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Home arrow Writers arrow Wilson Thompson arrow Autobiography: The Controversy at Sugar Creek Church Concerning Conditional Salvation
Autobiography: The Controversy at Sugar Creek Church Concerning Conditional Salvation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   



ABOUT this time an Elder John Mason, who had preached for many years to the edifying of the churches, embraced the doctrine of an universal atonement, with a special application of its benefits to the believer, upon the conditions of repentance, faith, and obedience. He was the pastor of a small church called Sugar Creek, in Montgomery County, in the vicinity of a small town called Centerville. Many of the members could not receive these new ideas, and finding this had become the leading topic of all his sermons, the dissatisfied ones began to cast about in their minds to find the best way to get out of their difficulties in a peaceable way, so as to make no trouble in the church. They formally resolved to call for letters of dismission, to join a small church under the care of Elder Jacob Mulford, with whose ministry they were highly pleased, and although the distance was some greater to go to that meeting than to Sugar Creek, at least to some of them, still they were willing to travel it.

Another consideration had its influence in this decision. Elder Mulford’s Church was a small one, while Sugar Creek was large; they hoped, therefore, to be of more use to the little, weak body assembling at Tapscott’s meeting-house than they could be to Sugar Creek, which was not only large but had many old and able disciplinarians in their number. This plan was agreed upon, and if their letters were granted they would leave in peace, and as both churches were in the Miami Association, they would make no bar of fellowship in consequence of the doctrine preached by Elder Mason, as they would not be directly compelled by a rule of order to sit under it. They accordingly made their request for letters. The majority regarded this request as a gross violation of good order, and appointed a committee to labor with these members, and to cite them to attend the next monthly meeting and answer to this complaint. All this was attended to, and the next meeting came. The withdrawing members being present were called upon to answer to the charge of disorder, to which they pled that letters had been granted in similar cases. They further said that Elder Samuel Jones, in an able treatise on Church Discipline (which they believed had generally been sanctioned by the Baptists), stated that where a member of one church became specially attached to and edified by the minister preaching for a neighboring church of the same faith and order, and no other charge being at the time against the applicant, it would be no disorder to grant a letter of dismission, permitting such member to place his membership in the church where he could best enjoy the gospel ministry.

Again (they urged), “We have not found any command or rule laid down in the Scripture binding any believer to be a member of the nearest church to his residence; therefore, if any one has a choice, even though he has to go farther to meeting, he certainly possesses the privilege and right to do so. We did not think that barely asking for letters was such an offense. We only designed to join another church in the same association, where we would live in the same general union; and it might be for the mutual comfort of us all, especially as the one we wish to join is a small, weak church.” In conclusion they said: “These are our reasons for our request; we thought they were good ones; but if the church think differently they must refer us to their order and scriptural warrant and we will bow to it.”

The church urged that they should give other reasons. They insisted that they had already given, as they believed, sufficient reasons, and if it were disorderly to plead as they had done, to go further in the same course would only be adding disorder to disorder, and could do only harm instead of good. I think another committee was appointed to see them separately. However, it was so managed as to compel these members to confess that some points in Elder Mason’s doctrine of late were contrary to their views, and that they were not edified in hearing him preach, and they thought they could be much better satisfied and edified in that (Tapscott’s) church. This was construed to be charges against the elder, and they were called upon to specify the points of doctrine they dissented to. This they objected to do, and contended that they had been forced to do what they had done; and now to be compelled to lay in specific charges against certain points of doctrine preached by Elder Mason, was contrary to what they considered to be good order and would have a disastrous effect upon the peace of the church. The demand was again made, and they finally defined the points to which they objected, but still said that if letters could not be granted them they would submit and live in peace and union.

I cannot now give all the objectionable points in the order of their arrangement. The principle objection was that the elder taught that the atonement, or death of Christ, was not specially for the elect, but an equivalent for sin, and would be applied to any sinner on the conditions of becoming a believer. He said that it was not the death or the blood of Christ simply being offered for men, but the application of it to the believer by the Spirit that justified him, and that the sacrifice of Christ was an equivalent for the sins of the whole race of man, but would save none until applied, and would be applied to none but a believer. Man had power to repent, obey, believe, and do all that was required of him, and neglecting to put this power into action was the ground of his condemnation. This he called a physical power, but there was another which he called a moral power, which man had lost. This last power, he said, governs the will, the affections, etc. So while they had all the physical powers requisite to serve God and obtain acceptance with Him, yet for want of moral power, or the power of the will and affections, the power of volition of mind, the physical powers were not brought into requisition, and judgment and condemnation passed because of neglecting to obey God’s commands with the physical abilities which all men have. This point the elder illustrated by the following case: “Every man in the world is just as able to keep God’s commands and be saved, as a man with plenty of money in his pocket is able to pay his debts. The reason that he does not pay is not because he cannot, but because he will not.”

The above outline substantially embodies the points of doctrine objected to. The specifications were drawn up and presented, and the points came under debate. The elder admitted that he did believe and had preached the doctrine set forth in the specifications, and had used the case referred to as an illustration of it, and that he now saw nothing erroneous in it. He labored hard to defend all the points objected to, and a large majority of the members of the church sustained him. From this time forward the parties were distinguished by the names “Majority” and “Minority”. The case was laid over from month to month for a long time; the minority protested against many acts and decisions of the majority on points of order as violations of their rules of decorum and also the Scriptures. The difficulties multiplied and grew worse and worse. The minority urged upon the majority to call a council from a number of sister churches to examine their protests, both in doctrine and order, and decide which of the parties were the church (if either was), and try to settle the difficulty, for in their present state of excitement and undue prejudices, they were all the time getting further apart. The majority refused all such propositions.

At length the minority claiming to be the true church upon the original platform of faith and practice, as set forth in the articles of faith and rules of decorum, held a meeting and agreed to call on the sister churches to send them counsel, but before doing so to send a request to the majority to join with them in calling a council, before which each party should have equal rights to bring in all questions they might deem proper, and explain all matters in dispute between them. This was all rejected by the majority, and the minority proceeded to call on a large number of churches for counsel. A large council met and was organized by choosing a moderator and clerk. The copies of the whole proceedings of the church, with the articles of faith and rules of decorum, were then laid before the council, and as much of their business had been done by writing, all this was also submitted to the council. They sat until late in the night, and finally unanimously decided that, according to the testimony before them, the minority stood upon the original platform of the church, but as the majority refused to participate in any way in the matter before the council, they advised the moderator to go in a Christian-like manner and propose to unite in jointly calling another council, where both parties as equals could be fully heard. This advice of the council was fully complied with, and the majority also agreed, as the church had become two bodies, both claiming to be the Sugar Creek Church. The clerks of both parties signed the letters sent to the churches jointly asking for help.

The council assembled, and it was a large one. After becoming organized, the whole matter came in regular order under consideration—the church-book and all its accompanying documents, all the evidences and explanations of both sides, a lengthy defense by Elder Mason of his doctrine, all that each party wished to say on the case—and then it was taken up for decision by the council. All advice to the parties to try to settle the matter in a spirit of concession, forgiveness, and forbearance, was now unavailing. This council, like its predecessor, was unanimous in its decision, that in doctrine and order, the minority stood upon the original platform of the church, and were contending for the truth, but as all were very imperfect and so prone to err, the council advised that all the members should feel willing to forgive each other, and exercise much “long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace”, and although the council had decided against the majority, yet it would be a subject of heart-felt rejoicing if both parties were satisfied with the settlement and advice so that peace should again be restored, and all were again living and walking in love and fellowship.

The matter lay in about this way until the next meeting of the Miami Association, when there came two letters, one from each party, each purporting to be from the church called Sugar Creek. After due deliberation the association decided to receive neither of the letters nor messengers at present, but to leave the question open for the churches to inquire into for one year. The association gave both parties advice to meet together, and as brethren to labor in the spirit of the gospel of peace, to live in fellowship with each other, to try to settle all their difficulties, and become one again in the bonds of Christian unity. According to this advice the minority proposed to meet and labor for peace, but the majority refused to make any such trial; and so the matter remained until the next session of the association.

Two letters were again presented, as on the previous year. The association deferred any action on the case on that day, except to appoint a committee to inquire into the matter and ascertain the probability of a settlement of the pending difficulties, and to see if any new light on the subject could be obtained, and report on the next day. On Saturday the committee reported that nothing new had come to light, and the churches had become satisfied that the majority had gone into great errors, in both doctrine and discipline, and that the minority was, in faith and practice, the regular Baptist Church of Christ, in order, and as such recommended the association to review their letter, and to decide that their messengers be entitled to their seats.

The association then called upon me to make a full statement of the proceedings of both the councils, as I had been the moderator of both, and presided over both their deliberations. I did so to the best of my ability, whereupon the association received the letter of the minority, and gave their members seats in the body. Shortly after this was done a member of the association stepped out of the house and heard Elder Mason, in a warm conversation with William Gray, the preacher of the Presbyterian congregation in Lebanon, say that I had made false statements and had led the association to decide as they did. When Brother Ayers informed me, on his return back into the house, what he had heard, I arose and asked the moderator if I could be permitted to inquire on a question of order, which liberty was granted.

I then remarked that: “If a well-known person, who sustained a good character for truth and veracity, should accuse me of falsehood, and the person was not amenable to our church, although he had been, and was still, viewed by many as a Baptist, in such a case, what would be the orderly course to take to refute the slander and prevent the reproach? Would the naming of the offender, and proving that he had made such a statement, and then proving that the statements which I had made were true, be order?” The association decided that it would not be disorderly in such a case.

I then proceeded to say: “Since the decision of this association on the Sugar Creek case, Elder John Mason has asserted that I had made false statements, and so had induced the association to decide as they did; and as the elder’s charge was public, I, therefore, request the association to hear the testimony, for if it had been misled by any false statements of mine, the association ought to know it, and reconsider the decision and, if necessary, reverse it.” The association agreed to hear it all. I then proved by Brother B. Ayers that Elder John Mason had made the allegation complained of. I then called for the minutes of the two councils, and other documents, in proof of my statements, and the association put it on their minutes that I had fully proved what I had stated.

Soon after this I was called by the minority to become their minister. I have given a more minute account of this protracted difficulty, that all who read the narrative may see the unfavorable circumstances under which I commenced my labors as pastor of this small church. Their number was small, being considerably in the minority of the original church. They were without any meeting-house, as the majority claimed the building, and they would not contend about it; so we held our meetings in a barn during the summer season, and in some dwelling-house in the winter, until the church had built a good stone meeting-house in the town. Elder Mason continued to preach for the majority party, claiming still to be the Sugar Creek Church. All persons know that strong prejudices will always spring up under such circumstances, not only between the parties, but, more or less, it will affect the community; and in any neighborhood where the people have long been in the habit of going to a good meeting-house, they do not like to leave it and go to a barn or private dwelling-house. Under these discouraging circumstances I commenced with this little houseless church.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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