"The Duties of Church Members and their Ministers"
Beloved Brethren and Sisters —
Through the tender mercies of our Father in Heaven, who governs the universe by the word of his power, and to whom we acknowledge entire dependence, we have been again permitted to meet in our associational capacity, an in accordance with our time honored practice, to address you [with] this our Circular Letter.
Our meeting at this time, contrasted, in a temporal point of view, with our meeting last year, is favorable, and is sufficient to warm our hearts with gratitude to God for his infinite goodness. Last year, such was the parched condition of the earth, that serious fears were entertained of a failure of the crops, and as a consequence resulting therefrom, great distress and derangement in the business of the country, if not absolute want in the necessities of life. This year, the crops of every description, were never better, and the prospect for abundant plenty meets the eye in almost every direction; not only this, but that still greater blessing good health, is vouch-safed unto us. For all these inestimable blessings, we are indebted to that overruling Providence, that we must ever look to, to supply all our returning wants; surely we ought to humble ourselves in thankfulness to our Heavenly Parent, and to be ready, with one of old, to inquire, "what shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward us."
The object in writing circular letters, is not that they may remain as dead letters, but they are intended for a very different purpose: i.e., to recommend the brethren such matters as may be considered useful, and such suggestions, when submitted, are not expected to pass unheeded. Let us that enquire how have our circular addresses of the past years been treated. Have we carefully considered, and treasured up their teaching? have we in accordance with the last, prayed earnestly to the Lord of the harvest, and have we as earnestly desired, to be so enlightened, as to have opened to make suitable and proper provision for such laborers? And in reference to the circular preceding that, have we endeavored to conform to its admonitory councils, by a careful observance of the many wholesome truths therein taught? — if we have, then we have done what was desired, and intended we should do; but if we have not, then so far as these circulars are concerned, they have remained dead letters? and we would again recommend them to your serious prayerful attention, as containing many things well worth your consideration and approval.
We propose in our present Circular to call your attention to some subjects that are intended to have a practical bearing, not because they are not already known, but because they are, or ought to be, familiar to all church members, and should constitute some of the principal elements of church membership. They are the reciprocal duties of church members and their ministers. For we consider a due regard to these several duties as involving some of the best interests of our profession. We premise, that the first business, after a church has been regularly constituted, is to provide ministerial services; without it, no church could fail to languish. Having provided for, and called a minister, he has a right to expect the faithful attendance of all the members, "to hear all things that are commanded him of God." For the injunction is, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is." Should any fail to attend, is it not well calculated to have a bad influence upon the feelings of the minister, and does it not tend to impair his efforts for good? He is expected to be punctual in attending all his appointments, and we hold that unless providentially hindered, he ought to be held responsible for any neglect or remissness of duty on his part, and it is equally the duty of all the members to fulfill their obligations, and no member should consider his absence a matter of trifling import. If one member may, without good cause, fail to attend, why not others, or all, and what would become of the church whose members should all decline, or fail, to attend their meetings. There is manifestly no propriety in any one failing to attend their stated meetings, but upon the contrary, it is clearly their duty to attend, and assist in the transaction of any, and all business that may be presented for their consideration.
The Baptists differ in their mode of transacting business, from other denominations of Christians; the members of these churches have an equal voice and an equal vote, and all should vote. If the business is of a diffi[c]ult, or perplexing character, so much the greater reason why all should be sure to vote. For none should desire to avoid responsibility. Brethren, we fear there is great remissness of duty among us in this respect, and do not these suggestions deserve our earnest consideration; are we not told that "in the multitude of council there is safety," and did not the Lord Jesus, the head of the Church, originate our system of church government as preferable to others, and as being more in the spirit of the gospel? Let us then, when our meeting days are approaching, commence in time so to arrange our affairs, as to be in a suitable condition to attend, and not permit any matter short of absolute necessity, or mercy, to interfere with our attendance. Ought we not to make it a standing rule, from which we will not depart, that we will not permit business to interfere with our attendance, upon the regular attendance of our church. Let us say to those who claim our services upon that day, we are engaged, and cannot; should friends desire to have us enjoy their social festivities, is it not our duty to decline? We think so. Members should reflect, that neglecting to assemble themselves together, and instead thereof engaging themselves in worldly pursuits, does injury to the cause of Christ and unfavorably impresses the minds of persons out of church. Ought we not to be careful, not to be in the way of any person. To us it has always appeared strange, that any Christian could contentedly stay away from the house of the Lord. We think he should rather rejoice when his meeting days come around.
Dear Brethren, Religion is worth everything. It is well worth our constant and unremitting attention, and we ought on all occasions to feel that we are ready to make any reasonable sacrifice to promote our spiritual interests; for rest assured, much harm is frequently done by bad examples. we have said that ministers should be held responsible, on their part, unless providentially hindered, or physically unable to attend, and we repeat the proposition; but we do not state it, because we know of any delinquency, nor do we believe there is any within our bounds, upon the contrary we take great pleasure in doing them justice, as we believe, when we assert that more prompt, or more faithful ministers, would be hard to find. Some of them are now of advanced age, perhaps unable physically, to perform as much labor as heretofore; yet we feel thankful, that their intellects are unimpaired, and that they are yet spared to us, and well deserve our lasting love and gratitude. It may in truth be said of them — they have borne the burden and heat of the day, having traveled through cold and heat, sunshine and storm, to serve us, and well deserve the platitudes of "well done good and faithful servants," and shall we ever find it in our hearts to neglect these venerable men of God? Heaven forbid: for if we do, we shall assuredly commit the sin of ingratitude, and should it become necessary for them, either from physical disability or otherwise, to decline to attend further, any of the churches of their charge, shall we withhold from them our testimony of their faithfulness, by declining to spread upon our ministers resolutions of our heartfelt approbation. We do hope, dear brethren, that no member could, for one moment, hesitate or decline to raise his or her hand, in evidence of such commendation, and thereby inflict a wound upon their feelings, by withholding from them the meed [need] of our praise. No! let us rather "strengthen the hands, and confirm the feeble knees," and present our fervent and earnest supplications to our heavenly father, for their preservation, and for a continuance of their usefulness. But, dear brethren, we should not for a moment permit ourselves to expect the labors of our ministering brethren, without making them adequate compensation. For whilst we would expect them to feel the necessity that is laid upon them to preach — indeed to feel like one of old, that "woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel." Yet it is no more reasonable to expect their labors for nothing, than it would be to expect the services of the attorney, the physician, or the mechanic, without compensation. Doubtless, they feel it to be their duty to devote their time and talents, almost exclusively to our service, and are filled with unremitting solicitude for our good. But surely, it is no less our duty to strengthen their hands, and comfort their hearts, by supplying their temporal wants.
A due consideration of the blessings which would follow the faithful performance of these reciprocal duies, would it seems to us, be preferable to a thousand arguments. Let our future conduct inspire our ministers with the assurance, that in devoting themselves to our service, their temporal wants will not be neglected. We would thus relieve their minds of a heavy burden, of care and anxiety, and remove one of the greatest obstacles to their usefulness in the churches. How paltry, dear brethren, are the small pecuniary contributions, necessary to sustain the preaching of the gospel, in comparison with those richer spiritual blessings which would follow, producing in us such an increase of faith, and hope, and love, and joy, as would raise us above this poor dying world.
[From Northbend Baptist Association Minutes, 1855. The title and paragraph markings are added. — jrd]
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