A Summary of the Circular Letters of the Narragansett Baptist Association
1860-1874 - Rhode Island
CIRCULAR LETTERS -- HISTORICAL SKETCHES.
When Associations were first organized in this country the isolated condition of the churches, the difficulty and expense of communication whether by messengers or by mail and the entire absence of religious periodicals invested the Circular Letter with an importance and an authority of which but the shadow remains. Its chief office was instruction on important questions of the day; encouragement was but an incidental function. Hence a review of subjects presented, mirrors the thought and the condition of the churches at the time. A brief glance at those issued by this body is, therefore, appropriate.
The first very properly gave (after a brief sketch of the rise of the Warren Association and the birth of its several daughters) the exclusive object of the new organization which "is to bring up the churches embraced therein to a higher plane of usefulness," to accomplish which it was declared "nothing is needed but the simple nurture of the gospel." "We acknowledge no other law of vitality and increase than this; we know no other." The next year we considered the "Hinderances [sic] to Conversion and Church Membership as found within the pale of the Visible Church." Then the "Moral Obligation of Members to Abide by the Decisions of tile Churches to which they Belong," was presented with a clearness and vigor that could have originated only in the personal experience of the author. Naturally followed "Christian Obedience an Evidence of Grace and the Condition of its Increase." "We can know that we feel like Christians only when and so far as we act like Christians." The spirit of eclecticism in duty is rebuked, and the spirit of lawlessness whereby Christians are led to "neglect their covenant obligations as persistently as if they were unconscious that every step of their pathway through life they added the sin of perjury to the baseness of ingratitude." It is asked, "If church oaths cannot bind Christians, is it to be supposed that State oaths will bind men of the world? The one great lesson of the frightful tragedy now enacting before our eyes, (the great rebellion) is the danger of disobedience; the sanctity of oaths and law." "The ownership of Christ in His disciples, and the claims He has consequently upon each of them," was possibly suggested by the invalidity of the claim of one man to possess another then being demonstrated by the Almighty through the inexorable logic of events. The restoration of peace was signalized by "Brotherly Love, the Badge and Bond of true Disciples." "The importance of a more constant and systematic study of the Sacred Scriptures," was then urged as promoting "stability of Christian character, growth in the divine life and unity of religious convictions among Christians." "Two years later, attention was directed to Christian knowledge, its nature, the obligations to acquire it and its uses. Then "one of the most important duties of our holy religion, a benevolent regard for the interests of our fellowmen," was insisted upon. Finally, in 1870, instruction was given in the matter of "Ordinance Keeping." "The New Testament Ordinances are but two: Baptism; and the Lord's Supper;" "to every baptized organized body of believers they are committed for keeping and perpetuation," and "they are to be kept as Christ and His commissioned delegates delivered them to us, because our Lord has expressly bidden us to do so," and because they are "Truth Bearers, -- forms and modes of conduct charged with great evangelical ideas -- symbolic acts, speaking as no words could speak to men -- speaking the same symbolical acts, speaking as no words could speak to men -- speaking the same truths and ideas to all nations, amid all the inevitable changes in the forms and meanings of words." A Circular Letter was prepared and read in 1872, but was displaced from the Minutes by the Historical Sketch of the Second South Kingstown Church. In 1876 a Letter was published aptly answering the question on everyone's lips: "What shall we read?" in place of a Sketch, but long since it was determined to be the policy of the Association to gather up as promptly as possible into enduring form the early history of her churches, that no more fragments thereof be lost. ==========[From George B. Peck, "Historical Sketch of the Narragansett Baptist Association," 1874. A 15 page booklet from Andover Newton Theological Library. jrd]
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