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Observer, Dec. 1, '71.
That thing was excogitated and revealed by the "man of sin." Christ represents Himself as the only true vine, and His true disciples as branches of that vine. On earth there is no visible head of the Church, and there is no visible body, only as that body is temporarily localized by individual congregations. There is unity between Christ and His disciples as living souls, but no unity between Christ and denominations or mere mechanical organizations.
The divinity of Christ forms the foundatian of His Church. Upon this rock He said He would build His Church: not a Roman Church, not an Episcopalian Church, not a Lutheran Church, not a Presbyterian Church, nor a Baptist Church, nor a Methodist Church-all of which are but mutilations of the original model, if, indeed, the projectors of these spotted and wrinkled bodies ever contemplated the perfection of the Apostolic Church. Paul in his Ephesian letter, represents the Church as the wife of Christ, as in other places the Church is represented as His bride or His spouse. Therefore he writes, " Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the Word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." The wife of Christ should bear but one name, but the denominations bear many names. Can she be a virtuous wife, a faithful wife, a lovely bride, a prudent spouse, who plays the dalliance with so many names? Is the Church of the present day the "glorious Church" of Christ? Under the preaching of the apostles there was but one way of entrance into the kingdom of Christ, even as there was but one entrance into Noah's ark, which remarkable building was typical of the Church of Christ. The eight persons who entered the ark, having faith in the word of God, entered of their own free will and choice. There was no compulsion. No infants were carried in. There was no conscription from the cradle. They yielded themselves servants of righteousness. Christ placed in the hands of His apostles the constitution of His kingdom, which was couched in these simple but expressive words—“ Go, disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." To Peter Christ gave the keys of the kingdom. The apostle Peter, first among his equals, but not above them, bearing the symbolic keys of delegated power, as the porter who had heard the voice of the great Shepherd, opens the kingdom on the memorable day of Pentecost, by proclaiming the constitution of the coronated King. Here we behold the unity of the divine system once more, when Christ declares (John x.) that He has other sheep besides the Jews, the Gentiles, and that they shall hear the voice of the one Shepherd, who will constitute of the two but "one fold." Both must swear fealty to the same Lord. The middle wall of partition shall be broken down, and both will enter in at the same door. By faith in Christ as the Saviour of the world they shall be baptized into the one body." This was the oath of allegiance the sacramentum of the newly-enlisted soldier.
A history of the primitive Church is to be found in the book called "Acts of the Apostles." The Model Church of Christ was first established in the city of Jerusalem, whence, according to the prediction of Isaiah, as well as in harmony with the testimony of Luke, together with the words of the Saviour Himself, "the law of the Lord was to go forth," even "from Mount Zion;" which subsequently was called by Paul "the law of the
Observer, Dec. 1, '71.
Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." Christ, after His ascension, was glorified in the highest heaven, and crowned "King of kings and Lord of lords." He endowed His apostles with the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. He sent them forth as His accredited ambassadors to announce to both Jews and Gentiles the proclamation of pardon. These apostles preached salvation in the name of Jesus. They proved Christ to be the Son of God by testimony the most incontrovertible. In every instance baptism, in the name of Christ, was declared to be the organic law of induction. Subjects by thousands and tens of thousands believed the testimony of the apostles, repented of their sins, publicly confessed Christ, and, as a test of their fidelity, submitted to the ordinance of immersion as the formal organic law of induction, and thence were constituted members of the one body. This was the Church of the Past, and should be the Church of the Present. Let us take care of the present, and we shall not need to concern ourselves about the "Church of the Future." The Church of the Future is yet in the hands of the Lord; the Church of the Present is in the hands of the Lord's people. It is our business, in the present, to search the divine records, and by them identify "the Church of the living God."
What right have the Disciples of Christ to parley with the sects in order "to adjust the difference existing between them?" Those who adopt the divine model have no adjustments to make. But let those who have infringed the Christian model hasten to dispense with their traditions, and adjust themselves.
OUR DYING CHURCHES IN AMERICA.—No. II.
(Continued from p. 389.)
AN article by Thomas Munnell, in part reproduced in our last, from the Christian Standard, indicated two things:- —1. That some hundreds of American Churches, pleading for a return to the original order, are said to be dying. 2. That, notwithstanding this undesirable fact, the number of disciples in America adhering to the cause has never been greater than at present.
Since June last every week has brought before us new articles in comment upon the case, as put by T. Munnell; not denying the fact, but pointing to the cause or suggesting the remedy.
Now we are not alarmed at a certain proportion of dying churches. That such should exist seems about as natural and certain as anything can well be. Such always were. For samples, see the churches addressed in the seven epistles, given through the apostle John in Patmos. Nor would a complete return to christianity, as it was in the days of the apostles, save us from dying churches. Wherever two or three of the twice-born sons of God are found in a locality, not sufficiently near to a church to admit of fellowship, there they should attend to the ordinances and make themselves known as a church. But churches so formed, even after increase to some extent, are quite likely to die out by reason of removals, through death or otherwise. A growing church is often reduced to a state of feebleness, by removal to a distance of its teaching and preaching members, and by consequent change in its financial condition. We have no doubt but that from the first till now there have been churches appearing for a time and then ceasing to be, whose members, or some of them, have gone to carry on the good work in other places.
Observer, Dec. 1, '71.
expect, then, a certain proportion of declining churches. Still, we are free to admit that the proportion in America, taking it according to the statement of T. M., is considerably greater than could be accounted for on the ground now intimated. But let us hear what brethren in America have to say on the subject. The editor of the Christian Standard has an article headed "The Remedy." He admits the fact and proposes to cure it by means of district evangelists. He also shows that the Baptist Churches of America are in the same condition, as to dying churches. This is a consolation in one sense, though not in another. Certainly, we should rejoice in the success of Baptist and all other Churches, in the things which make for spiritual good. But, on the other hand, were those other churches making progress and unafflicted by dying churches, it would indicate special error in our plea and practise; whereas, as it is, we can take courage, and press on in making known what we hold as essential to complete surrender to the authority of the Lord and as peculiar to our plea. But let us hear the Editor of the Standard :—
"We published, last week, a paper from Bro. Munnell, headed ‘A Plea for our Dying Churches.' To many, the facts it presents may seem discouraging; and to some, whose views of policy override their convictions of truth, it will seem altogether bad policy to let such facts be known. To us, there is nothing new or startling in the facts. We have, more then once during the last five years, made known similar facts, and insisted that we should learn the lessons of duty which they force on us; but by the class last referred to, this has always been condemned as croaking,' and as indicative of unsoundness' in the faith. The time has come, however, when it is no longer deemed necessary to exaggerate our strength or conceal our weaknesses, in order to prove our attachment to the truth. On the contrary, he is the best friend to the truth who detects and exposes the dangers to which it is exposed, and sounds a note of warning in due time.
"There is nothing very disheartening in the facts submitted by Bro. Munnell. It will only be really disheartening when it is found that, as a people, we are indifferent to the meaning of such facts, and to the duties they suggest to us. Our very rapid growth has necessarily involved us in some evils and some peculiar dangers. It was natural that such success should beget vain confidence, and blind us somewhat to the necessity of watchfulness. It was to be expected that the absorbing discussion of elementary priciples should divert attention, for the time, from questions of organization, and social and ecclesiastical economy. It was a legitimate result of the rapid multiplication of churches through the labours of comparatively few men, that these churches should be imperfectly cared for and be largely left to themselves; and that when they came face to face with grave problems of duty and responsibility, there should be blunders, and discouragements, and failures, in many places. Even the best matured ecclesiastical arrangements of older religious bodies have failed to guard them against failure and decay in numerous instances; why, then, should it be thought strange that we, with little experience, limited knowledge of questions of church edification, and unripe material, should sometimes lose what we have gained?
"Now as to the remedy. We wish to say, in brief, that a faithful adherence to the plan of co-operation that has been adopted, and energetic and persistent work under it, will largely provide a remedy for the evils complained of. The great thing needed is, faithful and efficient District Evangelists. Let an evangelist have a district just large enough for him
Observer, Dec. 1, '71.
to work up. Let him comfort and strengthen these weak and dying churches by his own labours; draw on the stronger churches of the district for assistance; wake up the slumbering talent of the district; set to work the unemployed preachers of the district at points where their gifts will be most available; keep a look out for young men of promise, and enlist the churches in the work of educating them for the ministry; act as arbiter and peace-maker where there are disputes and alienations, have an eye to the openings for usefulness at new points, and occupy them, or send others to occupy them; and skillfully work up the finances of the district. If the district is not strong enough to support him in this work, let the stronger districts lend their aid-for it is a common enterprise, and a common stock.
"We call attention to another fact. The subjoined paragraph we take from an Illinois paper:
'A discouraging fact, however, was brought to our attention. In the report of the proceedings of the last annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of the State, the number of churches is given at 845; pastors, 415; while in the same pamphlet, are recorded the names of over one thousand ministers! Six-tenths of those ordained to the ministry in Illinois out of the work! What does it mean? Where are they? What are they doing? They assuredly cannot be about the Master's business or obeying the call whereof they have been called.'
We have not the statistics of our own churches; but we know enough to be able to say that a similar state of things is found among us. There are known to us scores of good and earnest preachers out of employment, while the cry is coming up from all parts of the land for more preachers. Why is this? Because of the itch for popular preaching, and the low estimate placed by our churches on the talent for work. The tongues' is still coveted, and the more excellent way we are slow to
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"We have not space to say much more now. We ask our churches to look at this question earnestly: How may we get our best Evangilists to work in the districts; and how should we provide for our home-wants in their absence?
"One other general remark, and we close for the present. We must not rely too much on organization. First of all, we should rely on individual effort. Every Christian should be aroused to do all he can personally to bless the church and save the world. Any organization that lifts away individual responsibility, and enables the individual to lose himself in the crowd, is a curse and not a blessing. But individual effort cannot accomplish everything. We have, secondly, the church-each church in its own locality; and there is much that the individual church can do better, and cheaper, than an assembly of churches can do it. Bring every church into the full development of its strength. There still remains a general work which calls for the co-operation of churches. Now a district Evangelist should work to these three ends: the development of individual capacity, of church capacity, and of co-operative capacity. If we cannot get evangelists enough of the right kind to occupy all the districts, let us get as many as possible, and start the work in the right direction."
The above, though only a portion of the article, indicates the line upon which the editor of the Standard moves. We may next hear Moses Lard, one of the editors of "The Apostolic Times," whose judgment and experience are of no mean order :
Observer, Dec. 1, '71.
"Our preachers are not working where they should work, nor doing the work they should do. Our strong men are gathered into the cities and into the wealthy country churches, and the whole time of each is given to a single congregation. In this very fact the destitution and decay complained of have taken their rise. These strong men should at once become our evangelists. They are the men to scour the frontier and enter districts where churches are on the decline. They have talents and can command large audiences; they have experience and an influence which brethren will respect, and which will enable them to do more in one week in the work of reviving and strengthening feeble churches than a common man can effect in a year. The character of a cause is judged by the character of the men who are put forward to advocate it. The more commanding the talent, the more imposing the name of the preacher, the better will people think of what he says, and the more of them will he convert. Our giants should now be out in the broad evangelical field, which stretches so far around us on every side, and which is occupied at present almost exclusively by young men, and by brethren of humble abilities. At present we have not a single man, such as Bro. Errett or Dr. Hopson, in this field. Many of these strong men spend a whole year preaching to a single church, and during that time do not, on an average, baptize thirty people; yet were they out in the field of which I am speaking, five hundred would not be an extravagant number to place to their credit. I can now name ten men, who, were they out as evangelists, would bring five thousand souls per annum into the kingdom of God, and yet they do not in that time baptize two hundred. This is not as it should be. Not only would these brethren do all I have said, they would do even more. They would reconstruct and vitalize all those districts and churches alluded to by Bro. Munnell."
Now this proves that the setting up of one man as the sole preacher of a church no more meets the case with us than with the denominations generally. They do not increase by this process, and we shall not. In a subsequent article he points out a supposed difficulty in connection with dispensing with the "One-man System," and indicates the results which have arisen in many of our churches by its introduction :
"But the remedy here suggested itself creates a difficulty. If we take the strong preachers out of the strong churches, will not these churches themselves soon fall into decay, and will we not have in them also the very evil we are trying to remedy? Were we to adopt no compensating policy, I think this would certainly be the case. But this policy we must adopt.
"In the first place, our strong churches need to become, and actually should become, more self-sustaining than they are at present. They rely too much on their preachers, everything is done by proxy. In this we are fast becoming like the sects around us. As a consequence, we are not now developing the talents of our private brethren. Who among them is learning how to be elder; who is learning how to be deacon; and who among our overseers is learning how to be excellent in his work? These questions answer themselves. That our present policy is enervating our strong churches, is as clear to my mind as it is that it is proving the death of the churches alluded to by Bro. Munnell. Each church, so soon as it becomes sufficiently numerous, must be rendered not only self-supporting, but capable of helping others. Even granting that, by the policy here suggested, our churches would now and then lose a weak member, still, when we reflect on the vast numerical gain in another direction, this loss