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Sermons & Study Guides

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government Pt. 15 - Of Synodical Assemblies.

James Dodson

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.