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own appointing. When Matthias was appointed to fill the place of Judas, the traitor, it was done by vote of the whole body of disciples one hundred and twenty in number, the apostles having no more authority than others. When the seven deacons were appointed in the church at Jerusalem, they were chosen for that station by the members themselves—the apostles acting simply in the name of the church to publicly consecrate them to their work. When "elders were ordained in every church," these churches we have reason to believe were the responsible agents in doing it. The apostles had nothing to do authoritatively in selecting the men, they only gave them their public sanction. In 2 Cor. viii: 19, it is expressly declared that the companion of Paul was appointed to his office by the churches. There is every reason to believe that in all cases, (unless perhaps in a few instances evangelists should be excepted,) teachers and church officers were appointed under God by the brethren. The apostles warn the churches to try the spirits,” and to beware of false teachers, but they never assume the prerogative of legislating over such teachers, or those who favor them. In Rev. ii: 2, the Ephesian church is commended for rejecting false teachers, and in the twentieth verse of the same chapter, the church in Thyatira is reproved for not doing it,—thus proving that down to the very close of revelation, it was the business of the churches to appoint, receive and reject religious teachers. How plain is it that those institutions of modern times, which place the government of the churches in the hands of church officers, who are themselves appointed by church officers, are at variance with original ecclesiastical polity.
Concerning the great ecclesiastical organizations which have figured so largely in the world since the second or third centuries, it has already been intimated that the Bible knows nothing of them. Although this fact alone is not proof that they are a part of the great Anti-Christ, yet, to say the least, it is nothing in their favor. It may be thought by some that the great convention which was held in Jerusalem to settle the question which arose about circumcision, affords some countenance to the organizations in question. Between that convention and these organizations there are three fundamental points of disagreement which render them wholly unlike, any one of which would forever preclude either from finding countenance in the other. This convention was a meeting called together for a special object. It had no constitution
It was not a permanent body. It transacted its business and then adjourned sine die. In this respect it had nothing in common with the permanent organizations with which it is compared. Then again, this convention was not made up of a select company. It was composed of all the members of the Church at Jerusalem, and doubtless members from other Churches present were included also. Each, so far as we can know, had an equal right to speak and an equal voice in voting. Not so with these other organizations. They exclude from participating officially in their meetings the great mass of the Churches, while at the same time they are exercising judicial power over those Churches. Further still, there is no evidence that the decision of that convention was at all binding upon the Churches abroad unless they chose to adopt it. There is nothing then about this convention to countenance those organizations which sprung up at a later day. Indeed it contains much to discountenance them; for first, if meetings out of the local Churches are ever to be held to settle questions of "faith and practice,” we have here the model after which they are to be formed and conducted; and secondly, inasmuch as but one great convention was ever called during the days of the apostles, notwithstanding the great apparent demand for them, the conclusion seems irresistible, that even such conventions ought not to be resorted to but in very special exigencies and for the most important reasons.
Now if the teachings of the New Testament have been rightly stated, it is vain to say that the Bible contains no form of Church organization and polity. It gives you regularly organized bodies consisting of members and officers;it places in the membership of the Churches judicial power; giving them authority to receive and discipline their own members—to choose and dismiss their own religious teachers. It recognizes each localChurch as an entirely independent body. Now what is all this but a system of church government? Those who assert that the scriptures reveal no set form of government for the Churches, can only mean that they reveal no such forms as have commonly existed since the second century, and all this is indeed true.
Such are the doctrines of the Bible on this subject, and whatever additional teachings early Church history furnishes are in perfect harmony with those of scripture. So exceedingly indefinite and uncertain is our knowledge of the history of the Church for two centuries subsequently to the death of the apostles, that but few quotations relating to her polity during that period will be inserted. Nearly all ecclesiastical historians, to whatever denominations they belong, agree in admitting that during at least the first century of the Christian era, the Church enjoyed an independent form of government.
The following is from Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1st, Chap. 2nd, page 37.
“In those early times, every Christian Church consisted of the people, their leaders, and the ministers or deacons; and these indeed belong essentially to every religious society. The people were undoubtedly the first in authority; for the apostles showed by their own example that nothing of moment was to be carried on or determined without the consent of the assembly; and such a method was both prudent and necessary in those times.”
" It was therefore the assembly of the people which chose scribes and teachers, or received them by a free authoritative consent when recommended by others. The same people rejected or confirmed by their suffrages the laws that were proposed by their rulers to the assembly; excommunicated profligate and unworthy members of the Church; restored the penitent to their forfeited privileges; passed judgment upon the different subjects of controversy and dissension that arose in their community; examined and decided the disputes which happened between the elders and deacons; and in a word exercised all the authority which belongs to such as are invested with sovereign power.”
Quotations from the same writer equally in point with the above might be given to almost any extent. He expressly declares that “the churches in those early times were independent, none of them being subject to any foreign jurisdiction."
Archbishop Whately, in his “Kingdom of Christ Delineated,” a work which has received the most marked attention and extensive circulation both in this country and in England, expressly says, when speaking of the Churches in the first century, “they were each a distinct independent community on earth, united by the common principles on which they were founded, and by their mutual agreement, affection and respect; but not having any one recognized head on earth, or acknowledging any sovereignty of one of these societies (referring to other churches) over them.” Similar testimony from various other writers might be giv
But these statements coming from so high an authority and from those whose church relations and prejudices would naturally incline them to an opposite view, are deemed sufficient.
Thus we see that when Christianity was first established, and for some time subsequently, an independent form of government prevailed. At what period precisely despotism may be said to have prevailed over independency it would be difficult to say. The change, instead of being sudden and violent, like those by which republics are sometimes overthrown and divested of their liberties, was so gradual in its progress, that the Churches themselves were almost insensible to it, till they were brought under the control of a vast ecclesiastical hierarchy—till they had become so accustomed to the yoke as scarcely to desire a release from the burdens it imposed. The change doubtless commenced as soon as the apostles were gone, and gradually progressed till the whole system of primitive church order was subverted, which was achieved not later than during the third century. The regular links in the chain of progress by which this result was finally reached, are not certainly known. Probably they succeeded each other in something like the following order. The officers of the church, (that is, the deacons, and public teachers termed in the scripture bishops, elders, and presbyters,) by virtue of their station and superior endowments, naturally acquired an influence above that of the generality of their brethren. Of course they received, and, true to human nature, soon claimed for themselves and their opinions, superior regard; and next implicit obedience. This was unwittingly and piously yielded, and thus the foundation laid for the results which followed. The government of the church was soon practically in the hands of its officers. By a process exactly similar to this, different orders were introduced into the gospel ministry. In the apostles' days, all ministers, so far as authority to rule was concerned, stood on the same broad platform. The doctrine of apostolic succession, which lays the foundation for these different grades of office, as Bishop Whately admits, in the first age of the church was unthought of. As converts increased, different churches were formed in the same vicinity. This brought their officers, and especially their ministers, frequently into the society of each other. The more talented of these pastors soon began to receive, and then to claim, marked attention. As the pastors generally had commenced dictating and controlling their churches, so these privileged
ones now begin to dictate and control their brethren in the ministry. Bisho prics, and the office of bishops to rule over them were soon established. Councils for the
purpose prescribing rules of faith and practice for the church, now become frequent. This brings all the bishops into communication, and the result is, the more eminent or fortunate of these bishops claim still higher authority. The contest for power continues as piety declines and corruption prevails, till the whole religious world is controlled practically by two bishops-one at Rome and one at Constantinople. The bishop of Rome soon triumphed over his rival, and was crowned bishop or pope of the world, invested with supreme civil and ecclesiastical power, and proclaimed infallible.
Now all this was the certain and necessary result of one single and apparently unimportant mistake, fallen into by the churches almost as soon as the apostles died, namely, permitting the government of the church in any degree to go out of their own hands. When the brotherhood consented to this, the principle of independency on which they were based by the apostles was gone. Despotism had gained the ascendancy, and as we have seen, soon completed the conquest. The churches of Christ, the moment they yielded their government into the hands of others, were the church of Rome in embryo; and every form of church organization which has since existed, not fashioned after the independent model, is but the church of Rome in miniature.
It is now time to call up for discussion the position laid down before commencing our inquiry into the principles of church government as they existed for the first two centuries, and the means by which they were subverted-namely, that since that period nearly every form and modification of church government has been, in the sense then explained, despotic in its structure and operations.
That this is true of the church of Rome every protestant admits and maintains. It has been true of her through every stage in the progress of her dark career. She herself glories that it is so. Now the great cardinal pillar in the Romish church-the mother of abominations is this: she claims in behalf of the powers that be,” that is, not the people but the pope, the exclusive right to dictate authoritatively what doctrines shall be received or rejected, and what practices shall be tolerated or condemned. She chains the intellect and binds the conscience. The mass of the people within the church on these points have no liberties. It is simply