Baptist History Homepage

The Church Trial
From the Tennessee Baptist, 1858
      The following is from the pen of one of the oldest ministers in Alabama. It deserves consideration:

      "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves." Philippians 2:3.

      Brethren Editors: - Baptist Churches are often rent and torn in pieces just because they violate the above and similar injunctions. And the next thing we hear is from among the Pedoes [pedobaptists]: "The Baptists have no rule of government, and must of necessity always be a divided people." But all the divisions of Baptists are brought about in violation of their rule of government. The New Testament is the Christian chart. In it all institutions which are Christian, with all ordinances, doctrine and laws, can be found. It is not my design now to classify and exhibit these. Common sense will teach us at once, that if Christian revelation ended with the writers of the New Testament, that all Christian government is in it - both individual and Church - or it follows, we have no revelation on the subject.

      What we set out to establish is, that all divisions in our Churches are produced by a violation of our own acknowledged standard, the Word of God. I glory in claiming this as my only code of Christian law. It governs, first, by its Christian principles; then let Churches in exercising discipline, see that none of these are violated, and that far, if they be in a spiritual condition (the only fit one in which to judge transgressions) harmony will be maintained. Correct principles are the substratum of law, and blacker crimes lead to their violation than those which violate law, if we may discriminate in many aspects of cases which may come up. Take two principles set forth in the text, which are not to be violated - the peaceful and the humble of Christianity. By converting Christian discipline into a war of contention before the body of Christ, his spirit of peace ruling the hearts of his people, is more grieved and the influence more fatal to the body and the cause than words of detraction, when we conceive mischief to our good name has been sought. And to convert the empire of the Church, sitting in judgment for Jesus Christ, into a theatrical exhibition of our own imagined excellency, or to exhibit our own fame, is worse than, like Peter under failing courage to deny our Lord, and ten-fold more likely to produce divisions; and thus, the violation of other great elementary Christian principles.

      But seemingly we have plain laws to govern the individual Christian first, and secondly, those for Church government, and lastly to govern the great union of congregated saints in mass. And now without attempting at present to collate and apply them, we assert, without fear of a Christian contradiction that whenever individual Christian harmony is broken, it is in violation of that class of Christian privileges and laws designed to keep Christian hearts in affection to each other, and that affection and harmony can only be successfully restored when lost, by the operation of another class, than old legatory [?-blurred] on the parties as brethren. It is easy enough, by their resorting to others - as much a part in principle and law in the word as those, but designed for other departments of governance: - to create wider differences, and spread these into a larger circle of Christians, and even into a number of Christian Churches. This evil departure from the spirit and laws of the individual Christian in, say, two erring brethren, may like an epidemic widen and spread until communities, and Churches, and General Associations of Christians may suffer all the malignity of the moral disease, and bring Churches and Associations together in strife and vain glory, to inflict the disciplinary laws, when the truth is, all are then guilty before God's tribunal, and he allows the whirl of passion, partiality and pride in their own bosoms to scatter them.

      Hence, divisions arise and are perpetuated. These offenders are now scattered over hundreds of miles, and are possibly in fifty different Churches and a dozen Associations. And now, perhaps, the two brethren who started the differences are in the same Church. They, instead of acting out their individual duty toward each other, and in future of settling the offence, calling others of piety to aid, make a public contest and draw distant brethren in. The Church first holding jurisdiction, and the Churches of these distant meddlers with strife and slander offered and received, all neglect their duty to Christian affection and harmony, and allow the state of things described above to culminate. Then one of the first party having obtained more general sympathy from abroad than the other, and from those at a distance who were his party - it being now a party matter about men out of the Church, now herself, from neglect of the execution of discipline, really in deepest guilt - takes up the cause against one offender, to try him before the other, or attempts to do it - strife and vain glory manifestly at work among the leaders. Is not this the way divisions in Churches and denominations come? And can any, will any, say that this is caused in any other way but by the violation of Christian principles and laws clearly set forth in the New testament?

      These remarks, brethren editors, have been called out by an editorial and communication in the South West Baptist of October 21st, in relation to the actions and doings in the "First Baptist Church" of Nashville, condemnatory of Bro. Graves and the minority, who refused to become parties in the unscriptural action of said body. I say, under all circumstances, the majority are in disorder, whatever may have been wrong in Bro. Graves before; that is yet to be judged, and never can be tried by that majority. The minority have the Scripture, and they sustain him. I ask, therefore, who can condemn him? According to Baptist faith, fellowship attaches to those members which hold the truth according to the Word of God, in the disposal of any case brought up for action. And according to Baptist usage determine which is the First Church of Nashville. Minorities have often been adjudged the true Church by Associations, and thus the majority have to yield, or go out of the union of Churches. Nor is this a violation of the independence of the Churches. It was much more Christ-like in Bro. Graves and the minority peacefully to retire - after a Christian remonstrance - from what they, and thousands of godly Baptists, believe honestly an unchristian procedure, and thus save their Church identity, than to have disgraced themselves and allowed it to be destroyed by submission to a mock trial under the government of a blind, but burning prejudice. Those two separate bodies can, if they choose, now constitute an umpire to decide between them, and resign their union either as members of one and the same Church, or as two independent Churches. It is to be hoped they will, for the good of the cause and the peace of our common Zion, as well as for their own prosperity and the glory of our great Head. This, however, will never be brought about by the spirit, which has been but too characteristic of the noted paper war recently raging.

      Now, dear brethren, I sympathize with all my brethren in trouble. I doubt not but Satan is seeking, and our foes watching, to take advantage of our missteps, and hard speeches, and articles; but God has a great use here for Baptists, and can even overrule their falling out, to show that his spirit and word can and will at last rule, and finally harmonize the sentiments, hearts and affections of those who reject human policy and creeds and exercise an unshaken faith in his Word.
      An Alabama Baptist.

      P. S. My name can be given, should you be charged of writing this, as you have been of writing others which have been published, as coming from Alabama. But first call for the writer from your State. I should not have noticed the proceedings, but for this communication, designed to operate here against Bro. Graves and the minority. We have been long enough in error this way from such efforts. The whole truth must come from both sides now.

[From the Tennessee Baptist, December 11, 1858. CD edition. Transcribed and formattted by Jim Duvall.]

More on J. R. Graves
Baptist History Homepage