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Sermons & Study Guides

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government Pt. 8 - Of Particular Congregations.

James Dodson

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