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Questions Relative to Church Government.


Questions Relative to Church Government.

James Dodson

32. Has the Christian Church any form of Government, distinct from the civil governments under which christians live?

The Christian Church is a regular visible society distinct from civil society; it is ONE amidst all nations, although these nations differ widely in their constitutions of government; and it has, for itself, a form of government independent of, and distinct from, the political order of any nation upon earth.

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.”

33. Is the form of Church Government left by the Divine Lawgiver, to be settled by christian prudence, in accommodation to the various circumstances in which church members may be placed?

Infinite wisdom foresees all the circumstances with which the Church can, at any time, be affected [a]: The form of church government is wisely adapted to every state of the Church [b]: It is not alterable at the pleasure of men [c]; but is settled by divine authority [d].

[a] Rev. 5. 13. “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest.” [b] Rev. 1. 20. “The mystery of the seven stars, which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches; and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest, are the seven Churches.” [c] Heb. 8. 5. “See that thou make all things agreeable to the pattern shewed thee in the mount.” [d] Is. 9. 6. “The government shall be upon his shoulders.”

34. How does it appear that the form of church government is divinely appointed?

That there is some particular form of government established for the New Testament Church, may be shown from the necessity of it—Prophecies respecting it—Christ’s care of the Church—and the actual description of the different parts of church government, in the New Testament.

35. What need has the Church of a form of government?

Reason teaches, that human society cannot exist without order; necessity compels every Church to establish some kind of government: The Jewish Church is universally admitted to have had a form of government of divine appointment; and, still the Church requires authority sufficient to preserve order, recover transgressors, encourage the pious, and censure the rebellious; and to which each member must yield conscientious submission.

Heb. 13. 17. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.”

36. Do the prophecies of the Old Testament, afford evidence that the New Testament Church has some form of government which is of divine right?

The prophets looked forward to the coming of Christ, as in every respect an advantage to the Church; they do not intimate that the Church, already enjoying a government of divine appointment, should, then, be left without order or officers. The prophets were divinely authorized to teach, that Messiah would establish for his peculiar kingdom, a definite constitution of government, to be maintained until the end of time.

Is. 9. 6, 7. “His name shall be called wonderful, counsellor,—The Prince of peace—upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it, with judgment, and with justice, from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

37. What evidence does Christ’s care over the Church afford for the appointment of an appropriate government for it, as a visible society?

He who loves the Church, and purchased it, who is the only Lord and Lawgiver, who manages the whole world in subordination to the interest of the Church, seeing the necessity of some form of government, would not leave it to be fashioned according to the caprice of imperfect man.

Psalm 87. 3. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” Isai. 33. 20, 23. “Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a, quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down—The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; he will save us.”

38. Does it appear, from the New Testament, that there is a government actually established in the Christian Church?

The Church is represented, in the New Testament, as consisting of two distinct orders—Rulers and Ruled [a]; the province of each is defined, and the duty of each described and illustrated by appropriate examples [b].

[a] Heb. 13. 17. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves.” [b] Tit. 1. 5. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city as I had appointed thee, if any be blameless.”

39. How shall we ascertain what particular form of church government is of divine appointment?

Whatsoever is agreeable to sound reasoning from established truths—supported by approved examples—sanctioned by divine approbation—established by divine acts—or recommended by directions from God, is of divine right [Jus divinum.[See NOTE C.]]; and that form of ecclesiastical government which has each part of divine sight, and embraces whatsoever is divinely authorized, is, exclusively, of divine appointment, and the proper government of the Christian Church.

40. What different forms of government have professed Christians adopted for their respective Churches?

It would be an endless and useless task to describe all the forms, according to which Churches have been governed. There are, however, three principal and distinct forms of ecclesiastical government, to which all others, any way worthy of notice, may be referred, although the shades of difference are indefinite; these are, the Presbyterian, the Episcopalian, and the Independent forms.

41. Which of these forms of government is the most agreeable to the holy scriptures?

Episcopacy and Independency have each of them some points of coincidence with Presbytery, and are so far agreeable to the divine institution; but the Presbyterian plan of church government is alone of divine right.

42. Is it asserted in the New Testament, that the Presbyterian is the only lawful form of church government?

Al1 the parts of Presbyterianism are authorized by the New Testament Scriptures. It is for the thing, not the name, we should contend; nevertheless, even the name is scriptural. The church officers are called Presbyters [a], and the judicatories, Presbyteries [b]; so that both name and thing are warranted by the word of God.

[a] Acts 14. 23. “They had ordained them Presbyters [Πρεσβυτερους.[See NOTE D.]], Elders, in every church.” [b] 1 Tim. 4. 4. “Laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.”

43. What are the principal parts of the Presbyterian form of church government?

In describing the form of ecclesiastical government, it is proper to keep in view, as necessary axioms, the exclusive headship of Jesus Christ—the unity of the Church—and that all the authority of church rulers is ministerial and subordinate. The form of government will be understood by considering attentively the powers of church officers, and of the courts of judicature.