The Right of a Church to Receive into its Fellowship Excluded Members
THE unimpeachable independence of a gospel church implies the right to withdraw fellowship from any member whom that body considers unworthy of it. But suppose her action is unjust, unscriptural, prompted by personal prejudice, or malice, or by party feeling. Is that no refuge or redress -- no appeal to a higher court?
A Presbyterian synod can have the act of a local presbytery reversed; so can the other "federal churches." Baptists have no court of appeal. There lies the weakness of independency. There is no appeal for wrongfully expelled members, or ministers. But the fact is that the independency of a church giving it the right to withdraw fellowship, proves that the fact of independence of another church gives to it the right to extend fellowship to whomsover is deemed worthy of it."
Different methods as well as different views have marked Baptists in regard to this troublesome question. As an instance, the First Baptist Church in New Albany, Indiana, had expelled a number of
its members on account of difference of opinion in regard to officers of the church, including the pastor. An ex parte council, that is to say, the neighboring churches, including those of Louisville, were requested by the expelled members to meet in New Albany and advise these people in regard to their future course. The expelling chuch was also invited, but refused to attend. After a full investigation, these brethren as an advisory council decided that those excluded brethren might be scripturally received into any other Baptist church, with no impeachment of gospel law, or the entire independency of gospel churches. The matter was settled, a new church composed of these expelled members was organized, and time healed all the wounds and the two churches soon worked harmoniously.
Rights of Excluded Church Members.1 "We have no doubt that many worthy persons are, even now, suffering under erroneous, not to say unrighteous, church decisions, and that these persons ought to have justice done them, no good man will doubt; but the mode of doing it is not so easily settled upon. We think the case remediable, but no by neighboring churches assuming to exercise paramount ecclesiastical authority of ther delinquent church.
1 From the "Banner and Pioneer," 1848, W. C. Buck, editor.
"We have not room to present our views at large, and must, therefore, satisfy ourselves with the following very condensed exhibition of them. We look upon it, that each church, duly organized, is entirely and absolutely independent of every other church, and that no other body has a right to interfere with its internal government. If, therefore, the churches remain separate and unassociated, there could be no transfer of membership from one church to any other by letter; they could only be admitted upon a profession of their faith and suitable evidence of their having been baptized. In this state of things it could in no way infract relations of union and correspondence where none existed between churches, should one church receive the excluded members of another. The difficulty in relation to the cases under consideration arises from the relations of correspondence and union into which the churches have entered. It is upon this principle alone that associational and other councils and advisory bodies are authorizable. But these have no rights to interfere with the independence of churches. They cannot force a church to restore an excluded member, however wrongfully done. All that can be done in the case is to counsel and advise her to do her duty; and if she persists in her injustice, then let the other churches withdraw from her their union and correspondence. And any church can then do justice to her injured
member without any infringement upon her ecclesiastical rights, or any violation of the social compact, just as though such compact had never existed. This we regard as the only legitimate remedies which this class of cases admit of, and we are persuaded that there are many such, and that they ought to be attended to. An unjust and tyrannical church should receive no more countenance than an unjust man."
A similar condition of affairs existed in the Broome Street Baptist Church, in New York, during the agitation of the Bible revision movement. The church of which Spencer H. Cone, president of the Bible Union, was pastor, voted to invite the "Union" to hold its anniversary meeting in the church house. The trustees of the church promptly refused to comply. They were arraigned by the church and expelled. They called an ex parte council which decided that any Baptist church might consistently receive these excluded members into its fellowship. They accordingly were received into neighboring Baptist churches. The whole matter ended with this.
In 1857 a member of the Walnut Street Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., was expelled because of his course toward its pastor. The East Baptist Church after a full examination of the Walnut Street Church records, received him into its fellowship. The Walnut Street Church sent a query
to the next meeting of the Long Run Association, "Is it in order for a church to receive an excluded member of another church in the same Association?" The Association made answer, that the question had been acted upon at a previous Association, in a circular letter, that the right to exclude, on the ground of church independency one whom she could not fellowship, proved the right of another church to receive on the ground of church independency.
In the year 1878 R. C. Buckner, the organizer and successful manager of the Buckner Orphan School, was expelled from the First Baptist Church of Dallas, because of his opposition to the reception of a brother by letter into said church. His credentials were demanded - which he declined to surrender. Some seventeen others were expelled with him. A council was called. It met in Dallas, and announced as its decision (in substance), after full investigation of the case, that with no infringement on the rights of the First Baptist Church of Dallas in withdrawing its fellowship from these brethren they might scripturally form themselves into a church, and be recognized as such by all other Baptist chruches. Drs. R. C. Burleson, B. H. Carroll, and other distinguished ministers were in the large and influential council. They accordingly formed themselves into a Second Baptist Church, were recognized as in order and
grew. Time and thought, as in the other cases, healed the painful wounds, and the two churches finally united.
Doctor Buckner was heartily received into the united church and has been for years the president of the great Texas Baptist State Convention.
The case of J. R. Graves was so similar that it need only be mentioned. The Central Church, at Nashville, Tennessee, was formed of excluded members of the First Church. A council approved their action and there the matter ended. ===========
[Samuel H. Ford, Baptist Waymarks, ABPS, 1903. Typed from the original document by Linda Duvall; the document was provided by Pastor Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. - jrd]
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