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a council ? The great thing wanted is, that the churches should come to a definite agreement on this point, so that they may support each other in the exercise of their inherent right to discipline their own members, and may scrupulously avoid whatever would in any way interfere with that right. If this matter is left unsettled, what prospect is there of efficient discipline and mutual har. mony and love among the churches ? And how can the fundamental principle of Congregationalism be maintained, if the power of discipline is wrested from the church, and wielded by others who choose to act in concert with an offender ? And who can think it right that any church, in its endeavors to discharge its most difficult and painful duties, should be hindered or discouraged by those sister churches, who ought always to afford the most friendly countenance and aid ?
Again. The want of uniform and definite rules is manifest in regard to the discipline of ministers chargeable with immorality or heresy.
A Christian minister, whose character and conduct are so inseparably connected with the interests of Christ's kingdom, should certainly be subject to the inspection of his brethren, and, in some proper way, should be admonished by them, and deposed from the ministry when the case requires it; and, when unjustly accused, should be able to avail himself of their protection and support. It would be a great evil for private members of the church to be free from responsibility to their brethren. But if ministers of the gospel should be thus free from responşibility, the evil would be still greater. According to the general practice at the present time, a church may complain of their pastor for any offence, and bring him for trial before a mutual council. But they may neglect their duty in this respect. And in that case, how shall the offender be called to account? Suppose him guilty of gross immorality or heresy. And suppose that notwithstanding this, he is still sustained by his church. His brethren in the ministry, and in the neighboring churches, may be grieved at his conduct. But what ecclesiastical rule or usage is there, which would authorize them to bring him before a council for trial, or in any way to deal with him for his offence? Take another case,- that of a
regularly ordained minister, not connected as a pastor with any church, though still active in the work of the ministry; and suppose him guilty of flagrant immorality.. Is it not a manifest defect in the present condition of Congregationalists, that there is no way agreed upon among them, in which such a minister can be subjected to ecclesiastical discipline? It is indeed true, that individuals may withdraw fellowship from him. But ought they to do this without giving him a hearing? Does not truth and justice require, that he should have a fair trial ? And is it not important to the interests of the churches, that they should agree upon some definite method in which such a trial may be instituted ?
There is also a manifest defect in our present ecclesiastical state in regard to the fellowship of the churches, and the manner in which they are to treat one another when offences occur.
Congregational churches have always professed to hold fellowship with each other. And the Platform (ch. 15.) points out several ways in which that fellowship is to be maintained. And in various respects it has actually been maintained; and the benefits of such fellowship have been experienced. But do we carry out fully into practice the provisions of the Platform and the principles of the New Testament in regard to the fellowship and the mutual responsibility of the churches ? The Platform provides, that if any public offence is found in a church, other churches are to deal with it in the way of admonition, and finally, if the case so requires, in the way
of withdrawing fellowship. Is it not important that the churches should determine whether they will hold to this provision of the Platform ?-and if they do, that they should agree upon the method in which they will maintain this inspection over one another ?
It is also desirable and important that the Congregational churches should be agreed in the adoption of a Confession of Faith.
a main point with those who framed the Platform. In 1648, they unanimously adopted the following vote, namely; "The Synod, having perused and considered with much gladness of heart and thankfulness to God, the Confession of Faith published of late by the Reverend Assembly in England,
do judge it to be very holy, orthodox and judicious in all matters of faith, and do therefore freely and fully consent thereto, for the substance thereof." And they afterwards expressed their approval of the same confession of faith at different times and in various ways. If the ministers and churches of Massachusetts are united, as we trust they are, in receiving the great principles of religion which are contained in the word of God, and which are distinctly stated in the above named confession of faith; why should they not, for the honor of their religion, publicly express their union ?
Again. It is important that Congregationalists should be agreed in regard to the character of those ministers and churches that shall be chosen to constitute mutual councils.
It is important also that they should settle the question, whether a minister or a church, censured by a council, shall have the right of appeal to another council; and if such a right is allowed, in what manner the second council shall be constituted and the appeal be made ; and also whether any appeal from the decision of the second council shall be deemed proper.
The ex parte council that is deemed exceptionable in principle and of bad tendency in practice, is one that is called by a person who has been regularly tried for an offence by the church to which he belongs, and cut off from their fellowship. Now all occasion for such a council may be effectually prevented by a definite provision, agreed upon and adhered to by the churches, that an excommunicated person shall the right of appeal to a mutual council, and that the case shall be terminated by the result of that council, or else by the act of the church after receiving that result.
After the foregoing remarks, we proceed to state what in our opinion are the chief principles of church polity which are contained or implied in the Cambridge Platform, and in other well known writings of our Puritan Fathers. And we would here
what we wish may be fully understood, that whatever statement we make, we do it merely that it may be considered and acted upon by those to whom it belongs, that is, the ministers and churches of Massachusetts. They are to determine what are the essential principles of Congregationalism which they will affirm and maintain. And if the part which we, as a committee, have been called to perform, may be the means of turning their attention more particularly to what the Scriptures reveal and what our fathers taught relative to church government, and of inducing them to act unitedly and efficiently on the subject; the great object of our efforts will be accomplished.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF CONGREGATIONALISM.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Supreme Lawgiver and Ruler of the church. And no one has any rightful power or authority in the church, except what the Lord Jesus has given him in his word. Neither the church at large, nor any branch of it, can properly be held under obligation to submit or yield obedience to any ruler, civil or ecclesiastical, except in conformity with the instructions of the New Testament.
2. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is our only infallible rule in regard to the general constitution and government of the church, as well as in regard to all other subjects. By this rule we are to examine the opinions and practices of uninspired men, ancient and modern. So far as any writings of human origin coincide with Scripture, or help us to understand its instructions, they are to be gratefully received. But whoever and whatever differs from the Bible, is to be rejected. In this respect, we differ from all those, who regard the writings
of the early Christian Fathers, the decisions of Councils or the judgment of any uninspired men, as constituting, in whole or in part, the rule of our faith, or as possessing any ultimate authority over our conscience, either as to the doctrines of religion, the worship of God, or the government of his church
3. Cambridge Platform, together with other writings and public acts of our Puritan Fathers explanatory of the Platform, is to be recognized as exhibiting the essential principles of Congregationalists in regard to ecclesiastical polity.
4. There is, according to the Scriptures, only one order in the gospel ministry. Ministers may indeed differ from each other as to knowledge, piety, and usefulness : and some of them may be intrusted with business of preëminent importance. But they are all equal in office. No one is invested with authority over others; and no one is subjected to the control of others.
5. While the leading principles of Church Government are clearly made known in the word of God, and are to be received as the unalterable constitution of the church; the business of applying these general principles to different cases, and framing by-laws for the regulation of public worship and church discipline, belongs to the churches, and is to be executed according to their sober judgment and discretion, provided that they take care not to violate or neglect anything settled by the word of God. (See Platform, ch. 1.)
6. A congregation or society of Christians, bound together by solemn covenant, maintaining the great truths of Christianity, and attending together to the public worship of God and the administration of gospel ordinances by its regularly authorized officers, is a true and complete church of Christ, and has power within itself to conduct its own concerns; and is under no subjection or responsibility to any other church, except that which is mutual, and which is enjoined by the word of God ;-(1 Peter, v.
“ Yea, all of you be subject one to another." 7. It belongs, of right, to the individual members of every church to choose their own Pastor, to discipline offenders, and to transact all other business appertaining to them as a particular church. When regularly assem