Men of God

Nigel Lee on Owen’s Congregationalism

Let us summarize Owen’s final conclusions in his own words. In his essay Duty of Pastors
and People Distinguished (XIII:39), he wrote:
“The principles and rules of that church government from which…I desire not to wander,
are…called presbyterial or synodical  in opposition to prelatical or diocesan on the one
side, and that which is commonly called independent or congregational on the other.” REV. DR. JOHN OWEN  RE-PRESBYTERI-ANIZED
One of his major works, is his True Nature of a Gospel Church. In chapter eleven thereof
(entitled Of the Communion of Churches), Owen observes (XVI:185ff): “Herein then, we
acknowledge…the state of the Church of Christ in this world.” The true union is their
“existing union with or relation to Christ their Head”  with “joint actings in the same
gospel duties towards God in Christ.” They have “mutual actings towards each other, with
respect to their institution and being….
“The outward acts of communion among churches…may be referred unto two heads of
advice and assistance. Churches have communion unto their mutual edification by advice in
synods and councils. Synods are the meeting of diverse churches by their messengers or
delegates, to consult and determine of such things as are of common concernment unto them
all, by virtue of this communion which is exercised in them….
“This acting in synods is an institution of Jesus Christ…in the nature of the thing itself,
fortified by apostolical example…. Truth, peace, and love may be lost among churches 
and so the union of the catholic church in them be dissolved, unless this means for their
preservation and reparation be made use of….
“Where there has been any maladministration of discipline, whereby any members of the
church have been injured  as suppose they are unduly cast out of the church by the power
and interest of some Diotrephes….it is necessary, from the communion of churches and the
interest the persons injured have in the catholic church, whose edification is the end of all
church administrations, that the proceedings of such a church be reviewed by a synod, and a
remedy be provided in the case….
“If it be reported, or known by credible testimony, that any church hath admitted into the
exercise of divine worship any thing superstitious or vain…, the church itself [then] not
endeavouring its own reformation and repentance  other churches walking in communion
therewith, by virtue of their common interest in the glory of Christ and [the] honour of the
gospel, after more private ways for its reduction, as opportunity and duty may suggest unto
their elders, ought to assemble in a synod for advice, either as to the use of further means for
the recovery of such a church, or to withhold communion from it, in case of obstinacy in its
evil ways…. It were not amiss if those churches which walk in express communion would
frequently meet in synods to enquire into the spiritual state of them all, and to give advice for
the correction of what is amiss….
“Here it is evident what are the ends of such synods amongst the churches of Christ. The
general end of them all is to promote the edification of the whole body or church catholic;
and that 
(1) To prevent divisions from differences in judgement and practice,
(2) To avoid or cure offences against mutual love among them,
(3) To advance the light of the gospel by a joint confession and agreement of faith,
(4) To give a concurrent testimony against pernicious heresies or errors, whereby the faith of
any is overthrown, or in danger so to be, and,
(5) To relieve such by advice as may be by any Diotrephes unduly cast out of the church…. REV. DR. JOHN OWEN  RE-PRESBYTERI-ANIZED
“Respect unto the causes or occasions of them, will determine what…may be necessary on
such occasions to constitute a synod…. That kind of synod which some call a classis [or
presbytery], which is a convention of elders or officers of sundry parochial churches…., is the
constitution of…particular churches by the combination of them [all] into one….unto
“Church-states whose being, bounds, and limits are given unto them absolutely by those
of the civil government which they belong unto  it is thought meet [or suitable] that
ecclesiastical synods should be accommodated. It is eminently useful unto the edification of
the church catholic that all the churches professing the same doctrine of faith, within the
limits of the same sup

reme civil government, should hold constant actual communication
among themselves.”