ASSOCIATIONS

We have been asked by one of our readers to present our views through the Signs of the Times on the above subject. As far as we know the actual word is not to be found in the Bible. That does not necessarily mean, however, that the Scriptures oppose God's children meeting together in sacred assemblies for the purpose of worshipping him in Spirit and in truth. On the contrary, we are strongly admonished along these lines. The apostle Paul used the following language in his epistle to the Hebrews: "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised); And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Heb. 10:23-25.

The Scriptures do not specify how often we should meet, although we have just learned of the fact that there are some Old Baptists who insist that according to Revelation 22:2 the church should not hold meetings oftener than once a month. In our opinion this is in no wise intended to be interpreted to mean any such thing. Like the ordinances of the church, there are no definite number of times fixed for their observance. In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul interpreted the Saviour's intent as follows: "For I have received of the Lord that Which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it; and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." I Cor. 11:23-25. It is not so much the frequency in which this ordinance is observed as it is the spirit or manner in which it is observed. Whenever it is engaged in, if we have not the Saviour in remembrance, we are not rightly discerning its significance. We would apply this same line of reasoning to our coming together for holy worship. Regardless of whether it is only one church or a collective group of churches coming together, if the main purpose is not to praise the Lord and to exalt the name of his blessed Son, Jesus, they will be little profited. But when they are gathered together by God's Holy Spirit and can sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, having no confidence in the flesh, then will they feel that it is good to be there. We are confident that many of our good brethren join us in wishing that the business part of our Associations could be reduced to a minimum in order that more time might be devoted to the spiritual side. In years past we have attended Associations which were composed of so many churches and there was so much business that those who were sent as delegates actually got to hear but very little of the preaching. In some instances the most unfortunate part of the matter is that the Association as a body appears at least to want to delegate unto itself authority which it does not possess, that of settling certain church troubles or dictating to the churches how to conduct their own affairs. We have felt it a most wonderful privilege to visit large Associations, where we met good brethren from various parts of the country and heard the different preaching gifts which God has called, qualified and sent forth to proclaim the gospel of his blessed Son. On some occasions we experienced that inexpressible joy which we were assured at the time was a foretaste of heaven itself and there still lingers with us fond memories of the past. On the other hand we have attended Associations where certain Elders and other brethren were assembled in small groups, plotting and planning either how to elect a certain man as Moderator or to prevent some other man from being chosen; or perhaps some minister had preached something, somewhere, sometime, that some one or more did not agree with and they wanted to depose him, or have him excluded. It has made us sick at heart to witness such things and we could but feel that such Associations were a curse and not a blessing to the cause. David said, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Herman, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." Psalm 133. When Associations are properly conducted we feel they have a wonderful place among us, otherwise they had better not be held. We have felt that in a multitude of counsel there is wisdom and that, where Associations act in an advisory capacity only they are an excellent thing. There is a proverb which reads: "Where no counsel is; the people fall,: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Prov. 11:14. Where Associations have lent themselves to lording it over the churches, some have either withdrawn from or refused to affiliate with them. There is nothing compulsory about churches combining themselves into organizations called Associations, and we repeat it should be done solely for the purpose of glorifying God and for the comfort and edification of the saints. Only those who are agreed in the first place should so associate themselves together, and once organized they have the perfect right to reject the petition of any church for membership with them, or once in they have the right to refuse to walk with and to withdraw from any church or churches who they feel do not conduct themselves properly. The people of God as individuals, as well as collective groups as in churches, should endeavor to maintain the faith and order of God's house as set forth in the Scriptures. The fact that a certain Church does not affiliate herself with some associational body should not necessarily mitigate against her standing in any way, for that is her privilege.

From time to time we hear a great deal said about church sovereignty, and sometimes we fear this is carried too far. Not long ago we heard the following definition of sovereignty: "The untrammeled right to take whatever action may be decided upon under any circumstances regardless of the effect of such action." This kind of sovereignty in our estimation applies only to God. The sovereignty even of a nation or state does not carry with it the right to ride roughshod over peoples of other nations and states, for they, too, enjoy certain inalienable God given rights, and these things should be kept in mind. No church should construe its sovereignty to mean a grant of liberty to do anything and everything she might choose, regardless of consequences to other churches and the cause of truth. There are certain bounds of limitations which should be subscribed to for the good of all, and often-times conditions circumscribe what those bounds should be. A man in an open field may be at liberty to swing his arms ad libitum, but in a crowded room he is restricted. Where one exercises his liberty to the point that it encroaches upon the rights and liberties of others, he is heading for trouble. Churches should be considerate of each others welfare. The various churches as we view them are in reality all branches of the same true vine, and if they are to bear fruit to the honor and glory of God they will manifest humility and meekness, and thus prove they possess the mind of Christ, their Head. There is in truth but one body, but many members, and they have nothing of their own to glory in. When they glory it should all be of the Lord. We frequently meditate upon the unity of Christ and his people and we can think of no more beautiful type to portray or set forth their oneness than is presented in the words of Jesus as recorded by John: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." John l5:5. This same Jesus also said: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and, they are burned." We like to think of the. Old Baptist churches throughout the country as being compacted together so that they are exemplified by the human body, which is fearfully and wonderfully made with many members. There is no member so small or insignificant, or so far removed from the head but what its unity with the head is maintained at all times. When the least member, so to speak, is hurt or finds itself in distress, instantly the head has knowledge of it and dispatches some one or more of the other members of the body to administer relief and all is not well until each and every member is restored to its proper place and state. There is such unity and love and fellowship among the saints of God and they are so vitally connected in heart and purpose, that when one sorrows or mourns a gloom is cast upon all, while if there is cause for joy and gladness all rejoice together. What a wonderful evidence this is to us that we are in truth the children of God. If we are begotten of God we will love his people, and we should not mistreat and do injury to those who are near and dear to us. Read the testimony of the King of kings as set forth in Matthew 25:31-46 concerning his loved ones, and remember that whatsoever are do unto one of his little ones is done unto him, whether it be good or bad, and woe be unto us if we offend one of his little ones. It would be better for us that a millstone were hanged about our necks and we cast into, the depth of the sea than that we should wound the Lord's anointed. We truly hope that we know something about that tie that binds our hearts in Christian love and have experienced the fact that the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. If in our associations one with another we can keep in remembrance these things, we shall do well. We will close by quoting the last verse of Hymn 631, Beebe's Collection:

"O may his meekness be my guide,
    The pattern I pursue;
How can I bear revenge, or pride,
    With Jesus in my view?"

R. L. D.
Signs of the Times
Volume 113, No. 3
March 1945