Church Independence and Excluded Members
The Christian Repository, 1888
THERE has of late been considerable discussion in regard to the independence of churches. A few extremists have endeavored to maintain the position that the act of a church, in expelling a member, is sovereign and final; — that every other church must be governed by that act, and bow to the decision of a sister church, whether that act is believed to be right or wrong, righteous or wicked.
It will be long before Baptists will so far give up their rights and freedom as to bow implicitly to the action of an unrighteous and persecuting church. There will always be found truth and
courage enough among them to assert independence and equality of churches, and give their practioal protest against the arrogance of unsoriptural authority, and thus exemplify the glorious fact that Baptists, as a people, have never persecuted. Though single churches, influenced by prejudice, rivalry, or personal dislike, may persecute and trample right and innocence beneath their feet, and though the independence of such churches precludes all possibility of appeal, yet God has never left Himself without a witness. Other churches, equally independent—which have not bartered away the rights God has given them—will right the wrongs, and blot out the stain unjustly fixed on the brow of innocence.
As an illustration that this is the usage of Baptist churches, we present below the action of the Long Run Association, of Kentucky, at a session many years ago. We do it, not only because it was the unanimous decision of that body, but because it met with the general and almost unanimous endorsement of the Baptist press.
"On motion, the following brethren were appointed a Committee, viz:— Elders John Dale, Wm. P. Barnett, Jos. 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to receive from another Baptist church a member that has been expelled, or from whom the hand of fellowship has been withdrawn?"
"The Committee on the query from 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 a member, though evidently unjustly, compel all others 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 or 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 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.
"On motion, the above report was unanimously adopted."
==========[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, 1888, pp. 421-423; via on-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Baptist History Homepage