« PrécédentContinuer »
thing. I am aware that many profess to see their ecclesiasticalism in the Bible. Presbyterianism, Episcopacy, and Independency, are seen by their several adherents in the sacred Scriptures. In vain have I searched Holy Writ for the theory of a Christian Church, for a verbal constitution. I read of bishops, but I cannot identify them with the bishops of modern Episcopacy; of elders, but they do not answer to the presbyters of the Scotch Church ; of individual churches, but they differ from as much as, or more than, they agree with our Independent churches. My study of the New Testament has led me to the conclusion that the Church-regarded as an ecclesiastical organization is not a creation but a growth. We do not find that God has done in relation to the Church what He did in the case of the tabernacle. Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. We have no such model of a church. Neither in the Gospels nor in the Epistles have I been able to discover any dogmatic teaching on the subject. In a word, the New Testament, so far as I understand it, contains no theory of a Church—such as may be met with in Catechisms, Articles of Belief, and Confessions of Faith-and its account of the Churches planted by the Apostles impresses me with the notion that church government, employing the phrase in its widest signification, was, as I have already intimated, not a creation-like the form of the tabernacle, but a growth-each need or difficulty being met as it arose. Statutes, anticipating cases, I nowhere find, but precedents I meet with, which are invaluable as aids to the formation of a sound judgment on church questions.
Thus much premised, I proceed to sketch what I regard as the New Testament and Christian Church. A Church then ought to include all the Christians living in any one town or city. The Church in Jerusalem, or at Antioch, or in Corinth, was sufficiently comprehensive to embrace within its fellowship the whole multitude of believers. There were thousands of disciples in Jerusalem, for instance, but only one Church. In that Church were zealous Judaizers, who taught—"Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved," and others, who, like Peter and James, objected to the imposing of any such yoke upon the Gentiles. Neither numbers nor differences led to the establishment of a second Church. I fear that our many Churches in S
are broken parts of that which the Lord Jesus designed to be a perfect whole-mere fragments of a Church, falling far short of the New Testament conception or realization of the Church. There is such a thing as the sin of schism. Query, are not all denominational Churches, so far as they exclude from their communion those who cannot subscribe to their creed, or shout their ecclesistical Shibboleth, guilty of this sin? The Church, established by the Apostles as the ambassadors and representatives of Christ, included in its fellowship all the disciples in any given town or city. This I regard as the evident and undeniable teaching of the Christian Scriptures. In harmony with my conviction on this subject, I hold that a Church should have but one door of admission, and that “the door of faith.” Every believer in the Lord Jesus, and simply because he is a believer, should immediately be wel. comed into this “communion of saints ;" whatever his theological opinions, however widely he may differ from others in matters ecclesiastical, if a Christian, he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of church membership. I doubt whether a Church, or rather the members composing it, have the option of rejecting such an one.
Certain I am that the nomination at one meeting, and the voting after a month's interval, are utterly at variance with apostolic precedents—I think also with the will of Christ. Did the hundred and twenty receive into their fellowship by show of hands, or by any other mode of election, every one of the "three thousand souls” added to them on the day of Pentecost? Have we a single instance, mentioned in the Acts or in the Epistles of the Apostles, of any voting in connexion with admission to membership? Do not the narratives and the allusions suggest, almost shut us up to the conclusion, that every one who professed to be a disciple of Christ, who sought fellow. ship, was thereupon added to the number of the faithful ? With us admission to the Church is the act of the Church, which accepts or rejects candidates for membership; with the first Christians, admission to the Church was the act of the individual, each believer declaring himself to be one of Christ's disciples. We constitute ourselves a kind of ecclesiastical club, and keep out of our church every one that we do not deem worthy of membership, or that we shrink from as an undesirable associate in worship and in work; the Apostles and their contemporaries disclaimed the power and the will to refuse membership to any one that might claim it. I do not forget that the apostolic plan allowed Ananias, Simon Magus, and others likeminded, to enter the Church, nor are you ignorant that our stricter guardianship has failed to keep the worldly, while it has often kept the lowly and the timid, out of the Church Surely the risk of offending one of Christ's little ones is greater than the risk of admitting one who is not Christ's. If such were to find his way into the Church, which is possible, what probably would come to pass, of which the Apostle speaks : “If .... there come in one that believeth not for one unlearned, he is
convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so, falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. You cannot keep the ungodly out of the Church by narrowing the doorway, or by any mode of election; you may by increasing the spirituality of the Church, and making it attractive to the godly only. In the first and best days of the Church, multitudes of believers were added, but “ of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” Why should not Christians follow apostolic precedent, adopt the only scriptural basis of membership, and admit to their number every man who desired to have his name on the book, which should be, as nearly as it can be made, a copy of the Lamb's book of life? Were we to do this, we should acknowledge—as we already profess—that it is not for the servants to decide what new servant the Lord of the household shall receive, nor for the children to say what other children the Father shall admit to His tables, nor for the sheep to keep watch at the door of the fold, allowing such only to enter in as please them. I feel afraid to say no to any applicant for membership. Who am I that I should dare or venture to forbid any man coming into the Church of Christ? It is Christ's Church, not mine. I am a servant, not the master. Only the King has the right to reject him who has not on the wedding garment; as a guest I have no authority to turn away or to cast out another.
As yet, I have not even touched the main question, how the Church can be made to accomplish the purposes for which it exists. What are these purposes ? A clear definition of the objects for which a Church exists is, perhaps, the most satisfactory statement of the principles by which it should be governed. The end determines the means. Here, I think, is the real difficulty. We are members of a Church which never, perhaps, has stood face to face with the privileges and the work which God has designed for it. And I confess that it is not easy, in a few sentences, or by quoting facts and texts from Holy Writ, to set forth the reasons and the objects of the existence of the Church. However, the attempt must be made. The similies employed in alluding to the Church contain much suggestive truth.
Why is the Church described as a “flock,” a “household,” a city," a “body”? I should answer, to teach that the many members constitute one community. Unity-oneness—fellowship, is the prevailing notion in all these figures of speech. We know that this unity is very dear to the heart of Jesus. He prayed the Father for his disciples “ that they all may be one ... that they may be made or put in one." To maintain and conserve this unity the Apostles laboured most zealously. With energetic
earnestness Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: “Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same judgment.” Let it be noted here that the unity sought is not the agreement of a portion, but the oneness of the whole: “ that they all may be one,” “ that there be no divisions among you.” So that neither the Lord Jesus nor the Apostle Paul refers to the unity of a small section of the faithful in any one city, but to the unity of all. The Church was instituted to preserve and promote this oneness—not to divide, as Churches now do, Christians from one another. And hence there should be a fellow-feeling among the members of a Church. “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” This is “the communion of saints," in which the true “Holy and Catholic Church ” most devoutly believes and religiously endeavours to realize. I place it in the foreground, because I hold that the Church is intended to show mankind what the world should be—a “ body, fitly joined together,” a flock, quietly feeding in green pastures, a city, each of whose citizens loves his neighbour as himself, and whose gates are praise and walls salvation; a household, in which children find a holy and happy home; in order that such a society may he like the leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. Such is my ideal of a Christian Church, and only as a Church secures for its members this fellowship one with another, do I conceive a number of believers to be a Church at all. One other remark must be made, and that is, the Church should minister to itself. I would not lay undue stress on any scripture ; but I am quite as reluctant to allow a scripture to be unfulfilled in the history of a Christian or the Church. If you will read carefully the 12th, 13th, and 14th chapters of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, I think you will admit that the Apostle Paul regarded the gifts wherewith each member was endowed as designed for the benefit of the whole Church, “that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” And so, in the 3rd chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, from the 1st to the 16th verse, the same Apostle explains why the Lord Jesus" gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and sonie, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” It was “with a view to the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministration, for the building up of the body of Christ; till we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." From these two scriptures I infer-1. That any gift which a member may possess is designed
by the giver for the benefit of the whole body. My hand or tongue or eye has no separate interest, but, in performing its function, ministers to the well-being of all the members. And so every believer is under obligation to communicate what good, and render what service he can, to the Church of w ch he forms a part. 2. That in this manner, by the exercise within the Church of the gifts bestowed on the members, the saints may be perfected-perfected in knowledge, in faith, in charity, in service: And thus the Church is a school, where the disciples are ever learning alike from the great Teacher and each other; or college, where the man of God is thoroughly furnished with all good works; or home, from which brothers and sisters set out, refreshed and strengthened to do their work in the world, and to which they return for rest and loving fellowship. The Church will not fulfil its mission, and will not have run its course, till we all attain “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Till then, it becomes us to hold “the truth in love," and “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body being fitly framed together and compacted by means of every joint of the spiritual supply, according to the active working in the measure of each single part, promoteth the increase of the body for the building up of itself in love." Put these two ideas together : the Church should unite all the Christians in any one town or city in a holy fellowship, and each member should minister to all the other members till every one is fully and entirely conformed to “the image of Christ”; and you have, unless I have misread my New Testament and misunderstood the spirit of the Gospel, the ideal of a Christian Church.
And now, brethren, how much of this ideal can we realise? What of the desirable is, in my Church, practicable and expedient? I make no secret of my conviction, that any form of Church government which is best adopted, considering the character and the circumstances of a people, to secure the ends proposed, is that which I regard as most approved by God, and as therefore having the greater claims upon us.
In the case of Christian Englishmen, I think the form of government known as congregational is the likeliest to secure the objects for which the Church exists. The equality of the brotherhood, without the recognition of which it is all but impossible to obtain Christian fellowship, is distinctly and emphatically held as part and parcel of Congregationalism. I would not then on any account tamper with, or in any way contravene our present form of government. My suggestions will all be found consistent with the fundamental principles on which our Church has hitherto conducted its business. Within this limit, some amendments and a few