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mental principles of Congregationalism, and the rules of church government resulting from them, should be well defined and firmly established. The Congregational system is contained in the Platform. But the Platform is an ancient document; and though it was the product of men of powerful intellects, after much thought and experience, and though the Puritan Fathers deemed it well suited to the wants of the churches in their day; it evidently needs revising, in order to fit it for general use at the present time. It is agreed on all hands, that it contains some principles which cannot now be adopted. It is clear too that it has some obscurities which ought to be removed, and some deficiencies which ought to be supplied. A revised edition of the Platform, freed from all ambiguities, and fully adapted to present use, or a manual of discipline derived from it, would be of great use to ministers, especially to young ministers, as a guide and help to them in the discharge of their various duties. It is important also for every Congregational church. For how can any church, or its individual members, avoid mistakes and irregularities in matters of discipline, unless they have a system of principles and rules, which has been derived from Scripture and experience, and which they can regard as a safe directory in ecclesiastical proceedings ? And how can the churches act harmoniously together, and enjoy the benefits of Christian fellowship, unless they have a Platform which clearly points out the duties they owe to each other, and the manner in which those duties are to be performed,
Our Puritan Fathers, whom we delight to honor, felt the necessity of such principles and rules, and in the year 1648, embodied them in a Platform. And from time to time they re-affirmed that Platform, as their Directory. Now such a Directory is as necessary for us, as it was for them. Indeed the necessity of it is the more urgent, in proportion to the increased number and extent of our churches and the prevalence of other systems. We do indeed hold that Christ is our Lawgiver, and that no man and no number of men can properly undertake to legislate for the churches. But it is important for us to have a clear understanding of the laws which Christ has given us. And if, in any thing, he has left it to us to proceed
according to our own judgment; it is certainly important that we should take pains to use our judgment right.
2. In order that ministers and churches may re-affirm and maintain to any good purpose the principles and spirit of Congregationalism, it is important that they should come to a substantial agreement, and should in all material points, adopt the same system of ecclesiastical principles and rules. Without this, how can they maintain a proper fellowship with one another ?
If some churches proceed in one way, and some in another, they will not only lose the benefit of co-operation, but will be likely to clash with each other; and instead of affording mutual aid and support, as they ought, they will often occasion embarrassment and trouble to each other.
“Such looseness, neglect and disagreement,” as now exist among us,
“are neither seemly nor profitable; nor would they in other communities be tolerated. Every human society, that is permanent in its nature and great design, should, as far as practicable, be governed by definite, settled, and well known rules. And where communities, like our churches, are associated, and members of them are frequently transferred from one to another, inconvenience, dissatisfaction and offence are likely to result from the application of principles and rules, about which there is ignorance, or in respect to which there are different views and habits of feeling. Where wholesome laws are definite and known, they are more apt to be approved, and are more readily obeyed; and when broken, the offender is more easily made sensible of his fault, and is therefore more likely to forsake it." *
There is, at present, among Congregationalists, a want of entire harmony in sentiment and action respecting the principles of ecclesiastical polity. And it is well said in the valuable communication just quoted, that “ a restoration of such harmony cannot reasonably be expected, except by a convention of pastors and other delegates from the churches. Such a convention or synod, wisely called, and not over-tasking itself with reforms, might reasonably be expected to agree on principles and rules
* A quotation from the communication of Worcester Central Association to the Committee.
of discipline, that would receive a cordial welcome in the bosom of the churches generally; and if such a work should be done, it would add not a little to their credit, order, strength, comfort and usefulness." *
We have referred to the want of the necessary harmony among Congregationalists. They do indeed profess, in some sort, to receive the Cambridge Platform as their standard. But the Platform is, in several respects, understood differently by different ministers and churches; and none of them conform to all its provisions. Various writers, particularly Upham, Mitchell, Punchard and some others, have published books of great value, setting forth what they understood to be the principles of Congregationalism. In most cases, these writers agree, in some they differ. But Congregationalists have not adopted the views of either. Is it not then important that we should make it our object to come to an agreement as to the principles and rules of church government? If there are passages in the Platform, which all regard as inadmissible at the present day, let us say what those passages are, and let the Platform be so revised and modified that we can unitedly adopt it as our directory, and can govern our ecclesiastical proceedings in accordance with it. It would be found that a judicious revision of the Platform and a convenient arrangement of the rules of our ecclesiastical polity would as truly promote the order and welfare of our churches, as the late revision and arrangement of our civil laws has promoted the order and prosperity of civil society. There is no more reason to think that Congregational churches can have order and prosperity without a system of definite and written rules in which they agree, than that the different parts of the Commonwealth can have order and prosperity without a code of well defined civil laws, written and published for
Is it not then the manifest duty of Congregational ministers and churches to determine, delib
* Such a convention as that above named, has been spoken of with favor by many Congregationalists, both ministers and laymen. And it has been often suggested that, with proper attention, the way might be prepared for such a convention to meet in 1848, the second centenuial from the time when the Cambridge Platform was adopted. The idea of a convention or synod of Congregational ministers and churches at that time, has struck the minds of all, so far as we know, with peculiar satisfaction.
erately and unitedly, what the principles of Congregationalism are, and then publicly to re-affirm them, and in all their ecclesiastical proceedings to carry them into practice? But if it is judged best, as it may be, that the Platform should remain as it is; then it is thought that a digest of rules, drawn from the Platform and from approved usages, presented in the form of a Manual of Discipline, would be of essential benefit to the churches. The want of agreement in church polity has been very disadvantageous to the cause of Congregationalism, and, if suffered to remain, will doubtless be more and more disadvantageous.
Particular churches have been sensible of the evil just mentioned, and have framed a set of rules for themselves. But the rules, adopted by a single church, however just and proper they may be, cannot have the salutary influence which they would have, if they should be adopted by other churches generally, and if the benefits of co-operation and mutual support should be realized, according to the provisions of our Platform, ch. 15.
The want of uniform and definite rules is manifest in regard to the treatment of church members who chargeable with offences. Suppose an offender is excommunicated. In present circumstances he has it in his power to give great trouble to the church, and frequently to evade the force of its most solemn acts. The church claims, and that justly, the right to discipline its own members. At the same time, any one who is under censure has, by common consent, right of appeal to an ecclesiastical council. Now this right of appeal, and the inherent right of the church, may be so defined and adjusted, as not to clash with one another. But at present we have no effectual provision to sustain a church in the exercise of its right, and to bring the discipline of an offender to a final and peaceful issue. The church may, at the request of one under censure, consent to a mutual council, and that mutual council may approve the doings of the church. But in present circumstances has not the excommunicant a right to say, that the result of the council is mere advice, and that he will not accept it? And what rule or usage is there to prevent his demanding a second mutual council, and a third? And in case of a
refusal on the part of the church, what can hinder him from calling an ex parte council ? And it is well known that even after a church has consented to one, or more than one mutual council, an ex parte conncil may come in, and, instead of sustaining the church in the exercise of its rights, may nullify its most righteous acts; and by receiving an offender who is under the highest ecclesiastical censure, to their fellowship, may give countenance to the commission of offences in other members, and trample under foot the honor and authority of the church. How important and how easy it is for the churches to agree upon a rule, which shall shut the door against these disorders, and shall effectually sustain every church in the exercise of its rights, and at the same time provide a remedy for the injustice of any of its acts towards its members. Congregational churches pretend not to be infallible; and they are willing to grant to any member who complains of injustice, the right of appeal to an ecclesiastical council. All that seems necessary is, that they should determine, by a united act, how the appeal shall be made, and how the case of discipline shall be terminated. Let it be settled by common agreement, whether an excommunicated member, if he requests it, shall be entitled to appeal to a mutual council ; and then what shall be the influence of that council's result. If the council sustains the act of the church, shall the excommunicant be entitled to a second and third appeal, or shall the act of the church, thus supported by a mutual council, be regarded as final ? On the contrary, if the council disapproves the act of the church, and judges that the member who makes complaint, has been injured, and ought to be restored ; shall such a decision of the council be final ? Or shall it still lie with the church to determine by its own act, how the case shall be treated ? And shall this act of the church be final, leaving no room for the excommunicated person to make any further appeal? Or, in such circumstances, shall he have the right of a second appeal, and a third ? And if the church say they have done enough, and will not consent to any farther appeal, shall the excommunicant have a right to an ex parte council, and shall it be deemed regular and proper for ministers and churches to form such