« PreviousContinue »
of the Apostles themselves. Peter, it is true, is only mentioned in this Arst passage ; but we find the same power given to the whole of those favoured men in the passage in John xx., 21, 22, 23; so that it equally belonged to them all. The directions contained in Matthew xviii., 15-18, respecting private offences, were delivered to the Apostles alone. « These words.” says Mr. Watson, “therefore, were spoken to the Apostles, as indeed was the whole preceding discourse; for the eleven, after they had disputed about superiority, by the way, joined Peter and Christ in the house; and the twelve being thus collected, and they only, our Lord delivers to them that series of addresses which this chapter contains.” It follows, that the authority conveyed in the 18th verse is not given to the church collectively, for our Lord was not addressing himself to it, but to the Apostles :--" Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”The most sober and moderate interpreters have, with great reason, held that this binding and loosing referred to things, not men; and was a power committed to the Apostles to administer the discipline of the church on the model just given by the discourse of our Lord, and also of future revelations to be made known by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. The power thus conferred might be extraordinary and limited, and in that be pe culiar to the Apostles themselves; but it is not with this that we have at present to do, but with the fact, that though the instructions in question related to the church, yet they were committed into the hands of such church officers as then esisted, and not to the church in its collective capacity. Our modern innovators, assuming that every member of the church has the right of "interference” in the administration of its discipline ; our object is to trace out the manner in which the power of discipline is conferred from the beginning, whether on the church collectively or on its officers.
We are informed by St. Luke, in the first chapter of Acts, that our Lord “shewed himself” to the Apostles “ alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; and that by the Holy Ghost he gave them commandments.” If we turn to the latter chapters of the gospels, we shall meet with some of these things pertaining to his kingdom ;" and amongst others, the commission formally given to the Apostles, to preach his gospel and to exercise spiritual government. In Matthew, chapter xxviii., 18, 19, 20, it is said-—" And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach (uakonteúoate, disciple) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you ; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." In John xx., 21, 22, 23, our Lord is represented as enlarging the powers of this commission. The instructions were given at different times and places, and the language is not the same. The passage in John may be considered as explanatory of that in Matthew and the other evangelists : -" Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you; as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
In these sacred transactions between the Apostles and their risen Lord and Saviour, in which he was conveying to them his final oral instructions in the "things pertaining to his kingdom,” we find three or four distinct subjects: a commission to preach the gospel a power to disciple the people, by instructing them to "observe" all things which they had received from him--the right to administer the ordinance of bap, tism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Ghost-and, in the passage in John, whatever may be meant by the terms, the authority to fremit sins," Here we have not only the elements of all discipline, but the Apostles are formally inducted into the office of governors of the church by the authority of its Head. There is something sin. gular in these transactions. The persons in question had been called to the Apostolic office that of bearing testimony to Christ-previously; consequently, the powers now conferred were not such as to make them Apostles, but were an addition to their former duties and obligations, and related to the administration of discipline, As long as Christ remained, personally, with the church, he exercised the power of governa ment; but now, going from them, to his Father and their Father, he explained and then conferred the rights of a subordinate spiritual government upon his Apostles. There is not the remotest intimation, in all these solemn interviews between Christ and his Apostles, that the government of the Christian societies was intended to be democratic, or, up to this period, even of a mixed description. No parties are mentioned, in the command of Christ to preach the gospelto disciple all nations to baptize them in the name of the adorable trinity-and to retain or remit sins-declaratively, and in the exercise of church power, but the Apostles, Then, up to the time of the Saviour's
Àscension, there is no proof of a deposit of administrative power and government being given to the collective members of the church, either to be enforced by themselves or to be delegated to others. At the period of our Lord's separation from his church there must have been a number of believers, though not united in church order and communion, yet still, devoted to his cause, as his professed disciples. Had he intended that his church should have been founded on the democratical model, and the people possess the right in all things to “interfere” in the system of Christianity, one would judge that this was the most fit and suitable time to have expounded the princi. ples of such a scheme of polity. As disciples were now devoted to him, as well as the ministerial office established, it is reasonable to suppose, that, had it been the intention of the great Head of the church to establish, through all time, a Christian republic, he would have summoned both people and pastors into his presence, and from the nucleus of such republic already existing, have unfolded its principles and instructed the new society how, in all future times, it should independently manage its own affairs, administer its own government, and elect its own officers. How does the matter stand in respect to this? Instead of summoning the two parties before him, we find all his intercourse on these questions held with the Apostles alone, and the whole administrative power committed into their hands.
The next subject for inquiry is Whether the Apostles, in forming Christian churches, committed its discipline into the hands of the religious societies thus founded by their own ministry, or invested their pastors and officers with that obligation and duty ? It is impossible to imagine that these divinely inspired teachers of Christianity could mistake the meaning of their rights or duties; or that they could, from ambition or any other mean passion, usurp the rights of the church! The Spirit, resting upon them in his plenary inspiration, would guide them in all they did as well as all they taught. A candid investigation of the question we have proposed to discuss, will lead to the conclusion that the discipline and government of the different sections of the church were entrusted, by the Apostles themselves, to the ministers and officers; and there is not the least reason for believing, that the representative scheme had any place in these primitive Christian societies. Some reliance, however, being placed on two or three isolated passages, in support of a contrary opinion, it is but fair to examine them. The writer of this article having occasion to consult some of the standard authorities on the opposite side, found himself referred by Calvin, in his Institutes, to only one passage. "Acts xiv., 23, in support of the suffrages of the people being taken in the election of pastors to their office and investiture with its rights. Another authority, Knapp, remarks" The Apostles never imposed teachers upon any church, but left to the churches the enjoyment of the right belonging to them of choosing their own teachers. This right of choosing their officers (the term is here changed) was some. times exercised by the churches and sometimes they left it to the Apostles, or persons commissioned by them, to whom was committed the care of the public affairs of the church." This German liberal even out-Herods Herod in his notions of democratic power, for he places the Apostles themselves under the authority of the church. He says, “they never imposed teachers upon the church;” and “this right of choosing their officers was sometimes exercised by the churches, and sometimes they left it to the Apostles.” He then refers to Acts vi., 2, 3, 4, 5-2nd Cor. viii., 19. As these passages are chiefly depended upon, together with Acts xv. and 1 Cor. V., in the argument from scripture, in support of the independent rights of the church, and, consequently, that discipline and government primarily belong to the private members, it may be proper to turn to them.
The passage in Acts xiv., 23, relates to the ordination of elders, and is as follows: And when they had ordained elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” The point in debate, arising out of this passage, relates to the manner of ordination. Calvin and others contend that it was by the suffrages of the people, expressed by the lifting up of the hand. Because the word rendered “ordain” (XerpoTOVÝ OOVTES), literally refers to the lifting up or stretching out the hand, they have maintained that the reference was to the votes of the people, taken in the common method of ascertaining majorities by a shew of hands. Nothing, however, is said respecting the people lifting up the hand, for the entire allusion is to Paul and Barnabas. They ordained these elders; and the hands lifted up, were the hands of these Apostles, raised or stretched out, and laid upon them, as the visible sign of their being set apart to their office. We had collected many authorities on this passage, but our limits will only allow us to quote that of Dr. Hill; (Lectures, vol. 3, p. 410, 411):-“And with regard to those officers in the church which were not, like the office of deacons, chiefly secular, but which implied the exereise of spiritual authority, there is not any passage which, when fairly examined, will be found to intimate that it was conferred by the act of the people. One passage which is chiefly relied on as giving independency, is Acts xiv. 23. But besides that, XEIDOTOVEIV before the time of Luke, was used for simple designation, without the exercise of suffrage, as is plain from his own expression, Acts x. 41; it is applied in this passage, not to the people, but to Paul and Barnabas ; so that, whatever be the meaning of the word, it can only be considered as making known the part which these disciples took in the appointment of the elders."*
The transaction mentioned in Acts vi. 1–6, relative to the appointment of deacons, by no means proyes the independent right of churches to elect its own officers and administer its own discipline. Instead of this right being considered inherent in the private members of the church either by themselves or the Apostles, we find that the * multitude of the disciples” were perfectly silent on the question in dispute respecting the “ daily ministration." to the widows, and so far from claiming the power to interpose and settle this question, it was the Apostles who called them together. Hence the franchise, to use a modern phrase, on which they proceeded to choose the seven deacons for the approval of the Apostles, was not one which they possessed in consequence of their being members of the church-natural and inherent; but was one which was conferred by the authority of the pastors of the church. This power from the Apostles, extended exclusively to their “ looking out from among themselves şeyen men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost,” that “we,” (the Apostles) “may appoint over this business." Having made the choice of seven men, whose names are mentioned, they “set them before the Apostles ; and when they had prayed they laid their hands on them.” Nothing can be clearer from the whole of this proceeding, than that the church itself did not understand that its own private members possessed the independent right to choose its own officers, or administer its own government. They did not claim the power eyen to look out, or to choose from amongst themselves these honest men, till they had received it from the Apostles; and when they had done this, the choice was not final and complete till the candidates had been examined (set before, the Apostles, and they had laid their hands on them. Besides, there is no proof that at this era, the office of deacon itself had any ecclesiastical or spiritual functions. We find, in tracing the history of the church as far as the divine record carries us, that, Bishops, Elders, Angels, Evangelists, and Apostles, sustained ecclesiastical or spiritual functions; but we never read of deacons doing so. Some of them, indeed, appear in the character of evangelists afterwards; and in this character we find them preaching the gospel and administering ordinances : but they might have passeil from this lower office of administering the funds and alms of the church to that of evangelist, by the call and designation of God. When Philip is represented as preaching in Samaria, and baptising the Eunuch, he is spoken of as an evangelist and not as a deacon. It follows from this, that these "good men,” whatever they might become afterwards, were not chosen by the multitude of the disciples to any pastoral, ministerial, or governing office at all, but simply to the office of ministering to the necessities of the poor. We are quite aware that the office of deacon afterwards became an ecclesiastical function, and so it remains in the church of England to this day; but its original institution was simply, as we state it, a right conferred on the church by the Apostles, in conjunction with themselves, to select certain individuals to distribute their charities amongst the poor.
A transaction of a somewhat similar nature is mentioned in 2 Cor. viii., and especially v. 19, which has been unwarrantably pressed into the service of the independent or representative scheme. The churches of Macedonia, it appears, determined to administer to the necessities of the poor saints at Jerusalem, who, by a fa. mine or some other calamity, were exposed to great privations and sufferings. St. Paul was present amongst them at the time they were exerting themselves to raise funds for this purpose, and ardently exhorts the Corinthians to imitate their liberality. Internal evidence shews that the Apostle sent Titus and the “ brother," whoever he might be, “whose praise was in the gospel through all the churches,” previously to going himself to forward this business, and he informs them that Titus was most ready to perform this task of his own accord ; and he was the bearer of this epistle. As the Apostle himself was going up to Jerusalem, these churches of Macedonia had requested him to be the bearer of their charity, “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” Instead of taking this office upon himself, in conjunction with Titus, he appears to have recommended them to elect a messenger of their own to be united with
. * If any of our readers wish to prosecute the inquiry further on this text, they will find ample satisfaction in Hammond, Whithy, Bloomfield's Notes to the Greek Testament, Stillingfleet's Irenicum, &c.
them in this business. Hence it is said." And we have sent with him (Titus) the brother whose praise is in the Gospel through all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace (gift) which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind;" or, as Macknight paraphrases it
“ 19. However that is not my only reason for sending him : he was also chosen of the churches of Macedonia to accompany me to Jesusalem with this gift, which I have been the instrument of procuring to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, himself, and to afford you an opportunity of showing your readiness to do works of charity to the saints.
“ 20. The sending messengers with me to Jerusalem I suggested to the churches, taking care of this, that no one should blame me as unfaithful in the management of this great sum which is procured by me for the saints.
.“ 21. Previously considering what was comely in this affair, not only in the sight of the Lord, to whom I chiefly desire to approve myself; but also in the sight of men, from whose minds, I wish to remove any suspicion, which might hinder my usefulness." Because the churches thus chose a person or persons, to carry their cbarities to Jerusa. lem, it has been strenuously argued that this is a proof of the independent and indefeasible right of the disciples to elect, by suffrage, their own officers, and administer the discipline of the church. Whether this principle is true or false, we think it would be extremely difficult to establish it on this transaction. For, first, the person chosen by the churches was “sent to them by the Apostle; and, from this, it appears that the whole business was arranged under the Apostle's own guidance and direction.Then, secondly, as their messenger, he travelled in company with the Apostle and Titus, and discharged the duties of his charitable embassy in union with these nonelected men. But, thirdly, he was elected to no office whatever. Even the office of deacon is not mentioned. He was simply chosen and sent, for the purpose of bearing this “gift” of charity to the poor saints, and here his duties terminated. It is true the person so chosen might be a preacher; and, as he passed through different places, and eyen on his arrival at Jerusalem, he might exercise the duties of his ministry; but, their election did not confer on him the office; it went to entrust to his care and management the charitable funds of their church, and nothing more. The paucity of proof in support of the independent right of the church to “interfere in all its affairs” is very apparent from the stress laid on this passage in support of the notion, that the people ought to elect their own ministers and officers. We see that no office of any description is mentioned, or can by any possibility be referred to; and, consequently, nothing is proved in support of the democratic theory. The only plausible argument which ever has, or could have been raised on these proceedings, is an inference that, because the practice of church suffrage is used in this particular instance, it must have generally prevailed. We confess, if we had no information beyond this text, on the subject of an appointment to spiritual and pastoral offices, we should be inclined to admit the validity of the reason. But, as it is, we have a vast multitude of unequivocal facts, fully and clearly establishing a contrary practice. The appointment of deacons, and the election of the person to transact this temporal business at Jerusalem, indeed, proves one point, 'which we, with great readiness, admil, viz.--that the Apostles and primitive preachers of Christianity were anxious to free themselves as much as possible from the obligation “ to serve tables,” that they might “ give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This principle is fully established by these transactions; and, we confess, it would afford us much pleasure to see an arrangement, equitably made, to free the ministers of our own connexion from secular concerns. It is not the management of the funds for which we contend; but the spiritual rights, freedom, and efficiency of the pastoral office; and that not to confer a “ lordship of ecclesiastical rule over God's heritage; but that “the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified.”
The next occurrence which has been much relied upon in this controversy, in support of the free and independent suffrages of the private members of the church in the exercise of discipline and government, is that so largely entered into in the xv. chapter of the Acts. On a full examination of this case, we confess that it has proved to be much less on the side of a popular “ interference” than we at first imagined. It will be evident to every impartial person, that in adjudicating on the matter in question the people took no part. Let us examine the point in all its particulars.
First. The mooted question at Antioch respecting the obligation of the new converts to observe the rite of circumcision, was not submitted to the whole church; but to the Apostles and Elders, see v. 2. This proyes two or three points of some consideration. As, first, that the independence of separate societies did not then exist; for, if it had, the church at Antioch would themselves have claimed the right to settle this question, which was one of discipline. It shows, secondly, that, though the societies of Christians were, of necessity, separated from each other by distance, yet the church was then
considered one, and existed urder a common superintendence. Thirdly, that a pas toral government is here explicitly acknowledged, on a point of discipline, for the matter is not laid before one church by another, for their opinion and judgment; but a church, avowedly as an aggrieved or agitated party, make their appeal to thó “ Apostles and Elders.” This shows that the pastors of the church were then acknowledged as the legitimate authorities to examine the facts, and adjudicate in the case.
Second. Paul and Barnabas were received of the church, in conjunction with the Apostles and Elders, to hear the account of their success in the conversion of the Gentiles, verse 4. In the course of their address in this mixed assembly of the min. isters and disciples, at Jerusalem, these preachers to the Gentiles were led to relate the case in dispute, no doubt in connexion with the inquiry it had occasioned, and the obstructions it had thrown in their way. Nothing, however, as yet, was done by this mixed assembly.
Third. It is stated expressly, “ And the Apostles and Elders came together for to consider of this matter." These terms evidently imply a separate meeting of these officers at a different time and place. We are not informed, as to the manner in which the judgment was taken, neither is this material. They were inspired men, and the question was settled under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; for it is said in a subsequent part of the proceedings, “ for it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay none other burthen upon you.” The fact is as clear as language can make it, that the church, collectively, did not consider the case, debate the mooted point, or determine by a show of hands, how the matter should be settled, and issue their decree accordingly. The question was submitted to the Apostles and Elders; and, in their pastoral and administrative capacity, under the inspiration of the Spirit, they came to their decision.
Fourth. The multitude of the believers appear to have come together again to hear the result, and the farther statement of Paul and Barnabas ; or, in case they had remained, the Apostles and Elders must have retired to a separate place, and returned with their decision. This is possible ; but the probability is, that the whole transaction did not take place at one meeting.
Fifth. James, as the president of the assembly of Apostles and Elders, proceeds. in his own name, to pronounce judgment; giving, at the same time, reasons for it to the assembled brethren. He does not take their vote to ascertain their opinion in any way; but separately gives judgment; for this is the literal meaning of the words used. St. James says_byw geivw.I adjudge ; or, as it is rendered “my sentence is that ye trouble not them which from the Gentiles are turned to God."
Sixth. Then after the decree had been settled by the Apostles and Elders, and the questions adjudged by St. James, a letter to the churches was agreed upon, to be delivered by certain persons “ chosen to go with Paul and Barnabas." Inthese proceedings, the assembled brethren evidently unite and take a part. The reason for this is stated: “Then pleased it the Apostles and Elders, with the whole church to send chosen men of their own company with Paul and Barnabas-namely, Judas, surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren." Dr. Adam Clarke remarks on this part of the transaction-"James determined what ought to be done; and the whole assembly resolved how that should be done."
Seventh. In consequence of their sending chosen men from amongst themselves with Paul and Barnabas, as bearers of the “decree” of the Apostles and Elders, they --the brethren-are united in the letter to the churches, as we find various brethren united in affection in the subscriptions of the epistles. They send greeting “to their brethren in Antioch, and Syria,' and Cilicia.” Giving by this the proof of their cordial acquiescence in the decree of the officers of the church, and their good will to the Gentile Christians.
Eighth. Then, fully to settle the question, as to the persons who framed the decree itself, and how it was accredited, both by those who delivered it and those who received it, it is said in the next chapter, 4th vetse, “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the Apostles and Elders which were at Jerusalem.
Thus it is evident that this disputed question was not settled by the suffrages of the people, either in the church at Antioch, or in that at Jerusalem. The people take no part in the adjudication of the question : in the one case, advice is sought, and in the other, a deep interest is felt-an approval of the measure of relief expressed_fraternal affection manifested and “ chosen men” sent to aid the Apostles, and to bear their united token of good will. But the case itself is judged by the Apostles and Elders, in the exercise of that pastoral superintendence which was committed into their hands by the Head of the church; whilst James, their president,