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By some expositors, with whom I concur in opinion, it is taken, metonymically, for a place of public worship. « When ye come together in the church.” (1 Cor. xi. 18.) It is used in this sense by Origen, Tertullian, and other fathers of the church. I understand by the term, the rulers, or representatives of the church. (Matt. xviii. 17.)
But in its peculiar acceptation, church is taken for a religious assembly, which is called from the rest of the world, by the preaching of the gospel, and associated together for the public worship and service of God, including their infant offspring. The church is frequently distinguished into invisible and visible. The former, embraces the whole number of the elect, that have been, and shall be, collected, into one body in the upper world. The latter, includes all, of all ages, and in all places, who profess the true religion, and have visibly dedicated themselves to God in covenant, with their infant offspring. The appellation Catholie, or general, is given to the church. In this extensive sense it is used, when Christ is said to be head of the church, and head over all things to the church. Policarp, when seized by his murderers, prayed for the “ Catholic church throughout the world.”
Dionysius Alexandrinus calls the persecuting Emperor Marianus, " a warrior against the Catholic church of God.”
The church seems also to be taken for the collection of a number of particular churches. Of this description was the church of Ephesus, and the church of Jerusalem. In this sense it is used by Cyprian, who mentions, in the singular number, “ the church of God in Africa and Numidia.”
But from local circumstances, from diversity of languages, and of nations, Christians must, by necessity, be separated and formed into small societies, which are denominated local, or particular churches. But all these churches, however distinguished by name, or separated by form, are only so many branches of the same universal church. Ther are members of the same mystical body of Christ, and candidates for the same glorious immortality.
The necessity of the visible church takes its rise from the plan of salvation. Sinners are to be called by the preached gospel, separated from the world, and trained up in the use of prescribed means, under the influence of divine grace, for the heavenly inheritance.
The distinctive attributes of the church are, unity, spirituality, sanctity, visibility, and perpetuity. On the last named attribute of the church, I simply remark that the church of God, from its first establishment, after the apostacy, until the consummation of all things, is radically, and essentially the same, under every dispensation of mercy. On this ground, we sup
port, beyond the possibility of refutation, the doctrine of infant church membership, and infant baptism. And this is one strong pillar in our church government and discipline.
In regard to the visibility of the church, I also briefly remark, that she was first thus distinguished by a permanent sign and seal, when located in Abraham's family. The covenant was made with Abraham, and the church established in his family, a considerable time before the appointment of circumcision, the first instituted sign and seal of the covenant. Signs and seals are not necessary to the existence of the church, but they were appointed to render her existence visible. Neither are they signs and seals of the church, but of the covenant which is the foundation of the church, and to be administered to persons who are antecedently members of the church. Membership must, in the nature and order of things, take place prior to its visibility. Persons must first become members of the church, before the sacraments can be administered to them. Unless these principles be admitted, the church, established in Abraham's family, and which continued the same church till the day of Pentecost, never contained any females, for none of them were ever circumcised.
Yet God had a church in the world, rendered visible by other means, as I shall show, long before the time of Abraham. And by different ordinances the church is now made visible. Signs and seals may be applied to a part, or to all the members of the church, according to the will of the Supreme Legislator.
What is the government and discipline of the church? An answer to this question shall be my principal employment.
Government consisteth in the disposition of authority and power in regard to public affairs. And it involves the idea of officers, whose province it is to exercise that authority and power, and other distinct persons over whom they are exercised.
Discipline consisteth in the infliction of proper censures upon the disobedient.
The principal object of my present inquiry, is to ascertain what officers Christ has appointed for the government of the church.
The church must be governed, either, 1st, by all the adult male members, in conjunction with pastors; and then there are no ruled, except females and baptized children: or 2dly, by all the adult male and female members; and then where are the ruled, if all are rulers? or 3dly, by ministers alone: or 4thly, by ministers in conjunction with elders, who are not ministers. I leave out deacons because, though they were officers, they never exercised the function of rulers in the apostolic age.
The inquiry is, who were the ordinary ruling officers in the Christian church?
“We have,” said Paul, “ many members in one body, and all members have not the same office : so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” And he adds, “ Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching'; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity ; he that ruleth, with diligence.” (Rom. xii. 6—8.) Another catalogue of officers is this, “ First apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing's, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (1 Cor. xii. 28.) “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets ; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers."
It is hence evident that the members of the church have different gifts, and different offices.
The word office, rgãžev, is a relative term, and signifies an act or operation; something done, or to be done. The church consists of many members, who are required to perform different duties. Some are parents, and some are children, who have different degrees of capacity, and knowledge, for the performance of different duties, and the enjoyment of different privileges.
But we no where find, in any one passage, a complete enumeration of the offices which the members of the church sustained. We must collect a detailed account from several partial catalogues. Upon examination we find apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, ministers, bishops, deacons, rulers, miracles, gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. And we read of one that “ giveth,” of another that “exhorteth,” and of another that “ showeth mercy.” By several of these terms, the same office is intended. And the most of these offices, if not all of them, the apostles performed. The apostles prophesied, preached, taught, did the work of a bishop, of an evangelist, of a deacon, worked miracles, healed the sick, spake with a diversity of tongues, ruled, and in addition, ordained. But we do not find that
any other set of men performed all these offices.
Office is a generic term, and does not always involve the idea of authority and power to rule. Pharaoh's butler was restored to his office. (Gen. xli. 13.) “ Their office was to distribute unto their brethren.” (Neh. xiii. 13.) The term deacon, in the original, is applied to Christ, (Rom. xv. 18.)—to the apostles, (1 Cor. iii. 5. Col. i. 23.)—to any of the disci
ples of Christ. (John xii. 26.) But the special office of a deacon was, according to the original appointment, to distribute, from the funds of the church, necessary supplies to the poor members. Said the twelve apostles, " It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables." (Acts vi. 2.) To“ serve tables, was manifestly to afford relief to the poor from the common funds of the church, which were laid down at the apostles' feet. This service the apostles at first pere formed. But the complaints of the Grecians, “ that their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations,” gave rise to the order of men who are called deacons. The original of ministration is decexovic. This ministration was draxoyety, to serve tables, i. e, supply the poor from the funds, which the apostles seem to have done.
But when the poor were multiplied, and it required much more time and trouble to supply their wants, the apostles could not perform this service, and their own peculiar work. Hence the necessity of having elected, and appointed, certain men for that express purpose. And I think no one can show, from scripture, that deacons, as such, ever performed any other office. There is no evidence, that I have seen, to show that they preached, or ruled, or handed round the sacramental elements. Some of them performed the office of a preacher, and one of them is called an evangelist. But when they performed these works, they ceased to perform the office of a deacon. Not as deacons, but as evangelists and preachers, they gave “themselves to prayer, and the ministry of the word.”
Elder is likewise a generic term, and applied to persons advanced in years, and that both to men and women. Aged persons, male and female, are called elders. (1 Pet. v. 1. and 2 John, i. and iii. 1.) But it is also an official term applied to men, in the church, who exercise the authority and power of rulers. Apostles, and ordinary ministers of the word, were called elders, because one of their offices was to govern.
Some of the offices in the apostolic age were extraordinary, and in time ceased. The ordinary and occasional officers in the church, I suppose were four; pastors, elders or bishops, teachers, lay-ruling elders, and deacons, two classes of which, only, exercised the function of rulers. The same men were called pastors, elders, and bishops, and they had a five-fold office, namely, to preach the gospel authoritatively, to teach, to administer the sacraments, to rule, and to ordain. As, gospéves, pastors, they fed their flocks; as, eritxoto, bishops, they took the oversight of them; as, merceutigos, elders, they exercised rule over them.
The office of teachers, I suppose, was under the inspection of pastors, to instruct young converts in the first principles of
VOL. II.-Presb. Ning.
the gospel, to encourage and comfort them. This seems to have been occasional, to be exercised in the unsettled state of the church, where pastors could not do so much of this business as was necessary. They did not preach authoritatively, nor rule, nor administer the sacraments.
Missionaries, at this day, find such teachers necessary, and employ them to great advantage, to teach the first rudiments of Christianity.
The same persons are said to preach and teach in a variety of passages. And if preaching and teaching are not the exercise of distinct offices, the inspired writers must be charged with a tautology calculated to produce a confusion of ideas. “Jesus went, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” (Matt. iv. 23.) “Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Christ the resurrection.” (Acts iv. 2.) “ They ceased not to teach and preach Christ Jesus.” (Acts v. 42.)
Teaching cannot be considered, in these places, as exegetical of preaching, nor vice versa. Preaching and teaching were the exercise of two distinct offices, both of which were performed by some individuals at different times: but one of which, only, was performed by others. The same persons, sometimes, simply taught, and at other times they preached authoritatively. Others taught, but never preached. A pastor, performed both offices. Teachers, only one. This I think evident from their history. But it would divert me too far from my present purpose to argue the case any farther.
I shall endeavour to show a difference between preaching elders, and ruling elders ; and prove that the government of the church was committed to these two classes of elders conjointly and exclusively. This ecclesiastical court we denominate the church session.
Office is a public charge, and evidently a relative term. It must therefore involve the idea of service to be performed by some persons, for others who are not in office. In all forms of civil government there is a line of distinction drawn between rulers and ruled. And in the nature of things it must be so in ecclesiastical governments. On these obvious principles the government of the church has always been founded.
I do not intend, however, to insinuate, that the powers of the session spring from the people, as in the social compact, They do not, but they are given by “the great Head of the Church.” The members of the church have no agency in forming and establishing her government. They must associate on the principles, and under the government, which her Lord has dictated in the holy scriptures.
The church of God never was governed by the great body