Strickersville, Pa., Jan. 28, 46.
DEAR BROTHER: – I find that the subject of Constitutional Formalities is to be discussed.
I had suggested the idea of suspending the matter till an opportunity should occur between the Warwick and Licking Associations to attempt a reconciliation. In this suggestion I did not intend to question the propriety of such a discussion; for I think it desirable that we should have a fair understanding among us, as well in matters of order as of the faith of the gospel. I hope, however, that in conducting it, we shall be enabled to keep under the old man, who is too apt to share an undue portion in these things. The object of the new man in all things is the glory of God in the triumphs of truth; while that of the old is victory and self-applause; from which may the God of truth and righteousness deliver us. I hope if in the few remarks I may make, the old man should show himself, it will be put to his account, and treated according to its deserts; for I can assure you, that he has been such a torment to me for between thirty and forty years, that I don’t want any others to be pestered with him, and would advise all to beware of him, and if he should attempt to intrude himself up in you, to give him no countenance whatever.
One thing we should try to keep in view, and that is, that in this case we are dealing with brethren, and not with open enemies; and that consequently a different mode of treatment should be observed. When contending with the open enemy of the cross of Christ, we are to consider ourselves as engaged in an exterminating war, in which we can neither give nor ask quarters; but when differing with brethren we should view them as aiming at the glory of God, as well as ourselves, and entitled to a different mode of treatment.
But to the subject, in reflecting on which, two questions have suggested themselves. And the first is, Does the New Testament recognize any other religious body than a simple church, organized on gospel principles? The second is, Does the adoption of a Constitution create a distinct organization, or does it not?
In reference to the first question, if I am not mistaken in my view of one distinctive characteristic of Old School Baptists, they will to a man answer No; and on this presumption I shall say nothing on it now.
But what is the ostensible meaning of a Constitution? The definition that applies directly to the case is, an established form of government, and accordingly is a distinct and permanent organization, differing from a mere conventional meeting, the latter being an occasional assembling of persons on some particular emergency. Thus a convention of delegates was once called to form a basis for our political government. That convention formed a Constitution, which, when adopted, formed the basis of our general government. The convention that framed this form of government, expired; but the government thus formed exists as a distinct and permanent organization, and will, we hope, while the sun and moon endure.
Not only have we a general government, but each State has a constitutional form of government, as well as from all the other States, as a distinct and independent organization; and though the general government and the States are united on certain general principles, this does not effect their separate and distinct organizations.
Now let us suppose that ten churches meet by messengers, and those messengers while together frame and adopt a Constitution; in so doing they form an eleventh organization, distinct from all other bodies, and however pure they may be in their motives, and cautious in avoiding an interference with the independence of the churches, it is to all intents and purposes a distinct organization.
It is from this view of the subject that I have objected to constitutional formalities in Associations, and I believe this is the case with the br’n of the Warwick, and others who have objected. We consider every church a distinct and independent body, governed by fixed principles of faith and order, derived from the word of God, dependent alone on the Head (which is Christ) for its existence, and accountable alone to him for a proper observance of those principles.
But this cannot be the case with our Western brethren, if the conclusion to which at least one of them has arrived, conveys a correct expression of their views on this point.
Brother Culp says, “Yet I regret the course the Warwick and many Old School Baptists at the North are pursuing; that is, abolishing your Constitutions and Associations, and churches still uniting without any order that I can see.” Now if the abandonment of Constitutional Formalities in associations (which is all that Warwick has done) does necessarily prostrate all order in individual churches, then those individual churches must have derived their order, and consequently their existence, from that source; for if the Warwick churches are left without any order, they must be dead carcasses, for a church without order is an anomily.
I would ask our Western brethren if each church in their associations is not considered a distinct and independent body, having adopted at its formation a summary of faith and order, mutually subscribing thereto, and agreeing to walk accordingly, and do not your associations require this of churches applying for admission? If so, then it is not those Constitutional Formalities that gives existence to those churches; they having existed as regularly organized churches before they placed themselves under those formalities; and this being the case, how can the abandonment of them prostrate the order of those churches, or strip them of that faith which they have adopted and recorded in their church books?
Those Constitutionalities appear to be regarded as safe-guards to the churches; but I believe that a large majority, if not all of our associations, have adopted them, and whether or not they have guarded us against innovations I have facts to answer.
But let us suppose that a number of churches meet by messengers for mutual intercourse and edification without any Constitutional Formalities, would not common prudence dictate certain rules of decorum while together; whether written or not? and would they not have the same right to say who should and who should not enjoy the benefit of their society, as is if they were under a written Constitution? True they might be imposed upon; but is anyone prepared to say that Constitutional Formalities have been an effectual barrier against imposition?
It is admitted by all reasonable men, that all bodies meeting for mutual intercourse and advantage, have a natural and unalienable right to say who shall enjoy the benefit of their society. In a word, if constitutional associations are part of the gospel order established by Christ, then they are necessary to carry out that order; but if not, they must be classed with human inventions; for they must belong to the one or the other: and although we presume our brethren of the West are not prepared to class them with the latter, I cannot think they are so fully prepared to class them with the former as to make it a test of fellowship. At least before they take that position, I would earnestly ask them to reconsider the matter, and if they can, furnish us with scriptural evidence that gospel order cannot be maintained without them, and if we should then prove incorrigible, discard us.
If anything has appeared in these remarks, that has the appearance of unkind feelings towards those brethren, I can assure them that it is unintentional, for I do not entertain anything of the kind, but all to the reverse. I love them as br’n. and entertain for them the most cordial feelings of fellowship, believing them to be as honest in their views as I am in mine.
Whatever view our brethren may take of these remarks, I wish them not to consider the Delaware Association, or any member of it, as sharing in the responsibility, as she still adheres to her Constitutional Formalities.
I remain, as ever,
Yours in the best of bond,
Signs of the Times
Volume 14, No. 4.
February 15, 1846