Preface: The following is designed, as its name implies, to be a directory to the doctrines and practices of Baptist churches. Its plan is different from that of any other work; more comprehensive in the range of its subjects, but more concise in its statement of facts. It is rather a hook for reference than a book for general reading. The arrangement is intended to be so clear and convenient, that any subject on which information is wanted, can be found at once. The style is adapted to the condition of those who desire information on such subjects, but who have little disposition for laborious or protracted investigation—instances of which are frequently occurring within the observation of every pastor.
The Bible is a Divine Revelation given of God to men, and is a complete and infallible guide and standard of authority in all matters of religion and morals; whatever it teaches is to be believed, and whatever it commands is to be obeyed; whatever it commends is to be accepted as both right and useful; whatever it condemns is to be avoided as both wrong and hurtful; but what it neither commands nor teaches is not to be imposed on the conscience as of religious obligation.
A Christian Church is a company of regenerate persons, baptized on a profession of faith in Christ; united in covenant for worship, instruction, the observance of Christian ordinances, and for such service as the gospel requires; recognizing and accepting Christ as their supreme Lord and Lawgiver, and taking His Word as their only and sufficient rule of faith and practice in all matters of conscience and religion.
I. Meaning of the Word.
The character of a building depends very much on the materials of which it is constructed. Christian disciples “are builded together for a habitation of God, through the Spirit.” Any society or association is largely what its constructive elements are. Combination and intercourse may, to a certain extent, modify individual peculiarities, but the corporate character will be the result of the various personalities which compose the body. The estimation in which will be held its internal life and order, the efficiency with which it will work toward its purposed end, will all be determined by the character of its individual elements.
Every form of organized society, whether civil, social or religious, is supposed to have officers, duly constituted to execute the laws, administer the government, and secure the ends contemplated by the organization. The Church is a commonwealth, a society, a family, and has its officers as leaders and administrators of its affairs. Officers, however, are not essential to the existence of a State, nor are they to the existence of a Church. They are nevertheless important to their highest efficiency, and the best exercise of their legitimate functions. The State does not lapse and cease to be. . .
Christian ordinances are defined to be “institutions of divine authority relating to the worship of God, under the Christian Dispensation.” In this general sense there are various ordinances; since preaching and hearing the word, prayer, singing, fasting, and thanksgiving may all be considered as institutions of divine authority.
Is there any particular form of Church government revealed in the New Testament? And if so, what is it?
These questions will be variously answered by Christian scholars and Bible students. Some hold that no specific form can be deduced from the sacred records, and that no one form is best suited for all people and for all places; and that it was purposely left for Christian wisdom and prudence, guided by experience, to decide that question. . .
Every organization which proposes to work smoothly, and yet efficiently, must have certain rules and regulations to be followed; certain laws for the individual members to obey. Failing in this—either without laws or with laws disregarded— all effort will go wide of the mark, and all endeavors, instead of succeeding and furthering each other, will counteract and interrupt each other; confusion will ensue, the wisest designs be frustrated, and the best laid plans become abortive. This is true everywhere. In the State, in the family, every association whether for business, politics, scientific, literary or art research or improvement, all must be . . .
In the maintenance of good order, and the administration of equitable discipline in a Church, there will at times arise cases of unusual difficulty; cases which require more than ordinary wisdom and prudence to manage justly, not to say satisfactorily; not so much, perhaps, because of the gravity of the offense, as because of the persistency of those concerned, the complications which arise in the progress of the case, the party spirit which may be engendered, and possibly, worst of all, the mistakes which . . .
Religious faith expresses itself both in worship and in work. In such acts of religious service as may declare the soul’s devotion to the Deity, and in such works as are believed to be pleasing to Him, and such as naturally grow out of the faith cherished, and correspond to the worship offered.
Worship, properly speaking, is adoration and praise offered to God. The emotion is instinctive in a devout soul and tends to exalt and magnify Him to whom all honor and glory are due. It is offered in view of the glorious excellency of the divine character; and also because of what God has done for men. . .