The Limit to Baptist Mission Work
J. F. Love, D.D., in Convention Teacher
The first decade of the twentieth century has perhaps been the most remarkable and eventful decade in Baptist history since the days of the apostles. Never have we had such growth in numbers, in benevolence, in educational and missionary advancement, and such gain in influence over the affairs of society, the nation and the world. And yet within this decade there has been forged an internecine war of such proportion, fury and significance as was never witnessed in our ranks before. But I risk the judgment that this war itself, as unjustifiable as it has been, has contributed most significantly to the Baptist progress of the decade. It has precipitated a discussion and a criticism of the denomination as it exists and works today, which has caused in return such an investigation and sifting of our policies as they never had before. This criticism has not always been Christian,
but even the wrath of men has been made to promote our principles and our growth. Prior to ten years ago the bulk of our polemic literature was in elucidation and defense of our doctrinal positions, such as gather about baptism and the Lord's Supper. The war on our organized work has called forth a new literature, for the most part in our Baptist journals, but none the less effective for this reason, on Baptist polity. By polity I mean especially those principles which we have deduced from the New Testament as meant to fix the bounds of organizations, regulate our co-operation in Christian work, and control missionary policies. As a result, thinking has been almost marvelously clarified with regard to the New Testament rights and functions of organizations within the denomination; and a like remarkable demonstration has been given both of the scripturalness and the practicability of the form of polity which we have inherited from our fathers and in conformity to which our missionary organizations and operations have been kept. The wisdom and the loyalty of the fathers have been vindicated, and Baptist organized endeavor has been validated. This is a matter of immense significance, and as an achievement is worth all the hurt and sacrifice endured in the turmoil which has secured it.
But here is a point of history we are about to
forget. As a matter of fact, the contention of heroic Baptist pioneersmen in the early history of America was more for a Scriptural polity and a revolt against unscriptural ecclesiasticism than for the fundamental evangelical doctrines of grace or immersion as the only baptism. The Episcopalians, the determined enemies of Baptists, at that time believed in immersion, and practiced it. It was a false ecclesiastical organization from which Baptists suffered, and against which chiefly they protested. Their appeal to the state was not to regulate belief, but to rid them of an unscriptural ecclesiastical organization to which the state had become a party, and which proposed to regulate belief. They asked that the state give men the freedom of religious choice denied by the hierarchy. The distinctive contribution of American Baptists to the religious thought of the world was not so much a new view of doctrine as a Scriptural view of ecclesiastical organization and function. They denned New Testament polity. Our so-called "organized work" endures on the basic principles which our fathers sought out in time of much suffering, and in the solitude and leisure of prison-life and enunciated at great peril. The modern critic of Baptist organization, whether in our ranks or out of them, is no such student of this matter as were our fathers, nor has he any such incitement to careful interpretation
or caution to make sure he is right. It was a solemn hour when our fathers set themselves to the task in this new world of embracing their last opportunity to establish a New Testament church polity. We have no greater stewardship than to take care of this inheritance. A sound Baptist polity is the safeguard of evangelical faith, and is prescribed as the modus operandi of the missionary campaign. Any tendency among us to depart from this polity is a tendency in the direction whence have come our greatest woes and most inhuman injustices.
But even now there are appearing in certain quarters evident signs that education must be continued and carried a little farther. We have, as we say, arrived at a complete verification and demonstration of our polity. It is sound - that is to say, scriptural and workable. All our people must now be taught to apply it consistently. We must illustrate how in every case, and under all circumstances, polity must be given recognition and preeminence over matters of policy and comity - that is to say, no policy is to be adopted in the prosecution of our work, and no comity is to be recognized in our relationship to other workers which impinge on New Testament polity or derange the functions of scriptural organization. Just here lies the present danger, and it is along these lines that
we must have instruction in order to set the denomination as a whole in complete harmony with New Testament order, and gain for it a broad place for a freehanded and great service on behalf of evangelical truth and Christian conquest. We must make the proper application of our polity to our problems and our policies, and insist that others who coSperate with us shall do the same. This is the mind of the Convention.
The last two sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention clearly revealed a conviction among Southern Baptists that certain issues of the hour must be met on this high plain of Christian dealing. For instance, the Convention showed that Southern Baptists are not only conscious of their great numerical strength, but also of a corresponding responsibility to God and duty to all men to bear witness to the truth; and it served notice that by no interdenominational affiliation will it suffer itself to be made a party to what Southern Baptists believe to be heretical or questionable; and that it will have a word to say as to what shall be taught our young people; and that it will not allow itself to be brought into such alliance, even with a sister Baptist missionary organization, as will violate our polity in its application to the rights of Baptist churches, even the weakest and the neediest of these churches. The fact that there
exist influences which would draw us into such compromises and make us party to policies which violate our polity, made it necessary lor the Convention to assert with a great, unanimous and hearty vote that it will neither have itself limited in its territorial expansion by policies which violate Baptist polity, nor will it accept an opportunity to expand at such price. There is some clear thinking among Southern Baptists concerning their principles, and they are determined that all who have cooperation with them shall conform to the New Testament order. We have published our program to the world, and raised our standard. Henceforth men who believe the things which we believe know how to get into cooperation with us for the glorious ends which we seek. The Convention never in its history, perhaps, did a thing which was more painful to do, and yet which it did with more heartiness and emphasis than announce to the Home Mission Society that it could not be a party to any action or course, either for the gain of territory or in ceding territory, which palpably violates New Testament polity. The rights of Baptist churches to choose their own alignments, the organization with which they shall cooperate in mission work, and the channels through which they shall distribute their missionary benevolences, must be respected, whether this course shall redound
to the advantage or disadvantage to one of the Convention's Boards. No mission Board, whether it be our own or another, can by occupation or gift purchase a proprietorship of Baptists or Baptist churches. That any one should for a moment even raise this question is obnoxious to Southern Baptists. So firmly are our convictions set concerning this matter that we are willing to gain or lose by it.
In the growing demands upon Southern Baptists to expand their home as well as foreign mission work, Baptist polity must determine all questions of policy and comity. The churches, the needs of the lost, and our Lord by his providences, are calling us to take a more equal share of the mightily increasing home mission work of this continent, and it is good that at such a time we should see clearly and state plainly the divine plan and proclaim our fealty to it.
The next ten years, and perhaps a very much shorter time, will demonstrate the superiority of our position in the application of these principles, even as the past ten years have demonstrated their scripturalness and effectiveness.
[From The Baptist Message, SSB/SBC, 1911, p. 68-74. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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