John Ireland.

A second solemn appeal to the church : containing remarks and strictures on the late violent proceedings of a pretended ecclesiastical court against the author online

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known only by their forms, they say, " This form is the visible
covenant, agreement, or consent, whereby they give up themselves
unto the Lord, to the observing of the ordinances of Christ, together
in THE SAME Society, which is usually called the Church
Covenant. For we see not otherwise how members can have
church power over one another mutually." Here we see that
coming into a chureh state is an essential part of the obligation
assumed in giving themselves up to God, so that the covenant with
him is a covenant to enter into, and to remain in, a visible particu-
lar church, by a covenant with them.


Such, then, were the views of the fathers of our system, who
bore the burden and heat of the day in lying those deep foundations
on which our churches have for centuries reposed. Churches were
with them no mere voluntary associations for mutual religious im-
provement, wliich those who formed might dissolve at pleasure, and
replace by what they deemed better or none at all, as they saw lit.
Though no man could enter the church except by his own free
will, yet the church itself was an ordinance of God, and it was his re-
vealed will that every man who had repented and believed in Christ,
(and it was every man's duty to do this) should enter by mutual
covenant with some particular church into church estate. Of
course when they covenanted with God to do all His known will,
whether it was expressly stated or not, they covenanted to come
into church estate with their brethren, and to remain in it. But
that so important a duty might not be left to mere inference, they
incorporated it into their covenants with God.

Moreover they held definitely and decidedly that if not in cov-
enant with some particular local church, no one had a right to claim
any interest, or to challeng-e any privilege in any other local church.
Hence Hooker, in his Survey, expressly says, " In the house of God
we must become covenanting servants if we have any interest there,
or think to challenge any privilege there." In other places, he and
others defend this principle at great length, as will hereafter appear.

We are thus full in this investigation because of the confident
appeal of our brethren of the Tabernacle Church to "the funda-
mental principles and accredited usages of our churches." We
now see clearly what they are.

We moreover give prominenceto this part of the subject, be-
cause those who defend the power of a majority to dissolve the
Howard S treat Church, have found it necessary explicitly to deny,
and argue against these very foundation principles of the Congrega-
tional system — so that a more fundamental issue cannot be raised.
If they are right, all of our fathers were wrong — Mather, and
Cotton, and Hooker, and Davenport, and Welde, and the framers
of the Cambridge Platform, and the New England ministers who
defended our pohty against assailants in old England, and the an-
cient church of Salem, and all our ancient churches, and even the
fathers of the Tabernacle Church in Salem, — these are all of them
wrong, and the antagonists of Congregationalism are right. All
this may be, and if it is so, then let our foundation principles be
overthrown, and a new system be built upon better. But let not
such a work be called a defence of our " fundamental principles
and accredited usages," but a work of radical reform, and its au-
thors radical reformers.


Again, we give prominence to these principles because the whole
issue depends on them. Here is the great hinge on which the whole
discussion turns, and we cannot place it in a light too clear and vivid.

And now we remark that of this kind was the covenant of the
Howard Street Church, only as it might seem with a providential
foresight of such a crisis as the present, they were guided to insert
stipulations rising in intensity above all that is found elsewise. —
After the usual covenant with God and the church they bind the
vows already assumed by assenting to the following affecting pledge.

" In reliance on that grace which is able to keep you from fall-
ing, you receive the covenant promises, and a covenant God as
yours forever, and set your seal to a full determination that in hfe
and in death you will be faithful to this covenant. This people is
your people, and this God is your God. Thus you promise and
declare." Then the reciprocal vows of the church are assumed,
and a title to all the privileges of the church estate is solemnly
given, before God, angels and men. As to the nature and import
of the covenant of the Howard Street Church, there can, then,
be no shadow of a doubt.

We next proceed to consider the principles and usages of our
system, as to a transfer of covenant relations from one particular
church to another. And here the case is no less clear. It of
necessity flows from the preceeding views of the covenant, and is
in universal accordance with the fundamental principles and accred-
ited usages of our system, that the only ways to cease to be a
member of any particular church are these:

1. By a letter of dismission and recommendation to another
church, given on this condition, — that not until the person recom-
mended is received by such church shall his existing membership

2. By the act of God, calling the person home by death.

3. By excommunication, for offences, properly charged and

The Cambridge Platform is full and decided to this efiect.
"Order requires that a member removing have letters testimonial
and of dismission from the church whereof he yet is, unto the
church whereunto he desireth to be joined. Until the person dis-
missed be received into another church, he ceaseth not, by his let-
ters of dismission, to be a member of the church whereof he was.
The church cannot make a member no member, but by

These then are the only modes of leaving the church ; and till
it is thus left, all who are in it are bound not only to God to re-
main in covenant with each other, but also to each other, by the


mutual vows which they have assumed. Each individual has cov-
enanted with God, and with each in the church, to watch over
them and seek their good according to his abihty. Out of this
covenant grows the right and duty of mutual exhortation, and, if
need be, of reproof and discipline. To be in such covenant our fa-
thers justly regarded as one of the highest privileges that can be en-
joyed on earth; to be the subject of such watchful care, is one of the
highest necessities of a Christian in this world of trial and temptation.

What, then, are we to understand by the alleged dissolution of the
Howard Street Church? Is it that all of the members, by advice
of council sought and received letters to other churches, and were
by them received, and thus the Howard Street Church ceased to
exist? Had this been done, no covenant obligations had been vi-
olated, no principles of Congregationalism had been contravened.
But this is not what the council recommended. This is not what
the church did. The reason is plain- All of the members did
not desire to do it. The Howard Street Church were not so re-
duced in numbers and resources, nor were they so deficient in
piety, that they could not sustain the preaching of the gospel, and
the ordinances of the church. Nor was it true that the public
good did not require a church where the Howard Street Church
stood. All this the council which advised the dissolution expressly
state. The thing which the council deemed expedient, was in
some way to get rid of this church, as it was then organized, in
order that a new one might be organized in its place, in which a
portion of the materials should be better, and the whole church be
better put together. This the council expressly avow.* They
tell us in the first place, " It appears that the pastor's request for
a dismission arises from embarrassments which have rendered, in
a great degree, abortive his earnest and self-denying efforts for a
course of years, and which embarrassments have now come to a
crisis, so that we can do no less than accede to his request, and
we hereby declare his pastoral relation dissolved.^^

What they meant by the embarrassments here spoken of will
appear from the following paragraph in their Result.

" We deem it to be our duty in concluding this Result, to call
upon some of the individuals of the church to reconsider the man-
ner in which they have treated their pastor, during the existence of
the difficulties which have given occasion to the calling of this coun-
cil. Saying nothing of those who have been in fault in other matters,
there has been a disposition on the part of these, to push some favor-
ite points to extremes; — a want of charitable construction of the
pastor's motives and conduct in relation to points on which there
existed a difference of opinion between him and thera ; and a de-

» No. 10.


ficiency of that kindness and com tesy which he had a right to claim
as a Christian minister, and particularly as their pastor."

V That they contemplated the removal of these individuals in some
way into some other organization, is obvious from the closing
advice of the Result.

" The council hope that they will see their error, and that in what-
ever future ecclesiastical connection they may be placed, they will
seek to be possessed of a spirit of wisdom, and of a sound mind,
and will remember, that charity.) kindness and forbearance are as
important parts of Christian character, as zeal in suppressing the
errors and vices of society " Parsons Cooke, Moderator.

"E. A. Lawrence, Scribe.''^

We are now prepared fully to understand the advice given by
the Council to the church.

"And since the embarrassments which have so far frustrated his
ministry still exist, without prospect of change, while the church re-
tains its present organization, we would suggest the inquiry whether
the best good of all concerned would not be consulted by a dissolution
of that organizauon, and the members connect themselves with
other churches in the city. A step so uncommon, we think, is made
expedient by reasons as peculiar. It is not that we think that there
is not ability and piety enough to sustain the enterprise in favoring
circumstances. There are materials of great value in this church,
but they stand in such relations as to hinder their efforts for good.
Nor is it true that our denomination in this city have churches enough
without this. The prospect rather appears to be, if this is dissolved,
anew one will soon take its place. We would, therefore, advise
that the present organization, if it sees fit, vote a dissolution, and if
the proprietors of the meeting-house see fit to close it awhile and
wait for the movements of Providence, we feel persuaded that the
time will soon come when the way will be made to open it under bet-
ter auspices. A new orgrnization formed for the purpose^ would of
course stand clear of most of the embarrassments of the present."

If all of the members of the church had been willing to ask for
letters of dismission to other churches, there would have been no
need of voting a dissolution of its present organization. It would
not have been dissolved. It would simply have ceased to exist in
a mode authorized by our system, and perfectly consistent with the
vows of the covenant, and then, if it had been deemed expedient,
a new church could have been formed. But it was perfectly well
known that there was a large portion of the church who had no de-
sire to be dismissed to other churches, and who would not ask for
letters. Moreover those individuals who were deemed an embar-
rassment, we may well suppose, were the ones least likely of all


to ask for letters. The desired new organization then could not
be formed in accordance with the usual and well-known principles
of our ecclesiastical platform. It became necessary therefore to
devise for the occasion a novel and extraordinary mode.

The step, the council admit, was very uncommon. " A step
so uncommon is, we think, made expedient by reasons as pecu-
liar." The peculiarity of this extraordinary mode was, that by
it the organization could be dissolved against the will of such as
would not ask for, or take, such letters to other churches. Hence
proceeded the theory of the power of a mere majority, by a sin-
gle vote, at once and utterly to dissolve the existing organization.
Notice now the consequences that it draws after itself. To make
this plan effectual, it is indispensably necessary to insist that the
dissolution of the Church shall not be conditioned upon the previ-
ous reception of its members into other churches ; for then, as
before, the unwilling ones would prevent the dissolution, for they
would neither take letters to other churches, nor ask to be received.
The dissolution of the Church, therefore, must be absolute and
unconditional, or the plan will not gain its end. In no other way
can the old organization be dissolved, and a new organization,
formed for the purpose and clear of the existing embarrassments,
take its place. This new theory, it must be confessed, was skill-
fully framed for the occasion, and exactly adapted to gain ths end
in view ; and its advocates avow their principles, and take their
consequences, with unflinching and commendable consistency.
Let us look at its application. We have considered the covenant
by which the members of the Howard Street Church were sol-
emnly bound to God, and through God to each other, and the
reciprocal rights and duties growing out of that covenant.

And now the new doctrine, concerning which our advice is
asked, is this, that a simple majority of so many of the brethren
of the church as happened to be present at any legal meeting of
the church, had the power totally to dissolve and abrogate this
covenant, so that all the members of the church, brethren or sis-
ters, present or absent, willing or unwilling, and by whatever ties
of affection united, or however strong their desire to walk together,
as a church, in the ordinances of the gospel, though but a moment
before in covenant, and members of the same church, are, after
the vote, no longer In covenant, and are members of no local
church, and of course are under the covenanted Christian watch
and care of no human being on earth.

No sooner have seventeen men adopted this simple sentence,
" Voted that this organization is hereby dissolved," than the work
is done. The church is dead. Its bonds are dissolved, and its


members scattered. A new organization may indeed, be formed
in its place, but no human power can restore life to the dead. Our
fathers expressed the full conviction of all our churches, when
they said, in the Cambridiie Platform, that the whole church can-
not make even one member no member, except by excommuni-
cation, and excommunication cannot be inflicted except for crime,
and after a fair trial.

But this new doctrine teaches us that a mere majority of the
biethren, at a o-iven meeting of the church, although a minority of
ar the brethren of the church, and a very small Tuinority of all the
mlembers, can, by a single vote, make every member no member
of that or any other church.

We do not doubt that those who are ignorant of the facts of this
case, will read this statement with inexpressible surprise, and per-
haps, with no small degree of increduhty. It will seem to them
impossible that intelligent Christian men, much more, leading and
influential ministers in our churches, could, by any course of influ-
ences, be led to assume such a position. Yet we have simply
stated v;hat an accidental majority of the Howard Street Church
profess to have done, what leading ministers claim they had a right
lo do ; and ^till more wonderful, the right to do which they still con-
tend for, as essential to the independence and inalienable rights of
our churches ! The simple and undeniable facts of the case are
these. The Howard Street Church, at the time when the coun-
cil advised their dissolution, consisted of 170 members, 50 of
whom were males. At the time of the disbanding vote, most, if
not all of these were still members of the church, for although
some had taken letters to other churches, they had not been re-
ceived. This church, on the evening of May 4, 1S47, by a vote
of 17 males, was declared to be dissolved, in accordance with a
mutual council.*

The form of the vote was this: " Voted, to adopt the remain-
der of the Result of Council, and by and v/ith their advice, th's
organization is hereby dissolved, and that Deacons Smith, Foster,
and Driver, be a committee to grant letters of dismissions and re-
ommendations, under date of May 4, '47, to aU the remaining
members of the Church, to any OrthodoxCongregational Church
they may direct." Yeas 17, nays 10.

From and after this vote, it is insisted that Howard Street
Church ceased to exist, and that those once members of it, ceased
at that moment to be members of any local church whatever. It
follows, of course, that nobody had the right, by covenant vows,
to watch over any one ; and as for admonition, exhortation, and
discipline, the entire ground on which the right and duty of exer-

Appendix No. 11.


cising them once rested, had fallen away. True, indeed, a com-
mittee was appointed in the vote to give letters of dismission and
recommendation, to other churches, to all who should ask for
them, to be dated on the night of the alleged dissolution of the
Church. But, according to the new theory, they ceased to be
members of the Howard Street Church, even before they had
asked, or could ask, for a dismission from it: for, before the com-
mittee could meet, the Church itself had ceased to exist. The
very vote by which they were appointed dissolved the church.
Much more had they ceased to be members of the Howard Street
Church, according to this new doctrine, before they were, or could
be members of any other church.

Yet it is affecting to see how the memory of the good old ways
of our fathers lingered about them, and, in spite of inconsistency,
modified their speech. No one was asking for a dismission. The
vote before the Church was not to dismiss such as desired it, but
to disband all, whether they desired it or not, and this is what was,
in fact, done on the new theory. And yet the committee appointed
by this suicidal vote, is directed to give letters of dismission to all
the remaining members of the church; just as if, after a church
was disbanded, there v>'ere any resnaining members — ^just as if it
were possible to dismiss any one from a non-existing church. But
this amiable inconsistency shows how hard it was to forget the
good old ways of our fathers. Letters of dismission used to be
necessary before these new doctrines. But how would such let-
ters, in this case, appear.'' " When received by you, their con-
nection with us will be dissolved." But the committee them-
selves belong to no church, and have no connection either with
each other, or with those whom they profess to dismiss. By one
potent vote, of seventeen men, all bonds have been sundered, all
ties cut, and every individual who was once a member of the
church, floats as a solitary atom on the surface of the ocean of this
cold world. The committee may indeed testify that they were
once church members, in good standing. Other churches may
kindly pick them up, and take them in, if they see fit ; but the
idea of receiving them by dismission from a non-existing Church,
and from which they never asked a dismission, is too absurd to be
thought of for a moment.

Indeed, the committee, or some of them, seem afterwards to
have become aware of the inconsistency of their position and du-
ties, for to this day all of them have never met or acted together.
Some have received letters from one of the committee, in virtue
of which, other churches have admitted them to their communion.
Others, who maintain the validity of the dissolving act, remain to


this day in connection with no church at all.

Such is a compendious view of the facts and principles with
reference to which we are requested to advise. In ordinary cir-
cumstances we should have supposed it sufficient merely to state
the facts. Aside from the influence of local excitements, partic-
ular ends, and personal committals, and on the broad ground of
Congregational principles, it does not seem to us that there is room
for a moment's doubt. And we cannot refrain from expressing
both sorrow and wonder that it has become necessary seriously to
argue a question like this. But local causes have given it impor-
tance. New principles have been introduced. With sorrow we
say it, a council led the way. Men of talents and influence are
committed in their defence, and even a conference has sustained
them by its authority; although we are happy to state that at a
subsequent meeting a majority would have voted to reconsider their
decision, had not the vote of the moderator produced a tie and
thus prevented it. Such facts as these create an emergency. We
feel called on, therefore, as we value the very life of our system
and of the principles of our fathers, to give a careful and thorough
consideration to these new doctrines.

In our judgement, therefore, these principles are utterly and
fundamentally erroneous, and the proceedino*s in the alleged disso-
lution of Howard Street Church are utterly invalid, for the follow-
ing reasons:

1. They are in direct violation of the most obvious and best
estabhshed principles and usages of the Congregational system.

2. Independently of their relations to the covenant with God,
they are in violation of the obvious principles of natural right.

3. But especially are these proceedings inconsistent with the
obvious and well established import of the covenant with God.

4. The principles and precedents thus introduced are most dan-
gerous in their practical tendencies, furnishing an instrument of
destruction to be used in every case of difficulty and division in
our churches.

5. The defence of them has obhged their advocates to adopt
principles hitherto unknown to our churches and subversive of our
whole system.

6. The main argument by which the proceedings in question are
commonly defended, an appeal to the rights of majorities, is en-
tirely devoid of force.

7. The dissolving act was improperly recommended to the
church by the council which advised It ; the church not having
voted to submit any such question to them for advice.

8. Even if on general principles a majority had power to dis-


band a church against the will of a minojity, yet in the present
case the church had estabhshed by special legislation a rule as to
the mode of calling meetings, and the limitation of the powers of
majorities, which clearly proves these transactions to be invalid.

1. From our previous investigations it is plain that if any prin-
ciples of the Congregational system are obvious, undeniable and
fundament, they are these. 1st. That it is the duty of all re-
generated individuals to enter into church estate in particular local
churches whenever God in his providence renders it possible.
" All believers ought, as God giveth them opportunity thereunto,
to endeavor to join themselves unto a particular church, and that
in respect of all the honor of Jesus Christ, in his example and
institution, by the professed acknowledgment of, and sulDJection
unto the order and ordinances of the gospel ; as also in respect of
their good of communion, founded upon their visible union, and
contained in the promises of Christ's special presence in the church;
whence they have fellowship with him, and in him one with another;
also, for the keeping of them in the way of God's commandments,
and recovering of them in case of wandering, which all Christ's
sheep are subject to in this life, being unable to return themselves;
together with the benefit of their mutual edification, and of their
posterity, that they may not be cut off from the privileges of the
covenant. Otherwise, if a behever oifends, he remains destitute
of the remedy provided in that behalf. And should all believers
neglect this duty of joining to all particular congregations, it might
follow thereupon, that Christ should have no visible pohtical
churches upon earth." — Platform, chapter 4, section 6. 2d.
That this is effected by means of a mutual covenant with each
other, which is enforced by the covenant with God, and that the
organization of a church cannot be effected in any other way. —
Platform, ch. 4, sec. 1-3. 3d. When an individual has come
into such a covenant with a local church, he cannot be thrown out

Online LibraryJohn IrelandA second solemn appeal to the church : containing remarks and strictures on the late violent proceedings of a pretended ecclesiastical court against the author → online text (page 25 of 51)