Many difficult and perplexing questions may be suggested on almost every discriminating point of doctrine and practice by which the church of Christ should be distinguished from every other organization claiming to be religious, but we should impugn the wisdom of our divine law-giver, were we to conclude there was any deficiency in the rule given us in the New Testament for testing the correctness of the faith and practice of the saints.
Perhaps, when difficulties arise, we are too prone to inquire, what is best under the circumstances of the case; whereas the only proper inquiry should be, What is right? What does the word teach? What does the rule require? By the divine rule we are to know what God approves, that do, and leave the result with God. And if any man lacketh wisdom to understand the rule in its application to trying cases, let him ask of God who giveth to every man liberally and upbraideth not. We do not regard it as any departure from the law of Christ to counsel one with another on the subject, for our Lord has constituted his members helpers one of another, but in all our deliberations and investigations we should bear in mind the supremacy of Christ as our Head, and of his laws as our rule.
As we read the divine law in regard to christian baptism, it is both definite and clear. The candidate should be a believer, making profession of his faith in the Lord Jesus, and confessing his sins. We care not how old or how young, provided he .can so bring forth fruit meet for repentance as to satisfy us that he has a right to the ordinance. The administrator must be, at the time of administering baptism, recognized by a gospel church as a regular ordained minister of the gospel, sustained by the fellowship of the church as her servant. Then the ordinance must be administered according to the precept and example given by our Lord Jesus Christ. A departure from any of these regulations, in our estimation, renders the administration null and void. Neither the sincerity nor honesty of administrator or candidate can supply the deficiency if these rules are any of them neglected.
Now, while we presume brother Strickland agrees with us in the foregoing remarks, a difficulty is presented in determining the indispensable qualifications of the administrator. But, as neither the prerogative nor ability to search the hearts or to try the reins of the children of men belong to us, instead of our being required to decide whether the administrator or the candidate is a subject of grace or a hypocrite, we are only to look to the precepts of Christ, from these learn whether he has authorized us to extend or to withhold an expression of fellowship. If therefore a candidate asks baptism, confessing his sins, giving scriptural evidence that he repents of them, and professing faith in Jesus, however weak he may be in the faith, or whatever may have been his previous course of life, we do not feel at liberty to reject him, and if he imposes upon the church or the administrator by making a false profession, the guilt is on his own head. The church and the administrator are clear, provided that they have been faithful in the investigation of the matter.
As the administrator must be indorsed or sustained by the fellowship of the church of God, in order to make his administration of the ordinance valid, it becomes a question with us, how far a church of Christ may be involved in disorder and still be a church of Christ. Let us have the assurance that the administrator stands in the fellowship of the church of Christ at the time of the administration, and that gives the ordinance validity which we dare not annul. The Corinthian church, and the churches of Galatia, had become to some extent disorderly, but did not lose their standing as apostolic churches. The validity of the baptism of such as were added to them while in a disorderly or bewitched state, was not questioned as we are informed. Associations and churches may extend or withhold their immediate correspondence one with another, without effecting their standing as regular churches of Christ. But if fellowship is broken, and the expression of it withdrawn, it is manifestly inconsistent, to still regard their administrations valid gospel administrations, if the churches cannot be regarded as gospel churches. The cases mentioned by brother Strickland, are probably very trying cases, but the question on which our decision must rest in this matter is, Are they churches of Christ or not? If they are, we have no right to reject them because they have in some measure become disorderly, but labor in meekness and faithfulness to reclaim them. But if they have been labored with and have persisted in disorder until the divine rule has compelled the orderly churches to withdraw fellowship from them, then let them be unto thee as heathen men and as publicans were to the Jews, and let their baptism be unto thee as though it had been administered by publicans or heathens.
It is very important and desirable that our churches should decide and act harmoniously on this subject, or their peace and harmonious correspondence will become involved. The churches which profess to be of the Primitive or Old School order, with but very few exceptions, have taken the same view of the subject which we have expressed, and have acted accordingly. But such churches as have disrespected the general usage of the Old School, have received persons on what is generally regarded as invalid baptism, have opened a door for divisions.
Should persons, wishing to become members of one of our churches, find that we cannot indorse their baptism, that, in a gospel sense, we consider them unbaptized, they may make a bridge of a neighboring church which will receive them without baptism, and then come to us with a letter from a church with which we have been, and still are in all other respects in fellowship, and in such case compel us to reject what they have indorsed. How can two or more walk together, except they are agreed? While we all desire the peace of Jerusalem, and the order of the house of God, let us be exceedingly cautious how we act, in all matters involving the union, harmony and fellowship of those who belong to the household of faith.
Middletown, N. Y.
March 15, 1860.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 326 - 328