Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

communion must be supported. This should be a stand-
ing rule, to all generations. So important is this ordi-
nance, that a neglect of it is, in fact, soon followed with
the utter ruin of those churches which make the experi-
ment.

ESSAY XXXII.

Church Government.

[ocr errors]

Few subjects have been unhappily encumbered with so great a variety of jarring opinions, as the subject of church government. On this important subject, not only nominal christians, but also learned and pious christian divines, have been, and still are, unhappily divided in opinion. A gradation of opinions and practices exists, from the pontifical, down to the congregational form of government.

Another consideration, much to be lamented is, that, generally speaking, the churches have been led to adopt certain forms of government, by which they have been deprived, inore or less, of the important, and unalienable right of self-government.

Not aiming to excite a controversy with any beloved brethren, in whose modes of

government, there may be shades of difference from that which is denominated congregational; the objects of this essay may be, first to establish this mode of government, as respects the churches and their presbyteries, and then to state and illustrate, from the scriptures, a plan for the consociation of the churches.

1. It is evident from the scriptures, that although a church of Christ, duly organized, possesses the right of self-government, yet it is to be well considered, that, in the high and important transactions of an ecclesiastical nature, the churches probably, never acted, while under

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

the direction of the Apostles, and never ought to act, at
any time, without the guidance and instruction of an
elder, or pastor. Accordingly, the Apostles took special
care, that elders should be ordained in every church and
city ; clearly implying, that elders were essential to the
proper and complete organization of the churches. All
the churches in Asia Minor had their angels or pastors ;
though some of them were awfully corrupt, and reduced
to a few names. And by observation, yea, by said experi-
ence, we are abundantly taught the absolute necessity of
pastors, to serve in all important matters, as guides and
leaders of the churches.

2. The government which Christ has instituted in his
church, as it respects the discipline of offenders, is clearly
stated, Matthew xviii. 15—18. 6 If thy brother trespass
against thee, go and tell his fault between thee and him
alone. If any member commit an offence, or crime,
whether against thee or thy neighbor, or against God
only; go, according to the direction, and labor to reclaim
him.. And if he hear thee,” if he make thee christian
satisfaction," thou hast gained thy brother. But if he
will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more ;
that, in the mouth of two or three witnesses ;" witnesses
of the faithfulness of the discipline ; and of the behaviour
of the accused ; witnesses (if convenient) of the crime
alleged, or of the guilt or innocence of the accused ; that
in the mouth of two or three such witnesses, every
word may be established. And if he shall negleet to hear
them, tell it to the church, to the whole body, and not
to any delegated part of the church. Let the church be
convened for the purpose ; and having heard the com-
plaint ; let all the witnesses be called to give their
testimony. The charge being proved, let the church, as a
body; and as individuals, labor solemnly to convince and
reclaim the offender. 66 And if he neglect to hear the
church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a
publican.". This rule of christian discipline was given
to the whole body of the church, and the solemn decla-
ration of the Saviour, which could apply to none but the
church ; and which was addressed to the church only,

and prix

CONGTE

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

*24

was this : 6 Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven. And whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." Thus evidently was the government of the church committed, not to prelate, bishop por presbyter ; not to any delegation of rulers ; but to the church itself, as a body, which is capable, and which possesses the right of self-government.

In the fifth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, we are again clearly taught, in whom the power

of church government is vesteil. The Apostle, in his address to the church of Corinth, sharply reproved the brethren, not the elders, for retaining in their communion, a man guilty of incest. His reproof, on this occasion, clearly implied, that the power of excluding offenders belonged to the church ; and for this purpose the church were gathered together. “When yė are gathered together," says the Apostle, “ in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and my spirit (for he was present in spirit

, though absent in body) with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus.” The act of excommunication was clearly required of the assembled church, and not of any class of rulers over the church. If this part of the epistle was addressed to certain rulers of the church ; why not all the rest ? Doubtless there were presiding elders, or pastors, in all the christian churches and congregations at Corinth ; and one or more of these took the lead, in all the important transactions of the church. This we have found essential to church order. In the same chapter, the Apostle repeats his injunction on the church, in these words, Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump." And again, “ Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” These requirements were made of the church, and particularly, of the male members of the church. Fór women were not suffered to speak, or to usurp authority. And even this circumstance, that women were forbidden to bear rule in the church, leads us to conclude, that the government was committed to all the male members, as a body.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Accordingly, the great Head of the church has minutely pointed out the way, in which the church is to proceed in the government of its members; but has given no hint of instruction adapted to rulers of the church, except that which relates to the common pastors of the churches, whose duty it is to preside faithfully and impartially, in all the important transactions of the church.

Finally ; It is humbly conceived, that no other institution of church government is to be found in the gospel, except that which is denominated congregational.' It belongs to the brethren of the church, as a body of equals, led and guided by their elder, or minister, to admit and to cut off members, as cases, in their judgment, may require. Pastors of the church, in all their proceedings, are to act as first among equals, As such, they may give the casting vote. But they are to have no controul, no preeminence, in the decisions of the church. They are, in no case, and in no measure, to 66 Lord it over God's heritage.” The idea of rulers, or ruling elders, *60 called, delegated to transact, in a great measure, the governmental concerns of the church, is taken from a few passages in the New Testament, which are not very correctly translated. Heb. xiii. 7 and 17. 66 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow.” And, 66 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account.”

The word, rule, in these instances, is from the Greek root Hyeonchi which signifies to lead or guide, and expresses no power or authority, except what is necessarily attached to the character and office of a minister of the gospel. It is indeed evident from the words quoted, that these guides or leaders, were the ordinary elders, or ministers of the gospel, and pastors of the churches. For they were men who had spoken unto the people the word of God; and who watched for their souls, as those that must give an account. Whose faith follow.In faith and holiness, imitate your spiritual guides; your faithful ministers.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

66 Let

In support of a delegated government of the church, great stress is laid on a passage in 1 Tim. v. 17. the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in word and doctrine." The word, rule, in this place, is from the Greek root, 11 porcinui, which signifies to preside, as a leader, or moderator. This is a duty, common to all the ministers of the gospel ; and to none but ordained pastors of the churches. Let them be called elders, bishops, pastors or teachers, it makes no difference ; for all these are titles of one and the same office. Ruling elders, in this place, means no more nor less than the pastors of the churches.

By the double honor, to which those ministers are entitled who preside well in their several churches, is plainly meant, a double, or ample reward. This appears from the next verse; “ For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox, that treadeth out the corn, and the laborer is worthy of his reward.” A strict rendering, and paraphrase of the passage is this ; Let the elders or ministers presiding well, be counted worthy of a double reward; especially, they laboring in word and doctrine. Like all the ministers of Christ, they have a labor, far more arduous than other men. They labor as presidents, guides and leaders of the church. On them devolves, in a measure, the care of all the churches; which was considered by Paul, as an arduous labor; and they labor assiduously in word and doctrine. Let them therefore, be counted worthy, and let them receive an ample reward,

“ For the Lord hath ordained, that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel." This was the object of the passage before us. In the epistle to the Romans, he that ruleth, is required to do it with diligence. Here the word, ruleth, is from the same original as before, the meaning of which is presideth. And the very idea of an elder presiding in the church, as a moderator, implies, that the church exercises the power of self-gov. ernment, and its members are amenable, only to their own body ; or to the church, of which they are members.

3. If the church, as a body corporate, possesses the right of self-government; it is evident, that the presby.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »