Images de page

and conscience, and in respect to which the church may indeed, and should, have an influence by sound teaching, but may not exercise an authoritative control. Thus, the dress he wears, the books he reads, the social relations he forms, the business he pursues, the politics he adopts, —these and other kindred subjects, so long as in them he contravenes neither sound doctrine nor good morals, are questions to be determined by himself, as lying between the individual conscience and God. In all these the church will exert a potential influence, and by instructing and enlightening the conscience, will elevate and ennoble the individual character and life; but it may not interpose by the exercise of authority. Dr. Francis Wayland remarks: “A church has no right to command, as a duty, a particular mode of showing our attachment to Christ, unless he has himself commanded it. ... They have no right to resolve themselves into a temperance, or an abolition, or a missionary, or a peace, or any other society.” Nor can it pledge any member to anything but what he has pledged himself to. "He has united himself to a particular church by promising to obey it in all that Christ has commanded, and in nothing more. In everything else he is perfectly unpledged and uncommitted." * 4. A member, when charged with wrong, is to be presumed innocent until by due investigation he has been proved guilty, and is entitled to a full and fair trial, with every opportunity for defence. The only exception to this is in cases of flagrant crime or immorality in which the offence is public and unmistakable, when an immediate exclusion may follow without formal trial.

* Limitations of Human Responsibility, pp. 134, 144.






This position is in itself reasonable. For the word of God, the completed revelation from heaven, is entrusted to each church; and, as a special promise of the Spirit is given to it, none could be better fitted to interpret the will of Christ than the church itself. Jesus said to his church (Matt. xviii. 20), “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Besides, each church in the New Testament does in fact appear thus independent. No example or intimation is found of the subordination of a church to organizations outside of itself; but in all the counsels, rebukes, and warnings addressed to churches, each is represented as directly accountable to Christ. The church is required to obey civil magistrates in things not inconsistent with God's word, and is to be in subjection to the spiritual teachers and guides whom by her own election to office she has recognized as called of God to official position. But she is subject to no ecclesiastical control from without : diocesan bishops and higher church judicatories are nowhere found in Scripture.

OBJECTIONS TO INDEPENDENCY CONSIDERED. 1. It is objected that the church at Jerusalem (and other large cities), from the number of Christians there, must have embraced several separate organized congregations, which, however, were under one general organ ization, and were collectively called "the church at Jerusalem;" such an organization must have been a presbytery or a diocese. To this we answer : (a.) The existence of several organized congregations in these cities, under a common presbyterial or prelatic government, is a mere assumption, there being no intimation of it in Scripture; on the contrary, repeated instances occur in which the whole body of believers met together. It is said of the church at Jerusalem, “all that believed were together," "continuing daily with one accord in the temple," "they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.” No less than six occasions are recorded in which the entire body of disciples at Jerusalem met as a church in one place; and in some of these cases the form of statement indicates it as an ordinary occurrence (Acts ii. 44, 46; iv. 31, 32; v. 12, 13; vi. 2–5; xv. 22; xxi. 22). (6.) This assumption ignores the circumstances of Christians in those cities. Of the multitude converted at Jerusalem, as also at Ephesus, many were strangers and soon dispersed, while

others were scattered abroad by persecution. They had as yet no church edifices, and met only occasionally in one place as they had opportunity; and, with their plural eldership, instruction was doubtless given, not only "publicly" in the occasional united gathering of the disciples, but also "from house to house ” in smaller and local gatherings. There is, however, no proof that these latter were organized churches; the reverse is plainly apparent. (c.) Besides, if such a union of several organized congregations in one city, under a common prelatic or presbyterial government, were shown, it would not prove enough for those advancing it; for, confessedly, there was no such union under one government of all the churches in a district or country; yet this last is essential to the Presbyterian or Episcopal theory. “The seven churches of Asia "



[ocr errors]


would have formed a convenient diocese or presbytery; yet we read, not of "the church of Asia," but of the churches of Asia.” The truth is, when the facts are carefully considered, there is not even a shadow of evidence that either in city or country the churches were under a common government, either diocesan or presbyterial.

2. It is objected that the body assembled at Jerusalem to consider the question of Gentile circumcision was a legislative and judicial council, with authority higher than that of individual churches, and was a divine model of Episcopal or Presbyterial judicatories (Acts xv.). Let us, then, examine the character of this assembly. (a.) It was constituted of “the church, the apostles and elders at Jerusalem ;" no others acted on the question. The churches of Judea, of Samaria, and of Galilee were not represented. So far as appears from the record, it was a simple church-meeting, convened to consider a disputed article of belief on a request for advice from the church at Antioch; there is not the most distant resemblance to a modern council," "synod," or “ general assembly,” in all which many local churches are represented, and not, as here, only a single church. (6.) In the decision of the question, the apostles proposed; the elders and the whole congregation approved. It was so far a simple church act declaring the opinion of the church at Jerusalem on the point presented. (c.) The authority of the decision, as binding other churches, was derived from the apostles. These inspired men announced it as the divine will; hence the decree went forth thus: “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to

Plainly, in the absence of inspired apostles, no similar decree can ever issue from a church. The association of the elders and church with the apostles in the


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


decree, while the binding authority of it sprang from the apostles alone, may be compared with the association of Timothy, Silas, and others with Paul in his Epistles, while yet the divine authority of these Epistles is all derived from Paul alone as an inspired apostle.

This case, therefore, furnishes no authority for church judicatories as authoritative tribunals of appeal in matters of doctrine and discipline. It simply teaches the propriety of consulting another church, or other churches, in subjects of difficulty; but the decision thus obtained can now be only advisory, as no inspired men are present to give it divine sanction.

3. It is objected that independency destroys the visible unity of the kingdom of Christ on earth by breaking up Christendom into a multitude of isolated units; it presents to the world no grand, organized unity. This objection, however, is founded on a misconception of church unity. A great ecclesiasticism, with its gradations of officers and courts, may have external uniformity; but this is not necessarily unity. If centralization and uniformity were the marks of a true church, the Romish, with its vast and elaborate organization, would be the truest church on earth. But unity consists in oneness of spirit, doctrine, and life, developing itself under the one church constitution of the New Testament. This true, spiritual unity exists in a far higher degree under independency than under opposing systems. Of this the Baptists are an eminent illustration. Tenacious as they are of independency, they present throughout the vast extent of their churches-now numbering in the United States more than two million members—a unity of doctrine, spirit, and life seen among no other body of Christians of equal extent on earth.

4. It is objected that doctrine and discipline cannot

« PrécédentContinuer »