Alabama, Feb. 3, 1868.
Brother Beebe: I hope you will not be offended if I tell you of some of the troubles the Old School Baptists encounter in this part of the country. A question has arisen in regard to the rights of members of our churches to connect themselves with secret societies, or worldly institutions of any other description. Some hold that if a church member joins a secret organization, he is out of order, and if a church of which he is a member tolerates it, she is also out of order, and will be until she withdraws fellowship from the offender (unless he be reclaimed).
Others claim that a member joining such societies or institutions will be in order so long as he does not allow his attachment for such institutions to draw him from his regular church meetings.
The question was laid before our Association, asking for advice, and the Association advised the churches to withdraw fellowship from all who visit secret organizations, called benevolent, etc. Now the question with me is, Can the Association sustain herself? Or, in other words, Is the Association a separate body, and above the churches? Some say she is, or is trying to be. Or is she a combination of churches, or saints, associated for the purpose of exhorting the saints to faithfulness?
As I am young in the cause, and desire to walk in the right path, I have felt inclined to ask you to point out the course pursued by the churches of your acquaintance. What I want is scriptural evidence, let it be for or against the advice of the Association. Your views on this subject will oblige
Your unworthy brother,
Reply: The consideration of each of the above named subjects seems to us to be involved with the questions submitted by our brother Jackson, of Alabama. Some of them, however, have been agitated in other localities, and all of them appear to be of sufficient importance to warrant a careful investigation. The legality or utility of any mere human institution of the world, for worldly purposes, may be settled upon worldly principles, by the people of the world, without the sanction either of the Scriptures or the church of God. But inasmuch as the church of God is the body and kingdom of Christ, over which he himself presides as Head, and supreme and only Potentate, the subjects of his kingdom must be in subordination to such rules only as bear the seal of his divine approval.
Whatever use the world may have for secret societies, as worldly institutions, we leave the world to decide; but for those who are called out of the world, and into the kingdom of Christ, which is not of the world, to patronize them conflicts with their holy calling to come out of the world, and their pledge to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil; and be satisfied with the fullness, fatness and goodness of the house of God. It implies a lack of social enjoyment in the house of God when those who profess to be of the household seek companionship, and look for society and social enjoyments in any other society; but there are more serious objections to church members going into secret societies, as all their mind should be open to their kindred in Christ. But such secret societies as bind their members by oaths or penalties to keep their secrets are in direct violation of the law of Christ, which expressly forbids them to forswear themselves; and therefore cannot be justified on any plea whatever.
The inducements generally urged for joining such oath-bound, or other secret institutions are, that it secures their friendship, and aid when in distress. But let it be remembered that the friendship of the world is enmity to God; and to go to these institutions for aid or indemnity against suffering and want is manifestly to distrust God. It is to go down to Egypt for help; whereas, "God is the help of Israel, and the Savior thereof in the time of trouble." "The Lord is my shepherd," said the Psalmist, "I shall not want." One more suggestion, and we will pass. Church members are solemnly pledged in covenant to watch over one another, and not to suffer sin to rest on one another. This solemn pledge must be violated if some of the members so pledged go in secret conclaves where their brethren have no access.
What are the Reserved Rights of Church Members? Much is said about the rights of members over which the church holds no dominion, or for the exercise of which they are not amenable to the church. Now if we have any such rights, they must be reserved rights which we retained when we gave ourselves to Christ, and by his will to one another. What are they? In searching the ancient records, we find but very few examples of the doctrine of reservation. When Naaman, the Syrian, was cured of his leprosy and professed faith in the God of Israel, and pledged himself to offer no more burnt offerings nor sacrifice to any other gods, but unto the Lord only, one reservation he proposed to make. "In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing (II Kings 5:18)." This, and perhaps the case of Ananias and Sapphira, recorded in Acts 5:1-10, will suffice for examples. We know of no other instances more in point than the seven women who proposed to be called by the name of one man, reserving the right to eat their own bread and wear their own apparel. (See Isaiah 4:1.) But neither in these nor in any other instances can we find any license given for admitting into the fellowship of the saints those who are not willing to forsake all, surrender all, and unreservedly bow their necks to the yoke of the Lord Jesus.
"As ye have received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in him." Now come to the point at once, and tell us, Christian, how did you receive Jesus? When quickened to a sense of your guilty, condemned and perishing condition, when you stood arraigned at the bar of eternal Justice, and the sword of retribution was drawn, flaming and red, and vengeance could be no longer deferred, what then were your facilities for making a contract - for stipulating what you were, and what you were not to surrender? You were not in condition to say to the Lord, If thy salvation be extended to me, I will divide the control of myself with thee. And when Jesus was presented and you received him, did you feel inclined to reserve from him or to yourself any rights or privileges? And when you came to Zion's pearly gates, and asked to be admitted to the fellowship and communion of the saints of the most high God, what were then and there your reservations? Did you then feel inclined to say, If admitted I will submit to the laws of Christ, to the order of his church, and to the institutions of his kingdom, whenever it suits my convenience? I will obey the precepts of the King of Zion when I can do so without crossing my fleshly inclinations, and when it will not involve my pecuniary or other worldly interests? Did you reserve the right to consult your own feelings or fleshly inclination as to when to attend her assemblies and when to forsake her courts? Did you reserve the right to serve another master beside the Lord Jesus? If not, what did you reserve? The primitive saints sold all they had, and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet. And no disciple among them called aught that he possessed his own. Is not that rule still in force? We do not understand that our possessions of earthly substance, of which God has made us stewards, should be laid at the feet of any but the real apostles of the Lamb, who sit enthroned to rule in judgment over all the affairs of the spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. If indeed we are of the true and spiritual Israel, all that we have and all that we are, spiritual or temporal, for time or eternity, lies at the feet of the apostles; and to be applied as they, in their divinely authorized interpretation of the laws of Christ, shall dictate. If at their bidding we are called to deny ourselves; to mortify the deeds of the body; to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; to forsake father, mother, wife, husband, parents or children; or to even lay down our life for the sake of our Redeemer, is there anything we have a right to withhold?
Among mere nominal professors of religion, nothing perhaps is more common than their boast of independence, to do every one that which is right in his own eyes; and they deny the authority which Christ has invested his church with, to enforce the laws and discipline of his house. Some claim the right to transgress the laws of Zion in one, and some in another, particular. But whence have Christians any such rights? They are not their own; they are bought with a price. They are members one of another, and so related one to all the others, that no one can be independent of all the others of the same body. If a brother, being a member of the church, has a right to disregard the order of the gospel, and unite with a secret, oath-bound league, or lodge, and bury himself a portion of his time out of the watch care of the church of which he is a member, has not another a right to gratify his carnal inclination in visiting the theater, the ball room, the billiard, or the card table; and where will this kind of self-indulgence stop?
None should take on them the sacred name of Jesus until they are willing to forsake all for him; and we will add, none who are ready and willing to give up all for Christ, should remain an hour out of the church of God. "If ye love me," says Jesus, "keep my commandments." But he has also told us that except we deny ourselves, and take our cross, and follow him, we cannot be his disciples.
But, what of the independence of churches? The bride of Christ cannot be independent of her husband; the body of Christ cannot be independent of her Head; nor can the members of Christ be independent one of another; nor can one member say to another, I have no need of thee. The various branches of the church of Christ are mutually dependent one on the others; for, they all are the branches of the same vine, they are quickened by the same life, governed by the same rules, and inseparably connected by joints and bands; one body, one spirit, and called in the same hope of their calling. No church, or branch of the church of God, has any separate interest, hence no separate authority.
Much has been said in modern times of the independence of the churches. This subject should be well defined; for although the church is independent of all human wisdom, aid and dominion, she is not independent of the laws of Christ. No higher grades of ecclesiastical or civil authority can hold dominion over the church; but when we consider the unity of the church as the body of Christ, we see that there can be no division of interest. If any organization, claiming to be a church of Christ, and recognized as such, shall depart from the faith and order of the gospel, she cannot, on the plea of independence, sustain herself in her disorderly course. All churches that adhere to, and are governed by the laws of Christ, will be compelled to drop such disorderly organizations from their connection, if they cannot reclaim them.
No church is invested with authority from Christ to act independently of the law which Christ has given for the government of his church in all her branches. Hence all the acts of any branch of the church, as defined by the apostles, who hold the keys of the kingdom, are bound on earth and bound in heaven; and every other branch of the church on earth must and will respect and abide by such action. If any other branches shall become dissatisfied with the acts, the faith or order of a sister branch, it is their right and duty to inquire of such church the ground and manner of their action, or concerning their faith and practice. And we hold it to be the duty of every branch to hold all their proceedings open to the investigation of all, or any of the sister churches; otherwise harmony and fellowship cannot be maintained among the churches of the saints. It is quite as essential that churches shall be in harmony as for the members of each branch to be united. If, therefore, one church becomes dissatisfied with what they understand to be the proceedings of a sister church, let such churches correspond with each other on the subject, not in a haughty or dictatorial way, but in love; but let neither attempt to shield herself by a plea of church independence, for churches, no more than individuals, are vested with a right to do wrong.
When one church assumes the right to annul, or disregard the acts of another church, they not only break fellowship with each other, but trample upon the authority of Christ himself. Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. But lastly, we will offer a few remarks on
The authority of Associations. Old School or Primitive Baptist Associations are designed to promote harmony and sweet fellowship, concert of action and unanimity of sentiment by meeting periodically for the worship of God, and for a friendly correspondence of such churches as are in full fellowship. At such convocations the several churches so uniting agree to send messengers, (not delegates, for churches have no power that is transferable, and therefore can delegate none) and by their messengers also send letters, showing the state of the churches, and of their steadfastness in the faith and order of the house of God. These associations are clothed with neither legislative nor executive power, to make laws, or rules, nor to hold dominion over the churches. Yet having all the authority of the laws of Christ, to regulate their worship, that they would have if not in association, to regulate their correspondence with the churches of which they are composed, and with sister associations.
The paramount object of such association is to cultivate love and fellowship among all who are of one heart and one mind, and by correspondence and personal acquaintance to restrict their fellowship and correspondence to those, and those only, who bear the yoke of him who is meek and lowly. All churches and brethren who do the truth, desire to me come to the light, that it may be manifest that their deeds are wrought in God. While associations, as such, disclaim the right to sit as an ecclesiastical court, or court of appeals, or to hold the least dominion over churches, the they nevertheless hold the right to refuse to recognize any as being of our :ion faith and order, or entitled to our fellowship, who walk disorderly in faith whip or practice. They are competent to drop from their connection, apostatizing churches; and to refuse expressions of fellowship to those who depart mach from the faith: but let it be remembered that this right they have, not by virtue of their associational relations, but because all the saints are commanded to withdraw from every brother that walks disorderly. And to y or "Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine by which they have received, and avoid them." Thus it will be perceived that our duty to mark, and avoid and withdraw from and hold no fellowship with such as repudiate the laws of Christ, as defined by his inspired apostles, of is imperatively binding on all the saints and churches, whether associated or unassociated. If associations, lest they should infringe upon the rights and independence of churches, or from fear of any other evil, should not be allowed the right to obey the voice of the apostles, then such associations would be unlawful, inasmuch as it would disable those associated to obey the precepts of our King.
From what we have written, brother Jackson will understand us to are in hold that all secret societies, but more especially such as require an oath agree of secrecy, are unlawful for the disciples of Christ. No Christian can take hat is the pledge without disobedience to Christ. Of the merits or demerits of such lodges, leagues, or by whatever name they may be called, as worldly institutions, we have nothing to say or do, but those who would be Christ's ns are disciples, and enjoy the fellowship of the church of God must come out and be separate. "Then are ye my disciples indeed, if ye do whatsoever I command you." The same rule which forbids our connection with the secret institutions alluded to, also in our judgment forbids a connection of Christians with any and all the popular religious institutions of "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots, and Abominations of the Earth." "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 (II Corinthians 6:17,18)."
March 15, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7