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church at Antioch was annoyed with higher ecclesiastical bodies. In each a contention about circumcision, case the ministry and brethren cowhich it could not of itself compose. operate in its administration. They determined to send to the Finally, this construction of counapostles and elders at Jerusalem for cils furnishes the highest security, advice on the question. From the that the choice, wisdom, and piety result of this council, verses 22, 23, of the churches will be collected, it appears that the brethren of the and brought to manage her great church were joined with the apostles and weighty concerns. They are and elders, in deliberating upon and composed of pastors, the chosen deciding this question. This case spiritual guides of the churches, is the more striking and conclusive, who give themselves wholly to these as to the place which the brethren things, and of representatives of the should have in these councils, from people, who will ordinarily be chosen the fact that the apostles were pre- on account of their superior fitness. sent. Great as were their powers to transact such business. in the planting and organizing of Let us next consider the
power churches, it appears that after these these councils, and the extent to churches attained a settled state, they which their decisions are binding assumed no exclusive authority or upon churches. rule over them. Much less then can THE DECISIONS OF CONGREGATION. such a prerogative be conceded to AL COUNCILS ARE ADVISORY, AND FOR their pretended successors, or to in. THAT REASON OF MOST SALUTARY EF. ferior church officers. This exam- FICACY. ple, therefore, is our divine warrant Here we find a distinctive pecufor resorting to councils to dispose liarity of Congregationalism." As, of whatever lies beyond the province in states, that is the best governof single churches, and for compo- ment which secures the just rights sing such councils of ministers and and liberties of the subject on the people, as two co-ordinate, mutual- one hand, and the supremacy of ly poising, harmonious powers. law and order on the other; so 2. This is agreeable to reason.
in ecclesiastical polity, the great It accords with first principles, as problem is, to preserve the rights of applied in all analogous cases. All conscience and Christian liberty in. well constructed governments which violate on the one side, and on the preserve the golden mean of liberty other to preserve truth, holiness and regulated by laws, between the ruin- unity in the churches. We believe ous extremes of anarchy and des. that no men who live, or have lived, potism, are composed of different have mastered this problem so well powers which represent the different as our Puritan fathers : that they parties in interest. These balance understood the Lord's way, and each other, and thus prevent all ex. therefore the true way, of guarding treme and oppressive measures. each interest, without detriment to In the doings of ecclesiastical bodies, the other, and of bringing both to ministers and churches have each a their utmost perfection. great and palpable stake. How According to both the theory and reasonable then, that they both par. practice of Congregationalism, the ticipate equally in their proceedings? decisions of councils are advisory, Guarding the rights and interests of and not absolutely binding upon parall, it secures their hearty coöpera- ticular churches without their own tion in the great common cause. consent. That the Scriptures war.
Withal, ihe fundamental princi- rant the assumption of no more than ples of government in particular advisory powers by councils, ap. churches, are thus carried out into pears
1. From the fact that supreme au- gain a knowledge of his will in such thority, under Christ, in matters of cases. As such, it is to be solemndiscipline, is conferred upon the ly weighed and cordially welcomed, churches. Matt. xviii, 17; 1 Cor. v, with a predisposition to abide by it, 5, 13.
until it is proved to be unscriptural. 2. The Apostles did not assume The presumption is, that it is the dominion over the faith, but were voice of God, until the contrary is only helpers of the joy of the church. plainly proved. This being so, all es. It may well be concluded that doubts on the part of the churches such dominion is denied to all sub- turn in favor of the ascendency of sequent and inferior ecclesiastical the council's advice. And since the persons and bodies. It is their of. very summoning of a council by a fice to help ihe joy and further the church implies some degree of doubt, peace and welfare of the churches, the probability ever is, that the adbut not to rule over them.
vice of the council will prevail. In 3. The result of the council al questions of mere prudence or exready adverted to, Acts xv, author. pediency, it ought always to be deizes this same conclusion. The form cisive. When conscientious objecof their result is more like the de. tions to its advice are entertained, livery of an opinion than a mandate. that advice may properly be rejectAnd yet it is not mere advice, in the ed, till these scruples are removed, ordinary sense of that term. It does which is almost always accomplishnot stand in the same relation to the ed. Hence, in theory and in pracparties advised, as the same counsel tice, their decisions have a parawould if it came from any indiffer. mount and controlling influence, ent or accidental source. It is with as rare exceptions as the friccounsel given in God's appointed tion arising from human depravity way, by those to whom He has com- occasions under any system whatmitted the office of expounding bis ever. And this acquiescence of the word, and helping the churches to churches is the more perfect, be
cause it is voluntary, and not forced
upon them, against their own consci* The only seeming exception to this entious convictions. While this sys, in the Saybrook Articles. Art. v. de- tem provides for general order and clares, that the decision of the council unity, of the most precious, because "shall be a final issue, and all parties most cordial kind, it leaves the liberty shall sit down and be determined there and independence of the churches by." But while such is the letter of these Articles, the great principle of Congre- unimpaired. It does not compel gationalism which we have declared, has them to do or sanction what their for the most part ruled in practice, espe- consciences condemn, what they becially since the first half-century of ihe lieve to be clearly wrong, and for. existence of the Platform. The churches of Connecticut have taken these Articles bidden by the word of God. Thus as the general basis of their system, without a strict observance of every clause. tian liberty and purity, which is the
a great provision is made for Chris. ions are not trifled with, and are almost distinctive glory of our system, viz. uniformly successful in procuring the ac
that whenever a church deems the quiescence of the churches in them, yot advice of a council clearly opposed they no more than occasional councils compel the churches to accept them,
to the law of God, it is left free to against their conscientious convictions. fall back upon that first principle of Nor do they pass sentence of non-com- all religion, that we OUGHT TO OBEY munion for such refusal, unless in those GOD, RATHER THAN MAN. Any ecclear cases of persistence in antichristian clesiastical system which does not heresy or malpractice, which would exscind' from the fellowship of all Congre- shape itself into harmony with this gational churches.
great principle, is essentially via
cious.* The advantages of this fea- this great peculiarity, its importance ture of Congregationalism multiply, warrants a further notice of it. At the farther they are traced.
this point, as we think, our Congre1. Ample provision is made for gational forefathers displayed a more the regulation of those matters of thorough and delicate insight into the common interest which concern the true genius of Christianity, than any churches at large, and of those af. who lived before them since aposfairs of particular churches, to the tolic times, and most who have lived settlement of which they singly are after them. The conscience must inadequate. Councils are the or. be untrammeled, if we would have gans through which the whole bro- it unperverted and undefiled. iherhood of churches declares its must be held in direct contact and judgment to single churches, and communion with God, and be uncothe body of Christ guides its separate erced, except as he coerces it. As members in orderly and harmonious it enters deeply into the purity and action. Although it stops short of vigor of religion, so it has much to lording it over the consciences of do with all freedom, manliness and men, it is yet no less efficient than dignity of character, in short, with other systems of church polity,which the elevation of our whole nature. wield this imperial authority. It is The extent to which liberty of con. efficient, because it is God's way, science is preserved in various parts and is therefore made mighty of Christendom, is a pretty exact through him. It is efficient, because index to the whole state of religion. it gains the conscientious, cordial, The great mass of church politiunforced consent of those who are' cians have deemed it impossible to thus guided, when the same decis- secure this freedom, without opening ion, forced upon them by absolute the door for universal anarchy and authority, might provoke hostility intolerable confusion. It is the im. and resistance. It is efficient, be- perishable glory of our Puritan facause it is "the judgment of the ihers, that they solved this great many,” regularly ascertained and problem in a system of government formally expressed. It is efficient, which reconciles freedom of conbecause in fact no churches have science with order and unity. been more blessed with order, purity 3. If it reconciles the just liberand peace, than the Congregational. ties of particular churches with the
2. It provides for liberty of con- welfare of the whole body, it no less science. Although the reader's at- reconciles them with the just rights tention has already been called to and liberties of individual church
members. Suppose, for example,
that a church member be excommuIn confirmation of this view of the power and influence of councils, see Ratio nicated, and, as he deems, unjustly, Disciplina, pp. 182, 183. “ It is an ac- by the church to which he belongs : knowledged principle in respect to coun- he may refer his case, by appeal, to cils, that they possess only advisory pow. a council of other churches and their ers, in other words, their decisions are addressed to the understandings and con
pastors. If the council decides that sciences of men, and are enforced solely the sentence against him ought to be by moral obligations.
Their revoked, the church will probably proper business is to GIVE LIGHT. Nev• hear this advice, and act accordingertheless, as those by whom they were called are supposed to have been sincerely. But should it be otherwise, in their request, it is incumbent on them should they deem it a clear case, to examine the opinions or decisions given, that they can not conscientiously rewith prayerful, honest and unprejudiced store the supposed offender to their minds. When their temper is such, they will generally find good reason to agree fellowship, the decision of the counwith the council."
cil does not absolutely bind them :
for it is a cardinal principle, that an ecclesiastical council or not? In councils, being human, are not in- reply, let us ask, has not any one fallible. But, although the aggriev- power to expound the Scriptures, ed person should not be restored by and
the conthis particular church, he has gained science? What advantage, then, his redress. Any other church may has the preaching of the regular lawfully, and without offense, re- ministry over the harangues of unceive him, on the ground of his ac- ordained lecturers and exhorters? quittal by the council. Thus the Simply this, that the ministry is an mutual rights of churches and indi- ordinance of God for the “ perfectviduals are beautifully guarded and ing of the saints and the edifying of harmonized by this scheme of Di. the body of Christ.” Being divinely vine Wisdom.
instituted, it is divinely blest, and 4. This scheme of church polity empowered to “commend the truth duly combines and proportions all to every man's conscience in the those ingredients which, in human sight of God.” So of ecclesiastical governments, are found to produce councils. They are, as we have the most salutary results. Through already shown, God's ordinance, his the delegates of the Christian peo- chosen way of giving light to the ple, the popular and representative churches, and guiding them in the element has its just influence, and paths of heavenly wisdom. Theremust forever prevent any encroach-fore they enjoy his blessing, when ments on the part of the ministry, rightly conducted, and, however frail and stifle in the germ every ten- in themselves, are armed with that dency towards uncontrolled hierar. excellency of power which is of chical power. On the other hand, God, far more potent than all the the ministry can guard their own of- devices of human wisdom, all the fice against all invasion of its just mandates of lordly authority. So prerogatives. They form an intelli. far as their workings are unmarred gent, considerate and conservative by human depravity, their counsels body, who temper crude and ill-ad- are not barren or impotent, but come vised movements by their superior to the churches, “not in word only, knowledge, and infuse into the whole but also in power, and in the Holy assembly, wisdom, stability and dig. Ghost, and in much assurance.” 1 nity. So far as judicial action de. Thess. i, 5. Not only so, but all volves upon councils, they comprise incidental influences concur to give what all experience has shown to be them efficacy. They come with a the strongest bulwarks of right and kindly and winning, and not a forjustice, a body professionally learn- bidding or provoking aspect. It is ed in the law, and a jury of the peo- the nature of a good man to listen ple. Thus the analogy is complete to a serious appeal to his reason and between them and the best constitu- conscience, when he would revolt at ted human governments.
a peremptory mandate which fore. OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.
stalls both. Moreover, the weight 1. It is sometimes objected to this of a council's decision with the pub. system, that, by its own confession, lic is such, that a church can not it is powerless. Repudiating all refuse submission to it, without eipretensions to authority, it gives ther showing strong and urgent reamere advice, which all men are at sons for its course, or forfeiting liberty to give, and all are at liberty the confidence and favor of sister to reject. It, after all, leaves the churches. Nor is this a merely unruly to do as they please. May theoretical view. It is but a history not any man or company of men of the actual ordinary working of give advice, whether organized as Congregationalism. The councils of New England have generally ob- of conscience, which you have so tained as much deference for their ardently dwelt upon, as one of the decisions as bishop or presbytery, crowning merits of your system? and have been quite as successful in We answer, that it can not justly promoting order and unity, truth and be called an invasion of the libergodliness.
ties or rights of any body of men, 2. It is alleged that this system af- to refuse to own and treat them as fords no sufficient protection against a sound or pure church of Christ, the inroads of heresy and apostasy. when they furnish no evidence of It is said, that if any church or being so, but plainly show them. churches espouse fatal error, or up- selves to be incorrigible apostates hold flagrant sin, the most vigorous from the truth and holiness of the remedy we can apply, is to advise Gospel. But between this wholly them to abandon it; that we are antichristian state and a condition therefore in danger of nourishing of perfect soundness and purity, the most pestilential heresies or sins there lies a broad interspace, in in the very bosom of the church, which are various degrees of error with no effectual power to suppress and imperfection, blended with much or expel them. But the only foun- truth and feeling; so that the founddation of this objection is ignorance. ation remains firm, although the There is an ample remedy in non- building has much that is crude and communion. If a church, after due unsightly. Churches of this delabor for its recovery, obstinately scription are Christian churches, and persists in fatal heresy or sin, it is so to be accounted and treated, and the privilege and duty of other therefore to be welcomed among churches to withdraw fellowship the brotherhood of churches, notfrom that church, and thus guard withstanding the hay, wood and themselves against the contagion. stubble, which deface and partially They are to withdraw from every hide the gold and silver and prebrother, and much more from every cious stones. Now this wide range. congregation of brethren, that walk- of imperfection in churches, which, eth disorderly. This individual while it mars their beauty and hinchurches may do on their own mo. ders their prosperity, still falls short tion, if they are conscience-bound. of subverting foundations by fundaBut it is usual, as it is more safe and mental and fatal error, in various becoming, to forbear, until they ob- ways comes under the discipline of tain the sanction and co-operation higher ecclesiastical bodies, for its of other churches represented in correction and removal. But if council. Thus the orthodox church- these councils come to the peccant es of New England dealt with So- church with an unconditional mancinianism, and purged out this old date, instead of an appeal to realeaven, which threatened to leaven son and conscience, does it not prothe whole lump. While Congrega. voke resistance? Suppose then it tionalism has this remedy, it is the be disobeyed. Suppose the church last and highest that can be had un- say they can not in conscience comder any system whatever, which ply with it. It is clear that, in this does not enforce spiritual by civil case, no alternative remains, but to penalties, and sharpen their pangs excommunicate the offending church with the trenchant thong of perse. from their fellowship, for a scandacution. For this ghostly tyranny it lous contempt of their authority. is now too late to contend.
They are forced to this disastrous But it may and doubtless will be issue, no matter how trivial was the rejoined, What advantage then re- original fault, which they aimed to mains to you, on the score of liberty correct. But when the decision of