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The Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1870
By Rev. David Spencer
Laxity in Religious Belief
      The Philadelphia Baptist Association to the Churches of which it is composed.

      For the Divine Authority of the Doctrines of the Bible there is the most abundant evidence. Some of these were given under Apostolic sanction merely, yet that is equal to Divine appointment. On an uncompromising faith in and adherence to these doctrines the highest interests of the immortal soul depend. None of them are unimportant, but necessary to the completeness of the regulations in the kingdom of Christ. God has made no mistake in any of the tenets and requirements of his empire. He has given no law, advanced no principle, a firm and constant belief in which he has not made obligatory.

      There is then an importance about each one of these doctrines which cannot be overestimated. Not one of them can be held loosely, or treated indifferently, without casting an insult on the Divine Lawgiver, and affecting deleteriously the human conduct.

      What is the position of our churches and of God's people generally on this vital subject? Are these doctrines held and defended with that tenacity and moral courage which their importance demands? Is God honored by a strong religious belief in his people? Taking their conduct as the measure of their belief, does it indicate that vitality and consistency which must emanate from a mind grasping the doctrines of Christ as veritable realities?

      The careful and honest observer of facts must confess to a prevalent and growing laxity in religious belief. We live in an age that is excessively liberal - an age that seeks to accommodate rather than defend - to appreciate the ceremonies of religion in preference to religion itself. Human tastes and desires are consulted before the “Thus saith the Lord" of duty. Policy instead of principle is the motive power in many hearts. Under the garb of Christian charity, falsely so called, many are seeking agreement by concealment.

      Forms and ceremonies, with no scriptural warrants, are observed with great strictness and parade, while doctrines emanating from the eternal throne, and practices appointed by the Lord of Life and Glory are completely ignored.

      Speculatists, anxious to press themselves into public notice, more for their supposed intellectual powers, than for their distinguished piety, seek by insinuation and supposition to place in a questionable light certain

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fundamental truths of Holy Writ. With their Procrustean theories everything must harmonize. In their defense, passages of scripture must be wrested from their connection, or receive an unwarranted interpretation. These theories find their way into our denominational literrature [sic], are advocated in our public assemblies, obtruded into our social life and issued in book form by professedly Christian publishers.

      Many of the most essential doctrines and practices of Christian and Church life are regarded as unimportant. Take for example the subject of Church Unity. How many are constantly asking why all churches cannot unite upon a common platform? The simple answer is because the scriptural conditions, owing to laxity in religious belief, are not com plied with. It must be remembered there are certain great biblical truths to be accepted as facts - to be believed in and carried out before God will permit an organic union. The scriptures must be accepted as absolutely the only standard of faith and duty. There must be a regenerated Church membership. Fealty to the ordinances and doctrines of the Gospel must decidedly be maintained. Scriptural discipline and spirituality of worship must be observed. How much of looseness there is in the reception of these great foundation principles - amounting, in some quarters, even to unbelief. They are regarded by many, in practice if not in theory, as entirely unimportant. For any one who can encourage a looseness on these vital points the transition is very easy to the defense of a sentiment quite current at the present time - “In things essential, unity; in things not essential, liberty; in all things, charity.” Where, in God's Word, has he given a doctrine or requirement which is a “not essential?” Has he informed any of Adam's race that he is in error in regard to his statements - that some of them are important and some of them are not? Nothing that emanates from God is insignificant. He who numbers the very hairs of our head, and without whose notice not even a sparrow falls to the ground, has not instituted any law or principle which is not essential. In a building there are the pillars, the joists, the girders - these are important, but who will say the little pin that fastens the framework together is less so. So in regard to the doctrines of the Bible; to regard any one as unimportant is wrong and an evidence of laxity in religious belief.

      The transition from this sentiment, so false, to another equally prevalent is not difficult. I refer to the motto, “It makes no difference what you believe so long as you think you are right.” Never was there an utterance farther from the truth. It does make a difference before God what we believe. Our thoughts are not the standard of right. Because. the heathen think they are right that does not make them so. Men are affected by prejudice, education, circumstances. God has given us what we are to believe. He has not left this matter to human caprice. We can neither add to nor take from his appointments without incurring his [his - repeat] certain displeasure. Yet, how many will take refuge under this sentiment when shown to be in error, and speak of their error as of little importance. They think they are right, and that is the miserable philosophy by which they seek to satisfy their consciences even while they disobey God.

      There is another sentiment equally current with the above and like them, is equally false. We simply quote it without further comment.

”For modes of faith let angry zealots fight,
His can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.”

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      This laxity is further seen in the failure to be satisfied with God's arrangements. Thus in this age we have a call for organizations inside and o of the church, to do the work which Christ intended the church should do. In the estimation of some the church has become a fossilized institution, and very imperfect in its Divine construction. More machinery is wanted. It is to be regretted that some of these schemers were not present when the Lord gave the model of his Church. Doubtless they could have made, in their own estimation at least, some very important suggestions to him. A firm religious belief in New Testament appointments will not want new organizations; it will desire that existing agencies be vitalized. Means which God has blessed in the past he will bless again, even as he caused Elijah's mantle, when used by Elisha as Elijah had used it, to divide again the waters of Jordan. The change from laxity in belief to inconsistency in practice is very easy, and the existence of the latter is evidence of the former. Men will act religiously only as impelled by their belief in religion. Their action for Christ will be graduated by the degree of their belief in Christ. Conduct rises no higher than the faith which prompts it, even as water will not ascend above its source. Would a man who really believed his neighbor to be in danger from a terrible disease, and knowing an effectual cure, fail to recommend and urge its use? Yet, how many there are, surrounded by immortal souls - affected with the fearful malady of sin, in danger of everlasting punishment, who never recommend the great panacea of the Gospel. This is proof sufficient of the weakness of their belief in the doctrines of sin, retribution and redemption. A vigorous faith in these will vitalize the life, inspire activity, and make every converted soul an Andrew to go in search of a Peter, and a Philip to tell a Nathaniel of Jesus.

      In addition to this apathy there is inconsistency of life springing from the same source. The inconsistencies of professing Christians are among the most potent helps to the cause of Satan. Did men have a firm belief in all the teachings of the Bible, they would make them the controlling principles of their life. Their hearts would be nearer right. Rectitude of life comes from rectitude of heart. The watch will not run correctly if the mainspring be incorrect. Nor will the practice be consistent without an unfaltering, experimental religious belief entering into and acting upon the life. In the growing desecration of the Sabbath, in the lack of home religious training, in the almost imperceptible difference between the majority of church members and the world, in the frequenting, on the part of many, of worldly amusements, in the failure to appreciate fully the blessings and means of grace, in the absence of a liberal spirit in supporting the cause of Christ proportionate to the means enjoyed and the demands made, in the practical disbelief in and failure to comprehend the power of prayer, - in all these existing facts and many others among professing Christians, behold evidences of the laxity of religious belief.

      Many excuse this state of things by denying its real condition, by a confession that it cannot be remedied, and by an Antinomian assertion that God himself, without our assistance, will correct it. All attempts, however, to palliate or excuse are only illustrations of our subject.

      With such an alarming laxity it is not surprising that there should be an indifference about obtaining a knowledge of these doctrines. It is to be feared that many in our churches are very little acquainted with the

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cardinal truths of Scripture Many are utterly ignorant of the Confession of Faith of this Association. Not only have they never read it but they have never seen it. What with the teeming publications of the press, in the form of newspapers, books and magazines, the intense activity and stirring events of this age, it is to be feared that the Book of God is not studied as in former days. It is not as formerly the daily manna to many a hungry soul. How few of us, brethren beloved in the ministry, know what it is to study the Bible on bended knee, as John Bunyan and Andrew Fuller were accustomed to study it.

      In seeking to correct this laxity, in demanding a stauncher defense of and adherence to the principles and practices of Divine appointment, Some declare it is an infringement on the liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment, but this arises from a misapprehension of what soul liberty is. A church holds certain truths, based, as it is believed, on the laws of Christ. These are regarded as essential to its integrity. An Association of churches does the same. A member comes to hold and propagate views contrary to the accepted faith of the churches. For that reason the hand of fellowship is perchance withdrawn. There is no persecution in this. The conscience is not trammeled. The liberty of the church or individual is not impaired. The church and the association has rights and liberties as well as the individual, and in exercising them does not invade the sanctity of individual conscience or interfere with the right of private judgment. Here then are the proofs of a prevalent laxity in religious belief, the existence of which is alike o to God and injurious to his cause. How shall it be remedied?

      As churches of the Lord Jesus we have the power to awaken a stronger public sentiment in the mind of Christendom for a more unwavering and sublime religious belief. Let us, in our churches and in our own hearts seek for a more vital faith in the doctrines of God's word. Let us in our preaching and in our practice exalt the claims of Jesus and elevate the standard of Christianity. The voice of scripture and the exigencies of a dying world demand a higher Christian life, founded on a firm unshaken religious faith. The doctrines and practices of the Bible oust be sincerely believed in and earnestly defended. Christian charity, loses nothing by a bold and fearless presentation of what is proved to be Bible truth, embraced and believed in as veritable fact. “We believe and therefore we speak" was Apostolic language and must ever demand respect. God's doctrines are true, his requirements are positive, his kingdom will prevail.

“Since God is God, and right is right,
The right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.”

      As baptized churches of the dear Redeemer, set for the defense of stand o believing it is better to obey God than man, let us take our stand by the old landmarks, and seek to remedy the prevalent laxity in religious belief by an uncompromising faith in and adherence to the appointments of our Divine Lord.


[From The Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1870, pp. 32-35; via U. of Chicago digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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