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PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION.

BY THE REVISION COMMITTEE.

      In 1829 there appeared an unpretentious little book from the press of Montgomery & Dexter, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, of which "John Winebrenner, an Elder of the Churches of God," was the author. The object of its publication was to point out and correct certain "lamentable evils in ecclesiastical matters," and to induce ministers and churches to adopt what the author conceived "to be the best, or the scriptural, view" of "ecclesiastical polity." The work was not written with the design or intention of making it in any sense a Discipline of the Church of God; but simply to set forth the author's views as to what the Scriptures teach concerning the "formation, government and discipline of the church of God." The book was well received by the churches, and was widely circulated among them. It however provoked great and general opposition in the following years when churches of God were being organized in various parts of Pennsylvania, in Ohio and westward.

      The views set forth are so eminently scriptural that but little could be said against them from a biblical point of view. But the ministers and members of the Church everywhere repudiated Disciplines, Confessions of Faith, and suchlike symbols. Here there was an apparent weakness. Was not Elder Winebrenner's View of the Church a Discipline? Was not he, as well as all the ministers of the Church, organizing churches according to this View? And did they not all defend and advocate the positions taken in the book? Accordingly, ministers and churches felt themselves placed in a defensive attitude. The book was everywhere cited as a "Discipline" by those who had Disciplines to defend, and this in the face of the fact that the author only claimed to set forth his [3] "view" of the formation, government and discipline of the church of God according to the Scriptures; as well as the further fact that the book was not published by authority, nor adopted by the churches, or any of their representative bodies, either as a Discipline or as a standard work in matters relating to Church polity. As a Discipline it was everywhere repudiated by the ministers and members of the Church; not because they dissented from the doctrines taught, but because it is not a Discipline, and because they were radically opposed to Disciplines other than the sacred Scriptures. In 1840 a series of editorial appeared in The Church Advocate (then called The Gospel Publisher) in which the primary intention is expressed "of proving the assertion, that the book is the adopted Discipline of the churches known in different places under the Scripture name of the 'Church of God,' and to be false."

      The contention about the book greatly stimulated a desire to see and read it; so that, as in many like cases, the counsels of the enemies of truth were turned against themselves, and their opposition secured a wider dissemination of the principles set forth by Elder Winebrenner than otherwise would have been possible. This demand made the publishing of a new edition advisable, and accordingly, without any revision or correction of typographical errors, a second edition was published in 1847. But the enemy was defeated; the interest in the discussion of the status and the merits of the book gradually died out, and even the book itself has seldom been seen by the present generation of church members. At the time of his death (1860), Elder Winebrenner was engaged on a revision of the work, with a view to its early publication. But the republication of the book invariably met with opposition from members of the General Eldership. They remembered the use which had been made of the book to the detriment of the Church by many who stood identified with various sects. They felt that incidentally the book had done serious harm; and they feared that to have it republished, especially by the general body, would put them again at absolute disadvantage in their opposition to Creeds, [4] Confessions, Disciplines, and everything of a sectarian character. Others thought differently; while all who were familiar with the book regarded it as possessing superior merits.

      At the sessions of the General Eldership held at Wooster, Ohio, A.D. 1884, the Board of Publication made the following recommendation:

      "Years ago Elder John Winebrenner published a small book called a Brief View of the Church. It has been out of print for many years. There are still a few copies in the hands of some of the older brethren, and those who have seen and read the work speak highly in its favor. It will tend to uniformity in practice, and be of great advantage in the formation of churches upon the Scripture plan. We recommend that such action be taken as will tend to secure a republication of this important little work at an early day."

      A committee was appointed to take the recommendation of the Board into consideration. This committee at a subsequent stage of the sessions reported, "That we heartily recommend and authorize the republication of Winebrenner's View of the Church." This report, after being amended so as to place the book into the hands of a "committee to be revised and republished," was adopted. The minutes further state that "The revising and republishing of Winebrenner's View of the Church was placed in the hands of the following committee: G. Seigler, C. H. Forney, R. L. Byrnes and W. B. Allen." This committee effected an organization before leaving Wooster, and agreed upon the main features of their work. It subsequently held a meeting in Harrisburg, Pa., where the final details touching the revision were fixed. The committee agreed to make a change in the title of the book without changing the sense. Also to incorporate all the corrections, alterations or changes indicated in the margins of the copy which Elder Winebrenner used in preparing the intended revision of 1860. Beyond these alterations, no changes have been made by the committee in the text of the [5] book. Other necessary corrections of a typographical character were made to a considerable number.

      On some points the positions taken in this book are not in harmony with the views and practices of the Church at the present time. Elder Winebrenner himself in his later writings expressed views on a few points which are in conflict with "these early and not fully matured" sentiments contained in this work. When he wrote A Brief View of the Church, Elder Winebrenner was not quite thirty-two years old. He did not profess to write an infallible "view," nor to give a "guide to those who should follow him, or to teach succeeding generations." He believed what he wrote to be scriptural; but he also readily conceded that he was fallible. And when in his riper years he saw what seemed errors in his earlier teachings, he was not slow in abandoning them. The committee, however, did not think it advisable to attempt to harmonize the sentiments contained in this book with those which Elder Winebrenner published later in life. This purports to be a republication of a work written in 1829; and the committee deemed it preferable that as to the language, the text, the sentiments and the doctrine, it should be an exact reproduction.

      The committee heartily commends this work to the churches. Its merits are unquestioned. It sets forth the truth in plain, clear, simple language. The faithful practical embodiment of the scriptural truths taught relative to church organization, character and duties of church members and officers, church government and discipline would result in great gain to all the churches. It is a work which, through its republication, is authorized by the General Eldership, comes to its readers and to the churches with no other sanctions or authority than that of the truth which it teaches. As such we send it again upon its mission in the world, hopefully commending it to all who "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." [6]

 
 
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