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ADVANTAGES OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH POLITY.
An Historical Discourse, delivered at the celebration of the
Second Centennial Anniversary of the First Baptist Church in Providence. By WILLIAM HAGUE. Provi
dence: B. Cranston & Co. A Discourse, delivered at the One Hundredth Anniversary of the organization of the Baldwin Place Baptist Church. By BARON ŠTow, Pastor. Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln. A Pure Christianity the World's Only Hope. By R.
W. CUSHMAN, Pastor of Bowdoin Square Church, Boston. New York : Lewis Colby. A Discourse, delivered at the dedication of the nero
Church Edifice of the Baptist Church and Society in Warren, R. I., May 8, 1845. By Josiah P. TUSTIN,
Pastor. Providence : H. H. Brown. A Discourse, delivered at the One Hundredth Anniversary of the organization of the First Baptist Church in North Stonington, Ct. By ALBERT G. Palmer. Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln. The Position and Peculiarities of the Baptists, defined
and illustrated By SEWALL S. CUTTING. Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln. A Discourse, embracing the History of the Baptist
Church of Christ in Homer, N. Y., for about thirty years from its commencement. By Rev. Alfred BenNETT. Utica : Bennett, Backus & Hawley.
We have placed this list of recent publications on the general subject of Church Polity at the head of this article, partly for the purpose of showing that the subject is receiving a large share of the attention of observing and reflecting minds among us at the present time. In the term, Church-Polity, we include all that relates to the existence, the functions, and the organization of a Christian Church, according to the Scriptures, together with the principles by which the relations and intercourse of churches should be regulated.
The kingdom of Christ we understand to include all who obey Christ—all the truly good, wherever found. A church is an ideal representative or model of that kingdom. The first principle in the theory of a church of Christ is, that it be made of “lively stones, built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” None but the spiritually regenerated should be admitted. A church is a union of saints in holy covenant to maintain the worship, doctrines, ordinances, and discipline, of the New Testament. A covenant is from its nature voluntary; yet a church is by no means a mere voluntary society, in the ordinary modern acceptation of that term. As the desire to join a church is voluntary on the part of every candidate, so his reception or rejection is voluntary on the part of the church. As there can be no church in the scriptural sense, without a voluntary covenant, so it necessarily follows that the members of each church must judge and decide on the admission of members.
When a church is formed in accordance with these principles, it has the right to elect its ministry, send forth missionaries, preserve Christian discipline, expel offenders from its fellowship; in short, to perform all acts which properly belong to any ecclesiastical power or body on earth. It is independent of all earthly control, being accountable, collectively and individually, directly to Christ, the only Head of the church.
These principles are very simple, yet if universally adopted, would produce the greatest social and political revolution which the world has ever witnessed. The separation of civil from ecclesiastical affairs, would, in many countries, entirely change the form of government, and the aspects of society. The explosion of the mischievous theories of ecclesiastical catholicism, and of all the absurdities which have grown out of attempts to establish territorial churches, either universal, national, provincial, or diocesan, would effectually uproot many of the hoary errors with which priestcraft has enslaved the world. The abolition of ranks and orders of ministry, FOL. XI.—NO. XLI.
and, above all, the overthrow of that climax of folly and wickedness, the doctrine of apostolic grace brought dowri through physical conductors, distilled from hands the most polluted, on heads the most empty, which surmounted hearts the most depraved, would constitute an illustrious era in the moral and spiritual history of our race. A spiritual, would be established for a worldly organization. A Church Polity drawn from the scriptures, would take the place of an arrangement of human invention.
This is not the place to exhibit the proof that the Baptist Church Polity is purely scriptural. In common with all Baptists we believe it to be so; if it is not, we would gladly unite with any honest, judicious effort, to conform it more exactly to the scriptural model. If it is scriptural in all its essential principles, it is of universal obligation. No additional argument, derived from the decisions of councils, the opinions of the Fathers, or church usages venerable by antiquity, can increase or diminish its authority. If the principles of our church order are from God, they are therefore the best that can be devised. We are bound to be governed by them, not simply because we perceive their superior utility compared with others, but because they are divinely revealed.
Nevertheless we are willing to submit them to the test of experience, to be judged by their fruits. If it can be shown that these principles from their nature cannot, and in actual practice do not, work well, in the hands of wise and good men, our confidence in their scriptural origin must be shaken. The opinions of men on all subjects are influenced by comparison as well as by investigation and induction; and we wish to show that our Church Polity, taught as we believe in the scriptures, does also in practice, commend itself to enlightened judgment.
It is no disparagement to these principles, that they have been perverted by ignorant or wicked men. The best forms of civil government have suffered the same reproach. Liberty has attractions for the bad as well as the good, for the reckless lovers of change, as well as for the wise and thoughtful. When Roger Williams proclaimed freedom to the human conscience, he attracted to his standard those who ardently desired spiritual freedom, and those who hated all restraint. When David fled from the persecutions of Saul, some noble spirits rallied under his banner, fully resolved to share his fortunes or his fate. But another and a very different class came also. “Every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them." Yet this fact did not prove that the principles on which he acted were erroneous, nor shut from him the tokens of the divine favor.
Nor should it be forgotten that from the period when Christianity became a state religion, those who have held these principles have been unceasingly persecuted. They have been compelled, by unjust laws, to support religious institutions which they did not approve, in addition to their own. They have suffered the spoiling of their goods, fines, scourging, imprisonment, and death, in perhaps every country of nominal Christendom. In some of them they are still subject to the same evils. Their healthy increase has been obstructed by violence and contumely, their intelligence has been crushed, and fanaticism, which is always found among the persecuted, has been driven into their ranks.
We appeal, therefore, from partial and unfair inductions drawn from history written by our foes. By impartial history, if it can be found, we are willing that the fruits of our system should be tested. If its workings are to be compared with those of other systems of church polity, justice requires that the comparison be restricted to countries and times in which they have stood on equal ground. But where can such be found ? Nowhere, unless in the United States, nor here but for a few years past. And for these few years their progress and their influence have been glorious, although they have, even here, been embarrassed and restrained by governments, and society, and institutions of learning, moulded by the influence of other systems.
The advantages of these principles may be shown, both from their nature, and their fruits. The first great purpose of religion-its doctrines, ordinances, church order, and government-is to convert, to enlighten, to sanctify, and to save men,-individual men. It is proper, therefore, that these principles should be tested, and their practical value ascertained, by their influence on the characters and prospects of individuals, by their general influence on society at large, and by their efficiency in promoting the kingdom of Christ and the salvation of the world.
I. The huinan race is divided into two classes-believers and unbelievers, regenerate and unregenerate, children of God and children of the wicked one, the heirs of heaven or of hell. The mission of Christianity is to translate sinners from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Any system of church polity is valuable so far as it is in harmony with this grand design, or as it is adapted to illustrate the doctrines and duties of religion, and to impress them on individual minds. There is a divine harmony established between the doctrines, the ordinances, and the social polity of the Christian religion, which is all important to its success. That this unity of moral influence is preserved in churches constituted according to the principles before advocated, may be shown,
1. Because this system, and this only, of all the forms of church government in existence, draws the line practically and distinctly, between converted and unconverted men. In other ecclesiastical communities, children are understood to be born into the church when they are born into the world, or to be initiated in infancy, by virtue of their parents' faith. The distinction between believers and unbelievers is thus confounded. These principles, on the contrary, practically recognize the great truth, that all alike are born in sin, and all need alike, repentance, faith, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, before they can sustain any relation to the church of Christ. They illustrate to all beholders the solemn truth that, except they are born of water and of the Spirit, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God; of which every church is an emblem. This church polity, from its very nature, proclaims to the world, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” “Repent and be baptized every one of you, for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Can this be said of any other system? Is it not obvious that every system which declares churches to be territo