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tude" then made the election of the seven, and the apostles “prayed and laid their hands on them.” The principle of election by the whole body for church officers was thus distinctly fixed in these two earliest and most marked examples, and all the subsequent allusions to the subject are in harmony with this principle. 3. The election of delegates' to accompany the apostles (1 Cor. xvi. 3). Thus, the men who should carry the collection for the poor to Jerusalem were to be those "whomsoever the churches shall approve by letters ;” and Paul, when afterward alluding to one of them, speaks of him as “chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace,” where the word translated "chosen” in its primary sense signifies to choose by outstretched hands—a sense which, it is probable, was in the New Testament period its usual one. 4. The election of bishops, or elders (Acts xiv. 23). Paul and Barnabas, when retracing their way to Antioch on the first missionary journey, “ordained them elders in every church.” Here the word rendered “ordained” is the same as that rendered “ chosen ” above, denoting primarily to vote with uplifted hands. Alford comments on this: There is “no reason for departing from the usual meaning of electing by show of hands. The apostles may have admitted to ordination those presbyters whom the churches elected.” Lange says, " The expression suggests the thought that the apostles may have appointed and superintended a congregational election. And this view is supported by the circumstances related (ch. vi. 2), where the twelve directed that the election of the seven should be held.” Thus also Alexander and Barnes, with whom concur nearly all the best commentators. Hackett in dissenting overlooks the fact that the Greek participle has here the causative sense: Caused them to elect elders in every church.” All the early English translations
previous to King James's, which was prepared under the influence of prelacy, translate, “Ordained them elders by election in every congregation.”
It seems clear, therefore, that the selection of officers by the congregation was the established principle of procedure; in those instances, therefore, where apostles or evangelists are said to ordain elders, the presumption is that, as in the more fully related cases, they ordained men previously selected by the people. Indeed, in a voluntary body, the right to choose its own officers is inherent; unless, therefore, it is expressly ordained otherwise, this right remains in the church; but there is in Scripture neither record nor intimation of a different principle of selection. The idea of a clerical order, as of a self-perpetuating body of ministers outside of and independent of the congregation, is wholly foreign to the New Testament, and belongs to the later Patristic period. The right of the congregation to elect its own ministers, either spontaneously or by nomination of the eldership, was long retained. This is clearly indicated not only in the apostolic and early Fathers, but Cyprian, speaking of the election of Cornelius as Bishop of Rome (A. D. 251), says that he was chosen by the judgment of God and of his Christ through the suffrages of the people who were there present, and the college of pastors or ancient bishops, all good men.* Many of the most prominent bishops, as is well known, were selected by spontaneous choice of the people, such as Athanasius (A. D. 328), Ambrose (374), and Chrysostom (398).
III. THE POWER OF DECIDING ALL OTHER MATTERS NOT ALREADY DETERMINED BY SCRIPTURE. Thus the place and time of its meetings, the order of its worship and business, the frequency and place of celebrating the ordinances, and many other necessary things not divinely ordered, are to be determined by the congregation under the general direction (1 Cor. xiv. 40), "Let all things be done decently and in order.” This right is inherent in them as a voluntary body, and its exercise is recognized as a duty by the reproofs administered to the whole congregation at Corinth for disorderly conduct at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. xi.). Indeed, the apostles direct their epistles, not to officers nor to church judicatories, but to the churches as congregations, and thus plainly recognize the right as well as the responsibility of each church as a congregation in regard to the conduct of its affairs.
* Ep. lii. 2, 8.
Now, as the powers thus committed to the church as a congregation constitute the vital functions of a church, it follows that church power resides neither in a hierarchy, nor in an ecclesiastical judicatory, but in the whole assembly of the membership. The organization, therefore, is neither prelatical nor presbyterial, but congregational. It follows, also, that since a church is entrusted with power so grave and responsible, no body of believers should be constituted a church unless it possesses the intellectual capacity, knowledge, and gifts adapted to the wise exercise of such powers; and in the absence of these, the body should not take on it a church organization, but should remain a mission station under the care of some well-organized church.
THE CHURCH: RELATIONS TO ITS OWN MEMBERS.
The relations between a church and its members are peculiarly solemn, tender, and vital, involving on the part of each the most serious responsibility.
I. RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF A CHURCH. 1. Every believer in Christ is under obligation, if Providence permits, to unite with a church, since it is an institution ordained by him and neglect of it is dishonor put on him. As each church has ordinarily its own special field, it is entitled to the membership of all believers who live within its natural boundaries, unless either providential disability prevents a public profession or special reasons exist for membership elsewhere. This right a church may not enforce by discipline or penalties, but it is evidently one which the believer is under obligations to respect. 2. Every member is required to fulfil, to the extent of his ability, the covenant obligations assumed on becoming a member. The church, therefore, is entitled to the duties thus promised, together with his good will, his sympathy, his influence, and such time and means as Providence may enable him to use for its advancement. 3. Each member is a soul entrusted by Christ to the church to protect and develop and prepare for heaven. The church, therefore, is bound to furnish the best possible public instruction in the gospel, to exercise a tender, loving, patient, watch-care over the member, and to use the utmost diligence and effort for his enlightenment, sanctification, and usefulness, with the view to present him at last “perfect in Christ Jesus." 4. When a member falls into immorality or departs from the faith of the church, or otherwise violates or neglects covenant obligations, it is the right as well as the duty of the church to place him under discipline and deal with him according to the laws Christ has given in the New Testament. Upon sufficient proof of guilt, it may ad
. monish him, may for a reasonable time suspend him from church privileges, or may exclude him from the church.
II. RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF MEMBERS. 1. Every member, while in good standing, is entitled to all the privileges of the church, including attendance on its meetings, the sympathy and watch-care of the members, participation in the Lord's Supper when administered, elegibility, if qualified, to all offices of the church, and an equal voice on all questions before the body, limited only by the biblical law, which restricts the ministerial office to males, and the natural law, which restricts the right of voting to persons of suitable age. Many churches, however, have no rule restricting the right of voting. 2. Any member in good standing is entitled, on application, to a certificate of his church standing or to a letter of dismission, unless it appear that he seeks it for an improper purpose. No letter of dismission, however, can be granted, unless it is, bona fide, the intention of the applicant to use such letter in uniting with another church. The letter of dismission is simply a permission given to unite elsewhere, and does not dissolve, or in any respect alter, the relation of the member to the church until he is actually received into another church. It gives him permission to join elsewhere; but he remains in full standing a member, with all rights and duties undiminished and unchanged, until he has actually united with another church. 3. Every member has the right of private judgment. Each church has, indeed, certain clearly-defined principles, either written or implied, which constitute its articles of faith and practice, and a professed belief of which is necessary to membership; and if any member materially dissents from these, it is evident he ought not to retain his membership. But outside of these fundamental principles, on which membership is necessarily conditioned, there is a wide range of subjects which belong exclusively to the individual judgment