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VOL. XIX, No. 1.
JANUARY, 1837. NEW SERIES-VOL. VIII, No. 1.
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
ART. I.-GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE.
BY CHARLES ELLIOTT, A. M.
WHETHER there are three distinct orders of clergy, viz., bishops, presbyters or elders, and deacons, in the Church of Christ, or not, has been a subject of much controversy, ever since the reformation from Popery. The members of the Church of Rome have contended that these three orders have existed ever since the days of the apostles. To the bishops they ascribe the prerogatives of conferring ordination, and of jurisdiction, not only over the laity, but the other grades of the clergy. With this they connect their doctrine of succession from the apostles, by which they maintain that they can trace, in an unbroken line, all their bishops to the apostles in general, and to St. Peter in particular; that they only are the properly authorized ministers of Christ, and their Church the only true Church; that without this succession of bishops, which they say belongs not to Protestantism, there is no properly constituted nor authorized ministry, no valid ordinances; in short, no Church, no salvation.
The Church of England, in Britain, and the Protestant Episcopal Church, in America, claim apostolic uninterrupted succession through Rome, so as to exclude altogether the different Presbyterian Churches, both of Europe and this country, from being true Churches of Christ, or having either true ministers or valid ordinances. And so far do some of them go as to declare that all Presbyterians, all Non-episcopal Churches, and Churches Nonepiscopal in their sense of episcopacy, have no hope of salvation, except in the uncovenanted mercies of God. The Methodist Episcopal Church, of course, must share the same fate, as her ordination is founded on the principle that the body of elders have the authority of ordaining vested in them, and consequently their ordination may properly enough be denominated presbyterial.
With our Presbyterian brethren we have little or no controversy on this point, as we and they mutually acknowledge the validity of each other's ministry, and the efficacy of each other's ordinances. VOL. VIII.-January, 1837.
With Roman Catholics, the Church of England, or the Protestant Episcopal Church, we have no controversy as Episcopalians, properly so called, for we ourselves are Episcopalians, and of a sounder and more scriptural character; as we shall in the sequel endeavor to prove from Scripture and antiquity. We only contend against their high church and popish principles. We oppose only their exclusive claims, by which they unchurch every religious society on earth, except such as are episcopal in their sense of episcopacy.
We ought, however, in passing, to remark that all of them, (except the Roman Catholics,) are not equally rigid on this point. Some, both of the English and Protestant Episcopal Churches, will grant that other Churches than Episcopal are true Churches of Christ. Others of them maintain that their kind of episcopacy alone is of Divine right, and is the apostolic plan; but they are far from excluding other Churches that differ from them in church government from the character of true Churches. The third class do exclude from the character of true, all Churches not episcopal in their sense of the term. But though these various classes are to be found in the Churches alluded to, yet their doctrines and practice, as Churches, is to exclude from the list of true Churches the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregational Churches. Their reordaining ministers of these Churches who join their communion, and their refusing to commune or hold ecclesiastical intercourse with them, prove that they exclude these from the number of true Churches. From the Romish, English, and Protestant Episcopal Church, as claiming and practising the doctrine of exclusion, we must differ. Were they content simply to prefer their own ecclesiastical polity and usages-when these views left other Churches in possession of their just claims to our common Christianity-we would pass them by in silence. But when they attempt to unchurch other Churches of Christ, and throw them, as they do heathens, on the uncovenanted mercies of God, it is full time we would speak out and show that if the true scriptural apostolical succession be not found in the Methodist Episcopal Church, it is hopeless to look for it in the pale of those Churches who lay exclusive claims to its possession.
We maintain that these claims are too lofty, and that the principles on which they are founded, if carried out to their legitimate results, and not counteracted by sounder doctrines, are hostile to Christianity itself. The writer of this article would pass over these high pretences in silence, did he not think the simple are led astray by ideas which differ little from the old Jewish one of succession from Abraham. An examination into the government of the Church of Christ will therefore be important, that we may know whether the things in which we have been instructed are true or false.
That this subject may be clearly brought before us, we will consider the government of the Church: 1. As exhibited in the New Testament, and as it existed during the lives of the apostles. 2. In the age immediately succeeding the apostles, and as it is exhibited in the writings of the apostolic fathers. 3. As it existed in the second and third centuries, and as far as the time of Constantine the Great. 4. And finally, as it existed after the time of Constan
tine, up to the establishment of Popery. All that we shall have room to say in a brief article may be ranged under some one of these heads. The subjects of ordination, succession, and kindred topics may be taken up in future numbers, if the discussion of them shall seem necessary.
We will begin by examining the government of the Church as it is exhibited in the New Testament, and as it existed during the lives of the apostles.
1. The first organization of the Christian Church may be referred to as preparatory to what follows. In regard to this, our information is principally derived from the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles. From these we learn that the apostles regularly established Churches, and appointed proper officers and pastors whereever there was any number of believers sufficient to hold religious meetings. The newly collected Churches were, in the absence of the apostles, instructed by those among them who were best qualified for that purpose; and who afterward were duly appointed by the apostles to fill up offices in the Churches; with the consent, however, of those over whom they were placed.
The great commission of Christ was, Disciple, baptize, and teach all nations. And whether this commission was exclusively intended for the apostles or not, which is doubtful, it is certain that private Christians made proselytes to the Christian faith, and then baptized and taught them. Philip, though no apostle, and probably no more than a deacon, that is, a steward, church warden, or almoner, did all to the Ethiopian eunuch which the apostles had in charge to do to all nations. He made a proselyte of him, baptized, and taught him. Ananias, a disciple or private member of the Church, was employed to baptize and teach Paul. The disciples who were scattered abroad, after the persecution at the death of Stephen, went everywhere preaching the word. Our Lord himself made proselytes, and instructed them; but left their baptism to be performed by his disciples. Though Peter was sent to open the door of faith to the Gentiles, by the conversion of Cornelius and his house, he left the charge of baptizing them to the Christian brethren who attended them. Paul says of his mission, that Christ sent him not to baptize but to preach; meaning thereby, according to the Hebrew idiom, that baptizing, though a part of his duty, compared with preaching, was but an inferior part. Nothing here advanced is opposed to the propriety of limiting, for the sake of discipline, the power of baptizing and public teaching to fewer hands, when once a fixed ministry is settled in the Church, and regulations are made for its government. No reasonable man can doubt that any private Christian was then, and is now, warranted to convert an infidel to Christianity, and to teach him its principles: yet in the primitive Church there was much more liberty given to private Christians to exercise their gifts, than what most modern Churches see fit to allow.
The foregoing practice prepared the way for the establishment of a usage which generally prevailed in the days of the apostles, which is the following:-That a plurality of teachers was given to every Church. In the Church of Jerusalem there were several elders. The same may be said of Ephesus and other Churches.
Indeed, the general usage seems to have been, to ordain or appoint elders in every city, or Church, or congregation. St. James instructs the sick person to send for the elders of the Church. (James v, 14.) In all congregations, or at least in most, there will be more than one endowed with gifts and qualifications proper for instructing others in some degree; and the primitive usage was to leave no gift unemployed; and this will afford a strong reason for the custom. Besides, the gifts of one man will rarely meet the wants of any one congregation; as some are sons of thunder, and qualified to alarm and rouse; others are sons of consolation, and therefore suited to soothe and comfort; some are eloquent, and so are fitted to persuade. Indeed, one is Paul, another is Apollos, and another is Cephas; and so are endowed with various gifts, all of which are given for edification. Add to this, that there are wants in the people corresponding to the gifts of the ministry. Some need to be awakened, some comforted, and some built up in faith. Some require the benefit of one gift, and others of another. These were strong reasons why there were so many teachers in the primitive Church; and these reasons still remain in full force, so as to require their continuance. We may farther add, that as Christianity was then to be propagated everywhere, the increase of instructers was necessary for the purpose of extending it to every country. To all this we may subjoin, that in these times of persecution, in which the pastors were sure to fall first; it was necessary to have a sufficient supply, so that when one fell, there might always be another to fill his place. But the various wants of the people, both then and now, and the corresponding gifts of some to supply them, furnish the strongest reasons for the plurality of teachers.
2. Whether Christ appointed three orders of clergy, viz., bishops, elders, and deacons, has been warmly controverted, as has been already remarked. We may readily allow that such grades as nearly correspond to these may justly enough be looked for in the body of ministers; without running the sentiment into that of the three orders, in such a sense as the violent advocates for succession maintain. That there are these three orders, according to the doctrine of the Church of Rome, which makes the union of them a sacrament, under the imposing name of holy orders, cannot be admitted. That there are three orders, in the sense in which the Protestant Episcopal Church and the English Church contend for, cannot be proved by Scripture. That there are grades of difference in the one order of clergy,-the first serving as an initiatory process to the full ministry; the second embracing the pastorship of the flock; and the third exercising a general supervision of both flock and pastor, we think can be fully shown both from Scripture and antiquity. But the advocates of the three orders, as they are termed, maintain that their distinctions are founded in Scripture, and authorized by the example of the primitive Church. Let us see how this is supported by Scripture.
We are told by high churchmen, that the apostles, the seventy disciples, and the deacons correspond with diocesan bishops, presbyters, and deacons in their Church. We shall now speak of the seventy disciples. From Luke x, it is evident our Lord sent them, as he did the apostles, to preach the Gospel. Their commission