We knew a deacon brother some years ago that was a ring-leader for the majority side in a sad dispute among the members of a Primitive Baptist church. He led the forces to exclude about a dozen members for "affiliating" with those the majority deemed to be in disorder. After a hurtful and acrimonious session the "disorderly members" were put out of the church, and they went off, to be later received by those of another church of their sentiment. Well, it was not long after that, until the first church had another contention arise, and the aforementioned deacon found himself the one under accusation, in similar manner to the ones he had engineered out the door months before. With merciless dispatch, the church excluded the poor deacon, and so he too was out in the world, just like those were he railroaded out earlier.
There are many stories just like this one; so many, in fact, that it is a source of much sorrow among the Baptist family. There is, however, a lesson for us in this regard. It is found in the following text: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (I Cor. 10.12)." The poor deacon no doubt thought his standing in the church was secure as he led the expulsion of those affiliating with the church's perceived enemies. But, and alas, he too fell.
This does not end his story, however. Finding himself out in the world, with the gates of Zion shut behind him, he sought to find refuge in another Old School church. Humbly, he took hat in hand and pleaded for admission with a group that heretofore was not of his "affiliation." And who was this party he sought admission with? The very group that took in the dozen he had assisted in forcing out of the church for "affiliating with disorder." Rather than railing on the pitiful petitioner for his harsh treatment of them in the past, the little flock took him in. The deacon brother thus enjoyed a pleasant and peaceable relationship among his new, and renewed, affiliation until his death several years ago.
Most divisions do not have such happy endings for those involved.
In the circumstances we related the problems arose over what we of the Old School call "affiliation." Affiliation is not a Bible term, but it does express a principle we believe is biblical. "And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them (Acts 4.23)." They went to their own company. Thus do all orderly Baptists today. They affiliate with their own kind; being those of like precious faith. The word "affiliation", as we use it in the church, means, "The act of being associated." Hence, we associate with those, our kindred in Christ.
But this definition admits to serious questions. In the case of the incident between the deacon and those he helped exclude, why were they disciplined for affiliating with others of like precious faith? Why too, would he later affiliate himself with those excluded ones who were censured for improper affiliation? And why would those excluded ones later accept this deacon into their current affiliation if they had renounced their previous affiliation? From a worldly consideration, we might say "It depends on whose ox is being gored." To our mind, however, these questions are legitimate, and deserve serious and prayerful consideration.
Are you then to assume we are opposed to our current form of affiliation? Not at all. Why we raise these questions is not to condemn affiliating, but rather to face the difficulties that arise when we attempt to live in gospel order.
As we see it, there are three main reasons why we have difficulties in our affiliating with the flock of God. They are, first, jealousy among preachers; second, receiving excluded members from sister churches; and third, a lack of communication. There are, of course, a variety of other reasons of lesser significance, but we will at this time confine ourselves to the three.
Solomon recorded that jealousy was cruel as the grave, and we have found that it was never more so than when it crops up among preachers. Preacher A sees preacher B drawing bigger crowds than he does. He hears the favorable comments about preacher B's preaching. He sees preacher B baptizing more than he does. And to preacher A's grief, preacher B gets more invitations to preach elsewhere. All this is fertile ground for the seeds of jealousy to fall in, and soon a bountiful crop of discord is growing. Although A and B were affiliated, they soon wouldn't be. The consequence of this strife was the predictable rupture in affiliation. First, preacher A and B have fallen out, then various brethren follow suit; then whole churches, and ultimately whole associations of churches no longer affiliate with each other.
Rarely, if ever, will a division such as this be resolved.
Some years later, a member of preacher A's church moves down country, and not being aware of all the past conflicts that tore asunder the association, he begins attending a church pastored by preacher B. He likes what he sees and hears. The doctrine and the practice are the same, as nearly as he can tell, to that in preacher A's congregation. He feels impressed to unite with these dear folks, but, as a precaution, he first telephones preacher A to ask his opinion. Now what do you suppose preacher A tells this brother? Does he bid him God speed? Never! "Those churches down there where you are now living are in gross disorder. Besides that, they are not of our affiliation!" He is admonished further to avoid them like he would a plague. Sound somewhat familiar?
It may be, however, that this brother can think for himself. He may be keenly disappointed in his former pastor, and think to himself that he will unite with these dear people anyway. So off he goes next meeting day, and before services he speaks to a deacon of the assembly and tells him his desires. Before he knows it, pastor C (pastor B is now dead, but pastor C stepped right in where he left off) and several others have gathered around him. He now gets an ear full of the evils of pastor A and his affiliation. "We could never receive you with the baptism you have gotten from those people. They are in gross disorder, and we do not affiliate with them, or anyone that does." (Almost word for word what preacher A said.)
Not to be put off with no clear explanation, the befuddled brother asks just what the division was over. Unlike the genuine account of the excluded deacon, this is only an illustration, so let us suppose then what he may have heard was the cause(s) of the division:
Lording it over God's Heritage
Consorting with Arminians
Preaching with disorderly ministers
Receiving alien baptism
Making God the author of sin
Sowing discord among brethren
Affiliating with disorder
Preaching soul sleeping
Having a bad spirit
Going in the stand with drunks.
These are not charges we simply made up as we went along. Every one of these accusations we have heard used at one time or another about those who were "not in our affiliation." More often than not, the charges were completely false. When the "would-be" Davids of today want to slay a Goliath, if they cannot find five smooth stones in the brook, they have no hesitation in using any chunk they can find in the garbage dump of false allegations.
Receiving excluded members requires but a brief comment. It should never be done unless the church receiving the member in question is prepared to forever cease relations with the congregation the member has left. It is rare, if not impossible, to resolve the breach caused when this takes place. We know of a well established church of the Old School order t at excluded three members for disorder. Right or wrong, the three were at that moment out of order with all churches that stood in affiliation with the excluding church. One of the excluded members trotted off to a sister church, and lo! the church received the excluded member, and never so much as inquired as to the cause of the matter. We doubt not that the excluded party told a pitiful tale of how they were poorly treated, but for the sister church to take them in without hearing from the church that put them out was in itself a gross act of disorder.
Today, the church that did the excluding stands nearly alone. Why? For some crime or another? No; sadly, they were not accorded the usual brotherly courtesy of a hearing normally demanded by what we call affiliation. That is the reason they are alone. Now it may be that the excluding church was wrong in what it did, though we are personally satisfied it was not. But what was the result of failing to hear them out, especially since they were in affiliation with the church that took in their excluded member? Just what you would expect in such a circumstance is the result. They have lost their affiliation with the churches that stood with the receiving church. It might be well to point out that the church that took in the excluded member had for its pastor a man of high standing among the affiliation; so we might gather that rank did demand its privilege.
What are the prospects of these churches coming back together again? We really need not give an answer to those of you that have lived among the Baptist family for any period of time.
Despite our limited knowledge, and abundant frailties, we offer a suggestion to the dear family of God in this regard. Consider it a most solemn matter if your church is about to receive someone that is excluded from a sister church. No matter what plausible arguments are offered by others in favor of such a move, remember that, once done, there will be lasting consequences, mostly bad. When, in the passing of time, all the parties involved are gone, the issue will be as binding on future generations of members as it is on you. Even if the excluded member seems to have been wrongly grieved, it is generally not worth it to rupture the fellowship of sister churches without a thorough hearing from all parties.
Lack of communication has been partly covered in the previous comments, so we shall only briefly comment further. There can be little question that much injury has been done when the directions of the Lord, given in Matthew 18.15-19 have been ignored. The sad commentary is written across many congregations the land over. Our affiliation, better called fellowship of the saints, is a gift of grace, yet many treat this treasure like it had scant value. What better could be said of its value than the words of the Lord: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise (Luke 6.31)." And the words of Paul: "See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men (I Thes. 5.15)." Neither of these texts will obviate discipline; rather, properly understood, they enforce it. We believe then, the great value of affiliation with the saints of God can be appreciated in our possessing it, and its value may appear even greater if it is lost.
March - April 1992