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shown,1o appointed their own officers to rule over them. They exercised the natural right of freemen to enact and execute their own laws, to admit proselytes,—and to exclude, at pleasure, unworthy members from their communion. Theirs was "a democratical form of government," and is so described by one of the most able expounders of the constitution of the primitive churches.11 Like their prototype, therefore, the primitive churches also embodied the principle of a popular government and of enlightened religious liberty.

10 Comp. Vitringa, De Synagoga, Lib. 3, p. 1, c. 15. pp. 828-863. Nihil actum absque ecclesia [i. e. the synagogue] quae in publico consulta est, et quidem hac ipsa formula y 1 sive ios, quam in vetero ecclesia in eligendis episcopis adhibitam meminimus, p. 829. In vita Josephi publica omnia ibi tractari videmus in synagoga, consulto populo, p. 832.

11 Rothe, Anfänge, der Christ. Kirch., p. 14.



THE churches which were established by the apostles and their disciples exhibit a remarkable degree of unanimity one towards another. One in faith and the fellowship of love, they were united in spirit as different members of one body, or as brethren of the same family.1 This union and fellowship of spirit the apostles carefully promoted among all the churches. But they instituted no external form of union or confederation between those of different towns or provinces; nor, within the first century of the Christian era can any trace of such a confederacy, whether diocesan or voluntary, be detected on the page of history. The diocesan, metropolitan and patriarchal forms of organization belong to a later age. The idea of a holy catholic church, one and indivisible, had not yet arisen upon the world, nor had the church assumed any outward form of union. Wherever converts to Christianity were multiplied they formed themselves into a church, under the guidance of their religious teachers, for the enjoyment of Christian ordinances. But each individual church constituted an independent and separate community. The society was purely voluntary, and every church so constituted was strictly independent of all others in the conduct of its

11 Cor. 12: 12, 13. Eph. 2: 20. 4: 3.

worship, the admission of its members, the exercise of its discipline, the choice of its officers and the entire management of its affairs. They were, in a word, independent republics, as Mosheim and Neander justly describe them. "Each individual church which had a bishop or presbyter of its own, assumed to itself the form and rights of a little distinct republic or commonwealth; and with regard to its internal concerns was wholly regulated by a code of laws, that if they did not originate with, had at least received the sanction of the people constituting such church.” This is said with special reference to the earliest churches. 2 "In regard to the relations of the presbyters to the churches, they were appointed, not to exercise unlimited authority, but to act as the leaders and rulers of ecclesiastical republics, to transact every thing in connection with the church, not as lords of the same, but as its servants."3 The opinion of these great historians of the church, in respect to the independent, popular character of the government of the primitive churches, is sufficiently obvious in these passages.

Particular neighboring churches may for various reasons have sustained peculiar fraternal relations to each other. Local and other circumstances may, in time, have given rise to correspondence between churches more remote, or to mutual consultations by letter and by delegates, as in the instance of the churches at Antioch and Jerusalem, Acts 15, and of Corinth and Rome; 4 but no established jurisdiction was exercised by one over the other, nor did any settled relations subsist between them. The church at Jerusalem, with the apostles and elders, addressed the church at Antioch, not in the language of authority, but of advice. Nor does all ancient history, sacred or profane, relating to this early period, record a single instance in

2 Mosheim, De Rebus Christ., Saec. 11, § 22.

3 Neander, Allgemein. Gesch., 1, 291, 2.

4 See Epistle of Clement of Rome, to the Corinthians.

which one church presumed to impose laws of its own upon another.

This independence of the churches, one of another, is fully and clearly presented by Mosheim. "Although all the churches were, in this first age of Christianity, united together in one common bond of faith and love, and were, in every respect, ready to promote the interest and welfare of each other by a reciprocal interchange of good offices, yet, with regard to government and internal economy, every individual church considered itself as an independent community, none of them ever looking beyond the circle of its. own members for assistance, or recognizing any sort of external influence or authority. Neither in the New Testament, nor in any ancient document whatever, do we find any thing recorded, from whence it might be inferred that any of the minor churches were at all dependent on, or looked up for direction to, those of greater magnitude or consequence. On the contrary, several things occur therein which put it out of all doubt, that every one of them enjoyed the same rights, and was considered as being on a footing of the most perfect equality with the rest. Indeed it cannot, I will not say be proved, but even bẹ made to appear probable, from testimony human or divine, that in this age it was the practice for several churches to enter into and maintain among themselves, that sort of association which afterwards came to subsist among the churches of almost every province. I allude to their assembling by their bishops, at stated periods, for the purpose of enacting general laws, and determining any questions or controversies that might arise respecting divinematters. It is not until the second century, that any traces of that sort of association from whence councils took their origin are to be perceived; when we find them occurring here and there, some of them tolerably clear and distinct,. others again but slight and faint, which seems plainly to prove

that the practice arose subsequently to the times of the apostles, and that all that is urged concerning the councils of the first century and the divine authority of councils, is sustained merely by the most uncertain kind of support, namely, the practice and opinion of more recent times."5

Indications of this original independence are distinctly manifested even after the rise of Episcopacy. Every bishop had the right to form his own liturgy and creed, and to settle at pleasure his own time and mode of celebrating the religious festivals. 6 Cyprian strongly asserts the right of every bishop to make laws for his own church. Socrates assigns this original independence of the bishops as the principal cause of the endless controversies in the church, respecting the observance of Easter and other festivals.7

But we need not enlarge. Nothing in the history of the primitive churches is more incontrovertible, than the fact of their absolute independence one of another. It is attested by the highest historical authorities, and appears to be generally conceded by Episcopal authors themselves. "At first," says the learned Dr. Barrow, "every church was settled apart under its own bishops and presbyters, so as independently and separately to manage its own concerns. Each was governed by its own head and had its own laws."


"Every church," according to Dr. Burton, "had its own spiritual head or bishop, and was independent of every other church, with respect to its own internal regulations and laws. There was, however, a connexion, more or less intimate, between neighboring churches, which was

5 De Rebus, Christ. Saec., I, § 48.

6 Greiling, Apostol. Christengemein., p. 16.

7 Eccles. Hist., Lib. 5, c. 22.

8 Treatise on Pope's Supremacy, Works, Vol. I, p. 662. Comp. King's Prim. Christ., c. 12, p. 14, also 136,

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