Dear Bro. Graves: -
The Lebanon Association convened at Bethel Baptist Church near Lebanon, in Russell county in this State [VA], on the 17th inst. A large delegation was in attendance, representing twenty-six different churches and a membership of near three thousand.
The introductory sermon was preached by Eld. N. C. Baldwin - text, Romans viii 28: "And we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose." His sermon was an able exposition of "unconditional election;" an interpretation which he gave to the Scripture quoted. While he argued the consistency of the highest Calvanistic [sic] ground being taken by Baptists (or, as he termed it, Pauline doctrine), and that with his characteristic power and ability, still there were but few of his hearers prepared to indorse his "election" views. The Baptists of this Association are generally "conditional electionists." What the agitation of the old Calvinistic doctrine may result in is not for us, for the present, to premise. Suffice it to say, however, that, unless a great change takes place, no such doctrine will be indorsed by the Baptists of this Association as a legislative body. Those who compose the majority of this body are not bigoted in their peculiar views of election; neither are they illiterate - so much so as to be insensible to the gospel ground taken by their dissenting brethren. They are an intelligent, earnest, and a gospel reading people - a people who are determined to bide by nothing less than what they consider gospel reasons.
Eld. Baldwin and those who indorse his views, are equally honest and zealous in their own views, claiming, as they do, that such views are the same as held by all the fathers of the Baptist Church from the days of Paul the Apostle to the present time.
Bro. S. C. M. Aldercan, of Lebanon, was chosen Moderator, and Rev. W. C. Parkes clerk. Considerable discussion was elicited on the presentation of several churches for membership in the Association. It was held by some that the letters to the Association, asking to be admitted to fellowship, should set forth the views of such church, so that the Association could not only determine as to their orthodoxy, but whether the "faith and practice" held to were in strict conformity with Baptist faith. The query was an apparent novelty - a new idea to the Association - still purely consistent, and we think imperative. The only danger is that improper tests might be made by those holding to extreme views, such as alluded to in the first part of this article. Such might cause divisions that would work to the detriment of our great cause - a division to be deprecated by all Baptists. It was finally agreed that the Baptist Directory and Hand-book contained the articles of faith and practice of the church and that when a church complied with the tenets set forth in these publications, its membership should not be rejected. The reports of the standing committees were very interesting, containing much valuable information, and abounding with good advice, encouragement and exhortation.
The report on domestic missions showed great pastoral or ministerial destitution - that whole counties had no shepherds - no pastors to look a after the scattered flock. The few ministers in the field were unsupported, many of whom would be forced to abandon the regular ministry and follow some secular business in order to support their families, unless aid was extended to them at an early day. "The harvest is truly great," but the effectual and properly supported laborers are few. Scores of churches are destitute of the ministry in any shape.
"Duties we owe to the colored population," was the subject of a very pertinent and well-timed report. "Mission of Baptists," by Eld. Baldwin, was an able and elaborate production - a production worthy of the great and interesting subject discussed. The subject is prolific, and gloriously sublime, and handled by such a masterly hand, gave the report an unusual and touching interest. "Duties of pastors to churches," was an excellent production. Too little is known and appreciated of the relations in question. Pastors seldom give the proper attention to their flocks - to their voice and feelings; act independent and sovereign-like, as though "they were clay, and he, the pastor, the potter." The essay was a fit rebuke to many irregularities which have crept into our churches, or, at least, their management.
The reports on education and the importance of circulating religious literature were brief, but appropriate, evincing the great necessity and importance of an educated ministry, and the great demand for religious publications and their effect on the popular mind.
Able and instructive addresses were made on the adoption of the several reports, by Elders Baldwin, Kincannon, Parkes, Noffsinger, and others.
The query, "Is feet-washing an ordinance of the church?" by one of the churches, was answered in the negative. Elder Baldwin claimed that the practice was as much an ordinance, and as obligatory as the holy sacrament - that it was the faith and practice of the primitive church, and that the reason why such was not an accredited and practiced ordinance of modem Baptists was in consideration of the pride and formalism which had found its way into our worship. Elder Noffsinger held that only a few of the primitive Baptists practiced the "rite ," and that it was a simple expression of humility and indication of brotherly love and fraternal feeling. He cited the fact that while women were, by Paul's writings, debarred all official relations with the church, still, in the administration or practice of this "ordinance," they were fit subjects for official duty. The addresses of both brethren were received with attention and consideration. A secondary query, to the effect, "If not an ordinance of the church, what must we understand by it?" followed the one just considered and received the answer, "That it teaches humility with every other act of love and kindness as disciples of Christ." This was a new subject to the Association, and elicited no little interest.
Resolutions earnestly urging a more liberal support of our ministry were adopted. A very commendable clause of the resolutions adopted was a plan by which to supply the destitute portions of this part of Virginia with ministerial labors without having to depend on the State Mission Board. The apathy of the churches and indisposition to lend a living support to those who are the messengers of the gospel, make such plans and legislation of but little effect. There is less disposition to encourage and support our ministers at the present than in former years.
The lukewarmness of our churches, of all professed followers of Christ, is really alarming. We do not wonder at this neglect of our ministry, when the church is so dead and indifferent to the maintenance of the gospel.
Resolutions recommending THE BAPTIST and Religious Herald as worthy exponents of Baptist faith and practice, and the importance of a liberal circulation of our denominational literature, were adopted. The latter clause is almost indispensable to the success of our cause. The literature of any people most certainly molds the moral, social and political destinies of such people. There is no dispute as to this. Hence, if our church could be induced or led to appreciate this important fact, an impetus would be given our cause which ages would not obliterate. Now is the most critical period in the history of God's people.
The next meeting of the Association will be held at Greenfield Church, near Emory and Henry College, on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Eld. J . T. Kincannon is to preach the introductory sermon.
The attendance on the deliberations of the Association was unusually large. The people of Russell county are really a church-going people, and as a mass are fast enlisting in the Baptist cause. But a short time since and it was the stronghold of Methodism; now our faith is in the ascendant, and is rapidly gaining ground. The people of that county are a Bible people - devoted to the cause they espouse. With this they are truly famous for their generosity and hospitality. It is just the country for Baptist principles to prosper in; and her mountain fastnesses and fertile valleys may yet become as famous for the devotion of its inhabitants to the cause of true principles - a pure gospel - as the wild retreat of the Waldenses, their primitive brethren.
Fraternally, B. G. M. Bristol, Virginia, Sept. 23, 1868. ==========
[From The Baptist newspaper, October 10, 1868. CD edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Dvuall.]
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