The American Board And Ecclesiastical Councils -- By: A. Hastings Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 044:175 (Jul 1887)
Article: The American Board And Ecclesiastical Councils
Author: A. Hastings Ross

The American Board And Ecclesiastical Councils

Rev. A. Hastings Ross


The oldest of American foreign missionary societies, after a long career of prosperity and honor, has, to use the words so aptly quoted by its venerable president, fallen into a place where two seas meet, and is in danger of being broken in pieces. It has not been defrauded of its funds, nor have its officers proved recreant to any trust; yet the foreship sticks and remains immovable, but the stern begins to break up by the violence of the waves. It looks as if radical measures were needed to save it.

Perhaps we ought to remind ourselves that by no device can trouble be wholly avoided in a world of sin. If the American Board were perfect in organization and perfect in administration, storms would arise through the infirmities, errors, interests, or sins of others. The mere fact of trouble is, therefore, of no conclusive force against the Board. Unless the kind of trouble is such as to reveal or suggest some defect in organization or in administration or in both, we

should be warranted in dismissing the matter as an inevitable incident of human affairs, not to be remedied, but to be borne with Christian patience. But the unanimous action of the Board at Des Moines in proposing a possible relief in councils, “in difficult cases,” indicates that the storm is not wholly due to human infirmity. And whoever reads the great debate at that meeting, and the discussions that have followed, cannot fail to discern two questions lying at the bottom of the whole matter — a question of theology and a question of polity. The scope of this paper excludes wholly the theological question, and confines us to the question of polity. Yet this, as respects the present controversy with the Board, is the vital one, and calls therefore for the closest study.

Origin Of The American Board

The American Board did not have its origin in the missionary zeal of the churches, but in the desire of a few young men to preach the gospel to the heathen. This desire was communicated to the General Association of Massachusetts at its meeting in 1810. That Ministerial Association embodied the purpose of these young men in a society of many initials. This society was duly incorporated on June 20, 1812, by special charter from the General Court of Massachusetts, and is known as “The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.”

Nature Of The American Board

The charter is the fundamental law of the Board. That charter names certain men and their associates as “a body politic,” with all the rights and liabilities of the same, with power to choose all needed officers. Its f...

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