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OF THE CHURCH.
We believe in a holy Christian church, composed of true believers, in which the word of God is preached by men divinely called, and the ordinances are duly administered; that this divine institution is for the maintenance of worship, for the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world to Christ.
THIS article contains three leading propositions, each of which should be considered with great care: first, the holy Christian church; second, the divine call to the ministry; third, the purposes for which the church is organized.
THE HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
"We believe in a holy Christian church, composed of true believers." By this is meant the visible or collective body of Christians all over the face of the earth, who profess to believe in Christ as the Savior of the world – "visible in all its parts and visible as a whole." The definition of a church as given in the nineteenth article of the Church of England is the one most generally accepted by Protestants. It is as follows: "A congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." In a broader sense, it includes the whole body of believers, so that every Christian denomination is a part of this general church. "We speak of the visible church," says Dr. Bannerman, "as catholic (universal), because the bond of union between its members is a common public profession and an outward federal relationship to Christ." This is what is understood by the visible church of Christ. There is a clear and marked distinction between the visible and invisible church. The sacred writers, in speaking of the
spiritual substance of the church universal, use the words kingdom of God," or the "kingdom of heaven."
By the "holy Christian church," as named in this article. of our Confession, is meant the visible church of Christ on earth, "composed of true believers." It includes the whole body of believers in all lands. In becoming members of a local church or of a particular denomination, we thereby become members of the church general. We speak of the Apostolic Church, which was composed of all who professed faith in Christ, whether they lived at Jerusalem, Rome, or Ephesus, or whether they were Jews or Gentiles. So now we speak of the church of Christ in this general sense as including all who profess faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.
The word church is applied to particular denominations; as Methodist, Presbyterian, or United Brethren. It is also applied to local congregations; as the church at Antioch, or the church at Corinth. It is often also applied to buildings in which local congregations meet to worship. "The church proper is composed of all true Christians, but in its organization, is divided either by names that have a local signification or by differences in points of doctrine or polity.
By the invisible church is meant all who are in very deed members of the spiritual family of Christ, whether in heaven or on the earth; those on earth, the church militant, those in heaven, the church triumphant. person becomes a member of this general invisible church the moment he is regenerated; while he becomes a member of a visible, local church (or denomination) by consenting to be governed by certain rules and regulations. A person can only cease to be a member of the invisible church by ceasing to be a Christian; but he may for a time cease to be a member of a visible or local church by removal, as is frequently the case. So that while it is the duty of every Christian to unite with some visible, local church, yet he may be a member of the invisible church and not identified with any local, visible church. Paul, in Hebrews 12:22, 23, alludes to this general, invisible church when he says, "But ye are come unto
mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."
While as a denomination we believe in a general, invisible church, composed only of persons who have been regenerated, and that this "church is one and indivisible; it is essentially a unit, and comprehends all the redeemed without distinction of periods, dispensations, races, nations, distance, or place"; we also believe in a visible organzation, with rules and regulations as nearly as possible in harmony with the general principles of church polity practiced in the apostolic church, no specific form of church government being given in the New Testament. Upon this Dr. Watson says, "The gospel only lays down general principles, and leaves the application of them to men as free agents."
Now, while no particular form of church government is insisted upon, it must appear to every thoughtful mind that some form is necessary. There must be combination and concert of action to attain the ends of Christianity as set forth in the New Testament.
THE DIVINE CALL TO THE MINISTRY.
One mark of the visible Christian church is, that the "word of God is preached by men divinely called." That men are called of God to preach the gospel is, and always has been, the belief of the United Brethren Church. Candidates for ordination are required to answer the following question in the affirmative: "Are you assured that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you the office of the ministry, to serve God in the church of Christ to the honor and glory of his holy name?" A candidate who could not answer this question in the affirmative would not receive ordination.
The Christian church is a divine institution; it was organized by divine authority, and is perpetual. It was not organized for an age, but for all ages to the end of time. Our Lord, in providing for the perpetuity of his
church, called and sent out men to preach the gospel. While he has committed to men the details of church government, he has reserved to himself, among other things, the right to call whomsoever he would to preach the gospel. This was the order when the Christian church. was organized, and it must be allowed that, as Jesus Christ is the head of his own church, his authority is supreme. He may, if it please him, perform the whole work himself, "or he may delegate to others, whom he may call and qualify, the whole or any part of the work." He reigns, and has a right to reign, in his own church. It pleased him to call and send out men to preach the gospel. It is no part of our work to dictate, but we must accept Christ's own plans and most heartily coöperate with him in whatever way we can. If he wants a Mary to go quickly from the empty tomb and tell the disciples that he is risen, so be it. Let him send by whomsoever he will. Whatever he does is right- eternally right.
The question to be settled is the perpetuity of the ministerial office. It is hardly to be questioned but that it was ordained by divine authority - Jesus Christ did it himself. Any argument in favor of the perpetuity of the church, may with propriety be used in favor of the perpetuity of the living ministry. If the one is perpetual, the other is also. The commission is as broad as the world. "Teach all nations"; preach the gospel to every creature," was the divine injunction. The promise of the Savior connected with the commission indicates - yes, proves the perpetuity of the ministerial office. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Dr. Ralston remarks that "the divinely called and commissioned ministers of Christ in every age are the apostles of the Lord, not claiming the miraculous power and extraordinary prerogatives of the sacred 'twelve', but succeeding them as 'embassadors' for Christ, proclaiming his gospel, administering his ordinances and discipline, and feeding the church of God.'" As long as the gospel is to be preached, there must be preachers. As long as the ordinances are to be administered, there must of necessity be administrators.
In Romans 10: 14, 15, we read: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?" Four direct questions are submitted, which imply several things: first, there must be a message- the gospel of salvation; second, there must be a messenger- the preacher; third, he must be sent, authorized, divinely commissioned; fourth, he must have an unction from on high-the enduement of the Holy Spirit. This was the order when the living. ministry was instituted, and we have no authority to say that it has been changed. We do well to abide by Christ's own order.
Among the marks and evidences of a divine call to the ministry may be noted the following: first, a holy, blameless life; second, an ardent and constant zeal for the salvation of souls; third, ability to perform the work. Dr. Clarke puts it in this order: "Gifts, grace, and fruit." Persons are divinely called to the ministry, not necessarily by dreams, visions, or an audible voice, but by the movings of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who is the executive officer in the Holy Trinity, superintends this work. He calls, illuminates, quickens the word and makes it effective. Without his aid nothing can be accomplished. McCheyne says: "It is not great talents that God blesses, so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God."
THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THE CHURCH WAS ORGANIZED.
The article under review says, "This divine institution is for the maintenance of worship, for the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world to Christ." To accomplish this grand result, there must be an organization, with some rules and regulations. Without an organization there could be no concert of action. While, as has been stated, there is no form of church government definitely laid down in the New Testament, there are general principles given; such as, first, a living ministry divinely commissioned; second, holding public meetings