IN addition to my descriptions of the origin of the first Christian churches, and my sketches of history pertaining to preachers, preaching and pulpits, and my various comments on the different modes of sermonizing in different ages, I shall make a few remarks on the proper course which churches and pastors in their daily operations ought to pursue.
On a Model Church
I take it for granted that such a church as I am about to describe receives none into its fellowship only on a profession of their faith, and are baptized in the Baptist mode. And a church thus formed of the right stamp will watch over its members with maternal solicitude, and not suffer them to be dispersed to unknown regions beyond their knowledge and control, or to become incurable backsliders in the sight of all their brethren, without using due diligence to ascertain the condition of all who are without their bounds, and to reclaim those who are within them.
By all our writers on this subject a church has been compared to a family or a household; and all the bonds of consanguinity which such a relationship implies, are often referred to also by the sacred writers, to represent the endearing ties of the household of faith.
In a well-regulated family, every member, however large the number may be, knows his place, and at stated periods is found in it. If any are absent without leave, or a reasonable cause, all are troubled and concerned, and the longer they are away the greater is the solicitude of those at home for their welfare. What fearful forebodings often occupy the minds of a whole household on such occasions. It may be that some one of feeble powers has wandered into the dark mountains at an alarming distance, to be exposed to dangers of various kinds, while others, in the thoughtlessness of childhood, or the indiscretion of easy years, may have been beguiled by vicious companions to forbidden ground, or to hurtful pursuits. In all such cases the course pursued by a natural family need not be described, nor need we portray the alarm and anxiety which will pervade it until the absent loved ones are reclaimed. And so it will be with a spiritual household of the model class. But how many of our churches fall very far short of the above description with regard
to their wandering and absent members. While all are busy here and there about other matters, many members go off without the proper certificates of their membership, or else they fail to report themselves in their new locations, and there is often too little pains taken by the churches to ascertain whether they confer honor or dishonor on their home connection, or themselves. Thus churches go on, year after year, with the reputation of great numerical strength, and stand in false positions in this respect. Their lists of absentees at length become somewhat alarming; the discrepancy between the nominal and actual members who are identified with any of the doings of the body, or even appear on the ground, is too great to be longer endured, and one church after another report to their associations the members who have been stricken from their lists.*
A model church will avoid the necessity of such a measure by keeping its list well regulated.
A church which is managed according to gospel rule will not suffer sin upon its members. However important the deliquents may be to their worldly interests, or however painful may be the task of dealing with them, such a body of faithful Christians
--------------------------------------- * Some churches in this region use the word dropped in these cases. One of our authors recommends separated, while another prefers erased. The first I think is the most objectionable, as no labor is indicated, only that they let them slide.
will decide that a plain duty must be performed, an imperative law must be obeyed, and their camp cleared of Achans and foul transgressors.
In a model church there are places for all the members and all find something to do, and become more or less useful in some way or other. "Yes," said a minister to a female member who complained that she was of no use in the body, "you do a good deal by so uniformly filling your place in the church, and you help me preach every time I see you there." For a few years past, in this region, there has been a gradual giving away of that small portion of our ministers and churches who formerly followed the rigid construction of Paul's rule on female silence in the church, which came down to us from the old Puritans; as they found, that, literally understood, it would hinder any women from relating their experiences while they were candidates for church membership, from speaking in covenant meetings, or from being witnesses in eases of discipline.
The great mass of the Baptists in America agree with the Methodists with regard to the freedom of females in their religious assemblies. And with both parties, if now, and then, some of the sisterhood are not so edifying in their performances as they might be, the same may be said of a still larger number of the brotherhood.
By putting together what Paul said to Timothy, namely, "I suffer not a woman to teach, or usurp authority over the man," and what he said to the Philippians, "Help those women who labored with me in the gospel, and also with Clement, and others of my fellow-laborers," etc., the advocates for female freedomdismiss all scruples relative to the ancient doings of the sisterhood. Nor do they feel disposed to lay any special restraints on them in social gatherings, which, by the way, are not church meetings, in the proper sense of the term.
Of the old Waldenses, it was said by their enemies, that in their daily avocations their constant practice was either to learn, or to teach. “Yes,” said an old inquisitor, "they say, every layman among them, and even their women, ought to preach."* This, however, we must understand as the language of reproach. The true version of the story would, no doubt, relieve these worthy females from the charge of any improprieties in their method of teaching among their own people, and rank them among the Phebes and Priscillas of primitive times. A church of the model character needs no agents from abroad for the collection of funds for benevolent institutions. Such a body will no more depend on
------------------------------ *Discunt quod omnis laicus, et etiam, femina debeat praedicare.
outside aid, in doing up business of this kind, than-in its own financial concerns.
And finally, a model church will take care of its own poor, and will not permit them to suffer even the fear of the want of reasonable aid, which, as a good writer has said, is sometimes more distressing than the thing itself.
Many other traits of character, as pertaining to a community of the description now under consideration, might be enumerated; but any one in which those named, in the above list, is found in vigorous operation, may be referred to as a good model for the imitation of others.
On a Model Pastor
In the first place he enters his field of labor from a full conviction of duty; he dedicates himself to his peculiar laborious vocation for life, and resolves that under his ministry there shall be no occasion for others to say,
"The hungry sheep look up, but are not fed."
While such a pastor, as I am now attempting briefly to describe, strives to make his pulpit services acceptable to his hearers, yet he soon discovers the great importance of faithful pastoral labors. Such being the persuasions of a pastor of the working class, into
the business of visitation he goes with all his might. Out he sallies in every direction with the fervent zeal of a worldly campaigner. He makes up his mind in the beginning for hard labor, and of course is not disappointed. "The grace of God will live where I can't," said Whitfield, while engaged in his evangelical explorations. And such are the conclusions of the self-denying pastor. But no matter for that, he can sojourn awhile amidst moral miasmas and the most loathsome degradations of mankind, for their benefit and moral reform. With every nook and corner of his parochial charge he soon becomes familiar; the forsaken and forlorn are comforted and encouraged by his counsels and his prayers; and, as the result of the self-sacrificing missions of this aggressive pioneer, he often brings subjects to his Sunday School, and ultimately to his congregation and spiritual fold, from the haunts of vice, the styles of intemperance, and, generally, the abodes of squalid wretchedness and pollution.
Peace and harmony among the people of his charge, and with all around him, will be the constant aim of the Christian watchman, now had in view, so far as is consistent with gospel truth and ministerial fidelity. Such were many of our pastors of olden times, and the savor of the spirit of these pious servants of the
Prince of Peace, pervaded their churches and vicinities long after they were called to their rest.
The secret of conducting the Christian pastorship on this peaceful mode, was disclosed by a then aged minister, some fifty years ago. It consisted in one word, repeated at pleasure.
In the language of the venerable elder, the story may thus be related: "My church," said he, "which has long been distinguished for quietness and concord, was somewhat different when I became its pastor; and their difficulties, generally, were about matters of little importance among themselves. Being green in the business, I was often much perplexed in my mind to know what to say to my disagreeing members, who all wished me to help their own sides. In this dilemma, I chanced to overhear two of my female members discuss the subject of family government. Both their households were large, but quite dissimilar in their characters, which led the less favored matron to inquire of her neighbor how it was that she succeeded so well in the management of her numerous charge. 'My rule,' said the respondent, 'is very plain and easily followed. It is this: when I discover any difficulties arising among my children, or any members of my household I go around the house, and at all needful points I say, Hush I hush I hush!'
"'That is it,' said I to myself; and now, for forty
years, I have found hush! hush! hush! the best argument I could use with disagreeing members."
In favor of pastoral assiduity, when accompanied with piety and wisdom, I think we may safely main-rain, that it often does more towards comforting Christians and building up churches, than eloquent preaching, without it. It is not a little singular they seldom go together, or, at least, not so often as they ought to.
I have known many cases, in my travels, of men of humble pretensions as pulpit orators, who yet, were very successful in gathering in members and building up churches.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 416-424. -- jrd]