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Written by Sylvester Hassell   



 So far as I am aware there are no Primitive Baptist Associations held in the winter. I write the present article, therefore, at a distance of some months, both anterior and posterior, from the period of these annual gatherings among us, and consequently at a time when we ought to be able to consider this subject in the most unprejudiced and dispassionate manner.

 The scriptural authority for Associations, as meetings of the people of God for united worship and for mutual edification, may be found in the three great annual fes­tivals established by the Lord for the ancient Israelites (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles), which, as I have shown in the Church History (pages 94 to 97), had a three-fold bearing—natural, historical, and spiritual. And, as I have said in that work, “God’s object was to promote, in this way, the religious zeal and knowledge and union of his covenant people, to bring them frequently together in loving, brotherly fellowship for the worship of God—the very same object that is now beautifully and pleasantly subserved by the frequent assemblies of the people of God in their quarterly, yearly, union, corresponding, and associational meet­ings.” It was when the day of Pentecost was come, and when the disciples were all with one accord in one place, that the Holy Ghost was abundantly poured out upon both speakers and hearers with the glorious results described in the second chapter of Acts. And, when the writer to the Hebrews (x. 25) exhorts us to forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” he does not limit the assembling to the members of any local churches. In partial imitation of the final general assembly of the church of the first born in heaven (Heb. xii. 23; Rev. iv., v., vii., xxi., xxii.), it is certainly right and proper for all the members of the mystical body of Christ who can to meet when they can on earth for the edification of one another and the glorifi­cation of God.

 For such worthy purposes, the first regular Associa­tion of English Baptists seems to have met at Bristol in 1692, and of American Baptists at Philadelphia in 1707. These Associations grew out of yearly meetings, and the messengers who composed them were very care­ful to affirm that these organizations “had no superior or appellate jurisdiction over the churches, but were simply designed to promote yearly correspondence and communion in the gospel;” that “each church was inde­pendent in authority, in regard both to its doctrine and discipline;” that “the several independent churches being the constituents, the Association is not to be deemed a superior judicature, or having a superintendence over the churches, but subservient to the churches, in what may concern all the churches, or any one church in particular;” and that “the Association should withdraw from a church only for persistent defection in doctrine; or disorder in practice.” (See Minutes of Philadelphia Baptist Association 1707—1807, pages 29, 31, 60-63). The oldest Primitive Baptist Association in the world is the Kehukee, and the messengers compos­ing that Association said, in 1777, (Church History, page 700): “We believe that every church is independ­ent in matters of discipline, and that associations, councils, and conferences, of several ministers or churches, are not to impose on the churches the keeping, holding or maintaining any principle or practice con­trary to the church’s judgment ;“ but they recommend associational meetings for the mutual comfort, union and satisfaction of the churches.

 As my father remarks (Church History, page 702):

 “Should the churches ever allow the Association, or any body of men formed by their combination, to dictate to them against their consent, it has ever been held that their liberties in such case will have passed away, and they become no longer churches of Christ, but tools of tyrants. Associations are not considered absolutely necessary for the existence of a church or churches, but only as a convenient method of corre­spondence and intercourse among the churches, so that acquaintance and personal contact might be promoted among a larger circle of brethren than could be done in a single church or neighborhood. Much satisfaction also is found in obtaining the views and advice of each other on questions of importance in the kingdom of Christ.”

 In the ninth chapter of the Church History, which gives the twelve characteristics of the Apostolic Church, I have said: “The Fifth Mark of the Apostolic Church was the independent or congregational polity, or government of each local church, subject only to the Headship of Christ; all the local apostolic churches being united by no outward bond of force, but by an inward bond of love. A visible church is always in Scripture a local body, and every local church, acting by a majority of its members, is invested by Christ with the exclusive and final power of receiving, discip­lining, excluding, and restoring its members, electing its officers and transacting all other necessary business. (Rom. xiv. 1; Matt. xviii. 15-18; 1 Cor. v. 4, 5, 7, 11-13; Rom. xvi. 17; 2 Thes. iii. 6; Acts i. 15-26; vi. 1-6 1 Cor. xvi. 3; xiv. 23). Especially does the language of Christ in Matthew xviii. 15-18, demonstrate that the church is the highest and last ecclesiastical authority on earth; that there can be no appeal, under the law of Christ, from the decision of the church to a presbytery, or synod, or general assembly, or’ conference, or con­vention, or priesthood, or prelacy, or papacy, or Associa­tion, or any other earthly authority. After a church has excluded one of its members, and classed him with heathens and publicans, it is not only thoroughly unscriptural, but also thoroughly absurd, to suppose that any man or set of men can, by any exercise of authority, put back such an offender in the fellowship of that church. With true repentance, confession and reformation, the fellowship will he restored; but with­out these exercises gospel fellowship can never be restored. Each gospel church is a separate and independent republic, having Christ as its only Head and Law-giver, and not subject, in ecclesiastical matters to any outside jurisdiction; such, according to the oldest scholars and historians, was not only every apostolic church in the first century, but also of the second cen­tury. (See the works of Gibbon, Mosheim, Neander, Coleman, Whateley, Burton, Barrow, Schaff, etc.) The church is repeatedly declared in the New Testament to be the body of Christ; the only Head, therefore, of this body is Christ, who guides and controls and preserves the church as His body. Hierarchies and synods are unscriptural, tyrannous usurpations which have, through the ages, inflicted grievous wrongs upon the people. Each true church, in its divinely established individ­uality and independence, has ever presented an insur­mountable and indestructible breakwater against the countless tides of error, strife, and corruption setting in from every quarter, and these churches have been united, by no mechanical, outward, worldly, usurping and oppressive bond of force, but by an inward, heav­enly, spiritual, emancipating, purifying, and elevating bond of divine love and peace and fellowship, such as the Lord Jesus Christ, their Ever-Living, Unchangeable and Omnipotent Head, in the last solemn moments of His suffering, earthly ministry, tenderly enjoined upon them and earnestly besought His Father to grant them (John xiii. 34,35; xv. 12, 13; xvii. 20-23). Born of and taught by God, being one body and having one Spirit, even as they are called in one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all, they, not in word only, but in deed and in truth, love one another, and endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (John i. 13, vi. 45; Eph. iv. 1-6; 1 Thes. iv. 9; 1 John ii 27, iii. 14-18, iv. 7-21). They have always corresponded with each other by brotherly let­ters and messengers, and have from time to time met in a general or associational way, not to lord it over God’s heritage, but to worship God, and to edify, exhort and confirm one another in the most holy faith once delivered to the saints (Acts xiii.-xv.; Philip ii. 25; Heb. x. 23-25, xii. 22-29; 1 Pet. v. 3, 5; Jude 3, 20). Scriptural Associations are only general meetings of churches, or brethren from different churches, for the purpose of divine worship and mutual edification, and, while no church should, either in a private or general way, main­tain fellowship with a church which persists in heresy or disorder, yet there is not a particle of New Testa­ment or apostolic authority for any such general meeting assuming the functions of an individual church, such as admitting, disciplining or excluding members of a church, or electing or disciplining the officers of a church. It cannot be repeated too often that each gos­pel church is, according to Christ and His apostles, the highest ecclesiastical authority on earth. While all gos­pel churches should always so live as to maintain peace and fellowship with each other, Christ no where in the New Testament gives the slightest authority for an organic union or consolidation of gospel churches. Such a union would be a fruitful source of corruption and oppression. It would be disloyalty to Christ for any church to alienate from itself and delegate to any other person, or set of persons, the rights and func­tions which Christ has committed to her; a gospel church may have messengers, but cannot have delegates. But the sisterly relations of churches involve sisterly obligations. They are all members of the mystical body of Christ, permeated by the same Divine Spirit, and should be sweetly constrained by the same heavenly love to maintain the same strict faith and order of the gospel, to have tender regards for one another’s feel­ings, and to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. iv. 1-6).”

 There are about a thousand New School and two hundred and fifty Old School Baptist Associations in the United States. Some of our churches, as they have a perfect right to do, have deemed it best to withdraw from all connection with Associations, which, as organ­ized bodies exercising control over the churches, have no scriptural authority whatever. When Associations are perverted from their original and fundamental pur­pose of promoting the loving and scriptural union of the people of God, and become machines for spreading falsehood, slander, covetousness, oppression, heresies, licentiousness, arminianism, and human religious inven­tions, confusion and division among the churches, they are instrumentalities of Satan, and should be imme­diately and utterly discountenanced and abandoned by all the faithful servants of Christ. It would be infinitely better that another Association should never be held than that it should be prostituted to such ungodly pur­poses, and thus bring reproach upon the beloved and blessed cause that should be dearer to us than mortal life itself.

 In the constitution of some Associations formed dur­ing recent years in North Carolina, it is well provided that the members chosen by the different churches to represent them in the Association “shall, when con­vened, have no power to lord it over God’s heritage, nor shall they have any ecclesiastical power over the churches, nor shall they infringe upon any of the inter­nal rights of any church;” and that “the Association shall have power to withdraw from any church in this union which shall violate the rules of this Association, or deviate from the orthodox principles of religion;” thereby plainly implying that the Association has no power or right to withdraw from a church which has not violated its rules, nor deviated from the truth; and, of course, exactly the same provision should apply to its correspondence with sister Associations—such corre­spondence should not be willfully dropped, unless the other Association has plainly departed from scriptural faith and practice, and such departure should be ascer­tained by the most careful and thorough and brotherly investigation. Upon such investigation it might be found that there was no such departure, but that the accused parties were walking in the faith and order of the gospel. Neither one man nor one set of men should lord it over the churches in this highly important mat­ter of Christian correspondence. There are too many little kings among us, who do not rule themselves, but who think they can rule, and who try to rule, and whose rule would ruin, the church of God. From such bond­age and ruin, may the God of Israel, who is our only true King, be pleased to deliver us.

 I desire, in conclusion, to give my most cordial and unqualified approval to the “Constitution of the Olive Primitive Baptist Association,” and the wise and excel­lent remarks thereupon by our esteemed, gifted and venerable brother W. M. Mitchell in the GOSPEL MES­SENGER of .December, 1891. And to make the present article more complete, I must ask the privilege of re­peating here a small part of that Constitution and of those remarks—especially as the matter is of great importance to the Primitive Baptist cause:

 Art. 3. It is understood that no church, on becoming a member of this Association, parts with or surrenders any of her rights, duties, or respon­sibilities given her by the Great Head of the church, and made binding on her in the New Testament.

 Art. 4. It is further understood that all disciplinary power and rights pertaining membership or fellowship in the church belong exclusively to the church or churches, and that this Association shall not assume the right to dictate to, advise, or in any way interfere with the internal rights of the churches.

 Art. 5. Any church of this Association can withdraw at pleasure, either by letter or without it; but in either case it will be expected that said church first give notice of her desire in this particular.

 Art. 6. Any church may be dropped from this Associational compact [of course by a vote of the majority of the messengers or churches, as I understand] by request of two or more churches; but this nor any other act of the Association, shall not of itself be regarded as officially impair­ing or breaking church fellowship among the churches of this union, or among the members of churches. We regard all matters pertaining to church fellowship as belonging exclusively to the church or churches, and requiring their official action to make it valid.

 Art. 10. Whatever may be the deficiency in the wording of this Asso­ciational agreement, nothing herein shall be so construed as to imply that this Association is in any way a separate and distinct institution from the churches; and no amendment shall ever be made constituting it a body separate from, or independent of the churches of which it is composed.

 Among his remarks, Eld. Mitchell wisely says:

 “Associations are not disciplinary bodies to discuss or investigate dis­orders of either churches or members of churches. Neither should they ever attempt to re-investigate any point of gospel order or discipline touching fellowship after a church has already investigated and decided upon it. If there is anything wrong in the act of a church in a matter touching fellowship, or supposed to be wrong, the church itself and not the Association, should right that wrong; and if it refuse to do so, some orderly sister church should call attention to it and labor with such church, and, if need be, call for the assistance of one or two other churches, to labor with them to save and reclaim their erring sister church. If they fail, then church fellowship is broken and withdrawn, and all that an Association should have to do with such erring church is to erase the name from the scale of churches.”

 If this judicious advice of our intelligent and expe­rienced and beloved brother were universally followed, there would be far less trouble and division in the ranks of the Primitive Baptists than at present.


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 September 2006 )
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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.