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Independent Church. Among protestants are three general forms of church government and discipline, namely, the Independent, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian. By the first, all ecclesiastical authority is vested in each separate congregation; the second maintains a parity in the ministerial office, but reposes the sole power of ordination, and of instituting rules of discipline, in the hands of a presbytery, or an associated body of clergymen; the third is distinguished by having three orders in the ministry, called bishops, priests, and deacons, and by maintaining, that the order of bishops alone has the power of ordination.
All these forms have been defended by learned men, and warm partizans. The advocates of each have claimed pre-eminence for their scheme, and asserted that it was founded on divine right, established by the authority of the apostles, and the usages of the primitive christians. This diversity of sentiment is enough, if we had nothing more, to show, on what a feeble foundation any argument for a divine right must rest. Had the Saviour instituted a particular form of government, which should be essential to give validity to the ministerial office, and to establish a proper organization of his church, the subject would hardly have been left so much in the dark, that men of equal seriousness, learning, and research, should come to conclusions totally opposite. Whatever is essential to the faith, practice, and salvation of his followers, must, in the nature of things, be plain, and easily understood.
It will be a difficult task for any one, who is not influenced by a predilection for a system, to discover a single passage in the four Gospels, which indicates the will of the Saviour respecting the external government of his church. The discipline of the heart and the affections, is abundantly and repeatedly taught; the rules of a good life are positive and clear; the spirit of order, amity, and union, pervades all his instructions; but not a rule is given, not a word is said, respecting outward forms, the mode of ordination, or qualifications for office. And although we learn in holy writ some of the practices of the apostles, yet they have left no injunctions, nor any where declared, that they conceived a particular mode the only correct one. All these things appear to have been left to the future discretion and judgment of christians. It is their duty to adopt such a system of government and discipline, as they think most likely, under given circumstances, to secure the great ends of religion, which are holiness of life, piety unfeigned, charity and love for men, and an entire conformity to the will of God.
We believe the Independent form was the one in use by the apostles, and as nearly like that since adopted, as could be expected under the different circumstances of the times. Episcopacy was early in use. natural combination between church and state, wbich commenced in the first ages of christianity, required
such a system to keep up the unholy alliance, and cement parts, which, in their native properties, were so discordant. This system appears to us less calculated, than either of the others, to encourage the growth of religious truth and liberty; yet, as we do not hold religion to consist in forms, we ieve, that whatever these may be, they do not necessarily restrain the exercise and the increase of piety in the heart, or of the practical virtues. For this reason, we form our estimate of the religious qualifications of others by their persons, and not by their mode of worship; by their practice, and not by their faith; by their virtues, and not by their creeds.
The Independent system was revived nearly two hundred and fifty years ago by Brown in England, and was soon after introduced into Holland. Its first ad, vocates were called Brownists. It was inodified and systematized by John Robinson, who was for some time minister of a congregation of Brownists at Leyden. From this period, the followers of Brown and Robinson, and all, who complied with their form of church government, were denominated Independents.* The name had no regard to doctrines; for although most of the Independents were Calvinists, some of them were nevertheless Arminians; and in later times, christians holding to every variety of doctrine have arranged themselves under this title. It relates exclusively to ecclesiastical government.
Mosheim supposes the name may have been derived from a passage in Robinson's writings, where he says, in speaking of his views of church government; Cætum quemlibet particularem esse totam, integram, et perfectam ecclesiam ex suis partibus constantem, immediatè et Independenter (quoad alias ecclesias) sub ipso Christo. Apologia, cap, v. p. 22.
We have been led into these observations from a knowledge, that erroneous representations have been circulated respecting the import of the name Independent Church, as adopted by a society in this city. It has been said, that it implied a freedom of thought, a latitude of sentiment, a resoluteness of inquiry, an independence of action, which those, who take the name, conceive are not common, or allowable, in other societies. This report is gratuitous, and without truth. Whatever may be the fact involving these points, it is certain they have no bearing on the name under discussion. This relates simply to the form of church government, which the persons, constituting this society, choose to establish, as the system of external order and discipline, and which they believe most nearly to resemble that of the first Christians. That is, they hold it to be the province of every christian congregation to regulate its own concerns, to form its own rules, to choose its minister, and to appoint such a mode of ordination, as they shall deem expedient. They believe this liberty essential to the universal prosperity of the christian church, and that the Scriptures themselves are sufficient on this subject, without any aid from the wisdom, counsels, or deliberations of men in forming laws and regulations, which shall be binding on those, who have no voice in framing them, and who may not be able to perceive their agreement with the word of God. They believe Christ to be the supreme lead of his church, and that every man may be his sincere and acceptable follower, who obeys his instructions with a pure heart, and makes his example the model of his life. Such rules of order, as will facilitate this purpose, and secure harmony and christian fellowship
the members of a congregation statedly worshipping together, ought to be instituted and obeyed.
This plan does not preclude a mutual relation between distinct societies. It allows of an adjustment of difficulties, which may occur in any congregation, by a reference to the opinions, or advice, of any persons, who may be selected from other congregations by a mutual consent of the parties. Whenever a society adheres to the principles of regulating itself, free from the shackles of a contract or combination with other societies, it is strictly independent.
Congregationalists and Independents originally differed only in name; but latterly a large portion of the congregational churches, especially in this country, have suffered encroachments to be made on their independence, by uniting in conventions, associations, and consociations. If this system aimed at nothing more than mutual advice, encouragement, and aid, it would be consistent with Independency. But when it is extended so far, as to allow a certain number of cler. gymen of different congregations to consociate and eject one of their brethren from his office, even against the consent of a majority of the congregation to which he belongs, it is in vain to look any longer for freedom, or to talk of independence. You have as potent a hierarchy as the most ambitious head of the papal see could ever have desired. The proper system of Independency considers every congregation competent to elect and discharge its minister, and to decide on all cases of misdemeanor, as well in respect to him as to each member. The Cambridge Platform, and the Plymouth Platform, have served as rules of discipline to most of the congregational churches in New England; but neither of them is consistent with scriptural free