Although it has not been our usual custom to address you by a circular letter, yet we wish you to suffer a word of advice in this trying day; and as we are determined to stand aloof from the idea of claiming -- much more exercising -- any power that may in the least interfere with the independency or government of the several churches by us represented; yet it appears to us that there is no one thing of greater importance -- to the good of Zion in this world -- than a proper exercise of that power, which, by our exalted Redeemer, is given to each individual church over its own members. The power which a Gospel Church has over its members, is not to be exercised according to any plan, form, or custom, of any that wear the name of Christian, any further than they perfectly agree with the direction given by the great Head of churches in his written word, which says, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount;" Hebrews 8:6. All church power exercised contrary to this rule is mere usurpation, and has not the power of Christ in it.
The design of Gospel Discipline is, to purge the church from iniquity, and not to gratify our prejudice and hard feelings one toward another. In its nature it is calculated to succor the tempted, to deliver the captive, hunt up and bring home with rejoicing those who are gone astray; also to cleanse the church from impenitent sinners, from contention and division, from tattling and tale bearing; and to keep the faith and order of the Christian church in its primitive purity.
Our blessed Lord, in the 18th of Matthew, clearly holds forth the nature, and strongly urges the necessity of church government and discipline. When we consider the wonderful order in which God hath fixed all nature, both rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, so that each one shall bear his portion,
exhibiting his glory, we must be sensible he never intended his peculiar people should live in this world without strict attention to good order and government in his church. As no machine can answer the intention of the author unless all its parts are duly proportioned, and kept in due order, so no church can show forth the true order of God's house without strict attention to the laws and ordinances given forth by the great Architect and Builder of Zion.
It must be acknowledged that all communities formed among men are under certain bonds of union to their own society, the fulfilling whereof are the conditions of the compact. If one member is indulged in the breach of this combination, why not another? and so on till the whole community becomes extinct? So, if one member of a church, be they high or low, rich or poor, bond or free, is indulged in the breach of those bonds of peace which we have entered into, to keep the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, by the same rule another may; and thus we may go on, till in reality we become a synagogue of Satan, be our profession what it may. Let us, then, beloved brethren, as we regard the cause of our blessed Redeemer, hold the reins of government which the Lord Jesus hath put into our hands, and keep a strict watch over our members for good. Every church must be accountable to God in the great day, how she conducts herself toward her members, and whether she is faithful to that trust reposed in her, in executing the laws of Christ. Let us also be concerned to take the utmost care that no matters of labor be admitted into the church, but such as are brought according to the rules of the Gospel; and when difficulties are thus brought, attend to them in the fear of God, and love to his cause, and a hearty desire for a reconciliation of the parties at variance; for a spirit of love and meekness is absolutely necessary for the right administration of church government.
Let great care be taken that all back-biting, whispering, tattling and tale-bearing -- those enemies which often prove so fatal to christian union and peace, and which have so often separated chief friends -- be purged out of the churches, otherwise the fire of contention and strife will always burn. Proverbs 26:20.
Shall also remind you of the importance of a tender care of the weak lambs of the flock; and in your church government keep the door open for the improvement and encouragement of those gifts that may appear beneficial to the church. Oh! may the Great Head of influence lead us all into the true order and faith of God's house, that we may understand the out-goings and incomings thereof, and ever "seek the things that make for peace, and things whereby one may edify another," which is the earnest prayer of your brethren in Gospel bonds.
"Signed by order of the Association.
SAMUEL WALDO, Moderator.
JUSTUS HULL, Clerk.
[From Stephen Wright, History of the Shaftsbury Baptist Association, 1853, pp. 23-25. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Vermont Circulars
Baptist History Homepage