[The following article, used by permission, was a publication of ©Baptist Publishing House, P. O. Box 7270, Texarkana, TX 75505-7270]
II. Independent Systems
III. The Convention System
A. Its origin
B. The Triennial Convention
C. Southern Baptist Convention
1. Its money basis of representation
2. Unequal church power
3. The material before the spiritual
4. The convention over the churches
5. Founded apart from strict church authority
6. Made a test of fellowship
7. Tendency toward compromise
IV. The Association System
A. What it is
B. Associations before the convention
C. Early associations in foreign countries
Various plans have been adopted by different Baptist groups in an effort to put into effect the Great Commission, but we will make mention of only four of them: (1) Direct Gospel Missions, (2) Independent, (3) Convention, and (4) Association.
1. There is no Scripture which specifies that money cannot be sent to a missionary by the donor himself, but in most instances we have observed that after all a common treasurer is used. Among those who use the "Direct" method there usually is one prominent brother among the missionaries, especially in foreign lands, who receives and disburses moneys sent to his particular field. We fail to see any justification for a common treasurer in a foreign country and at the same time condemnation for the same type of a servant in the homeland.
2. The system is so loosely knitted that no particular group of its advocates can be considered permanent and representative of all other groups of that school of thought.
3. Perhaps its greatest failing lies in its ineffectiveness. On the other hand, its admirable feature lies in its stout resistance to Modernism.
A majority of the "independents" maintain some sort of inter-church relation through fellowship meetings. Some of them maintain missionary committees whose duty it is to supervise their mission work.
As a rule the "independents" are marked by their zeal for their causes. The larger groups among them are successful Sunday School builders and have thriving Bible schools or colleges. They are pronounced in their views on verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, the Genesis account of creation, the virgin birth of Christ, His blood atonement, salvation by grace, and the premillennial coming of Christ.
They are, however, weak on some other fundamental Baptist teachings. In some areas they have been known to receive members who had alien baptism into their churches and to practice open communion. It is also a fairly well established fact that a "preacher rule" over the churches is exercised by the pastors, who in most instances substitute material which they have prepared for the use of Sunday school literature in their churches.
A. The Convention system originated without church authority at Kettering, England, in 1792. It was organized by twelve ministers in the back parlor of a private home.
From the Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention of 1890, page 11, one may read: "The centennial of the modern missionary enterprise is at hand. In October, 1792, a little band of brethren, gathered in a house of a Baptist lady, made the first contribution to the cause of modern missions."
Dr. Richard B. Cook, in his Story of the Baptists, page 305, writing of the society formed at Kettering, said: "This was a small beginning for a missionary society, hut it was a very respectable contribution for twelve ministers, in view of the times and their very small salaries."
While we most heartily commend the need for the salvation of the heathen as manifested by the twelve ministers, it is difficult to understand why they would effect their movement apart from the churches. It was, at best, a human society.
B. The Triennial Convention was organized in America, at Philadelphia, in 1814, as a missionary society. It was called by that name because it met every three years. Its original name was "The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions." It consisted of societies and had a money basis for its membership.
Robert G. Torbet, in his History of the Baptists, page 268, said of that convention: "The constitution provided that not more than two delegates should he sent from each of the local and state mission societies and from other religious bodies of the denomination that contributed at least one hundred dollars a year to the missionary fund of the convention."
In 1707, the Philadelphia Baptist Association was organized. That association was one hundred seven years older than the first general convention in America.
In 1845, when a division between the Baptists of the North and South took place over the slavery question, the Southern Baptist Convention was organized. In May of the following year the Baptists in the Northern States reorganized under the name of the American Baptist Missionary Union (Encyclopedia of Missions, by Dwight Turner, and Bliss, page 18.) That name prevailed until May, 1907, when, in Washington, D.C., another reorganization of the Baptists of the North was effected. At that time the group took the name of Northern Baptist Convention. At the annual meeting in Boston, May 24, 1950, the name was changed to American Baptist Convention.
According to Article III, on MEMBERSHIP the Convention consists of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches co-operating with the Convention as follows:
(1) One messenger from each such church which is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work and has during the fiscal year preceding been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work.. . . (Southern Baptist Convention Annual, 1966, page 30)
2) One additional messenger from each such church for every 250 members, or for each $250.00 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.
(3) The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than ten (10).
(4) Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed.
Notice (1) that whereas the churches name the messengers they must be churches which "contributed" to the Convention's work. A church might contribute to the winning of a thousand or more souls, but unless the contribution is made through the Convention channels, that church cannot be represented st the Southern Baptist Convention. (2) All messengers above one and up to ten are elected upon the specific basis of Two Hundred Fifty Dollars. The first messenger is elected upon a money basis also, but the difference is that the exact amount is not named in his case.
2. Unequal church power
The Southern Baptist Convention gives power to the wealthy churches. A church with the money may have as many as ten messengers, provided the sum of $250 for each messenger above one and up to ten is paid to the Convention work. That system allows a wealthy church to have as many votes at a convention as ten weaker churches. The inequality is not Scriptural.
3. The material before the spiritual
The Southern Baptist Convention, in its messenger representation, respects the material in preference to the spiritual. It matters not how many souls a church may have won to Christ, she can have no representation at the convention unless she has contributed money to its work. She may represent at the convention, if she has contributed money, whether or not she has won a soul during the year.
4. The convention over the churches
The Southern Baptist Convention is a corporation of individuals, not an association of churches.
"Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia, in General Assembly met, and is hereby enacted by the authority of the same. That from and after the passage of this Act, That William B. Johnson, Wilson Lumpkin, James B. Taylor, A. Docrey (A. Dockery, 1845 minutes), R. B. C. Howell, and others, either associates and successors, be and they me hereby incorporated and made a body politic by the name and style of the SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION, with authority to receive, hold, possess, retain and dispose of property, either real or personal, to sue and be sued, and to make all by-laws, rules and regulations necessary to the transaction of their business, not inconsistent with the laws of this State or of the United States; said corporation being created for the purpose of eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the BAPTIST DENOMINATION OF CHRISTIANS, for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding" (Charter of Southern Baptist Convention, approved April 2, 1845).
Circumstances may require that religious institutions be chartered for the transaction of business, but it is not required by the laws of any State or of the United States that a group of individuals form a "body politic" for the purpose of controlling the "energies of the BAPTIST DENOMINATION OF CHRISTIANS." The last phrase is a change of the wording as it appeared in the earlier Annuals of the Southern Baptist Convention, in which it read "the energies of the whole denomination." From the charter we understand that the Southern Baptist Convention set itself up with legal authority to control the energies of the whole Baptist "denomination." It thereby made itself an incorporated dictatorship over the churches.
The Convention corporation was created: (1) To elicit, or draw out the energies of the BAPTIST DENOMINATION; (2) To combine, or put together, the energies of the BAPTIST DENOMINATION; (3) To direct, or control the energies of the BAPTIST DENOMINATION. A human institution was incorporated with legal authority to say to the divine institutions, the churches of Christ, "I propose to draw out, combine, and CONTROL your energies." That made a human institution a dictator over the divine; for if it controls the energies of the churches, it of necessity controls the churches themselves. It might be said that so such prerogative is exercised by the Convention. Why then does it lay claim to such a right? The claim is wholly contrary to the exhortation of the Head and Master of the church.
". . . Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles excise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" Matthew 20:25-27.
5. Founded without church authority
The Southern Baptist Convention was founded apart from strict church authority.
"The messengers from missionary societies, churches, and other religions bodies of the Baptist denomination in various parts of the United States, met in Augusta, Georgia, May 8, 1845, for the purpose of carrying into effect the benevolent intention of our constituents by organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the gospel" (Preamble to Southern Baptist Convention Constitution.)
The Southern Baptist Convention was organized by messengers from (l) "missionary societies," (2) "churches," and (3) "other religious bodies of the Baptist denomination in various parts of the United States." That put the authority of "societies" and "other religious bodies" on par with that of the churches. The Convention is backed by the authority of "societies" and "religious bodies" -- a thing wholly unknown in New Testament practice.
Dr. J. B. Gambrell, while Superintendent of Missions for the Texas State Convention, said in the Baptist Standard, official organ of that Convention: "These general bodies (Convention and Boards) occupy a sphere of their own, entirely outside the limits of the churches."
At another time Dr. Gambrell, once president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the Convention was a human institution but the churches were divine. Should a human institution control the divine? What right, then, does the Convention have to assume authority to "elicit, combine, and direct" the energies of Baptist churches?
David Benedict, author of History of Baptists, said: "In process of time, so strongly were many inclined to constitute these bodies (associations and general assemblies) into courts of appeal, that it was found necessary to define their powers, and make them merely councils, as Baptists in all ages and countries have done," (page 332).
When the Southern Baptist Convention, from its very origin, assumed the dictorial prerogative of "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the BAPTIST DENOMINATION OF CHRISTIANS," it was a departure from the regular and historic principles of Baptists "in all ages and countries."
At different times and under varied circumstances, from the apostolic days until now, Baptist churches have formed associations, which the orthodox ones among them all along have considered advisory in their capacity. When an association or convention supercedes the advisory role, it becomes hierarchical. If it is left without further restraints, it may drift into a "court of appeal" or even a state church. That was the thing most historians had in mind when they spoke of the fact there were no general assemblies among the New Testament churches; that is, there were no courts of appeal and no state churches.
For an association to be only advisory means that no assembly of messengers can bind an independent self-governing body as a missionary Baptist church to do as they may decide. A church may obligate herself, under the Lord, and that is what is done when churches mutually agree upon Scriptural principles of cooperation, as we find expressed in a "Statement of Principles of Cooperation." Churches exercise their right of independence when they enter into a mutual agreement as much as they do when they disclaim any subjection to any higher tribunal or court of appeal. They are not bound to enter into an agreement; but when they do, according to the Scriptures, they neither lose their independence nor create an hierarchy. Entering into a mutual agreement, if true to the New Testament, churches will recognize and respect the principle of equality. In all matters wherein all in the agreement are concerned, all the churches must have equal rights; otherwise, a virtual dictatorship is created.
Dr. D. B. Ray, historian and founder and editor of the American Baptist wrote: "There are no Scriptures pointing out such an organization as the Southern Baptist Convention."
Dr. J. N. Hall, editor of the Baptist Flag maintained: "Surely such an organization (the convention) has no sort of right to take absolute control of the mission work of the churches, for the churches have no sort of control over the Convention. The whole thing (the Board system) as now constructed is in direct contradiction of genuine Baptist polity, and the wonder is how the fathers ever consented to the organization of such a convention. Let the churches get in the saddle, and with reins in hand, let them manage the mission work as the Lord directs" (Baptist Flag, May 26, 1898).
Dr. J. R. Graves, author, editor, theologian, and historian proclaimed: "Our missionary organism originated with our English brethren at the time of the revival of the missionary zeal, through the influence of Carey, Marshall, and Fuller . . . Let it be borne in mind then that our missionary machinery is of human origin, and of a very recent date, entirely outside and independent of the churches, and not known in the primitive ages of the church" (Tennessee Baptist, September 8, 1860).
Hear the same witness again: "The first radial fault in our missionary scheme is that it is a centralization -- a centralized operation. It takes out of the hands of many of the churches and places our missionary operations in the hands of a few. Such has been the character of our missionary organizations, and they have failed; the present is a failure; all the future ones of a similar kind will be. The churches are called upon to surrender an intimate concern in the management of and planning for, and directing the missionaries and the mission work into the hands of a central board; and content themselves with supplying the funds called upon by agents."
By "our missionary organism" and "our missionary scheme," Dr. Graves meant the Convention system, as he referred to the time of Carey, Marshall, and Fuller as its origin. The mission zeal of those brethren is to be admired and commended, but what a blessing it would have been to the cause at large and for all time to follow had they channeled their efforts through the churches instead of formulating a scheme independent of the churches.
Dr. W. A. Jarrel, author of Baptist Church Perpetuity, writing in the American Baptist flag, June 16, 1898, said concerning the Texas Convention: "They (convention leaders) boldly declare the churches have nothing to do with the Convention and Board, save to follow their dictates and grease the machinery with their money . . . Dr. Gambrell, who calls himself 'Superintendent of Missions,' has had the boldness to declare in print that the Convention 'has a sovereignty of its own,' and that it is none of the business of the churches to even pass resolutions as to how the State work should be managed, as to how their money should go, and that the passing of these resolutions should be stopped. Of course this is POPERY."
Dr. Frances Wayland, once President of Brown University, wrote: "The Baptists have ever believed in the entire and absolute independence of the churches. By this, we mean that every church of Christ, that is, every company of believers united together according to the laws of Christ, is wholly independent of every other; that every church is perfectly of self-government; and that, therefore, no one acknowledges any higher authority, under Christ, than itself; that with the church all ecclesiastical action commences, and with it it terminates, and hence, that the ecclesiastical relations proper, of every member, are limited to the church to which he belongs" (Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, page 178.)
With the above as a solid basis, Dr. Wayland went on with his reasoning: "The more steadfastly we hold to the independence of the churches, and adjure everything in the form of a denominational corporation, the more truly shall we be united and greater shall be our prosperity" (Ibid., page 190).
Dr. Wayland's counsel that Baptists "adjure (renounce) everything in the form of a denominational corporation," is a solid blow to the dictatorial claim of the Southern Baptist Convention in its act of incorporation which was designed to control the whole denomination.
6. Made a test of fellowship
The Southern Baptist Convention has made the "Cooperative Program" a test of fellowship among their brethren. The late Dr. E. P. Alldredge, once a high standing official in the ranks of the Convention wrote: "If, for example, a given pastor or church does not support the whole Cooperative Program, as handed down to us by the Executive Commitee each year, such pastors and such churches are forthwith blacklisted and regarded no longer as true and loyal Southern Baptists. No State Baptist leader will recommend such a pastor to any position in the denomination."
Regardless of the importance of loyalty to a common cause, Baptists should not make anything a test of fellowship among them that is not found taught in the Scriptures, and even then it should be of a distinctive nature. It is contrary to inherent Baptist principles for a convention or association to project a program of work and then use it as a "blackjack" upon brethren who choose to exercise their liberty by not giving it full support. Christian service that is acceptable to God arises out of a voluntary spirit and not under coercion.
7. Tendency toward compromise
The Southern Baptist Convention leaders will discredit a brother for not supporting the Cooperative Program, but there seems to be among them a growing laxness in regards to their placing emphasis upon historical Baptist teachings.
(1) The historic doctrine of church perpetuity or succession is more or less compromised in at least some of its institutions of learning.
(2) A sizable percent of its churches accept alien baptism and practice "open" communion.
(3) Some of its ministers conduct so-called "union" meetings with ministers of other denominations.
(4) The American (Northern) Baptist Convention has been known to receive a Free-will Baptist Church into its fellowship without requiring the members to be baptized. It also has been known to hold in its fellowship a church that believes and practices baptizing for the dead.
(5) Certain of the Southern Baptist Convention leaders, in recent times, have discredited the historic Baptist principles of church independence by testifying in court that a church does not have a right to declare herself independent of the Convention, once she has lined up with it.
A. It is an association of churches, not a convention of individuals. The action of its messengers in annual meetings is subject to the churches.
B. Its Missionary Committee is composed of twenty-five workers selected at the annual meeting and one chosen by each church in the fellowship. The Missionary Committee has direct church authority in all its deliberations.
C. The principle of church and ministerial equality is taught and practiced. Each church may send three messengers, regardless of numerical or financial strength. The small churches, as units in the associated work, have a voice equal to that of the large churches
D. A missionary, to be chosen, must show evidence that he has been called of God (Acts 13:2).
E. He must have church endorsement and authority (Acts 13:1-4; 15:40; II Corinthians 8:16-19; 11:8).
F. The missionaries are chosen by all the churches through their messengers. No church is allowed to dictate to others what their responsibility shall be. The principle of church equality is seen operative at associational meetings where all churches are represented by the same number of messengers and are considered equals. Churches have a right to express through their messengers, a voice in the selection of missionaries who are to serve all of them. Paul and Barnabas refused to work with each other at the beginning of their second missionary tour; each made a choice of his companion (Acts 15:39, 40). Since they could make a choice, why cannot the churches?
G. The Baptist Missionary Association of America maintains nine departments of work.
(1) Missions -- Missionary Activities are carried on in the United States and in eighteen foreign countries. (Almost every year new foreign fields are entered.) The department also maintains theological seminaries in Brazil, Mexico, and Taiwan.
(2) Christian Education -- The Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary is located at Jacksonville, Texas. On the district and state levels, the churches in line with the national Association own and operate colleges Bible Schools, and benevolent institutions.
(3) Publications -- Literature, books, and general supplies are published to meet the needs of the churches. Sunday School literature is published in several languages.
(4) Baptist News Service -- That department gathers general statistical and religious information and gives publicity to the work of the Association.
(5) Baptist Building Bonds -- That department gives individuals an opportunity to invest in the building of Baptist churches and schools and provides a good return.
(6) Baptist Building Corporation -- That department executes the wishes of the churches as it acts as the legal "holding company" to property which houses the various departments of the associated work.
(7) Radio and Television Ministry -- That department is responsible for representing the Association through broadcasting religious programs, preparing tapes and recordings, and propagating the truth through mechanical means.
(8) Association of Baptist Students -- That is a ministry to Baptist students on the various college and university campuses throughout the nation where Associational Baptist Churches are concentrated.
(9) Armed Forces Chaplaincy - That committee executes the will of the Association as it co-operates with various branches of the American Armed Forces and individual ministers who desire appointments as chaplains.
(10) Retirement and Annuity -- That department is responsible for the handling of funds which are contributed by individuals and churches for the purposes of insurance and retirement for ministers, other full-time church workers, and salaried employees of the Association. The department also administers the voluntary contributions to the Ministers' Benevolent Association.
H. The churches in line with the Baptist Missionary Association of America, on the national state, and district levels maintain Youth Encampments, Brotherhoods, and Women's Missionary Auxiliaries.
Charleston Association (South Carolina), 1751
Sandy Creek Association (North Carolina) 1758
Kehukee Association, 1765
Ketocton Association (Virginia), 1766
Warren Association (Rhode Island), 1767
Stonington Association (Connecticut), 1772
Red Stone Association (Pennsylvania), 1776
New Hampshire Association, 1776
Shaftesbury Association (Vermont), 1781
Woodstock Association (Vermont), 1783
Georgia Association, 1784
Holston Association (Tennessee), 1786
Bowdoinham Association (Maine), 1787
Vermont Association, 1787
By simple calculation we can determine that the Convention system, which originated in England, in 1792, is younger than several associations even in America. Subtract the dates of the origin of those associations from 1792, and the answer will show how much older each association is than the Convention system. In the same manner you can determine how much older those associations are than the Triennial Convention; the first Convention organized in America, in 1814. Subtract the dates from 1845 and 1907, and you will find how much older they are than the Southern Baptist Convention and the American (Northern) Baptist Convention, respectively.
By naming those associations we do not intimate that they are all now in line with the Baptist Missionary Association of America. Neither do we mean to intimate that none of them ever afterwards worked in line with the Convention system. What they have done after their beginning does not alter two facts: (1) they originated before the Convention system came into being and (2) in the main they respected the principles of cooperation as now set forth by the Baptist Missionary Association of America.
At the same time humble ministers and plain churches associated in different parts of the Christian world upon the basis of equality.
2. A Baptist association was in existence in Wales as early as the year 600. J. Davis wrote: "We have every reason to believe that the Welsh Baptists had their associations, and that Dyfrig, Illtyd, and Dynawt, were the leading men among them long before Austin's attempt to convert them to Popery, in that association which was held on the borders of England, about the year 600" (History of the Welsh Baptists, page 187).
That was 1,192 years before the beginning of the Convention system! Davis also testified that Baptists existed in Wales from A.D. 63 to 1770, when he wrote his book.
In 597, Austin, the papal proselyting emissary, was sent by Gregory the Great to Britain to convert the Saxons. Having succeeded in a large measure with those, he then undertook to convert the Christians of the country to Popery. Among other things, he proposed that they submit to infant baptism.
Davis said: ". . . They agreed to meet with Austin, in an association held on the borders of Herefordshire . . . First he proposed infant baptism. He was immediately answered by the Welsh, that they would keep the ordinance, as well as other things, as they had received them from the apostolic age. On hearing this, Austin was exceedingly wroth, and persuaded the Saxons to murder one thousand and two hundred of the Welsh ministers and delegates there present; and many more afterwards were put to death, because they would not submit to infant baptism" (Ibid., pages 14, 14).
Those martyrs went to death for standing true to the faith of Baptists. The carnage was instituted upon them while they were meeting in associational capacity after the plain, Scriptural order as now practiced by the churches of the Baptist Missionary Association of America.
Davis further claimed that Dynawt was president of the College of Bangor and was "the chief speaker in the Conference or Association of Welsh ministers and messengers who met Augustine (Austin), with whom he had a debate on baptism" (Ibid., page 12).
In light of both the Scriptures and history, we declare that the true plan of doing mission work, both at home and in foreign lands, is founded upon the churches of the Lord. They may do their work as individual churches, or they may cooperate in associations after the order of the Baptist Missionary Association of America. In doing so, they will maintain equal rights and privileges and reject all efforts of dictatorship by either individuals or churches.
One-church dictatorship is as contrary to the Scriptures as one-man dictatorship. Any church that goes alone in any phase of the Lord's work should not make her aloofness a test of fellowship. In the event of cooperation in an association, all the churches should have equal rights, through their respective messengers, in the selection of missionaries. The messengers act by authority given them by the churches that voluntarily enter into an association and mutual agreement.
1. What is the "Direct Gospel Missions" system?
2. What is meant by the Independent system?
3. Describe the work of the Convention system.
4. When did the Convention system originate? How? Where?
5. When and where did the Triennial Convention originate?
6. When was the American Baptist Convention organized?
7. When, there, and by whom was the Southern Baptist Convention organized?
8. State seven objections to the Southern Baptist Convention system.
9. What specific witnesses can be brought against such a system as that of the Convention?
10. What is the Association system? Do you think the Association system is right? Why?
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1. Lesson VI is contained on pages 83-103 of the "hard copy" edition. The current electronic version of the book follows the formatting of the original document as much as possible, especially in the method of documentation and use of bold characters. The original use of indentions at the beginning of paragraphs and in certain other places is not followed. The current document was scanned. Hence, typographical errors associated with such a process are no doubt present. The editor, Philip Bryan, will certainly appreciate readers who notify him about such errors and he asks that they do so.
Since the book was published in 1974 some of the information is not current, and the reader is asked to be cognizant of that fact.