Title – The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches
Author – Edward T. Hiscox, D.D.
Publisher – The American Baptist Publication Society, Published June, 1903, Republished April, 1922
My family ancestry is rooted in the American Baptist. I have denominational books, seminary pictures, church mementos, and Sunday School pins, etc. that stretch back to the days of my great, great grandfather Elon.
This book is one of many old items within my possession pointing me back to my roots. This 174-page pocketbook was intended to be a helpful resource for all members in Baptist churches across the country. In black and white communication, Hiscox lays out the standard.
He defines the ekklesia:
A Christian church, therefore, according to the New Testament idea, is a company of persons divinely called and separated from the world, baptized on a profession of their faith in Christ, united in covenant for worship and Christian service, under the supreme authority of Christ, whose word is their only law and rule of life in all matters of religious faith and practise.
The local Baptist church is autonomous and free from outside control. It “owes courtesy and comity, fellowship and fraternity” to other churches, but “it owes subjection and allegiance to none, and is under authority to Christ alone.”
It is “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth”. The local church is “the ground and pillar of the truth” in a city.
Here are some of the unique convictions proclaimed by Hiscox on the standard for Baptist church governance:
- “In the election of either a pastor or deacon, notice of such election should be given from the pulpit for at least two Sundays preceding the time for the same. The election should be by ballot, and at least three-quarters of the votes cast should be necessary for the election of a pastor, and two-thirds for the election of a deacon. Such election should be preceded by prayer for divine direction and conducted without partisan devices or personal strife” (p. 15).
- “Both pastor and deacons are properly elected for unlimited terms of service. The relation to continue so long as there shall be mutual satisfaction” (p. 15).
- “The number of deacons is optional with the church. It is usually from three to seven” (p. 16).
- “The relations between the pastor and the church may be dissolved at the option of either, by giving three months’ notice; or otherwise, by mutual consent” (p. 16).
- “A church clerk is elected annually, at a business meeting, by a majority vote” (p. 16).
- “The Supper is a church ordinance, and therefore is the privilege of church-members only. Therefore, also, since baptism precedes church-membership, it must precede and be prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper” (p. 19).
Hiscox provides a helpful chapter on church discipline. First, he delineates five trouble areas in church conflict and discipline–covering everything from “suspicious and sensitive dispositions” all the way to corrective discipline “undertaken under excitement” where “even if the result reached be just and right, the method by which it is reached is likely to be unwise, unjust, and oppressive to individuals, possibly producing more serious and more lasting evils than it has removed.” Secondly, he delves into three steps for private offenses. Thirdly, he lays out eight steps for public offenses which would be known to everybody in the community because it was done publicly.
On page 40, Hiscox notes, “A church excluding a member has no just cause of complaint against another church for receiving such an excluded member, since the one church is just as independent to receive one whom it judges worthy of fellowship, as the other is to exclude one whom it judged unworthy of fellowship.”
Another helpful chapter is on “Church Business”. Business meetings are important. Membership does matter. The meetings do not have to be rigid, but they should be conducted with order. And congregational rule does not mean mob rule. There are parameters in what a congregation votes upon or what they bring up in a meeting. Hiscox explains, “Any member may call up new business. But important matters should not be presented, except on previous consultation with the pastor and the deacons” (p. 42).
My favorite topic in this nifty pocket book for Baptists is the section on “Christian Doctrine”. Baptists are typically not a creed-reading people. They are governed by Scripture. They are people of the Book. But Baptists do have Confessions (statements of faith) like the London Confession of Faith (1689), the Philadelphia Confession (1742), and the New Hampshire Confession (1833). Interestingly, Hiscox summarizes that “American Baptists are decidedly Calvinistic as to substance of doctrine, but moderately so, being midway between the extremes of Arminianism and Antinomianism. Though diversities of opinion may incline to either extreme, the ‘general atonement’ view is for the most part held, while the ‘particular atonement’ theory is maintained by not a few” (p. 57).
On the issue of baptism, Hiscox quotes one religious authority after another to bolster full-blown argumentation against sprinkling and infant baptism. And with razor sharp denominational consistency, he bars all Pedobaptist proponents from fellowship at the communion table.
In conclusion, the author explains the branches of smaller similar denominations who practice immersion but are not in fellowship with the greater American Baptist family, such as
- Seventh Day Baptists
- Free Will Baptists
- Six Principle Baptists
- Primitive Baptists (Anti-Mission)
- The Disciples of Christ
- Winebrennerians (General Eldership of the Churches of God in North America)
- Tunkers (Dunkards)
- United Brethren
*For your own information, my personal conviction is the belief in “general atonement” and to practice “open communion”. If Hiscox were alive today, 100 years later, he would indeed sharply take me to task on this.