In addition to the five doctrinal statements that members adopted (see Part One), the Spring 1998 ECHOES article by Clyde and Shirley Denney about the congregations of Shiloh Baptist Church and Ione Baptist Church lists four more “articles of faith” that pertained to aspects of ethics and/or discipline that were spelled out by Rev. W. V. McNeely in the Nov. 1876 listing of beliefs that membership would uphold.
“6. We engage, therefore, by the aid of the holy spirit, to walk together in Christian love, to strive for the covenant of this church of knowledge, holiness, and comfort, to promote the prosperity and spirituality, to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrine; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of its ministry; the expense of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel to all nations.”
7. We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions, to religiously educate our children, and to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances, to walk circumspectfully in the world, to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, exemplary in our deportment, to avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks; and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.”
8. We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each one in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy and courtesy in speech, to be slow to offence, but always ready for reconciliations, and mindful of the rules of our Savior to serve the church without delay.”
9. We moreover, engage that when we remove from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with another church of like faith and order, wherein we can carry out the spirit of this covenant in principles of God’s word.” (15)
I have not attempted to compare this document with other Baptist “membership covenants” used in Arkansas at that time, but my instinct is that this language was probably fairly standard. It would be interested in to know what Rev. W. V. McNeely and other folks thought was entailed by the phrase “the rules of our Savior” but it is quite possible that they have in mind the threefold “rule of Christ” found in Matthew 18:15-20 where the disciplinary process for what to do “if a brother sins” is laid out.
Although not all “rules” are spelled out in exhaustive detail, the language doesn’t leave much to the imagination given that members commit themselves “to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, exemplary in our deportment,” that threefold standard of righteousness (see #7 above) that encompassed daily life as well as Sunday “go to meetin'” behaviors. And all the while, this strict code of behavior is upheld (as #6 makes clear) for the sake of the “spread of the gospel to all nations.”
The genius of Baptist faith and practice is that all aspects of ordinary life — including the prospect that someone would move out of the community — are covered. So members committed themselves to “unite with another church of like faith and order” as soon “as possible” so that the mission of the church can continue in each community. The fragility of this kind of fellowship is also easy to imagine: disagreements held in anger that cannot be reconciled leads to the splitting of the community of faith and the multiplication of congregations.
This voluntarist conception of the church was both a source of considerable strength, and at time, I suspect, could also be “the Achilles heel,” of the congregations that the Cartwright family was associated with at Shiloh and later at Ione. It would be interesting to know how many of the congregations in the Concord Association have their origins in church splits, and how many were created as the result of evangelistic endeavor. As with many things in life it is also quite possible that at times both may have been operative factors!
This material has been taken from “A History of the Ione, Arkansas Baptist Church” by Shirley Denney and Clyde H. Denney ECHOES: Scott County Historical and Genealogical Society Journal (Spring 1998): 13-16.
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