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Questions Relative to Church-Fellowship.


Questions Relative to Church-Fellowship.

James Dodson

6. Is a knowledge of the nature of the Gospel Church necessary to salvation?

Christ’s perfect righteousness, and not our own knowledge, is the condition of our salvation [a]: but it is at our peril, if we continue wilfully ignorant of what God has revealed concerning the Church [b].

[a] 2 Tim. 1. 9. “Who hath saved us—not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, in Christ Jesus.” [b] Mat. 5. 19. “Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”

7. Wherein consists the sinfulness of inattention to the true nature of a Gospel Church?

He, who is inattentive to the external form of the dispensation of grace, is guilty of despising the wisdom which orders it, the goodness which influences, and the authority which establishes it; and is consequently exposed to the judgments of Jehovah.

Ezek. 44. 5-8. “And the Lord said unto me, Mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and all the laws thereof. O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations, in that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers; and ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things.”

8. What is the Church of Christ?

The Church of Christ is a society separated from the rest of mankind by the dispensation of God’s covenant.

Eph. 5. 24-26. “The Church is subject unto Christ.—Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify it by the word.”

9. Is there any propriety for the distinction, visible and invisible Church?

The distinction is necessary to the right understanding of the scriptures, which sometimes ascribe to the church what is true only of a visible church [a], and at other times, what is not applicable to the body of visible professors [b]. The visible church comprehends all those who stand in an external relation to the Saviour; the invisible church, all those who being elected unto eternal life, are savingly united to Christ the head.

[a] Jno. 15. 2. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away.” Rev. 2. 12-15. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam—also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” [b] Eph. 5 27. “A glorious church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing—and without blemish.”

10. Who are the members of the Church visible?

Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, and appear subject to his law, together with their children.

Acts, 2. 38, 39. 40. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ—for the promise is unto you and to your children—and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

11. Are there more visible Churches than one?

The term CHURCH [Εκκλησια.[See NOTE A.]] is sometimes applied to a particular congregation [a]; sometimes to a particular ecclesiastical judicatory [b]; to several congregations, united under one judicatory [c]; and by reason of the folly of man, there are distinct associations of professed Christians, more or less differing from one another [d]; and, with reference to these, it may be said there are more churches than one.

[a] Acts 9. 51. “Then had the CHURCHES rest—and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” [b] Matt. 18. 17. “If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the CHURCH.” [c] Acts 8. 1. “There was a great persecution against the CHURCH, which was at Jerusalem.” [d] 1 Cor. 3. 3. "For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?”

12. Do the scriptures approve of the erection of distinct Churches?

The scriptures recommend, for the more convenient edification of the saints, the erection of distinct congregations, and of distinct judicatories [a]; but it is the sin and the loss of professed Christians to establish distinctions which destroy the unity of the visible church [b]; since, according to the institution of Christ, the CHURCH is ONE among all nations [c].

[a] Acts, 15. 41. “He went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches.” [b] Jam. 3. 16. “Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” [c] Eph. 4. 3, 4. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.”

13. Seeing there are many distinct denominations of Christians, what is their duty toward one another?

To form one church of societies retaining their peculiar habits and prejudices, would only produce confusion, or substitute a base neutrality for christian zeal [a]. It is the duty of every denomination to reform abuses, and endeavour, after conformity to the plan of church order appointed by Christ, that the Catholic Church may attain to the unity of the Spirit, and become visibly connected in the bond of peace [b].

[a] Rev. 2. 14, 15. “I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam—So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.” [b] Eph. 2. 21. “In whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”

14. What is the duty of an individual Christian toward the visible Church in her present divided state?

It is his duty to pray for every part of the Christian Church [a]—to inquire what part adheres most closely to the holy scriptures; and without bias from interest or prejudice, join in that communion which is most pure, in which his edification may be best promoted, and in which he may prove most useful to the kingdom of Christ [b].

[a] Psalm 122. 6. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” [b] 1 Thess. 5. 21. “Prove all things: bold fast that which is good.”

15. Is there upon earth any Church perfectly pure?

The best men and the best societies on earth are imperfect [a]. There may be churches, with the doctrine and order of which no positive evil is intermingled [b]; but none can profess infallibility: No church can say, “We are deficient in nothing—we have given to every article, both in theory and practice, its true and relative importance.”

[a] 1 Cor. 15. 12. “For now we see through a glass darkly.” [b] Rev. 3. 8, 11. “I know thy works—thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name—Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”

16. Is every society calling itself a Church, to be considered as really a part of Christ’s visible Church?

Associations founded upon principles opposite to the first principles of the oracles of God, are not churches, but synagogues of satan.

Rev. 2. 9. “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of satan.”

17. Is it possible that all the Churches should so far degenerate, as to leave upon earth no visible Church of Christ?

There is no certainty that any one particular church in any particular part of the world, shall remain always pure [a]; but a visible church of Christ shall be preserved, somewhere on earth, until the end of time [b].

[a] Rev. 3. 16. “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” [b] Matt. 16. 18. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

18 What are the characteristics of the true Christian Church?

The characteristics of the true Church, are, sound doctrine [a], a legitimate ministry [b], and the proper use of the sacraments [c].

[a] Acts 5. 42. “And they continued steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” [b] Acts 14. 23. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” [c] Matt. 28. 19. “Go ye therefore and disciple [Μαθητεύσατε.] all nations, baptizing them.” Acts 20. 7. “The disciples came together to break bread.”

19. Where have we the best system of Christian doctrine?

The whole word of God is the perfect and supreme standard of doctrine [a]. Many excellent summaries of revealed truth are exhibited in the Confessions and Articles of the Reformed Churches; but the Shorter Catechism, compiled by the Westminster assembly, is, in so small a compass, the most simple and comprehensive summary of the doctrines of the gospel [b].

[a] Matt. 28. 20. “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” [b] 2 Tim. 1. 13. “Hold fast the form of sound words.”

20. What is a legitimate ministry?

When ecclesiastical officers are ordained according to Christ’s appointment, and discharge the duties of their office agreeably to his direction, they are to be recognized as a lawful ministry.

1 Cor. 4. 1, 2. “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.”

21. What is the proper use of the Sacraments?

The administration of them by an ordained minister of the gospel [a], in the true spirit of the institution [b] to the regularly received members of the church [c].

[a] Heb. 5. 4. “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” [b] 1 Cor. 10. 16. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” [c] 1 Cor. 12. 13. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

22. Is saintship the criterion of membership in the Christian Church?

The church is a holy society, and unsanctified persons are very unfit members of it [a]; nevertheless, in determining who shall be admitted to its privileges the visible church must judge, solely upon the evidence which the outward profession and conduct afford [b][See NOTE B.]

[a] 1 Cor. 1. 2, “The church of God which is at Corinth,—sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” [b] Matt. 7. 20. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

23. Can it, in any case, be justifiable to receive an unregenerate man into church fellowship?

There is no excuse for those who receive into the church, or continue in it, any one who is known to live without practical godliness [a]: it is not, however, the province of man to judge the heart [b]; and the purest church may have in its communion unregenerate men [c].

[a] 2 Tim. 3. 5. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” [b] Deut. 29. 29. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us.” [c] Acts. 8. 15-29. “Simon himself believed also, and—was baptized—but Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee—for thy heart is not right in the sight of God—for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”

24. Can any person, who is not a saint, offer himself, with propriety, as a member of the visible Church?

He who does not love Jesus Christ, as offered in the gospel, in proposing to join the church, deceives himself, or acts the hypocrite [a]; but it is the duty of all who hear the gospel to believe in Christ, and become members of the visible church [b].

[a] Tit. 1.15. “Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.” [b] Acts 2. 38. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.”

25. Is it lawful, on any account, to exclude a saint from Church Communion?

Saints may be left, in God’s holy providence, to commit crimes worthy even of death, and scandalous to religion [a]. We should exclude from church privileges those who live in the commission of scandalous transgressions, although it should appear probable that they are regenerate men [b].

[a] 2 Sam. 12. 7. “And Nathan said unto David, Thou art the man.” [b] 2 Thes. 3. 14, 15. “And if any man obey not our word, by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed; yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

26. What are the necessary qualifications for church membership?

No adult person whatever is to be received into the Christian Church, or admitted to any of its privileges, unless he knowingly profess a belief of the doctrine of Christ [a]; promise submission to all his institutions [b]; evidence repentance of all his sins [c]; and manifest no prevailing inclination to any kind of wickedness [d].

[a] Acts 8. 37. “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” [b] Gal. 5. 22, 23. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” [c] Acts 26. 20. “And do works meet for repentance.” [d] Ps. 24. 3, 4. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul into vanity.”

27. What is the end of church fellowship?

The end of church fellowship is to exhibit a system of sound principles [a]; to maintain the ordinances of gospel worship pure and entire [b]; to promote holiness in all manner of conversation [c]; and to prepare the saints for glory [d].

[a] Col. 2. 2. “Being knit together in love—to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.” [b] Rev. 2. 23. “That which ye have, hold fast till I come.” [c] Phil. 2. 15. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke.” [d] Col. 1. 12. “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”

28. Is the visible Church a voluntary society?

Every man who hears the gospel, is bound, by the authority of the supreme Lawgiver, to enter into church fellowship; and compliance with this law must be voluntary.

1 John 5. 3. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.” Rom. 1:3. 10. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”

29. Do Christians, in a church state, commune upon the footing of any declared principles, to which each member must give his assent?

Every society of rational beings: must be constituted upon the footing of some common principles, expressed or understood [a]; the Church, as a society, requires some bond of union [b]; it must also be explicit with the world [c]; and it cannot answer the description of a scriptural Church, unless its members give their solemn assent to the terms upon which its privileges are conferred upon men [d].

[a] Amos 3. 3. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” [b] Phil. 1. 27. “With one mind striving together, for the faith of the gospel.” [c] Jude, ver. 3. “Ye should earnestly contend for the faith.” [d] Rev. 5. 10. “Thou hast kept the word of my patience.”

30. What are those articles, which the visible Church should now adhere to, as terms of communion?

It is not to be expected, that church members should think alike about every object of thought [a]; but it is certain, they must be of one mind about some articles [b]. In forming ecclesiastical connexions, the articles upon which members unite, should EMBRACE nothing but what is divine truth [c], and should REJECT nothing for which the saints have already faithfully contended [d], the profession of which tends to promote order, knowledge, peace, and piety [e].

[a] 1 Tim. 1. 4. “Neither give heed to fables, and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying.” [b] Phil. 2. 2. “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” [c] Mat. 15. 9. “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” [d] Phil. 3. 16. “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” [e] Rom. 14. 19. “Follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”

31. How is christian fellowship to be maintained?

Christian fellowship is to be maintained by a steadfast continuance in the faith and worship of the gospel [a]; by a constant endeavouring to prevent all occasions of stumbling; [b] and a conscientious fulfilling of all relative duties [c].

[a] Acts 2. 42. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” [b] Rom. 14. 13. “That no man put a stumbling block, or occasion to fall, in his brother’s way.” [c] Phil. 2. 4. “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”