Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government
Of Particular Congregations.
It is lawful and expedient that there be fixed congregations, that is, a certain company of Christians to meet in one assembly ordinarily for publick worship. When believers multiply to such a number, that they cannot conveniently meet in one place, it is lawful and expedient that they should be divided into distinct and fixed congregations, for the better administration of such ordinances as belong unto them, and the discharge of mutual duties. The ordinary way of dividing Christians into distinct congregations, and the most expedient for edification, is by the respective bounds of their dwellings. First, Because they who dwell together, being bound to all kind of moral duties one to another, have the better opportunity thereby to discharge them; which moral tie is perpetual; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it.Secondly, The communion of the saints must be so ordered, as may stand with the most convenient use of the ordinances, and discharge of moral duties, without respect of persons. Thirdly, The pastor and people must so nearly cohabit together, as that they may mutually perform their duties each to other with most conveniency. In this company some must be set apart to bear office.
Question 1.—Is it lawful and expedient that there be fixed congregations, that is, a certain company of Christians to meet in one assembly ordinarily for public worship? Answer.—Yes. Acts 15:41; 20:8. The various duties required in public worship—joint prayer and praise and their hearing of the preached Word and administration of sacraments all point to both the lawfulness and expediency of fixed congregations, Acts 2:46; 12:12. Question 2.—When believers multiply to such a number, that they cannot conveniently meet in one place, is it lawful and expedient that they should be divided into distinct and fixed congregations, for the better administration of such ordinances as belong unto them, and the discharge of mutual duties? Answer.—Yes. 1 Cor. 14:26, 33, 40. Thus do they err who seek to multiply numbers without regard to the spiritual health of the flock. When such occurs, the saints cannot perform their duties one to another nor can the pastor and the people to each other with conveniency. That they were divided into distinct and fixed congregations is demonstrated when we consider: 1.) In many places where there were Jews, there is evidence of only one synagogue, as in Antioch, Acts 13:14, 42, 43; Iconium, Acts 14:1; Thessalonica, Acts 17:1; Berea, Acts 17:10; Athens, Acts 17:16, 17; but amongst the larger populations of Jews, they divided into numerous synagogues, Jerusalem, Acts 24:11, 12; Damascus, Acts 9:2, 19, 20. Jerusalem was divided into synagogues according to nationality, Acts 6:9. 2.) The Christian church is a synagogue, Jas. 2:2 11 Cor. 14:26, 33, 40. 2Deut. 15:7, 11; Matt. 22:39; Matt. 5:17. 31 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:24, 25; Jas. 2:1, 2.
(assembly—συναγωγὴν-sunagogen) and, as such, Paul refers us to the forms of judgment in the synagogue for our imitation, 1 Cor. 6:2; and the very names of the Christian church officers are taken from the ancient synagogue, Acts 20:17; thus, Paul created a Christian synagogue when the Jews were hardened against the Gospel, Acts 19:8, 9 and the Romans recognized no difference between the synagogues of Jews and Christians until many years later, Acts 18:15. 3.) So we see this division apparent in the reference to multiple churches at Galatia, 1 Cor. 16:1; Gal. 1:2. Question 3.—Isthe ordinary way of dividing Christians into distinct congregations, and the most expedient for edification, by the respective bounds of their dwellings? Answer.—Yes. Matt. 14:34, 35. It is both ordinary and convenient to divide people into distinct regional districts, as we see many times in the Scriptures, Mark 1:28 (region around—περίχωρον-perichoron); Luke 7:11,17; 8:37; Acts 14:6. Thus, the churches are linked to their respective regions round about them, Acts 9:31; 16:1, 4, 5; 1 Cor. 16:1. This parochial (παροικίᾳ-paroikia), or parish, system was recognized amongst the Jews, Luke 4:44; and utilized by Jesus while upon earth, Luke 4:14-16 [v. 14-περιχώρου-perichorou]. The term παροικίᾳ denotes the stay of a stranger in a foreign place [for the Jews, most particularly Egypt]; his alien residence, Acts 13:17; and it came to connote the earthly pilgrimage of Christians, 1 Pet. 1:17. Question 4.—Do they who dwell together, being bound to all kind of moral duties one to another, have the better opportunity thereby to discharge them; which moral tie is perpetual; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it? Answer.—Yes. Deut. 15:7, 11; Matt. 22:39; 5:17. The moral duties which bind believers to one another are such that require closeness of proximity in order to the better discharging of them. Thus Scripture emphasizes this nearness by noting that the saints are neighbors as well, Gal. 5:13, 14; Eph. 4:25; Gal. 6:10. Question 5.—Ought the communion of the saints to be so ordered, as it may stand with the most convenient use of the ordinances, and discharge of moral duties, without respect of persons? Answer.—Yes. 1 Cor. 14:26. Thus do they err who take no thought of the ordering of the communion of the saints and thereby render inconvenient the use of ordinances. They are rebuked because the apostle warns believers to consider one another and so facilitate the ease by which God’s people might assemble together, Heb. 10:24, 25; also, they are rebuked who discharge the moral duties commanded with regard or respect to the recipients, Jas. 2:1, 2; Col. 3:22-25; Jas. 2:8, 9; for God is no respecter of persons, Rom. 2:11. Question 6.—Must the pastor and people so nearly cohabit together, as that they may mutually perform their duties each to other with most conveniency? Answer.—Yes. 1 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:17. Therefore do they err who deny the importance of the parochial system or who expand the parish beyond convenient bounds. They are confuted for the following reasons: 1.) The pastor is to preach and administer the sacraments, 2 Tim. 4:2; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 10:16; but these duties can be exercised only when the pastor and people so nearly cohabit together. 2.) The pastor is commanded to inspect the religious state of persons and families, Acts 20:28; the people are to render appropriate honor to such, 1 Tim. 5:17; but these duties can be performed regularly only when they so nearly cohabit together. 3.) The pastor is commanded to exercise hospitality, Tit. 1:8; this is a duty exercised, not from a distance, but most conveniently
when pastor and people so nearly cohabit together. 4.) Just as the shepherd must be present amongst his flock to guide it, so too the pastor, whose office is to shepherd, must be present amongst his flock to guide it, 1 Thess. 5:12, 13. Question 7.—Must some in this company be set apart to bear office? Answer.—Yes. Acts 20:28. Therefore do the Quakers, and some sects of Anabaptists err maintaining that there is no distinction in the company of believers between rulers and those ruled. That there is and has been such a distinction is cleared by the following: 1.) The Jews in the days of Moses had such a distinction, Ex. 18:21-25. 2.) This same distinction remained until the days of Christ and the apostles, Mark 5:22; Acts 13:15; 18:8. 3.) This same distinction is presumed by numerous admonitions scattered throughout the New Testament epistles, 1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 24