RELATION OF CHURCHES TO EACH OTHER
ALTHOUGH the churches of Jesus Christ are independent bodies, yet as they are constituted on the same principles, acknowledging one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and aim at the same great end, the spread of the Redeemer?s kingdom, it is their duty to maintain friendly intercourse and fellowship with each other, for the promotion of their mutual interests and their common welfare. In visible organization they are many; but in spirit, in doctrine, in design, they are one.241
This friendly relation is evinced by admitting one another?s members to transient communion, dismissing and receiving members to and from each other, and by affording assistance and giving advice in cases of difficulty or need. One church may send spiritual teachers to another. Such were sent by the church in Jerusalem to the church in Antioch.242 They may supply each other?s temporal necessities.243 In cases of perplexity menacing their peace or purity, they may avail themselves of the services of their brethren, by seeking the advice of presbyteries or councils, composed of the pastors and delegated members of sister churches. "A council has no power whatever but to examine, and give its opinion and advice. It can exercise no control. Its office is to give light, not to pronounce decrees."244 The decision of the case, whatever it may be, must rest upon the final determination of the church.
Some of the objects contemplated in the institution of Christian churches, can be best secured by their cooperation; as the general spread of the gospel, the gathering of new churches, the education of the ministry, and the circulation of the Scriptures, and other religious books. This principle was recognized by the apostles, and the churches which they founded. The church in Antioch sent forth Paul and Barnabas on a missionary excursion, and other churches cordially aided in their support.245 To accomplish these objects, churches, at the present day, unite in Associations, and through them, in a general Convention.
An association consists of delegates or messengers from different particular churches. As the union of the members of a particular church is founded on uniformity of faith and practice, so the union of churches in a general body rests upon the same principles. Thus constituted, an association is not armed with coercive powers. Its authority is representative, executive, advisory. To execute the wishes of the churches, in reference to the objects for which it was organized, and to offer its advice, in cases which involve the common interest of the confederation, are all that it may lawfully do. Should any of the churches included in the association depart from the principles of the union, by embracing error, abusing its power over its members, or neglecting attendance on the meetings of the association, it is the right and duty of this body to remonstrate, to advise, and if the church proves incorrigible, to withdraw fellowship from it; "for if the agreement of several distinct churches in sound doctrine and regular practice, be the binding motive, ground, foundation, or basis of their confederation, then it must naturally follow, that a defection in doctrine or practice, in any church in that confederation, or any part in any such church, is ground sufficient for an association to withdraw from such a church or party so deviating or making defection, and exclude such from them in formal manner, and to advertise all the churches in their confederation thereof, in order that all the churches in confederation may withdraw from such in all acts of church communion, to the end that they may be ashamed, and that all the churches may discountenance such, and bear testimony against the defection. Such withdrawing from a defective or disorderly church, is such as arises from voluntary confederation aforesaid, and not only from the general duty that is incumbent upon all orthodox persons and churches to do, where no such confederation is entered into, as 2 Cor. 16: 16, 17; and although an association ought not to assume a power to excommunicate, or deliver a disorderly or defective church to Satan (as some about us claim), yet it is a power sufficient to exclude the delegates of a disorderly or defective church from an association, and to refuse their presence at their consultations, and advise all the churches in confederation to do so too."246
The benefits arising from an association of churches are many. "In general, it will tend to maintain the truth, order, and discipline of the gospel. (1.) By it the churches may have such doubts as arise amongst them cleared, which will prevent disputes. Acts 15: 28, 29. (2.) They will be furnished with salutary counsel. Prov. 11: 14. (3.) Those churches which have no ministers may obtain occasional supplies. Cant. 8: 8. (4.) The churches will be more closely united in promoting the cause and interest of Christ. (5.) A member who is aggrieved through partiality, or any other wrongs received from the church, may have an opportunity of applying for direction. (6.) A godly and sound ministry will be encouraged, while a ministry that is unsound and ungodly will be discountenanced. (7.) There will be a reciprocal communication of their gifts. Phil. 4: 15. (8.) Ministers may alternately be sent out to preach the gospel to those who are destitute. Gal. 2: 9. (9.) A large party may draw off from the church, by means of an intruding minister, or otherwise, and the aggrieved may have no way of obtaining redress but from the association. (10.) A church may become heretical, with which its godly members can no longer communicate; yet can obtain no relief but by the association. (11.) Contentions may arise betwixt churches, which the association is most likely to remove. (12.) The churches may have candidates for the ministry properly tried by the association."247
Conventions are composed of delegates from associations, churches, and other religious bodies. The general principles upon which they are founded, and the uses which they subserve, are the same as those which obtain in the organization of associations. In this country, a convention is held annually in each of the States, and a general convention is held triennially, consisting of delegates from many States. The latter is an organization for missionary purposes alone, contemplating the introduction of the gospel into destitute regions, and its diffusion throughout the world.
Such is the scriptural relation of churches to each other; such are the confederations which are permitted and sanctioned by the word and the spirit of Christ; and of such alone have we any record in the early annals of Christianity. All other confederations, not deriving their powers from the consent of the churches, and claiming a divine right of jurisdiction over them, are the growth of later and corrupt times. The history of their origin, development, and fearful ascendency, is replete with warning and admonition.248
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