TEST OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP

If all who profess faith in our Lord Jesus Christ were really what that profession implies, walking in the faith and order of the gospel, no test would be required in order to separate the precious from the vile, the genuine from the spurious, or the believer from the infidel. But, as many false prophets are gone out into the world, it has become expedient that the saints of God shall try the spirits, which may from time to time claim their fellowship, whether they be of God. This they are commanded to do, and that they may try them fairly and decide righteously, an infallible standard is given in the word by which we are to know every spirit that is of God, and every spirit that is not of God. The apostle John says, "We (that is, the apostles) are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error (I John 4:6)."

Admitting this apostolic rule to be a divinely authorized test of Christian fellowship, no change of time, place or circumstances can release the members of Christ's kingdom from its authoritative application. By this rule all who profess Christ, and give evidence that they are of God by adhering to and being in all things governed by the teaching of his apostles, are to be held in fellowship by the church, and all who reject the doctrine and order as taught by them are to be rejected. From the days of John the Baptist, the people of God have recognized the instructions of the apostles in the admission of those who have applied for baptism, fellowship and communion. Repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ have been held as indispensable prerequisites to admission. By a faithful application of this test the Pharisees and Sadducees were rejected by John when they demanded baptism, on the plea of pious parentage, or that they had Abraham to their father.

When the gospel church was organized on the day of Pentecost, those, and those only, who had received of the outpouring of the Spirit, had been pricked in their hearts and made to cry out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" and who, on hearing the apostles' doctrine faithfully proclaimed, gladly received it, were baptized and received into the apostles' fellowship, and so added to the church; "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers." A cordial reception of and continuance in the apostles' doctrine was then and there established as the test or standard of fellowship, and the standard there established as a test is the only test of which we have any knowledge as existing among Primitive or Old School Baptists to this day. We have never asked for more, nor accepted less than this. It is true there are some who claim, or have claimed, to be Old School Baptists who have formerly professed fellowship with us in the views herein-above stated, who have recently gone out from us, who charge the churches from which they have apostatized with setting up new tests of fellowship. But this charge is wholly gratuitous and unfounded in truth. Such departure and reproach we had reason to look for; for the scriptures have foretold us that the time would come when many should depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, by reason of whom the way of truth should be evil spoken of.

The apostles in their doctrine have not only established the great principles of salvation by grace, but they have also given rules for the order and practice of all the saints. These rules apply to all our relations in life, in the church and in the world; and none of them can be disregarded or repudiated without a breach of apostolic fellowship. The relationship of parents and children, husbands and wives, masters and servants, magistrates, governors, kings and potentates, and their subjects with all relative duties involved, are all embraced in the apostles' doctrine, and in no case are the saints permitted to disregard their instructions; not even to avoid persecution, reproach, or even to preserve their lives. The recent tornado of fanaticism which has swept over our country with a most terribly devastating violence, has assailed and denounced as sinful and abominably wicked one of these institutions which the apostles have commanded the people of God to respect as ordained of God. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ has enjoined on every soul in the church of God to be subject to the higher powers. (See Romans 13.) And he has warned us that to resist any so ordained power is to resist an ordinance of God. And in nearly all of his epistles he has carefully defined and explained to us what these powers or authorities are, and in what manner, and to what extent Christians are required to respect and obey them. We cannot therefore, without disobedience to God, refuse to be in subjection to any of them. Among these divinely instituted powers vested in men, we find none more clearly stated and defined by the apostles than that of the master over his servant. We do not, however, learn from the apostles' doctrine that Christians are required to institute this relationship where it does not exist, any more than they are to abolish it where it does exist. With its institution or abolition they have nothing to do; but they are required to accept and be governed by the law of Christ as laid down by his apostles, concerning this as well as all things else. As the admonition to children to honor and obey their parents does not apply to those who have no parents living, and the command to husbands to love their wives has no application to those who are not husbands; so neither does the precept requiring "servants that are under the yoke to honor their masters in all things" apply to those who are not servants under the yoke. But where any or all of these relationships exist, Christians are, by the law of Christ, required to recognize them as divinely instituted and ordained of God. By divine institutions, we mean such as have been instituted by divine authority, by the authority of God. As such we hold all human governments which God has given to Jews or Gentiles, including that of kings, governors, judges, parents, husbands, masters, etc. As God gave the institution to the Hebrews, granting a right of property in men-servants and maid-servants (see Leviticus 25), so the apostles found the institution existing in their day among the Gentiles, and instead of justifying any attempt to denounce or to abolish it, they admitted to their fellowship both masters and servants, and gave explicit rules by which both masters and servants were to be governed in their relations one to the other in the church.

Whether modern Abolitionism, in denouncing the institution as wicked and sinful, and to that degree as to justify them in slaughtering hundreds of thousands of their fellow men to effect its abolition, and involving all succeeding generations in a debt of millions to put it down, is infidelity or not must be determined, not by how men feel, or what they think, but by what God himself has said in his Holy Word. What we mean by infidelity is a disbelief and rejection of what God has said in the scriptures. To denounce any ordinance of God, or anything on which he has set his seal of approval as sinful, is in our judgment infidelity; if it is not, we are unable to say what infidelity is. As there are comparatively few who have become sufficiently bold in infidelity to deny that God gave the institution to the Hebrews, that he blessed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with a very great number of bondsmen and bondswomen, that he said his man-servant and maid-servants were his money or property; that he authorized the children of Israel to buy both bondsmen and bondswomen of the heathen around them, and of the children of strangers that sojourned among them, saying, "Of them shalt thou buy; and of their families," etc. "And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your bondsmen forever," etc. That they should discriminate between them and those bought of their Hebrew brethren for debt, in favor of the Hebrew bondsmen which should be treated as hired servants, and not with rigor as bondsmen bought of the heathen, we will not now multiply testimony to establish. We will only ask, Are we at liberty to denounce as wicked any institution on which God has set his seal of approval?

But as our test of fellowship is more clearly laid down in the New Testament by the enthroned apostles, and their doctrine was steadfastly continued in by the primitive saints, and handed down for a test of fellowship to the church to the end of time, we will present from what they have authoritatively enjoined, the following: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort (1 Timothy 6:1, 2)." Is this a part of the apostles' doctrine, or is it not? Will any one deny that Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote this to Timothy? If it be admitted that this is a part of the apostles' doctrine, will any one dare to deny that the primitive saints steadfastly adhered to it, and continued in it, in the apostles' fellowship, in breaking of bread and prayers? If this be admitted as the apostles' doctrine, is not a rejection or denial of it infidelity? Or can we repudiate, reject, denounce and deny this, and yet in truth be said to continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine? "Be not deceived; God is not mocked."

Again, should this instruction of the apostle be rejected and denounced, and the opposite doctrine of Abolitionism be taught by any, how shall they be regarded as to their standing and character? Listen to the further instruction of the apostle in the same connection. "If any man teach otherwise (otherwise than what? Than the instruction contained in the first two verses of this chapter), and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ; and to the doctrine which is according to godliness." Reader, can you denounce the words of the apostle in this connection as unwholesome words? Will you deny that they are even words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that they are the doctrine which is according to Godliness? If so, what does the apostle say of you? He said of such an one, "He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness." This is not a very desirable character to be branded with by an inspired apostle. But should such a monster of wickedness ever be found in connection with the church, what shall we do with him? Just let him alone, and "from such withdraw thyself." So reads I Timothy 6:1-5. What! Make this a test of fellowship? Shall a man be deserted of us, and we withdraw from him just because he differs from us on what he calls politics? It makes no difference what he calls it; the reason why we are commanded to withdraw from him is because he consents not to wholesome doctrine; because he rejects even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine that is according to godliness; because he is proud, and knows nothing; because he dotes about questions and strifes, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings, etc. We are to withdraw from such simply because Christ, by his inspired apostle, commands us from such to withdraw ourselves.

Now is a strict compliance with this apostolic instruction the setting up of any new test of fellowship? Was not this test set up by the apostles and enjoined on all the saints in all their epistles? The word doctrine means instruction or teachings. The apostle not only taught this, but commanded Timothy and all other ministers of Christ also to teach and exhort the same things; and, as we have seen, he commands that all orderly apostolic saints shall withdraw from all who teach otherwise, or who consent not to this instruction. With those who have rejected this counsel of God against themselves, and have gone out from us, repudiating the authority of Christ, we have nothing to do. Toward them we are not conscious of entertaining any but the very kindest feelings. We would cheerfully labor to rescue them from the snare into which we believe they are fallen; but the apostle has said, and they have verified his words. "They are proud," too proud, alas! to listen to any admonitions we would give them. Some of them once esteemed us as a minister of Jesus, were not too proud to listen to the words of Christ and his apostles when uttered by us; but now they shun us, and charge us of being only influenced by political motives. Could they be reclaimed to that childlike meekness which they seemed to possess when we led them down into the baptismal waters, we could reason with them; but now we must leave them in the hands of him who alone is able to give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.

The object of this article is more especially to reach such as are inquiring after truth, if possible, to prevent their being misled by those who misrepresent our position.

Some have expressed alarm because we have called the relation of master and servant a divine institution. By divine we mean that it is given by divine authority, as we have shown from the Old Testament scriptures, that God gave it to the children of Israel. All institutions are either divine or only human. This is divine because God has authorized it. We classify all earthly governments which God has given together, including that of masters over servants, parents over children, magistrates, governors, kings and potentates over citizens. All these powers, the apostle informs us, are of God; and that there is no power but of God. He is the only source of power, all being derived from him, therefore, "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." These powers ordained of God and vested in men are limited and definite, varying in grades, so that every soul is required to be subject to the higher power. All are divinely instituted, but none of them are supreme; none have a right to require disobedience to any of the laws of God, for God's power is infinitely higher than any of them all. We speak of the institution of master and servant as being divine only in the same sense that all other grades of human governments are being instituted and commanded of God. Christians are by the law of Christ required to respect and obey all these institutions of power, or authority, as God has given them. Children must obey their parents, servants their masters, wives their husbands, and citizens the constituted governments under which they live, so far as such authorities do not conflict with their higher obligations to obey God rather than men.

Should a child object to obey parental authority and denounce it as arbitrary and cruel, and wicked, or should the wife refuse to obey her husband's lawful commands, or should the citizen refuse to be subject to the legitimate authority of the national or state authorities; we should dis-fellowship such rebellion as a denial of our faith, and repudiation of the apostle's doctrine. So far it might be regarded as a test of fellowship, inasmuch as it would be a rejection of the apostle's doctrine, but no further.

Now this test does not require the existence of these relationships where they do not exist, nor the abolition of any of them where they do exist. Marriage is an institution which God has given. If any who claim our fellowship should denounce it as an abominable sin, and attempt its abolition, we could not walk in fellowship with such a declaimer. Still, as a test of fellowship, we require no one who is single to marry. So if one is called of God, being a servant, we require that he shall comply with the apostle's injunction to honor and obey his master. Still if he may be free, he is at liberty to choose it rather.

The abolitionism which we dis-fellowship is that, and that only, which rejects the doctrine of the apostles on the subject, and thereby involves the sin of infidelity. One might be led to suppose by the misrepresentations of our views that we hold it to be the duty of Christians and churches to labor to establish the institution where it does not exist, and strive to perpetuate it where it does exist; but we hold nothing of the kind. Our understanding of the scriptures is that Christians should have as little as possible to do in the political affairs of this world. Where good governments exist, thank God that we are permitted to live peaceably under them, and pray for their continuance. If we are situated under bad governments, or such as we consider despotic or oppressive, we are still to respect and submit to them, so far as we can without disobedience to Christ and his apostles. We do not hold that Christians should even prefer a government in which the relation of master and servant exists. All, or nearly all the original States of our Union once held the institution; but as soon as they preferred to dispense with it, by universal consent it was discontinued in our Northern States, without marring our fellowship or repudiation of the apostles' doctrine.

It is not the honest aversion one may feel to any of these institutions of human government that we oppose, discountenance or dis-fellowship, so long as they admit the force of what God has said of them, and conform to the instructions of his inspired apostles. We hold that according to the divine rule, a man may as lawfully hold property in servants as in any other description of property; and we have no more right to covet our neighbor's manservant or maidservant than we have to covet his wife, or his child, or his ox, or his ass, nor to seek to deprive him of that kind of property more than of his house or his land. To secure the fellowship of the church of Christ, it is not required that a man shall have wife or child, servant or house or lands. And a person possessing all these has a perfect right, if so disposed, to set all his servants free, without violating any scriptural rule.

We disavow all tests of Christian fellowship except those set up by Christ and his apostles, and recorded in the New Testament. And we challenge the world to show that we have ever required or advocated any other test of fellowship than this given by the apostles.

We accept all human governments as we find them, recognizing the providence of God in casting our lot under whatever form or kind of government to him seems good. All human governments being ordained of God are divine institutions; that is, they are based on divine authority. Yet all kinds of human authority may be, and too frequently are, abused by those invested. Parents do sometimes abuse their authority, and require unjust, unreasonable and unrighteous things of their children. Masters may maltreat and abuse their servants; husbands may tyrannize over their wives; magistrates and judges may be unjust in their exactions; and kings and potentates of the earth may enact unjustifiable laws. But because this is so, we are not at liberty to deny that all these powers are institutions of God, claiming our respect as such. We hold that none can abide in the apostles' fellowship only so far as they abide steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine. A cordial reception of and faithful adherence to the doctrine of Christ, as taught by his holy apostles, is essential to Christian fellowship; for John forbade the saints to entertain any who come unto them and bring not this doctrine. (See II John 10.) And Paul says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17-18)." This test of fellowship was established in the primitive church by Christ and his apostles from the beginning, and is not new. Their doctrine, not in part but in whole, must be received; no part of it can under any pretense be rejected, and apostolic fellowship maintained. No more, nor any less stress or importance should be laid on any one part of the apostle's doctrine than upon all the other parts of it. It is all equally important, and all to be received, maintained and obeyed as essential to Christian fellowship. If any man contends for more, he is a transgressor; and if he accepts less, he is equally an offender. If, therefore, we ask as a condition or test of fellowship only what the apostles have established, we can readily point to the scriptures in justification of our position. If we go beyond this rule, we are wrong. If others refuse orreject this rule, they are wrong. "And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:19-20)."

Middletown, N.Y.
October 1, 1866.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 384 - 393