Vol.VIII No.V Pg.6
July 1971

Australian Antis, 1868

Robert F. Turner

We are now to see the influence of the American evangelists with regard to the annual conference.... At this third conference, held 13th. April, 1868,... When there was a discussion on the Hymn book, an important question was raised, namely: How far do the resolutions or recommendations passed at the annual meeting affect representatives and churches? (B.M.H. , Vol. 21,p.255). The greater portion of the day was given to the discussion of this question. The majority decided that the decisions of conference should not be binding, but that the delegates should convey any decision to their respective churches for their acceptance or otherwise. This view was supported, it seems, by those influenced by the American trained evangelists

The older (British, rft) brethren were not easily moved. They held to their view and defended it stoutly. These men sought to make conference resolutions binding upon individual churches. Although out-numbered, they so held to their view that the subject was deferred to a special meeting to be held on 9th. November, for further discussion. At this special meeting the problem was again debated for several hours but without any finality being reached; each side, apparently, was determined to hold out, so it was moved that the meeting adjourn sine die (B. M. H., Vol. 22, p. 140). A. Thomson, who was in close fellowship with G.L. Surber, may be considered as setting out the American viewpoint, when he stated, Some brethren are very wary of even the appearance of establishing a body of brethren — call it what you may — vested with power to control the action of the churches, or to legislate for them in matters of expediency, believing such to be wrong in principle and injurious and evil in its results: hence its action has been watched. (B.M.H.)

For three years no conference was held, but a compromise seems to have been reached in which the American viewpoint, to a great degree, prevailed. The next conference was called in 1872, and this time was held at Prahran. From this date conferences have been held annually, and the decisions of the representatives have been considered advisory and not binding upon churches. The question was raised again in 1888, but once more the authoritative element of a conference was rejected, and so conferences have remained more or less advisory.

(Later, in summation, the writer says:) We may also venture to state that the ultimate nature of church government and the relationship of a conference of churches to an individual church, prevailing in Australia, was largely determined by the lead given by the American outlook. When the need for a conference was eventually realized in 1872, the conference was then so constituted that it was to be merely advisory and not authoritative. In spite of this, the move in recent years throughout Australia has been toward a strengthening of the bond between churches, and conference decisions are becoming, mutually, more binding upon individual churches. (PIONEERING FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY, by A.W. Stephenson, pub. 1940)