« AnteriorContinuar »
say, that in Christianity there are no non-essentials : every commandment, institution, and precept of the gospel, is essential to Christianity, and should be fully observed; for Christ has laid upon his disciples no unnecessary injunctions. Besides, the Christian connexion never agreed to take the fundamentals of Christianity as the rule of faith and practice; they agreed to take the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, as the rule of faith and practice. This rule, which Br. Russel now proposes, is one of his own manufacture, to suit this especial case; and if this be admissible, every minister in the connexion may go on manufacturing rules, at will and pleasure, to suit all possible cases, as they arise, throughout the whole body.
IV. “Such Christians should not be rejected, (for refusing to comply with the divine rule,) because, to do so, would be a radical departure from the first principles of the connexion.” What are the first principles of the connexion? They are these : “The Bible is our only creed, and Jesus the only acknowledged Head and Law. giver to his church.” Our creed, then, is written, and the great Head and Lawgiver of the church has prescribed to her a rule of conduct which she has no right to violate. All that she or her minister can do, is to observe the rule, and see that others, under her jurisdiction, never violate it by her consent. The true import of the rule is not now a question; this has already been stated and settled, to which Br. Russel has given his consent. Why, then, may not the church require its observance ? Indeed, the church has no discretion in the case allowed her. If she be composed of honest and sincere Christians, they must walk by the same rule, and mind the same things; and she must take care and see that there is no violation of the divine laws, by her consent and approbation. Nearly all which Br. Russel has said, under this head, is the mere echo of our most bitter enemies and persecutors. He has fallen into their strain of reasoning, and done little more than to repeat their words. Our churches are, indeed, in a most melancholy state, if they have no authority from the word of God to exercise the wholesome discipline of the gospel, and to enforce an observance of the laws of God, by the application of a Christian remedy, in cases of moral obliquity. And I would here ask, are the members of a church, for doing this, to be called “sectarian," to be branded with “ dishonesty,” and to be called upon to renounce the “ Christian name?” Strange language! But more of this hereafter.
V. “We cannot consistently reject acknowledged Christians, on account of a difference on baptism, because such persons have been, and still are, received among us as good brethren. When the first Christian church was organized in Lyndon, Vermont, baptism was not a test of membership.” This church, to which Br. Russel refers, was organized in 1801, so far as it ever had any scriptural organization. We have an account of it in the life of Élder Jones,
by his son, in the following words: “From the first, he announced his determination to stand alone, and acknowledge the authority of no church, or set of men. He and about a dozen others, Jaymen, and residents of Lyndon, covenanted together, in church form, and called themselves Christians; rejecting all party and sectional names, and leaving each other free to cherish such speculative views of theology as the Scriptures might plainly seem to them to teach. This was, probably, the first free Christian church ever established in New England;" p. 49. At this time, Elder Jones was not an ordained minister of the gospel ; he received ordination on the last day of November, 1802. This organization was informal, having been done wholly by laymen, and without the sanction of a minister of the gospel, who alone is authorized to plant churches; and I am not a little surprised, that Br. Russel should have referred to this church as an example of gospel order. Upon the same authority, he may entirely do away the Christian ministry, and sustain the doctrine of lay-organization of all churches.
But what was the opinion of Elder Jones, respecting the meaning of the divine rule, on this subject? It is the following: “ The second thing that I took into view, was the manner in which Baptists organized churches, which they declared to be apostolical. The manner of organizing Baptist churches was then, and is now, I believe, as follows, viz: 1. They must find a certain number of believers in Christ. 2. They must be baptized, burying them in the water, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Thus far they agree with the New Testament;" p. 28. And again: “ To baptism and regeneration, as they were then and are still held, by the denomination in which he was brought up, (viz: the Baptists,) he ever held with most pertinacious attachment. With all his toleration, he could never speak charitably of “sprinkling ;" and he could never allow that a man had any reason to believe himself to be a Christian, unless he was “converted” according to his peculiar views of conversion;" p. 36. We have here clearly laid down, the unqualified assent of Elder Jones to the truth of the doctrine, for which we have contended in our “Strictures on Elder Hawley's pamphlet;" a doctrine which he embraced in early life, and which he maintained till the day of his death.
But Br. Russel says, “When the churches were first organized in the south and west, they were believers in sprinkling, and continued to practice it, until convinced of a more excellent way." Very well; what of that? St. Paul says: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” In the infancy of our society, many of our ministers did not fully understand the Scriptures, on every point of doctrine and church discipline, which they adopted as the rule of faith and practice, by which to regulate all things; but as fast as they came to a clear sight and a full understanding of this divine rule, they reduced it to practice.
And this was especially their course on the subject of baptism. At first, they practised sprinkling for baptism; but as soon as they ascertained that this practice was not in accordance with the doctrine of the Bible, it was laid aside for a more excellent way. And, from that time to the present period, believer's baptism has been universally practised in the western states in the Christian connexion. But Br. Russel contends that, because our brethren in the west, in the infancy of the church, started with a wrong practice, but have since been set right by subsequent inquiries, therefore, this wrong practice should be continued in all our churches, notwithstanding we may all be fully satisfied, that our practice is wholly unsustained by the word of God; and yet, at the same time, we are to maintain that the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice, when we are continually setting at defiance this very rule. This, to me, I must confess, is strange logic, and I am not prepared to give to it my assent. Br. Russel also says, “ The Christian churches in North Carolina, and a part of Virginia, now believe in and practise infant sprinkling for baptism." If this be the fact, they need “to be taught the way of the Lord more perfectly;" but it can be no argument for us, who know better, to adopt their unscriptural practices.
Thus, I have freely answered all the arguments which Br. Russel has advanced, to justify a violation of that divine rule, by which we profess to regulate both our faith and our practice. I shall now proceed to consider one other question, to which, as a last resort, multitudes flee, to justify the church in unscriptural practices. It is the right of private judgment. And this seems to be the fortress which Br. Russel holds in reserve, and to which he intends to flee, in case he should be hard pressed.
The true question, properly stated, is this : Are the rules and the order of the church to be regulated by the private judgment of her individual members, or by the collective wisdom and understanding of the body? To this question, I answer: The rules and order of the church are to be regulated by the collective wisdom and understanding of the body, and not by the private judgment of her individual members. Here is a very important distinction-a distinction fraught with the most fearful consequences to the prosperity and happiness of all our churches, and even to their very existence. A mistake here is fatal, and has been the means of plunging many of our churches into anarchy and confusion, and finally of blotting out their very existence.
All churches must have some general plan, some 'general order, and some general regulations, expressed or implied, written or unwritten, by which the body is to be regulated in her movements; and no church can prosper, for any length of time, without such general regulations. This springs up out of the necessity of the case, just as civil government springs up out of the frame and constitution of man. Men cannot live in a social state without civil
government; and civil government cannot be established and administered by the exercise of the private judgment of the individual members of the community. It must be done by the collective wisdom and judgment of the body. When the reins of government are assumed by private individuals, then factions, and tumults, and disorders, prevail, and the community is plunged into all the horrors of civil war. And when turbulent spirits break through the wholesome regulations and discipline of the church, then disorder and confusion, as a necessary consequence, follow; and, unless this state of things can be arrested, it will end in the destruction of the body.
I say, the order of the church is to be regulated by the collective wisdom and understanding of the body. The judgment of the body is to be exercised as to the true meaning of the divine rule, by which all things are to be regulated ; and, in all those cases where the rule is clear and evident, the church is bound to adopt such rules for the regulation of her conduct, in obedience to the command of her great Head, as he has prescribed. But in all those matters, which are left to the collective wisdom of the body, she has wider scope, and may exercise her best judgment in the case; but she has no authority to alter, change, or suspend, any of the rules and regulations, prescribed for the government of her conduct, by her only Lawgiver. That the power to regulate the affairs of the church, and to administer her discipline, is vested in the collective wisdom of the body, is a doctrine now admitted by the ministers of the Christian connexion, with very few exceptions. Elder Jones, speaking on this subject, says: “The great Head of the church has ordained that there shall be elders in every church ; neither can any church prosper long at a time, without a pastor or elder. For lack of this, our early churches suffered much, nor was it possible for us to take proper care of our churches. This caused many to go over to the Baptists and Methodists, that they might thereby enjoy the blessing of a constant ministry. Many wandered from the fold into the world, for the want of being well taken care of; so upon the whole, on this ground, we have been very great losers. It was a favorite doctrine in all our early churches, that there were gifts in the church, such as prayer and exhortation, which ought to be improved in public meetings, as well as those of preaching. This doctrine I now firmly believe. But in those early days, I am constrained to say, that, in the injudicious use of this privi. lege, great evil was done; for it is certain that many, who had not gifts to speak, either to the edification of saints, or the conviction of sinners, were the most forward to occupy the time; and such became a great burthen to the church, and gave the enemy great occasion to blaspheme. If any attempt was made to correct such an evil, the cry was immediately made, .You want to take away our liberties; you want to bring us into bondage; you want to be popular; you want to be a lord over God's heritage,' &c. The
question will now arise, how shall this evil be remedied, in such a manner as not to stop the exercise of these valuable gifts? Answer: Let the church judge of these gifts, as they do of preaching gifts, and also approve the same. If a brother says, "God has called me to preach,' the church does not approve or hear such a brother, unless they can discover preaching gifts in him. In the same manner, the church judges impartially of all gifts. I do not believe that edery man, woman, and child, who are converted, have gifts to speak in public meetings. Circumstances have often occurred like the following: The sermon has been delivered in a most solemn, spiritual, and judicious manner. Saints have been made happy, and sinners have been most solemnly impressed. But a weak brother or sister arises, merely because they feel happy, and want to express it. Yet they can say nothing to edification, and the good impressions are often injured. But it is said, such an one has as good right as any other, and he ought to speak, to clear his own mind. But let us remember, that the true object of speaking is not to edify ourselves, but to edify others. I have never questioned the piety and good intentions of such brethren; but to me there is a deep importance to be attached to the charge, that every thing should be done decently and in order. St. Paul says, that though many things are perfectly lawful, they are not expedient.
"I do not speak with authority on this point. I have no disposition to shackle any man's mind, or to deprive him of his testimony. But it does seem to me, that there is a fitness in all things pertaining to the church of Christ; and I would add my dying to my living testimony, against a practice, which, I have no doubt, has caused many a schism among brethren, broken up churches, and hindered the work of God. I know that many of my brethren sympathize with me in this; although I am aware that many others think, that what I have recommended would be inconsistent with the freedom we possess.
“ To such let me say, there is a heaven wide difference between liberty to do what is right and proper and seemly, and liberty to do what is wrong and unseemly. One is freedom, the other license. Wholesome restraint is perfectly consonant with true freedom ; indeed, there can be no true freedom without it, for liberty without restraint is anarchy. No man has freedom to infringe the freedom of any other man. Now, if an injudicious brother or sister, in the full enjoyment of what he or she calls liberty, usurps the time and freedom of others, then he or she, is bound to submit to such restraints as the majority demand, in order to their enjoyment of liberty and peace. And, if they have not discretion enough to know when they are misusing their liberty, where is the impropriety that the church, through its elders, should subject them to such restraints as the peace, enjoyment, and freedom of the body require ?"
Here the principle for which we contend is fully recognized :