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Christians. Neither does it necessarily spread in the church, if not prohibited and disciplined. Truth is more than a match for error anywhere, and knowledge is more than a match for ignorance. The safety of truth depends on the clearness of its evidences. It asks no aid -from authority. It asks only liberty of argument and free discussion, and then advances quietly and surely-to victory. Truth asks no advantage in its conflicts. It scorns to fight with a disarmed enemy, or to take a mean advantage of his unfavorable positions. It is invulnerable and immortal, and can afford to be generous. Delusion and ignorance cannot.
Other denominations submit to the dictation of bishops and superior church courts, and have imposed upon them laws and constitutions which they had no hand in framing, and which derive no binding force from their consent. In Congregationalism every church association, convention and conference, inakes its own laws, and adopts its own confessions of faith ; and the modern confessions of faith are, in many cases, framed so as to allow, on many debated subjects, greater diversities of opinion than were formerly allowed. This does not mark, as a few suppose, the incipient progress of defection and error, but a more Christian liberality, and a reasonable toleration of diversities of opinion in the Christian family.
It marks the progress of knowledge, and the increased confidence of Christians in the word of God as a sufficient rule of faith and practice. The man who deems the Bible insufficient endeavors to supply its deficiencies by supplementary laws and rules of Christian faith. The man who thoroughly trusts the power of truth to stand on its own merits, and to hold its ground and work its way. without adventitious aid, stands still, a reverent observer, and witnesses with serene composure its conflicts and victories. His distrustful neighbor views them with alarm and terror. But we need not fear. Truth is much stronger unaided than with the greatest adventitious helps. Its cause is more secure.
PARTIES IN THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH.
It is inevitable that there should be diversities of opinion with respect to doctrines and measures in all churches. There are such in the Catholic church, the church of England, the Episcopal church, and the Presbyterian churches. There are also such in the Congregational church, properly so called, and in all the different branches of the Congregational family of churches. The principal diversities of opinion among Congregationalists have respect to theology, and correspond to those which prevail in the other great bodies of Christendom. There are two leading parties, popularly denominated the Old and New School, and corresponding to Old and New School Presbyterians. The Old School are the conservatives in theology, who adhere more strictly to the confessions of faith adopted at the Savoy in London, 1658, and afterwards at Boston, in 1680; and to the Westminster catechism and confession of the Presbyterians. The New. School are the innovators in theology, adopting the general system of the Westminster and Savoy divines, but not adhering to it in every particular. Theology has been more progressive
in New England, among the Congregationalists, than in any other · part of the world in the same time, or in any other connection. Elsewhere it has been stationary ; here it has been progressive.
Congregationalism is preëminently a system of progress. It encourages free inquiry and free thinking. Other systems do not. Many of them repress it. As a popular system, Congregationalism is naturally liberal. It allows the exercise of common sense, and common sense demands charity and forbearance. Considerable diversities of opinion are tolerated without complaint. But all are not equally tolerant ; nor is it possible for all to perceive, with accuracy, the precise line of demarkation between opinions that ought to be tolerated without interrupting Christian fellowship, and those which ought to be prohibited, and on account of which Christian fellowship ought to be withdrawn from the erring.
Congregationalism recognizes no creeds nor confessions, and no platforms of government and discipline, as binding rules of faith and practice. Richard Mather says: They have a platform constituted by a profession of their faith, but not a binding rule of faith and practice. J. Cotton says: When a church is suspected and slandered with corrupt and unsound doctrine, they have a call from God to set forth a public confession of their faith; but to prescribe the same, as the confession of the faith of that church, to their posterity, sad experience has shown what a snare it has been. The same principles are advanced by the Congregational union of England and Wales, as late as 1833. Cotton Mather says of the New England churches : It is the design of these churches to make the terms of communion as parallel as may be, with the terms of salvation. Doctor Watts maintains that churches should admit all who make a credible profession of religion. The Plymouth church covenanted to walk in a church state, in all God's ways made known, or to be made known; and reserved an entire, perpetual liberty of searching the inspired records, and forming their opinions and practices according to them. — Congregational Dictionary, pp. 125—134, on Creeds.
The Congregational creeds and confessions declare what is and has been believed, not what shall be. A liberty of dissent is generally recognized and freely used. But there are limits beyond which diversities of opinion are not allowed. If a minister is suspected to depart from the essential principles of Protestant orthodoxy, and to be unworthy of being longer sustained in the connection, he has a trial by the authority of his church, assisted by a mutual or exparte council. As the result of such a trial, he is acquitted or condemned, and, if condemned, deposed. He is judged, not by the Savoy and Boston confessions, nor by any other ancient or modern syinbols of the church, but by the word of God alone, its perfect and supreme law. Such a court may judge incorrectly. They may sometimes condemn the innocent and clear the guilty ; but it is believed that no other general arrangement can operate, on the whole, better. Errors and imperfections are incident to all man's doings.
A considerable conservative tendency has been developed in New England of late, in harmony with Old School Presbyterianism. It has sometimes seemed to threaten a division, and the separation of the Congregational order into two rival and opposing bodies, corresponding to the Old and New School Presbyterians. A few would be glad to accomplish such a result. But *the great body of Congregationalists not only esteem the brethren that differ most from themselves on these points, too highly, to be willing to be separated from them on such an account, but judge that the differences are no just cause of separation.
The responsibility of ministers to the churches in their corporate capacity, and not to any higher and remote courts, is clearly evinced in the New Testament. The apostle Peter was called to account, by the brethren of Jerusalem, for preaching the Gospel to Cornelius, and justified himself to them by 'a full account of the matter, showing that he had acted by divine direction. — Acts 11: 2–18. Paul directs the saints and faithful brethren in Christ, which are at Colosse : Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it; and he admonishes his Galatian brethren to discipline and cut off from the church false teachers that were troubling them. – Gal. 5: 10_-12.
The diversities of faith among Congregationalists are not greater than are tolerated in the church of England, the Episcopal church of the United States, and the Presbyterian churches. The division of the Presbyterians on account, in part, of doctrinal differences, has done no real good, but has resulted in much harm. Each of the great Presbyterian churches has the same diversities of faith which the whole had before the division; and will continue to have them, if they should divide a dozen times more. Any division not demanded by fundamental principles is chargeable with the sin of schism, and is productive of great evil.
Intolerance among Christians of reasonable diversities of Christian faith has been one of the greatest errors of modern times, and has brought infinite reproach on the Protestant cause. It greatly impeded the progress of the reformation at first, and has hindered both its completion and general prevalence since. While pretending the greatest zeal for the honor of God and the purity of religion, it is itself the grossest corruption. It betrays the cause of God with a kiss, and stabs it to the heart, with professions of love on its lips. It is amazing that the world has been so long in getting its eyes open to the enormous wickedness of this procedure. But a brighter day is breaking, not only with respect to the accuracy and extent of Christian knowledge, but also with respect to a reasonable indulgence of the ignorant, the weak and erring. Uniformity in faith, and equality in superior knowledge and discernment, are very desirable indeed ; but Christian charity and mercy are far greater and better. With all the importance of Christianity as an institute of knowledge, it has a transcendently greater importance as an institute of love and general holiness.