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Öonference on the sambitions of (shurch §tmhttship."
X. —THE ASSOCIATION LETTER WEIGHED AND FOUND WANTING.
DISCUSSION or no discussion, many of our churches have made up their minds to receive into full membership those who are unbaptized. Some of them have done so for many years; and it is no exaggeration to say that there are in our denomination at the present moment hundreds of church members who are unbaptized. Those who have introduced this state of things are more conscientious than consistent, for they are using the Baptist label to cover that which is not all Baptist. Our friends are perfectly aware of this incongruity. They know, too, that this anomaly is liable to create legal difficulties, but they are not without hope that when they have converted us all to “open fellowship” views, then “legal consent” will be given us to haul down the genuine Baptist flag, and to run up in its place the banner of Union churches. The conference we are now having is practical to this extent, viz., that we cannot long remain as we are. We stand before the world as a denomination professing to believe “that it is the indispensable duty of all who repent and believe the gospel, to be baptized by immersion in water, in order to be initiated into a church state: and that no person ought to be received into the church without submission to that ordinance—(Articles of Religion, No. 6). But this is no longer believed by a considerable section of our people. It did very well for 1770, but it is of no use under “the conditions of the kingdom of heaven in the year 1883.” Consequently our churches are now taught that baptism is not the indispensable duty of those who would enter into a church state; that it is hardly to be called a duty, but only a privilege; and that if it be deemed a privilege not worth having, he who so deems it is to be received into the church all the same, and is to be accounted quite as good a Christian as one who hails it with unquestioning loyalty, and observes it with unfaltering fidelity. Rev. W. Chapman (General Baptist Magazine, 1882, p. 411,) goes farther than this. He knows that the Holy Ghost lighted upon Christ at His baptism; but he seems to think that now the Lord reserves His honours for those who care little for baptism. He asks us Baptists to draw the inference that we love our Saviour “not wisely, but too well,” and that when we care less for baptism, the Lord will care more for us. With the Editor of this Magazine “the question is one of interprelation” (G. B. Magazine, 1882, p. 392). A startling statement, that, when we rightly apprehend its meaning. It means that neither we nor our fathers have interpreted the New Testament as we should. It means that Dan Taylor, and those who signed the sixth article abovenamed, were utterly wrong in their view of Christ's teaching, and that Baptists generally have been wrong from the beginning until now. I, for one, await the new interpretation with profound solicitude.
* For articles on this theme see General Baptist Year Book, 1882, and General Baptist Magazine for 1882, pp. 245, 298,325,881, 407,447, by Revs. J. C. Jones, M.A., C. Payne, E. W. Cantrell, W. Lees, W. Chapman, W. Orton, and W. Sharman; also page 8, 1888.
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Meanwhile I cannot accept the arguments of the Association Letter. I entertain the highest regard and esteem for its writer. I know him to be a manly foe, and I feel sure I shall oblige rather than pain him if I send a shell or two into his positions. He has passages on almost every page which invite attack; but then his was an essay, and this is but a brief article. , I must content myself, therefore, with assailing his main positions. I begin at once with what he deems “vital and fundamental.” Mr. Jones stakes everything on the argument “that the separate local societies are but fractional parts of the one universal church.” Then, says he, “the conditions for membership with Christ's church must be the simple and sole conditions for membership with any church which Christ acknowledges,” p. 3. I venture to say, that if this be his strong position, Mr. Jones might as well take shelter in a cardboard castle. His argument is pretty, as pretty as a spider's web; but, unfortunately for him, it is just as worthless. It drops to pieces the moment you touch it.
Its weakness will be seen in a moment if we put it in another shape thus—The separate and local families of mankind are but fractional parts of the one universal family. . . . . Then, the conditions for membership with the human family must be the simple and sole conditions for membership with any local family, say, for instance, the family of Mr. Jones. Very well, the sole condition for entering the human family is birth. It, therefore, resembles the condition for entering the universal church, namely, the new birth. But I imagine that it will be a new thing in Spalding when Mr. Jones acts on his own logic, and opens his doors to all pirates, brigands, thieves, and outcasts, whom God has admitted into His great family. Of course Mr. Jones will say that the separate and local families are ours; and that, therefore, “we have a perfect right to draw the line where we please.” But I must remind him that if they are sections of God's family (and they are, “for we are also His offspring”); then, to use his own argument, we must draw the line where God has drawn it.
But the argument of our esteemed brother breaks down in another respect. It speaks of the conditions for membership with Christ's church, meaning by Christ's church “the church in heaven” (p. 5), and says that the conditions for membership there must be the simple and sole conditions for entering “the church on earth,” or any section of it. What are we to make of this when we remember that, in all probability, Christ receives into the universal church many who have never heard His name? One writer hopes “to meet in heaven myriads” of them. But, if so, they must enter the church in heaven on conditions different from ours, for “these having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” We are told, moreover, concerning little children, that “of such is the kingdom of heaven;” but, on what conditions are they received? Certainly not on “the sole and absolute sine qua non for membership” which Mr. Jones lays down, viz., “the voluntary and hearty surrender of a penitent and believing soul to the government of the risen and exalted Saviour,” for such members of the universal church are neither penitent nor believing souls. Yet, if the Master receives them into the church above, why does Mr. Jones reject them as members of the church on earth? Why does he impose a “sine qua non” which closes the door against them? Mr. Jones does the very thing he condemns, and imposes
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conditions for membership which he says ought not to be imposed. So that, after all, the Christian charity of Mr. Jones is only the width of the baptistery. He puts a plank across it, so that candidates may go over dryshod, but he turns back virtuous heathen and little children whom Christ has received. He is just as narrow on his side of the baptistery as we are on the other. He is, no doubt, under the same pleasant delusion as Mr. Cantrell, that “to throw open both the Lord's table and the church (to the unbaptized) is strictly logical, and does not necessarily involve a further step.” But it does. If we are to receive all whom the Master receives, then, argues Dr. Cox, of Nottingham, in a sermon on this theme, we are bound to receive “a virtuous heathen, a Roman Catholic, an Unitarian.” But even supposing that Mr. Jones would admit such as these (we beg pardon for suggesting it), how far would his charity extend toward them 2 If, in these humbling specimens, as he calls them, “of that infirmity in consequence of which we all see but in part” (p. 7), there should be a devout desire to have their infants sprinkled, or in the case of the Roman Catholic, to have such aids to devotion as a cross and a candle placed on the coumunion table, would Mr. Jones be ready to oblige them 2 If not, why not ? If he yields to their “infirmity” in one thing, why not in another ? Is he ready to sacrifice the will of Christ, even baptism, and and yet not ready to sacrifice his own will ? Then he is charitable at the expense of another, rather than with that which belongs to himself.
In actual practice, too, the proposition on which Mr. Jones rests all his weight is absolutely discarded and set at nought. One wonders that he did not see it when he wrote on page 4–
“One army of the living God,
Mr. Jones should know that the conditions for admission into the army are not the simple and sole conditions for membership with any particular regiment. Certain regiments have their own standards of measurement, and multitudes of those who are in the army to-day cannot come up to those standards of height, width of chest, etc., and therefore, cannot enter those regiments. Even so is it in the “army of the living God.” The Baptist regiments want soldiers of the standard New Testament height. This does not say that others, who fall short of that standard, are not worthy to enter the army. Of course not. For myself I have not a single unkind word to say against any of them. If I cannot wear their uniform, and fight with their weapons, I can give them credit for belonging to different arms of the same service. Nor do I see anything to prevent a brotherly feeling from pervading all ranks. Hence I always invite any members of other Christian churches to sit down with us at the Lord's table. For members of different regiments to take a meal together in token of brotherhood and unity is “good and pleasant,” but to admit into the Baptist regiment those who do not believe in baptism, is the surest way to destroy the Baptist faith. If you want to get rid of baptism, add to your churches members of that type. It will be like putting stones into a jug of water, every one you put in will help to force the water out.
It passes all belief that one with the strong convictions of Mr. Jones as to the truth of baptism, should be so ready to strike his flag and give the
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victory to the unbaptized. If our position is so strong that “one could chase a thousand,” so much the worse for us if we let the unbaptized chase us out of our stronghold. One more matter and I have done. Mr. Jones intimates that in apostolic times people were Baptists because they had no alternative. Because they had what we have not (?), “Living, inspired, infallible authority,” p. 7. He also quotes Mr. Hall to the effect that if any one had objected to apostolic teaching on this subject, he “would have been repelled as a contumacious schismatic,” p. 7. I marvel that Mr. Jones should make such admissions as these ; for they are absolutely fatal to his position. He virtually tells us that when they had “inspired, infallible authority,” the apostles kept out of the churches all who refused baptism. That when mistake was out of the question, all were Baptists. That when the apostles were infallible, they infallibly and invariably kept clear of all that Mr. Jones advocates. Inspiration and infallibility are dead against “open fellowship.” What more is needed to condemn it 2 J. FLETCHER.
(1.) The origin of this discussion.—It is necessary, in the interests of accuracy, for me to say at the outset, that this discussion of the terms of Church Membership was originated by the sole authority, publicly exercised, of our Annual Assembly. The Editor of this Magazine had nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with its suggestion as the topic for the “Annual Letter” to the Churches: and has not, in his long service of the denomination in this periodical, introduced it into its pages save in two instances of Church “Reports,” a Review, and a Glance at the Future of Baptism. I have been silent because I have more faith in deeds than talk; and think, interesting as talk is, yet, on disputed points of action, it should always follow, and not precede work. Therefore, though I have been a believer in “open fellowship” for nearly a quarter of a century, I have been content to practise it, and to keep my mind open to its working, rather than to engage in any sustained effort to urge it upon others, fully assured that if the history of the church of which I have been pastor—of its absolutely unbroken peace for twenty-four years, its steady and increasing progress, its success in getting the will of the Lord Jesus concerning baptism practically recognized, not only by those trained in Baptist families, but by Paedobaptists, did not form a luminous defence of the principle, then any words I could write or speak would be of no avail. There is no logic like the logic of facts. It lasts, and is convincing when the speakers and doers are gone; and, therefore, it is better to help in making one truly living Christian fact than to write a score of brilliant controversial articles. But our last Association made further discussion inevitable; and I have abundant evidence that in arranging to continue the discussion there originated, I was only aiding in realizing the general wish of the churches. (2.) Prophecies of evil.—Several friends have deprecated this “Conference” in language of unexampled strength, and have been as prolific
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in prophecies of incalculable mischiefs to the churches as the sea of sound. Grattan said, “You cannot argue with a prophet. You can only refuse to believe him.” But, surely, you may show the prophet that his utterances are inspired by baseless fears, and not by clear vision of the coming fact. The truth cannot suffer; “like a torch, the more its shook it shines.” Nor is it likely the churches can be really injured in their individual combatants or their common life. Have we “so learned Christ” that we need fear any writer will hurt HIMSELF by being unfair, discourteous or selfish; by writing merely to show his cleverness, or gaining a personal victory over an opponent 7 It would, indeed, be bad for us if we were incapable of conducting a controversy so as to make it a means of grace, and an aid to obedience to that apostolic injunction, “Prove all things,” determined always “to hold fast that which is good,” and to let everything else go. Indeed if we cannot so “confer together” on this or any point as to add to the common stock of personal goodness, then let us be still for ever ! (3.) What is the practice of our churches as to Fellowship 2 Is there not a little unintentional mistake on this point P When I entered the ministry, in 1858, no General Baptist church, so far as I know, except that of Dr. Burns, received unbaptized Christians into fellowship; and there are only five of our churches adopting that practice in 1883. Two of these did not begin till last year, and their unbaptized members are under two score. Another opened its doors nine years ago, and has 13 out of 142 members. Praed Street and Westbourne Park, I see, has baptized more than any other church in the last twenty-four years. We are baptizing nearly every month, and occasionally twice a month, and at every occasion some who are already members “put on Christ by baptism;” and I know, from databefore me, that it is going perilously near to “exaggeration” to say, with that impressive vagueness which captivates and misleads eager controversialists, “There are in our denomination, at the present moment, hundreds of church members who are unbaptized.” Yes, perhaps two hundred—not, certainly, four hundred— and out of that number some, probably (whom few would exclude), who recognize the obligation of baptism, but because of “spinal complaint,” or other physical reason, have not been able to enjoy the privilege of immersion. So if we substitute for the above phrase five out of our 189 churches, and 400 out of our 25,000 members, we may be disposed to weigh the evidence as to the teaching of the New Testament in that calm and unexcited state of mind which will help in the detection of error, and the perception of truth. The question is not one of numbers at all; but it is worth our while to know the FACTs.
(4.) The prevalence of the principle in other Baptist churches. I am not competent to speak at length as to the proportion of unbaptized members in Baptist churches beyond our borders; but I know a few facts. “Open fellowship” churches are numerous. They abound in London; are not rare in some parts of the Midlands; exist in North and East and West; and take a leading share in Baptist work, Baptist influence, and Baptist progress. Dr. Brock started “Bloomsbury” on this principle, and his genial successor still sustains it. Dr. Landels is by no means reticent on the Baptist position, but the church at Regent's Park has always adopted this practice. The churches at Hampstead, (pastor) William Brock; Clapton, (pastor).T. W. Tymns; Camden Road, (pastor)