CHURCHES TO THE FRONT
By T. P. Crawford
By Russell P. Baker
On reading a recent letter from a Baptist pastor in one of our American country towns, saying that his Church had resolved to support a missionary in China, I felt like exclaiming, Is this the beginning of a new era among our Baptist Churches? Are they, at last, about to rise in their individual capacity and do their own work? About to carry out the commission of Christ in harmony with the independent, self-acting principles of their time-honored constitution? What a glorious movement this is! How it will revive their waning sense of responsibility, deepen their devotion, develop their energies and clothe them with salvation, as with a garment! It will also effectually counteract that dangerous tendency of our times towards centralization by closing the door against those "outside organizations" which encourage it through taking control of their workers and their contributions. To take control of these, or any part of them, is so far to take control of the Churches, so far to overthrow their independent and self-respect, so far to reduce them to the position of mere "tributary appendages."
These organizations, beginning in 1814 with foreign missions alone, have gone steadily on enlarging the sphere of their operations until they have now come to embrace almost every kind of religious work. Not content with this, they have added many enterprises of a secular character and also placed them upon the Churches for support, in direct violation of our time-honored principles. According to these principles, Baptist Churches are self-acting religious bodies, constituted for religious purposes only; each one being directly responsible to Christ for the faithful execution of its sacred trust. Hence it can never abdicate nor transfer any part of its work to the control of any outside body. Neither can it permit any encroachment upon its appropriate sphere or any extension of it into the secular realm. Moreover, it can never sanction the formation of any central power within itself or within the denomination to which it belongs; but must, as a body, hold control of its ministerial gifts, contributions
and missionary work. Besides, it must preserve its autonomy and equality in all its co-operative relations with sister Churches, the only bodies with which it can properly or safely have such relations. As Churches are the only religious organizations recognized in the New Testament, intruders are necessarily excluded. If Churches, as bodies, cannot properly or safely co-operate with such, how can their members, as individuals, do so? But this does by no means preclude individuals from co-operating with those organizations which do not intrude upon the appropriate sphere of the Churches.
This "organization craze" has gone to great extremes, and the time has come for our people "to call a halt." Say what you may, its tendency is to break our spiritual moorings and drive us upon the lee [sea] shore of secularization and ring-government. We have had enough of General Conventions, National Societies, Central Boards, Executive Committees and other like agencies "for doing Church work" or rather, for preventing it; "for pushing our principles" or rather, for overthrowing them; "for promoting union among brethren" or rather, for keeping up rivalries among themselves. They promise one thing and, by the law of their own gravitation, accomplish another. They occupy a false position in our economy and cannot be made to run in harmony with it. Their meetings are too large and their operations too complicated to be either manageable or efficient for good. A revolution towards [s]implicitly or local action and responsibility in mission matters, is imperatively demanded. Any cooperation of Baptist Churches in work requiring the employment of men and money, to be efficient, must necessarily be limited in its range and definite in its aim.
The notion that union is strength under all conditions is a great mistake. It is strength only to the extent required for the accomplishment of any given purpose. Beyond that point it is worse than weakness. Two, three or four small Churches may be strengthened by co-operating in the support of a common pastor, but a number of large ones would be weakened by such a course. This holds good in very many things. For instance, should a hundred distant men unite in raising a log cabin when eight or ten neighbors can raise it with perfect ease? If not, why should thousands of our
Churches unite in supporting a missionary when one, two or a few adjoining ones can do it very much more readily and cheaply, as well as better for themselves and the Master's cause? Then, let Boards, pastors, editors, every one encourage them singly, or in groups smaller or larger according to circumstances, to choose, support and look after the work of their missionary evangelists, wherever sent, in the same direct manner that they now choose, support and look after the work of their pastors. If they be competent for the one, they ought to be competent for the other. The measure of ability is the measure of obligation in all cases. If they fail to do their duty, it is their responsibility before God, and not that of some society.
If I read the signs of the times aright, local co-operation is the coming method of mission work among Baptist Churches. In this way every one of a group can readily act as a body in choosing a missionary, selecting a field, fixing a salary, electing a committee-man, and in deciding other important matters connected with the undertaking. The Churches and missionaries, taking up the work in this direct way, will feel a living interest in it and in each other an effect greatly to be desired, and the very opposite of that produced by the prevailing method. How simple, convenient, inexpensive, efficient and Baptistic the proposed mode of procedure in comparison with the present complicated, inconvenient, expensive, inefficient and un-Baptistic system wheel within wheel, delay, friction and waste everywhere! It takes work joined with responsibility to develop a Church, as well as to develop a man. Separate the two, who dares?
If our leading brethren at the beginning of foreign missions had urged the Churches to take up the work as bodies instead of giving them the "go by" and hastily forming a separate organization for the purpose, they would now doubtless be in a far more healthy condition, and the world's conversation far more advanced than we now find it.
The general impression that Churches, as such, are incapable of conducting missions largely growing out of erroneous conceptions of the work to be done casts reproach not only upon them but also upon Christ and the Apostles, their original founders. The truth of the matter is this: the work of foreign missionaries, when
freed from the care of "subsidy money," its accompanying host of "native employees," "schools" and other "worrying adjuncts" and confined to Gospel or spiritual things as it should be, is comparatively simple. But, like the work of home pastors, it is of such a nature that it cannot be clearly understood or intelligently superintended by any outside party whatever. Yet, painful to say, these erroneous conceptions gave origin to our two great Conventions. Their very existence and course of action throw discredit upon the Churches by taking the work out of their hands and by claiming superior managing ability for the Boards of their appointment. However, the unwritten history of their operations fails to sustain the claim, or to free them from the charge of serious blunders in the selection of men, the adoption of measures and the expenditure of funds. Not only so, our foreign missions, relative to the growth of the denomination, are weaker to-day than they were thirty years ago. These results without any reflections upon individual men show clearly that the system is not adapted to our people. Whatever may be said of the past, it is now wholly out of correspondence with its environments. Conditions, internal and external, have all changed since its origin at Philadelphia in 1814. Our Churches have now become much more numerous and strong, our ministers and people generally better educated and also better informed regarding other lands. Opposition to missions has virtually ceased, and public sentiment turned strongly in their favor. Steamers, railroads, electric wires, union mails, commercial treaties, banking institutions and other modern facilities have literally brought the ends of the earth together. It is now just as easy for the treasurer of a Church in any part of America to send money by a bank check to a missionary in China or elsewhere, as to send it to a Secretary in Boston or Richmond. Still better, it is not now even necessary for him to send money in any way, but simply to keep it in his own town bank, subject to the missionaries quarterly drafts, which will be paid by a bank in his own field of labor, minus the current rate of exchange. No financial transaction can be more safe or convenient. Thus God in his providence has prepared the way and also invites our Churches to send forth their heralds of salvation to every destitute portion of the world, without sharing in the errors,
expenses and dangers of present methods.
The following amounts will be amply sufficient for the support of a missionary in preaching the Gospel in most parts of China, probably in any other heathen land:1. Salary for each individual, per an. $400 to $500 U. S. gold.The Church, or group of Churches, that supplies the funds and the missionary that does the work should together settle these matters according to the circumstances of the case, and under Christ assume the whole responsibility of the undertaking. An outside party should no more come between a Church and its missionary than between a Church and its pastor. All ministerial gifts belong to the Churches, to be employed by them in furthering the Master's cause.
2. Teacher of the language and other necessary expenses of the work, per an. $150 to $250 U. S. gold.
Average total, per an. $600 U. S. gold
Or, for a married couple. Per an. $1,200 U. S. gold.
Allowance for each child till 16 years of age $100 U. S. gold.
Passage to China, including all expenses, about $300 U. S. gold.
Passage to Japan, something less.
Passage to other parts of Asia, something more.
Baptists are a Gospel-loving, Gospel-preaching people, and it will be well for them to adhere to their calling. It is their mission to maintain spirituality, soul-liberty and religious simplicity. They cannot safely follow the lead or the methods of other denominations, as many seem too much inclined to do. Ours is a different type of Christianity; not a manufactured form, but a living, self-acting and self-propagating principle. Centralization and ring-government may suit the policy of other denominations. They do not suit ours, but are deadly hostile to it. Yet, strange to say, this dangerous element was introduced among us with the first session of the Old Triennial Convention in 1814; and, stranger still, the Northern Baptist Union and the Southern Baptist Convention have continued it down to the present day. Their Boards are located permanently in leading cities,
are legally chartered corporations, and, so far as the churches are concerned, self-perpetuating, irresponsible central bodies with unlimited permission to grow in power by absorbing the prerogatives and resources of our Churches, as the old Roman hierarchy grew by absorbing those in the early ages of Christianity. These permanent Boards, by taking in hand the missionary work of our Churches and mixing it up with various enterprises of a popular kind, have now come to control a vast amount of labor, money, property, credit and patronage, all professedly in the name of the Baptist denomination, as if it were an actual entity capable of doing work by employing men and means like the consolidated denominations around us! Add to the above sources of power the ready use of the pulpit, the press, the mails, the telegraphs and other means of creating, manipulating and directing public sentiment in their favor, and you will at once see that they are the actual masters of the situation the powers to whom pastors, editors and missionaries must bow or perish not by fire and sword as in the older times, for these are out of fashion now; but by ostracism, suppression, refrigeration and other like pious modes of destruction.
If ever our Churches, North and South, had cause for protecting their freedom against encroachments, they have it now. This they may readily do by casting off this incongruous system with all its expensive adjuncts at home and abroad and, taking up their evangelistic work, singly or in groups, after the simple manner above suggested. By so doing, they will be able not only to preserve their autonomy and spirituality, but also to save on foreign missions alone fifty to sixty cents on the dollar, and, without increasing their present contributions, be able to send from their midst more than double as many missionaries into foreign fields. In my opinion, $650 per individual, or $1,400 per family, is amply sufficient to cover, on an average all necessary expenses, including passage, children, work everything. Many missionaries will doubtless require much less.
Please do not misunderstand the origin of these views. They do not spring from any personal grievance or sudden impulse, but from many years of observation in connection with mission operations, and from deep-seated Baptist convictions; convictions
which cannot be bound by a money consideration or the fear of consequences to myself, as my friends well know. For several years past, I have preferred to support myself from a small private income rather than seem, by taking a salary, to sanction either the principles or the practices of the system. Right or wrong, it seems to me not only to undermine the independence and spirituality of our Churches at home, but also to parasitize our work abroad. Hence I long to see a thorough revolution, both in the spirit and in the methods of our mission affairs.
Again, I am not opposed to the existence of Conventions, Societies, Boards or Committees of the proper kind, in the proper place, and for proper purpose; but I am deeply opposed to all those which intrude themselves and their enterprises upon the Churches to all those which take any part of their work, their workers, or their funds away from their control. To this class without mentioning others here clearly belong the Northern Baptist Union, the Southern Baptist Convention and their Boards. These Boards, though not subject to the Churches, both originate and carry on such enterprises as they think proper whether religious or secular, wise or otherwise at the expense of the Churches. They are, therefore, unlawful bodies within the Baptist fold and should disband. Good men, by adopting a wrong system, are the ones who lead the public astray and prepare the way for those of a different type.
While opposing all intruding bodies, I could readily sanction General and State Conventions for mutual acquaintance, for interchange of views on matters of common concern, for gathering information regarding the condition and work of the various Churches, for stimulating their religious zeal and Christian fellowship and for keeping the unity of the faith in the bonds of Gospel love, purity and peace. But these Conventions should collect no funds, employ no men, hold no property and exercise no authority over the government or the work of the Churches.
CHURCHES, AS SUCH, TO THE FRONT!
The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Reformatted and reprinted in 2005. Scanned and edited by Jim Duvall]
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