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CONDITIONS OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP. 9
2nd. “You may remain as one of our congregation, where, it is probable, you will pay your pew rent, subscribe to all our Baptist institutions, help in the Sunday-school, lead our little ones to Jesus, and sit down with us to the table of the Lord; but you are not fit to be a member of the church unless you are baptized in our way.”
This is, probably, the usual reply, implied but not expressed, where open fellowship is not adopted. And, on the face of it, it does look a little discreditable 1 doesn't it? But, is it right? This man may be an earnest working Christian, and be quite competent to preach the gospel—but who will accept, with any confidence, a preacher who is not a member of any church 7 What guarantee is there for his conduct? He may have been excluded from a Paedo-baptist church for intemperance, or other open sin, and no one is safe in accepting his services unless he has the imprimatur of the church on his character; but we cannot do this unless he will violate his conscience, and be baptized in our way. Is this the working of the law of love?
3rd. “Yes, we will admit you to church membership, but on the condition that you shall not interfere with our views on the question of baptism. We will respect your conscience, and you must respect ours. In the election of pastors, no vote given for any but a Baptist will be valid, and we shall expect you not to use your position in a Baptist church to destroy Baptist principles.”
This, in substance, is the answer given by those who adopt open fellowship. And, I contend, it is the only one compatible with the law of love as laid down by the Master, “As I have loved you.” How was that? Certainly not in requiring from His disciples at the beginning of their intercourse perfectness in knowledge or in conduct, but by bearing with all their imperfections in order to keep them under His gracious influence, and to lift them up to higher attainments and to a truer character. And we who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and keep them under our gracious influences, that they may grow into truer ideas of what baptism means. Is not this what the apostle Paul means when he says, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye,” adding, further on, “for Christ hath received him.” With all his weakness in faith, if he is good enough for our Master, he is good enough for us. And, surely, if love would not drive the man himself away, still less would it drive his children away from our companionship—children who are not responsible for their father's mistakes, but who have to go where father goes. Does not love long to keep the little ones under its influence, and will they not love and appreciate the conduct of those who accepted father as a brother Christian, although, in some things difference of opinion existed.
If it be objected to this that we have no right to violate any distinct command of the Master in order to follow what is an abstract principle, I reply, that we do violate no law of the Master. We do not give up teaching baptism, nor practising baptism; nor, for a moment, allow it to fall out of its right place in the Christian dispensation. It is quite another thing to acknowledge a man to be a Christian brother although his views on baptism do not accord with our own. We admit wide divergencies in opinion and conduct in our church members already. When we allow each man and each minister to think as he pleases on
10 CONDITIONS OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP.
many of the most important principles of Christ's religion, when we do not exclude from our membership many whose daily life is not in accordance with Christ's commands, why should we refuse fellowship to a man whose only mistake is on the subject of baptism, whose weakness consists in not rightly discerning the meaning of an ordinance. Does not this look like straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel? S. D. RICKARDS.
(1.) REFERING to the exposition of the doctrine of baptism in the paper on Church Membership in the November magazine, I ask, does not the essential significance of baptism consist in its setting forth symbolically the believers oneness with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection? If so, as a ceremony, it is primarily a confession; by implication only, a pledge. That the very core of gospel teaching is permanently embodied in this ordinance, must, I think, be recognized if we would appreciate the place which it holds in the scriptures, and in the practice of the churches. A. B. M.
(2.) WILL you allow a General Baptist member of an Independent church to say a word or two on this question of membership 2
Brought up in a Christian family and General Baptist surroundings, I was baptized when a lad, if not altogether owing to the work of a Sunday School Teacher who was not a Baptist, yet very certainly that Teacher's influence had much to do with the result.
Many other young men, I believe, owe their conversion to this teacher; and, in each case that I know of, were baptized on entering the church. Here the result of admitting an Independent to fellowship among Baptists was to add to the number of the latter.
Some years ago I came into the country, and found the nearest Baptist church four miles away, and an Independent “cause” within one mile. I decided to inite with the latter; consequently I can act as Sunday school teacher, attend week-evening services, take an active part in some of these, use hospitality, and attending a chapel near home, am known as a Christian by the people among whom I live. Had I joined the Baptist church four miles off, it would have been impossible to have done more than attend the Sunday services; and I think it must be admitted by all that my influence for good would have been considerably lessened. Since I have been here many things have been done on my proposition which undoubtedly had good results. Further, several have been added to the church partly by the instrumentality of myself and wife. What are these, Baptists or Independents? Independents all of them. In fact, although I have been here eight years, and am one of a number of Baptist members, I have not seen one convert to Baptist views.
This, then, I have seen, that in the case of an Independent becoming a member of a Baptist church, the direct result was an increased number of Baptists; and when a Baptist became a member of a Independent church, the Independents gained.
UNION OF GENERAL BAPTISTS IN TOWNS. 11
One word more. I have, and shall have, in all probability for many years, all the advantages of church membership. Had the Christians with whom I work been close in their views I should have been denied these advantages, and for that reason, among others, I trust our churches will be ready to give the right hand of fellowship to all whom they recognise as Christians, and workers together with them for Christ. JOHN LEAKE DEXTER.
At the last Annual Association our esteemed President, after refering to the last thirty years, said, “Loughborough, where we have two churches, shows an increase of about one hundred; while Leicester, we regret to find, shows a decrease of about the same number.” This somewhat startling statement in reference to Leicester revived an idea which had been previously expressed in the mind of the Pastor of the Friar Lane Church, that it would be a good thing to hold a conference of General Baptist ministers and office-bearers in this town, in order, if possible, to ascertain the causes of the decrease, stimulate each other to greater zeal, and wipe out, as speedily as possible, the apparent stigma which lies upon us as a denomination.
I have looked into these statistics, and find them, I am glad to say, slightly inaccurate as to 1881; but, I am more pleased to say, that the report for 1882 shows a membership of 1,152, being an increase of 29 over 1851, instead of a decrease. This, too, is the highest number reported from the Leicester churches during the last thirty years. But in this there is no room for exultation, but rather for “shame and confusion of face.” How different it ought to have been The population of the town has more than doubled itself in those thirty years. 60,000 souls have been born over and above the deaths in our midst, given to us by the hand of God to evangelise and Christianise, and what have we done As the result of all our labours and services, teachings and preachings, we have netted a paltry 29 That is all we show for thirty years work Where is boasting, then? It is altogether excluded. By what law? By the law of reproduction; for whereas we ought to have doubled our numbers at least, 1,123 have only produced 29. Have we not egregiously failed ? Measured by statistics alone, we are certainly a failure; but there are other and truer elements for judgment than those that can be set out in figures; still we shall do well to enquire what are the causes of our slow progress.
I. I put in the front a want of union in work. Had we been trying to show that union is not strength, we could not well have done worse. As churches we have gone our own separate ways, doing what we thought right in our own eyes, rather than clinging together as a common brotherhood of workers, having one object and one purpose. So far as work is concerned we might have been at the antipodes of each other instead of churches of the same faith and order in the same town; and so there has been generated, I fear, a lack of sympathy, if
* From a paper read at a meeting of pastors and other officers of the Leicester churches.
12 UNION OF GENERAL BAPTISTS IN TOWAWS.
not a lack of love, for each other; and thus we may have weakened instead of strengthened each other. We used to have an United Missionary Prayer Meeting, but that fell through, and there is nothing left now but the Annual United Communion Service to show that we belong to each other. Let us get closer together, doing our own work in our own way, but, at the same time, recognizing each other, and doing it in such a way as to help each other. Would not a quarterly interchange of pulpits be good; and might we not unite together in Home and Foreign Missionary enterprise, and have quarterly or half-yearly Missionary Meetings?
II. Again, we have not sufficiently looked after the young of our congregations. Cardinal Wiseman said, “Give me the young of the nation, and whoever likes may take the rest.” He knew if he could only draw the young into his communion, the future of his church was secure; and so it is with every church; and as we to-day are no stronger, or very little, than we were thirty years ago, it follows that we failed in securing the young in the past. What shall we do to keep our elder scholars, has been the problem for years, a problem not solved yet. But have we done what we could? It is of vital importance that we gather into our churches the young of our congregations, and therefore much time and much labour should be devoted to that purpose. It is just when boys and girls are beginning to think they are too old for Sundayschool, and are in the transition state to men and women, that they need to be taken hold of, and drawn into the fold. Then the devil and his emissaries have most power over them; and to counteract this it requires the very best men in our churches to use their influence and power; therefore the pastor should devote a good deal of his time and energy. Nor are the officers in the church to stand idly by. There is a lack of “looking about us” for the purpose of laying hold of those in the congregation who have been impressed by the preached word, and only wanted a little encouragement from an officer or leading member of the church. A word fitly spoken; a little wise counsel given to a young man just in the crisis of his history, has often proved the turning point of his life, and led him to decision and to God. This is one of our weak points, if not our weakest.
III. Then, again, have we not been too conservative in our mode and style of worship f : Our services I think have lacked variety. The old style, with but little improvement, has been kept up, although in everything else we have advanced by enormous strides, and therefore our services have not been as attractive as they might have been. I gladly recognize the improvement effected in late years. Our singing is better, more varied, and more of it, our sermons are shorter (or at least some of them), and our service is altogether brighter now than then. Still there is room for advance. Why should one man always undertake the whole of the service 7 It would add variety and charm if suitable men could be found for two, and occasionally even more, to take part. In the Established Church it seldom happens, at least in towns, for one man to conduct the whole of the service; and I hold the service is improved by the variety.
Again, the congregation might take more part in it than they do. We are so conservative, and so proper, that there is scarcely ever an
THE GROWTH OF LONDON. 13
audible “Amen.” For my part I should like to see introduced a modified liturgy, wherein all the people should audibly pray and respond—it would very much increase the interest of the services. Not by any means would I do away with extempore prayer; but would supplement it, and so have both. If it were a question of only one, or which? I should say unhesitatingly, let us keep as we are in this matter, and never, on any account, give up extempore prayer. At the same time I think we might, with advantage, have both ; and, by so doing, make the service more attractive, and less wearisome to those who are not decided Christians.
IW. Our close fellowship has been a hindrance to our advancement and progress. This is a delicate topic; but I must say, that after a somewhat anxious consideration of the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that it has been and is a hindrance to our growth as a denomination. If I am not mistaken, nearly all practice close fellowship and open communion—then we are all illogical, and all wrong. It seems to me we have made a mistake in making baptism exclusively the door of the church when Christ says, “I am the door,” without any reference to baptism at all. It appears to me that many a time a stranger has knocked at our door and we have gone to it and put the chain on, and opened it a little way to see who is there, and because he has not had the water mark upon him we have shut the door in his face, as though we thought he had some burglarious designs upon our property; and if he has not immediately and indignantly gone away, we have told him if he will wait outside we will come and take our meal with him on the steps. How much better would it have been, how much more Christ-like, if we had thrown the door wide open, and in loving words of welcome had said, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord, wherefore standest thou without. Believers baptism by immersion I hold to be incumbent on all who believe in Jesus, and I wonder that others do not see it as I do; but thousands of my fellow Christians do not, and who am I that I should say they shall have no fellowship with me. I believe from my heart our practice in this respect has greatly hindered our growth, and the sooner we mend our ways the better.
THE GROWTH OF LONDON AND TEMPERANCE.
LAST year, according to Colonel Henderson's report, 26,170 houses, covering a a length of 86 miles, were built in the metropolitan police area, which now contains 4,788,657 persons—the largest number probably ever packed within fifteen miles of a common centre. Out of this enormous multitude 23 children and 154 adults were entirely lost. Their disappearance is one of the mysteries of London, upon which but little light is thrown by the fact that 54 bodies of persons found dead and unknown were buried before identification. There were three times as many people killed in the streets of London in 1881 as it cost to storm Arabi’s position at Tel-el-Kebir, and ten times as many wounded, the figures being, killed 252, wounded 3,400. There were 800 fires, 274 suicides, 11 murders and only three convictions; 470 burglaries, and only 91 convictions; 27,228 persons were apprehended as drunk and disorderly—a decrease of more than eight per cent. since 1881, although there has been an increase of population of over 80,000. The temperance movement seems to be telling at last, even in London —the proportion of apprehensions per 1,000 of population for the last four years being, 1878, 7.809; 1879, 7.345; 1880, 6:345; 1881, 5-698.-Pall Mall Gazette.