Why The Baptist Cannot Unionize
Taken from the book entitled, “Church Union in Canada”, 1923, original copy
Editor’s Note: It is interesting in this book on the history of the United Church of Canada that we find a chapter on, “The Baptist Position Against Union.” I thought it to be interesting enough to reprint it to show what the Baptists in Canada believed concerning ecumenism in 1923. Mind you these were convention Baptists of which we cannot completely agree with ourselves.
The History of the Union Movement
THE POSITION OF THE BAPTISTS AGAINST UNION.
A little over a year before the formulation of the basis of union was completed, the Anglicans and Baptists were invited by a joint committee of Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians to enter into the union negotiations. To these invitations replies were in due time received. That of the Anglicans is dealt with in the next section, entitled, "The Position of the Anglicans on Union." The Baptists replied in the form of an uncompromising pronouncement, which was intended to close out all prospect of Organic Union. In it they set forth their own characteristic Baptist principles, declaring that these made it "necessary to maintain a separate organized existence" and required them "to propagate their views throughout the world." The Baptist Churches in Canada during all the intervening years (1907-1922) have not receded from this pronouncement, and Union is accordingly not above the horizon.
I now give fully the lengthy Baptist deliverance, because of its vital importance not only from the standpoint of doctrinal implications but of its official rejection of Organic Union as an ideal.
REPORT OF COMMITTEE OF THE BAPTIST CONVENTION OF
ONTARIO AND QUEBEC ON CHURCH UNION:
"On behalf of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec we desire to express to the united Committees of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational bodies our deep appreciation of the Christian courtesy in inviting us to conference with a special Committee on the question of the union of Protestant Christian bodies in Canada. We also desire to congratulate them on the substantial progress which appears to have been made toward such a union by the three bodies which have hitherto been engaged in these negotiations. In regard to our relation to this movement permit us to present the following statement as expressive of the position which we feel compelled to take:—The Baptist people rejoice in all the manifestations of mutual love among the followers of Jesus Christ and seek on their own part to cultivate a holy fellowship with all Christians. They recognize with thankfulness the gracious operation of the Spirit of God among their brethren of other denominations and feel themselves to be one with them in many of those things which concern the progress of the Kingdom of God on earth. At the same time they do not admit that the organic union of all Christians is an essential condition of Christian unity or even necessarily promotive of it. For Christians who differ on questions which some of them hold to be of vital importance it is surely better to admit the impracticability of corporate union than to seek to compass such a Union at the cost of sacrificing cherished convictions.
In their organization of independent local churches and in their associational gatherings and conventions Baptists have not infrequently made use of brief statements of doctrines which they hold to be Christian, as a basis of mutual co-operation, but do not seek to establish a uniform confession for all their churches, nor do they regard assent to any fixed confessional statement as a pre-requisite to membership in a Baptist church or to a place in the Baptist ministry. They feel that the free and independent interpretation of the Scriptures by each man for himself, combined with the spirit of love and obedience, is not only promotive of earnest reflection on divine things and strength of personal conviction, but is a surer and more enduring way of securing unity among Christians. They oppose any tendency to erect a human standard of authority over the conscience, to lessen the sense of direct personal responsibility to God, or to obscure the consciousness of immediate relationships with Him. Accordingly, while they entertain a deep respect for various historic Christian creeds they are not solicitous to identify themselves with these creeds or to claim any organic relation with the churches that established them as standards of belief.
The Baptist people regard all truly religious affiliations as reposing, on the one hand, on God's gracious self-communication to human souls, and, on the other hand, on each man's free acceptance to the Divine grace and obedience to the Divine Will. As we understand the Scriptures, only those who are the subjects of such a spiritual experience are capable of participation in Christian fellowship or entitled to membership in a Christian church. Believing, therefore, in the spirituality of the Christian church, that is, that a Christian church is constituted by voluntary union of those alone who by personal repentance and faith,—not by natural birth, nor by proxy, nor by ceremony, nor by any overt act of the Church,—have come into fellowship with God in Christ, they do not regard the claim to ecclesiastical succession in any of its forms as a matter of concern to them. They acknowledge an historical succession from Christ and his Apostles; but its nature is spiritual, not ecclesiastical; coming through personal influence and the proclamation of the Gospel, not by means of forms, rites or ceremonies.
The same principle prevents them from admitting knowingly to Church membership any except those who have been spiritually renewed. Thus they cannot regard the children of Christian parents as entitled by birth or membership in a Christian household to a place in a Christian church or as proper subjects of its ordinances. It cannot be granted that the Christian ordinances of Baptism or the Lord's Supper convey in any sense to their recipients the spiritual grace which they symbolize, for they have meaning and value, only as they express the faith and grace already possessed by those who in these acts of obedience confess their relation to Christ. Hence the practice of infant baptism and the consequences which follow it are a fatal impediment to organic union between the Baptists and Paedo-Baptist churches. Hence also the impossibility of Baptists consenting to an alteration of the original mode of baptism, because without the immersion its representation of the believer's union with Christ in His death and resurrection, is lost. Further, the doctrine of the spirituality of the Christian church demands that it avoid all alliance with secular authorities. Such alliances have been fruitful of evil.
The Baptist belief in the immediacy of each man's relations with God and in the necessity of personal faith in Christ in order to salvation carries with it the rejection of all forms of church polity, which admit the spiritual distinction of clergy and laity or the subjection of the individual Christian to any spiritual authority but Christ himself. This does not exclude the necessary disciplinary function of the local church, but, in reality, carries with it the dignity and autonomy of that organization and its freedom from all subjection to a higher authority.
It is because of these principles which represent to them the Divine Will that the Baptists find it necessary to maintain a separate organized existence. In relation to these matters they can feel themselves under a Divinely imposed obligation to propagate their views throughout the world."
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