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Circular Letter: The Delaware Baptist Association, to the Churches they represent.

Beloved Brethren: - Having again been permitted through the mercy of God, which endureth forever, to meet in our associate relation; and to receive, as tokens of your mutual fellowship, the epistles sent by your messengers; we in turn address you by Letter, praying that grace and peace may be multiplied unto you.

As a subject that may be interesting and profitable unto you, we present for your consideration a view of the relation of gospel Churches and Ministers, as we believe is revealed in the word of God, the only correct standard of gospel order.

This relation is therein represented as a household or family relation. The churches, as the bride of Christ, are the mistresses of their respective families. For although the term bride is more generally applied to the collective church, or body of Christ, yet as each branch into which the body is divided, is individually spoken of in the New Testament as a distinct church, and as an independent body is entrusted with an administration of the discipline and order of Christ’s house, in its own sphere, {see, for instance, Paul’s direction to the church at Corinth, concerning the disciplining of its members, I Cor.5:1-13 & II Cor.2:6-10,} each branch may be considered as the bride of Christ, owning Him for her Head and Husband, and as the Father of her children.

The gospel ministers, stand to the respective families or churches with which they are severally connected, in the relation of servants, as the term minister denotes. The minister of the gospel is primarily the minister or servant of Christ, being by Him entrusted with the ministry, {see I Tim.1:11 & Col.4:17.} Hence says the Apostle, “Let a man so account of us, as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” I Cor.4:1. Being the servants of Christ, they are of course, especially called by Him, and gifted or qualified for the work assigned them. Hence in all their ministration they are to be governed by the New Testament; it being the law of Christ, which they are to seek at His mouth, as the High Priest of our profession. See Mal.2:7. To Him they must also ultimately account for the manner in which they have discharged their stewardship. Luke 12:42-48 & I Cor.4:2-5.

But whilst the gospel minister is to act as the servant of Christ, he is also to consider himself as a servant of the church of which he is a member, and which he is appointed to serve; and is therefore to act under her direction in all things committed to her government by her and his Lord. And surely the Lord has not appointed His bride to be subject to the servants, as many will have it, but His servants to be subject to the church. Paul says to the church at Corinth, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.” II Cor.4:5.

To the churches it belongs in administering the government of their Lord’s house, to set her servants to work, or in other words, to call into public service the gifts bestowed upon them respectively. But in doing this as they are so abundantly cautioned by their Lord to “beware of false prophets, which come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are raving wolves,” and to “try the spirits,” &c., it becomes them to be very cautious that they set none to work whom the Lord has not sent forth into His harvest. And to the churches it belongs to examine the credentials of those who would introduce themselves into the family of the Lord’s servants. They are to examine the certificate of their appointment to His service; that is, the gift imparted for the work of the ministry; namely, aptness to teach; and their experimental call to it, and discovering their Lord’s signature, which is nothing less than an experimental witness in their own breast, that the messages delivered are from God; then, and not otherwise, to appoint them to their work, as the case may require; either to labor as a pastor in the duties of that office, or as teachers simply, that is as preachers not having a pastoral care. The appointment to be manifested according to the pattern given, namely: by prayer, and the laying on the hands of the Elders; as in the case of setting apart Paul and Barnabas to the work whereunto the Holy Ghost had called them. Acts 13:1-3.

We are aware, brethren, that in the above remarks we pass by one practice common in our Baptist churches, namely: that of licensing preachers. Upon this point we will propose, for the candid consideration of our brethren, the following queries: 1st. Do we anywhere in the New Testament, find any pattern or direction for licensing preachers? 2nd. Does our Lord anywhere commission any to preach His gospel, whom He does not commission to baptize? We know that we ought to “lay hands suddenly on no man,” nor ought we in anyway to send them out into the world as Christ’s ministers, without a thorough trial.

But in the case of licensing preachers, this caution is not always sufficiently regarded. Too many churches, in sending out preachers in this way, act under the impression that it is only a licensing of them, and therefore think it not necessary to have the same full evidence of the individual’s being called of Christ to this work as in the case of ordination; as though a person being imposed upon the churches and the world as a gospel preacher without having the gospel of Christ committed, of God, to his trust, was of much less consequence than his baptizing without being specially called to do it. Another evil arising from the plan of licensing, is that many persons who are fellowshiped by their churches, as having been called of Christ to preach, but whose gifts are not great, or who have not confidence to crowd themselves forward, are left to labor for years under the difficulty of being allowed to obey but one part of their Lord’s command. He says to His ministers, “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c., but the churches say to these, “No, you may go and teach, but not baptize.”

Again, gospel ministers, whether pastors or others, being servants of the church, and connected with the churches where they severally belong as members of the family, are as much under the watch and care of the church as are the other members. Consequently if it is the duty of each church, as it manifestly is, in maintaining the order and discipline of Christ’s house, to know how its members attend upon the institutions of the gospel; and to call those to an account who shall be found treating with neglect, or turning from the gospel and its ordinances, as they professed to receive them; it is equally its duty to see that each minister belonging to the church faithfully discharge the duties of his station; and not only to know that he preaches Christ’s gospel, but also to know that with fidelity, as providential circumstances permit, he exercises the gift committed to him in the work of the ministry. Thus Paul and Barnabas, although specially sent forth by the Holy Ghost to a certain work, yet considered it their duty to account to the church, how they had fulfilled the work assigned to them. Compare Acts 13:2 with 14:26,27. But how different from this is the present state of things among the Baptist churches generally. They leave the preachers which are among them, other than the pastors, to roam at large; and if they abstain from immoral conduct, and from the grosser errors, such as Universalism, or Campbellism, or the like, the churches exercise no more watch over them, either as to the exercising of their gifts, or to their doctrine, than over those who are not members with them. In consequence of this, among those who profess to have been called by the Lord, to go and preach His gospel, even with the urgent direction to let the dead bury their dead, rather than neglect this work; and whose call their churches have declared a fellowship for by licensing them, we find one engaged in the business of the world, preaching but seldom, if at all; another is wandering far and wide, probably more intent to hunt a settlement than to preach the gospel; a third we find in a seminary of learning, studying the heathenish writings of the ancient Greeks and Latins to qualify him to preach the gospel of Christ; a fourth is traveling as an agent of some society, to collect monies, &c.; a fifth has engaged as a missionary, to some mission board, to be subject to their direction, to hold himself accountable to them, and to acknowledge his dependence on them for his reward. Thus we find him a member of two distinct families; one the household of faith, by which he was licensed, the other a household of human contrivance. To the latter he cleaves, and owns their government; the other he despises as an inefficient institution for spreading the gospel. We would not have it understood by these expressions that we are opposed to spreading the gospel upon New Testament principles. Perhaps a sixth may be found living within the bounds of his church, and engaged as far as circumstances permit, in preaching the gospel to the destitute.

But to return; the duty of the churches to watch over the preachers, as such, which are among them, involves in it their accountability to their Lord, for the employment of those gifts which He has bestowed upon them. For the apostle tells us, Eph.4:11-13, that “He gave some, Apostles,” that is, evidently, to some churches, as in the first age of the gospel. “And some Pastors and Teachers,” and they were given for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. By the body of Christ, in the passage, as appears from what is said in the following verse, we are evidently to understand the whole collective body, of which each church is a branch. Hence though these gifts are given to the individual churches, yet as they are designed for the edifying of the whole body, it becomes the duty of the churches, to see, according to circumstances, that they are thus employed. It is true that as each church can only act in a limited sphere, and as each gift can only be employed in a like sphere, a church will feel the propriety of requiring the gifts committed to it, especially in the pastoral office, to be employed for its own edification, so far as in connection with the good of the whole, it is judged proper. Not that the labors even of the Pastor should be wholly confined within the bounds of his church; much less that the other gifts, in the office of Teachers, should be thus confined.

We do think, brethren, that the churches have been too remiss upon this point. They have of late years acted too much upon the principle of mine and thine, as though the pastor was exclusively for the church to which he belonged, and as though the individual church had no concern in the whole body’s being edified. Poor and destitute churches have been left to shift for themselves as well as they could. For that care which the churches ought to have exercised towards the feeble branches of the body, and towards destitute neighbors, human contrivance has been substituted in the form of Mission Societies; whereas let the churches but discharge their duty towards, and with the gifts entrusted to them, and it will be found that the institutions of the great Head of the Church are perfectly adequate to the edifying of His body, and the accomplishing of His purpose of salvation, without the intervention of human wisdom to guide His affairs.

You will perhaps say, that we do not feel able to support more than one preacher, nor hardly that; and we should not like to insist on a man’s leaving his business, and going from home to preach, without being able to secure him a compensation for his time, &c. How was it, brethren, in the early ages of the church? Oh! but, say some, that was a day of miracles; and we cannot now expect preachers to be supported by miracle. Jesus has the same power as then, and the promise that He will be with His ministers to the end of the world still holds good. But where have we an instance of the Apostles performing a miracle to procure themselves substance? Paul’s own hands ministered unto his necessities, when the churches did not communicate to him; and he tells the elders of the church at Ephesus, I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak. Hence we have here an example for preachers, when the churches fail to minister to their necessities, that they should labor, working with their hands, to support themselves while preaching the gospel. See Acts 20:34,35. It is true, the Lord has ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel; but He has never appointed that his ministers should wait till they have competent wages secured to them, before they go forth to preach the gospel. And if they have put their hands to the gospel plough in a right spirit, they will not be looking back for their gains, before they can move on.

But let not the churches conclude that they are not under obligation to communicate a support to those who preach the gospel, or to their families. Let him that is taught in the word, communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things, is the direction of Zion’s King. Gal.6:6.

An important enquiry arises, how this support is to be communicated; whether as a fixed salary, or otherwise. Much is said in favor of salaries on worldly principles; but we no where find this to be the New Testament plan; nor is it congenial with the gospel spirit. It places the preacher and church in opposite scales, as much as are the parties to a mercantile transaction. Indeed this stipulating with a preacher to give him a certain annual sum on condition of his being their preacher, looks too much like a worldly bargain, and places the preacher in circumstances very much like those of a hireling. It deprives the preacher of the sweet consolation of receiving the communications from the church and individuals as a token of love for his work’s sake; for they are naturally received as the fulfillment of a contract. Many other evils arising from this plan might be specified, had we room.

On the other hand, by a due regard to the family relation, in which the churches and preachers are connected, the occasion for a stipulated salary for the ministerial support will be excluded. In a family where proper equality reigns, those members of the family who are laboring in the harvest field, or engaged in tending the flocks, will come to a family table, and partake equally free with those who have been concerned in making ready the provisions. So the preachers being called to labor in the gospel field, or as shepherds to take the oversight of the family in spiritual things, are or ought to be principally engaged in these things; whilst the other members of the family are attending to their worldly avocations, and thereby collecting the meat that perishes. Now as these come and freely receive for the supply of their spiritual wants, out of that distribution which the preachers make, as stewards of the mysteries of God, is it anything more than a proper equality that the preachers should be allowed to come freely for the supply of their temporal wants to the stock which the others have collected? This is evidently the New Testament view of the subject. See Gal.6:6. “Let him that is taught in the word communicate to him that teacheth in all good things.” And I Cor.9:7 - “Who goeth a warfare at any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” Again, verse 11 - “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?”

A correct view of this relation, and a conformity to it in practice, will place the preacher in a happy remove from the two extremes; that of being engaged as a hireling, and that of being supported upon the ground of common charity. It will place him at home among his brethren.

But you are ready to enquire how this thing is to be come at; and whether your property is all to be thrown into common stock? This was the case in the beginning of the gospel church, and that by the voluntary act of the disciples, from an ardent love to the gospel cause, and a sense of the present necessity. Compare Acts 4:32-37 with I Cor.7:26. But the peculiar circumstances of the first church, which called for these great individual sacrifices, having passed away with the increase of disciples and churches, with it passed away, even in the Apostles’ days, the practice of having all things common. Still, however, a circumstance arose out of this which produced a peculiar demand upon the liberality of the Gentile churches; and Paul speaks of it as an act of just return in these churches; his words are: “and their debtors they are.” See Rom.15:26-27. That is, as we understand the Apostle, as the liberality of the saints in Jerusalem, in giving up their individual possessions to the church, enabled the Apostles and the other gifted brethren, to give themselves to the ministry of the word; and be supported, without a miracle too, by which means the knowledge of salvation was extended to the Gentiles, and Gentile churches were planted; so the after suffering state of these disciples, in consequence of their voluntary poverty, in connection with the oppression of the church at Jerusalem, called for a suitable return of liberality from the Gentile churches, to supply their temporal wants. The Holy Ghost, in handing down the particular description of the management of this collection, contained in Romans, chapter 15; I Cor.16:1-3 & II Cor., chapters 8 & 9 appears to have designed it as a pattern to the churches in after ages, in reference to those demands which the gospel would at all times have upon their liberality, for the support of its preachers and the poor of the church. Taking this collection then as our pattern, we conclude that the preachers are not to be supported by tithing, taxing, or restraint in any way, but by a voluntary and liberal return made for benefits received. We also conclude that no individual is required to throw his possessions into a common stock, but to improve them with care and industry. Upon the proceeds, however he will find, and feel too, if he feels aright, that the gospel has a claim, for a due share. Let every man lay by him in store as God has prospered him, is the direction: I Cor.16:2. Not that the preacher should be eased and they burdened; but that, whilst he is engaged in feeding the flock with the bread of eternal life, they by a proper distribution of their worldly increase may yield him a supply for his wants; and thus there may be equality. For to be placed on an equality, as to the circumstances of temporal support, for himself and family, with the other members of the church, is what the preacher has a right to expect, for services rendered, in the gospel; and with which he ought to be satisfied. If the preachers could feel and exercise that humbleness of heart which is proper to the servants of Jesus, and if the other members of the churches, instead of expending the surplus of their incomes in vain trappings, that their families may make a show in the world, or in adding farm to farm or stock to stock, would freely allow the gospel claim to its share of what God from time to time is pleased to bless them with; many churches, which now think, they cannot give one preacher a support, would find themselves able not only to make their Pastor comfortable, but also to say to other preachers which they may have among them, “go preach the gospel to the destitute around, as the Lord opens a door for you, and the wants of yourself and family in the mean time will be our care.” Or if they had no gifts among them save the Pastor, they could contribute something towards the support of those who were laboring with small and poor churches, or in destitute neighborhoods, as did the Philippians to Paul, while laboring in Thessalonica and Corinth, Phil.4:16 & II Cor.11:9.

In a word, when we get back to the proper state of gospel feeling, to be of one heart and of one soul, to realize that we are one body, animated by one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling, owning and loving the one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; then will vanish all difficulties from the way, in supporting the gospel ministry according to the gospel pattern and order, even to any extent to which the Lord may send forth laborers into His vineyard.

Brethren, let us, both preachers and churches, strive more to cultivate the spirit of the gospel; and to act more in conformity to that family relation by which we are bound together, and as those who are to give an account, not unto men, but unto our Lord. In proportion as this is the case, we shall find it good to stand in the ways, and to see and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and to walk therein, for we shall find rest to our souls. Jer.6:16. Though others may say, we will not walk therein, yet we should find our confidence in the Lord’s wisdom and power to accomplish His own gracious purposes increasing, according to the plan laid down by Himself in His word; and of course shall be less disposed to wander after the traditions and inventions of men.

The Lord, we judge from the signs of the times, will suddenly come to His temple. But who may abide the day of His coming? How many, alas, will He have to scourge out, for having made His Father’s house a house of merchandise? Brethren, may all our loins be girded, and our lights burning, that when He comes, we may welcome His approach with the salutation, “EVEN SO COME, LORD JESUS.” Amen.

S.TROTT. Moderator. 1833.