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HEADS OF AGREEMENT.
The following "heads of agreement” were assented to by the Presbyterians and Congregationalists in England, about the year 1690. Mather, speaking of this event, calls it “a most happy union," by which "all former names of distinction are now swallowed up in that blessed one of united brethren.” This union was effected in no small degree through the instrumentality of Dr. Increase Mather of Boston, who was at that time on a visit to his christian brethren in England.
HEADS OF AGREEMENT, Assented to by the United Ministers, formerly called Presbyterian
I. Of Churches and Church Members. 1. We acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ to have one catholic church, or kingdom, comprehending all that are united to him, whether in heaven or earth. And do conceive the whole multitude of visible believers, and their infant seed (commonly called the catholic visible church) to belong to Christ's spiritual kingdom in this world. But for the notion of a catholic visible church here, as it signifies its having been collected into any formed society, under a visible human head on earth, whether one person singly, or many collectively, we, with the rest of protestants, unanimously disclaim it.
2. We agree, that particular societies of visible saints, who under Christ their head, are statedly joined together, for ordinary communion with one another in all the ordinances of Christ, are particular churches, and are to be owned by each other, as instituted churches of Christ, though differing in apprehensions and practice in some lesser things.
3. That none shall be admitted as members, in order to communion in all the special ordinances of the gospel, but such persons as are knowing, and sound in the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion, without scandal in their lives ; and to a judgment regulated by the word of God, are persons of visible holiness and honesty ; credibly possessing cordial subjection to Jesus Christ.
4. A great number of such visible saints, (as before described) do become the capable subjects of stated communion in all the special ordinances of Christ upon their mutual declared consent and agreement to walk together therein according to gospel rule. In which declaration, different degrees of explicitness, shall no ways hinder such churches from owning each other, as instituted churches.
5. Though parochial bounds, be not of divine right, yet for common edification, the members of a particular church ought (as much as conveniently may be) to live near one another.
6. That each particular church hath right to use their own officers; and being furnished with such as are duly qualified and ordained according to the
gospel rule, hath authority from Christ for exercising government, and of enjoying all the ordinances of worship within itself.
7. In the administration of church power, it belongs to the pastors and other elders of every particular church, if such there be to rule and govern, and to the brotherhood to consent according to the rule of the gospel.
8. That all professors as before described, are bound in duty, as they have opportunity to join themselves as fixed members of some particular church; their thus joining being part of their professed subjection to the gospel of Christ, and an instituted means of their establishment and edification; whereby they are under the pastoral care, and in case of scandalous or offensive walking, may be authoritatively admonished or censured for their recovery, and for vindication of the truth and the church professing it.
9. That a visible professor thus joined to a particular church ought to continue stedfast with the said church; and not forsake the ministry, and ordinances there dispensed, without an orderly seeking a recommendation unto another church, which ought to be given, when the case of the person apparently requires it.
Of the Ministry. 1. We agree that the ministerial office is instituted by Jesus Christ for the gathering, guiding, edifying and governing of his church, and continue to the end of the world.
2. They who are called to this office ought to be endued with competent learning and ministerial gifts, as also with the grace of God, sound in judgment, not novices in the faith and knowledge of the gospel; without scandal, of holy conversation, and such as devote themselves to the work and service thereof.
3. That ordinarily none shall be ordained to the work of this ministry, but such as are called and chosen thereunto by a particular church.
4. That in so great and weighty a matter as the calling and choosing a pastor, we judge it ordinarily requisite, that every such church consult and advise with the pastors of neighboring congregations.
5. That after such advice the person consulted
about, being chosen by the brotherhood of that particular church over which he is to be set, and he accepting, be duly ordained and set apart to his office over them ; wherein it is ordinarily requisite that the pastors of neighboring congregations concur with the preaching elder or elders, if such there be.
6. That whereas such ordination is only intended for such as never before had been ordained to the ministerial office; if any judge, that in the case also of the removal of one formerly ordained, to a new station, or pastoral charge, there ought to be a like, solemn recommending him and his labors to the grace and blessing of God; no different sentiments or practice herein, shall be any occasion of contention or breach of communion among us.
7. It is expedient, that they who enter on the work of preaching the gospel, be not only qualified for communion of saints; but also, that except in cases extraordinary, they give proof of their gifts and fitness for the said work, unto the pastors of churches, of known abilities to discern and judge of their qualifications ; that they may be sent forth with solemn approbation and prayer; which we judge needful, that no doubt may remain concerning their being called unto the work; and for preventing (as much as in us lieth) ignorant and rash intruders.
Of Censures. 1. As it cannot be avoided, but that in the purest churches on earth, there will sometimes offences and scandals arise by reason of hypocrisy and prevailing corruption ; so Christ hath made it the duty of every church, to reform itself by spiritual remedies appointed by him to be applied in all such cases, viz. admonition and excommunication. 2. Admonition, being the rebuking of an offending member in order to conviction, is in case of private offences to be performed according to the rule in Matt. xviii. 15, 16, 17, and in case of public offences openly before the church, as the honor of the gospel, and the nature of the scandal shall require : and, if either of the admonitions take place for the recovery of the fallen person, all further proceedings in a way of censure are thereon to cease, and satisfaction to be declared accordingly.
3. When all due means are used, according to the order of the gospel for the restoring an offending and scandalous brother, and he, notwithstanding remains impenitent, the censure of excommunication is to be proceeded unto; wherein the pastor and other elders (if there be such) are to lead and go before the church; and the brotherhood to give their consent in a way of obedience unto Christ, and to the elders, as over them in the Lord.
4. It may sometimes come to pass that a church member, not otherwise scandalous may sinfully withdraw, and divide himself from the communion of the church to which he belongeth : in which case, when all due means for the reducing him, prove ineffectual, he having thereby cut himself off from that church's communion; the church may justly esteem and declare itself discharged of any further inspection over him.
Of communion of Churches. 1. We agree that particular churches ought not to walk so distinct and separate from each other, as not to have care and tenderness towards one another. But their pastors ought to have frequent meetings together, that by mutual advice, support, encouragement, and brotherly intercourse, they may strengthen the hearts and hands of each other in the ways of the Lord.
2. That none of our particular churches shall be