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SECTION IX.-On the Spiritual Independence of the Church of Christ.

Database

SECTION IX.-On the Spiritual Independence of the Church of Christ.

James Dodson

Q. Is the church of Christ absolutely independent?

A. No, she is not; inasmuch as she is in all things subject to her only King and Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Q. In what, then, does her spiritual independence consist?

A. Her spiritual independence consists in this—SHE IS ABSOLUTELY FREE FROM ALL MERELY HUMAN SUPREMACY.

Q. If the civil ruler, as you have taught, is under obligation to acknowledge and support the church of Christ, as a nurse, must he not as a nurse have authority over it?

A. The civil ruler is a nurse to the church merely as to the care he must exercise concerning it, in the supply of nourishment, &c. (Thou shalt suck the breast of kings), but he has no authority in nor over it, the authority is in the parent and Head of the church. 2 Cor. vi. 18. “1 will be a Father unto you, saith the Lord Almighty.”

Q. In what light, then, are we to consider the administration of civil rulers respecting the church?

A. Whatever service the civil ruler may be required by the law of God, to render the church, he acts only in his civil capacity, in the legitimate exercise of his civil rule, and not from any ecclesiastical authority in or over the church?

Q. Does his ministry, then, respecting the church, simply regard things external to the church, things circa sacra, which relate only to her outward prosperity and comfort?

A. This is the whole extent of his privilege in this respect. He acts simply as a civil ruler, who is “the minister of God” in that capacity, and is bound as such to promote the welfare of the church—or the interests of piety in the administration of the civil dominion with which he is intrusted. 1 Tim. ii. 2. Their administration is to be such, that Christians “may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all GODLINESS and honest.”

Q. Are not church and state mutually dependent powers?

A. By no means. They are co-ordinate, but not mutually dependent powers. They have distinct authority and spheres of action; and are mutually in their respective spheres, absolutely independent of each other.

Q. What? Have you not taught us—that the church is to be “established” in the “tops of the mountains,” and “exalted above the hills,” pre-eminent above all the civil kingdoms of the world? Has she not, therefore, authority over the state?

A. This pre-eminence of the church in the times referred to, respects her simply as an object of care, respect, and interest, to the nations of the earth-but does not inculcate the anti-Christian doctrine-that the church (or her officers) has any dominion over the nations.

Q. What do you mean, then, by co-ordinate powers?

A. Simply that they are powers which are equal as it respects authority, and strictly independent of each other; whilst, being respectively subject to the same supreme King and Lawgiver, they may live in happy alliance, and mutually co-operate, in their respective spheres, in the promotion of the same great ends—the glory of God, and the good of man.

Q. May not church and state be mutually subservient, whilst they are not strictly subordinate, one to the other but mutually independent?

A. SUBSERVIENCY is the proper term. Neither is subordinate to the other; but, as has been fully shown, they may happily, each in its own manner, subserve the interests of the other—the church promote the good of civil society, and the state foster the interests of piety.

Q. Is the church, then, absolutely independent of all human control?

A. Yes, strictly so. No earthly power, be it king, prelate, Pope, or synod—or “We the people” (civilly or ecclesiastically viewed), has any right to domineer over the church. It is composed of Christ’s freemen, and is itself free from all outward control. Mat. xxiii. 8, 9, 10. “Call no man your father upon the earth—neither be ye called masters.”

Q. May not the state extend to the church protection, and countenance, and pecuniary support, and friendly cooperation, without exercising any supremacy over her?

A. Yes. All this, we have seen, the state may legitimately do-but has no right to dictate the creed of the church, to institute its laws, to appoint its ministers, or to interfere in any one way with either its constitution or administration.

Q. May not the church exist, independently of, and even flourish, without the friendly alliance and co-operation of the state?

A. Yes. The church has not only existed, but, flourished independently of both these, and even in defiance of the wrath, opposition, and persecuting rage of the state-because she possesses a living and almighty energy—THE ETERNAL SPIRIT, to apply her truth, and render effectual her institutions upon the conscience and life of her members, and to gather in “the travail of the (Redeemer’s) soul,” and not all the power of the civil arm when made bare in wrath, and wielding the sword of persecution, has been, or can be, able to paralyse this energy.

Q. Is it not pure and undisguised Erastianism to maintain that such alliance is essential to the being of the church?

A. Yes. Such a principle is degrading to the honour of the church, and subversive of the very end of its existence.

Q. Whilst this alliance is not essential to the existence, may it not be beneficial to the well-being of Zion?

A. Yes. This is the proper light in which to contemplate the subject.. Human beings may exist without many external things, which, however, when possessed, conduce largely to their comfort, peace, and enjoyment: consequently, the fact of the church’s capability of existence even in defiance the opposition of the state, constitutes no argument against their friendly alliance and co-operation, but is evidence, by contrast, of the mutual benefit of such alliance and co-operation.

Q. Whilst church and state are strictly co-ordinate powers, and the latter has no dominion over the ecclesiastical society as such, and the former over the civil as such, may not the same persons, in respect of different relations be superior or inferior to another person, and may require another, and be themselves required, to fulfil relative duties; and in case of delinquency, may arraign others, or be themselves arraigned pursuant to the laws of their respective courts?

A. Yes. Thus ministers, as ambassadors of Christ, have a right to require magistrates, as church members, faithfully to execute their magistratical power, so as may best promote the honour of Christ, and the welfare of his church; and in case of gross acts of maladministration, may inflict upon them censures of the house of God. And, on the other hand, magistrates have a right to require ministers as their subjects, faithfully to execute ministerial power, as an excellent means of rendering the nation pious and virtuous, in order that its happiness may thereby be promoted.

Q. Will not this principle, if duly attended to, and piously applied, free the Westminster Confession of Faith from the false imputation of Erastianism, charged upon modern reformers?

A. Most certainly. “There are several articles in twentieth, twenty-third, and thirty-first chapters, which been much inveighed against, as giving the magistrate much power in the church of Christ. Let it be considered that he can convoke synods, not formally as ecclesiastical judicatories, but only as members of the commonwealth, in which character they are his subjects. Rom. xiii. 1. “When convened, surely they are bound to do what is most calculated to promote the glory of God. If their synodical deliberations be calculated to do so, should they not essay them? Should they become remiss, ought he not to require them, as his subjects, to do their duty?” If he views these things with indifference, he cannot be “the minister of God for good to men.”

Q. Where is this duty of magistrates clearly and scripturally expressed?

A. It is clearly expressed and amply sustained by scripture in the following quotation from “Reformation Principles.” “It is the duty of the Christian magistrate to take order, that open blasphemy and idolatry, licentiousness, and immorality be suppressed, and that the church of Christ be supported throughout the commonwealth; and for the better discharge of these important duties, it is lawful for him to call synods, in order to consult with them; to be present at them, not interfering with their proceedings, (unless they become manifestly seditious and dangerous to the peace,) but supporting the independency of the church and its righteous decisions, and preserving its unity and order against the attempts of such despisers of ecclesiastical authority as should endeavour, in a riotous manner to disturb their proceedings.” This doctrine is amply sustained by the following texts: Rom. xiii. 4; Lev. xxiv. 16; 2 Chron. xiv. 2, 1; Rev. xvii. 16; Prov. xx. 26; Is. ci. 8; Prov. xiv. 34, xvi. 12; Is. xlix. 23, lx. 10-12, lxii. 4; 2 Sam. xxiii. 3; 2 Chron. xxix. 2, 4, 15, xxx. 22; Rev, xxi. 24; Dan. vii. 22; 2 Cor. x. 31; Ps. cxxxvii. 5, cxii. 7.

Q. Would not such in exercise of authority infringe upon the liberty and independence of the church?

A. By no means. Ii the friendly alliance supposed to exist between church and state, the latter has not only engaged to “nourish” the church, but the rulers of the church, in their sphere, have engaged to discharge their duty, for the good of the state, and it is perfectly within the sphere of the civil authority to require the ecclesiastical to do its duty according to the acknowledged constitution of the church, which has become the law of the land; and so reciprocally in reference to the delinquency of the state authorities.

Q. How are, we to regard any interference of the civil powers with the legitimate independence of the church?

A. Such interference must be regarded as an unhallowed invasion of the rights of the people, and a monstrous usurpation of the inalienable rights and prerogatives of the church’s glorious HEAD.

Q. Has not the church greatly suffered from such interference?

A. She has. For from such interferences have sprung some of the grossest corruptions and severest sufferings of the church; and they cannot be too jealously watched against, or too indignantly repelled.

Q. Is not PATRONAGE a gross invasion upon the liberty and indulgence of the church, and the prerogatives of her glorious, Head?

A. Yes. It is one of the most daring invasions of right and usurpation of Christ’s authority over the church, in as much its it subjects the minister of religion to the absolute control of the state.

Q. What is patronage?

A. By patronage we understand the right claimed for certain men, on the ground of property alone, to nominate ministers to parishes or congregations.

Q. What may this definition comprehend?

A. It may comprehend not only those cases in which one man exercises the right of nomination to the exclusion of all other parties, but those also in which men, on the ground of merely civil and secular qualifications, co-operate with a congregation in the selection of a minister.

Q. In how many forms does this evil appear?

A. This evil, which we condemn, appears in many forms 1. Whenever men, on account of superior wealth or elevated rank, assume the power of dictating a minister to the members of Christ’s flock—there is patronage. 2. Whenever men unconnected with the church by membership, are permitted on account of some largesse bestowed by them for the erection of a place of worship, to enjoy a share in the election of a minister—there is patronage. 3. Wherever, on condition of contributing to the support of the congregation, the interference of men, neither holding nor Seeking to hold the privileges of membership, is sanctioned in the choice of a pastor—there is patronage. 4. Wherever, by the erastian legislation of the state, a civil right to nominate ministers is conferred on men, who may be members of any church, or members of no church whatever—there is patronage, and THERE IS A CHURCH ENSLAVED.

Q. Are not such claims, especially in the fourth form, utterly inconsistent with the spiritual independence of the church?

A. Yes, most clearly. For the church is a kingdom, as we have seen, under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a kingdom of which he is the supreme and sole Head. “This truth,” to use the words of the famous GILLESPIE, “that Jesus Christ is a king, and hath a kingdom and government in his church distinct from the kingdoms of this world, and from the civil government hat this commendation and character above all other truths, that Christ himself suffered to death for it, and sealed it with his blood.” Patronage interferes with the right of the Head of the church to legislate in all matters pertaining to the internal administration of his kingdom, and with her spiritual independence under him.

Q. Can patronage stand the test of a reference to its origin?

A. Our Fathers, of the First Reformation in Scotland, clearly held that it could not, and they have recorded their conviction on the subject in language not to be misunderstood. 1. The Second Book of Discipline contains these words, “Because this order which God’s word craves, cannot stand with patronage, and presentation to benefices, used in the Pope’s Kirk, we deem all them that truly fear God, earnestly to consider that, forasmuch as the names of patronages and benefices, together with the effect thereof, have flowed from the Pope and corruption of the Canon law only—and, forasmuch as that manner of proceeding hath no ground in the word of God, they ought, not to have place in the light of Reformation.” (1578.) To the same effect, we find the Reformers of 1649 issuing the following clear decision: “Considering that patronages and presentations of Kirks is an evil and bondage under which the Lord’s people and ministers of the land have long groaned, and that it has no warrant in God’s word, but is founded only in the Canon law, and a custom Popish, and brought into the Kirk in the time of ignorance and superstition,” &c. This quotation from act of the Scottish Estate of Parliament sufficiently proves the origin to be in the darkness and superstition of Popery.

Q. How did it originate in these dark and superstitious times?

A. In several ways. 1. Individuals and communities under the influence of superstitious notions built and endowed churches, and the law in recognition of this act of benevolence reserved for them and for their successors the disposal of the benefices. 2. Ambitious men, not satisfied with civil pre-eminence, gradually obtained the right of nominating to benefices, in order that their importance in the eyes of the vulgar might be enhanced by investiture with a spiritual prerogative. 3. There was another source of patronage. Wily ecclesiastics, intent upon wealth and aggrandizement, fostered the notion that by human merit divine favour was acquired. Largesses to the church were exhibited as meritorious in the highest degree, by many plain-spoken statements, and many convenient innuendos. In return for such kindness, the right of patronage was assigned to the deluded votaries of superstition.

Such was the origin of patronage. Let us never forget, however, that hired charity is but an equivocal virtue, whilst a church that could sanction the bestowment of ecclesiastical privileges for money will find its prototype in Simon Magus with greater success than its first Pope in Simeon Peter.

Q. What is therefore the character of Patronage in any and all of its forms?

A. It is it gross violation of the rights of the freemen of Christ, and usurpation of His royal prerogatives as King in Zion; and thus subverts the spiritual independence of the church.

Q. In how many ways may a nation violate the independence of the church?

A. In a great many ways. 1. When civil rulers claim the right of prescribing a creed or confession to the church, and, perhaps, of enforcing submission to it by civil penalties. 2. When they undertake to regulate the government of the church, in virtue of usurped supremacy over her. 3. When they claim a right of nominating her office-bearers, or of authoritatively determining in whose hands that right shall be placed. 4. When they control the meetings ecclesiastical courts, convening, proroguing, or dissolving them at pleasure; or limiting them with regard to the matters discussed in them. 5. When they tamper with the worship of the church, loading it with rites and ceremonies, and disguising the beautiful simplicity of New Testament worship, by pompous additions of human inventions. 6. When they interfere with the discipline of the church, by admitting or excluding members, annulling ecclesiastical censures, or dictating terms of Church fellowship. Let her “standfast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made her free.”

Q. Is it, indeed, a truth that Christ hath granted to his people the right of electing their own pastors free from the yoke of patronage in any of its aspects?

A. Yes. Acts xiv. 23, were it alone, would be sufficient proof. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord,” &c. Χειροτονεω (ordained) signifies to hold out the hand, compounded of χειρ, the hand, and τεινω, to extend. The action of holding out the hand is expressive of choice and resolution. It marks a decision of the will, whether intended or executed.

The word is used to signify divine appointment, Acts x. 21; human choice, 2 Cor. viii. 19; and it signifies to elect to office by holding up the hand. “At Athens some of the magistrates were called χειροτονητοι, because they were elected by the people in this manner.”—Parkhurst. “Election and consequent ordination of elders in the church! Thus it is manifest from the critical import of the Passage that Christ hath conferred the right of the choice of pastors, by the free suffrages of the MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH, without respect of persons, and thus in this respect secured the independence of His church.

Q. Has not the free Church of Scotland given a noble testimony to this right of Christ’s people, and His crown right as the sole King in Zion?

A. Yes. She has nobly unrolled one fold of the ancient flag of the Covenanter, and brought to view a portion of its glorious inscription, Christ’s crown. But to be a consistent witness, she must testify to Christ’s prerogative of “KING OF KINGS, and dissenting from the British ecclesiastico-civil constitution “as a horn of the Beast,” unfurl the whole ancient flag, and display the full inscription, in rich emblazonry, CHRIST’S CROWN AND COVENANT.

[ON THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF DISSENT FROM AN IMMORAL CONSTITUTION OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT]