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Article IV. All members of the Church shall be considered as members of this Association, and are expected to interest themselves in visiting the poor, and to be ready to perform any duties, in furtherance of the objects of the Association, which may be in their power.
Article V. Each member shall annually contribute (when not inconvenient) the sum of one dollar, to compose a special fund for the use of the poor of this Church and the Religious Society with which it is connected.
ARTICLE VI. An annual meeting shall be held in November, and meetings may at any time be called by the officers.
CREED AND CHURCH DISCIPLINE.
By the original Constitution of the first Congregational Society of Saint Louis, it is expressly provided that no Creed, or Articles of Faith, shall ever be adopted in the Church, as a test of membership, except the Bible itself. No other profession of faith, therefore, is required, than that found in the Articles of Agreement which the members of the Church sign. Each individual is understood to be responsible, for his peculiar religious opinions, not to the members of this Church, but to God and to Christ alone. The communion-table is spread for all believers in Jesus Christ.
It was chiefly on this ground that the name of Congregational was assumed, rather than that of any particular sect. The object was to keep this Church and Society free from all sectarian trammels, and to avoid the names which identify it with a party. So far as the constitution, or the name of the Society is concerned, the Pastor is as much at liberty to preach doctrines of the Trinitarian as of the Unitarian system. By assuming the name of Congregational, this Society desires to take the broadest Christian ground, and claims to be independent, both in church government and in matters of faith, of every authority except that of the sacred Scriptures.
With regard to Church Discipline, and qualification for church membership, two principles are assumed and acted upon. First : sincerity of heart, rather than entire righteousness of life, constitutes a person a worthy communicant. By the latter test, no one is worthy: by the former, no sincere believer in Christ, who is seeking for the way of life, can be rejected. Where there is an evident desire of religious improvement, many offences may be overlooked. The communion with Christ, at his table, is a means of spiritual growth, not a profession of “having already attained.” The publican who “smote upon his breast, and said, God be merciful to me a sinner,” would be a more worthy communicant than the Pharisee, whose life perhaps exhibited no outward stain, but whose self-righteousness had destroyed his humility.
Secondly: the principle is assumed, that each individual should watch over his or her own moral and spiritual condition, and depend upon the Church for sympathy and counsel rather than for absolute guidance. Christ is the only sufficient guide; and to the conscientious man, the spirit of God in his own soul can best decide upon disputed questions of right and wrong. The discipline of the Church aims, therefore, to be fraternal rather than parental. Upon all subjects which admit of conscientious difference of opinion, friendly arguments may be used, and advice given and urged; but in such .cases the right of Church censure is not claimed. This right is claimed and exercised only where there is no room for conscientious mistake; that is, in cases of undoubted immorality of conduct. In such cases, the Church, by its Articles of Agreement, claims the right, after advice and expostulation have first been tried, of excluding the unworthy member. It is considered, however, that this is a resort to be avoided as long as possible. The interests of the individual should never be sacrificed for the general interests of the Church, and the last step should never be taken, unless when the former seems to require it as well as the latter. When both concur, the offending member should be requested to withdraw from the communion.
This full explanation is given, in order to remove the error of those who infer, because they see no complicated machinery of discipline, and no systematic inquiries into the minor details of conduct, that this Church underrates the importance of strictness in the minute as well as the great duties of Christians. On the contrary, the course here adopted is deliberately taken, as the most likely to lead to a practical moral and religious character. Something may be lost in the less apparent strictness and conformity; but more is gained, if greater freedom of conscience, and a livelier sense of individual responsibility to God, are secured. It is impossible for a Church to put itself in the place of the individual's conscience; and the attempt to do so, by too many regulations, and too minute discipline, appears to be tyrannical, and always results in unreasonable demands.