Baptist Usages in Regard to Expelled Members and Minorities
The Christian Repository, 1861
By S. H. Ford
The scriptural argument as to the right of a church to expel any one whom she deems unworthy of fellowship, or to receive any one whom she deems worthy of her fellowship, will not be introduced now. Our only aim is to show how Baptists have acted when convinced that a person was unjustly expelled, or that a minority was right. Nor do we pretend to say that any usage is an authoritative precedent with Baptists. The Bible alone is our guide. We wish, however, to show how our denominational fathers viewed the teachings of God's Word in matters of discipline,
and shall, at present, confine our review to the denomination in Kentucky.
The churches have ever held that they had the right to withdraw fellowship from any one whom they thought unworthy of retaining it. They have further held that the person thus disfellowshipped was, to the church expelling him, as “a heathen man and a publican,” over whom they claimed no disciplinary control. He was to them as though he had never belonged to the church, as though he was a man of the world. The disposition to pursue him further, even to other churches, is evidently unauthorized in the eighteenth of Matthew; and is frequently more a matter of spite or wounded pride than of principle.
Accordingly, the first Baptist Association in the West, as early as 1788, when a question had been agitated as to the right of a church to receive a person who had been expelled from a sister church, decided,
“That it is disorderly for any church to receive an excommunicated member from any church of our denomination without first having written information of the charge against him.”
This decided, in fact, that it was right to receive a member who had been expelled, when (after having the written information of the charge against him) she deemed it either untrue or insufficient to debar him from her fellowship.
This decision, at that early day, was indorsed by the Salem and South District Association. The idea of one church holding a perpetual veto over every other church was most evidently unthought of by Craig and Dudley, Gano and Taylor.
The question of receiving a single expelled member was never brought before the Association again, so far as I have been able to discover; but the action of churches and ministers were frequently introduced, discussed, and decided.
In 1790, Great Crossing's Church received a charge of a personal character against Elijah Craig, who had suffered so nobly in the persecutions in Virginia, and who had been chosen apostle of the churches of that State. He plead that the steps laid down in the eighteenth of Matthew had not been taken, and that the charge should, therefore, be dismissed, and the brother who brought it be dealt with. The church overruled his objection, and decided upon
proceeding with the trial. Craig withdrew, protesting against the action of the church. His expulsion followed. Twenty members more immediately withdrew, and claimed to be the church. They were expelled by the minority. Both parties presented letters to the Association of 1790, at Cooper's Run, Bourbon county, Ky. A committee was appointed to visit the church, enquire into all the facts, and report at the next meeting of the Association. That committee was composed of men who, in any age, would do honor to any people. They were pioneer preachers, but they were men of the revolution, men of providence, of learning, and of intellect. The chairman was James Garrard, afterwards Governor of Kentucky. Fourteen others were associated with him, among whom were the eloquent and zealous David Thomas, A. M., John Gano, John Taylor, Ambrose Dudley, and Jas. Dupuy. They reported as follows:
“Agreeable to appointment, we met at Great Crossings, Sept. 7th, 1791. Appointed James Garrard Chairman, and Richard Young, Clerk.
“Present: John Taylor, George Smith, John Price, John Gano, A. Dudley, A. Eastin, James Dupuy, George Shortage, David Thompson, James Rucker, John Haydon, John Mason, and And. Thompson.
“Difficulties proposed by Robert Johnson:
“1st. There was a complaint made against Mr. Craig, for which some wished him cited to appear before the church without taking gospel steps.
“The committee are of opinion that the brother who was offended with Mr. Craig ought to have taken the steps of the gospel, as mentioned in the eighteenth of Matthew; and that the church ought not to have received the complaint, it not being in gospel order.
“2d. Difficulty. - Twenty-members withdrew, contrary to good order.
“It is the opinion of the committee that those members withdrew in a disorderly manner.
“Another difficulty arose, relative to adopting the treatise of discipline when a member was on trial.
“Answered, that the church had a right to receive it at any time, but had no right to apply it to the person then on trial. “Difficulty proposed by James Redding:
“Was the church right in excluding Mr. Craig on the first Saturday in January last?
“The committee are of opinion, from what appears on the record
that Mr. Craig was justly excluded for his misconduct; but we think the church was wrong in receiving the accusation contrary to the eighteenth of Matthew.”*
This report was received and approved, and the church was advised to meet in the next Association, with the twenty-nine members who had withdrawn, united with them. Also, not to consider persons received by either party, since the division, as members until they satisfied the whole body, in case of a re-union between them.
To the honor of all parties be it said, that they agreed to this adjustment of the difficulty, and Craig appeared, together with his prosecutor, Robert Johnson (father of Richard M. Johnson), as the messenger from Great Crossings, at the next Association. The church was saved. It continues to this day, a large and prosperous one, under the charge of Dr. Campbell, President of Georgetown College.
The next matter involving the rights of members and ministers was the difficulty between Ambrose Dudley and Jacob Creath, Sr. Sundry charges had been brought against Creath. On hearing these charges, a majority of his church acquitted him, but the minority was dissatisfied. A council of helps was then called, and he was again acquitted. Several members of Bryant's Station being implicated in the proceedings, and believing that the majority at Town Fork did wrong in acquitting Creath, brought the whole matter before the Association. A majority of the Association gave a decision favorable to Town Fork, - and Dudley and other ministers determined to leave the Association. It was brought up, accordingly, in Bryant's Station Church. The majority of the church decided to withdraw from the Association, and form a new one. The minority refused to be governed in this matter by the majority. The result was that forty-one members of Bryant's Station were expelled. They at once formed themselves into a church, and sent an invitation to Jeremiah Vardeman to preach to them, which he accepted. - In the minutes of 1809 we read: “A letter from the minority at Bryant's Station, stating that the majority had violated usage,
* The Gospel Herald. Vol 1, page 48.
and had agreed to send letters and a messenger to an Association to be formed at Bryant's Station, which the minority consider a violation of their engagement with Elkhorn - and praying to be considered a part of this body - was taken up; and it appearing proper first to send a committee to visit the church at Bryant's - gave their opinion that although this Association declared its unanimous friendship and fellowship with said members of the minority, yet they recommend patience, and decline any further advice, till next Association.” --
The next year the minority again applied for membership. The majority (though they entered a new Association) presented a remonstrance against the recognition of the expelled minority as a church. They were nevertheless received, with one or two objections - there being no rule of unanimity in that Association - and have remained there till this day. --
Almost the same thing occurred with the Dry Run church. The majority has gone out of existence. The expelled minority was received as a church, and still remains, as such, in the Elkhorn Association.
We must, for want of room, pass over several other instances which we might introduce from the records of Elkhorn. In the year 1803, we read in the minutes of the Long Run Association that “Long Run Church came forward with her letter, and some distresses appearing among them, insomuch that they are divided into a majority and a large minority, a committee was appointed to enquire into the nature of those distresses, who reported that they considered the minority to be the true Long Run Church. With this report the Association finally concurred.” The majority has long since ceased to exist as a church; while the minority continues, to this day, one of the largest churches in the Association, and is in the pastoral charge of the writer of this article.
In the minutes of 1807 (Long Run Association) is recorded: “The church at Twin's, having prayed advice respecting a matter of distress, on account of the church at Drennon's Creek having received a person who had been expelled from fellowship, we advise that the church at Twin's and the church at Drennon's Creek mutually agree to hold a conference, and labor to reconcile the
difference which at present exists, by calling helps, or otherwise, as they may deem proper.”
The matter appeared to be this: Old William Marshall, one of the early and eloquent pioneer preachers of Virginia, had, in the Association, accused the Fox Run Church, of which he was a member, with conniving at Arian sentiments. Samuel Ford had, in fact, became tinctured with that heresy. But he evaded the charge, and was sustained by the Fox Run Church; and William Marshall was expelled for bringing a false charge against Ford.
The church at Drennon's Creek believed him to be wrongly dealt with, and, after an investigation of his conduct and motives, took the old patriarch into fellowship. The Association never intimated that such reception was in itself wrong or disorderly, and the churches mutually agreed to pass the matter over, and have worked together in harmony till this day.
In 1831 the majority of the First Baptist Church in Louisville expelled the minority as disturbers and schismatics. The minority was received by the Association as the church, and finally regained the property of the church. They are now, in fact, the Walnut Street Baptist Church.
The Association has several times been called on to decide this question, and has uniformly decided, that each church has the ultimate right to decide for herself whom she will receive into her fellowship; and that while no church should ordinarily receive one who has been expelled from a sister church, yet when convinced that he is the victim of injustice and oppression, she has the right, as an independent church, to receive him.
But we must be brief. In the Salem Association a similar course has been pursued, without any bad consequences resulting therefrom. Two members of the Bloomfield Church, when in that Association, being expelled from her fellowship, were received into the church at Bardstown. No difficulty ensued. Dr. Vaughan, the pastor of the expelling church, had the magnanimity and good sense to say: “If you do them any good, I shall not hinder you, for the Lord knows they need it.” He continued to preach, when occasion required, for the Bardstown Church, and both remain in the same association to this day, working in harmony.
About the year 1846 the First Baptist Church, in New Albany,
expelled a deacon (as the minority thought) unjustly. They protested, and withdrew. The church expelled them - some seventeen in number. They formed themselves into a church, and called for a council of neighboring churches to recognize them. Rev. A. D. Sears, pastor of the First Church, Louisville; William C. Buck, pastor of the East Church; and Thomas Malcolm, pastor of the Second Church, were in the council. They aided in the constitution of this company of expelled members into a church, and recommended them as such to the sympathy and confidence of the denomination. The Bank Street Church, New Albany, has continued to exist to this day. A. W. LaRue, W. Price, now of Covington, and Charles Armstrong, of Texas, have been its pastors. They never were denounced, nor the members of the council, for approving of this minority. Both churches belong to the same Association; and the meeting house of the First Church having been burnt down recently, the two churches now worship together in peace and harmony.
We close with the following records from the Franklin Association, where we have been denounced and proscribed for our private views.
In the session of 1854 it was made known to the Franklin Association that the Lebanon Church had arraigned several members for joining the Sons of Temperance. It was, therefore, resolved by that Association, “That we consider nothing in the Word of God warrants the exercise of the discipline of the churches, except an open violation of good morals, or the maintenance and propagation of such sentiments as invalidate a profession of Christianity. That we do not consider that the advocacy of the temperance cause, or a union with the ‘Sons of Temperance,' does either of these, and therefore we consider them no bar to fellowship, and cordially recommend these views to the consideration of churches within our bounds.”
At the following session, in 1855, Bro. Haydon offered the following resolution, which was read and adopted!
“WHEREAS, The Lebanon Church, notwithstanding the adoption of a resolution at our last session, in which it was agreed that uniting with the “Sons of Temperance’ should be no bar to fellowship, have since that session excluded several members for uniting
with that order; and whereas, the excluded brethren are looking to this body for some action in their behalf. Therefore, be it
“Resolved, That we affectionately and sincerely advise and request said church to reconsider their action, and reinstate those brethren into their fellowship.”
The Lebanon Church declined this advice. We were present at the next session, in 1856, when it was resolved that any church might receive these excluded members without any breach of good order; and they were received into other churches in the Association, who continue in peace and harmony with the Lebanon Church to this day.
Not one word of protest was raised against this action of the Association. But because a party of more prominence has fallen under the same fault, or misfortune, and has either been received into a church in the Elkhorn Association, or has formed a new church which has been recognized as such, or has been recently received into the Elkhorn Association, and I have not denounced it as wrong - have, indeed, said nothing about it - I am told that I do not stand up for Baptist principles, and must be pecuniarily damaged.
I now boldly state my honest conviction that the mere matter of majority or minority would weigh actually nothing with me when the question of right or wrong had to be decided. If fifty-one votes were cast against a man, and fifty for him, I would never let that preponderance forestall the enquiry which I, as a true man, must decide when the facts are brought under my notice - is he innocent or guilty? If I am convinced that he is innocent, and is worthy of fellowship, I will extend it to him by my vote in my own church, and in any other appropriate way, despite of all the majorities on earth. If I am convinced that he is guilty, and unworthy of my fellowship, I will deny him fellowship by my vote (if he seeks membership in the church I belong to), despite of all majorities, letters of admission, or ought else. This is my right and my duty as a Christian and a Baptist, and no church, nor majority, nor power under heaven shall ever interpose its veto upon my vote to fellowship or disfellowship one who asks admission into the church of my membership.
Who is right? be it an individual or a party, is the only question.
I feel bound before God to decide, when fellowship is sought. Nor was I ever made to walk the fence, and know nothing but numbers, always falling on the strongest side. I do not belong to that class.
And here I dismiss the matter for the present, summing up the usage of Baptists in the language of the Long Run Association as follows:
“On motion, the following brethren were appointed a committee, viz: Elders John Dale, William P. Barnett, Joseph M. Weaver, and brethren B. C. Stephens, John W. Stone, Josiah Reasor, and P. Carlin, to consider the following query from the Walnut Street Church, Louisville, and to report their action to the Association on to-morrow morning, making it the first item of business.
“QUERY. - In the opinion of this Association, is it orderly for one Baptist church to receive from another Baptist church a member who has been expelled, or from whom the hand of fellowship has been withdrawn?
“The committee on the query from the Walnut Street Church, being called for, reported as follows:
“Your committee, to whom was referred the query from Walnut Street Church, Louisville, would report as follows:
“We find that the question has been answered in a Circular Letter adopted by this Association during its session of 1856, at Shelbyville, from which we extract the following as bearing directly upon the question:
“‘That a church, thus independent may act unwisely, tyrannically, and even wickedly, cannot be doubted. That the best and wisest among men may do so, is a sad and undeniable fact. What, then, shall be the refuge of the victim of injustice or prejudice, condemned by and expelled from a church, from whose decision there is no earthly appeal? Does not this independency, in fact, destroy the equality between churches, making the decision of one body rule all the rest; and thus one church, by expelling its members, though evidently unjustly, compel all other churches to treat him as such?
“‘It is true that courtesy between churches in union with each other demands that respect be paid to each other's decisions. For one church to receive, indiscriminately, the ejected members of another, would destroy all harmony, co-operation, and communion between the churches of Christ. Yet the independence which gives one church the right to expel any member, gives every other church the right to receive any one into its membership, whether he be expelled from another church or not. If the action of one church is to control the action of another; if the unquestioned
right of the church to expel destroys the right of a sister church to receive a member, independency is of course destroyed.
“‘The usage among Baptists, therefore, has ever been to receive no member expelled from a sister church unless satisfied that such member has been subjected to unfairness or oppression. In such case, and in such only, may churches exercise their inherent right as independent bodies, and receive whom they think fit into their membership.”
“We would recommend that this Association refer the querist to this Circular for an answer, and that we, as an Association, re-adopt it as far as relates to this question.WM. P. BARNETT,“On motion, the above report was adopted unanimously.”
Jos. M. WEAVER,
J. W. STONE,
Ben. J. C. STEPHENS.
[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, January 1861, pp. 107-116. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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