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safely be entrusted to the people, who are liable to be swayed by ignorance, prejudice, and passion; whereas a judicatory of educated ecclesiastics would act intelligently and dispassionately. We answer: If God has left these subjects in the hands of the people, it is safe to trust his arrangement, and unsafe to depart from it. But this charge of incompetency, so often made against the people, is utterly disproved by history. Truth and justice, whether in state or church, have nowhere proved so safe as in the keeping of the masses. The popular judgment and conscience of the church are, and must be, subject to occasional aberration, but, in the long run, the verdict they pronounce is faithful to the truth and the right. The errors and wrongs which have oppressed Christendom through the ages did not spring from the people, but from hierarchies and synods. The Sanhedrin condemned the Lord Jesus, but “the common people heard him gladly." History in all succeeding ages has shown the same result.
II. EACH CHURCH, THOUGH INDEPENDENT OF ALL ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY ON EARTH, IS ACCOUNTABLE TO CHRIST AS ITS SOVEREIGN HEAD.
Christ is the sovereign Head and only Lawgiver of his church. He constantly asserts this in his word as his rightful position. Hence, a church has no power to legislate or to act contrary to or beyond the New Testament, but is simply an executive body to interpret and execute the will of Christ. Thus subject to the supreme, sovereign headship of Christ, the church is not authorized to establish as articles of faith doctrines not taught in Scripture; to make judicial decisions on other than scriptural principles; to alter the constitution of the church as divinely given; or to establish new ordinances or alter or abrogate those established in the New Testament. In all things on which the Scriptures reveal the will of Christ, the church is simply the interpreter and executive; if it pass beyond these functions, it invades the sphere of the divine prerogatives.
And when in these things a church departs from the faith and practice of Scripture, it is clearly the right and duty of other churches to withhold their fellowship from it as a true church, because in so doing it has rejected Christ as Head.
III. CHURCHES ARE INTERDEPENDENT; EACH CHURCH, THEREFORE, HAS RELATIONS AND DUTIES TO OTHER CHURCHES.
Independency is not isolation; there is also an interdependence among churches which is equally recognized
Scripture, and the observance of which is equally obligatory. A church may not stand in solitary isolation; it is a unit, indeed, but a unit among a multitude forming a great whole. It is one in a great community of churches bound to each other in the mightiest bonds. They have all a common relation to Christ as their one Head, and to the kingdom of Christ as each the representative of it. They have a common life and experience, as regenerated, illumined, and inhabited by the one Spirit. They have a common constitution, derived from the one word of God; a common responsibility, as entrusted with the one gospel; and a common mission, as alike charged to give this gospel to the world. Each church thus forms one in the grand fellowship of churches, all of which are affected in their good name and welfare by its character and acts; and to all of which, therefore, it has imperative duties. Thus, 1. Each church is bound to promote, to the extent of its power, the welfare of other churches. The mutual sympathy and co-operation of the apostolic churches are plainly indicated, while yet in no instance was there interference with the self-government of any church. They ministered to each other's need in seasons of desti
tution, the Gentile churches sending large contributions to the impoverished church at Jerusalem. They sought from each other and gave to each other advice in matters of difficulty, as when the church at Antioch applied for advice to that in Jerusalem. They sent ministerial aid to each other when special laborers were needed (Acts xi. 22). The evidence of warm and generous sympathy among churches, in prayer and labor and sacrifice for each other, appears in all the apostolic history. 2. Each church also is bound to respect the ecclesiastical character and acts of other churches, and avoid the weakening of their just authority and influence. It should recognize the validity of their ministry and ordinances, and give and receive letters of commendation and dismission. It may not disregard the discipline of another church by encouraging offenders, or receiving excluded persons, except in case of manifest injustice. Even then the consent of the excluding church or the advice of a council should be obtained before admission; otherwise, all disciplinary power is destroyed, and the laws of Christ are set at naught. No church may intrude into the natural territory of another so as unduly to narrow its field and weaken its power, nor may it by any other act impair its efficiency or injure its welfare. 3. Each church is bound also, in combination with other churches, to aid, according to its ability, in sending the gospel to the world. A church is in its essential idea a missionary body. Entrusted with the gospel, it is the divine organization for the conversion of the world, and it fails in its highest end so far as it fails to bear its part among the sisterhood of churches in securing the triumph of Christ's kingdom on earth. Evidently, the missionary enterprise in the Apostolic period was not left to fortuitous organizations formed by individuals, but was regarded as the proper work of the church, as God's own organization, and was carried on by the combined efforts of churches. Paul was sent forth, not by a society, but by the church at Antioch, and so far as his own hands did not support him he was sustained by many different churches; for, in reasoning with the church at Corinth, he says, “I preached to you the gospel of God freely, I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.” His Epistles abound, especially that to the Philippians, with grateful recognitions of kindness done to him by the churches. We have all reason for supposing that such was the fact in the case of other evangelical laborers: each church bore its part in sustaining them in their work.
IV. THE COMMUNITY OF CHURCHES, SO FAR AS THE CHARACTER AND ACTS OF AN INDIVIDUAL CHURCH AFFECT THEIR COMMON NAME AND WELFARE, HAVE CERTAIN RIGHTS AND DUTIES IN RELATION TO EACH CHURCH.
1. If any church has departed from the faith and practice of the gospel, it is clearly the duty of sister churches to seek, with all tenderness and fidelity, its recovery from the error, and, failing in this, it is their duty publicly to withdraw fellowship from that church. Such withdrawal of fellowship has, indeed, no compulsory power to compel the erring church to renounce either its error or the common name which its error injures and misrepresents, for it is an independent body, and its own decisions are final within itself; but the vindication of the truth and of their common name before the world evidently requires this action on the part of the churches. 2. When a church is organized and takes the common name of a community of churches, thereby claiming public recognition as one of them, the plain duty of such church, if circumstances admit, is to seek the counsel of those churches, submitting to them a statement of its reasons for organizing, its material for membership, and its articles of faith and practice, and inviting their approval. Failing in this, it has no right to assume the common name, nor can it claim a recognition from other churches. Thus, also, when a pastor is ordained, since such pastor is expected to be recognized as a minister in other churches, it is evidently proper to invite the community of churches to share in the examination of his qualifications for the ministry, and to concur in setting him apart to the office; and a church which should refuse to recognize in this way the comity of the churches could not complain if they declined to recognize its pastor by inviting him to ministerial functions among them. In both the cases supposed, however, the withholding of recognition would affect only the external relations. It would not render the church less a church, nor its church acts less valid; nor would it invalidate the ordination of the pastor, or impair his right to exercise the pastoral function in that church. Nonrecognition would simply leave the church and the pastor outside of, isolated from, the fellowship of the community of churches, and unentitled to bear their common name. 3. When a church has excluded a member under circumstances which suggest that the exclusion was the result of prejudice or passion, it may be the duty of some other church, on an application from the excluded person, presenting reasonable evidence that the proceeding was irregular and unjustifiable, to invite an investigation of the case by the community of churches. This might be required alike to secure justice to an injured brother, who by unjust exclusion was separated from the fellowship not only of that church, but of all the churches, and to vindicate the common name from the charge of ecclesiastical injustice. If such an investigation resulted in