[By Alexander Campbell, with words emphasized in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
Query 25.–SHOULD a member be excluded from a christian church, who only, once in a while, attends the meeting of the brethren; when, in other respects, his conduct is orderly!
Answer.–We are not aware of the importance of the question, unless we form a correct view of the nature of the christian institution. —Amongst some sects, and in some churches, they have agreed to meet once a fortnight, or once a month, and only require their members thus periodically to assemble. They censure those who depart from the covenant of the church, or those who do not assemble twelve or twenty-four times a year. But the Head and Founder of the christian religion disclaims both the covenant and practice of such assemblies. The covenant and the practice are in direct contravention of his authority and design. If, then, the whole church meets once a month, faithfully and fully according to the covenant, they are in a sort of mutiny against the Captain, or in a state of rebellion against the King. For they have neither his promises, blessing, nor presence, when they wittingly and cordially agree to neglect the weekly assembling of themselves together. They might as scripturally expect his countenance, blessing, and presence, should they agree to one annual or semi-annual meeting during their lives. The platform, as well as the practice, is antiscriptural. And I do not see why a church who agrees to meet once a month, should censure any member who will only visit them once a year. The same license for transgressing, which they claim for themselves, will equally tolerate him. But, I think, this matter is clearly proved in the preceding volumes of this work, if any thing is proved in it, viz. That the whole system of monthly meetings for business and to hear a text explained, is as foreign from the christian institutes as transubstantiation, consubstantiation, Christmas or Easter carnivals. Viewing, as I do, the custom of assembling monthly for business and preaching, to be a branch from the same root from which spring Lent, Easter, Christmas, Whitsunday, and Good Friday, I could not blame the delinquent more than the observer of this tradition of the fathers. But where an assembly, constituted upon the traditions of the apostles, agrees to meet every Lord’s day, the person who willingly, for weeks, forsakes the assembling of the saints, is on the high road to apostasy. This Paul avows by his connecting with exhortation to perseverance, and dehortations against apostasy, his remonstrance against forsaking the assembling of themselves together. No person who detaches himself from a Christian assembly for his ease or any worldly concern, can deserve he confidence of his brethren, any more than a wife who deserts the bed and board of her husband, or a child who, in his minority, deserts the table and fireside of his father and mother, can deserve the confidence and affection of those relatives they have forsaken. Nor can a church consistently regard and treat as brethren those who do not frequent their stated solemnities. Such absentees are to be dealt with as other offenders; and if reformation be not the result, they are as worthy of exclusion as other transgressors. Demas was as much of an apostate as Hymeneus and Philetus.
Few Christians seem to appreciate the wisdom and benevolence of the Great Founder of the christian institution exhibited most impressively in his instance, in laying the disciples under the blissful necessity and obligation of keeping up a spirited social intercourse. The grand design of the Christian institution is to draw us to a common centre, in approaching which we approximate towards each other in every step. Thus, with the great fountain of life and happiness in view, in soaring to it we are necessarily elevated together above earthly influences, and drawn together by ties and considerations which draw all hearts and hands to the throne of the Eternal. Now the Christian institution is the most social thing under the heavens. But to substitute hearing the same sermon, subscribing the same covenant, and going to the same meeting place in lieu of the social institutions of the kingdom of heaven, is to substitute a spiders thread for a cable to retain a ship to her anchorage during a tempest. Nothing is more unlike the Christian kingdom than the dry, cold formalities which appear in the inside of a Baptist or Presbyterian meeting house. The order within the walls is as near to the order of a country school, abating the ardor of youth, as it is to the order of that house over which the Son of God presides; “whose house are we, if we hold fast our begun confidence unshaken to the end.”
Men depart as far from nature as they do from Christianity in conforming to the regulations of the Geneva school. The doctrine is as cold as moonshine, and the initiated in their arrangements and order are like so many icicles hanging to the eaves of a house in a winter’s morning, clear, cold, formal, in rank and file; but they will break rather than bend towards each other. A tree frog is generally the color of the timber, rail, or fence on which it is found. So are the Baptists. They are, in these regions, generally the offspring, or converts from the Presbyterian ranks, and they wear the same visage in their order, except with this small difference, that the Baptists build their meeting houses near ponds or rivers, while the Presbyterians build theirs on the tops of the hills.
But were Christians to get into the spirit of the institution of the Great Philanthropist, they would have as much relish for the weekly meeting in honor of the resurrection of their chief, and in anticipation of their own, as the stranger has for the sweet word home. But so long as like the Jews they meet in memory of the reason assigned in the fourth commandment, or by an act of congress, they will have nothing to fire their zeal, kindle their love, animate their strains, or enlarge their hopes. And as demure and silent as Quakers, except when the parson, who has a plenary inspiration, is present, they will sit or stand, as the case may be, until they hear the sermon, and all the appurtenances thereto belonging. Now if such persons were to be translated into an old fashioned Christian assembly, they would be as much astonished with the natural simplicity, affection, and piety of the worshippers, as a blind man would be on the recovery of his sight.
To return to the point–Were a member of a family to be missing from table ten times a week, or twice a day, would we not at last inquire for his health or cause of his absence, and visit him accordingly? Most certainly we would. Why not then exhibit the same concern for a member of Christ’s family? Absence from the table always exhibits a want of appetite, or some more pressing call. On either hypothesis, when a member is missing, it deserves inquiry–and when the true cause is ascertained, it demands a suitable treatment. But that stiffness and formality which are now the mode, and the want of due regard to the nature, design, and authority of every part of the Christian institution, lead us into a practice alike repugnant to reason and revelation.
Query 26.–Should the majority govern in all cases, or should unanimity be considered indispensable in all matters which come before the church?
Answer.–Carrying matters by a numerical force, or by a majority of votes, is very natural under popular governments. And as the Baptists have very generally been republicans in politics, they are republicans in ecclesiastics. And, indeed, in all matters of a temporal nature, there seems to be no other way of deciding. Yet it does not well consort with the genius of Christianity to carry a point by a majority. Where the law and testimony are either silent or not very explicit upon any question, reason says that we ought not to be either positive or dictatorial. There are but some hints and allusions to be found in the New Testament on this subject. Perhaps the reason is, that the churches set to order by the apostles had not much occasion for the resolution of such queries. There was not so much left to their decision, as, in our superior sagacity, we have found necessary. As the government was on the shoulders of the Great King, the church had not so much to do with it as we moderns imagine. Some things, it is trite, are left to the brethren; such as the reception of members, the selection of persons to offices, and the arrangements which are purely secular. The former to their nature require unanimity–the latter may dispense with a majority. In receiving a member, he must be received by all, for all are to love and treat him as a brother. In selecting a person to an office, such as the bishop’s, deacon’s, or that of a messenger, there is not the same necessity; yet a neat approach to unanimity is absolutely necessary, and if attainable, is much to be preferred. But in matters purely secular, such as belong to the place of meeting, and all the prerequisites, circumstances, and adjuncts, there is not the same necessity for a full unanimity. To require a unanimity in all questions which we moderns bring into our churches, is to require an impossibility. But in secular affairs, in the primitive church, what we call a committee, or arbitrators, were chosen, and some of the questions which we submit to the brotherhood were submitted to the rulers or bishops. Take out of the church’s business what the ancients referred to a committee, and what belonged to the bishops, there is not so much left to quarrel about. The overseers or rulers were only in such matters executors of the law of the sovereign authority. When a man was proved to be a drunkard, or a reviler, or a fornicator, it was not to be submitted to the vote of the brotherhood whether he ought to be expelled. When a man came forward, and was born of water, or immersed into the faith in the presence of a church, it was not to be decided by a vote whether he should be received into the society. When a child is born into a family, it is not to be voted whether it shall be received into it. It is true that when a man is born into the kingdom of heaven, it may be necessary for him to apply, and to be received into some particular congregation, in which he is to be enrolled, and in fellowship with which he is to walk; and then he must be unanimously received. But it is worthy of remark that a large share of brotherly love, and the not laying an undue stress upon a perfect unanimity will be more productive of it than we are aware of; and the more it is sought after in a contrary spirit, the more difficult it will be to obtain.