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IMPROVEMENTS IN CONGREGATIONALISM.

BY REV. HENRY M. DEXTER, BOSTON,

We hear a great deal about improve- (under the oversight of the guiding ments in theology, and probably there Spirit), is the one only, sufficient, first is substantial agreement in the judgment and last authority and guide; so that that the statements and restatements of whatever the Bible teaches, by precept, the last two centuries have made clearer example, or necessary inference, is bindand more consistent--and so more effect- ing upon all men at all times, while ive-— some portions of that doctrinal nothing which it does not so teach can system which evangelical Christians be- be imperative upon any man at any time. lieve the bible to teach. And the ques- Out of this grow the two following tion has been sometimes asked, Why subordinate fundamental laws of Conmay we not look for improvements in gregationalism ; viz.: the practical development of Church life, (1.) Any suitable company of Christas well as in doctrine - in the doctrine ian confessors has the right to associate of Church life, as well as the doctrine of by voluntary compact, under Christ, individual faith? Especially in that re- for Christian worship and work; and, so discussion of our fundamentals which associated, is a self-complete and indehas been stimulated by the near approach pendent Church of Christ. of the proposed National Council of the (2.) Every such Church - though Congregational churches of the land, it self-complete and independent — owes has been inquired whether there are not duties to other churches, and has claims some improvements upon the way of our of duty upon other churches; duties of fathers (possibly upon our own present fellowship and of co-working for the way) — the suggestion of two centuries general good of the cause of Christ and a half of experience — which may among men. worthily claim recognition and commen- All questions of theory and practice dation from that body.

in Congregationalism may find just and This is a fair question, and a timely sufficient answer through reference to one. It is one on which we desire the these two principles, with whatever furprivilege of a few words.

ther light may be cast upon them by And we subinit that the principle special scriptural precept or usage. of all right reply to it is very simple, Following these two principles, then, namely this: So far as our Congrega- – keeping ever in mind all additional tional practices are founded on scriptural special light from the word - let us proprecept and example, having the force of ceed to glance, in the briefest manner, at fundamental law, they cannot safely be a few of the prominent points of our departed from for the sake of any im- polity, that we may see whether any, agined improvement; while, so far as (and if any, what) “ improvements” may they have been the outgrowth purely of be right and desirable. convenience, or of mere precedent, they 1. Formation of a Church. The old both may be, and ought to be, improved, way of New England was, for a conveto the utmost possible extent.

nient number of believers to embody Our deepest foundation truth we con- themselves by covenant together; each ceive to be this : that the Bible, inter- making a full personal confession of his preted by sanctified common or her faith - often in an elaborate

sense

written form; the messengers of neigh- was in their covenant. Subsequently, bor churches, present by invitation, then partly with the purpose of quieting giving them the right hand of fellowship solicitude in England in regard to their in token of fraternity. Subsequently orthodoxy in these new settlements, the this latter part of the ceremonial was elaborate Confession of Faith, wrought made more weighty; a council of neigh- out at Westminster, was substantially boring churches being formally called, accepted, in 1618, by the New England to whose advice the whole question of churches in council. This, as modified the expediency of forming any such at the Savoy, was again owned and conChurch as intended, and of the suitable- sented unto by the council at Boston in ness, on the one hand, of the proffered 1680; and was set forth by some of the creed, or covenant (or both), and, on the churches as the public expression of other, of the individual members to their their view of divine truth, to which canproposed place and work, was submit- didates were expected privately to give ted; their advice being final, at least so their assent, for substance, before pubfar as embodiment at that time was licly taking the covenant. This was concerned.

not imposed as a condition of churchThis latter step was a real improve membership, but was merely a declarament, being a natural and indeed neces- tion of what, for substance, all united in sary outgrowth of the second fundamen- holding as the teaching of the word - as tal principle; since the general good of an embodiment of religious truth in dis• the cause of Christ is always liable to be tinction from religious error. At a later imperilled by churches hastily and inju- date, in the dissensions that followed the diciously formed, or unwisely placed, - great revival, and particularly when matters on which the general judgment churches were gathered out of churches of the churches of the neighborhood in the Unitarian separation, most churchshould always be taken. We are not es in New England adopted a very brief aware that any further step is proposed condensation of the essential substance or desired by any one, except that in of the Savoy confession in the form of some cases where a little company of

“ Articles of Faith,” to which they reimpetuous persons have persisted in quired all candidates for membership going on, notwithstanding the advice of publicly to give assent, before taking the council to the contrary, to a short-lived covenant. Thus two evils grew up: (1) and ill-omened career, some equally im- In the desire to condense the truth so far petuous persons would like to give the as to make as lenient a test as possible council power of supervision, to squelch for the adınission of Christ's real followthat procedure. But, aside from the fact that, in the last analysis, no Church

1 We are quite well aware that this has been judicature, even of the straitest sort,

earnestly denied by Dr. Felt, Dr. Worcester, and that is not armed with the power of the others. But- although we have not space here civil sword, can compel obedience, such to prove our position - we think Judge White

and our Cnitarian friends had the best of the an “improvement” would be unconstitu

argument in that controversy; and that the ver. tional for us, because in direct violation

dict of history will be that all our earliest churches of our first foundation principle. The here relied upon individual confessions from their true remedy in such a case is, kindly and

constituent members, rather than upon avowed

" Articles of Faith” according to the pattern patiently letting such persons alone until

afterwards adopted. they “come to themselves.”

2 The Old South Church, in Boston, still stands 2. Doctrinal Basis of Churches. Our on that platform, requiring its pastors to make first New England churches adopted no

public assent to the Savoy confession, on election;

but requiring its private members only to assent creeds, further than some flavor of a creed publicly to the covenant.

ers, who yet were weak in faith, the was of purely a Church officer, - being public testimony borne by the Church that he was the pastor of a particular to the truth, though its confession, was Church; that his ministry ceased when painfully abridged ; and (2), notwith- pastorship ceased; and that ordination standing this, our churches have been was simply the formal recognition of still compelled to exclude from their him by his Church in that capacity. communion many who appear to be real Later, as a call for missionary labor subjects of experimental religion, but grew up-it being held that no unorhave difficulty with some doctrine named dained person could administer the sacrain the creed, to that extent that they ments, and it being desirable that such cannot conscientiously give public assent missionaries should have that power of to it as their idea of the truth of God. administration - the notion of " ordina

We suggest that it would be an im- tion as an evangelist” gained recognition. provement, in this particular, for our Also, as the term of pastoral labor with churches to go back to the way of the particular churches became less extendfathers; to adopt, as the creed of the ed, and dismissed pastors desired to denomination, such modification of the retain the ministerial character, and as Savoy confession as the present state of churches whose pastorate was temporatheological opinion - old school and new rily vacant desired to employ them in - seems to make desirable, in order to that character, and as the growth of colrender it the honest and exact exponent leges and seminaries and benevolent of our religious views, and then to have societies demanded the service, as presieach Church print that, in full, in its man- dents and professors and secretaries and ual, as its doctrinal symbol, which its chil- agents, of ex-pastors, who desired (and dren should be taught to understand, for whom it was desirable) to retain accept, and love; which should be ex- the ministerial functions, the old theory pounded article by article, in a course of became modified so far as to look more doctrinal sermons, at least once in every kindly toward the idea of the ministry five years, by its pastor; then to abolish as a distinct order of men, having auall our starved skeletons of “ Articles of thority — on conditions — directly from Faith,” and require candidates to make Christ, and not from one of his churches; clear privately to the Church, the facts of with the correlate idea that ordination their hopeful piety, and of their substan- is not the institution of a man as the tial conformity with this “confession” in pastor of a particular Church, but the their views of biblical truth, and then introduction of him to the order and admit them on public assent to a suitable function of the ministry. This — with covenant merely. We hope that the the theory of the evangelist - it is National Council, in its proposed action claimed, is an “improvement,” which it upon a “ Declaration of Christian Faith,” is hoped will receive indorsement from will give the denomination such a revision the National Council. of the work of the Boston Council of It is urged in favor of it, that the logic 1680, as shall provide all our churches, of events exacts it; that the fact that of every “school,” with just what they many vacant churches are always needneed for this great improvement - a ing temporary pastoral service, which the course which it seems to us would do many honorably dismissed pastors are more to arrest all superficial and un- needed to render, with the fact that wide doctrinal and anti-doctrinal tendencies fields have opened, and are especially among us than any other within our reach. now opening, at the West and South,

3. Theory of the Ministry. The origi- where the work of ministers authorized nal Congregational theory of the minister to administer the Word and the Sacraments is imperatively demanded, with churches can be thus supplied - precisely the further fact that our system ought to as they are now supplied by young layprovide an honorable ministerial position men just from our seminaries and not for such true ministers of the gospel as yet ordained, only that the churches have minister not directly to any particular scripturally a right to go further, and, on Church, but indirectly to all the churches, fit occasions, request and receive the through their relation to our seminaries ordinances from their hands, which is not of learning, and our great benevolent now common; - and that our secretaries organizations, has the force of practical and professors do not require any more necessity; a necessity which has gradu- right to act as ministers than they get ually forced itself upon the notice of the from their obvious qualifications so to denomination, and already compelled its act, which of themselves sufficiently open own recognition in the face of the Cam- their way (whether their possessors be bridge Platform, and of all the theories called laymen or ministers) to all truly of the past.

Congregational pulpits; and that the On the other hand, it is objected evils of the disgrace to the ministerial against these views, that there is no tittle character from so many white-cravatted of scriptural evidence either that the men, sharp-set on secular pursuits — “ Evangelist” was intended to be a per- keeping stores and boarding houses, or manent order of workers in connection practising medicine, or peddling books, with the churches, any more than the or working hard at some remunerative “ Apostle;" or that there is any such occupation six days in the week, and thing as an order of the ministry, as an preaching (out of their old barrel) for office under Christ separate from pastor- the most money they can get on the sevship: (i. e., the official leadership of a enth ; of churches spiritually starving on Church,) that the idea of an order of the the meager and musty rations dispensed ministry is a Presbyterian and prelatical by such “stated supplies,” who can afford notion brought into our ranks from syg- to ride ten or twenty miles on Sabbath tems hostile to our own; and to admit morning, preach twice, and return in the these innovations will be to graft incon- evening (so as to be on hand bright and sistency (and so weakness) upon Con- early for their real work on Monday gregationalism, inasmuch as the genius morning), a good deal cheaper than such of it is against any clerocracy, wherein churches can support a pastor who shall lies the strength of the hierarchal sys- give himself soul and body to their wel. tems; while all the benefits sought to be fare ; more than counterbalance any posgained by these modifications can be as sible good which could be reasonably well secured by falling back upon the anticipated from the indorsement of any purely Congregational theory, that no change of the old way in this particular. ordination as an evangelist is needed for The present writer — well aware that the authorization of the fullest Christian in this he differs with one of his associates labor (including, where expedient and in this journal, and with many other necessary, the temporary administration able and honored doctors of the Congreof the sacraments) by any suitably qual- gational law - confesses his strong symified laymen - when requested (and thus pathy with these objections; his fear authorized) to do so by the vote of any that it would be a most unscriptural and company of believers : 3 that all vacant unwise step back toward papal and pre

latical assumption, and consequent cor3 See this whole matter ably and thoroughly indorse departure in these particulars

ruption, for the proposed council to discussed in Davidson's Eccles. Polity of the New Testament, pp. 278 — 286.

from the way of our fathers, and his hope that they will give most earnest and gained by such an innovation, even could prayerful heed to the subject in all its its adoption be secured, because in our bearings, before they shall do any such system of society there is, and in the thing.

nature of the case can be, no power of 4. Councils. The pure Congregational enforcing the decisions of a Church judiidea of an Ecclesiastical Council is of cature, which does not run back to the churches meeting by delegation to advise pure force of moral obligation in the with each other; generally to the end of end; so that to make our councils presspecial relief in some perplexity on the byteries would not compel our churches part of the Church inviting the council, to obey their decisions, they having the or for the pupose of fellowship with that same right then to withdraw from the Church in some such act as its ordination force of such a verdict which they now of a pastor. Its function is one purely have to disregard the advice of council; of friendly advice; the Church calling so that what is morally right in the matit retaining the right to act in view of ter must be left to settle it in the end, that advice, as its own judgment of through its power over the general Christian propriety, and of the will of Christian conscience, as now. the Great Head, shall demand.

But it is clear that such an “improveSometimes it has happened that the ment” would be radically inconsistent advice tendered by such a council has with our first principle of the self-comnot been followed. The difficulty — if pleteness under Christ of the individual one had invited consideration — has not Church. No Congregational Church has, been settled as the council thought expe- or can have, a right to demit its own dient; or the candidate whom the council proper responsibility to its Great Head, thought unworthy has been still chosen for all its decisions, by laying it off upon as its pastor by the Church; or the pas- the authority of council or Presbytery. tor whose dismission the council thought Christ demands that it do its own work, ought to be only on certain conditions, and holds each of its members responsihas been dismissed by the Church without ble that that work be rightly done. It regard to those conditions.

may, it ought to, get all the light it can It has, therefore, been thought expe- from the friendliness of its neighbors ; dient by some, that our Congregational- but then it is under obligation to decide ism in this respect be “ improved," by for itself. And its neighbors are under conferring, by common consent, some obligation not merely to permit such sort of power upon our councils, so that decision, but acquiescingly to respect they shall hold a relation of authority in it; that case only excepted in which conour system not unlike that held in the sciences on both sides differ so radically Presbyterian system by the Presbytery, as to admit of no honest compromise. Synod, and Assembly.

In that event, each must clear its own It has been urged in favor of this, that skirts of wrong. The Church must do some power is needed, other, prompter, what it feels compelled to do to its own and more stringent, than that indirect purity and edification, and trust Proviand necessarily slow-moving, merelydence to bring, eventually, its neighbors moral, power of public sentiment, on to the same mind. The churches which which we have relied, because, even when have met in council must do what they its result proves sufficient in the end, feel constrained to do, to preserve their much harm may transpire before that own purity, and promote the general end can be reached.

edification, and trust Providence, in its On the other hand, it is objected to own good time, to bring the Church, it, that nothing would be practically which they now conceive to be erring, to

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