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meet together by their elders and other messengers in a synod, to consider and argue the points in doubt or difference; and having found out the way of truth and peace, to commend the same by their letters and messengers to the churches whom the same may concern. But if a church be rent with divisions among themselves, or lie under any open scandal, and yet refuse to consult with other churches, for healing or removing of the same, it is matter of just offence both to the Lord Jesus and to other churches, as bewraying too much want of mercy and faithfulness, not to seek to bind
the breaches and wounds of the church and brethren: and therefore the state of such a church calleth aloud upon other churches, to exercise a fuller act of brotherly communion, to wit, by way of admonition. 3. A third way then of communion of churches, is by way of admonition; to wit, in case any public offence be found in a church, which they either discern not, or are slow in proceeding to use the means for the removing and healing of.* Paul had no authority over Peter, yet when he saw Peter not walking with a right foot, he publicly rebuked him before the church. Though churches have no more authority one over another, than one apostle had over another, yet as one apostle might admonish another, so may one church admonish another, and yet without usurpation. In which case, if the church that lieth under offence, do not hearken to the church that doth admonish her, the church is to acquaint other neighbor churches with that offence which the offending church still lieth under, together with the neglect of their brotherly admonition given unto them ; whereupon those other churches are to join in seconding the admonition formerly given ; and if still the offending church continue in obstinacy and impenitency, they may forbear communion with them, and are to proceed to make use of the help of
* In former times, this third way of communion was not unfrequently practised. Latterly, it has been entirely disused.--Editor.
a synod, or council of neighbor churches walking orderly (if a greater cannot conveniently be had) for their conviction. If they hear not the synod, the synod having declared them to be obstinate, particular churches approving and accepting the judgment of the synod, are to declare the sentence of non-communion respectively concerning them; and thereupon, out of religious care to keep their own communion pure, they may justly withdraw themselves from participation with them at the Lord's table, and from such other acts of holy communion as the communion of churches doth otherwise allow and require. Nevertheless, if any members of such a church as liveth under public of fence, do not consent to the offence of the church, but do in due sort bear witness against it, they are still to be received to wonted communion ; for it is not equal that the innocent should suffer with the offensive. Yea, furthermore, if such innocent members, after due waiting in the use of all good means for the healing of the offence of their own church, shall at last, with the allowance of the council of neighbor churches, withdraw from the fellowship of their own church, and offer themselves to the fellowship of another, we judge it lawful for the other church to receive them (being otherwise fit) as if they had been orderly dismissed to them from their own church. 4. A fourth way of communion of churches is by way of participation. The members of one church occasionally coming to another, we willingly admit them to partake with us at the Lord's table, it being the seal of our communion, not only with Christ, nor only with the members of our own church, but also of all the churches of the saints; in which regard, we refuse not to baptize their children presented to us, if either their own minister be absent, or such a fruit of holy fellowship be desired with us. In like case such churches as are furnished with more ministers than one, do willingly afford one of their own ministers to supply the place of an absent or sick min
ister of another church for a needful season. 5. A fifth way of church communion is by way of recommendation, when the member of one church, hath occasion to reside in another church, if but for a season, we commend him to their watchful fellowship by letters of recommendation, but if he be called to settle his abode there, we commit him according to his desire to the fellowship of their covenant, by letters of dismission. 6. A sixth way of church communion is, in case of need, to minister relief and succor one unto another, either of able members, to furnish them with officers, or of outward support, to the necessities of poorer churches, as did the churches of the Gentiles contribute liberally to the poor saints at Jerusalem.
Cant. viii. 8. Acts, xv. 2, 6, 22, 23. Ezek, xxxiv. 4. Gal. i. 11-14. Matt. xviii. 15, 16, 17, hy proportion. Gen. xviii. 25. 1 Cor. xii. 13. Rom. xvi. 1. Acts, xviii. 27, and xi. 22, 29. Rom. xiii. 26, 27.
3. When a company of believers purpose to gather into church fellowship, it is requisite for their safer proceeding, and the maintaining of the communion of churches, that they signify their intent unto the neighbor churches, walking according unto the order of the gospel, and desire their presence, and help, and right hand of fellowship, which they ought readily to give unto them, when there is no just cause to except against their proceedings. Gal. ii. 1, 2, and 9, by proportion.
4. Besides these several ways of communion, there is also a way of propagation of churches : when a church shall grow too numerous, it is a way, and fit season, to propagate one church out of another, by sending forth such of their members as are willing to remove, and to procure some officers to them, as may enter with them into church estate amongst themselves. As bees, when the hive is too full, issue forth by swarms, and are gathered into other hives, so the churches of Christ may do the same upon like necessity; and therein hold forth to them the right hand of
fellowship, both in their gathering into a church, and in the ordination of their officers.
Isa. xl. 20. Cant. viii. 8, 9.
1. Synods orderly assembled, and rightly proceeding according to the pattern, Acts xv. we acknowledge as the ordinance of Christ; and though not absolutely necessary to the being, yet many times, through the iniquity of men, and perverseness of times, necessary to the well-being of churches, for the establishment of truth and peace therein.
Acts, xv. 2–15.
2. Synods being spiritual and ecclesiastical assemblies, are therefore made up of spiritual and ecclesiastical causes.
The next efficient cause of them under Christ, is the power of the churches, sending forth their elders and other messengers, who being met together in the name of Christ, are the matter of a synod: and they in arguing, debating, and determining matters of religion according to the word, and publishing the same to the churches it concerneth, do put forth the proper and formal acts of a synod, to the conviction of errors and heresies, and the establishment of truth and peace in the churches, which is the end of a synod.
Acts, xv. 2, 3, 6, 7–23, 31, and xvi. 4, 15.
3. Magistrates have power to call a synod, by calling to the churches to send forth their elders and other messengers, to counsel and assist them in matters of
* Synods were formerly frequent, but for these many years have been laid aside. Magistrates no longer need the advice of the clergy; and clergymen have enough to do without assembling to afford their counsel.--Editor.
religion ; but yet the constituting of a synod is a church act, and may be transacted by the churches, even when civil magistrates may be enemies to churches and to church assemblies.
2 Chron. xxix. 4, 5—11. Acts, xv.
4. It belongeth unto synods and councils, to debate and determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to clear from the word holy directions for the holy worship of God, and good government of the church; to bear witness against mal-administration and corruption in doctrine or manners in any particular church, and to give directions for the reformation thereof; not to exercise church censures in way of discipline, nor any other act of church authority or jurisdiction, which that presidential synod did forbear.
Acts. xv. 1, 2, 6, 7. 1 Chron. xv. 13. 2 Chron. xxix. 6,7. Acts, xv. 24, 28, 29.
5. The synod's directions and determinations, so far as consonant to the word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement therewith (which is the principal ground thereof, and without which they bind not at all) but also secondarily for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his word.
6. Because it is difficult, if not impossible, for many churches to come together in one place, in all their members universally ; therefore they may assemble by their delegates or messengers, as the church at Antioch went not all to Jerusalem, but some select men for that purpose. Because none are or should be more fit to know the state of the churches, nor to advise of ways for the good thereof, than elders; therefore it is fit that in the choice of the messengers for such assemblies, they have special respect unto such ; yet inasmuch as not only Paul and Barnabas, but certain others also were sent to Jerusalem from Antioch, and when they were come to Jerusalem, not