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Lessons on Church Authority from John Gano
by Jim Duvall
     John Gano in his Biographical Memoirs tells of a trip he made to the South with three Baptist ministers in 1752. He and John Thomas, who a year earlier had constituted the Ketocton Baptist Church in Virginia, were paired as the group divided to cover more territory. Gano was not a licensed minister at that time. When they got to Ketocton, Thomas preached two sermons and encouraged Gano to preach also. Gano wrote, "I replied, that I had no right to preach,"1 but when he was encouraged to preach and saw the desire of the people, he said he took a few minutes to recollect what had been said by his companion and basically repeated what Thomas had already preached to the people in his message.

     When Thomas appointed a time the next day for John Gano to preach, he said, "I thought it was a mistake, and whispered to Mr. Thomas, he had made a mistake." Gano wrote, "I told him, I did not mean because I had got abroad, to preach without license." When Gano saw the desire of the people to hear the word of God, he "began to pray and exhort. Their zeal to hear encouraged me to proceed."2 As John Thomas and John Gano traveled they held another preaching meeting. After Thomas preached, the people waited for Gano to speak to them. An old man said to him, "...if you have a regard for our souls, do endeavor to say something to us." Gano spoke to them for "some time."3

     Gano wrote of his return home, "On my return to pursue my studies, I passed through Hopewell [New Jersey], where was Mr. [Isaac] Eaton [his pastor]. He informed me that a report prevailed that I was preaching in Virginia; and lest it should injure my character, as going disorderly into the ministry, he advised me to stay till after the Lord's day, that he might call a church meeting for the purpose of settling the matter. A meeting was called, and I was arraigned as being guilty of disorder."4

     The church considered him "disorderly" because he was a member of the church, but the church had not authorized him to preach. They had not judged that he was sound in the faith and they had not approved of his preaching. His pastor believed it might injure his character and that he might be considered going into the ministry in a disorderly manner. So Gano submitted to a questioning by the church, even though the church had few facts about the case.

     As John Gano waited for the church "to decide on my conduct," Pastor Eaton proposed to the church that Gano preach to them before he returned to college. A time was scheduled and he preached for them and then went off to school. Gano mentions how he used his spare time to "write on some texts of Scripture...." He then relates, "The church then ordered me to come and preach to them a month after; which command I punctually obeyed." The church later "proposed another examination, to which they invited some neighboring ministers, who met, examined, and made me a licensed preacher."5 This was April 14, 1753.

     It seems apparent from the above that this church believed itself to have authority over the preaching ministry of its members. This church was not the exceptional case as other examples are available. Gano had been reluctant to do more than pray and exhort, but when confronted by the dire needs of the people he reluctantly preached for them. Baptist preachers in that day did not think of themselves as ministers in some universal-invisible church, or as being on their own without any accountability. They believed they got their authority to preach from the Lord, through a local Baptist church and they felt a sense of responsibility to that church. It should be remembered that Gano wrote this account about fifty years after this event happened; it was chosen as one of the events he discussed in his small Memoirs.

     When he pastored the Baptist church at Morristown, New Jersey, John Gano saw the need for preachers in the churches in North and South Carolina. He went on a preaching trip to these two states and brought back with him some representatives of the Jersey, North Carolina congregation to present the case of their need of Mr. Gano to his church in Morristown. Gano reports,

"The next Lord's day after my arrival [back home at Morristown, New Jersey], I called a church meeting, to give the church at Yadkin, an opportunity to present their message; which they did, and used all their influence with the church to no apparent success. I then dismissed the messengers, and told them, I would not leave the church without their consent; but if, at any time, they should consent, I would write to them."6
     The Morristown church at their next church meeting, told Pastor Gano that they would leave the decision as to whether he should stay or go, "with God, and your own conscience." He told them, "it appeared his duty to go to that people, who were entirely destitute, and that it was not for want of attachment to them."7

     Many preachers today give little consideration to the church they pastor when they want to move to another location. But it is clear that John Gano, even though he desired to, did not intend to leave the church he pastored without the church's consent. The church record states, he "requested liberty from the church to remove to Carolina and settle there." [Note, it did not say: 'He informed the church he was leaving.'] Gano later states, "They accordingly agreed to dismiss me. I made preparations for removal, disposed of my property, and wrote to the church in North Carolina."8

     In this day when church authority is considered of little importance by many, we can learn from our forefathers who recognized the importance of the local church as the body of Christ. They believed the Lord's local churches had the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). They sought to apply Scriptural principles in their church decisions that things might be done "decently and in order" (I Corinthians 13:40b).



1 John Gano, Biographical Memoirs of the Late Rev. John Gano, (New York: printed by Southwick and Hardcastle), 1806, pp. 45-6; cited in Terry Wolever, The Life and Ministry of John Gano, 1727-1804, (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press), 1998. p. 205.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., p. 206.
4 Ibid., pp. 47-8.
5 Ibid., pp. 48-9.
6 Ibid., pp. 277-8.
7 Ibid., p. 278.
8 Ibid., p. 278-279.

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