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3. A single church consists of a company of visible Christians, united into one body by a covenant, for maintaining the worship of God, the ordinances of Christ's house, and mutual Christian fellowship. And it is a distinctive feature of a Congregational church, that its members both claim and exercise the right of disciplining offenders, and transacting all the business pertaining to its own interests as a particular church. 1 Cor. i. 2.
1. The members in full of a church are such, as are called to be saints-such as make a credible profession of faith and repentance, and live according to such a profession.
2. The number of persons in a church ought not ordinarily to be more than can conveniently meet for worship in one place. And in conformity with this principle, Christ and his apostles appointed no ordinary officers in the church, but those charged with the care of particular congregations.
FORM OF THE VISIBLE CHURCH.
1. Those who are qualified to be members of a church do not constitute a church, before they are properly organized into a visible body.
2. The instrument by which individual believers are constituted one body in a church, is a confession of fuith* in Christ and in the principles of his gospel, together with
* This confession of faith should be full and explicit enough to convey the sum of the Christian doctrines, clearly distinguished from their opposites. It a more explicit formulary of faith is now required, than was required in the days of the apostles, ii is because so many methods of evasion have been invented, thai il now requires more words to give an intelligible and sure expression of the same thing, and because the temptations to a false profession are increased.
A Christian profession, according to the gospel, is a profession of faith, or of one's belief in the truths of the gospel Heb x. 23 It is a profession of obedience or subjection to the gospel; 2 Cor. ix. 13. It is a profession of godliness; I Tim. ii. 10. And it is a profession of the name of Christ; and of his bearing to us all the relations and offices which his name imports.
a covenant, wherein they mutually agree to give themselves up to the Lord, and unitedly to observe his ordinances.
3. When a company of believers purpose to gather into a church fellowship it is requisite for their safer proceeding and the maintaining the communion of churches, that they signify their intent unto the neighbor churches, walking according unto the order of the gospel, and desire their presence, and help, and right hand of fellowship, which they ought readily to give unto them when there is no just cause to except against their proceedings. Camb. Plat. xv. 3.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme Head and Ruler of the church, and no one has any lawful authority in the church, except that which he has received from Christ.
2. Though a church may exist without officers, yet officers are necessary to its well being and its complete action as a church.
3. The extraordinary officers, which Christ appointed for the first planting of the church, ceased when their work was done. So that the Scripture gives no directions about the choice and duties of apostles, prophets and evangelists, as it does about those of elders, or bishops. Hence there is now but one order of ministers in the church; called in Scripture elders, or bishops.
4. The office of an Elder, or Bishop, embraces the duties of a pastor of the flock, and of a ruler in the church.
5. The duties of an elder or bishop, as a pastor, consist in the preaching of the word, the administration of divine ordinances, a superintendence, and, as far as may be, a personal execution of the subordinate forms of spiritual instruction, visiting the people, especially the sick and the afflicted, and extending a general watch and care over the concerns of the flock.
6. The duties of an elder or bishop, as a ruler, areto preside in all the meetings of the church, and in all the affairs of discipline; in concurrence with the vote of the brotherhood to admit and exclude members ;
to call meetings of the church when he judges proper, or when he is requested so to do by any three members, or by such a number as the church may have determined upon by a previous rule; to see that all matters of discipline are presented in due form, and conducted in an equitable manner, and to execute the sentence of the church, whether of admonition or excommunication.*
7. In acts of discipline, the pastor exercises the authority of a presiding officer and overseer, and, like a judge in a court, is the official expounder of the law, the guide of the modes of procedure, and the official executor of the acts of the church.
8. No one can be regarded as a pastor, who is not regularly installed over a church; but as an evangelist or preacher he may occupy the pulpit by agreement with the church and congregation; and if an ordained minister, he may administer the ordinances; but as he sustains not the relations, so neither can he assume the rights and responsibilities nor exercise the authority of the pastoral office.
9. The other officers of the church are Deacons ; whose duty is to receive the gifts and keep and distribute the charities of the church; to have the general superintendence of its temporal affairs; and, under the direction of the Pastor, to perform any other service, proper for laymen, which
assist or relieve the Pastor, or promote the welfare of the church.
10. It is fit and proper, whenever deemed expedient, that the church should appoint annually, or for a limited time, a committee, to co-operate with the pastor and deacons in superintending and promoting the interests of the church. And it shall be the special duty of such committee to institute processes of discipline for public offences, if the same is not seasonably done by other members.
* Mr. Cotton, in his “ Keys,” says—“In the handling of an offence before the church, the elders have authority both jus dicere and sententiam ferre. When the offence appears truly scandalous, the elders have power from God, to inform the church, what the law, or rule, and will of Christ is, for the censure of such an offence. And when the church discerns the same, and hath no just exception against it, but consenteth thereto; it is a further act of the elder's power, to give sentence against the offender."
ELECTION AND REMOVAL OF MINISTERS.
1. A call to the ministry is either immediate, as was that of the apostles ; or mediate through the church, as is that of ordinary pastors.
2. Whereas it is required of us, to lay hands suddenly on no man, and to see that those introduced into the office be of good report; it is important that before any are ordained to the ministry, there should be a satisfactory probation of their gifts and qualifications.
Licensure. 3. It belongs to pastors or bishops, in their associated capacity, to examine young men as to their literary, theological and moral qualifications for the ministry, and to give them a regular approbation or license as candidates for the sacred office.
4. Persons to be ordained to the pastoral office, are first to be called by the major vote of the church to which they are to minister. And it is only by its own choice, that a church can be made subject to the ministry of any one, as its pastor.
5. And as it belongs to the church to elect their minister, so they may in a regular way, and for a sufficient reason, procure his removal.
ORDINATION OF MINISTERS.
1. Ministers are to be chosen by the church, and to be ordained by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. This ordination is a public consecration of a man to the work of the ministry, an admission of him into the order of elders or bishops, and a solemn putting of him into his place and office, as pastor of the church, like the installing of a magistrate.
2. It is not according to sound ecclesiastical principles, nor would it tend to promote the interests of religion, for any men, except those who are destined to the missionary service, or those who are to hold special offices in colleges
or theological seminaries, to be ordained at large, or, without a particular pastoral charge.
3. When men are to be sent forth as Christian missionaries, the church with which they are connected, or any other church at their request, or at the request of the society that send them, may properly call a council of neighboring churches; and such council, being satisfied that those, who offer themselves as candidates for the missionary service, possess the requisite qualifications, and that it is proper to send them forth, may ordain them and set them apart to the missionary work, by the laying on of hands and other appropriate services. See Acts xiii. 1-3.
POWER OF THE CHURCH.
1. A company of believers, united in a church by a covenant, even before they have officers, have such powers, as are necessary to maintain their confederate existence, and to complete their organization by introducing
2. Where it can be conveniently done, it would tend to order and edification, if in meetings of a church for the choice of a minister, the pastor of a neighboring church should be invited to preside.
3. A church is not a simple, unrestricted independency; inasmuch as it is subject to the authority of its king and sovereign, who has given laws which must regulate and control the acts of the brotherhood ; and inasmuch as Christ commits to his ministers certain offices and duties, concurrent with the action of the church, but not to be controlled by it. And furthermore, as there is a community of interests among the churches, so that irregular conduct in one is an injury to all, there should be among them mutual checks, which shall modify the action of each particular church.
4. It is the duty of all Congregational churches and ministers to maintain a cordial and actual fellowship with each other; and particularly, in case any church shall, in accordance with established rules, excommunicate a member, or in case any regular Council shall depose a minister from his office, it is the duty of all Congregational