MINUTES OF THE TWENTY-FIRST ANNUAL SESSION
OF CONCORD ASSOCIATION OF BAPTISTS,
HELD AT MUSCLE-SHOAL MEETING-HOUSE, OWEN COUNTY, KY
The Importance of the Last Great Commission
[There were fifteen churches associated at that time - 1841]
The Circular letter was called for, and the writer, Bro. Cyrus Wingate, who was appointed last session to prepare one for the present, having deceased, we therefore requested Bro. S. D. Evans, to read one, which at the request of a number of brethren, he had prepared, which was read, and unanimously adopted.
THROUGH the tender mercies of our Father in Heaven, Concord Association has been permitted to hold her twenty-first annual session; and we gratefully acknowledge our present privilege of addressing to you this letter, which we hope, will encourage you to press forward vigorously in the prosecution of every good work, for the glory of our Master's kingdom; and awaken your attention to the nature, and importance of the last great commission of our blessed Saviour, which he delivered to his apostles, shortly before he left this guilty, sin stained world, and ascended to glory. Mark recorded this commission, (xvi, 15 & 16) in the following words: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
The importance of understanding the nature, and meaning of this commission cannot be too strongly urged upon the christian. It is a last command, - a kind of sacred memento bequeathed us by our truest and best friend, as he was about taking his leave of this lower world.
But a correct understanding of this commission, is essential to correct and [an] intelligent christian action, in carrying it out. Many different notions have been expressed, and taught by different declaimers in relation to it, most of which are too puerile for notice. Many angry and unchristian controversies have been carried on, as to what is meant by the phrases 'All the world,' 'Every creature;' 'whether this commission related only to the apostles, and was fully carried out by them, so that it does not at present apply to the disciples of Christ, etc.' which are alike disgraceful to those concerned, and detrimental to the interests of Zion.
Wnen the apostles were first commissioned, and sent forth, they were commanded to 'go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' They were to 'go not into the way of the Gentiles, nor to enter into any city of the Samaritans.' The way was not yet fully prepared for the introduction of the gospel among the Gentile nations. The second commission, given after the resurrection, may be regarded in the light of an extension of the first. By the life, death, and resurrection of the Saviour, the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was broken down. The former were no longer to enjoy exclusive immunities; and the apostles were now commanded, to go into all the world; or as Matthew expresses it, "Go teach all nations, baptizing them, &c." The gospel from thenceforth, was addressed to every intelligent creature, whether Jew or Gentile, Greek or Barbarian. They were however, to 'tarry at Jerusalem, until endued with power from
on high.' They were nevertheless tardy to believe, that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles; and it was not until Peter was taught not to consider common, that which God had cleansed, that he fully undestood the nature and extent of his commission. But the evidences of divine grace and power, which he beheld among the Gentiles were overwhelming and convincing; and in his defence before his brethren, he could exclaim, "What was I, that I could withstand God?" And brethren, what are we, that we can withstand God? When we see the veil of moral darkness and pagan superstition, rolled from the mind of the Hindoo, or the Hottentot, before the bright beamings of God's eternal truth, what further evidence do we want of divine approbation? This was sufficient to convince the brethren of Peter, that God had visited the Gentiles; and they glorified his name. And he who will not receive such testimony, would not be convinced, though one arose from the dead.
But an important enquiry which is presented for consideration, in the study of this commission, is the following: Was it gven to the apostles, in their official capacity, i.e., simply as apostles or ministers; or did its obligations rest upon them as the church? If the former be true, we are forced to the conclusion, that the apostles, and those who have since succeeded to the ministerial office, are entirely independent of the church, so far as the exercise of their official functions and privileges are concerned; and ccnsequently, are irresponsible to her for their conduct. This is obvious; for if they receive their authority to 'go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,' directly from Christ, without any intermediate or subordinate agency of the church, they are only responsible to him from whom they receive their authority. In vain then are the imposition of hands, and prayer, so long practised by the church, as ordaining ceremonies, in consecrating,and setting apart to the work of the gospel ministry. He who imagines himself to be a chosen vessel to bear the 'glad tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people,' may at once engage in the work without applying to the church for permission; and in vain may she forbid. He is called and commissioned by a higher power than that vested in her. In short the ministry would constitute a kind of independent priesthood, exercising their official functions under their divine commission, without any controlling or scrutinizing power bemg lodged in the church.
By the same method of reasoning, we would exclude the laity from all participation in the eucharist. "Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. - And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them. sayrng, drink ye all of it." [Matthew xxvi, 26, 27.] If the apostles were commanded to commemorate that great and consummating scene of the christian plan of redemption, which was enacted upon Calvary, in their apostolic or ministerial capacity? then the ministry alone have a right to observe it; thus giving divine sanction and authority to a practice, so long observed by the "man of sin," of confining the consecrating elements to the priesthood. The train of deleterious consequences, which would flow in upon the church, by the general reception of such a doctrine, cannot he depicted in the limits of a circular letter, which aims at the greatest brevity. They may, however, readily be conjectured by every intelligent reader. The ministry, holding a
divine commission, and being independent of, and irresponsible to the church, would soon look upon themselves, not as her 'servants,' but as her lords, 'for Jesus' sake;' and a murky tide of priestly abominations would soon deluge the church, and plunge her in a gulf of iniquities. Each pastor might assume a kind of dictatorship over the consciences of his flock, in all matters of faith and practice, and enforce dogmas, with all the authority of a little pontiff.
But, if we suppose that the Saviour commissioned the apostles as the church, we at once perceive a beautiful propriety and consistency in the commission which harmonizes perfectly with the nature of the relations which subsist between the church and the ministry, and lays the foundation for correct and efficient action, upon the' part of both in relation to the commission itself.
The church then, we understand, is commanded to 'go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, &c.' The obligations of this command are obligatory upon each individual member. The enquiry naturally arises, how can the church, or each of the members obey this command in its fullest sense? Is every disciple of Christ to become a public proclaimer of the gospel? Not so. There are different gifts, or different functions to be performed by all the members of Christ's body. The church, however, may preach the gospel; yea, send it to the dark abodes of idolatry and pagan superstition, and there proclaim it to the benighted heathen, through the agency of those whom she has approved and commissioned as her ministers, to represent her in the work; and whom it is her imperative duty to sustain, while engaged in the arduous and responsible task. - She may preach the gospel, by using means to place the word of life within reach of every individual, not only in our own land, but by sending it abroad upon every breeze until it shall have found access to every family that dwells upon the wide domain of earth, and until its healthful and ameliorating influences shall have flowed through the veins of every government under the sun, and until Paganism, Mohamedanism, and every species of idolatry, shall have fled from the earth, before the celestial light. Each member of the church must bear a part of this burden of preaching sustained by the whole, and must also, himself, be a constant and zealous preacher to those around him, by his daily walk and conversation. In this sense, the humbliest saint that holds a place in the house of the Lord may be a preacher.
The above are a few of the methods, by which the fulfilment of this commission is to be accomplished by the church of Christ. There are many others which have not been touched. It is not however the design of this letter to allude to all of them. Enough has perhaps been said to call attention to the subject. This is all that was intended. It is hoped that a spirit of emulation will be excited among the churches of this association to know and to do the will of our Heavenly Master, and that no obstacle may intervene to retard our progress in the heavenly race; or to render inefficient our efforts for the promotion of Zion's interests on earth. And may the God of mercy and peace preside over us all, and direct our course for the honor and glory of his own name, and in the end, receive us to a rich inheritance through Christ our Lord. AMEN.
[From Minutes of the Concord Baptist Association, Owen County, KY, 1841. Title supplied by editor; via SBTS Archives and Special Collections, Adam Winters, Archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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