"The Nature and Design of an Association, as a Part
of the Ecclesiastical Organization of the Baptist Denomination"
The Long Run Association, to the Churches of which she is composed:
Dear Brethren: - Being, desirous of promoting your usefulness and happiness, we once more address you by a Circular. The subject we have chosen to bring before you, is the nature and design of an Association as a part of the eclesiastical organization of the Baptist denomination. It is very important in striving to secure any particular object, to keep our eye distinctly upon it; and it becomes us, therefore, to understand what are and what are not, the appropriate objects of persuit, by an Association. That the founders of these iustitutions had some important and desirable objects which they hoped to secure by them, we think, may be taken for granted. If this was not the case - and we only keep them up now in imitation of others, and onr churches send their delegates only from the influence of habit without once thinking of accomplishing any desirable object by these organizations - we think they had better, at once, be either reformed or abolished. It certainly takes a vast amount of time and money to sustain them, and if they are productive of no good, or if the amount of good secured is not equal to the expense, there is something wrong about them. An Association is composed of delegates from a number of churches, more or less, who have voluntarily entered into an agreement thus to associate together. A church chooses, annually, some of its members to meet in convention at a given time and place, delegations similarly chosen by each of the other churches associated. This Association can possess no power but what has been delegated to it, and the churches can delegate no power to it which they do not possess themselves; and hence the objects to be pursued by an Association should be limited to the appropriate objects of a Christian Church. The utility of an Association, arises from its ability to pursue some of the appropriate labors of a Christian Church, more advantageously by this combination of moral strength. A Christian Church is a number of believers associated together to use scriptural means to promote their sanctification and for the purpose of bringing others into a renewed and spiritual state. These means it is true are inadequate in themselves to secure these ends; but still they are to be employed in dependence on the Holy Spirit for success. To the use of means for the attainment of these ends, all the labors of an Association should be limited and as the churches can not be supposed to have delegated to the Association all its power, and in as much as an Association posseses no powers which were not delegated, it should ever be cautious not to transcend its proper limits. One of the best ways of ascertaining the nature and design of these Associations and what has been their general character, is to refer to the testimony of history. ln this way, we may learn what were the objects contemplated by the founders when they originated them, and also, what objects have been embraced since in these organizations. There have been for a long time Associations, or Assemblies, among
the Baptists, similar in their organization to those which are now kept up. The first meeteing of this kind among the English Baptists, of which we have any distinct notice on record, was held in London, in the year 1689, soon after the accession of William and Mary to the British throne. The Baptists previous to this had been called to pass through long and, bitter persecutions, during the continuance of which, many of their ministers had ended their days in prison, and many others to escape a similar fate had hid themselves in different parts of Europe. But by an act of toleration having now been passed, by the government, our brethren were emboldened to meet in a great Association, to inquire into the state of the churches, and to adopt measures for their future prosperity. This meeting was attended by ministers and messengers from one hundred and seven churches, eight of which were in Wales, and the remainder in England. Some few items of the business transacted, as shown by the Minutes, were as follows: 1st. To show to the churches that they disclaimed all right to interfere with their liberty, they solemnly, and unanimously declared in the following words:"That we disclaim all manner of superiority or superintendency over the churches: and that we have no authority or power to prescribe or impose any thing upon the faith or practice of any of the churches of Christ. Our whole intendment is, to be helpers together of one another, by way of council and advice, in the right understanding of that perfect rule, which our Lord Jesus the only Bishop of our souls, hath already prescribed, and given to his churches in his word." In the course of the meeting, a general fast was appointed, to be kept by all the congregations; the causes and reasons for which were sent to the churches. The Assembly concluded also that a public fund or stock was necessary towards maintaining and supporting a regular ministry, and came to a resolution how to raise it; and unanimously concluded that it should be raised by a free will offering, that every person should communicate according to his ability, and as the Lord shall make him willing, and enlarge his heart; and that the churches severally, among themselves, do order the collection of it with all convenient speed, that the ends proposed may be put into present practice.
The uses to which this fund or public stock were to be applied, are thus given in the record.
1st. To communicate thereof to those churches that are not able to maintain their own ministry, and that their ministers may be encouraged wholly to the great work of preaching the Gospel.
2d. To send ministers that are ordained, or at least solemnly called, to preach both in city and country where the Gospel hath or hath not yet been preached, and to visit the churches; and these to be chosen out of the churches in London, or the country, which ministers are to be approved of, and sent forth by two churches at the least; but more if it may be.
3d. To assist those members that shall be found in any of the aforesaid churches that are disposed for study, have an inviting gift, and are sound in fundamentals, in attaining to the knowledge and understanding of the languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew."
Several questions were proposed by the churches to the Associations which were freely discussed; after which, written answers were given to the different churches in the Minutes of the meeting. The Association also resolved to republish the Confession of Faith, known among us by the name of the Philadelphia Confession. This Confession of Faith, was first put forth by the Elders and brethren of several Baptist Churches in London and the country, in the year 1677. The Association this year, l689, republish[ed] it without any alteration and prefixed to it the following certificate:"We, the ministers and messengers of, and convened for upwards of one hundred congregations in England and Wales, denying Arminianism, being met together in London, from the 3d day of the seventh Month, to the 11th of the same, 1689, to consider of some things that might be for the glory of God, and the good of these congregations have thought meet, for the satisfaction of all other Christians, that differ from us in point of baptism, to recommend the Confession of our Faith, for their perusal, which Confession we own as containing the doctrine of our faith and practice; and do desire that the members of our churches, respectfully do furnish themselves therewith." This was signed by thirty-seven persons, and they add in the name and behalf of the whole Assembly. The second General meeting of this Association was held in London, from the 3d to the 8th of June, 1691. The third session was held at the same place, 1692; it commenced on the 3d of May, and continued to the 24th of the same Month. In this year the following resolutions were adopted."lst. That whereas, for some years last past, the churches have had in several counties partial associate meetings, and one general at London, annually; it is now proposed to divide this one general into two, and to keep one in the West, and one here for the East. That in the West, to be at Bristol, and the other in London; desiring, that all churches will send messengers to one or the other, once a year, as may be for their conveniency, and that either from their particular churches, or they that live remote from such Association, as they think meet to keep.
2d. That the meetnig at Bristol, be kept annually, at the time called Easter, and that the London at the yime called Whitsuntide.
3d. That two messengers be sent down from London every time to that at Bristol; and also, two sent up from that at Bristol to that at London, for the maintaining of general communion.
4th. For the better keeping up of the fund that this method be observed: That all the churches
[p. 10]make quarterly collections in what method they may think best, for the encouragement of the ministry, by helping those ministers, that are poor, and to educate brethren that may be approved, to learn the knowledge of those tongues wherein the Scriptures are written.
5th. That those Assemblies are not to be accountable to one another, any more than churches are.
6th. That no churches make appeals to them to determine matters of faith or fact, but propose on query for advice.
7th. That after both meetings, in West and East, have been held, that a general narrative be printed and sent to all the churches, of such matters as may be of genreral use."
"The conveniences (says Crosby in his History of the English Baptists) attending the general Assemblies of the Baptists by the great distance of some who were to attend them, (and the churches being settled in peace and unity), brought the Baptized Churches into other methods, for the regulating themselves; so that instead of meeting annually in general bodies, they met together some of them at pre-appointed times to consult of such things as may have a tendency to the well being and good of the whole; and communicated, by letter, to each of the congregations, their proceedings, conclusions, and agreements."
In April, 1704, the ministers and messengers of thirteen churches, in and about the city of London, held an Associaiton at Lorimer's Hall, which continued three days. The meeting was opened with a sermon by Elder John Piggott. After they had in prayer, looked to God for his direction and blessing on their deliberations they chose Mr. Richard Adams for their Moderator, and then proceeded to read the letters from the churches, and seriously debate the matters therein contained, and sent their agreements to each of the churches. All which, they submitted to be approved or refused as should seem most meet to them. In this meeting rules of decorum were adopted, and various resolutions passed: among which were the following which were agreed to unanimously. "That it would tend much to the edifcation of the churches, frequently to keep days of fasting and prayer in each congregation; and some times for several churches to assemble together on such occasions, when it can be conveniently attained."
"Also, that it be recommended to the several associate churches, represented by this Assembly that each church do make an annual collection for the relief of such ministers, in and about the city of London, dwelling within the limits of the weekly bills of mortality who have but a small allowance from the churches to which they belong."
"Also, that it would be highly useful, that a fund of money be settled and maintained, either by subscriptions or collections as each church shall think most expedient, for the education of pious young men who are in communion with one or other of these associate churches, and are blessed with promising gifts in order for the better fitting of them for the work of the ministry; and also, for the furnishing of others, who have not time to attain to the knowledge of the tongues, and some other parts of useful learning, with such English books as may be thought most proper for their assistance and improvement. And that this be recommended to each particular church."
The policy of our English brethren was transferred to this Country. The Philadelphia Association was formed in 1707; the Charleston, in 1751; and the Warren, in 1767. These are the three oldest Associations in America, and from them have sprung all the rest. Records of the sentiments and doings of the early founders of our Associations, are exceedingly scarce, and yet we have some Records. "Mr. Hart, the pastor of the Baptist Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, having seen in the Philadelphia Association, (says Mr. Wood Furman in his History of the Charleston Association), the happy effects of union and stated intercourse among churches maintaining the same faith and order, was instrumental in the formation of the Charleston Association, consisting then of four churches. The object of the Association, (continues Mr. Furman), was declared to be the promotion of the Redeemer's Kingdom, by the mantainence of love and fellowship and by mutual consultations for the peace and welfare of the churches," The independency of the churches was asserted and the powers of the Association restricted to a council of advice. Mr. Baccus in his History, in treating of the nature of an Association, havlng described the routine of business in the Warren Association in Rhode Island, with which he had been familliar for half a century, adds:"By these means mutual acquaintance and communion hath been begotten and promoted, errors in doctrine and conduct have been exposed and guarded against, false teachers have been detected and warnings published against them, destitute flocks have been occasionally supplied, the weak and oppressed have been relieved, and many have been annimated and encouraged in preaching the Gospel through the land, and in new plantations in the wilderness. A collection is made at our annual meetings for the widows and children of poor ministers. A Society has also been incorporated, to collect money to assist poor youths in obtaining learning with a view to the ministry. And a Missionary Society is formed to collect money for the support of traveling ministers, and to instruct and direct them therein according to their best discretion. And several of them have visited many destitute flocks, and some of them have gone into Upper Canada with great acceptance. The Philadelphia and Charleston Associations also incorporated at an early period into their doings, efforts for the education of their ministry, for the supply of feeble and destitute churches, and for preaching the Gospel in destitute
regions. The difficulty of obtaining ministerial aid, suited to the exegencies of the times induced the Philadelplia Association, in the year 1722, to recommend to the churches to make inquiry among their ranks and see if they had any young men hopeful for the ministry, and inclined, for learning, and if they had any such individuals, to give notice of it to Abel Morgan, that he might recommend them to the Academy on Mr. Hollis's account. Mr. Hollis was a worthy merchant in London, and a Baptist in sentiment. This worthy man bestowed funds on Harvard College at Cambridge, Mass., to the amount of twelve thousand dollars, and made provision for the education of some Baptist students at that Institution. As our churches increased in number this Association resolved, in 1756 to originate and sustain an additional Institution for ministerial education. This school of the Prophets, was established at Hopewell, New Jersey, and the Rev. Isaac Eaton, was appointed principal of the same. It was the first Seminary established expressly for aiding young Baptist ministers, on the Continent of America. This Association, (says Benedict in his History), was the model, and gave doctrine, and even discipline to all the others, especially South and West. The Charleston Association (says the same author), in 1755, taking into consideration the destitute condition of many places in the interior settlements of this and the neighboring states, (their provinces) recommended to the churches to make contributions for the support of a missionary to itinerate in those parts. Mr. Hart was authorized and requested, provided a sufficient sum should be raised, to procure if possible, a suitable person for that purpose. With this view he visited Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the following year, and prevailed wilth Rev. John Gano to undertake the service, who attended the annual meeting and was cordially received. The Association requested Mr. Gano to visit the Yadkin Settlement in North Carolina, first, and afterwards to bestow his labors wherever Providence should appear to direct. He devoted himself to the work; it afforded ample scope for his distingusihed piety, eloquence, and his ministrations were crowned with remarkable success, many embraced and professed the Gospel. The following year he received from the Association, a letter of thanks for his faithfulness and industry in the mission. At the same time, the expediency of, raising a fund to furnish suitable candidates for the ministry with a competent share of learning, was taken into consideration; and it was recommended to the churches, generally to collect money for that purpose. The members present engaged, in behalf of their constituents, to furnish one hundred and thirty-three pounds to begin the fund, and Messrs. Stephens, Hart, and Polet, were chosen Trustees. In 1759, Mr. Evan Pugh was proposed by Mr. Gano as a candidate for the ministry. He was examined, approved, and put on a course of studies. Having gone through them, he preached before the Association in 1762 with acceptance, and was soon after ordained."
The oldest Associations in Kentucky were Elkhorn, Salem and the Separate, or South Kentucky, which were all founded 1785. The Elkhorn Association held her session in 1801, at South Elkhorn Meeting House. The introductory sermon was preached by A. Dudley. David Barrow was chosen Moderator, and John Price, Clerk. This Association then contained 36 churches, and 4,853 members. In the Minutes for that year may be found the following record: South Elkhorn requests missionaries to the Indian nations. Appointed a committee of five, David Barrow, Ambrose Dudley, John Price, A. Eastin and G. Smith, to hear and determine on the call of any minister; and if satisfied therewith, to give them credentials for that purpose - to set subscriptions on foot - to receive collections for the use of the mission. The churches are advised to encourage subscriptions for this purpose, to be lodged with their deacons subject to the order of the committee.
Our limits will not permit us to embody any more facts; but these are sufficient to give some of the objects contemplated by the founders when they originated these institutions, and what has been their general character. In conclusion we would ask: have we not too much lost sight of the design of these institutions as a part of our ecclesiastical organization? What have we done to educate those young men in our churches to whom the Lord has given promising gifts for the work of the ministry? What have we done to supply destitute churches, or to promote the preaching of the Gospel in destitute regions? And henceforth while we seek by means of Associations to promote the union, peace, and fellowship of the churches, and to procure correct and faithful statistics of the denomination, let the other important objects of which we have spoken be kept prominently before our minds, and let us ask ourselves in the fear of God, what can our Association do to promote them? That you may henceforth abound in the work of the Lord, and provoke one another to love and good works, is the prayer of your brother in Christ. Farewell. ==============[From Long Run Baptist Association Minutes, 1841 and 1859. From the Southern Baptist Seminary Library, Archives and Special Collections, Louisville, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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