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With the Scriptures in our hands, we adopt the conclusion of Baxter himself, far enough from being an independent : " la the search of Scripture and antiquity, I found, that in the beginning, a governed church and a stated worshipping church, were all one and not two several things; and thai, though there might be other by-meetings in places like our chapels or private houses, for such as age or persecution hindered io come to the more solemn meetings, yet churches then were no bigger in respect to number than our parishes now. These were societies of Christians united for personal communion, and not only for communion by meetings of officers and delegates in synods, as many churches in association be. I saw if once we go beyond the bounds of personal communion as the end of particular churches, in the definition, we may make a church of a nation, or of ten nations, or what we please, which shall have none of the nature and ends of the primitive particular churches. I found that some Episcopal men, as bishop Usher bimself, did bold that every bishop was independent, as to synods, and that synods were no proper governors of the particular bishops, but only for their concord."
The question is often asked, “ What is Congregationalism ?" We reply, Congregationalism as a system of church discipline is possessed of three distinctive features. These are,
1. It maintains the independence of the local church; or its sufficiency within itself to perform all the functions of a christian society. II. It enforces the duty of communion with sister churches, in the way of intercourse, advice and admonition. III. It insists also upon the duty of holding communion with other churches “though they walk not in all things according to the same rule of church order."
The most marked of their features is the first. A church is a “congregation of faithful men,” which when organized with its proper officers, is complete within itself and adequate to the performance of every ecclesiastical function.
Originally, each church bad within itself its own body of elders, the TQEO BUTEOLOV of the New Testament. This consisted of the pastor and teacher, together with the ruling elder, or elders.' This Presbytery exercised concurrent jurisdiction with American Presbyterianism, and can never be permanently sanctioned in this country. See Presbyterian Controversy,' Am. Bib. Repos April 1839, p. 474, etc.-[ED.)
the brotherhood in all matters of church discipline, and held a negative upon their acts and decisions.
They also ordained the pastor and the other officers of the church. This laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, was the act of the church through their officers, by which they set apart an individual as their pastor and received birn as their shepherd and guide. In this way was Mr. Davenport ordained, [i. e. installed, and such was the universal custom originally, in the Congregational churches, in Old and New England. “ Nevertheless," says the Cambridge Platform,“in such churches, where there are no elders, and the church so desire, we see not why imposition of hands may not be performed by the elders of other churches."
It need not be said that in these respects, Congregationalism has changed from what it was originally. The governing authority of the local Presbytery as vested in the pastor and ruling elder, has entirely ceased, wbile the ordaining power is now exercised by the teaching elders alone, or by them with the messengers of the churches in council or consociation.
The second feature of Congregationalism, is its maintenance of the sacred duty of mutual communion between sister church
This duty was insisted upon most strenuously by the early Congregationalists, as a sacred obligation, and as vital to the well-being of the church at large. And yet, though we can open none of their writers, who does not inculcate it with the utmost strenuousness, as being no less binding, and no less important, than the maintenance of the political independence of the local church, it seems to be assumed by those of every other name, that the Independents as they are termed, maintain no church relation, with their sister societies. The author of Spiritual Despotism, has done them the greatest injustice in regard to this point, and has made it most manifest, that with all bis reading of the fathers, he has overlooked the fathers of Congregationalism.
This duty of mutual communion has been faithfully regarded by the churches in New England. No churches on the face of the wide earth, it is believed, know each other more fully, trust each other more entirely, or love each other more heartily than these same churches have done froin their first planting. Their enemies, and the deserters from their ranks, from the first to the Jast, have predicted their speedy dissolution, from the looseness of their form, and have prophesied appalling consequences, from
their destitution of some book of standards, and yet they are united and promise to continue to be so. Confidence in each other is the strong bond of their fellowship, and forasmuch as they can exercise over each other do authority, having no evil to suspect at the hands of each other, this confidence is not easily impaired and is slowly withdrawn. In a word, they do not suffer under an excess of government, and therefore do not strive or fall out by the way.
They do, however, maintain the closest fellowship, in all matters that pertain to the christian life and doctrine. They consult each other on occasions of interest or perplexity. They extend admonition to the erring, and withdraw their fellowship from the church that is disorderly and obstinately heretical.
To this communion they hold fast, not to promote their convenience, or to ful6l the law of courtesy, but because to do so, is one of their distinctive principles, and enters into the essence of their form of discipline. Its warrant they find in Scriptural example, and they obey that example, from a conscience towards God. It cannot be too distinctly asserted or too often repeated, that this is as truly a feature of their system, as is that of the independence of the individual church.
The usages by which this communion is upheld in New England, are in a slight degree diverse from each other. The elders are connected by associations, and most of these are represented in some bigher body, for advice and conference, but clothed with no binding authority. The churches meet each other in occasional or stated councils. Stated councils or consociations are almost peculiar to Connecticut. These bodies, when advisory merely, are not in contradiction to the principles of the fathers. As they meet together, from time to time, io ordain and install the pastors within defined limits, and to keep alive christian fellowship, they serve as a strong bond of union, and impart as great stability and confederate strength to the churches, as it is desirable they should derive from one another. Where they are a standing body of appeal, with the power of giving a final issue, to all questions, and with authority to hear and judge on every case, whether the church will or no, they are anti-congregational, if Hooker and Owen and Goodwin are to be trusted as authorities. We quote a part of the title of Chap. 7, Book III. of Goodwin's great work upon church government :
" Whether a particular congregation baring complete power in itself, may oblige itself, in a constant was,
to ask advice or direction from a consistory of Presbyteries. Resolved in the negative."
We give also the sentiments of Owen on the church, as quoted by a late reviewer of that work.* “ Hence it is evident, that in and after such synods, it is in the power of churches concerned, bumbly to consider and weigh, i. The evidences of the presence of Christ in them from the manner, causes, and ends of their assembling, and from their deportment therein. 2. What regard in their constitutions and determinations there hath been unto the word of God, and whether in all things it bath its due pre-eminence. 3. How all their determinations have been educed from its truth, and are confirmed by its authority.”
The third feature of Congregationalism is, the freedom of its intercourse with churches of different names from its own. This is a feature most honorable to its founders, and for which it may be said to stand alone. “ We have always” say they, "maintained this principle, that among all christian states and churches, there ought to be a forbearance, and mutual indulgence to Christians of all persuasions, that keep to, and hold fast the necessary foundations of faith and holiness." So also in the preface to the Cambridge Platform, addressed to their jealous brethren of the Presbyterian persuasion in England: “ It will then doubtless be far from us, so to attest the discipline of Christ, as to detest the disciples of Christ; so to contend for the seamless coat of Christ, as to crucify the living members of Christ; so to divide ourselves about church communion, as through breaches to open a wide gap for a deluge of antichristian and profane malignity to swallow both church and civil state.”
Congregationalism has always been anti-sectarian. At the outset it took a step far beyond the prevailing sentiment of the times. While it maintained the sanction of the Scriptures to
• See Literary and Theological Review.
+ We think it cannot properly be said that, in the exhibition of this feature, Congregationalism “slands alone.” The spirit and the provisions of American Presbyterianism are equally catholic. It is the glory of both of these denominations, if we judge of them by their platforms and standards, and by their prevalent usages, that they unchurch none of their brethren of other denominations, on account of their forins of worship and administration, nor on account of their differences of doctrinal views, so long as they hold the Head, and maintain a credible profession of the christian faith.-(ED).
its own form of government, and stood ready to defend it by the word of God and considerations of its fitness and expediency, it still acknowledged that other churches, might have that which consituted them true churches, even though they added to the simplicity of the divine pattern.
At this day also, when large portions of other christian denominations are becoming more decidedly sectarian, and tending to higher views touching their own peculiarities; when the Baptist must amend his Bible, and the Episcopalian contrives lo lead some of his most as well as least valued ministers, to assume a more reserved attitude and a loftier state, when Methodism is waxing proud in the conscious strength of the vast expansion of its multitudinous aristocracy, when a General Assembly, claiming to be that of the Presbyterian church, is clothed with as complete legislative, judicial and executive authority as Julius Caesar or Napoleon would ask for, and defends the whole jure divino; Congregationalism is uttering before them all, a quiet but powerful reproof. And this example she has steadfastly maintained for more than two centuries.
We are not greatly concerned to vindicate Congregationalism from the loose talk, and the vague charges of its bigotted adversaries. There are some however who may honestly suspect its freedom ; and fear that what seems to them the “ looseness of its form” will open the way to heresy and fanaticism. To such we say, that bookish men, even though they are pbilosophers
, are yet liable to certain peculiar prejudices, and it is not to be wondered at, that such should have little faith in any securities for the successful working of a church, whose creeds and forms are not printed in a book. Perhaps this class of men will not like the company in which we place them, yet we see not why as to this matter, they rank not with the Utilitarian Codifiers of the day, who cannot trust the unwritten common law of England.
The common law is the representative of the spirit of a just and high-minded people, and as long as that spirit sball animate its courts of justice, so long may it be relied upon as the most perfect security, to the rights of individuals. Congregationalism is upheld by the spirit of an intellectual, tolerant and christian population, and as long as this continues as the fourdation of its strength and efficiency, so long, will it be a safe and an efficient form of church government. When these bands of strength are present, so long with all its apparent weakness,