical authority known on earth, and has she not a right to determine all matters in relation to membership in her body, as she in her wisdom may think just and right? Can she concede or give away this right in her compact with other churches in forming an association?
There are still other questions of grave importance that I may at some future day propound, provided the above questions are met and answered in as kind a spirit as I hope I feel in asking them. I am young in the ministry, and have not that knowledge in the management of churches, as would make me feel free in acting in these matters without the counsel of my brethren that have both age and experience, as well as the good of the cause at heart. Therefore, all that feel an interest in the peace of Zion, are requested to give information.
Dear brother, God has been pleased to visit us, and revive his work in our midst. There has been fifty-five added to the church that I belong to, and still the work is going on. Many of the churches of our association have been much refreshed.
Yours in hope of eternal life,
Reply: The first inquiry we have answered in our reply to our friend Loveless. We do not regard it as our duty to search the hearts nor try the reins of the children of men, that is what none but God can do. But we are to be regulated in extending or withholding our church fellowship by the rule which God has given us. The reality of the regenerated state of the candidate or of the administrator is not what we are capable of judging. But whether the administrator stands connected with and sustained by the fellowship of an orderly church of Christ, we are competent to judge, and we are required to judge. Hence, in replying to the first interrogative of brother Strickland, we say, with due deference to the judgment of the church, whose servant we are, We should decline to baptize them on our faith, and prefer that they should remain unbaptized until they, for themselves, should see and feel the necessity of walking in the order which we believe to be the order of the gospel and kingdom of Christ. And our reason for this decision is the want of Bible authority for baptizing any but believers.
In reply to the second inquiry of brother Strickland, we say, If the factions which have split off from us are so far departed from the faith and order of the gospel as to be rejected from the fellowship of what we regard to be the church of Christ, then they are to us as heathen men, and as publicans, equally with the New School or Missionary Baptists, so called, which have been excluded from our fellowship, and all their religious administrations to us are equally null and void.
The third inquiry. The church of Christ is undoubtedly the highest ecclesiastical authority on earth, but she has not a particle of authority to determine any matter in relation to her own or any other members, or anything else, only as the matter is already determined in the rule given in the New Testament. When the church, or any individual, departs from the laws of Christ, she or they act without divine authority, and their decisions are illegal and invalid. The church has no power to concede or delegate any right, or authority vested in her to any other ecclesiastical body, counsel, or association whatever.
We have candidly expressed our convictions on the questions involved in the two foregoing letters, and in doing so believe we have expressed the order and practice of the church of God generally, which order and practice appear to us to be clearly laid down for our guide in the New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we submit what we have written to the consideration of our brethren and to the household of faith generally.
Middletown, N. Y.
February 1, 1860.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 298 - 305