Editor's Note: The Minutes on page 4: "The Circular Letter, drawn up by our brother Montanye, was read, and our brethren David Jones and Silas Hough, in conjunction with the author, appointed a committee to revise it."
Thomas B. Montayne was pastor at Southampton Baptist Church; David Jones pastored at Great Valley Baptist Church and Silas Hough pastored at Montgomery Baptist Church. — jrd
Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1808
THE MINISTERS AND MESSENGERS OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAPTIST ASSOCIATION, TO THE CHURCHES THEY SEVERALLY REPRESENT, SEND CHRISTIAN SALUTATION.
WITH gratitude we review the goodness of God in sparing our metropolis the subject of such good health the past season, and that we have been indulged with seeing so many of our brethren in the gospel. But where are those we once associated with? We hope in glory! We have had the painful tidings, that our dear and zealous Brother JOSHUA VAUGHAN, and also our Father JONATHAN JARMAN, have both exchanged earth for heaven. We say painful, when we look on our destitute Zion: but joyful, indeed, to the well done, good and Faithful servants of Christ Jesus.
THE subject of our present address is, The CHURCH of CHRIST. This term was originally applied to the congregation of the faithful, who assembled for the celebration of the once humbled, but now exalted Redeemer; in which period of time the term was clearly understood: but by degrees its glory departed; and, as the essential materials of the kingdom of Christ were wanting, namely, regeneration of heart and comfort in the Holy Ghost, impieus men appropriated the name CHURCH to buildings made with hands; in which language is not only abused and prostituted, but a shade drawn over the lovely bride of Christ. —
Hence idolatry began, and Rome, then mistress of the world, introduced in name, what eventually, as it inspected herself, she effected radically, viz. universal corruption, in principle and practice. Cathedrals of worldly pomp were held up to view as the Church, and all who bowed the knee to her aggrandized forms, were denominated her members. How awful and idolatrous the names Holy Trinity! Christ's Church! when applied to timber, brick, or stone; and how expressly contrary to the language of Scripture, But Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house are we, Hebrews iii. 6. The Church which he purchased with his own blood, Acts xx. 28.
Again, the term Church is thoughtlessly applied to every body of people in the world who profess the Christian name, whether they stand in the truth of Christ or not (no doubt with good intentions by many) until the appellation has become so common and universal, that to call its propriety in question, would be denominated bigotry and want of charity.
The fact is, that Jesus Christ never had but one true Church on earth; the consideration of which will occupy our present letter to you.
This subject, taken up in a comprehensive view, includes the whole elect of God, including some of all nations in all periods of time — the Church of the first born whose names are written in heaven — He is the Head of the Church and Saviour of the body. But this is the invisible Church, and only known to God and the Lamb, who stand related to him in the everlasting covenant of grace, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, and borne on his heart in his advocacy with the Father, of whom we are ignorant and know nothing when speaking of the visible Church of Christ. The same may be said of every one on the earth which have experienced the power of divine grace in their souls, leading them to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as well those who have never openly espoused his name, as such who have declared their love to him. Of these, it may be said with the greatest propriety that they are fit subjects for the kingdom of Christ in her glory and purity, and all such are not far from the kingdom of God. When we deny the name Church of Christ to the whole mass of professors of every name and denomination on the earth, we do not intend thereby that they are destitute of a saving acquaintance with the precious Redeemer, or that they are not the dear children of God, nor yet that they will finally be lost. No! We are confidently persuaded of many of them that they will reign in glory, and feel desuirous that they should constitute the open and visible kingdom of Christ on the earth.
The term Church is peculiar to the New Testament, and intends a company of called persons, separated from the world, devoting themselves to the service of God, being led and guided by his will under the unerring government of his righteous laws. This accounts for the term being given to the Israelites, Acts vii. 38. He was with the Church in the wilderness. Take particular notice: they were called out of Egypt, God by Moses was their only sovereign law-maker and giver, who, being under the government of his statutes, were a lively type of that Church we are now treating of, 1 Corinthians x. l-6. It is not novel when, we say, that there can be but one Church in her visible form, among the many so called in the world, when the subject is fully investigated by the word of God. Different denominations of professing Christians have openly avowed this sentiment,and have given the marks whereby the true Church may be known from the false, in which perfect uniformity has happily pervaded. The main features are: The truth of Christ fully preached — his ordinances clearly administered — and, the discipline of his word faithfully and impartially executed. Where these are, there the Church is seen in her real form; though, few in number, poor, persecuted and much despised.
In searching for this amiable virgin of Christ, you must despair of finding her in any national establishment; for there religion is only a principle, and the Church (so called, though improperly) a creature of state: the king is the head of such a church — every child born in the kingdom a member — her discipline the canon law: Whereas, the Church of Christ owns no head but Christ Jesus — no subjects, but such as profess to be born of God — and no government, but his word. She has ever been distinct from worldly policy, and a warm enemy to such coalitions. Christ's kingdom is not of this world. This, no doubt, forms one grand reason why you, as citizens of the nation, are such firm supporters of our happy government, which wholly disclaims all right to direct in matters of religion, leaving the cause of God to stand on her own immutable foundation. — Duty calls us to acknowledge, that America stands, as a nation, the first jewel in the crown of King Jesus. O! when will the auspicious day arrive, that the nations of the earth, who are now thirsting for each others ruin, shall copy after and fill the number up! Then the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ. — She is not the incorporation of a parish, nor the diocese of a bishop; for though some churches, being large, may have had a plurality of presbyters, yet in no instance
do we find a bishbp having more than one church, Philippians i. 1. — It cannot be provincial; because there were churches in the same province, 1 Corinthians xvi. 19. Galatians i. 2. — As there must have been churches before a presbyter, or elder, was ordained in them, it cannot be presbyterian, Acts xiv. 23.
The Church, as related to Christ, is under an absolute monarchy. Her wishes have not been consulted in the formation of her government, nor her counsel asked in the enacting any law for her observation. And gave him to be the Head over all things to the Church, Ephesians i. 22. Colossians i. 17, 18. But in her visible form, she is a pure republic, inviolably attached to the infallible word of God as her sacred constitution; which is suited to all periods of the world, and the state of the Church among all the nations of the earth. In her prosperity we are all deeply interested; for in her we were born free; in her all that is dear to us is found, and in her our highest hopes and future good are anticipated. Confederation is the formal cause that we, though many, are but one body. But as the limits of a letter will not admit us to enter fully into every part, we must confine ourselves to the main acknowledged features of Christ's approved Spouse. These are three:
First, The truth of Christ fully preached. The everlasting love of God to his people — their redemption by the blood of Christ — justification by his imputed righteousness — effectual calling by the Holy Ghost, and the perseverance of all renewed souls unto eternal salvation. These are a summary. Yet the truth, as it relates to her visible form, may more properly be stated thus: Christ is the only Head and Legislator there; his will is sovereign, and unto him all his subjects should submit. Regeneration is strenuously maintained there, as the essential matter for heaven, and must be openly professed, in order to be a fit subject of the Church of Christ. Except a man be born again be cannot see the kingdom of God. The primitive churches were composed of such as were called of Christ Jesus, Romans i. 6. and the faithful in Chnst Jesus. Those who were united in the first church at Jerusalem are called believers, Acts iv. 14, and the additions to them were by the Lord, of such as should be saved.
Secondly, The ordinances of Christ clearly administered. BAPTISM and THE LORD'S SUPPER. The first of which is by many denominated the door into the Church, and by others an initiating ordinance; and because we reject infants (incapable of public profession) they say we shut them out of the Church. The fact is, that baptism is an institution of God called the counsel of God, and is a gospel ordinance which was unknown until a man sent from God practised it; and it continues to be an external, by which all who repent of sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, are to be acknowledged and received as fit subjects for the communion of the Church. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. When Samaria received the word of God, they believed and were baptized; srill there was no church there. But what will effectually put all the admirers of the idea (among the Paedorantists) out of conceit of their thus reasoning, is this; it will prove more than you ever asked of them; and, we are persuaded from the complexion of a late publication of theirs, more than they will be fond of admitting, namely, that the first person baptized by John was a member of the gospel Church, and so all that submitted to the ordinance: consequently, the gospel Church was then in full being. But as this would make the existence, of a church in her visible form, in every place where the first person.submitted to baptism (heathen lands not excepted) we reject the propriety of it invariably, as being contradictory in itself, and as having no authority from the word of God. The administration of the ordinance of baptism is essential to the kingdom of Christ in her visible form. So, John the Baptist prapared the way of the Lord Jesus, and preached the kingdom of heaven being at hand, i. e. Christ's kingdom spoken of by Daniel the prophet. The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom. He was the Voice crying in the wilderness: he came to manifest Christ unto Israel. But the open glory and beauty of the Church broke forth thro' the descent of the Holy Ghost at Jerusalem; which tends to confirm the idea, that the ordinance of baptism is inseparably connected with the gospel, and that it cannot be clearly preached where it is omitted. It is not that indifferent, circumstantial thing many say it is: but a positive appointment of God, and well becomes the subjects of grace to observe.
They who were baptized by John, were visibly and publicly proper subjects to be received into the gospel Church we speak of; and no doubt the three thousand added to the first constituted church at Jerusalem, were of them; as also the Samaritans, when baptized by Philip, and the twelve found at Ephesus, and all others in succeeding days, where a prudent number (say twelve, with the prospect of an increase) are found, being hopeful subjects [of] grace, having professed it, and upon that profession being baptized by an authorized administrator; they are then, and not before, fit subjects to form a gospel Church, and, by the authority of Christ, may take upon themselves the name; and, supporting the honour of Christ, are to be recognized as the Church in such a place,
distinct from all others and independent, being a branch of the one glorious Church of the Lamb. Nor are we the only people who say that baptism is of importance. All who attempt to observe the ordinances of Christ say the same; insomuch, that none who observe the Lord's Supper will admit any person to their communion, but such as they call baptized. In this they are as rigid as the Baptists; though they have been very liberal in giving the name of bigots to us; and charging us with laying great stress on the ordinance. They do know, at the sarme time, that no well informed Baptist places any hope of salvation in observing it. So far to the contrary, we do not baptize any who profess that it will merit any thing before God: but only hold, that it is essential to church fellowship, and that no one can commune, on gospel grounds, with propriety without it. Here, then, the whole matter rests. If the person does not conform to the laws of Christ, he does not observe them; and though he may attempt to satisfy his conscience in different modes, yet, remember, if the command of Christ is not complied with, then Christ's honour is not satisfied, and such deviation is assuming the place of the Lawgiver, and offering strange fire to the Lord. Think of Nadab and Abihu's fate. They who do not practice for baptism what Christ has commanded, are unbaptized, and cannot be received into the Church; and, if disqualified for visible membership, then ten thousand times ten thousand of such persons, admitting every thing possessed in heart, and though in the end they will land in glory — yet, being unbaptized, never did, nor never will in that state, constitute one branch of the regular Church of the Lord Jesns.
Finally, The word baptize is confessedly Greek, and means to dip. They who immerse, in order to comply with the command, understand and practice as the Greeks themselves do, who must be the best judges of their own language. The immersion in water being invariably valid, you are sure it is fully administered, your opponents themselves being judges.
The Lord's Supper. This is a Church ordinance instituted by Jesus Christ, and after him in the Church at Jerusalem when under the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost, who was to lead into all truth — and afterward enjoined by the apostle Paul, was that which he had received of the Lord Jesus, and is to be continued until the final end of the militant state. Christ is the substance of it; he fits the guests for it, and sits Head at the table. The only, proper elements are bread and wine, the one to be ate the other drank; the grand end of which is to shew forth the Lord's death. It was bread and wine that were taken, the same given, and also that which was partaken of; and, as an unanswerable proof that it is an outward and literal taking and eating, the scriptures say, Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat, &c. for be that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body, 1 Corinthians xi. 28, 29. If the supper were spiritually performed, without the use of the elements, then all must be condemned, for we are all unworthy: whereas, the partaking of the Spirit delivers from condemnation and brings the soul into sweet society with God. Consequently, to eat and to drink, must mean corporeal acts, which an unrenewed person, or a scandalous professor, may plunge themselves into. This ordinance should be administered on the first day of the week, in the place where the Church meet for public worship, and not to any one in a private manner, Acts xx. 7. 1 Corinthians xi. 18, 20, 33. It is also necessary that it be repeated, As oft as ye eat, &c. by which you are not to understand a daily, or weekly partaking: but different from baptisjn. That is but once; this, to be repeated. The best exposition is — not so seldom as to lose sight of the object, nor yet so frequent as to reduce it from the divine intention: but this is left discretional.
The third and last essential we shall call your attention to, is, Equal, just and impartial Discipline The gospel Church has no authority to legislate, erase, alter, or accommodate the laws of Christ to the wishes of an unrenewed heart. No man, or set of men, whether they are a board of ministers, or a bench of bishops, have any power to enact rules contrary to the scriptures, — nor create officers in religion, but such as Christ has appointed — nor the admission or exclusion of members contrary to his word. The Church is the only judge of her own members. They are to be admitted to her fellowship with due care, not too hastily. Her door of entrance is public profession; and that verbally is to be preferred, though delivered in a broken manner, to the best written experience. Nor ought any to be received until satisfactory evidence is given of a work of grace in the soul. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Mutual consent is also necessary. The subject acts voluntarily, and the church admits cordially. The manner of reception was by the right hand of fellowship. Galatians ii. 9.
The power to call men to the work of the ministry is in the Church, who has the right of choosing her own officers, who are not apostles nor prophets; but bishops and deacons. But as the letter of last Association was on the subject of
Pastors, we refer you to it. The deacons' office is to distribute the Church's bounty to the poor, and to assist the pastor in the discharge of his sacred trust.
Just and impartial discipline recognizes the real piety of her members. This a glorious sense in which the rich and the poor meet together, the Lord being the maker of them all. Her acts of censure and excommunication should be the last resorted to; and then, only when all due pains have been taken to reclaim the backslider and wanderer, should be executed in the fear of God, without partiality. She has a right to exclude her members on the ground of fact, whether it be for breach of covenant, departure from the truth in principle or practice, or immorality of conduct; but in each of these cases, due care should be taken lest she act simply to gratify her humour, or to shew her power. As each member was received by the mutual consent of the Church, so just discipline can only be performed by the same body. It is true, a majority of voices may exclude: yet that Church who disowns her members at the expence of the peace of many, acts imprudently; for either the crime for which the person is disowned wanted evidence, or the minority do not respect the honour of Christ and the interest of religion. In cases of this kind, impartial discipline moves with deliberation, lest in removing tares they remove the wheat also. The glory of God is the grand object to be effected; the Church purged; the garden dressed, and the best good of the subject sought after.
In closing our address to you, we feel a conssolation unutterable that the Church of Christ has been preserved, though yet in her wilderness state, which renders her undesirable by many: but, blessed be God, she is on her way to better days. The time is not far distant, when every species of antichristianism shall be exposed, and all her true friends known. My people come out of her. Then infant sprinkling will no more be practiced, nor the Lord's Supper administered to improper subjects: but the Lord's Kingdom come, in the purity and simplicity of the primitive age. To effect this desirable object, it is high time to awake out of sleep, and put on the armour of light; for, as it respects denominations of professed Christians, nothing is more disingenuous than an attempt to incorporate the gospel Church, with them. It is therefore a war of extermination, in which you are called to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, giving up the idea of a compromise; for nothing short of an universal renouncing of all departures from the primitive Church, in faith and practice, can, on scriptural grounds, effect a righteous union. The cause you are embarked in is God's: the love of truth (not our wishes) makes us differ from many. The institutions which you have embraced, occupied the thoughts of JEHOVAH — were Submitted to by the SON OF GOD — enjoined by the HOLY GHOST — affectionately espoused, and patiently suffered for, by the followers of the Redeemer. In this day, how much reproached are all they who defend them? But, dear brethren, go on believing all things written in the law and in the prophets; for wno shall be able to harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good. — We remain your affectionate brethren in the bonds of redeeming love.
Signed in behalf of the Association, THOMAS B MONTANYE, Moderator. HORATIO G. JONES, Clerk. =============[From the Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, Held by Appointment, in Philadelphia, October 4th, 5th and 6th, 1808, pp. 6-10. Document provided by Ben Stratton. — jrd]
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