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LETTER V.-Of Private Christians Privileges and Power.


LETTER V.-Of Private Christians Privileges and Power.

James Dodson

ALREADY we have seen, there must be, there is, a particular government divinely institute in the Christian church; that Jesus Christ alone is her sovereign Head; and that her members must be such as profess their faith and obedience to him, and their children. It is proper, Amelius, we next explore, what power and privileges are divinely conferred on her; and to whom.

That all ecclesiastic power and authority is, by our adored Redeemer, bestowed, for the advantage of his whole church, no member excepted, is clearly marked in the sacred volumes. For edification; for building her upon him, her sole foundation; for bringing her members to the stature of his fulness, are apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and every other officer, therein appointed (Eph. 4:11-13). Their power is given them for edification, not for destruction; they have no power against the truth, but for the truth (2 Cor. 13:8, 10). For edification, is everyone of her ordinances calculated. The word read and preached, is to turn men from darkness to light; from the power of Satan to God; that by faith they may receive remission of sin, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified (Acts 26:17, 18). The sacraments are to seal up men to the day of redemption (2 Pet. 3:21). Offenders are to be admonished, that they may be gained from their sin and danger to the Lord; are to be rebuked, that others may fear to do wickedly; and that wavering minds may be sound in the faith (Mat. 18:15-18; 1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 1:13). Obstinate transgressors are to be excommunicated, that their flesh, their corruption, may be destroyed; and their spirit or soul saved in the day of the Lord, and the church preserved from defilement (1 Cor. 5:5, 7, 13). Penitents are to be absolved, that they be not swallowed up of overmuch sorrow (2 Cor. 2:7). These ordinances, all of them, are therefore invaluable privileges purchased with a Saviour’s blood; and given to the church: to them, each of her members, as need requires, has an undoubted right. Every member has a right to perform the duties of prayer, reading the word of God, meditation, private reproof, and the like. He has a right to try the doctrine and practice of teachers, that he may not believe every spirit (1 John 4:1): a right to prove what he reads or hears, by the word of God, that he may hold fast that which is good (Acts 17:11; 1 Thes. 5:21). Every member, adult and blameless, has a power to choose the church-officers who are immediately to rule over him; and thus mark out the person, he judges proper to sustain power of office from Christ, to govern him (Acts 1:15-26 and 6:2-5 and 14:23).

Is therefore the power of authority lodged in the community or general body of the faithful, separate from, or connected with church-officers? It is not. No such power was given them by Christ, while on earth. If it had, the apostles should have derived their power from the people; the founders of the Christian church should have been consequential to, and empowered by her. Contrary to a multiplicity of scriptures, they had been the apostles of men, not of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1; Mat. 28:18-20; John 20:21-23; Luke 6:13; Mark 16:15). That no such power was lodged in the people, after the apostles received their mission, is no less manifest. Church-officers were still divinely termed the ambassador, stewards, ministers of Christ (2 Cor. 5:19, 20; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2). They are marked to derive their office immediately from him; never from the people. Christ, not the people, is marked to give them; marked to set them in the church, to make them overseers (Eph. 4:8-11; 1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 20:28, 29). In his, not the peoples name, they are commanded to act. To HIM, not to the people, must they, at last, give an account (Mat. 18:19; Heb. 13:17, 18).

Nowhere does the sacred page represent the Christian people, as possessed of, or warranted to exercise any office-power in the church. Not they, but her pastors, have power to preach the gospel: for how, saith God, shall they preach, except they be sent? except they be called of God from among their brethren, as was Aaron (Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4, 5)? Not the people, but their pastors, have power to administer the sacraments, these mysteries of God. This is connected with preaching (1 Cor. 4:1; Mark 16:15, 16). Not the private members of the church, but her officers, are divinely warranted to ordain others, presbyters, or deacons. Timothy was ordained, not by the people, but by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Elders in the church were ordained, not by the people, but by Paul and Barnabas. Deacons were ordained, not by the multitude of believers, but by the apostles. To ordain presbyters and deacons, were Timothy and Titus left in places, or sent long journeys (1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 14:23 and 6:3, 6; Tit. 1; 1 Tim. 3 and 5:22). How absurd this, if the multitude of believers could have done it themselves! Not the people, but their church-officers, are divinely marked, and required, to censure the scandalous, or absolve the penitent. To the apostles, and their successors, it was given, to bind and to loose the offenders (Mat. 18:18 and 16:19). The excommunication of the incestuous Corinthian, was inflicted, not by the ALL, but by the MANY, or the chief ones, the rulers, as the original word signifies. Paul the apostle, delivered Alexander and Hymenaeus to Satan. Titus the evangelists, not the people, is empowered to reject, or excommunicate, the obstinate heretic (1 Cor. 5:4; 2 Cor. 2:6; 1 Tim. 1:20; Tit. 3:10).

Nowhere in scripture, are the gifts necessary for ecclesiastic office, promised, or marked as given, to the whole body of the faithful. Experience shews, how many of them are destitute thereof: how few apt to teach: how few able rightly to divide the word of truth, and to convince gainsayers: how few capable to try the learning of ministers; or to try false apostles, and find them liars. Scripture and experience shew, these gifts are promised to, and bestowed upon the officers of the church. To these Jesus hath promised his presence, to assist them in baptizing, and in teaching his laws, till the end of the world. The discipline of these, enacted on earth, if just, he hath promised to ratify in heaven. To these he hath intimate a mission, and bid receive the Holy Ghost, to furnish them for their work. (Mat. 28:19, 20 and 18:19; John 20:21-23; 1 Cor. 12:8, 9; 1 Tim. 3:5)

Nowhere in scripture, is the body of the Christian people marked by such characters, as imports authority lodged in them. Never are they stiled pastors, elders, overseers, rulers, guides, governments. &c. Instead hereof, they are characterized as the flock, watched over and fed; the family overseen; the body governed; the persons subject in the Lord: and solemnly are they charged to know, honor, obey, and submit to their shepherds, overseers, governors, guides (Acts 20:28; 1 Thes. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17, 22).

What shocking absurdity should the lodging of all church-power in the community of the faithful produce! All should be rulers; none remain to be ruled. Rulers should have rule; and yet over nothing at all. Thus, the church, herself, becomes steward of the mysteries of God; and none is left, to whom they can be dispensed. If saintship, mystical union with Christ, is the channel of receiving this power; children, who know not their right hand from the left; women, who are divinely discharged to speak in the church; must have from Christ, a power equal with any, to rule in her; and to dispense the ordinances of the gospel; for children and women may be as truly saints as others; in Christ there is neither male nor female. Or should all the Christian people, but adult males, be excluded from rule; the power is no more lodged in the community of the faithful, but in a representative church of adult males. And what then shall be the channel of conveying this power to the adult males? Where is the sacred oracle affirming, the adult manhood gives one a peculiar relation to Christ, or his church? Should I add, into what incurable disorder and division, shall lodging of all church-power in the people, throw the followers of Christ? How shall they, either neglect government, or be drawn off from their business, to judge of what is above their reach? women and children to try and ordain pastors; to try subtle heretics; and, if obstinate, cast them out of the church? If the Christian people of every congregation, possess a fulness of this power; how absurdly doth the infallible Spirit represent all Christians, as one body, whose members depend one upon another; as a city or camp, whose parts are mutually connected and dependent? What a wide door is this opened for; what safety secured to, subtle blasphemers, crafty heretics? Should the erroneous deceiver decoy the greater part of his hearers to his side; how shall the residue repress him? how shall they cast him out of the church? If the pastor, elders, or deacons, fall into error, or scandal; how improper, that none should be their judges, their correctors, but their spiritual pupils and children; these, perhaps, mostly infected, or biased? What hope of reformation here! Again, suppose a whole congregation, though but of eight or ten persons, fall into grievous error, or scandal; there is no ecclesiastic means left to reclaim them. They are totally independent, on all the rest of the Christian world. Enquire, my friend, into the case of the English independent churches in Holland; and see such confusions as these, verified in experience, to such noted degrees, as may give us an everlasting disgust of the scheme.