By Sylvester Hassell
MADISONVILLE, TEXAS, July 8, 1897
DEAR BRO. HASSELL: After in such agitation of the associational question here, the following agreement was reached at our last meeting, Elders Dubose, Taylor and White being present: That, doing away within the Ebenezer Association, we re-adopt the following declaration of its preamble of principles as the text of our faith on the subject:
“WHEREAS, There is no Scripture authority for any ecclesiastical organization but the Church of Christ, and there being no other recognized by the apostles and primitive saints in the first century of the Christian era, and the Primitive Baptist churches of the present century, with whom we are identified, claim to be a succession of the apostolic churches, and the same in faith and practice; therefore, be it
Resolved, That we do not believe it Scriptural or apostolic to have ecclesiastical organizations to-day by the churches of Christ.
Fellowship Church, in conference with the above named elders, and brethren from other churches concurring with her, re-adopted this declaration as a text of the sentiment we could write on.
You say in your editorial on Associations that: “A church is not only the highest but the only religious body recognized in the New Testament.” We say “Amen” to that-and with this unquestioned “AXIOM-Truth is never inconsistent with itself.” I will submit this proposition That each organized Association, with constitution, rules, etc., being a religious body, is unscriptural, and should therefore be abandoned.
Will you please publish this with your reply? Yours, in afflictions and humble hope,
J. C. DENTON.
REPLY TO ELDER J. C. DENTON
Brother Denton writes that his Association (the Ebenezer, in Texas), finding no scriptural authority for any organization except a church, has dissolved. The Chemung Association, in Western New York, also dissolved a few years ago, and returned to simple yearly meetings. Any one and every one of our Associations in the United States, desiring to follow these examples, has a perfect right to do so. For both the word “Association” and the thing itself are entirely unknown in the Scriptures. The verb “associate” is found only in Isa 8:9, in the following words of the Lord to the enemies of Himself and His people:–“Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces;” and the fearful warning that His associated enemies shall be “broken in pieces” is given three times by the Lord in this short verse. And the nearest approach to an Association in the New Testament is the Conference, in Acts xv., of some members of the Church at Antioch and the Apostles, elders, and brethren of the Church at Jerusalem in regard to the question whether circumcision is essential to salvation; this question was decided once for all in the negative, and the Conference or Council was never held again. Thus these two passages of Scripture give no authority whatever for permanent organizations of churches.
The formation of the Texas Ebenezer Association in September, 1896, is described in THE GOSPEL MESSENGER of January, 1897, pages 7 and 8. The attempt of the brethren in its constitution was to make it more simple and scriptural than other Associations. No separate and distinct constitution, rules of decorum, or articles of faith, from those of the churches were adopted. It was agreed that the Association should be governed by the decorum of the church with which it convened. The moderator and clerk of that church were to be the moderator and clerk of the Association. The object of the associational meeting was declared to be “for the worship of God and the brotherly correspondence of the churches unto their mutual edification and peace.” It was agreed to “hold correspondence with other Associations of like precious faith.” Brother Denton writes me, in a private letter, that this last provision for correspondence with other Associations was the only objectionable feature, and has been the cause of the failure of the Association. Formal correspondence between churches is unknown in the Scriptures, much more such correspondence between Associations, which are scriptural nonentities. When such correspondence threatens to spread and perpetuate strife and to divide the people of God, it should certainly be abandoned. Such correspondence is not necessary to Associations, for the first Associations were held many years without it.
If formal correspondence with other Associations, unknown in the Scriptures, is abandoned, and if the statistical reports from the churches are read only by the clerks privately and the figures recorded in the table of the churches, the entire business of the Association can be done in an hour or less, and the messengers of the churches can hear all the preaching, and there will be no unscriptural machinery to manufacture mischief in Zion.
I am opposed to Associations held for any unscriptural or injurious purpose, but I am in favor of Associations as simple yearly meetings of the members of several churches for the blessed scriptural purposes of Divine worship and mutual edification Primitive Baptists claim in that the Holy and Inspired Scriptures are the only and sufficient rule of their faith and practice; let them prove it in this important matter.
BUT, ABOVE ALL, LET US BE TENDER AND FORBEARING WITH EACH OTHER ON THIS AND ALL OTHER NON-ESSENTIAL SUBJECTS, AND LET TRUE, HUMBLE, HEARTFELT BROTHERLY LOVE CONTINUE AMONG US.