Reply to Rev. A.J. Kershaw’s Review

Christian Recorder: September 25, 1884

MR. EDITOR: --In your issue of the 4th inst. appears what purports to be a review of a portion of my letter, by Rev. A. J. Kershaw. When my wife showed it to me I determined to pay no attention to it, as I thought the points raised were too insignificant for a newspaper….; but when I remember that our ministry was more conglomerate than regular, being composed of preachers of all denominations—Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregational, &c., as well as a large number of untrained Methodists, it occurred to me a reply might be of use to others—of more use to them than to one who tries by false reasoning to raise a pugnacious issue in the Church, for the underlying animus of the so-called review is pregnant with mischief. It means, by a non-syllogistic process of reasoning, to court the ministers of my district into resistance, which generally leads to revolution and terminates in anarchy. Had he, like Rev. Dr. W. H. Hunter, wrote to the Council of Bishops and asked for an Episcopal verdict upon a similar remark, and stated, as he did, if that is your interpretation we will all conform to it with perfect impunity. I could have seen ministerial dignity, coupled with ministerial fidelity. But he hastens to show that the construction of the law as given was not binding, &c., thus injecting an absolution which those in the “extent of jurisdiction” to which he refers never sought and never wanted, and where ministers tread the deck of church that can preach him to death and can construe the law as rapidly as Rev. Kershaw.

Had I been as ambitious to display my acquaintance with Methodistic law as my Rev. Reviewer, and defend the poor minister in the “extent of his jurisdiction,” I would certainly not have advertised my ignorance of the genius and theory of Methodism by fondling with such a meager phase of it. But let us notice the points to which exceptions are taken. He says: “Bishop Turner says, ‘Yes, and any presiding elder who does not preach and open the doors of the church, too, does not deserve his salary. The presiding elder has a right to do all pastoral work on the Sabbath of his quarter.” Then my Rev. Reviewer quotes or cites the law, which says the presiding elder shall take charge of all the ministers, &c., but nothing is said about taking charge of private members, &c., and proceeds to construct a scare crow by an assumption which never entered the brain of any one but his own, yet all the surmises under certain contingencies might be done either by the presiding elder or Bishop, or anyone who has the oversight and is charged with the faithful execution of our law, rules and regulations. Imagine a presiding elder with twelve stations and circuits and only six ministers and no more obtainable, expediency, and not specific law, would have to be the consideration of his operations. Let us not, however, waste time in dealing with far-fetched contingencies, but recognize things in their regular order.

My Reviewer takes exceptions at my saying the presiding elder must open the doors of the church. I have heard this nonsense before; now I want to settle that question henceforth and forever. So far from Bishops, presiding elders, etc., not being empowered to open the doors of the church for the reception of persons who desire to join, the spirit and theory of Methodism allows probationers to open the doors of the church. The doors of the Methodist Church are supposed to be like the doors of heaven, open day and night. If the Bishop is present let him invite persons to join, if not, let the presiding elder do it; let the exhorter do it. And, if the members are having a prayer-meeting and someone is moved upon to unite with the church, let the door open. When there is no higher functionary present, let the class leader, steward, trustee, lay member or probationer extend their hand, take the name of the person or persons and report the same to the pastor, or in the absence of the pastor to the stewards’ so they can classify them till the pastor or acting pastor regularly disposes of them.

I heard the learned Dr. Boyd, of the M. E. Church, South, who now sleeps in the cemetery at Marion, S. C., years ago in a great lecture upon the spirit of Methodism treat that subject most elaborately, and he was regarded as the great expounder of Methodist law in his day. True, he did not go so far as to say probationers might open the door of the church. He stopped at lay members, with the understanding that they, in common with the official members, should report the same to the pastor for final disposition; but since I have studied Methodism and the genius of its rules and regulations, I say it would be wrong for a probationer to refuse his hand to another who desires to become a probationer and thus sever himself or herself from the world. Hit the iron while it is hot is the intention of the probationary system in the Methodist Church, and it was for that reason that Mr. Wesley insisted upon opening the doors of the church at the conclusion of every sermon the year round. The truth is, the first thing done by every minster at the concluding of his sermon ought to be to open the doors of the church. O, how many souls are in hell to day who would have been saved had not so many of our lazy minsters neglected that request of Mr. Wesley, the great founder of Methodism. I believe the great reason our church is growing so slowly is because there is so much red tape about opening the doors of the church for the reception of probationers. Since the General Conference of 1880, the M. E. Church has added between four and five hundred thousand to their ranks, while we have not increased one, according to Dr. Arnett’s statistics, in the last four years. O heavens, think of it! Our decrease has equaled our increase for four years with nearly itinerant ministers. No wonder our Bishops last week in Detroit, frightened at our lethargic condition, resolved to try to encourage revivals and to get men to play the part of evangelists so as to break the spell of gloom that forebodes death and desolation to our connection. Even the Congregational Church, which we have been in the habit of looking upon as more formal than spiritual, are sending revivalists all through the land, while we are quarreling about who shall open the doors of the church. Take care we are not like the dogs which fought over the rabbit till it fled to the bushes and escaped.

My Reviewer also takes exceptions to my saying the presiding elder had the right to do all pastoral work on the Sabbath of his quarter, and he tries to torture this sentence into implying that the presiding elder shall try and expel the members. This shows how little he knows of the business of a quarterly meeting. If I thought the ministry and people of the A. M. E. Church or that my reviewer were ignoramuses, I would reply to that; but as it would be a waste of time, I therefore dismiss it. I did say the presiding elder had a right to do all pastoral work on the Sabbath of his quarter. I thought everybody would understand that the work of a quarterly meeting Sabbath was to preach, open the doors of the church, administer the Lord’s Supper, if necessary, baptize, if necessary, receive into full membership, if necessary, lift the collection, &c., &c. What I mean by necessary is, unless the pastor had all these things attended to before the quarterly meeting.

But my Reviewer is so anxious to expel somebody from the church that he is frightened at the possibility of some presiding elder getting more out than himself. True, I might have used another term for pastoral work; I might have said the presiding elder is to charge that day, or that he is head on that occasion, or that he has oversight on that day. But I meant to let my presiding elders know that they were not simply to preside over the quarterly conference, and say to the pastors, “Here, raise my money on Sabbath, and send it to me next week; I am going home,” as report says some are in the habit of doing. I meant to let them know that their business was to stay there and see that the church was enhanced in all its relations, and help do it, as is his duty, and thus teach our young men the right mode of running the machinery of the church, and make the quarterly meetings a grand time, a religious ovation, a spiritual jubilee, when the whole neighborhood should be aroused and the people attracted far and near. I have held thousands of quarterly meetings, and I am sure I never held one without inviting persons to join, and I am also sure I never held a dozen without somebody did join. 

But my Reviewer is afraid the presiding elder will be considered in command on quarterly meeting occasions. Just what he is. He is the director of all affairs. Suppose he did not open the doors of the church in person, but orders the pastor to do it, is it not the presiding elder after all? Would any pastor in creation attempt to assume the right to take any authority on that day without the presiding elder’s consent? Not if he had any sense of manners. I have had men over me as presiding elders whom I licensed and passed into conference, and had ordained deacons and elders, and I would not give out a notice when they were present holding quarterly meetings without asking permission. Nor will a white minister in the M. E. Church or M. E. Church, South, in the land do it. If the presiding elder says to the pastor go on, do whatever you think best, then go on; otherwise manners, outside of law, would dictate the propriety of waiting for direction. I know of a minister who absents himself whenever the presiding elder comes to hold his quarterly meeting, because, he says, “O, I am nobody now; the presiding elder is boss to day;” and he will skulk around until the presiding elder is through; he will not aid in raising the presiding elder’s assessment nor do anything. I wish I was the presiding elder. I would keep him skulking by filling his place. The adage that “two heads to one body is equal to one tall,” is as old as the hills. When it comes to such a pass that the pastors are to cut up because a presiding elder comes around, and by the same parity of reasoning, the presiding elders must cut up because Bishop comes around, and the Bishops must cut up because an episcopal committee comes around, and an episcopal committee must cut up because a General Conference comes around, and the General Conference must cut up because the Bible comes around with still higher authority. In the name of heaven where will it end? I can tell you where. It will end in hell, and nowhere else. The reason our pulpit is weak and powerless now is because of the strut. Insolence and swagger which seeks by bully and bluster to defy law and rule, forgetful that our Lord said, He that humbles himself shall be exalted.

If there is a class of ministers I loathe, it is the class who are always harping about the letter of the law, or the law says this or does not say that. Call it egotism if you choose, but I dare to say I know Methodistic law, and I know another thing—there is not a minister in the land who can run a church a month by the letter of the law. You cannot preach the gospel by the letter of the law; you have to apply the spirit of the law, accompanied by common sense and Christian fidelity. It would take a volume as large as a barn house to contain everything that is necessary to meet every want in the running machinery of the A. M. E. Church for one year. Suppose I were to write to the officers of Rev. Kershaw, and tell his leaders, stewards, trustees and members what the law does not say they shall do, and if they are destitute of good manners, religion and church respect. I can make them run him off in a week. I can show them he is a tyrant, a usurper and that he is a fearful man any way. If I did not fear it would do harm, I would show him what the law does not say, just to let him see how small a claim he has under the letter of the law to control and govern his church. but if I did, I fear evil men would take advantage of it, and I do not care to injure good men for one who does no know what he is talking about. I am not half through with great reviewer, but I must not consume more of your space. The day will come, I trust when this kind critic will see that everything has a philosophy, and the sooner he opens his eyes to it the better for him and for those he would teach.

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