Editor's note: The following is a list of questions and answers relating to proper church order.
For the Tennessee Baptist
McNairy Co., Tennessee, July 23, 1847
Messrs. Editors: Please answer the following questions in The Baptist.
"1st. Suppose a Church splits and both claim the majority; one part sticks to the old church house and holds the Records of the original church, the other party also claiming to be the church. Should they not be constituted according to Baptist order before t h e y are a legal church?
2d. Suppose that those claiming to be the old church, exclude any of those members and they have given them letters of dismission, and those members give them into a sister church, has the old church, any right in complaint?
3d. Suppose a church gives a member a letter of dismission, and he or she moves off and comes back, has the church any right to demand that letter?
4th. Suppose they have given in their letter to another church, has the former church any right to exclude those members because it does not hold that church in fellowship?
5th. Is it proper for two churches to remain in one neighborhood, bearing the same name and holding to one constitution?"
J. C. S.
1st. To the first question we answer, that it does not matter one hair which party has the majority; that does not make it the church, but which stands upon the doctrines of the original constitution. The party which had deviated from them, can lay no just claims to be considered the original church. Principles not members, constitute a regular Baptist church. Your church was constituted on several articles of faith believed by you at that time to be taught in the scriptures; now if several years after it is found that every member except one, has changed his belief in regard to all or only one of these doctrines; that one is the church in law and can hold all the property of that church. This has been decided in the courts of our land, where a whole church save one, had gone off into Campbellism. No persons are considered a church until they are constituted thus: If that party no longer hold all the doctrines upon which the original church was constituted, they cannot be constituted into a Baptist church. If they do, they are the church and have no need of a re-constitution.
2nd. To the second question. If the church has given any of its members letters of dismission, those members dismissed have a right to offer them to "any other church of the same faith and order," nor has the church from which they were dismissed any reason to complain. But if she had excluded them for unchristian deportment, after she had given them letters which is her right to do, for they are still her members, and a sister church receives them into her communion; the former church have great reason to complain. For one Baptist church to receive the excluded members of a sister church, is a violation of all Baptist usage and Christian feelings.
3rd. Has a church a right to demand the letter of a dismissed member, if that member fails to put that letter into another church, or into his own after he returns to the neighborhood of that church?
One fact will answer this query. You give a member a letter of dismission in these words. A, B, or C "is dismissed from us when joined to another church of the same faith and order." That person is still a member of that church which gives him a letter, until he unites himself with another, and is subject to all the rules and regulations of that church, and amenable to it for all violations of Christian deportment, as if he had never taken out a letter, for he is a member of that church until he joins another if it is years. If he asks for a letter to join another church and fails to do so, the church is justifiable in demanding his letter, and if he refuses to comply, can exclude him for contempt of authority.
4th. If a member takes a letter of dismission from a Baptist church and unites with a Methodist or Presbyterian or Campbellite church, that Baptist church has the most undoubted right to exclude him, the same right that it would have one who went and joined either of those churches without a letter, for he is a member of the church though holding a letter, until he unites with a church of the same faith and order.
5th. And lastly. No, it is not proper, nor does it argue a very good state of religious feeling in the parties under consideration. - "From whence came wars and fightings among you! Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" (James iv.1) We hope that these cases are only supposed and not real in any church in M'Nairy county, if so, it is to be hoped that there is one Christian, one true child of God and lover of Jesus in each party. Let those two come together and pray for the captivity of Zion, like Daniel, that the Lord would return it. - Do this brethren and God will cause the hearts of all his children to cleave unto you and unite you, and those that love themselves and their own opinions better than the cause of Christ will go away. Be assured that this is a kind that can be cast out only by prayer and fasting and mutual sacrifice.
[From the Tennessee Baptist, August 28, 1847. The title is added. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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