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to furnish our readers with the means of an independent judgment of their own. To begin with Congregationalism. It is unnecessary to be minute in a description of this system. A few main principles give character to the whole, and afford a clue for logical minds to all the details of government and discipline. Congregationalism supposes a church to be a body of believers in Christ, voluntarily united for the social worship of God, and for the observance of Christian ordinances. Every such body it regards as competent to manage its church affairs and to provide itself with officers, and Christian ordinances. Civil government and sister churches have no rightful power to reverse its decisions; the one can only see that its measures infringe no rights of society; and the other can only refuse the hand of fellowship, for heretical errors or unchristian conduct. Each church is thus an independent corporation for all the purposes of its organization. The power of enacting by-laws, of receiving and excluding members, of electing officers, and of managing all the af. fairs of the body, belongs to the brotherhood. The female and minor members of the church, are represented, as in the state, by their fathers, husbands and guardians—or by the male sex generally. The officers of the church derive all their power from the church, and their power is simply executive, not legislative nor judicial. A delegated power may be granted by the church to its permanent officers or to temporary committees, to do, in the name of the church, what they would otherwise have no power to do. But this power properly reverts to the church whenever a majority sees fit to recall it. On the same principle, the usage of the Congregational churches is, to elect to the pastoral office those only who have a competent education, certified by
the examination and approval of some association of ministers, and to induct no one into that office without the counsel and co-operation of sister churches and their pastors. Yet the power of ordination vests in the brotherhood ; for if to them belongs the right of election, which is the greater right, much more does the right of induction into office, which is the less. We have a parallel in the state. All civil power vests primarily in the people. In elective governments, they choose their rulers and have a right to install them in office in a popular assembly ; but for the greater gravity of the transaction, they commit the ceremony to the hands of distinguished persons, appointed for the purpose. The Congregational churches recognize in each other a right of brotherly watch and admonition; and in case of a radical departure, in doctrine or life, from the principles of the Gospel, a right to withdraw fellowship. They refer the trial of their ministers to councils composed of the ministers and messengers of neighboring churches; to which they also submit all difficulties, in respect to which they need advice. It is manifest, that on this principle, in perfect consistency with the genius of Congregationalism, the churches of that order may build up an ecclesiastical system bearing all the features of Presbyterianism, provided the ultimate power is reserved to each individual church. Make the presbytery, the synod, the general assembly, mere advisory bodies, and the church session in all their doings subject to revision by the whole body of believers, and the essential spirit of independency will be preserved. In this sense, Congregationalism is consistent even with a prelatical government; that is, it may appoint diocesan bishops to oversee the churches, to ordain pastors, to induct members into the church, provided they act as mere executive
officers, advisers and helpers of the churches, and not as their masters. No such organization is likely to exist—none, it is believed, has ever existed—unless we except those primitive times, subsequent to which the bishops passed from being the servants of the churches, to be lords over God's heritage. But Congregationalism can make no farther concessions to monarchical and aristocratic forms of church government. She must maintain her fundamental principle, that each congregation of believers is, in and of itself, the sole depository of all church power and church privileges, of whatever sort. The moment she concedes this, she ceases to be herself—she becomes prelatic or Presbyterian, or a modification of some such radically uncongregational system. The churches formed on the plan of union, are partly Congregational, because, though connected with presbyteries, they are competent to the final decision of questions. If, now, we inquire for the main principles of Presbyterianism, as we find it in history, and as it is correctly defined, we shall observe a marked contrast between it and Congregationalism, as great as that between the latter and prelacy, though of a less dangerous character.”
Presbyterianism, as well as Congregationalism, acknowledges the parity of all ministers of the Gospel; which acknowledgment closes a door thrown wide open by Episcopacy, against clerical ambition and rivalry. In many other respects, Presbyterianism has, in common with Congregationalism, greater claims to public favor than Episcopacy. Yet a very superficial examination is sufficient to show that Presbyterianism and Congregationalism are far from being identical; and also which of the two deserves the preference— a question, however, on which different persons may come to opposite conclusions, determined by their education and existing relations.
* An interesting article in the Biblical Repository, Vol. XII, pp. 258–293, confounds Congregationalism and Presbyterianism under one general definition. A Presbyterian church, according to that article, is a church with a board of elders or presbyters. This includes of course Congregational churches, since they may have more pastors or elders than one; and in primitive times always had a greater number. This definition, however, until now unheard of, is entirely incorrect and deceptive. Congregationalism is no modification of Presbyterianism. The two are radically distinct; and the distinction lies in the seat of power. A Presbyterian church is one in which the ecclesiastical power all vests in the eldership, and in courts composed of elders; on the other hand, a Congregational church is one in which the whole power vests in the brotherhood, or associated body of believers. The difference is immense, though wholly
obscured in the article referred to ; in which the argument throughout is for Congregationalism, embraced, by sorce of the definition, under the cognomen of Presbyterianism. It is a remarkable fact, that the article contains not a single argument in favor of Presbyterianism properly so called; and if Congregationalism were substituted for that term throughout the piece, it would be a consistent and able defense of the primitive origin and practical superiority of the Congregational system. How its learned author viewed the “Presbyterianism,” to the support of which his labors were directed, may be known from the following extract, p. 272. “There is no church constitution more essentially scriptural than the ‘Cambridge Platform,' as originally published in 1648. Each church had its pastor and teacher, its board of elders and deacons chosen by the people; and instead of a permanent territorial church court, above the church sessions,” (he should have said, above the churches.) “the practice mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, was adopted, viz. that of calling together an occasional synod or council, when circumstances re". it.” The error of denominating this system Presbyterian, does not impair the general solidity and invincible strength of the article itself, taken as an argument to show the single and sole superiority of Congregationalism, in every point of view, over all other existing or possible forms of church order, whether Papistic, Episcopal, or Presbyterian. Congregationalism as fully rejects an absolute government of elders as it does that of bishops. It claims for the brotherhood of the several local churches, perfect independency in the management of their ecclesiastical af. fairs.
The Presbyterian church is distinguished by a confession of faith. Every minister and church officer, before he can be ordained, is obliged most solemnly to profess, before God, angels and men, that he does sincerely receive and adopt the confession of faith of that church, and “that he does approve of the government and discipline of the Presbyterian church in these United States; and does promise subjection to his brethren in the Lord”— that is, as therein taught.” Congregationalism, on the contrary, has no creed to which subscription and exact conformity are required. The Bible is the sole test of orthodoxy in her communion; and she welcomes to her communion whoever gives credible evidence of saving faithin Christ--notwithstanding some diversity of doctrinal views. In respect to this and some other characteristics of Presbyterianism, as distinguished from Congregationalism, we quote below from a correspondent, on whose accuracy we place full reliance: “It is true that this Confession of Faith does declare that the “whole counsel of God is either set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture ;” and “that in all controversies of religion the church is finally to appeal unto them.”f What liberty individuals may have to appeal to them, the system, and practice under it, best discloses. “Again: how is the Bible to be taken as a rule of doctrine and of faith ? As the Confession of Faith interprets it, and in no other way; or else of what use is the Confession of Faith, or why make all church officers swear to receive and adhere to it? What do ministers of Christ carry in their pockets, and what do they take out and read from when
* See Confession of Faith, p. 378, Utica edition, 1824. f See Chap. I, Sec. 6–8.
they go to Presbytery or to Synod their Bibles or their Confession of Faith ? The truth is, this and all similarly organized churches must in reality receive the Bible, just as good Catholics do, only as interpreted by their church; or if they do not, they are false to their creed and to themselves. They “sincerely promise” to receive it so, whether in fact they do or not. It is in vain to think of taking parts of a creed so thoroughly digested, systematized, compact, and consistent with it. self in all its principles. He that takes it “as a system,” must take the whole of it, or he can take no considerable part. For any candid reader of that Confession must see that the idea of “official authority” is the central nucleus of all its principles of government. The book is a unity in doctrine and in form: always consistent with itself, whether true or not; and to it every man who sincerely and honestly receives it must submit both his doctrine and his practice, Bible or no Bible. “This is not Congregationalism. Nor is the idea of a church every where presented in this Confession, that democratic, congregational, and scriptural idea of a single body of believers worshiping and ordering all things in one and the same popular assembly. Far from it. A church in that book is the whole vast body of believers scattered over a whole nation, comprising a multitude of congregations, who come into the general body, not like Congregationalists to govern themselves, but to be governed by their superiors. Congregationalists hold that churches have no right to put them: selves under this absolute control and guardianship of their brethren. Their principles forbid it, and so does apostolic church order. Congregationalism and primitive Christianity, place all church power in the hands of the particular congregations of believers in their popular capacity. Under Presbyterianism the great body of the laity are almost as utterly divested of all power whatever as they would be under the Czar of all the Russias. They can neither receive nor reject a brother; nor alter nor amend their creed or their customs; nor call, nor settle, nor remove their pastor, nor even their deacons, for any of. fense whatever without leave of their rulers. Whenever an elder or a pastor removes, or dies of old age, the people may petition Presbytery for leave to call another pastor, or may meet and vote for another elder, provided those already in power should choose to call a meeting for such purpose, or consent to ordain the new elder after he is chosen. This may happen once in a year or once in an age; and when they have discharged these high functions, the laity have no more to do except to sit down again and be ruled : for not a single church officer, when once appointed, is in any proper sense amenable or responsible to them, any more than is the emperor of China. Napoleon, when once recognized as emperor, said, “I am France;” and so the officers of the Presbyterian church, when once appointed, with far more truth say, “We are the church,” and the laity can not help themselves. Now all this may be perfectly consistent with Christ's repeated injunctions to his disciples, that they should not “exercise authority over one another.” Matth. xx, 25; Mark x, 42; Luke xxii, 25: and also it may be right to tell of offenses to the elders and church officers, instead of reporting them to the assembly, as Christ directed in Matthew xviii; but it is not Congregational, nor is it in accordance with primitive Christianity. “It would be difficult to set forth the proofs of these assertions, fully and clearly, without quoting the whole book of discipline. But perhaps a few passages will sufficiently show that the system is not at any
rate Congregational, nor a system in which Congregationalism can be so merged. Chap. xxx, Sec. 1, 2– read as follows. “I. The Lord Jesus as king and head of his church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of CHURCH officers, distinct from the civil magistracy. “II. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit SINs, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by word and censures, and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.” “These church officers exist in, and constitute four distinct courts or judicatories of government and appeal. The Session, consisting of the pastor and a certain number of ruling elders chosen from the local church or society to rule for life. From their decision appeals may be made to the Presbytery, a body selected by the pastors and elders from their own number, to rule over a wider region and with a higher authority. A Synod, constituted in the same manner, and with a still wider stretch of dominion and power. And over all a General Assembly, constituted still on the same principles, and stretching its final and irreversible authority over all the churches of the land. “Now it should be noticed that the whole of this vast machinery is made up, from top to bottom, of the clergy and the elders, of the appointment of whom the laity have not one word to say, except in the case of choosing a pastor or a ruling elder in their own church, should one chance to remove or to die, and should the existing session, in the case of an elder, not deem themselves competent to rule without additional aid. Nor is any part or portion of these church dignitaries responsible to the laity in any shape, manner or form; but their responsibility all flows upward toward the higher courts, until at last it terminates in a Synod or General Assembly, whence nothing returns to the ears of the people but the sounds of authority and power. “And 1st. The session or board of elders of a particular church have power to call meetings to add to their number, and to ordain the elders chosen—without which ordination they can not act; “to inquire into the knowledge and Christian conduct of the members of the church ; to call before them offenders and witnesses; to receive members into the church ; to admonish, to rebuke, to suspend or excommunicate ; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the congregation; and to appoint delegates,” (from their own number,) “to the higher judicatories of the church.” With all this the commonalty have but one of two things to do: first, to submit; or, second, to appeal to Presbytery, (a body which they, as laymen, have no control over and no hand in appointing,) and then submit; or they may go on to the Synod, or to the General Assemby, and then—subMIT. Indeed, it would be difficult to devise a system, short of absolute despotism, more admirably adapted to teach laymen that most excellent grace of submission; and the system tends to produce this effect upon the minds of the whole mass of people under it. “2nd. The Presbytery and higher courts “have power to examine and license candidates; to ordain, install, remove and judge ministers; to examine and approve or censure the records of the lower courts; to condemn erroneous opinions; to visit and redress evils in local churches; to unite and divide congregations; to redress whatever has been done in the lower courts contrary to
* Chap. IX, Sec. 6, p. 356.
order; to take effectual care that they observe the constitution of the church ; to decide controversies of faith and cases of conscience, and all questions of doctrine and discipline ; to set down rules and directions for the government of the church; and in general to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under their care.” “Which decrees and deter. minations, if consonant to the word of God, are too be received with REveRENCE and subMission, not oNLY for their agreement with the Word, but also for the POWER whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his word.” “Surely, this is far enough from Congregationalism ' Who is to decide whether these official ‘decrees,' are ‘consonant to the word of God?' The very men who make them. First the Session decides, then the Presbytery, then the Synod, then the General Assembly: or to state it better, the elders and the clergy decide first, second, third and last; and the people, that is, the church in the Congregational and scriptural sense, no where at all. The church in that sense is utterly annihilated. “I am France.” “The fact is, the laity can touch this whole superincumbent Gothic pile of church judicatories, with all their unbounded powers, only at the single point of choosing the elders in their own congregations as fast as they are removed from genera. tion to generation. A man might as well imagine himself free in a state in which he was allowed to vote once in a century for a justice of the peace who was forever after to be responsible only to those justices who, without the vote of the people, had risen above him, and then securely held all the powers of the