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LETTER XIV.-Of the Warrant for Congregational Sessions.


LETTER XIV.-Of the Warrant for Congregational Sessions.

James Dodson

THAT congregational sessions have a divine warrant, is thus instructed. The very light of nature directs us to determine smaller causes, by a smaller court. When Jethro proposed, inferior judges in Israel should determine the easier causes; Moses, and God by him, approved the motion, and execute the same (Exod. 18:22, 26). Threatening punishment on our sinful anger, and wrathful expressions, Jesus plainly approves the Jewish inferior courts, for causes less important (Mat. 5:22). In the Christian form of church-discipline prescribed by him, the finishing phrase, Let him be unto thee as an Heathen man and publican, clearly alludes to the Jewish form of procedure in scandals (Mat. 18:15-18). They had rulers, and consequently courts in every synagogue, or worshipping congregation (Mark 5:35-38; Luke 8:41 and 13:14; Acts 13:15 and 18:8, 17). By virtue of missives from the high priest, to these Saul had free access to punish the Christians, in every synagogue (Acts 9:1, 2). To these KAHALS, or congregational courts, it pertained to eject from the synagogue; and order transgressors to be held for Heathen men and publicans (John 9:22). To these KAHALS therefore, and their procedure, Jesus here alludes. But why, unless he would intimate, that similar courts should be in every Christian congregation? In this form of discipline, our adored Savior marks his utmost aversion to have offices propelled. If one can remove them by himself; it is best of all. If one can remove them by himself; it is best of all. If this secret attempt succeeds not; not above one or two more are to be taken along; that if possible, the offence may not be blazed abroad. The church, therefore, to which the offence is to be told, after private admonition is fruitless, must be understood in the privatest sense of the word. The following context imports, that it is a CHURCH, which may consist but of two or three met together in Christ’s name. It is notwithstanding a church having power to bind and loose from censure; that is, a church possessed of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mat. 18:20, 29 with chap. 16:19). It cannot then be the whole congregation, who are not calculated to conceal offences; who ordinarily consist of hundred, or thousands, and to whom, Christ, as hath been evinced, has given no judicial power (see Letter 5th).

That particular congregations are called CHURCHES, has been sufficiently marked. We read not merely of the CHURCH, but also of the CHURCHES, or particular congregations, at Corinth, and other places; of a CHURCH in an upper room; of a CHURCH in the house of Aquila; of Nymphas; of Philemon (1 Cor. 14:34 and 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phil. 2). We read, that the apostles took care to ordain elders in every church; that these were such, as rule well, and others, who also labor in word and doctrine, has been illustrate (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17;  see Letter 10th, 12th). Now, to what purpose, should these be ordained in every church, except they were to meet in a court, for joint rule thereof?

In fine, the invincible law of necessity requires such a court. Offences must needs to come; order should be maintained (Mat. 18:7-20; 1 Cor. 14:40). But how fatiguing; how impossible for Christians, in every matter of judicature, to attend presbyteries or synods; perhaps far distant! A single congregation of Christians too may be so situated, amid Heathens or heretics, as to have no access to either of these courts. Without a congregational judicature, how then could they be governed? Or, suppose the whole church reduced to one congregation; how could it be governed without a congregational court? Should I observe, that necessity obliges its inveterate enemies, to substitute in its place a shadow thereof; the convenient of their church-wardens?