Long Run Association of Baptists, which met at Buck Creek, Shelby County, KY. On the first Friday in September, 1838.
It was supposed that not less than five thousand persons were in attendance; and we have never witnessed, on any similar occasion, so much attention and good order.
Circular Letter, 1838
By W. C. Buck
Very Dear Brethren: - Having been accustomed to address you by a Circular for many years, you would naturally expect a communication of that sort to be appended to our minutes for the present year. Ann we do not only take pleasure in endeavoring to gratifying so reasonable an expectation, but are especially desirous of being instrumental in promoting your usefulness and happiness, as the churches of Christ, by the effort.
The state of the churches, and the matters of business which have claimed our attention during this session, will accompany this letter in the details of our minutes, so that we need add nothing upon those subjects; and the various points of doctrine by which our denomination is distinguished have been so frequently discussed, and are generally so well understood, as, in our opinion, however important, they may be, requires that they should give place at this time to another department of our interest, of vital importance to the cause we advocate and profess to love.
The time was when the Baptists were not only the most numerous denomination in Kentucky, but were perhaps equal in numbers and influence to all the others put together - this, however, is not the case at this time. It is true that, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which truth has been presented, we have about doubled our numbers in twenty-five years; still, several other denominations have increased in a much greater ratio, and sometimes by inroads made upon the very families of Baptists, so that, although it may be said that the Baptists are still the most numerous denomination in this State, yet it is equally true that they have not preserved that comparative advantage which they once enjoyed. Now this is ascribable to some cause, and we are naturally led to inquire what it can be; shall we say that truth has changed sides and gone over from us? This cannot be admitted, because we are based upon the same great principles which for ages past have distinguished the denomination. Shall we then conclude that truth has lost its wonted influence upon renewed minds? Certainly not. How then shall we explain this matter? Shall we quiet our anxieties by that kind of enthusiasm that supposes, because the Holy Ghost is the agent in the conversion of sinners, that therefore all converted persons will be necessarily led to receive and practice the whole truth? No; this will not solve the difficulty, - it is far from being true, because God converts the heart aright, that bad men and erroneous teachers may not , fill the head of the convert with error and vanity; and, besides, we are compelled to acknowledge that there are many truly converted persons In societies whom we believe to be heterodox [sic] in both doctrine and practice. Now we cannot believe that any Christian would willingly and premeditatedly plunge himself into error; we suppose that all who are truly born of God, not only desire to know the truth, but would all be led to the acknowledgment of the same great principles if the proper kind of instruction was afforded them before their minds were perverted by the sophisms of wrong-headed instructors. And it is in this way that we account for the present state of things.
In the first settlement of this country, although our preachers were not numerous, yet we had perhaps more in the field than all the others put together, and their influence was proportionally great; but, owing to the neglect of the churches, many have been compelled to leave the State to find a support for their families in the south and west, whilst other denominations have been crowding their preachers upon us from every direction, to every point where success seemed to invite; so that at this time some of those denominations have perhaps as many preachers in the field as we have, and with this decided advantage, that they are sustained by their churches, and kept all the time at the work of the ministry, whilst ours are compelled to labor all the week to support their families, and then to preach on Lord's day under great disadvantages, for the want of due preparation.
We have in Kentucky nearly six hundred Baptist churches, containing about 40,000 members, with something less than 250 ordained preachers. including all ages and qualifications; and out of this number, until within a few months past, there were but six churches even attempting to support their ministry; and of these, only two could be said to do it. All the rest are engaged in some secular business to support their families, having no time left either to improve their own talents, or for that most efficient of all ministerial effort, of preaching from home to house, and conversing with those who may be inquiring upon the subject of religion.
Here then is our great denominational error, and the fruitful cause of all our distresses; we rely too much upon the potency and efficiency of the truths we maintain, to work their influence upon the community, while we neglect to employ, as we should do, the very instrumentality (the ministry of the word) which God has ordained to build up and perpetuate his church. Were the hands of our preachers unbound from secular pursuits and set wholly to the work of the ministry, they would be able (in addition to the vast influence which they would wield by visiting among their several charges and improving their qualifications for the pulpit) to average at least four sermons each per week, making about 50,000 in the course of the year; whereas, as things are now conducted, it is doubtful whether the entire labor of all our preachers exceeds 13,000 sermons a year, making a difference of 37,000 sermons, and of all the private labor of our ministry, all of which is entirely lost to the denomination yearly.
By a calculation made from the best data in our possession, we feel safe in saying that one and a half per cent. upon the annual income of the denomination would yield a sum which, if properly distributed, would support every ordained preacher in Kentucky, so that he could give himself wholly to the work,
and yield to the denomination all the advantages above alluded to. And where is the Christian who would not be willing most cheerfully to give so small a portion of what his Heavenly Father is pouring annually into his lap, for the upbuilding of the Zion of God on the earth?
It is to the duty of sustaining the ministry that we wish particularly to call the attention of the churches; a duty which, though generally acknowledged, has been most criminally neglected by our denomination. We are aware that a spirit of covetousness and the love of the world have enabled some to find what they esteem a sufficient justification not only for neglecting this duty, but for openly opposing It. We beg leave here just to examine a few of their positions, so as to enable you to determine upon all the rest; and in the first place, they assume, without the least ground of authority, that the Apostles supported themselves by their own labor; which is not true, for nowhere, upon the pages of sacred or profane history, can it be shown that either of the eleven Apostles ever did any thing for their support, after the ascension of Christ, but preach the gospel. But it is said that Paul certainly labored for his support. It is true that in two instances, when the Apostle was operating where no churches were established, he was compelled for a short time to sustain himself by personal effort; but in all other instances he was supported by the churches. When he first visited Thessalonica, he was compelled to labor, but not more than three weeks, before the church at Phillippi [sic] sent him supplies; also, when he came first to Corinth, be went to work with Aquilla, but for only about three months, when he was supplied by contributions from the churches in Macedonia, by the hands of Silas and Timothy; see Acts xviii. 5, and 2 Chronicles xi. 9
But again it is urged that Peter exhorts the elders to ‘take the oversight of the flock willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.' To which we simply remark, that no stronger proof could be required to establish the fact that gain was connected with the office of pastor, or else Peter never would have thought it necessary to exhort his ministering brethren to beware of its influence upon them. And all the other arguments upon which those rely who oppose this duty, are as baseless as those which we have so hastily examined.
The limit of a circular will not permit us to enter upon a fair and full investigation of this matter, nor do we think it necessary for your conviction. To save ourselves the labor of writing, and you the expense of publishing a lengthy letter, we beg leave to make a short quotation from the Philadelphia confession of faith, and this we do not only because you have recognized it in your constitution as orthodox, but because its antiquity will secure us against the charge of introducing new things, a name by which the covetous are disposed to brand every thing in these days which requires that we should impart of what God has given us to the spread of the gospel.
In the 27th chapter and 10th section of the confession, we have these words: "The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer. (Acts vi. 4, Hebrews xiii. 17,) with watching for their souls as they that must give an account to him, It is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all respect, (1 Timothy v. 17, 18; Galatians vi. 6, 7,) but also to communicate to them of all their good things, according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply without being themselves entangled in secular affairs, (2 Timothy ii. 4,) and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; (1 Timothy iii. 2;) and this is required by the law of nature, (1 Corinthians ix.6, 14,) and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
Much more scripture authority could be adduced upon this subject, but as the London and Philadelphia Associations have thought the above sufficient to found an article of faith upon, we shall not lengthen our epistle by additional quotations.
To the discharge of this duty, dear brethren, we do most affectionately and earnestly exhort you. Oh! it is a crying sin against us, that we have kept back by fraud the hire of those laborers who have reaped down our fields, and their cries are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbaoth, while we are living in pleasure and wantonness upon the earth. Let us do our first works over again, peradventure God will restore to us the light of his countenance; and let us not be satisfied with barely releasing the pastors of churches, but, if practicable, so employ the ministerial gifts among us as to supply all the destitution within our bounds; and we may rest assured that we shall reap the fruits of our obedience, according to the divine promise.
Once more, dear brethren, we press upon your prayerful attention this important Christian duty, and devoutly pray the great Head of the church to pour out his spirit upon you, and to build you up in the faith once delivered to the saint., so that you may be found each doing his Lord's will, when be shall come to gather his elect from the four winds of earth under heaven.
[From the Long Run Association of Baptists minutes, 1838, pp. 3-4; via SBTS digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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