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number of professing Christians, united to each other by their own voluntary consent; having their proper officers; meeting in one place for the observance of religious ordinances; and who are independent of all other control than the authority of Christ expressed in his word.” According to this definition, a Christian church is both congregational and independent, that is, consists of a single congregation, unconnected with any other. If, then, it can be shown that these two characters are never clearly and unequivocally ascribed to a society of Christians, meeting in the same place for religious purposes; or even that the sacred writers apply the term, “ church,” to denote the Christians of a town, district, or province, consisting of several congregations, the very basis of congregational independency is subverted
1. In confirmation of their system, the Dissenters appeal to those texts in which mention is made of the church at Jerusalem, at Antioch, at Corinth, Acts viii. 1-13; 1 Cor. i. 2; also of the church of Laodicea, of Ephesus, of the Thessalonians, Col. iv. 16; 1 Thess. i. 1; 2 Thess. i. 1; Rev. ii. 1. But these texts, it is obvious to remark, by no means prove that the church spoken of in each was a single congregation of believers. A similar mode of expression is not unusual with us, when more than one is intended; as we say
1 James, Christian Fellowship, p. 6.
the church at Rome, at Constantinople, of India, of the Abyssinians. And even allowing that only one is implied, it cannot be inferred from such phraseology that it was independent. For any thing that appears to the contrary, each church mentioned in the respective texts may have consisted of several congregations united together so as to form only one society or church.
2. The sacred writers, it is asserted, when speaking of the Christians of a whole province never employ the term in the singular number, but with great precision of language speak of the churches of Galatia, Syria, Macedonia, Asia, &c. from which it is inferred that a single congre. gation constitutes a church. But, granting the general use of the plural number in such cases, the inference need not be admitted, and, at any rate, such a manner of speaking supplies not a shadow of evidence as to their independency : and except it establishes this, it proves nothing to the purpose. When modern travellers and historians describe “the churches of India," what dreamer would infer that the Christians in our Eastern empire are congregational Independents ?
3. A church, it is alleged, is spoken of as coming together in one place; and when affairs were to be determined relating to a church, all the members were called together to give their opinion, Acts ii. I, et seq., v. 12. 14, vi. 2, 5, xv. 4, et seq.; 1 Cor. xiv. 23, which would have been impossible if they had not been congregational. Admitting the fact, the utmost that can be drawn from it is, that a number of Christians assembling in one place for divine worship are occasionally styled a “ church,” a truth in which all are agreed. Besides, when the church is spoken of as coming together, or as deciding upon certain matters, the phraseology itself does not determine whether it was done by the entire body of believers, or by the heads and rulers, or principal persons among them; and therefore leaves undetermined that upon which the stress of the argument lies. It has moreover, no bearing upon the real question in dispute--whether such Christian assembly was independent, or formed a section of an aggregate church.
4. Great reliance is placed upon those texts which expressly denominate a single congregation a “ church," as Rom. xvi. 5; 1 Cor. xvi. 19; Col. iv. 15; Philem. 2: comp. Acts xiv. 23, 27, xv. 3, 22; 1 Cor. iv. 17, xiv. 23; Phil. iv. 15. It is not denied that the word 6 church” is sometimes used in a restricted sense for a particular body of Christians, who assembled for worship in the same place; but not one of the texts here referred to proves such congregation to have been independent ; and therefore proves nothing for the independent scheme. But some of them 'supply strong evidence against it, as will be shown in the next section.
5. The Jewish church, it is said, was constituted on the principle of nationality ; but this was a state of things which was not destined to continue; for Messiah's reign was to be a period of purification of the church, when “ the wicked were to be shaken out of it;" when there were " no longer to enter into it the uncircumcised and the unclean;" when the messenger of the covenant was to be as a refiner and purifier of silver,” &c., Isa. lii. 1 ; Mal. iii. , et seq. ; from which, and similar predictions, it is argued, that the church was no longer to be national, and that a church upon a different principle was to succeed'. Unquestionably, the peculiar polity of the Jewish system was to cease, and the gospel dispensation was to be of a purer and more spiritual character; but this does not bear upon the outward constitution of the church, whether it was to be national, or congregationally independent. To adduce these prophetic declarations for such a purpose, is to apply them in a manner quite foreign from their real meaning and intent.
Such are the arguments of the Dissenters; and they decidedly fail in one or other of the two points stated in the introductory remarks to this section—they either do not establish con
gregationalism, or doing that, do not at the same time establish independency; and failing in either they afford no support to “ the cause.” Nothing more is in strictness necessary for deciding the controversy respecting the extent of a Christian Church; but it may moreover be demonstrated that the sacred writers employ the term "church” in a collective sense, denoting the several congregations of a town or province, and that these congregations were not independent.
IV. In commencing the review of the evidence on this point it is to be remarked, that the collective sense of the word “church” implies a certain dependency among the congregations. A part cannot be independent of the whole; the parts, whether few or many, must be in some way linked and united so as to form one whole. If therefore the respective congregations of a town or province are ever denominated by the sacred writers " a church,” these congregations cannot have been absolutely independent of each other, but must have had some bond of union, for this is involved in the fact of their forming one church. No more is therefore necessarily required than to produce Scriptural authority for the collective sense of the word, which is sufficient to evince that a national church, as such, is not unscriptural.
1. In Acts viii. 1, we read of “the church which was at Jerusalem;" comp. ch. ii. 47, v. 11, xv. 4; yet this church must have consisted