Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government
Of Synodical Assemblies.
The scripture doth hold out another sort of assemblies for the government of the church, beside classical and congregational, all which we call Synodical. Pastors and teachers, and other church-governors, (as also other fit persons, when it shall be deemed expedient,) are members of those assemblies which we call Synodical,where they have a lawful calling thereunto. Synodical assemblies may lawfully be of several sorts, as provincial, national, and oecumenical. It is lawful, and agreeable to the word of God, that there be a subordination of congregational, classical, provincial, and national assemblies, for the government of the church.
Question 1.—Does the Scripture hold out another sort of assemblies for the government of the church, beside classical and congregational, all which we call synodical? Answer.—Yes. Acts 15:2, 6, 22, 23. Thus do they err who deny there to be higher ecclesiastical assemblies than congregational and classical. The ground and warrant for juridical synods is demonstrated by the following reasons: 1.) The words of the Law hold forth an ecclesiastical Sanhedrin in the Church of the Jews, superior to other courts, Deut. 17:8, 12 compared with 2 Chron. 19:8, 11; Ps. 122:4, 5. 2.) The words of Christ hold forth this juridical power, Matt. 18:15-21. 3.) The unity of the visible Church of Christ under the New Testament holds forth this. If Christ’s Church be one, then the government given be primarily one (and only secondarily to particular churches and congregations as parts or members of the whole); but the Church of Christ is one,Ergo. 4.) The primitive apostolical pattern laid down, Acts 15:2, 6. Additionally, we ought to consider that synods differ in some respects from classical presbyteries, for: 1.) Synods are more ample extensive assemblies than classical presbyteries—the members of presbyteries being sent only from several single congregations, whereas members of synods are delegated from several presbyteries, and proportionately their power is extended also. 2.) The exercise of government by presbyteries is the common ordinary way of government held forth in Scripture. Question 2.—Are pastors and teachers, and other church-governors, members of those assemblies which we call synodical, where they have a lawful calling thereunto? Answer.—Yes. Acts 15:6; 21:18, 25. That the elders and overseers are over the Church, in the Lord, is clear, Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Matt. 18:17, 18. Synodical assemblies have a three fold authoritative juridical power—1.) Dogmatic, in reference to matters of faith and divine worship. Which is not to coin new articles of faith or devise new acts of divine worship, but to explain and apply those articles of faith and rules of worship which are laid down in the Word of God; and declare the contrary to be errors, heresies, and corruptions, Acts 15:5, 24. Hence the Church is styled the pillar and ground of truth, 1 Tim. 3:15; thus to the Jewish Church were committed the oracles of God, Rom. 3:2. 2.) Diatactic, in reference to external order and polity, in matters prudential and circumstantial, which are determinable according to the true light of nature, and the 1Acts 15:2, 6, 22, 23.
general rules of the Scriptures, 1 Cor. 10:31, 32; Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 14:26, 40—notaccording to any arbitrary power of men. 3.) Critical or censuring power, in reference to error, heresy, schism, obstinacy, contempt, or scandal, and the repressing thereof—which though not Lordly, is yet authoritative. Thus the failure of the churches to exercise this power is rebuked by Christ, Rev. 2:14, 15, 20. These being just matters of government, it follows that Christ’s appointed governors, or overseers, should bear such rule. That they must be lawfully called thereunto is demonstrated by the following: Paul and Barnabas (called a prophet and a teacher, Acts 13:1, 2; and an apostle, Acts 14:14) were sent by order and determination of the classical assembly of Antioch to the Synod of Jerusalem, and they submitted themselves to the determination, Acts 15:2, 3, which they could not have as apostles, but as elders and members of the presbytery of Antioch. Question 3.—When it shall be deemed expedient, may other fit persons, be members of those assemblies we call synodical? Answer.—Yes. Acts 15:7, 12, 23, 25. The end of synodical assemblies being to root out heresies, redress abuses, and deliberate upon the common affairs, which is not the proper charge of elders only, but is common also to others endued with knowledge of the Scriptures, this office to be performed in councils or synods, is common to the whole church. Ministers in synodical assemblies do not feed as pastors, but as delegates from their churches they take heed that no corruption in doctrine, nor abuse in manners creeps in. That other persons, besides office bearers may have decisive voice in synodical assemblies, provided they are endued with gifts sufficient and freely chosen by the churches within the bounds of the assembly is cleared in Acts 15:23, 25. Question 4.—Wherein does it appear that synodical assemblies may lawfully be of several sorts, as provincial, national, and oecumenical? Answer.—The word used in Acts 15:6, Συνήχθησάν [Sunechthesan], “came together” or “synoded,” signifies a public convention of people. The term synod is appropriated to ecclesiastical assemblies above classical presbyteries in number and power. These synodal assemblies are made up (as occasion and the necessity of the Church require): Either of presbyters, sent from the several classical presbyteries within a province, hence called provincial synods; or of presbyters sent from several provincial synods within a nation, hence called national synods; or of presbyters, delegated or sent from several national churches, hence called ecumenical synods. All synods are of the same nature and kind. Though they differ as lesser or greater, in respect of extent from one another (the provincial having as full power within their bounds, as the national or ecumenical within theirs), so that having proved the divine right of synods indefinitely and in general, also proves the divine right of provincial, national, and ecumenical synods in particular. Question 5.—Is it lawful, and agreeable to the word of God, that there be a subordination of congregational, classical, provincial, and national assemblies, for the government of the church? Answer.—Yes. Acts 15:6. This is made evident for the following reasons: 1.) The light of nature teaches that the greater courts and jurisdictions have power over the lesser in the commonwealth. 2.) The Jewish church government was such that though they had synagogues in every city, yet they were subordinate to the supreme ecclesiastical court at Jerusalem, Deut. 17:8, 12; 2 Chron. 19:8, 11; Ex. 18:22-26. 3.) Christ teaches this principle of subordination in his institution of gradual appeals, Matt. 18:17, 18. 4.) The primitive apostolic pattern demonstrates this principle in the appeal, Acts 15:2, the Church of Antioch was subordinate to the Synod of Jerusalem, Acts 16:4.