« EdellinenJatka »
Christ and the apostles gave, and opening the way for their oppression and plunder ; then they must be inconsistent with the Scriptures. What Scriptures can be found, to give their sanction to proceedings such as these? The churches of Christ are invested by their divine Lord with certain necessary powers and rights, such as that of admitting and excluding members, electing their own officers, and managing, in the general, their own concerns; and no man can wrest these from them, and be guiltless. They are exhorted to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free;" and wo be to the hand which attempts to bind them.
6. We object to the views expressed in the decision of the Dedham case, that they are too evidently of a sectarian character. We do not complain, on the ground merely that this case was decided in favor of Unitarians. But we do complain, that the highest judicial officer in the State, while seated on the bench of justice, should allow himself to go into a discussion of theological questions, and make them a ground of his decision, in a way to favor one religious denomination, and to prejudice others. The Constitution wisely provides, that “no subordination of any one sect or denomination of Christians to another, shall ever be established by law.” We would inquire, then, whether it can be constitutional for an officer of the government, whose decisions are to have the force of law, to attempt determining points of theology which are at issue between different denominations of Christians. What would be thought, if such points were brought before the Legislature, to be decided by literal enactments? But they might as well be decided there, for aught we see, as on the bench, since the decisions of the bench, until reversed, are much the same as laws. Why, then, did Chief Justice Parker, in the decision, to which we have referred, take it upon him to say, that “ the practice of the Episcopal churches," in regard to the sacrament, “is more conformable to the practice of the primitive Christian churches, than that of most who dissent from their form of worship”? And why did he decide, in exact conformity to the religious views of Unitarians,* and in as exact opposition to those of the Orthodox, that there was no distinction, in primitive Christian times, between the church and the congregation, but all the assembly were considered the church, and all were invited, without distinction, to come to the “communion table, and receive the sacrament.”+ The learned Judge will pardon us, if we think these subjects not a little out of his professional sphere. To be sure, as a man, he has the same right as any other man, to form his opinions, and to express them, on all religious subjects; but, as the highest judicial officer in the Commonwealth, sitting on the bench of justice, and acting the part, not only of a Judge, but, in some sense, also of a legislator, we really think he may better leave disputed points in theology to be determined in their proper place.
* The views of Unitarians on these subjects may be gathered from the Chris'ian Examiner for January and February, 1826, and from the Christian Disciple for July and August, 1820. This number of the Christian Disciple contains a Review of the Dedham controversy, and was published but a short time previous to the decision now before us. We think no person can read the Review, and the decision, without discovering a striking resemblance in opinions, if not in the language, of soine parts of the latter, to those of the former.
+ Term Reports, vol. xvi. p. 499.
7. The late decisions of which we complain, are inconsistent with other and previous decisions. In the case of Burr vs. Sandwich, we have the following sentiments from the late Chief Justice Parsons. “We have to decide," says he,“ upon the nature and powers of a Congregational church, as distinct from a parish."-"A parish and church are bodies with different powers. A regularly gathered Congregational church is composed of a number of persons, associated by a covenant or agreement of church sellowship, principally for the purpose of celebrating the rights of the Supper and baptism. They elect deacons; and the minister of the parish is also admitted a member. The deacons are made a corporation to hold property for the use of the church, and they are accountable to the members. The members of a church are generally inhabitants of the parish ; but this inhabitancy is not a necessary qualification for a church member."*
Chief Justice Parker tells us, that “the only circumstance which gives a church any legal character, is, its connexion with some regularly constituted society," and, indeed, “that a church cannot subsist, without some such society to which it is attached.” But Chief Justice Parsons decides “ upon the nature and powers of a Congregational church, as distinct from a parish," and tells us, that « a church and parish are bodies with different powers."
Chief Justice Parker tells us, once and again, that the church is a mere trustee for the parish, and holds its property for the use of the parish. But Chief Justice Parsons says, “ The deacons are made a corporation to hold property for the use of the church, and they are accountable to the members.”
Chief Justice Parker tells us, (what every clergyman in the State knows to be incorrect,) that those 6 who withdraw from a society, cease to be members of that particular church” with which the society is connected.f But Chief Justice Parsons says, “ The members of a church are generally inhabitants of the parish; but this inhabitancy is not a necessary qualification for a church member.”
Chief Justice Parker insists that the property of the church in Dedham was designed to be appropriated for the support of a minister; and, as such, is rightfully entrusted to the care of the deacons, to be held by them for the benefit of the parish.I But it was decided by Judge Sedgwick, in the case of Boutell and
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. ix. p. 277.
Ibid. vol. xvi. pp. 504, 505.
Ibid. p. 495.
others vs. Cowdin, that “the deacons of a Congregational church are not a corporation for the receiving and managing a fund for the support of a minister."* We pretend not to determine which of these decisions is nearest the truth; but, really, we not do see how they can be reconciled, the one with the other.t
8. The doctrine that a church can have no “ legal character," and, indeed, “cannot subsist,” unless in “connexion with some regularly constituted society,” is calculated to introduce the utmost confusion and uncertainty into the ecclesiastical concerns of the Commonwealth. A legitimate inference from the doctrine is this, that when a parish, for any cause, ceases to exist, the church must go out of existence with it. Certainly, if “a church cannot subsist," but in connexion with some religious society, then it can subsist no longer than such society, and when the society is dissolved, both must die together. Now, in the progress of things in this changing world, how very often have societies and parishes gone out of existence? How often in this Commonwealth have they found it expedient, with a change of circumstances, or a change of laws, to shift their form of organization, i. e. to dissolve, and organize anew? Here is a town, which for many years has sustained a parochial character, and has had a church associated and connected with it. But at length the town drops this character, ceases to act as a parish, and a religious society is organized to take its place. In this change of affairs, what becomes of the church? If it dies, in the dissolution of the parochial character of the town, then how can it revive, and become united with the new society, but by a new organization ? But, in the progress of things, it is found that the new society is not established in the most desirable way. It is therefore dissolved, and another is established. Again we ask, What becomes of the church? Dying, as it must, in the dissolution of the first society, how does it revive, and become united with the second ?
Changes, such as are here supposed, are of frequent occurrence in this Commonwealth. Many are known to have taken place, since the adoption of the Constitution. Yet the churches have not been regarded as dying, in the dissolution of societies, nor have they been re-organized, in accommodation to such parochial changes, we venture to say, in a single instance. How, then, are such churches to be considered ? Have they, or have they not, any legal existence? They retain their covenant, and records, and majorities, and those who remained were subsequently formed into churches—at Dorchester by Mr. Mather, and at Cambridge by Mr. Shepard.* About the year 1639, a church was formed at Lynn, which removed in a body, and settled at Long Island.f The first church in Rowley removed in a body to this country, from some part of Yorkshire in England. I The first church in Wenham removed in 1656, and commenced the settlement at Chelmsford.||
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. ix. p. 251. + It may be interesting to know the history of the doctrine that a Congregational church can bave no legal existence but in connexion parish. It was first broached in this case of deacons Boutell and others vs. Cowdin, in 1812, by the council for the defendant; but no opinion was expressed by the court. It was next decided in the case of “the deacons of the first church in Sandwich vs. Tilden;" but the case was not reported. It was again decided in the Dedham case, by Chief Jus. tice Parker. It is but about sixteen years, since this strange doctrine was invented; and it has now, for several years, been confirined as a law of the land.
We really cannot reconcile facts such as these with the doctrine, 56 that a church cannot subsist," but in connexion with a parishthat when thus connected, it cannot be separated—that, if it votes and attempts a separation, the minority who remain are to be considered the church—and that all this “has been the understanding of the people of New England, from the foundation of the colonies.""
10. The author of the decision in the Dedham case, is often inconsistent with himself.
“There was no very familiar distinction,” says he," at the time" of making the grants to the church in Dedham, “between the church and the whole assembly of Christians in the town.” But in one of the earliest grants to this church, and one commented on by the Judge himself, this distinction is expressly recognized-one part of the land granted being given to the church, and another to the town.s
Again, Chief Justice Parker intimates that, in the early settlement of Massachusetts, "the distinction between church and town or parish” was not known; so that “ a grant to the church, under such circumstances, could mean nothing else than a grant to the town.” But we are told in another place, that one of the grants to the church in Dedham was made by the town; consequently, the town must have made a grant to itself!! And we are told repeatedly that “ the church was intended to be a trustee" for the town; i. e. (putting both assertions together) one and the same body, call it which you will, was intended to be a trustee for itself!!
On one page we are told, that“ property bestowed upon churches, has always been given for some pious or benevolent purpose, and with a particular view to some associated town or parish.” But how can this be true, if, as is asserted on another page, “there was little practicul distinction between the church and the town or parish, for several years after our ancestors came here."**
In one place it is said, that before the passing of the law of 1754, the church “held" their “ legal estate as trustees, and used it as such.” But in other places, it is asserted, that the church,
* Sec Hutchinson, vol. i. pp. 98, 418. Mather, vol. i. pp. 75, 348, 407. Winthrop, vol. i. pp. 179, 183, 194. + Hubbard, p. 245.
Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. pp. 495, 498. * Winthrop, vol. i. pp. 278, 279.
| Ibid. pp. 495, 496, 500. || Mather, vol. i. p. 131.
** Ibid. pp. 506,514.
“ not being a body politic, could neither take nor hold a legal interest in land."*
It is implied in many parts of this decision, that there is no such body as the church, and that church members, as they are sometimes called, are in no way distinguished from other members of the parish. “Those who withdraw from the society, cease to be members of the church.” “The secession of a whole church from the parish would be an extinction of the church.” A minister “ordained over the parish only, by virtue of that act becomes the minister of the church.” “ The condition of the members of a church is thought to be hard, when the minister elected by the parish is not approved by them : but this can only be because they are a minority.”+-But, in other parts, it is as strongly implied, that there, is such a body as the church. Indeed, the real, separate existence of the church is essential to the Judge's argument. There must be a church, and there must be deacons, to hold the property in trust.
If any person skilled in law, or in anything else, will analyze the following sentence, reconcile its different members, and make sense of the whole, we will be very much obliged to him. “Considering then, that the land granted was for the beneficial use of the assembly of Christians in Dedham, which were no other than the inhabitants of that town who constituted the religious society within which the church was established; these inhabitants were the cestui que trusts, and the equitable title was vested in them, as long as they continued to constitute the assembly denominated the church in the grants.”I—Here we are told, first, that the grants were made “ for the beneficial use of the assembly of Christians in Dedham, who were the same as the inhabitants of the town who constituted the religious society;" second, that within this assembly, town, or society, (all meaning the same,) “the church was established;" third, that this assembly, town, or society, “ was denominated the church in the grants,” or was the church; and fourth, that this assembly, town, or society, were the cestui que trusts, for whom the church was trustee. Putting all these assertions together, we bring out the following very remarkable facts,—that in the early settlement of Dedham, the assembly, town, or society, and the church, were the same; that within this assembly, or church, the church was established; and that this assembly, or church, were the cestui que trusts, for whom this assembly, or church, were the trustees !! A most wonderful state of things truly.
Finally, we object to the decisions in question, that they have not been generally acquiesced in, and will not be. They were not, in the case of the church in Dedham. By a great majority of
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. pp. 495,501. + Ibid. pp. 503, 504,514,521. VOL. I.
Ibid. p. 500.