(The following is an updated version by Richard Smith of chapter six of A Summary of Christian Discipline by the Baptist Association in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1794.)
The article explains the responsibilities, duties, and advisory nature of an association of churches. The Spurgeon Association of Churches adheres to these guidelines adopted by our first Southern Baptist Association.
Since the communion of saints is a blessing, so the communion of churches is a blessing and is to be sought after. To obtain and promote the blessing of the communion of the churches ought to be sought by all the people of God.
Although churches formed according to Scripture are independent of each other regarding power, yet strictly speaking they are not independent with regard to communion. For as saints in general have an indisputable right to share in each other’s gifts and graces, so the churches should have this with each other. Hebrews 13:16 gives us a general rule which is applicable to churches also: And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
In order to more abundantly obtain this blessing of communion, there should be a uniting and combining of several churches into one body depending on their location, situation and general circumstances. But since it is not practical for every member of each church to unite and commune together, each church should choose some of the most able, pious, and judicious members. This would most naturally include their ministers. These members should convene at such times and places as may be thought most conducive to the great end proposed, and to act as the representatives of the churches in the general assembly. The expenses should be paid by the sending church.
At their first meeting it is advisable that the delegates as representatives of the churches should enter into a formal covenant with each other for the express purpose of promoting the cause of Christ and interests of the churches they represent. The next step is to make a plan of operation and decide on the time and place for the next meeting. At least once a year they should try to meet at the most central and convenient place for the delegates from all the churches to attend.
Although such a communion of churches is not expressly commanded in Scripture, yet it receives sufficient evidence and authority from the light of nature and the general laws of society. But the greatest authority is from a precedent established by apostolic practice and authority in Acts 15.
The Association of Churches thus formed is a highly regarded body as it represents the churches of Jesus Christ and not just a city, state, or nation. However, it is not to be considered superior to the churches with coercive power or authority over them. The Association of Churches does not impose its opinions with the power of excommunication and does not anathematize those who will not submit to its determinations. This would be more in keeping with spiritual tyranny than with that meekness which distinguishes the true disciples and humble followers of the meek and lowly Savior. The apostles, elders, and brethren who composed the first Christian council were not so presumptuous to impose their conclusions on the churches in such an overbearing manner, but prefaced their determinations with a simple, It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things (Acts 15:28). The Baptist Association therefore takes no higher title than that of an Advisory Council desiring its actions and opinions not to intrude or infringe on the rights and authority of independent congregational churches (Matt. 23:10-12).
Nevertheless, the Association of Churches has the right to judge for itself what churches shall be admitted into communion with it and even to withdraw from churches all acts of communion and fellowship with them if they should obstinately persist in holding heretical doctrines or sinful practices despite the pleading and reasoning that have been used to turn them from their erroneous ways (Eph. 5:7; Rev. 18:4).
It is generally agreed that an association should begin its business in the following manner:
The benefits that flow from the association and communion of churches are the help given to the local church to maintain the truth, order, and discipline of the gospel. Some ways the Association of Churches helps in this are: