BROTHER BEEBE: - Agreeable to my promise to Mr. Dennison, in my last, I will now examine the correctness of his intimations concerning those practices which he mentions, as not being warranted by Scripture.
Mr. Dennison addresses his enquiries to those brethren referred to, as to Particular Baptists; and from what he has before said concerning their views, I presume they are “Old School” Particular Baptists. As one of this class of Baptists, I will, previous to enter into an examination of the particular circumstances, lay down the following general position as received by us; namely, that what the Apostles loosed, is as much loosed to us, as what they bound, are bound to us. That is, wherein they left on record, a circumstantial practice as having no specific order to be observed, we are warranted from Scripture to observe that order which appears most convenient, as much so, as we are required to confine ourselves to a specific order or practice, when such are particularly pointed out. And we of course, will no sooner submit to be bound by men to a particular order in the one, than to be led into an indifferent practice in the other case.
Now with this general principle in view, we will proceed to notice the particular articles of inquiry. Mr. Dennison’s first inquiry is, “Have you any Scripture warrant for formularies of faith?” I answer that we have the following Scriptures as proofs, that the primitive Church was of one faith: Acts 2:42, “and they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine.” Acts 4:32, “and the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” Jude 3, “that ye should earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints;” and from I Cor.1:10, it is equally evident that it is incumbent upon the Gentile Churches to maintain the same unity of faith; for the apostle says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” From these texts it is manifest, that there was in the primitive church, and that there is required in the Gentile Churches, a perfect understanding of the faith received, and to be contended for &c.; but whether this understanding among the Members of the Church was had, or is to be obtained merely by their conversing together upon the doctrine preached by the Apostles, or whether this doctrine was committed to writing for the mutual examination of the views of the members of the church, is not said.
Hence the fair conclusion is, that whilst the Churches are warranted and required by Scripture, to maintain a unity of faith among the members, they are left at liberty either to have their views of doctrine, or faith, committed to writing, for the convenient comparing of the views of persons to be received; or to enter into a verbal examination and comparison of their views. So much for formularies of faith.
His next inquiry is relative to “plans of decorum,” – in answer to this inquiry I observe that old fashioned Particular Baptists think themselves by a divine right, entitled to the plan of decorum which the Apostle has left them; I Cor.14:40, “let all things be done decently and in order;” and with this they generally are contented. If he means by plans of decorum, certain written rules, drawn up by the wisdom of men and taken from the usages of worldly bodies, not from Scripture, he must propose his inquiry to those who adopt such in their churches, not to us; for we do not approve of them.
Mr. Dennison’s third inquiry is relative to our Scripture authority for a medium of record attached to each Church. That there was some medium of record, or remembrance connected with the Apostolic Churches, that portion of Scripture called the Acts of the Apostles is a standing proof; and a further proof we have from the accounts given in that book of the number of the disciples at one time, as in Acts 1:15, of the number added at one time, as in Acts 2:41, and of certain transactions that took place in particular Churches; as in the Church at Antioch, Acts 13:1,3; 14:27 & 15:1,2, in the Church at Jerusalem, Acts 6:1,7; 15:5 – to the 30th, as well as in other cases. Whether this medium was in the first place traditional, or whether it was a committing of the events, &c., to writing we are not told. It is enough for us to know that there was some medium of record attached to the first Churches, and that we are left at liberty to adopt such a medium as is most convenient.
The fourth inquiry is, “Where is your Bible authority for choosing moderators and clerks;” as to choosing moderators, in case the Pastor is present in the Church, there is no Bible authority for it, but it is an infringement upon a divinely appointed office. If a church has a right to act upon business in the absence of a Pastor, it is right for some one to lead either voluntarily or by the request of the church. And it is more conformable to that scriptural rule; “let each esteem others better than themselves,” to wait to be invited.
With regard to choosing Clerks, as we have Scripture proof that there was some medium of record in the primitive churches, and as we have no proof that this was merely traditional, we are authorized to keep in remembrance the transactions of a Church by means of a written record, consequently the Church is left at liberty to appoint someone to record the additions and transactions which they wish remembered.
The fifth inquiry is, after our Bible authority for singing and praying before preaching. We have Bible authority for singing and praying in the Church, and that as spiritual worship, see I Cor.14:14,16, Col.3:16, Acts 12:5, Eph.6:18, and many other passages; and it is equally evident that there is no established order given to us in the word, as to the time of singing and praying, consequently we are left at liberty to adopt what order we please; so that we do not introduce confusion, as was the case in the Church at Corinth, by neglecting all order. I Cor.14:26,33. But we are not left at liberty to give up the singing in the Church to a choir of unregenerated youths, because we are required to sing with the spirit.
The sixth inquiry is, “Where that authority for partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a sitting, instead of a reclining position.” With the strongest confidence we may demand of Mr. Dennison, to show us any command to confine ourselves to a reclining, or to any other posture in partaking of the Lord’s Supper; or to prove from Scripture that the Apostolic Churches confined themselves to any one posture in observing the ordinance. Without the command of Christ, or uniform example of the Apostles, no man may bind us to a particular posture or form. Paul states to the Church at Corinth; what he received of the Lord relative to this ordinance, but does not mention having received or having delivered to them a command to observe any particular posture in receiving the Lord’s Supper. And we do believe that as a faithful servant, he delivered to them the whole message received, and therefore, that he specified to them everything essential in this ordinance. He adds, and we have confidence in what he says; “as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he comes,” without any limitation as to the posture of the body. I Cor.11:23,26.
The seventh inquiry relates to the same ordinance, and demands our authority for omitting to administer that holy ordinance always in an upper chamber. I answer it is plainly contained in the passage we have just noticed, I Cor.11:23,26; the latter verse evidently contains full liberty to administer it and to receive it, in remembrance of Christ, and in any convenient place, where it may be done decently, and where the Church has come together into one place, verse 20 of same chapter.
His last inquiry is, “Where even that for the erection of Meeting Houses, with their cushioned pews and baptisteries?” As to cushioned pews, baptisteries and other furniture, and ornaments of worldly splendor, we old fashioned Baptists plead not guilty. Such things, as well as extravagant houses are generally found among those Baptists who boast so much of their benevolent exertions for the salvation of men, and preach so strongly the necessity of giving money to their benevolent institutions, in order to help save the heathen from perishing in their sins. If you believe what you preach, why not sell your damask cushions, costly carpeting, extravagant chandeliers, &c., and content yourselves to worship in a plain house, that you might have more to give yourselves, and show yourselves less conformed to the world. But the evil of this extravagance does not stop here; many of these churches have run heavily in debt to get up this pompous show, and then admit anything into their pulpits, but the Gospel, that they may draw a congregation of the rich to help them keep down their interest. Yea, some of these popular benevolent Churches have contrived to cheat their creditors out of their just dues, and still hold their splendid Meeting Houses.
But in reference to our authority for building Meeting Houses; if we have no example of the primitive Churches, building houses particularly for worshiping in, we have abundant authority from the example of the Apostles to consider the place of meeting altogether an indifferent thing. We find the disciples meeting in the temple, a house built purposely for worship, Acts 2:46; in an upper room, Acts 1:13. We find Paul preaching by the river side; in the Jailor’s house and in Synagogues, buildings erected expressly for worship; in his own hired house and in the school of Tyrannus. Hence, we have Bible authority for meeting in any place, most convenient, and even of occupying houses built for worship, when such can be had in peace, see Acts 19:8,9. But we have no authority for consecrating houses, for places of worship, or in any way giving sanction to the idea of one place being more holy than another; for not only did the Apostles teach us by their example to consider the place as a thing indifferent; but the Master has also taught us the same; see John 4:21,24. It is manifest, who they are that ascribe peculiar holiness to particular places, such as certain houses, and certain seats in the houses; not the Old School Particular Baptist.
Thus, we see that of this mighty catalogue of charges which Mr. Dennison has brought forward against the old Baptists, of departures from the word of God, there is but the one, of choosing Moderators that will stand against them; and even that fails, unless it can be proved that a Church has no right to transact business in the absence of a Pastor, unless there are Churches, who in the presence of their Pastor, throw contempt upon that scriptural office, by choosing one to preside in their meetings, if so they must answer for themselves. Now one word, upon Mr. Dennison’s very modest remark, “We for one shall be satisfied to go on as we have commenced, desiring to labor, with all our might in the broad field of benevolent effort.” This broad field of benevolent effort evidently is the charitable institutions of the age, which he tacitly acknowledges have no other scriptural warrant, but what he calls authorized implication. It of course, is not the field which the Baptists of past ages, nor even the Apostles labored in. This he modestly terms the broad field of benevolent effort; theirs by authorized implication was the narrow field of scriptural selfishness.
His authorized implication, to which he alludes as warranting the practice of those humanly contrived institutions, is we presume, the success which they boast of as attending them. How long have the Paedobaptist been raising this same argument to support infant sprinkling? As long as I have known anything about them; but to all such arguments, and warrants, we may well say, we have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto we do well that we take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.
Elder Samuel Trott