A Summary of the preceding Treatise on Church Government,
BY QUESTION AND ANSWER.
Quest. What is meant by church government?
Ans. That particular form and order, which Christ has fixed in his Church, for the proper management thereof.
Quest. How does it appear that there is a particular form of government appointed in the New Testament Church?
Ans. As there is as great, if not greater, need of a government, in the New Testament Church, than there was in the Old, all the ordinances of which were most minutely described. Satan is now more experienced in deceiving, and his agents are still alive, and very actively employed, in attempting to waste and destroy this sacred vineyard, if without its proper hedge. Her members are still a mixture of tares and wheat; of sheep and goats: so that there is still a necessity of discerning between the precious and the vile; of trying and censuring false teachers; and of guarding divine ordinances from contempt and pollution. As Jesus gives the New Testament Church the peculiar title of the kingdom of heaven, he could not, in a consistency with his wisdom, leave it without any particular laws or form of government, except the changeable inclinations of men. As he was faithful in his New Testament house, he must fix a particular form of government for her, such as tends to her peace, order, and spiritual edification. And, amidst the prophet’s vision of the New Testament Church, he is directed to teach his people the form of the house, the laws of the house, &c., Ezek. xliii. 11.
Quest. When may a particular form of church government be said to be of divine right?
Ans. When all the parts thereof are agreeable to Scripture precepts; to approved Scripture examples; or are deducible by fair Scripture consequences.
Quest. How does it appear, that Scripture consequences are to be admitted to prove any particular truth or doctrine?
Ans. Because God has formed man a rational intelligent creature, capable of searching out the plain meaning and import, and also the necessary consequences of his express declarations. We find Christ reasoning by a deduction of consequences, when he showed that the doctrine of the resurrection was revealed to Moses at the burning bush; that the sixth commandment forbids angry words; and the seventh lascivious looks, Luke xx. 37, 38; Matt. v. 21, 28. And a great part of the inspired epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews consists in such a deduction of consequences. And as all Scripture is said to be profitable “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,” 2 Tim. iii. 16, without a rational deduction of consequences, every portion of Scripture cannot answer each of these valuable ends.
Quest. What particular form of church government may lay the only proper claim to a divine right, according to the Holy Scriptures?
Ans. The true presbyterian form, without that lordly dominion and tyrannical power, which has too often been exercised by courts, bearing this name. This government claimeth no power over men’s bodies or estates. It does not inflict civil pains or corporal punishments. But it is a government purely spiritual, dealing with the consciences of men, and exercising the keys of the kingdom of heaven, doing all things according to the word of God.
Quest. What are the parts of presbyterial church government?
Ans. It consists of a people, having the qualifications which the Scriptures require; of certain rulers, who are to perform the duties of their respective offices; and of certain courts, in which these rulers sit and act in matters of judgment.
Quest. What are the qualifications of persons who constitute the private members of the visible church?
Ans. They ought to be true believers in Christ, to have a competent knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel, to make a sound profession of their faith, and to maintain a holy conversation.
Quest. What rulers are there in the presbyterian church?
Ans. Preaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons.
Quest. Where is the divine warrant for the preaching elder?
Ans. In the Holy Scriptures we find that God hath set some in the Church, TEACHERS: that our ascended Redeemer hath given her PASTORS and TEACHERS: that the Holy Ghost had made some BISHOPS, OVERSEERS, to feed her; and qualifies some forprophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, 1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11; Acts xx. 28; Rom. xii. 6-8.
Quest. What are the duties of preaching elders?
Ans. To preach the word; to dispense the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; to administer church discipline; and to rule and govern the church, 2 Tim. iv. 2; Matt. xxviii. 19; 1 Cor. xi. 23-29; 1 Tim. v. 20; Tit. ii. 15, and iii. 10; Heb. xiii. 17; 1 Pet. v. 2, 3.Quest. Is the office of the gospel minister instituted by God to continue to the end of time?
Ans. Yes; the ends of it are of a permanent nature, the converting and confirming of the elect, and the silencing of gain-savers, Acts xxvi. 18; Tit. i. 9, 11.
Quest. Where is the divine warrant for the office of the ruling elder?
Ans. From the three following passages of sacred Scripture: 1. From Rom. xii. 5 to 8: “We being many are one body in Christ, and members one of another. 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,” &c. Here we have a list of the ordinary officers of Christ, one body, the church. Here is the teacher: he that teacheth. Here is the pastor: he that exhorteth. Here is the deacon: he that giveth. And here is another officer distinct from all them, he that ruleth. His description attests, that ruling is, if not his only, yet his principal work. He that ruleth is here marked by a distinct character, as having a different gift, and a distinct work from his fellow-officers. This office therefore must be distinct. 2. From 1 Cor. xii. 28, where the Spirit of God informs us, that God hath set some in the Church, GOVERNMENTS. These must be understood of governors, as miracles are afterwards explained of workers of miracles. These governments and governors are said to be set in the church, not in the state; by God, not by men: they are declared to be distinct officers by themselves. Their title, government, implies, that ruling is their principal work. 3. From 1 Tim. v. 17, where the divine warrant for ruling elders shines with more peculiar brightness than anywhere in the book of God: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor; especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” The ruling elders here mentioned necessarily pertain to the church. Two sorts of ruling elders are here plainly distinguished: some that only rule well; others that also labor in word and doctrine. There is not one place in the New Testament, nor perhaps in any Greek author, where the word here translated ESPECIALLY does not distinguish between different persons or things, Gal. vi. 10; Phil. iv. 22; 1 Tim. iv. 10; 2 Tim. iv. 13; and it would be absurd to suppose, that it does not distinguish here also. Therefore this single text shows the divine right of both the teaching and ruling elder.
Quest. What are the duties of ruling elders?
Ans. To exercise ecclesiastical rule in church courts with the same authority as the preaching elder; to watch over the flock; impartially to receive or exclude members; to warn and censure the unruly; and to visit and pray with the sick.
Quest. Where is the divine warrant for deacons?
Ans. From Acts vi., where we are informed of the original and design of their office; and from 1 Tim. iii. 8-12, where the inspired apostle describes their necessary qualifications.
Quest. What are the duties of deacons?
Ans. To look into the state and to serve the tables of the poor, by distributing the funds of the church, according to the respective necessities of the saints, 1 Tim. iii. 12.
Quest. What are the courts in which presbyterian rulers meet?
Ans. Congregational sessions, presbyteries, and synods.
Quest. Where is the divine warrant for congregational sessions?
Ans. From Matt, xviii. 15-18, where, in the Christian form of church discipline prescribed by the Church’s Head, the concluding expression, “Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and publican,” plainly alludes to the Jewish form of procedure in scandals. They had rulers, and consequently courts in every synagogue, or worshipping congregation, Mark v. 35-39. By virtue of letters from the high-priest to these, Saul had free access to punish the Christians in every synagogue, Acts ix. 1, 2. To these congregational courts it pertained to cast out of the synagogue, and to order transgressors to be held for heathen men and publicans, John ix. 22. Now Jesus, in alluding to these, intimates that similar courts should be in every Christian congregation. In this form of discipline our divine Saviour shows his utmost aversion against private offences being unnecessarily published abroad: and therefore the church, to which the offence is to be told, after private admonition is fruitless, must be understood in the most private sense of the word. The following context evidences that it is a church, which may consist only of two or three met together in Christ’s name; yet, notwithstanding, a church having power to bind and loose from censure; that is, a church having the keys of the kingdom of heaven. It cannot then be the whole congregation or body of the people, as they are in general far too numerous to conceal offences, and to them Christ has given no formal judicial power, Matt. xviii. 18-21.
Quest. Where is the divine warrant for a presbytery?
Ans. Timothy is expressly said to be ordained by the laying on of the hands of the PRESBYTERY, 1 Tim. iv. 14. And the number of different Christian congregations governed by one presbytery, as at Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Corinth, proves the divine right of this court. It is shown in the xiii. chapter of the preceding treatise, that in each of these places there were more Christians than could meet in one worshipping congregation, for the enjoying of public ordinances: and yet all these different congregations, at Jerusalem, are expressly said to have been one church, Acts viii. 1: so those at Antioch, Acts xiii. 1: so those at Ephesus, Acts xx. 17: and those also at Corinth, 1 Cor. i. 2. Now the question is, How were the different congregations in each of these places ONE CHURCH? Not merely in union to Christ and mutual affection one to another; for in this respect all the saints are ONE, whether in heaven or in earth. And therefore they are one church in virtue of conjunct government under ONE PRESBYTERY. And in difficult cases, or where a single congregation is so divided into parties that it cannot act impartially; where the difference is between the pastor and the people, a superior court is necessary to obtain material justice.
Quest. Where is the divine warrant for an ecclesiastical synod?
Ans. In Acts xv. and xvi., where we have a cause referred; the proper members of a synod convened; the ordinary and equal power exercised by all those members; the ordinary method of procedure in such courts; and the judicial decrees given by the synod; together with the effect which their judgment, in this matter, had upon the churches.
Quest. What was the cause referred to this synod?
Ans. False doctrine propagated by some Judaizing teachers, who had gone down from Jerusalem to Antioch, and maintained that circumcision and the observance of other branches of the ceremonial law continued necessary for salvation, whereby they subverted some, and troubled other members of the churches there. After much unsuccessful disputing, Paul, Barnabas, and others were delegated to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this matter.
Quest. Who were the proper members of the synod convened here?
Ans. The apostles and elders at Jerusalem; Paul, Barnabas, and others, from Antioch; and other commissioners from the troubled churches to whom the decrees were sent.
Quest. Are not the brethren, the church, the whole church, mentioned here as well as the apostles and elders?
Ans. But none of these expressions can mean, that all the members of the church of Jerusalem either were present or judged in that synod; for women, real members of the church, of the whole church, are expressly forbid to speak in the church, 1 Cor. xiv. 34. Church sometimes signifies only a small part of the church, either as delegates or commissioners, and in this sense it is used in verse 3, where the commissioners from Antioch are said to be brought on their way by the church; and in chap. xviii. 22, it is said that Paul saluted thechurch at Jerusalem. Now, it is not credible that all the Christian professors at Antioch would attend their commissioners a part of the way to Jerusalem; or that Paul saluted the many ten thousand Christians at Jerusalem, Acts xxi. 20. And the whole church does not necessarily mean the whole individual members of the church, more than the whole world mentioned, 1 John ii. 2, means every individual in the world. If any, to support a favorite opinion, will still insist that the whole members of the church actually met and judged of this affair equally with the apostles and elders, they may inform us where they obtained a proper place for so many judges to reason and determine with distinctness or order. That the brethren who joined in judgment with the apostles and elders were not private persons, but rather delegates from the troubled churches around, appears from Judas and Silas, two of them being preachers, v. 22.
Quest. How does it appear that the power of all the members was ordinary and equal?
Ans. As every member, inspired or not, acted equally in the whole business laid before them. Paul and Barnabas were delegated by the church of Antioch: and the elders, who convened, had the same power as the apostles. To the elders, teaching or ruling, as well as to the apostles, was the matter referred: both met to consider of it: both were equally concerned in the decision, saying, It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us. Elders, as well as apostles, imposed the necessary things upon the churches, and authoritatively determined the decrees. In the name of the elders, as well as of the apostles, the letters of the meeting, containing their decision, were written to the churches. And the only reason why the inspired members put themselves on an equality with others was to exhibit a pattern to after ages.
Quest. How does it appear, that this synod followed the ordinary method of procedure in such courts?
Ans. As they examined the cause by much reasoning and dispute. In consequence of mature deliberation they determined the question, and sent letters, containing their decrees, by proper messengers, to the churches concerned. In their disputation they reasoned from the oracles of God: on these they founded their decision; and hence therein they say, It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us. And if this had not been to have given a pattern to succeeding ages, all this was unnecessary: how absurd for inspired men to reason and dispute on the subject, when the sentence of one inspired was sufficient for decision!
Quest. How does it appear that there were judicial decrees given by this synod?
Ans. In opposition to the false doctrine taught, they, by a judicial decision, plainly declared, that obedience to the ceremonies of the law of Moses was no longer necessary: and by a decree for promoting decency and good order, they enacted, that to avoid offence, the believing Gentiles should abstain from fornication, from things strangled, and from blood, verse 24-29.
Quest. What effect had the decision of this synod upon the churches?
Ans. They cheerfully submitted to these decrees, and were by them conformed in the faith, comforted in heart, and increased in number daily, Acts xv. 31, and xvi. 4, 5.
Quest. But might not this be a meeting merely for consultation, and their decision a mere advice?
Ans. No: for every word here used imports authority. The word translated lay upon, commonly signifies an authoritative imposition, Matt. xxiii. 4. The decision is expressly called a necessary burden, and decrees ordained, which imply power and authority, Acts xv. 16, xvii. 7.
Quest. How does it appear that inferior courts are subordinate to those that are superior; sessions to presbyteries, and presbyteries to synods?
Ans. The true light of nature (which is proved, chap, iii., to be one of those ways, whereby a thing is of divine right) teacheth us, that, if we be injured by an inferior court, we may appeal to a higher court for redress, if there be one. As in the Jewish church there was evidently a subordination of judicatories, so that those injured in the synagogue might appeal to the Sanhedrin, Deut. xvii. 8, 12; 2 Chron. xix. 8, 11; Exod. xviii. 22, 26; Ps. cxxii. 5: therefore as our dangers, difficulties, and necessities are as great as theirs, by reason of false teachers and corrupt doctrines, which were foretold should appear in the last times, 1 Tim. iv. 1; 2 Pet. ii. 1; we cannot, without dishonor to Christ, suppose that he would deprive us of a proper remedy for redressing our grievances, which was afforded unto them:—the gradual advance in managing offences prescribed by Christ himself, Matt. xviii. 19, as his care for the whole church cannot be less than for a single member. If then an inferior judicatory offend or injure us, we ought to carry the matter to another that has more influence and authority. If the offending judicatory neglect to hear this, we ought to tell the offence to the church in the highest sense, that redress may be obtained—the apostle Paul declaring, that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. But the right of reference or appeal from an inferior to a superior court is most clearly evinced from the case of the presbytery of Antioch, respecting circumcision, being referred for decision to the synod of Jerusalem, and their readily submitting to its determination, Acts xv.
Quest. How does it appear that no power of authority is lodged in the body of the people, the private members of the church?
Ans. Although every church member has a right to all the spiritual privileges purchased with the Saviour’s blood, and given to the church, as need requires; although he has a right to try the spirits, and to prove all things by the word of God; a power to choose the church officers who are immediately to rule over him; yet the Holy Scriptures allow the exercise of no official power to the private members of the church. Not the Christian people, but their pastors have power to preach the gospel, Rom. x. 15; and to administer the sacraments, those mysteries of God, which are connected with preaching, 1 Cor. iv. 1; Matt. xxviii. 19. Not the people, but their rulers, are divinely warranted. Timothy was ordained, not by the people, but by the presbytery: elders, not by the people, but by Paul and Barnabas: and deacons, not by the people, but by the apostles, 1 Tim. iv. 14; Acts xiv. 23, and vi. 3, 6. Not the people, but their rulers are to censure the scandalous, and to absolve the penitent, Matt. xviii. 18; 1 Cor. v. The Scripture nowhere ascribes to the people any such characters as imply authority lodged in them; but the contrary. Instead of being styled pastors, they are called the flock, watched over and fed; instead of overseers, the family overseen; instead of rulers, guides, governors, they are called the body governed, the persons subject in the Lord, and they are solemnly charged to know, honor, obey, and submit to those that are over them.
Quest. What is the proper method of dealing with persons that fall into scandal?
Ans. If the offence be known only to one or to a few, the offender is to be told his fault secretly, with Christian meekness, plainness, and love. If he profess his sorrow and resolution to amend, the whole matter ought to be carefully concealed; and those offended ought to be well pleased that their offending brother is gained. If, after one or more secret reproofs, he continue impenitent, defending his fault, one or two more Christian brethren, grave, judicious, and meek, are to be taken along, and the offender to be dealt with by them, and in their presence. If now he appear to repent, the several persons concerned in his reproof are, with care and in love, to conceal his offence, lest, by divulging it, they be reproached as wicked calumniators. If the offender contemn one or more such private admonitions or reproofs, or if his scandal be of such a nature that it will necessarily become public, the affair is to be told to the church court, to which he is most immediately subject. And, to bring him to a due sense of his fault, he is to be there dealt with in a prudent, affectionate, plain, and convincing manner. If this prove a means of bringing him to a sense of his offence, the censures of the church are to be executed upon him according to the laws of Christ’s house, and the nature of his crime, and he is to be restored to the privileges of the church. But if, after due pains taken by the judicatories, he remain obstinate, he is then to be cast out of the church, and held as a heathen man and publican, Matt. xviii. 15 to 18.
117 [ The substance of this Number is extracted from Ford’s Gospel Church, printed 1675.]
118 [ John xvi. 8, 9; 2 Cor. v. 5; Eph. ii. 1, 5.]
119 [ Col. ii. 6; 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20.]
120 [ Col. i. 12.]
121 [ 1 Pet. ii. 5.]
122 [ From Brown’s Letters.]
123 [ Extracted from the Christian Magazine for Sept. 1797—a periodical publication well worth the perusal of the friends of evangelical doctrine.]
124 [ From Brown’s Letters.]
125 [ This number is a summary of Dr. Owen’s arguments in favor of the divine right of the ruling elder, with an abstract of the duties which he ought to perform. Although the Doctor was a professed Independent, yet he was entirely different, both in doctrine and church government, from any in Scotland that bear that name, as all who are acquainted with his works will easily observe. The writer of his life asserts that he heard him say, “He could readily join with presbytery as it was exercised in Scotland.” And indeed it appears very probable that the difference between the consultative synod which he allows, and the authoritative synod contended for by true Presbyterians, is not so far different as many apprehend, because the decisions of either bind the conscience only as they are agreeable to the Holy Ghost speaking in the Scriptures.]