They renounced infant baptism, requiring a regenerate church membership and exercising strict discipline.
Baptist churches practiced church discipline for centuries. In the book Corrective Church Discipline: with a Development of the Principles Upon Which It Is Based (1860), Patrick Hughes Mell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated,
“The views which are presented in the following pages are such as have been held by the Baptist churches from time immemorial. The Author attempts to do no more than to exhibit the sentiments of our Fathers, and to defend them by showing that they are sustained by the Scriptures.”
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, most Baptist churches were doctrinally sound and separated. They were careful about receiving members, requiring evidence of salvation.
Following are some of the materials published in the 18th and 19th centuries on church discipline:
- A Short Treatise on Church Discipline, Philadelphia Association, 1743
- A Summary of Church Discipline, The Baptist Association, Charleston, South Carolina, 1774
- A Short Treatise of Church Discipline, Sansom Street Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1818
- William Crowell, The Church Member’s Handbook, 1858
- John Dagg, A Treatise on Church Order, 1859
- Edward Hiscox, The Baptist Directory, 1859
- Patrick Hughes Mell, Corrective Church Discipline, 1860
- James Pendleton, Church Manual, 1867
- Williams Rutherford, Church Members’ Guide for Baptist Churches, 1885
- William Everts, Baptist Layman’s Book, 1887
- Edward Hiscox, The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, 1890
The churches had strict covenants that the members were required to agree to and obey, and they practiced discipline of sin and error.
Following is part of the Somerset Confession of 1656:
THAT it is the duty of every man and woman, that have repented from dead works, and have faith towards God, to be baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:12, 37, 38), that is, dipped or buried under the water (Ro. 6:3, 4; Col. 2:12), in the name of our Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16), or in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19), therein to signify and represent a washing away of sin (Acts 22:16), and their death, burial, and resurrection with Christ (Ro. 6:5; Col. 2:12), and being thus planted in the visible church or body of Christ (1 Co. 12:3), who are a company of men and women separated out of the world by the preaching of the gospel (Acts 2:41; 2 Co. 6:17), do walk together in communion in all the commandments of Jesus (Acts 2:42), wherein God is glorified and their souls comforted (2 Th. 1:11, 12:2 Co. 1:4).
THAT we believe some of those commandments further to be as followeth.
CONSTANCY in prayer (Col. 2:23, 24)
BREAKING of bread (1 Co. 11:23, 24)
GIVING of thanks (Eph. 5:20)
WATCHING over one another (Heb. 12:15)
CARING one for another (1 Cor 12:25) by visiting one another, especially in sickness and temptations (Mt. 25:36)
EXHORTING one another (Heb. 3:13)
DISCOVERING to each other, and bearing one another's burdens (Ga. 6:2)
LOVING one another (Heb. 13:1)
REPROVING when need is one another (Mt. 18:15)
SUBMITTING one to another in the Lord (1 Pe. 5:5)
ADMINISTERING one to another according to the gift received, whether it be in spirituals, or temporals (1 Pe. 4:10)
THE offender to seek reconciliation, as well as the offended (Mt. 5:23, 24).
LOVE our enemies and persecutors, and pray for them (Mt. 5:23, 24)
EVERY one to work if he be able, and none to be idle (2 Th. 3:10, 11, 12)
THE women in the church to learn in silence, and in all subjection (1 Ti. 2:11; 1 Co. 14:37)
PRIVATE admonition to a brother offending another; and if not prevailing, to take one or two more; if he hear not them, then to tell it to the church; and if he hear not them, to be accounted as an heathen and publican (Mt. 18:15.)
PUBLICK rebuke to publick offenders (1 Ti. 5:20.)
THE brethren in ministring forth their gifts, ought to do it decently and in order, one by one, that all may learn and all may be comforted (I Cor. 14:31, 40)
A SPECIAL care to assemble together, that their duty to God, and the church may not be neglected (Heb. 10:24, 25.).
AND all things in the church, done in the name and power of the head, the Lord Christ Jesus (Col. 3:7)
THAT in admitting of members into the church of Christ, it is the duty of the church, and ministers whom it concerns, in faithfulness to God, that they be careful they receive none but such as do make forth evident demonstration of the new birth, and the work of faith with power (John 3:3; Mt. 3:8, 9; Acts 8:37; Eze. 44:6, 7, Acts 2:38; 2 Co. 9:14; Ps. 26:4, 5; 101:7)
Following is a standard Baptist church covenant which was written by John Newton Brown and published in J.M. Pendleton’s Baptist Church Manual of 1853:
Having been led, as we believe by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and, on profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.
We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.
We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all tattling, backbiting and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale of, and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage; and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior.
We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and Christian courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior, to secure it without delay.
We moreover engage that when we remove from this place, we will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's word.
This covenant called for private and family devotions, which would include the study of God’s Word. It called for the religious education of children by the parents, intercessory prayer, strict separation from the world, and aggressive evangelism.
The Baptist churches practiced discipline “because they could not in good conscience call themselves Christians while ignoring a clear command of Christ” (Gregory Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South).
The Baptists in Georgia in the 19th century “placed discipline at the center of church life” (Wills).
“To an antebellum Baptist [referring to the time before the American Civil War of 1861-65], a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church. ... Baptists ,,, required their members to submit to the church’s authority. Nineteenth-century Southern Baptists exercised church discipline on a remarkable scale. ... By the time of the Civil War Southern Baptists had excommunicated more than forty thousand members in Georgia alone. Baptist churches in the southern states brought to trial between 3 and 4 percent of their membership every year. They excommunicated about half of those brought to trial, excluding between 1 and 2 percent of their membership annually” (Wills).
Jesse Mercer of the Georgia Association of Baptist Churches, in a circular letter entitled “Church Discipline” dated 1806, wrote,
“We would awaken you to, and exhort you to be promptly active in the execution of discipline--discipline, without which there can be no union, order, peace or fellowship in the church; no, nor church itself--discipline, which, in its right use, is the church’s ecclesiastical life--bond of union and peace--spring of order and fellowship--and great source of harmony and love.”
The Summary of Church Discipline, published by the Baptist Association of Charleston, South Carolina, 1813, said that when churches do not require a regenerate membership, “they make the church of Christ a harlot.”
In 1860, David Benedict wrote on church discipline, saying, “The free circulation of the blood ... is not more necessary to the health of the body, than a good discipline to the prosperity of a Christian church,” and, “that churches, like armies and families, may be said to be well disciplined, not when punishments are often inflicted, but when, by due care and faithfulness, they are seldom required” (Fifty Years Among the Baptists, chapter 29).
J.L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order, 1857, wrote, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it” (p. 274).
This is borne out in Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. He warned that if a church loses its first love, it will lose its candlestick (Re. 2:4-5), and Christ was standing outside of the lukewarm church of Laodicea (Re. 3:20).
In that day, the churches disciplined for drunkenness, absence from services, resisting the authority of the church, interpersonal hostility, slander, anger, quarreling, cursing, swearing, profanity, falsehood, adultery, fornication, fighting, abuse, theft, debt evasion, neglecting family, neglecting duty, dancing, horse-racing, and gambling (Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South).
Churches held regular Days of Discipline “when the congregation would gather to heal breaches of fellowship, admonish wayward members, rebuke the obstinate, and, if necessary, excommunicate those who resisted discipline.”
In these meetings, the brethren would sometimes accuse themselves of unchristian behavior and ask for discipline.
“Brother Lovall accused himself of drinking too much spiritous liquor and of getting into a great rage of anger at the same time,” or “brother Dread Wilder came forward and observed that he had lately gotten very angry, for which ordered that he be reproved by the Moderator which was done” (Wills).
Many of the churches read the church roll during the Lord’s Supper, and absentees were dealt with as offenders.
The Broadmead Church of England “had all the members’ names engrossed in parchment, that they might be called over always at breaking bread, to see who did omit their duty” (J.J. Goadby, Discipline in Early British Churches).
The Fenstanton Church exercised discipline for neglect of the assembly. The church made an order “that if any members of the congregation shall absent themselves from the assembly of the same congregation upon the first day of the week, without manifesting a sufficient cause, they shall be looked upon as offenders and be proceeded against accordingly,” and “it was desired that if any member should at any time have any extraordinary occasion to hinder them from the assembly, that they would certify the congregation of the same beforehand, for the prevention of jealousies, &c.” (J.M. Cramp, Baptist History).
A Baptist church in East Tennessee disciplined members who failed to attend services for 60 days “without legal excuse.” This church disciplined a member who “comes to Sunday School and leaves before preaching” (“Brief Survey of Historical Background to Church Discipline,” pastorhistorian.com).
“The oversight of the members was minute and persistent. Their general conduct, their domestic life, their business, their connections in civil society, their recreations, and even their dress, were all deemed legitimate subjects for the strictest supervision” (J.J. Goadby, Discipline in Early Baptist Churches, 1871).
Consider examples of discipline from J.M. Cramp’s Baptist History:
A “Sister Watkins” was disciplined by Broadmead Baptist Church for not paying her debts, not keeping her promises, and not working. “Tidings came to the ears of the church that she walked disorderly and scandalously in the borrowing of money, up and down, of many persons--of some ten shillings, of some twenty shillings, of some more, some less, as she could get them to lend--and took no care to pay it again, promising people and not performing, spending much if not most of her time going up and down; and so did not work, or but little, to endeavor honestly to live and eat her own bread. And thus, she walking disorderly and scandalously in borrowing, contrary to the rule (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 10, 12).”
After being admonished several times and not repenting, she was withdrawn from the church fellowship, the ruling elder, “Brother Terrill, declared to her, before the church, how that for her so sinning against the Lord, she rendered herself among the wicked ones, as Psalm 37:21, and, therefore, the church, in faithfulness to the Lord and to her soul, must withdraw from her, seeing she had by several of the members been admonished once and again, and by several together witnessing against her evil in so doing; yet she had lately done the like, so that there was a necessity upon them to do their duty. And also acquainted her that if the Lord should hereafter give her repentance of the evil that she should reform to the satisfaction of the congregation, they should be willing to receive her into full communion again. And then the sentence, by the said ruling elder, was passed upon her, viz.: That in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the authority he had given to the Church, we did declare, that Sister Watkins, for her sin of disorderly walking, borrowing and not paying, making promises and not performing, and not diligently working, was withdrawn from, and no longer to have full communion with this church, nor to be partaker with them in the holy mysteries of the Lord’s Supper, nor privileges of the Lord’s house [that is, ‘if she doth come to the meeting, not to be suffered to stay when any business of the church is transacted’]; and the Lord have mercy upon her soul” (Broadmead Records, pp. 211, 413, cited from J.M. Cramp, Baptist History).
John Blows, a preacher, absented himself from a day of fasting and prayer at Fenstanton Church in order to attend a “great football play, he being one of the principle appointers thereof.” After being confronted about the matter, he confessed that he had done wrong and “promised to abstain from the like for time to come.” Nevertheless, as he had “dishonored the Lord,” “grieved the people of God,” and “given occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully,” it was resolved that “he should not be suffered to preach until further fruits meet for repentance did appear” (Fenstanton Baptist Church Records, pp. 126, 244, cited from Cramp, Baptist History).
The church at Warboys withdrew from Mary Poulter, “for forsaking the assembling with the church and neglecting holy duties, and walking disorderly in pride and vanity” (Cramp).
John Christmas was disciplined “for not loving Ann his wife as he ought, and for speaking hateful and despising words against her, giving her occasion to depart from him by his unkindness.” Happily, “John Christmas, afterward sending for Ann his wife again and promising amendment, after her coming again to him, desired to be a partaker with the church, in holy duties, was joined in fellowship again” (Cramp).
Mary Drage was disciplined “for sundry times dissembling with the church, and out of covetousness speaking things very untrue, at length it being plainly proved against her in her hearing, and she having little to say for herself, was withdrawn from” (Cramp).
Thomas Bass was disciplined “for telling of lies and swearing” (Cramp).
Ellen Burges was disciplined “for lying and slandering of her relations, and counting them and her mother witches, which we have no ground to believe...” (Cramp).
In 1817, a “Brother Lancaster” was brought before Powelton Baptist Church of Georgia and disciplined for allowing the young people to dance to fiddling music at his daughter’s wedding (Wills). The disciplinary proceeding was overseen by the church’s pastor, James Mercer, who later was president of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
The Broadmead Baptist Church did not admit a Mrs. Bevis into the communion “by reason of her selling strong drink” (Goadby, Discipline in Early British Baptist Churches).
As we have seen, in all cases of discipline the door was open for repentance and restoration.
Another example of this is “Brother Osman” who was disciplined for leaving his farming work during harvest and spending the day wasting his money in an alehouse.” A few months later, he “did, in the presence of the congregation, publicly declare his fall, acknowledge his sin, and manifest great trouble for the same. The church gladly embraced him again, believing that God had given him repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth; he was admitted to his membership.”
Baptist churches in America restored about one-third of those who were excommunicated (Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South).
Those who expressed repentance were not always received back into membership immediately but were often put on probation. They were required to attend the worship services regularly and “to persevere in righteous behavior” for three to twelve months. “They then appeared before the church, confessed their sin, vindicated the church’s action and authority, and pledged to lead a moral life” (Wills).
Strict biblical discipline has been the characteristic of Bible-believing churches throughout the church age except in times of backsliding and apostasy.
The above is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL JESUS COMES. New for March 2017. This church planting manual aims to establish churches on a solid biblical foundation of a regenerate church membership, one mind in doctrine and practice, serious discipleship, thorough-going discipline, and a large vision for world evangelism. We examine the New Testament pattern of a discipling church, and we trace the history of Baptist churches over the past 200 years to document the apostasy away from the biblical pattern to a mixed multitude philosophy. We also document the history of “sinner’s prayer” evangelism which has affected the reality of a regenerate church membership. The book deals with biblical salvation with evidence, care in receiving church members, the church’s essential first love for Christ, the right kind of church leaders, the right kind of preaching, training church members to be Bible students, the many facets of church discipline, building strong families, youth ministry, training preachers, charity, reproof, educating the church for spiritual protection, maintaining standards for workers, the church’s prayer life, the church’s separation, spiritual revival, the church’s music, and many other things. The last chapter documents some of the cultural factors that have weakened churches over the past 100 years, including the theological liberalism, public school system, materialism and working mothers, the rock & roll pop culture, pop psychology, the feminist movement, New Evangelicalism, television, and the Internet. There is also a list of recommended materials for a discipling church. 513 pages. Available in print and eBook editions
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