Convention System Verses The Scriptures
By the Late Elder W. T. Russell
Editor’s note: The following is a reprint from the Twentieth Century Baptists, printed 1962 under the subheading; Convention system vs. the Scriptures, page 318-322.
It is the sincere desire of this author that this treaties may clarify our position of opposition to the organized work of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is not unusual to hear of the advocates of the Convention branding us as anti-mission Baptist, simply because we will not line up with the board. We would only ask them this question, were Baptist churches anti-missionary before the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention? We would like to inform them all that the church carried on mission work and other duties placed in their hands for almost eighteen hundred years before the Convention system was heard of. We like to be numbered in this group that have earnestly contended for the faith once delivered to the saints. We had rather suffer affliction than to enjoy the popularity, praise and honor that would be given to us by endorsing and cooperating with this unscriptural organization known as the Southern Baptist Convention.
There is still another great objection which we have to the Convention, which is the influence that this organization wields over the churches under her domain. The Convention exercises so much pressure upon the churches in carrying out their programs that the weightier matters on the gospel in power is overlooked. It is true that there are some churches which affiliate with the Convention that still maintain the altar services in them, but the great majority have thrown down the altars and have become modern and formal in their practices.
We all know that the use of a mourners’ bench in our churches has been abused, and much has been claimed for it that it does not possess, but we had rather maintain in our churches the mourners’ bench, with all of the abuses, than to dispense with it in our services, and thereby do away with the mourner.
The modern trend in many Baptist churches today is cold, dry eyed formalism. It is very plain that pride is the cause of such a departure from the ancient principles. This author is not taking the position that a sinner must be on the mourners’ bench in order to be saved, but he is saying, without fear of a successful contradiction, that he must be a mourner. There is no salvation for anyone who is not made so sorry for sin, through and by the preaching of the gospel in power, that they are caused to mourn over their ugly, sinful and depraved condition. The great danger lies in a failure of revealing to the lost soul his guilt before God, when churches throw out the mourners’ bench and refuse to humble themselves together around the old fashioned altar.
It is a very common practice today in Baptist churches, for the pastor or the evangelist, after preaching a strong sermon on the necessity of repentance, to step forward and make the sinner a proposition about like this: Everyone of you boys and girls, men and women who are willing to accept Christ now as your personal Savoir will you just come forward and give me your hand. In some cases, cards are passed out and people are called upon to sign their names; saying I accept Christ as my personal Savoir. This author challenges any preacher or evangelist to show within the lids of the Bible any scripture that teaches that a sinner can by virtue of making up his mind accept Christ and be saved as the result. My Bible teaches me that the sinner must place himself in position where Christ will accept him, and this is brought about by the sinner repenting of sins, which is by and through a Godly sorrow for sins which serve as a barrier between the sinner and God. This barrier must be removed before God will accept the sinner, and when it is removed by God’s enabling grace toward the sinner, God is satisfied and saves the soul.
I was talking to a man, not too long ago, about the danger of this modern practice in the deceiving of so many children, by leaving the impression with them that all they had to do was just make up their minds to accept Christ and that was all. He asked me this question. “Preacher, don’t you believe that those who would get up from their seats and go down the aisle to shake hands with the preacher, are saved before they leave their seats?” My answer to him was, If this was the case that the preacher’s proposition is completely out of order, for neither the persons getting up from his seat, his walking down the aisle, nor his giving the preacher his hand would have anything whatsoever to do with his salvation. Why not make the proposition, asking those who are saved to come forward and make it known by giving the preacher their hand.
Another common statement we hear today at the close of meetings is, that there were so many decisions for Christ. In these meetings, sinners are called upon to make the decision to give themselves over to Christ. Now if the sinner can, without a change of heart, decide to give himself to Christ and accept him as Saviour, then by the same unchanged heart he can decide to give himself over to the devil and accept his promises. The nature must be changed, and it is not in man to direct his steps. The leopard cannot change his spots nor the Ethiopian his skin, neither can man, who is sinful by nature change that nature aside from the enabling grace of God and the exercise of his saving power.
I am afraid that there is more concern today in numbers on the church roll than there is in the enrollment of names on the book of life. Let us always be more concerned about the salvation of souls, and their being able to tell us the time and place of their acceptance with God, than of enlarging the church roll with unregenerated souls.
Just here, I would like to inform the reader that the churches mentioned in this history have not departed from the practice of the altar service in their meetings. Theses churches have at least one effort meeting each year in the interest of the unsaved. For these meetings, each church may or may not elect a preacher to assist the pastor in the preaching and general help in the services.
A great majority of the churches hold services day and night, mostly morning and again at night. These churches do not set a period of duration for these meetings, but the meetings are continued as long as interest demands. Services are opened with singing and prayer, and the two preachers engaged in the meeting alternate in the preaching. If services are conducted day and night, one preacher will preach one night and again the next day, followed by the same order by the other. It is understood by all that everyone is at liberty to have a part in the meeting and are urged to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in their performance of their Christian duty. Sometimes, in these services, there is no preaching done as the service may be given over to an experience meeting in which the people will express the thanks of their hearts for that which God has done for them, and making known one to another their burdens for the lost around them. Songs of praise of God form a great part of these services and many shout aloud for joy in the manifestation of the presence of God.
In these meetings, sinners become convicted of their sins as a result of the preached word, together with the confirmation of the same by the saved and the accompaniment of the truth by the Spirit of God. These heart broken sinners are invited to an altar of prayer where God’s people gather and bow together with them in humble prayer to God for His enabling power and grace to be supplied in their salvation. It has been the blessed experience of this author to join in united prayer many times with our brethren and sisters together with unsaved boys and girls, men and women in the interest of their salvation. In this twenty eight years of our ministry, this author has been an eye witness to the conversion of hundreds whose broken hearts were healed and they arose from the altar, some shouting aloud the praise of God for saving them, some embracing their loved ones and friends while tears of joy and gladness flowed from their eyes, and still others expressed the joy of their hearts with such a smile and enlightened countenance that no one could doubt that there had been a change wrought in their hearts. Amidst all this, God’s people who have received the answer to their earnest prayers are made to rejoice, some of them aloud, while others express their joy in tears and song. The result is a revival among the people of God.
The saved are given the opportunity to unite with the church, being urged to follow Christ in baptism. Here it is made clear that the Baptist Church has the authority given to her of the Lord, not only to make disciples but to baptize them. They are informed that the only place they can receive scriptural baptism is at the hands of that church invested with authority to administer it. These churches listed in this history do not tell the converts to join the church of their choice, leaving the impression with them that the baptism of one church is just as good as another. These churches make it clear that there is one baptism, the authority for which is in the Baptist Church. No one is forced into the church, but they are left to act for themselves on the basis of revealed truth.
Of their own free will and accord they present themselves before the church, by coming forward, with the understanding that they will be asked to relate their experience of God’s dealing with their souls. This experience they tell in their own way to the church, and on the basis of the evidence presented by their experience, if sufficient, there is a motion and second that they be received into the fellowship of the church granting them all rights and privileges of the same, when baptized. It is understood that the receiving of the person into fellowship and the granting to them all rights and privileges of the church is conditional upon baptism. There can be no church membership without baptism. The motion is voted on by the church which must be unanimous. It has been said that the Baptists vote on the salvation of the person, but the truth is that the church, on the basis of the evidence given by the one coming for membership, authorizes their baptism, and if they are truly saved, the Lord adds them to the church. Our churches may not grow in numbers as fast as those who repudiate our practice, but, thank God, we can have the satisfaction that we have not engaged in a practice of deception that will be the means of people going through life with a false profession which we have taken upon ourselves to relate for them, and in the end go to hell. It is just as near to hell for those in the church without salvation as it is for those without, who claim no religion.
May God speed the day when all, who call themselves Baptist, will restore the old fashioned altar back in the churches, and not only preach repentance but see that it is practiced, requiring those who come for membership to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, as did John the Baptist who was sent to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.