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Church Sovereignty, Continued?

Trial of Ministers

Question 3.?"Can a minister be tried and expelled without the intervention of a Presbytery or Council?"

Direct expressions in the Scriptures, as well as the general principles laid down therein, authorize us, in our opinion, to answer this question in the affirmative. Not a few distinguished and deservedly influential names, however, may be quoted against us. Baker, Crowell, Sands, the lamented Meredith, and others, all give a different answer, and fortify it by many plausible arguments. It becomes the present writer, then, to express himself with diffidence, and to proceed no further than he can plainly show that he is sustained by the Scriptures.

1. My first remark, then, is that no passage in the Bible, in direct terms, instructs the church to call in a Presbytery or Council when she would try a minister holding membership with her; nor is a single example given in the Scriptures where one was tried with such intervention. No one, it is presumed, will call this in question. If so, let the precept be quoted or the example cited. The church is told how she is to "receive an accusation against an elder;" but it is not hinted to her that she cannot proceed, in other respects, in his trial, in the same way in which she conducts the process against any other member accused. This of itself is significant. But,?

2. Paul directs the Galatians to excommunicate the false ministers who were teaching that it was necessary to be justified by the law. "I would they were even cut off which trouble you." v. 12. "And this they were to do in the exercise of their Christian liberty. v. 13." (Crowell.) To the church alone the address is directed; and no hint is given that it needed the help of a Council or Presbytery. But, it may be said, these were false teachers. True: it was not to be expected that Paul would exhort to the excommunication of true teachers. Nor is it said here that a church is authorized to excommunicate orderly and true ministers. If the church in Galatia was satisfied that these teachers were false, they had the right, it seems, to cut them off. So, in all time, churches that after trial convict ministers of crime can cut them off without any external assistance. Paul does not say, call a Presbytery to look into their ministerial credentials and expose them if they are impostors, or to take away their ministerial credentials if they have properly forfeited them, and then exclude them from membership. But the exhoration is, cut them off.

3. Christ praises the church at Ephesus for excommunicating false apostles. "And thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." Rev. ii. 2. Now, these men professed to be apostles. So far as the church at Ephesus knew, they really were such, and, on investigation, their claims might have been sustained.

It did not follow that their claims were spurious simply because they were doubted. On this principle, Paul?s apostleship would have been invalidated; for IT was called in question. The true state of the case was ascertained by investigation. The church tried them, and the church found them liars; and Christ praised her for it. Not one hint is given that she did this in cooperation with a Presbytery. If the church at Ephesus was praised for trying and cutting off false apostles, surely the Scriptures will sustain a church in modern times in trying and cutting off, in the same way, false ministers.

4. Peter, though he was an apostle, acknowledges the sole jurisdiction over him of the church in Jerusalem, of which he was a member. After the baptism of Cornelius, they of the circumcision at Jerusalem brought the charge against him that he had gone in to men uncircumcised, and eaten with them. Acts xi. We do not find that Peter claims to be tried by "his peers," and demands that a Council of Apostles, or even of elders, should be called to decide upon the validity of his defense; but he expounds to the church the facts of the case, and seeks their approval of his conduct. I do not present this as technically an arraignment in the sense of church dealing, but only claim that Peter acknowledged that the church was able to decide upon the propriety of his course, and to acquit him of blame, without external assistance.

These instances appear to us to furnish decided evidence from the Scriptures that a minister can be tried, condemned, and expelled without the intervention of a Council or Presbytery.

Objection 1.?But, it is objected, "The ministry was conferred by a Presbytery or Council; and it requires the same power to unmake that it does to make."

To meet this objection, it will be necessary, as a preliminary, to inquire, 1. What is a minister? 2. What is ordination? 3. What relation does a Presbytery or Council bear to ordination?

1. What is a minister? A minister has two functions. 1st. He can preach the gospel; 2d. He can administer the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord?s Supper.

1st. The first he does not possess as a prerogative peculiar to himself. All male members of the church have the right, and are in duty bound, to tell to others all they know about the Saviour. By conversation, or, if able, in set speech, sitting, walking, or standing, on the floor, or, if more convenient, in a pulpit, they are authorized to proclaim to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to point inquirers to the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world; and this with all the impressiveness and eloquence at their command. "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." 1 Peter iv. 10. But, while it is the privilege and duty of all to proclaim the truth, Christ has set apart a special body of men to the work of the ministry, as preachers, whose business it is to give themselves, with all their energies, to the proclamation of the truth,?to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine. A minister, then, in part, is one whose duty it is to preach the word.

2d. Some believe that any church-member is authorized to administer the ordinances; but, with very general unanimity, Baptists hold that only ordained ministers are authorized to do so. The answer, then, to the question, Who is a minister? is, One who preaches the gospel and administers the ordinances.

2. What is ordination? and what relation does it bear to the ministry?

Ans. 1.?Whatever it may be, it does not impart any grace, or intellectual or spiritual qualification. There is no invisible gift imparted by the imposition of hands; nor does the ceremony bring the subject into a line of succession from the apostles, or make him a link in a ministerial chain from primitive times. This may do for Popery and High Church Episcopacy, which depend upon superstition and credulity; but the Scriptures make no intimation of the necessity or the existence of such a line of succession. And if a Presbytery of Baptist ministers profess that ordination is designed, and that their manipulations are intended to bring a candidate into this mystical?not to say superstitious?line of succession, it may be well for them to be called upon to prove in advance that THEY are THEMSELVES in that line.

Ans. 2.?Ordination is not designed to AUTHORIZE the subject to preach. God gives that authority, and not the Presbytery. Men are ordained, not that they might become preachers, but because they are preachers already. God calls them to be such, bestows upon them the gifts and qualifications, rolls upon their hearts the burden of souls, kindles a fire in their bones, and compels them to cry, "Wo is me if I preach not the gospel." And when they prove themselves to be preachers, then the Presbyter lays hands on them, not that they might be preachers, but because they are so already. How many "licensed preachers" are there in our churches? Paul was called to be a preacher, and the call announced to Ananias, before his (Paul?s) baptism,?to say nothing of ordination. (Acts ix. 15.) A head to know, a heart to feel, and a tongue to utter fluently and forcibly, the truth as it is in Jesus, are the qualifications that make the preacher, and not the external ceremony of ordination. These gifts and graces God bestows, and not the Presbytery. An ardent desire for the glory of God and for the salvation of sinners, and not the authorization of the Presbytery, is that which impels men to preach.

Ans. 3.?In answer, then, to the question, What is ordination? I would say, Ordination is, by ceremony, A SOLEMN PUBLIC RECOGNITION of one whom, it is believed, God has called to preach His gospel and administer His ordinances.

3. What relations does a Presbytery bear to ordination??In other words, why is a Presbytery necessary to take a part in this solemn recognition?

Presbytery is derived from the Greek word presbuteros, and implies a company of elders or ministers. In our churches in the Southern States, the ordaining body is exclusively a company of ministers selected by the candidate and the church to which he belongs. But in the Northern States it is customary for the church calling to ordination to invite neighboring churches to send their pastors and messengers, who shall together constitute what they call a Council, to inquire into the propriety of ordaining the candidate. This latter body consists of private members, as well as ministers. While this custom is liable to misconstruction, in the fact that it may be supposed that, as other churches send messengers to this body, the power to ordain belongs to an association of churches, it tends to correct a superstition which we are in danger of imbibing from Rome, that the body performing the ceremony of ordination communicate through themselves some spiritual gift, or, by virtue of being in that condition themselves, impart to the candidate ministerial succession, or make him, like themselves, a link in a ministerial chain from the apostles. The private members of these Councils are non-conductors of the ministerial fluid, and have not, in themselves, the ministerial succession to communicate. If it be said that not the private members of these Councils, but the ministers, lay hands on the subject, it is replied that the ministers do so, in part, by the permission and under the direction of the private members. In the mouth of a Romanist or a High Church Episcopalian, apostolic succession, and ministerial qualification imparted by the laying on of hands, are superstitious and presumptuous; but in the mouth of a Baptist Council they are simply nonsensical and ridiculous. But to return.

Why is a Presbytery or a Council necessary to the solemn recognition of a minister? I answer, God designs (1) to prevent unworthy and incompetent men from entering into the ministry; and (2) to provide for the endorsement of worthy and competent men, so that they may be received with confidence by other churches and the world, who, for themselves, may not have the opportunity or ability to pass upon their character and qualifications. To secure the former, He makes the candidate pass through two ordeals. He has first, by his gifts and qualifications, to attract the attention of his church to himself, and convince it that God has called and qualified him for the work of the ministry; and then, having convinced the Presbytery or Council that he has gifts of mind and utterance that qualify him to edify, he must stand an examination before them which is conducted to see whether he has experienced a work of grace; what are his reasons for believing that God has called him into the ministry; what his motives for desiring to enter upon the work; and what are his views of Scripture doctrine and church order. If on any of these points he fails to give satisfaction, it is the duty of the Presbytery or Council to refuse to ordain him. And thus an unworthy or dangerous man fails to be turned loose to work mischief among the churches. If, however, on all these points the examination be satisfactory, they proceed to his ordination. In other words, by a solemn ceremony, well calculated to arrest attention, they, in concert with the church, declare to the world that, in their opinion, God has called this man to minister in holy things. This opinion they submit to writing, and place in the hands of the ordained, that it may be a testimony for him to the strangers among whom his lot may be cast, that, in the opinion of this church and these brethren composing the Presbytery or Council, God has called and qualified this man to be a minister of the New Testament.

Let us return now to the objection. I will repeat the words of it:?"The ministry was conferred by a Presbytery or Council; and it takes the same power to unmake that it does to make."

To this it is replied by denying that the Presbytery or Council CONFERS the office or MAKES the minister. All that they do is to RECOGNIZE and ENDORSE him as a minister. God, and not Presbyteries or Councils, makes ministers. Paul says, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, PUTTING ME INTO THE MINISTRY."

1 Tim. i. 12. To the latter part of the argument it is replied by denying that it takes always the same power to unmake that it does to make. The Ephesian Dome required many years and much treasure for its construction; but a madman and his torch consumed it in a few hours. A well established reputation requires long years of patient continuance in well-doing to build it up; for "confidence is a plant of slow growth." But one startling crime may, in a short hour, destroy it. So it takes many particulars to give confidence that one is a minister of Jesus Christ,?a renewed heart and faith in Christ; a knowledge and love of divine things; an utterance ready and forcible; an ardent desire to promote God?s glory and the salvation of sinners; the conviction on the part of the church and Presbytery, or Council, that God has called and qualified him for the work; but one crime against religion and morality will, as soon as it is known, convince that all these evidences were deceptive. And, besides, if we were to grant that it takes the same power to unmake that it does to make, it is not pertinent here as an argument; for God alone makes ministers. If any interposition, then, is necessary, God, and not the Presbytery, is the power that must interpose. This interposition God does make, by investing His church with delegated sovereignty over ministers as well as others that are members, and encouraging it to "try them that say they are [ministers,] and are not," and to prove them "liars."

Objection 2.?It is objected again, "On your own principles, a Presbytery or Council was necessary in ordination to give the world confidence that, in the judgment of competent men, God designs the man to be a minister. On the strength of this endorsement, other churches and the world give him their confidence. Is not the same testimony necessary to authorize and induce them to withdraw that confidence?"

To this it is answered, it requires much stronger testimony, and that of different nature, to establish one?s ministerial character and qualifications, than to show unworthiness and crime. In the former, we need knowledge of the Scriptures, penetration into human character, renewed hearts of variety of disposition to appreciate the exposition of gospel truth,?in short, just such evidence as the concurrent testimony of a church of mixed members and a Presbytery of pious, intelligent, and experienced ministers can afford. But, in the latter, nothing is needed but the proof that he has been guilty of a crime against religion and morality. Now, a church is as able to investigate and pass upon the charge of crime alleged against a minister as the same alleged against any others of its members. And the testimony of her act in expelling him for falsehood, or adultery, or drunkenness, or any other great crime, needs no corroboration, and as effectually neutralizes and withdraws the testimony given in ordination, as though her act was concurred in by ten thousand Presbyteries.

Objection 3.?"The assertion of a right to try and expel a minister without a Presbytery, implies the assertion of the right on the part of the church to ordain a minister without a Presbytery. Now, if she were ordaining a man for herself exclusively, this might do; but, as ordination is designed to give him access as a minister to other churches also, and to the world at large, she cannot ordain him by herself, and, by parity of reasoning, she cannot depose him by herself."

To this I answer, Why is a church UNABLE to ordain one of her members herself? When the church at Jerusalem was the only one in existence, with the apostles in her membership, was she unable to ordain? At the present time, in this country, it is inexpedient for a church to do so; nay, I will go further, and say it is wrong for her to do so; not, however, because the ordination would be invalid, but because it would not be influential. Ordination is designed as a solemn testimony, by those engaged in it, that, in their opinion, God has called this man and qualified him for the ministerial work. Now, Scripture and common sense teach that, to make this testimony influential, it must be above the suspicion of bias or incompetency. Whenever, therefore, a church at the present time, in the ordination of a minister, fails to fortify her testimony by the concurrent testimony of a Presbytery or Council, she gives evidence that there is something in the candidate?s character or doctrinal belief which will prevent the approbation and endorsement of an honest, capable, and unbiased Presbytery. So far, then, from her sole endorsement giving the ordained currency, it stamps him as spurious coin. We have a noted instance of this kind which has recently occurred in one of the Northern States. Even those who differ from me in the views expressed above, will grant that if a church has in her membership two ordained ministers besides her pastor, they, with the pastor, are competent to form an ordaining Presbytery; and if they admit that it would be inexpedient for the church to set apart to the ministry another of her members by the aid of such a Presbytery, they can explain that lack of expediency only upon the grounds upon which I have placed it, viz.: that it would not be sufficiently influential as an endorsement,?unless the ministers composing the Presbytery have an overshadowing reputation.

But the assertion of the right to try and expel a minister by the church alone, does not imply the assertion of the right to ordain him without the intervention of a Presbytery. The two ideas are not correlative. While the church may acknowledge that it is not so well able of itself to ascertain whether a candidate possesses ministerial grace and qualifications, and feels confident, therefore, that her sole endorsement will not be influential enough to give him circulation everywhere, it may assert, and the world may well grant to it, the right and the capacity to decide and act upon the crime committed by her member.

The church does not propose to ordain him for herself, any more than the churches which contributed members to the Council propose to ordain him for themselves; but only to endorse him as one worthy to be received as a minister everywhere, and qualified to be the pastor of any church that may wish HIS services. Ordination does not make a man a pastor, or give him official relations to any church. There are many ordained ministers that have no pastoral or other official relations to a church.

Objection 4.?"But ought not a man to be tried by his peers?"

I answer, Yes. But the members of the church constitute his peers. "One is your master, and all ye are brethren." Were a minister to be tried before the courts of the country on a criminal charge, likely as not, the jury of his peers that would sit upon his case would be a petit jury composed of individuals not distinguished for their intelligence or moral worth. But do you mean by "his peers" his colleagues in office? If so, and your principles be right, then should all Deacons under charges be tried by a Council of Deacons!

It would seem, then, that it must be granted that ministers, like others, are subject to the churches to which they belong; and that, should they be guilty of crime, the church, in the exercise of delegated sovereignty, can arraign them, try them, and expel them, without the intervention of Presbyteries or Councils.

So much would I say in regard to the RIGHTS of the churches. I would not be understood, however, to maintain that a church, in dealing with her minister, CANNOT call in the aid of a Council; nor to intimate that in many instances it would not be HIGHLY JUDICIOUS to do so.

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