Manual of Church Order. By J. L. Dagg. The Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858. Reprint, Gano Books: Harrisonburg, VA, 1990. 312 + 53 pages. Hardcover, $18.00.
The Southern Baptist Publication Society has failed to send us this volume, but we have been so fortunate as to obtain it in another way. The venerable author, in his preface, uses the following language:
In the preface to the ‘Manual of Theology,’ published last year, it was said: ‘This volume contains nothing respecting the externals of religion. The form of godliness is important, as well as its power, and the doctrine respecting it is a competent part of the Christian system; but I have been unable to include it in the present work.’ The defect here acknowledged, the following treatise on Church Order, including the ceremonies of Christianity, is intended in part to supply.
We are glad that the former volume has been succeeded by the present, for there was a vacuum that needed to be filled. True, it is not, in all respects, filled just as we would have it, but this circumstance will not be made the occasion of captious complaint. Brother Dagg has no doubt expressed his views with perfect honesty, and we feel as profound respect for him as if we agreed with him in every particular.
The introduction to the volume before us, calls attention to the important subject of “Obedience to Christ.” This is creditable to the head and heart of the author. Christ is the Lawgiver of the Gospel dispensation, and to make his will the rule of action is the essence of obedience. There can be no evangelical obedience unless his authority is recognized in a conscientious observance of his commands. What will it avail to call him “Lord, Lord, and do not the things which he says?” Alas, how useless and how frequent is this nominal profession of attachment to him! The fear of being denounced as bigoted and uncharitable, cannot deter us from expressing the opinion that the existence of so many religious sects in Christendom, is utterly irreconcilable with supreme reverence for the teachings of Christ. Suppose, for example, all religious denominations were willing to investigate the subject introduced by our author in his first chapter—Baptism—with the feeling of heart which prompted Saul of Tarsus to inquire, “Lord, what wilt you have me to do?” Who can believe that, after such an investigation, the sprinkling or pouring of water would anywhere be practically declared the baptismal action? Or that unconscious infants would be considered subjects of the ordinance? We verily think the immersion of believers on a credible profession of their faith, would be, as in the apostolic age, the exclusive practice.
About fifty pages of the work before us are devoted to an examination of the “meaning of baptize.” The author quotes copiously from the Greek classics, to establish the position that it signifies to immerse. The facts he presents ought to satisfy the most unreasonable mind. Greek writers unquestionably used baptizo in the sense of immerse. They did this for centuries before John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. Surely the word did not assume a different signification as soon as the waters of the Jordan were consecrated to baptismal purposes. And if not, its import was just what it had been for hundreds of years. In accordance with this view of the case, there is no intimation on the part of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, or the Apostles, that they employed the word in a new sense. Nor does it appear that philosophers, scribes, Pharisees, publicans, or the common people, were ever in doubt as to its meaning. They could not be. Accustomed to consider baptizo as signifying to immerse, they could but regard the administration of baptism as a practical definition of the word. And we may say that for ages after the death of the last apostle, it did not enter into the minds of the learned or ignorant that baptizo could mean anything but immerse. But these are matters too plain to dwell upon.
It may answer a valuable purpose to quote what our author says of baptizo as a frequentative verb; for we learn that in certain quarters advantage is taken of the fact that some Lexicons give “to dip repeatedly,” as its meaning. Our readers then will remember that a frequentative verb is one which expresses repeated action. And some Pedobaptists, arguing on the supposition that baptize denotes such action; inquire of Baptists, why do you not dip repeatedly? They say, moreover, that if they have departed from the original signification of baptizo, the Baptists have done so likewise. Let us see what is the fact in the case. We quote as follows:
Some lexicographers have regarded baptizo as a frequentative, and have rendered it to immerse repeatedly. Robinson says ‘it is frequentative in form, but not in fact.’ Professor Stuart has examined this question at length, and decides ‘that the opposite opinion, which makes baptizo a frequentative (if by this it is designed to imply that it is necessarily so by the laws of formation, or even by actual usage), is destitute of a solid foundation, I feel constrained, on the whole, to believe. The lexicographers who have assigned this meaning to it, appear to have done it on the ground of theoretical principles, as to the mode of formation. They have produced no examples in point. And until these are produced, I must abide by the position that a frequentative sense is not necessarily attached to baptizo; and that, if it ever have this sense, it is by a specialty off usage of which I have been able to find no example.’ The termination izo, is, with greater probability, supposed by others to add to the primitive word the signification of to cause or to make, like the termination ize in legalize, to make legal; fertilize, to make fertile. According to this hypothesis, if bapto signifies to immerse, baptizo signifies to cause to be immersed. (32, 33)
Why some lexicographers have represented baptize as a frequentative, it is difficult to say. They have adduced no satisfactory proof in favor of the position. The syllables ize and fy in English, seem to correspond with the Latin fio and the Greek izo, and their meaning is to make or cause to be made. We deny that ize and fy and fio denote repeated action, and we make the same denial of the Greek izo. On those who affirm rests the burden of proof, and with them we leave the matter, assured they will find it a burden.
With reference to a profession of our faith in baptism, Brother Dagg appropriately remarks: “The faith which we profess in baptism is faith in Christ; and the ceremony significantly represents the great work of Christ, on which our faith relies for salvation. We confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in the heart that God has raised him from the dead. His burial and resurrection are exhibited in baptism, as his broken body and shed blood are exhibited in the supper. In both ordinances our faith is directed to the sacrifice of Christ. Under the name of sacraments they have been considered outward signs of inward grace, and, in this view of them, they signify the work of the Holy Spirit within us. But faith relies, for acceptance with God, on the work of Christ. It is a perverted gospel which substitutes the work of the spirit for the work of Christ as the object of our faith; and it is a perverted baptism which represents the faith that we profess, as directed, not to the work of Christ, the proper object of faith, but to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.” (38)
The baptismal action having been shown to be immersion, our author next proceeds to show that repentance and faith are New Testament qualifications for baptism. This he does by a brief but lucid illustration of the following propositions:
John the Baptist required repentance, with its appropriate fruits, in those whom he admitted to baptism.
During the personal ministry of Christ, he made and baptized disciples.
The commission which Christ gave to his apostles, connects faith and discipleship as qualifications for it.
In executing the commission of Christ, the apostles and their fellow-laborers required repentance and faith as qualifications for baptism.
In the Epistles of the New Testament, baptism is mentioned in such connections as prove that all the baptized were believers in Christ.
We do not see how the truth of these propositions can be denied; and if they are true the practice of infant baptism is utterly irreconcilable with the teaching of the New Testament. Indeed it is one of the strangest of strange things that intelligent men, amid the light of the nineteenth century—men who glory in the sentiment of Chillingworth—“The Bible, the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants”—consider unconscious infants suitable subjects of baptism. We can readily understand why Romanists baptize infants. They have great respect for what they call the “traditions of the Church,” and among these traditions they profess to find authority for the baptism of infants. Protestants, however, profess to repudiate tradition, and to adhere to the Word of God alone. And yet they do what tradition countenances, and what the Word of God condemns. This is truly a mystery involving an inconsistency which defies comprehension.
But to proceed with the word before us. Our author next refers to the design of baptism. On this point we wish he had enlarged, for a misapprehension of the design of the ordinance is a most mischievous error. What reader of Church History, so called, does not know that this misapprehension originated infant baptism, and still prolongs its injurious existence? Who does not know that adult baptism (we use the phrase in its correct acceptation) has often been, and is not often administered with a design as foreign from the scriptural one as to vitiate the ordinance altogether? Bro. Dagg lays down this proposition: “BAPTISM WAS DESIGNED TO BE THE CEREMONY OF CHRISTIAN PROFESSION.” (70) This is certainly true, and a full elaboration of the proposition would bring out all that needs to be said of the design of baptism. We wish our author had not, in the discussion of this topic, restricted himself to three pages. He has disposed of an important matter with objectionable brevity.
In chapter 2 of his book Bro. Dagg treats of “Local Churches.” His definition of a Church is as follows:
“A CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS AN ASSEMBLY OF BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, ORGANIZED INTO A BODY, ACCORDING TO THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, FOR THE WORSHIP AND SERVICE OF GOD.” (74) The “moral” and the “ceremonial qualifications for membership” are referred to. As to the former we give this quotation:
The character of the persons who composed the New Testament Churches, may be readily learned from the epistles addressed to them. They are called ‘the elect of God;’ ‘children of God by faith;’ ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus;’ ‘followers of the Lord;’ ‘beloved of the Lord.’ No doubt can exist that these Churches were, in the view of the inspired writers who addressed them, composed of persons truly converted to God. (79)
With regard to “ceremonial qualifications” we make the following extract:
As profession is necessary to Church-membership, so is baptism, which is the appointed ceremony of profession. Profession is the substance, and baptism is the form; but Christ’s command requires the form as well as the substance. In reading the Scriptures, it never enters the mind that any of the Church-members in the times of the apostles were unbaptized. So uniformly was this rite administered at the beginning of the Christian profession, that no room is left to doubt its universal observance. The expression, ‘as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,’ might in some other connection suggest that all had not been baptized. But it follows the declaration, ‘you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus,’ and is added to prove the proposition; but it could not prove that all were in the relation specified, if the phrase, ‘as many as,’ signified only some. The same phrase is used by Gamaliel, where all are intended: ‘and all, as many obeyed him, were scattered.’ The same phrase, with the same meaning, is used in Rom 6:3: ‘so many of us as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into his death.’ Paul argues from this the obligation of all to walk in newness of life. It follows, therefore, that all the members of the Galatian Churches, and of the Church at Rome, were baptized persons; and the same must be true concerning all the primitive Churches. We conclude, therefore, that the authority of Christ in the commission, and the usage established by the apostles, give baptism a place prior to Church-membership. Many unbaptized persons give proof that they love God, and are therefore born of God, and are children in his spiritual family. If they belong to Christ, it may be asked, why may such persons among the unbaptized, we most readily grant; for such persons, and such only, are entitled to baptism. To every such person an Apostle of Christ would say, ‘and now why do you tarry? Arise and be baptized.’ We have not the authority of apostles, but we have the words of Christ and the apostles in our hands; and we owe it to our unbaptized Christian brother to tell him, by their authority, his proper course of duty. (95, 96)
On page 97 we have this objection, and the answer to it:
If baptism is a prerequisite to Church-membership, societies of unbaptized persons cannot be called Churches; and the doctrine, therefore, un-churches all Pedobaptist denominations. Church is an English word, and the meaning of it, as such, must be determined by the usage of standard English writers. Our inquiry has been, not what this English word means, or how it may be used. We have sought to know how Christ designed his Churches to be organized. This is a question very different from a strife about words to no profit. In philological inquiries, we are willing to make usage the law of language; and we claim no right, in speaking or writing English, to annul this law. But our inquiry has not been philological. We have not been searching English standard writers, to know how to speak; but the Holy Bible, to know how to act. Even the Greek word ecclesia was applied to assemblies of various kinds; and we are bound to admit the application of it to an assembly of unbaptized persons, solemnly united in the worship of God. But we have desired to know how an ecclesia, such as those to whom Paul’s epistles were addressed, was organized; and we have investigated the subject as a question of duty, and not of philology. The result of our investigation is that every such ecclesia was composed of baptized persons exclusively.
We have made these last two extracts for several reasons, one of which is that we expect to refer in another place to the principle recognized in them, viz: the priority of baptism to Church-membership.
In chapter 3 Bro. Dagg gives at some length his views of “The Church Universal.” He opposes with earnest energy what he terms the “generic theory” of the Church, as advocated in the second volume of “Theodosia Ernest.” We will take no part in the discussion of this question, presuming that our colleague, the accomplished author of “Theodosia” will, on his restoration to health, subject the views of Bro. Dagg to a rigid scrutiny. If the author of “Theodosia” cannot defend and maintain the position he assumes in that work, it may be given up as indefensible. He may then sympathize with the ancient hero who said, “If Troy could have been defended by any right hand, it would have been defeated by this.”
Chapter 4 of the work before us is devoted to the consideration of “Infant Membership.” This to some may appear superfluous, as the author has already shown that believers baptized on a profession of their faith, constitute the membership of a Gospel Church. Here is our author’s explanation:
We have ascertained that believers in Christ are the only persons who have a scriptural right to membership in the Christian Churches. But this right has been claimed for infants; and the number, talents and piety of those who make the claim, entitle the arguments by which they defined it, to a careful and through examination. (144)
And these “arguments,” so called, both “direct” and “indirect,” are carefully and thoroughly examined. Their sophistry and inconclusiveness are fully shown. The traces of a master’s hand are everywhere to be seen in this chapter. It would be folly for the greatest Rabbi in Pedobaptist Israel to attempt to meet Bro. Dagg on the question of the eligibility of infants to membership in a Church of Christ.
In chapter 5 the subject of communion is discussed. In opposition to the views of Quakers, the “perpetuity of the Lord’s Supper” is advocated and established. The “design” of the ordinance is expatiated on. The qualifications of “communicants” are specified, and then “open communion,” falsely so called, is discussed. The venerable author ably maintains the Baptist position, showing that, according to the Scriptures, there are indispensable prerequisites to an approach to the Lord’s table. We are glad to see that Bro. D. places the ineligibility of Pedobaptists to communion, not on the fact alone that they are unbaptized, but that they are not Church-members. Many Baptist writers have failed to make the latter point sufficiently prominent. Some have scarcely noticed it at all. We openly indorse and are prepared to defend, to the last controversial extremity, the Lord’s Supper, because their organizations are not gospel Churches. If their societies are evangelical Churches they have a right to commune, and intercommunion between them and Baptists would violate no principle of gospel order. Who will say that members of an evangelical Church are unauthorized to come to the Lord’s table? The very proposal of this question suggests the awkward predicament of those Baptists who recognize Pedobaptist societies as gospel Churches and at the same time refuse to commune with them. How such Baptists can construct a syllogism defensive of their position, is beyond our comprehension. Let us see the syllogistic absurdity in which they involve themselves. They must reason as follows: All evangelical Churches have a right to commune. Pedobaptist societies are evangelical Churches. Therefore, Pedobaptist societies have not a right to commune. Now this conclusion is a burlesque on logic. Expunge the negative not, and all is right logically. Logic has to do with the conclusiveness of deductions. Premises being laid down, it draws a consistent conclusion therefrom. Now Baptists who affirm that Pedobaptist societies are evangelical Churches, (and consequently that Pedobaptists are Church-members,) cannot object to the premises in the above syllogism. They cannot object to the major premise; for they will not deny that all evangelical Churches have a right to commune. To deny this right would put an end to communion. Nor can those Baptists to whom we refer deny the minor premise; for they glory in asserting it. Very well. Then the conclusion that Pedobaptist societies have a right to commune is logically inevitable. To resist it is as impossible as to resist the law of gravitation. And it is therefore a flagrant inconsistency in Baptists, who maintain that Pedobaptist societies are evangelical Churches, to oppose intercommunion with them. What then is the objection to the foregoing syllogism? The minor premise is not true. Pedobaptist societies are not evangelical Churches. And for this reason they have no right to come to the Lord’s table.
The correct position for every Baptist to assume is that Pedobaptist organizations are not gospel Churches, and to place the practice of restricted communion chiefly on this ground. True, the absence of Church-membership implies non-baptism; but it implies more, and as the Lord’s Supper is a Church ordinance, Baptists, in discussing the communion question, ought to expend their principal strength of argument in showing that Pedobaptist societies are not scriptural Churches. Let them do this and no one can charge them with inconsistency in declining to commune with Pedobaptists. Baptists will, we trust, all be found ere long occupying this ground. It is gratifying to know that one of the editors of the Christian Review expressed, in an article published the last year, views in substance the same with those we have now presented. If the two Quarterlies of our denomination in the United States are orthodox on this point, we may be hopeful of the prevalence of correct sentiments.
But to return to the book before us: Bro. Dagg notices many arguments adduced in favor of open communion. We quote “Argument 8,” as follows: “To reject from communion a Pedobaptist brother whom God receives is to violate the law of toleration laid in Rom14:1–3.” To this argument we quote the reply in part:
The application of this rule to the question of receiving unbaptized persons to Church-membership, has been considered. (96) The result of the examination was unfavorable to the admission of such persons; and the reasons which exclude them from Church-membership, exclude them from Church communion. Regarding the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance committed to the local Churches, to be observed by them as such, the question, who are entitled to the privilege of communion, is decided by a simple principle. None are to be admitted but those who can be admitted to the membership of the Church. (219)
This is unquestionably the true doctrine. Baptists, if they act consistently, will never receive Pedobaptists unbaptized into their Churches. But they may do this with as much propriety as they can invite them to the Lord’s table. That is to say they can do neither without disregarding the order of the gospel and undermining one of the pillars of their denominational existence. We cheerfully concede Bro. Dagg’s ability to meet all the objections to “close communion” except the following:
The advocates of close communion are accustomed to invite Pedobaptist ministers to preach in their pulpits. To hold this pulpit communion with them, and at the same time to deny them a place at the Lord’s table, is a manifest inconsistency.
To this objection Bro. D. replies thus:
If we admit the conclusion of this argument, it does not prove close communion to be wrong. Some Baptists admit the validity of the argument; and avoid the charge of inconsistency by refusing to invite Pedobaptist ministers into their pulpits. Their views will be examined hereafter, chapter 10, section 5, and we will then attempt to show that what has been called pulpit communion, may be vindicated in perfect consistency with the principles on which strict communion at the Lord’s Table is maintained. (224)
Chapter 10 being referred to, to chapter 10 we will go, and see what can be said in vindication of pulpit affiliation between Baptist and Pedobaptist preachers.
Bro. Dagg is pleased to devote a section of his tenth chapter to the examination of the “Old Landmark Reset.” He says:
This tract has been circulated extensively, and its doctrine is embraced by many. The discussions on the subject may sometimes have produced temporary evil, but where the parties have a desire to know the truth, and a willingness to follow wherever it may lead, the final result must be good. Parties who agree with each other in their views of Christian doctrine and ordinances, and whose only difference respects the mode of treating those who are in error, ought not to fall out with each other on this question. Each one must act in the matter on his own responsibility; and discussions to ascertain the right mode of acting, ought to be conducted in the spirit of kindness, meekness, and gentleness. Discussions so conducted will tend to develop truth; and if they do not bring us to the conclusions of the Landmark, may enable us to correct the premises from which these conclusions are drawn. (286–287)
Now to all this we cordially say, Amen. On whichever side of this question the truth lies it seems to us that discussion will promote its discovery. And surely discussion can be carried on without violating the laws of honorable controversy. Why may there not be an exemplification of the spirit of fraternal kindness? And who will not follow where truth, heaven-born truth, leads the way? If the conclusions of the Landmark are not correct, no one will be better pleased than the author of the Tract to have their inaccuracy pointed out.
We understand Bro. Dagg to engage in this discussion with a sincere desire to know the truth. We think him incapable of entertaining any other desire. And he of course wishes to establish others in the truth. We therefore have read the following lines with some emotions of wonder:
Have all those offended Christ who have recognized as his ministers, Whitfield, Edwards, Davies, Payson, and other such men, from whom they have supposed that they received the Word of Christ, and by whose ministry they have thought that they were brought to know Christ. (288)
This looks very much like an appeal to those feelings of veneration so generally entertained for the memory of the distinguished men whose names are mentioned. We must enter our protest against such a decision of the question before us as feeling apart from truth and logic, may suggest. What would Bro. Dagg say were we to intimate uncharitableness in Baptists because they have declined communing at the Lord’s Table with men equally as good as Whitfield, Edwards, Davies, Payson, etc.? Would he not say the communion question is not to be decided by uncharitable imputations? Bro. D. quotes from the Landmark as follows:
If it is not too absurd to suppose such a thing, let it be supposed that there were persons in apostolic times corresponding to modern Pedobaptists. Can any Baptist believe that Paul, beholding the practices of such persons—seeing the sprinkling of infants substituted for the immersion of believers—would have recognized the ministers of such sects as ministers of Christ, acting according to the Gospel? Surely not. Paul would have protested against such a caricature of the Christian system. He would have said to such ministers, “will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?”
More than four years have passed away since the Landmark was written; but we are not yet inclined to retract a single sentence of the foregoing quotation. Bro. Dagg says of it:
Conclusions so unfavorable to the entire Pedobaptist ministry are revolting to the minds of multitudes. They see in many of these ministers proof of humble piety, sincere devotion to the cause of Christ, and deep concern for the salvation of souls. To these manifestations of the proper spirit for the Gospel ministry, are added a high degree of Scripture knowledge, and a talent for imparting instruction. When such men are seen devoting their lives to arduous toil for the conversion of souls, and when God appears to crown their labors with abundant success, it is difficult to resist the conviction that they are truly ministers of the gospel, acting with Divine authority and approbation. (288– 289)
Now to all this we object as utterly irrelevant. What if “conclusions” are “revolting to the minds of multitudes?” Does this prove their incorrectness? Is the doctrine of atonement untrue because it is revolting to the minds of Socinians? If, because many Pedobaptist preachers exhibit “proofs of humble piety,” they are to be recognized as gospel ministers, ought they not, for the same reason, to be invited to our communion tables? But from the latter conclusion Bro. Dagg dissents. Then it follows that, in his judgment, “proofs of humble piety” are not the only requisites to an approach to the Lord’s table. Why should they be the only requisites to the ministerial office? If it is right to debar men of “humble piety” from the Lord’s Supper, can it be a crime worthy of death or bonds to withhold from them the tokens of ministerial recognition? Paul evidently considered the preaching of the gospel a greater work than the administration of ordinances, and, by consequence, a matter of more importance than submission to ordinances. Who, in view of this fact, can show, as Bro. Dagg attempts to do, that while unbaptized men are ineligible to communion they are eligible to the work of the ministry?
We do not charge that Bro. D. wished to excite prejudice against the Landmark and its author, though it would not be very unreasonable to draw such an inference from the following extract:
From what premises does the Landmark draw its conclusion? The author informs us in his letter to Dr. Hill. He says, ‘by a reference to what I have written you will see that Dr. Griffin, a celebrated Pedobaptist, has furnished the premises from which my conclusion is drawn.’ He does not profess to have derived them directly from the Scriptures. The tract does not contain a single quotation from the Scriptures designed to sustain them. Whatever may be the weight of Pedobaptist authority in an argument with the Pedobaptists, when Baptists are laboring in the fear of God to ascertain their duty, they ought to seek information from a higher source. (289)
Happy is he who, in condemning his brother, does not pass sentence of condemnation on himself. That we made no direct quotation from Scripture in support of the Landmark position, is, to say the least, alluded to as one of the infelicities of our argument. What will the reader think when told that Bro. Dagg, in his attempt to subvert that position, has made no quotation from Scripture? If a formal reference to passages of the Word of God was necessary on our part, was it less necessary on the part of Bro. D.? If there is a defect in our premises because we quoted no Scripture, can they be invalidated without reference to the Oracles of God? But why did we not fortify the Landmark position by Scripture? Really, we thought it needless. To propitiate Pedobaptists to a calm examination of our argument, we quoted from Dr. Griffin, to the effect that “where there is no baptism there are no visible Churches”—and that “if nothing but immersion is baptism, there is no visible Church except among Baptists.” And we, in our simplicity, though all Baptists believed both these facts. Considering it, therefore, as illogical to prove what is conceded, as to take for granted what ought to be proved, we proceeded to draw from admitted premises what we regarded legitimate conclusions. So much in explanation of the absence of Scripture quotations in support of the Landmark. But if Bro. Dagg wishes to see what might be quoted we refer him to all the passages he relies upon to prove that baptism is essential to Church-membership.
Bro. D., referring to our extract from Dr. Griffin, says:
These are the premises from which the Landmark draws its conclusions. Is the principle here laid down a doctrine of the Holy Scriptures? If so, we are bound to receive it with every consequence which can be legitimately drawn from it.
In chapter 3, we have investigated the Scripture doctrine concerning the Church universal. If we have not mistaken the divine teaching on the subject, every man who is born of the spirit is a member of this Church. Regeneration, not baptism, introduces him into it. The dogma that baptism initiates into the Church, and that those who are not baptized are not Church-members, even if they are Christians, denies the existence of this spiritual Church, and substitutes for it the visible Church Catholic of theologians. (289–290)
This extract brings to light a marvelous thing. It is admitted that Dr. Griffin supplies the premise from which the conclusion of the Landmark is drawn. Pedobaptists of course have no objection to these premises, as they are furnished by one of their most distinguished men. But Bro. Dagg and those Baptists who think with him find fault with premises from which is deduced a conclusion unfavorable to the Pedobaptist ministry. There are other Baptists, however, who cordially indorse the premises, but repudiate the conclusion. We understand Bro. Dagg to object to both the “initiatory ordinance which introduces into the visible Church,” because he does not believe in “the visible Church Catholic of theologians.” And we presume Dr. Griffin did not believe in “the visible Church Catholic,” for he refers to “visible Churches.” He may, and probably did, use the phrase visible Church, when, as a Congregationalist, he meant visible Churches. And from some references Bro. D. makes to the Landmark, it is likely we have said the visible Church instead of a visible Church, or visible Churches. At any rate we no more believe in a universal visible Church than does Bro. Dagg. There never has been such a Church, and, according to the gospel, there can never be. A “visible Church Catholic” is a theological figment. As Purgatory is to be found in the brain of the Pope, so a visible universal Church is to be found in the reveries of dreaming theologians. We hope this expression of opinion will satisfy Bro. D. that we are not heterodox on this point.
But now what about a universal spiritual Church. Such a Church, if such there be, must be invisible. Being invisible, the entrance into it must be invisible too. Bro. D. will admit this, for as he insists there is a universal Church which is not visible it must be invisible. What kind of Church is this? Has it an organization? Is so, we know not what it is. Has it form? If so, we have no capacity to conceive it; for the conception of form apart from visibility is impossible. Bro. D. says, “If we have not mistaken the Divine teaching on the subject, every man who is born of the Spirit is a member of this Church. Regeneration, not baptism, introduces him into it.”
The members of this universal Church then, are invisibly introduced into it by regeneration. And if called of God to preach, they have the right to preach. We understand this to be Bro. Dagg’s position. And we regard it as destructive of gospel order. What order can there be when this universal Church invisible has no organization, no form? It is folly to talk about order in the absence of organization and form. How is order possible? And then it looks strange that invisible Church-members mingle among visible human beings and preach the gospel. How the invisible membership, exclusively spiritual, can impose the obligation to perform the physical act of preaching is rather difficult to conceive. It strikes us as somewhat singular that Bro. Dagg places the right of Pedobaptist ministers to preach on a ground different from that on which they themselves place it. True they say they are called of God, but whatever may be their views of that universal Church into which regeneration is said to initiate, they do not claim the right to preach until their respective visible Churches, so called, give them permission to do so. Why does Bro. Dagg use an argument in favor of Pedobaptist preachers, which their own consciences will not allow them personally to employ? Who preaches for the reason alone that he is regenerate and a member of Bro. D.’s universal Church? Can the man be found? Is he a Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian? The very mention of these names suggests the visible organizations which they designate. They have nothing to do with an invisible Church. It would be absurd to speak of an invisible Presbyterian Church. The very thing that would make it Presbyterian would make it visible. When, therefore Bro. Dagg invites a Presbyterian to preach, he invites him as belonging to a Presbyterian organization; for, considered as a member of the “universal Church,” he is not a Presbyterian. And hence it follows, that in inviting a Pedobaptist to preach there must be, to say the least, an indirect recognition of the society to which he belongs. And Bro. Dagg cannot regard Pedobaptist societies as gospel Churches, for he has said every apostolic Church “was composed of baptized persons exclusively.” We do not now use the word Church in its popular acceptation, but in its evangelical import. Bro. Dagg, according to his definition of a gospel Church, cannot believe Pedobaptist organizations to be Churches. And therefore to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers, he must make them members of his universal spiritual Church. He cannot extend his recognition to them on account of their local, visible membership; for this, he being judge, is not a gospel membership.
We now come to the Landmark doctrine on the question, who are authorized to preach the gospel? Our position, as we have had frequent occasion to say, is that all authority under God to preach the gospel, emanates from a gospel Church. And by Church we do not mean an invisible but a visible Church—not a universal, but a local Church. That God calls men to the ministry of the Word we do not doubt, but the Divine call is recognized by the Church of which the person called is a member. That is to say, the Church authorizes a brother to preach; expressly on the ground that it believes God has called him. Without this belief no Church would set apart any man to the work of the ministry. We suppose Baptists generally entertain this view. Wayland, in his “Principles and Practices of the Baptists,” says:
I have often heard our mode of licensing ministers spoken of with marked disrespect. It has been said, how authority of licensing ministers is held by the Church? What do common, uneducated brethren know about the fitness of a man to preach the gospel? I do not say that other men have heard such questions; I only say I have heard them myself. Now with this whole course of remark I have not the remotest sympathy. I believe that our mode is not only as good as any other, but further than this, that it is only as good as any other, but further than this, that it is more nearly than any other, conformed to the principles of the New Testament. Let our Churches, then, never surrender this authority, to single ministers, or to councils, or to any other organization whatever. I believe that Christ has placed it in their hands, and they have no right to delegate it. Let them use it in the manner required by the Master, and it can be placed in no safer hands. (99–100)
According to the teaching of this extract, the authority to designate men for the ministry is in the hands of the Churches—not in the hands of Bro. Dagg’s universal invisible Church—but in the hands of local, visible Churches. Now if this be true, it is as clear as the sun in heaven that scriptural authority to preach must proceed from a Church of Christ. What is the licensure or ordination of ministers but an ecclesiastical endorsement of what God has done in calling them to the work of preaching the gospel? Is this not the scriptural plan? Baptists have ever acted on it. Bro. Dagg will not deny this. It has ever been the custom of our Churches to confer authority to preach. They have never encouraged their members to preach without permission. What means the custom of giving license? What does ordination import? If authority to preach does not come from God through a gospel Church, Baptist history is in part only a record of folly, and Baptist practice is stamped with absurdity. It is needless to dwell on a matter so plain.
Bro. Dagg lays down some adventurous positions, and seems to us to throw himself out of harmony with the views of our denomination. In proof of this we quote the following:
We have maintained, in chapter 8, that ministers of the Word, as such, are officers of the universal Church; and that their call to the ministry by the Holy Spirit, is complete in itself, without the addition of outward ceremony. The person called fails to do his duty, if he neglects the divinely appointed method by which he should enter on the work to which he is called; and this failure tends to obscure the evidence of his divine call. But when, through the obscurity, evidence of his call presents itself with convincing force, we act against reason and against Scripture if we reject it. The seal of divine authority is affixed to that minister who brings into his work qualifications which only God can bestow. (292)
If Bro. Dagg was not a man of gray hairs we would comment with severe plainness on these remarkable utterances. Ministers “officers of the universal Church!” And this Church, it is argued, is composed exclusively of regenerate persons, and “regeneration, not baptism,” it is said, “introduces into it.” Where there is an officer there must be an office. What office is there in Bro. Dagg’s universal Church into which Church-regeneration initiates, and which is of necessity invisible? If there are offices in this Church, it is impossible to know what they are. But it seems that a “call to the ministry by the Holy Spirit is complete in itself, without the addition of outward ceremony.” Well, if this is so, is not the necessity of licensure and ordination superseded? Why ordain a man if his call is complete without “outward ceremony?” But it is said, “The person called fails to do his duty, if he neglects the divinely appointed method by which he should enter on the work to which he is called.” Indeed! The call, “complete in itself without the addition of outward ceremony,” and yet the person called sins if he neglects the divinely appointed method, etc.! There is a divinely appointed method, then, by which the person called should enter on his work, but if he neglects this method he is still to be recognized as an officer of the universal Church. He declines submitting to the outward ceremony of a visible, local Church, and his “failure” to do this “tends to obscure the evidence of his divine call”—but no one must deny that he is an officer of the Church universal, though he is not sufficiently loyal to the King in Zion to obey him in outward ceremonies! Aye, more, “we act against reason and against Scripture if we reject” the evidence of his call. Where is the reason? Where is the Scripture? Can either be found? Our readers, after pondering the foregoing extract, will probably be taken by surprise to learn that Bro. Dagg expresses himself thus?
While we maintain that Pedobaptist preachers, who give proof that they have been called to their work by the Holy Spirit, ought to be regarded as gospel ministers, we do not insist that Baptists ought to invite all such to occupy their pulpits. (293)
The implication is that some Pedobaptist preachers ought to be invited into Baptist pulpits. Why a distinction, apparently invidious, should be made we cannot see. If all these preachers are officers of the Church universal, Bro. Dagg ought surely to insist on their occupying Baptist pulpits; for he considers their call by the Holy Spirit “complete in itself without the addition of outward ceremony.” Under what commission would Bro. D. have these men to preach? Will he say the apostolic? But this would not suit officers of the universal invisible Church. And then there is baptism in this commission. Those acting under it are divinely required to baptize the disciples. Is it the duty of Pedobaptist preachers, unbaptized themselves, to baptize others? Or is it their duty to obey the commission except in its baptismal requisition. Baptism, according to the gospel, is the believer’s first public act of allegiance to Christ, and it is rather strange if God calls men to preach under a commission which contemplates visible, local Churches. Very well. We know of no commission except that recorded by the evangelists, which authorizes preaching at all. If there is a commission of which the Scriptures know nothing, it may, for aught we know, authorize men to preach in the invisible, universal Church. On this point we acknowledge our ignorance.
Bro. Dagg quotes from the Landmark the following sentences:
It is often said by Pedobaptists that Baptists act inconsistently in inviting their ministers to preach with them, while they fail to bid them welcome at the Lord’s table. I acknowledge the inconsistency. It is a flagrant inconsistency. No one ought to deny it.
This we wrote more than four years ago. We are, if possible, more fully convinced of its truth now than then. We say openly that those who are recognized as gospel ministers are entitled to a place at the Lord’s table. Will any one say that there is something more important and solemn in commemorating, than in preaching the death of Christ, so that those who do the latter are unfit to do the former? We are fully persuaded that Landmark Baptists alone can defend the practice of restricted communion. No anti-Landmark man ought to attempt it.
The inconsistency referred to in the foregoing extract is not, as we think, obviated by Bro. Dagg. He says, “The insidious tendency to substitute ceremony for spirituality meets us everywhere, and lies, I apprehend, at the foundation of this charge.” We are not sure that we fully understand the author. Does he mean that no ceremonial qualification is requisite to the preaching of the gospel? And that ceremonial qualification is essential to communion? How is this? There are spiritual qualifications for communion, and, our author being judge, these do not supersede the necessity of ceremonial qualifications. Why, then, should spiritual ministerial qualifications supersede the necessity of ceremonial ministerial qualifications? Can Bro. Dagg tell? We respectfully suggest that he has not done so.
In the Landmark we say, “If God were, with an audible voice, as loud as heaven’s mightiest thunder, to call a Pedobaptist to preach, we would not be justified in departing from the Scriptures, unless we were divinely told the utterances of that voice were intended to supersede the teachings of the New Testament.”
Bro. Dagg says, “To this we know not what to say. We have no argument to offer. If God’s voice from heaven cannot prevail, all our arguments must be ineffectual, for we have nothing more forcible to urge than the word of the King Supreme. For ourselves, were the undoubted voice of God from heaven to fall on our ears, we have nothing to oppose to his authority.” (295)
We hope Bro. Dagg did not intend to excite prejudice against us. What is there in our language so objectionable? If God should speak from heaven, would it be right for us to depart from the teachings of the New Testament unless he commanded us to do? Will any man answer? We think Bro. Dagg unfortunate in referring to John the Baptist and Saul of Tarsus, to prove that unbaptized men may be called to preach. John introduced a new dispensation—was sent from God in a sense in which Pedobaptist preachers surely are not sent. There was no one to baptize John. Is this true of Pedobaptist preachers? It was proper for John to preach without being baptized. It was proper for Adam’s children to marry one another. It would not be right for brothers and sisters to marry now. We concede that John preached unbaptized, but will Bro. Dagg say why Jesus was baptized before he preached? After his baptism it is said, “From that time Jesus began to preach,” etc. Did not the Savior leave us an example, that we should follow his steps? His spiritual qualifications for the ministry were such as the Spirit, given to him without measure, supplied. Why did not this transcendent spiritual preparation for his public ministry obviate the necessity of ceremonial preparation? If ceremonial qualification could with propriety be dispensed with, would it not have been done when Jesus was about to engage in preaching the gospel of the kingdom? He thought, however, that it became him to fulfill all righteousness. He went from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized. Pedobaptists ought, if it be necessary, to go as far for the same purpose. The Savior’s example—the perfection of example—does not afford them a shadow of justification in their neglect of baptism.
And now as to Saul of Tarsus: Bro. Dagg says he “was called to preach the gospel while unbaptized.” (295) And we say he did not preach it. Was he disobedient to the heavenly vision? He says he was not. He preached more laboriously than any man of his generation, but unfortunately for Bro. D.’s argument, he was baptized before he preached. Ananias said to him, “arise and be baptized.” He obeyed the command and immediately after we read that “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”
Bro. Dagg says, “No ordaining presbytery would be justified in denying the possibility of a call by the Holy Spirit, while the subject of it was unbaptized.” Admitting the possibility of a call before baptism we say, in view of the case of Saul of Tarsus, that it ought not to be obeyed till the person called, like Saul, arises and is baptized. Bro. D. refers to an “ordaining presbytery.” He thinks such a presbytery could not deny “the possibility of a call by the Holy Spirit, while the subject of it was unbaptized.” Suppose this to be so, would such a presbytery ordain the person so called? Would Bro. D., in a presbytery, give his vote for the ordination of an unbaptized man? He would not, and in refusing to do so he would virtually surrender the point he labors so strenuously to maintain. If Saul of Tarsus was baptized before he preached, why is not baptism a prerequisite to preaching now? Are we under a different dispensation? Bro. Dagg says, “he who calls the unbaptized to repentance and faith, has the power and right to call them to the ministry also, if it is his pleasure.” (295)
No one will dispute this. God has the power and the right to call unregenerate men to preach, but does he do it? This is the question. God can call unbaptized men to preach, but if he does it, he calls them, like Saul of Tarsus, to be baptized first. If any man thinks otherwise, let him give a reason for his faith.
Bro. Dagg, in his “conclusion,” refers to the “duty of Baptists,” and says, “it is our duty to maintain the ordinances of Christ, and the Church order which he has instituted, in strict and scrupulous conformity to the Holy Scriptures.”
We would like to know how Baptists can maintain the ordinance of baptism by practically saying, in inviting Pedobaptists to preach, that it makes no difference whether persons are baptized or not—and that the practice of “infant baptism,” the “pillar of popery,” does not render its advocates unsuitable occupants of Baptist pulpits.
We would like to know how Baptists are to maintain the “Church order” Christ has instituted, if they affiliate and fraternize with those whose organizations are not Churches. How can they maintain the Church order of the gospel by a practical encouragement disorder? How can they effectually protest against error while they take errorists into their bosoms?
Baptists have a duty to perform, and to do it they must stand alone, making no compromises with the enemies of truth, even though their position may make them now, as anciently, “a sect everywhere spoken against.”
J. M. Pendleton
Originally published in The Southern Baptist Review 5 (January 1859): 36–55, by J. M. Pendleton. Republished in Selected Writings of James Madison Pendleton, Vol. 2. Edited by Thomas White. Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006, 351-375.