REGULATION OF GOSPEL CHURCHES.

BROTHER MEREDITH: - Please to bear with me a little in noticing your communication, in the Advocate for Feb.1845. You may not have had any particular circumstance in view, but may have merely designed to notice a too great neglect of the command of our Lord, laid down in Matt.18; if I had supposed this to be the case, I should not think it necessary to notice your remarks; but your mentioning ready-to-halt men, has led me to think you had some special object in view, and that you have rather misapprehended the subject, and therefore that the carrying out your position, in that case, might occasion an ism, or schism, or division too nigh home to yourself to be pleasant.

In the first place; according to the broad application which you give to the precept in the 18th of Matthew, and if the supposition, under which I write, as above noticed, be correct, you are, my brother, culpable yourself. Have you not occasionally access to those brethren, who you suppose have gone to an extreme of severity? And have you not neglected to pursue that course toward them which you so correctly point out as the proper one, that is, I mean, the proper one in the cases to which that rule applies?

But the truth is; that rule was never designed to embrace the whole course of church discipline; if it had been, we should not have found other directions given on the subject in the New Testament; and the holding it in that light by so many, tends evidently to produce a looseness of discipline in many churches in reference to several important subjects. For instance, brother Meredith and myself may be members of the same church, I may broach some new idea upon the resurrection, virtually denying the resurrection of the body, and consequently of Christ’s ever having redeemed the bodies of his people, or his being able to preserve the body with the soul and spirit blameless unto his coming. You think it is an important error, you believe the Scriptures plainly teach that the bodies of the saints are to be raised in a glorified state, and that Christ is able and faithful to save, wholly and fully, all that the Father hath given him. But how are you by any course of consistent reasoning to make this error of mine a trespass against yourself? The word is, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee.” I break none of your bones, by advancing this error, nor bruise your flesh; neither do I take away your liberty to think for yourself or to advocate your own views. And I am certain, that your christian humility would not allow you to assume the ground that you have authority to think for others, and that they are bound just to take your opinion as theirs, and therefore that in thinking for myself, I was transgressing against your authority. How then would you make it a trespass against yourself? You cannot in any way without assuming to yourself that judgment which belongs alone to the church collectively. What then is to be done? Why, you believe it to be a trespass against the faith of the church and the cause of Christ, and as a faithful brother you bring the case directly before the {earthly} judgment seat of Christ, the church. The church on examining my views and comparing them with the standard, pronounce them heresy, and admonish me of it; they find me persisting in it, they admonish me again, I still persist, they reject me; that is, exclude me. Thus we find a rule, that meets the case, and that without one individual’s undertaking to pass a judgment upon the faith of another member, which Christ has vested only in the Church the right to do. See Titus 3:10, 11. And why, my brother, is this rule to be rejected more than the one in Matthew 18? Christ did not deliver it in person, but delivered it through one of his apostles; it therefore emanated from the same divine authority with the other. If we had no other rules given, for the regulation of the gospel churches, than what Christ delivered in person, we should come very far short of having a full pattern. He did not deliver his apostles a body of rules, and send them forth with their lessons ready learned, for the whole campaign; as our modern, theological students go forth; but they were as dependent on him from time to time, for a revelation of his will, to meet the various circumstances that occurred, in planting and setting in order the churches, even as we are to understand what they have delivered as his revealed will; so that the words of Christ were equally true in reference to them with all their gifts, as they are in relation to us, that “Without me ye can do nothing.” John 15:5. Christ commanded his disciples to “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” &c. We find them {Acts 2,} teaching & baptizing, but we find something more, about which nothing is said in the commission; there were added to them, that is, to the apostles or church. Now do you not believe, that this adding to the church is equally binding upon the disciples in after ages, as is the teaching and baptizing? So far as the Commission went, it was necessary as authority for them to go forth; and when the Lord gave efficacy to their word, the Holy Ghost was present to guide them as to the next step after baptism. So the rule in the 18th of Matthew was necessary for the disciples in their then state, as it is for the disciples in all ages. Christ therefore then gave it to them. But, it was not till after churches were formed in full gospel order and liberty, that cases could occur directly against the church and cause of Christ; and as they occurred, the apostles were by inspiration empowered to give the necessary rules, and did give them. And if you can tell, why the churches are not under as much obligation to act in obedience to those rules in the cases to which they apply, as they are to observe that in Matthew 18th in its proper place, I would like to know.

As I have supposed the case of a denial of the resurrection, I will remark, that brother Blakeslee in his generally excellent communication in the same number of the ADVOCATE, on the resurrection, has suffered, I think, his modesty to carry him so far as to say that, “While I feel no disposition to charge with heresy or unchristianize any of my brethren who may differ from me on this subject; believing that the faith of some in this matter may be overthrown by some means {doctrinally considered} while the grace of faith still remains unmoved,” and quotes II Tim.2:13 perhaps he meant 18. As to unchristianizing, if he means by that the excluding them from the benefits of Christ’s atonement, neither individual members, nor the churches have anything to do with it. “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are his.” We have no means of judging what degree of heresy a person may embrace and yet be a subject of grace. And yet I think it would puzzle brother Blakeslee to reconcile his above quoted position with I Cor.15:16,17, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” With regard to charging with heresy, if brother Blakeslee meant by his remarks on that point simply that he felt no disposition to set himself up individually to denounce as heretics, brethren who might differ with him on this point, I have not so much to object, excepting that I would wish he had expressed himself a little more definitely. But taking the whole of the above quoted sentence together, it is certainly calculated to convey the idea, that in his estimation, a denial of the resurrection of the bodies of men, is not to be accounted a heresy, and therefore not a proper ground for church discipline; but that the subject is to be treated by the churches, as one of those measurably harmless differences of opinion, which may occur without breaking fellowship. If this was the idea Brother Blakeslee intended to convey, and if it is to be the position taken by the O. S. brethren, those who believe in the resurrection of the bodies, I for one, and I think some others, would like to know it. From the view I take of the subject as presented in the New Testament defined as it is, and with the involved consequences of a denial of the resurrection of the dead so fully expressed, if it does not show such denial to be a heresy, I feel prepared to defy anyone to prove any specific sentiments, by the New Testament to be a heresy, excepting an actual denial of the Lord Jesus Christ, or that he has come in the flesh. I may not be able to define why so much more stress is laid upon this error than upon some other errors noticed in the New Testament. But this is another thing. Has the apostolic decision been delivered on the subject, and have they decided that a denial of the resurrection of the dead subverts the very foundation of a believer’s hope, the resurrection of Christ? Then upon O. S. Baptist principles, the churches are bound to be governed by such decision, whether they understand the whys and wherefores or not. And if they are bound earnestly to contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints {Jude verse 3,} then certainly that which overthrows the faith, which they are thus to contend for, {II Tim.2:18,) is not to be winked at as an indifferent thing. It is true, that for taking this very stand in former discussions on this subject I have had many hard things said of me by O. S. brethren, have been charged with having been in a pet, with being too censorious, with aiming to lord it over the faith of others, or as one expressed it, to condemn all who would not hew to my line &c. But so long as I have the apostolic decision so manifestly on my side, I ought to be contented. If the judgment thus passed upon me is just, I of course would wish to submit, and if it is not just, I stand at the judgment seat of one who can reverse it at his pleasure; and so I would leave it; but still as the blame of harshness and bitterness was principally laid on me at the time in the controversies had, when I see the thing referred to by brethren with censure, as I occasionally do, old nature, like the worm when trod on, will squirm in spite of me. But excuse me, my Brother, for this digression, and I will return to your communication.

To return back to examples and rules of discipline, given in the New Testament, we find in the 15th of Acts, that when certain men which came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, taught the brethren that except they were circumcised &c., that Paul and Barnabas instead of dealing with them according to the 18th of Matthew had public dissensions and disputations with them; and when the matter could not be settled among them, an appeal was made to the apostles. So you know the New and Old School Baptists were once connected together in churches and associations, and when new measures were first introduced among us in our Associations, we had to combat them publicly till we had much dissension and disputation, and when we appealed to the apostles; or their writings, and asked them to show us one precept or example for the measures they would force upon us, and they refused to abide by the decisions of the apostles, we were bound by the command of the apostle in the name of his Lord Jesus Christ, as given II Thes.3:6, to withdraw from them, and by the same rule to withdraw from others, who though not having gone into their measures, refused to withdraw from them. And having withdrawn from them, we could no longer recognize them as brethren or as disciples of Christ. In fact they have gone on from step to step, like the first Beast, to show the marks of the man of sin, sitting in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. As 1st, The gospel dispensation is the kingdom of God, and He of course has the sole and sovereign right of establishing all the rules and regulations concerning it; but they, as God, have assumed the right to set aside some of the regulations made of God; and to establish other rules and regulations, both for the government of churches and for the proclamation of the gospel. 2nd, The gospel is the gospel of God, and of course is of his revelation. But they, as God, have set aside his revealed Truth, pronouncing it not fit to be preached, and his ministers, as not qualified to preach; and have substituted another gospel of their own device and preachers of their own qualifying and calling. 3rd, The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is sent of the Father in Christ’s name; but they; as God, pretend to dispense with his operations in many things; which are his peculiar prerogative; and to command his presence and influence at their own pleasure in other cases, as in getting up revivals, &c. Now it must be self-evident, that we cannot both be right, we in depending, entirely on the God of heaven to do his own work, and by his own power, and in his own way and time, to accomplish his own purposes; and they, as God, claiming to accomplish God’s purpose of salvation in their own ways and time. If we are right, they are diametrically wrong, and so of the opposite. Hence we infer, that in truth no man can fellowship both them and us, as the kingdom of Christ, and therefore we cannot fellowship those, who can profess fellowship with the other interest. And herein, my brother, is where I suppose you have misapprehended the subject.

You say, Have we not heard it said, that ready-to-halt men are as bad as, if not worse than, an avowed enemy or arminian? I will not say that you have not heard this said, but to my recollection, I have never heard it said; neither have I ever seen the disposition manifested by my brethren to treat that class of persons in that light. I have heard it said; and have said it, that middle-grounders are worse than the avowed New School. The latter we know where to find, the others we do not; the one class manifests more moral honesty and courage in avowing their sentiments, than the other does in keeping dark. But these are a very different class of persons from those properly denominated ready-to-halt. These ready-to-halt are such to be sure; as are wanting in fortitude to face the enemy, but they have an understanding of and a hankering after the truth; and though they will not come fully into the ranks, they will flow after and generally try to keep in sight of the army; and you will see the soldiers, instead of driving them from them as enemies, occasionally falling back with them in their march and trying to encourage them to persevere and to come into the ranks as good soldiers of the Cross. And sometimes they have for a time been deceived with the middle-grounders, thinking them to be of the other class, and have thus been friendly with then, till they have found them out as spies or pilferers.

The middle-grounders are of three classes. 1st, Those who are missionists in the general extent, but do not approve of camp and protracted meeting excitements. 2nd, Those who advocate Bible, temperance and domestic mission societies, but go not to the full length of missionism, and profess to preach sound doctrine. They go just far enough into popular measures and preaching to escape reproach, but not so far as to be very expensive in money contributions. The 3rd class are principally preachers with certain adherents, that they lead. These, though they may not be theological students, have studied, as their guides in preaching, certain old Baptist and other authors, called sound; hence their preaching passes for sound preaching. They are from circumstances connected with the O. S. Baptists in associations, but manifest by action no wish to be with the O.S. preachers at meetings, associations &c., except merely to attend the association to which they are connected, and then are with their wives, rather than with their brother preachers, and give clear manifestation, that if they could only get a call and comfortable location among the 2nd class of middle-grounders they would gladly shift their connection. Yet, when thrown into company with decided O.S. brethren, they are very friendly and tender, but give you to feel that there is a certain dignity of age, station, &c., which they claim. On the other hand, when they meet with middle-ground preachers, and they seek such meetings, they are very friendly with them, calling them brothers, and telling them that, though they are among the O.S. they do not go with Beebe, and that class in their abuse of others, but wish to be sociable with others; and they take every occasion, where they can do it without reproof; for abusing the SIGNS and the O.S. preachers for their harshness in preaching &c.

Now, Brother Meredith, how is it possible, when we see persons pursuing the above course, and that for years, that we can have any confidence in them or in their heart attachment to O.S. principles? Can we with consistency extend the right hand of fellowship to them, whilst they are showing their attachment to those, who are building up the interests of the man of sin, they themselves helping, in trying to destroy the force of our testimony, calling it abuse? Christ says, “He that is not with me, is against the; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Matt.12:30. So that he admits of no neutrality, no middle-groundism in his cause. If we are wrong in our Old School stand, others need not wish our fellowship. If we are right, and sustained, as we are, by the New Testament, we cannot without going wrong extend fellowship to those, who are seeking the friendship and welfare of another interest. Paul speaks of certain “false brethren,” who were unawares brought in, and who came in; privily to spy out their liberty &c. They dealt very summarily with such, not going to the 18th of Matt. in the case, but not giving place to them by subjection even for an hour. Gal.2:4,5. Why ought we not to follow their example with such characters, when they become manifest? In quoting some of the words from Galatians, chapter 2, I have placed a comma after the phrase, who came in, though our translators put none there, believing it important to show the connection of the word privily with the verb to spy.

I write this, Brother M., not to raise an argument with you; but if it may be, to induce you to examine the subject again. If I have mistaken your object, I hope what I have written may do no hurt to the cause of truth.

Yours with Christian regards,
S. TROTT.
Centreville, Va., March 6, 1845.

P.S. – Brother Jewett, I do not mean what I have said in reference to Brother Blakeslee’s communication as an attack upon him. But the point which I have touched, I think of great importance, considering the great inroads the non-resurrection sentiment is making among us. I do not think, that I have any right to fellowship it. Yours, &c. - S.T.