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

. (page 37 of 51)
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bard makes an instructive remark.

They of Lynn gathered another Church. There was some difficulty in
settling them in church-order anew, in regard they had many of them
formerly belonged to another Church in Mr. Bachelor's time. According to
the usual observation, that many times it is QJ^ more easy to raise a new
building than repair an old one, especially when the persons concerned
either want experience or skill in the kind of architecture, as was said to be
the case there.*

Had not Mr. Bachelor's Church been dissolved; — or was it not so
considered 1

And here we are reminded, that the Cambridge Platform, beside
allusion to the liability of Churches to be dissolved, very clearly implies,
that the magistrates might have occasion, in some circumstances, to
use their peculiar authority in dissolving a Church. "If any Church,
one or more, shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the commu-
nion of other Churches, or shall walk incorrigibly and obstinately in
any corrupt way of their own, contrary to the rule of the Word ; in
such case the magistrate [Josh, xxii.] is to put forth his coercive power
as the matter shall require." — Chap. xvii. 9.

The Platform, it should be borne in mind, is "a Platform of Disci-
pline." Its rules apply to Churches while in actual existence, and
are designed to promote their order, peace, and useful preservation.
Like the Constitution of the United States, which does not anticipate
a dissolution of the Union, the Platform does not prescribe the
mode of dissolving the organization of any particular Church, which

* Hubbard's History, &c. Ch. xxviii.



has been formed upon the basis of a Congregational covenant. Yet
as the people of the United States have the original right to change
their form of government, so have members of our Churches the right
to change or to dissolve their own organization, whenever they see fit
to act by their regular majorities. We find nothing in the ecclesiasti-
cal history of the earliest times of New England, which militates, in
the smallest measure, against this doctrine.



From these general statements and considerations, we now pass to
a more particular examination of the argument of the Council, against
the action of the Howard Street majority, — May 4th, 1847.

Among other quotations in the Result, is the following from the
Platform.

This form is the visible covenant or 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 Cov-
enant. For we see not othervfise how members can have church-power over
one another mutually.

In examining the Congregational usages and principles with respect
to the transfer of covenant relations from one particular Church to
another, the Council state that there are only three ways by which a
person's connection with a particular Church can be dissolved. 1. By
dismission on the condition that the relation with the Church which
they propose to leave, shall not cease until they shall have been re-
ceived by the one to which they are recommended. 2. By death.
3. By excommunication.

There is another way which those who make pretensions to a supe-
rior acquaintance with our church-system should not have omitted —
the withdrawal of a member from a Church which has become corrupt
and scandalous.

The above three modes of ceasing to be members of a particular
Church, are supposed to be the only ones recognized and allowed by
Congregational principles. Every other way is precluded as a violation
of the covenant, and the established rules of our ecclesiastical polity.
*' 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 remain in cove-
nant with each other, but also to each other by the mutual vows which
they have assumed."

The Council rest their position on two grounds. First, that it of
necessity flows from the preceding views of the covenant. Secondly,
it is in universal accordance with the fundamental principles and ac-
credited usages of our system.

In respect to the first point, we inquire how it appears that the cov-
enant admits of no other mode of leaving the Church, The formers
of Congregationalism have established what rules in reference to this
subject they deemed just and scriptural. But that the covenant by
which Churches are united, independently of the regulations adopted,



49

restrict separation from these organizations to these particular forms is
not so obvious, as not to require more than the declaration of the
Council to support it, and they have given us nothing beside. It is
worthy of remark, how strongly they assert, that three modes only of
leaving the Church are admissible from the nature of the covenant;
when that very Platform upon which they place so much reliance, ex-
pressly provides a fourth, and, for aught that appears, the Synod of 164S
might have decreed still another, without any inconsistency with the
obligations of the compact. (See Appendix.) Now, to what does this
obligation bind the members of the Church? " To the giving them-
selves up unto the Lord, to the observing of the ordinances of Christ
together in the same Society." After quoting this and something
additional from the Platform, the Council say, — " Here we see that
coming into a church-state is an essential part of the obligation as-
sumed in giving themselves up to God, so that the covenant with Him
is a covenant to enter into and remain in a visible Church, by a cove-
nant with them."

The covenant is certainly not an obligation to remain, uncondition-
ally and perpetually connected with a particular Church, into which
a person may be admitted. The obligation which a person assumes to
the Church of which he becomes a member, is, to remain with it, until
the connection shall be dissolved in some of the modes of separation
provided. This does not bind him with reference to any other Church
whatsoever. We do not understand the Council to maintain any such
idea. But if we do not misapprehend them, their view is, that, as
when a person enters into a church-state, he covenants to do all the
known will of God ; and, as it is one part of the will of God, that all
those who have truly received the Gospel should be united in church-
fellowship, therefore the covenant binds to uninterrupted membership
in some organization or other. Now we maintain, that when a person
obligates himself to be connected with some Christian Church on the
ground of its being a part of the will of God, the obligation must be
interpreted with reasonable latitude.

The private consecration which every true believer makes of himself
to God, binds him to perform all the known will of God, just as really
as the public dedication. The covenant which he makes in secret is
just as imperative and incapable of suspension, as that which he makes
when he enters the Church. But must he form the relation immedi-
ately on completing this private transaction ? This, of course, the
Council would say in many cases is impracticable, and therefore not
obligatory. But sometimes it would be practicable within a short pe-
riod, when it would be attended with much personal sacrifice, or so
interfere with other duties as plainly not to be a duty for a consid-
erable time. Then it would appear that the obligation to enter into
church-fellowship, as deduced from the covenant made with God in a
private manner, admits of temporary suspension in some cases. Sup-
pose a person afflicted with ill health is advised, by medical authority,
to try the benefit of a voyage to sea. He embarks on board a vessel
bound to a distant land. He proceeds but a little way on the voyage,
becomes penitent, makes a formal consecration of himself to God, and
binds himself to perform all his known will, one part of which is that
lie should become a member of a Christian Church. A vessel is met
7



50

with, in which he has an opportunity to return, and place himself in a
situation to perform the duty, much sooner than he could by continuing
his voyage. Suppose it doubtful whether he lives to be restored to his
native land, especially if he continues the voyage, and that if he does
not embrace such opportunity, he may never be in a situation to unite
with the Church. What must he do? He greatly needs the watch
and care of Christian brethren. He has solemnly covenanted with
God to place himself in church-relation, and his only apparent chance
for life depends on prosecuting the voyage. If he has such rigorous
notions of the nature of his covenant as the Council seem to have, he
must return as speedily as possible, and offer himself for admission to
some Church, and expose himself to all the hazardous consequences.
The execution of his vows does not admit of any delay that can possi-
bly be avoided. But if he remembers and properly applies the in-
spired declaration — " I will have mercy and not sacrifice," — he will pur-
sue his original purpose. The occurrence to his mind of the averments
of one of the sacred authors, that a righteous man sweareth to his
own hurt and changeth not, will not deter him ; because, if he is a rea-
sonable man, he knows that it must be subject to many limitations.
No one supposes that if a man swears ever so solemnly to commit sui-
cide, the oath would be binding, because it is swearing to inflict an
injury on himself which he has no right to commit.

Suppose a person to be residing in a city with which he has, as yet,
formed but slight acquaintance. He embraces a religious life. He
devotes himself to God, as many have done, in a written formal cov-
enant, transcribed from some church-covenant with which he is ac-
quainted. He sees it clearly to be his duty to make a public pro-
fession in the Congregational way. He obligates himself specifically
to do so, but wishes, as he ought to do, to unite himself with that
Church in which his spiritual interests will be best promoted. Op-
portunities are presented to him to connect himself with some organ-
ization ; but he is not yet able to decide where his duty requires him
to attach himself, and the opportunity passes away unimproved. Is
there any wrong, any violation of his covenant, in delaying until he
has ascertained what arrangement will best secure his spiritual edifi-
cation 1 He may be too fastidious, and the delay may be unreasona-
bly protracted. But some delay is, we think, most plainly admissible.
And there can be no doubt that all persons, except those whom some
transcendental theory drives to an extreme position, will unite with us
in opinion. Now if a person, who has made a secret covenant with
God to unite in church-fellowship with his people, may suspend the
fulfillment of his promise for reasons connected with his personal ad-
vantage, he may suspend the execution of his stipulations when made
audibly and publicly. The form in which his covenant is made does
not affect the nature, though it may the extent of the obligations.

But we may go a step further. Let us imagine an individual about
to be united with a Christian Church, and having proceeded as far in
the provisions of the covenant, as to " choose the Lord to be his God,
to walk in his ways, keep his commandments and to hearken unto
his voice," — should be suddenly taken ill, or hear some tidings respect-
ing a change in the state of his family that called for his presence
and assistance. Must he at all events proceed, neglecting to care for



51

himself or send aid to his family in circumstances of great exposure
and peril ; because, as he has covenanted to obey all God's commands
in a public mariner, and it is now practicable for him to enter immedi-
ately into church-fellowship, he cannot be released from proceeding
to form the connection, at the risk of some very serious consequences?
And yet, with the high and mystical notions which the Council enter-
tain of this covenant, we do not see how it is consistent, for a person
in such circumstances, to suffer any interruption in the transaction.

Let us make another supposition. A small Church is, in the course
of a k\v days, swept away by an epidemic, with the exception of one
individiial. His covenant with his brethren is dissolved by the act of
divine Providence. It is doubtless his duty to seek a metnbership in
some surviving Church as soon as he can consistently. But if his own
health is suffering, if his family require his constant attention for their
relief and comfort, if his secular affairs are much embarrassed and
pressing, it is left to his reasonable and Christian discretion, to deter-
mine the time, when he shall take measures to place himself in new
church-relations. Though he is not accountable for the cessation of
his covenant connections, he is responsible for the continuance of this
cessation, beyond the time within which it is possible for him to rein-
state himself in ecclesiastical fellowship. But nevertheless, prudential
reasons — reasons connected with the convenience and comfort of him-
self and those dependent on him — may be sufficient to render him excu-
sable for remaining in an uncovenanted state for a period of consider-
able length. Any other considerations of equal validity would of
course be just as suitable grounds of justification.

The notion that when a person has made a covenant with God to
conform to his will and ordinances, therefore the connection with some
visible Church admits of no delay or discontinuance, which it is possi-
ble to avoid, seems to us so extravagant, superstitious and ridiculous,
that it is a matter of wonder how a man of common sense should en-
tertain it for a moment.

The next point to be examined is — do the fundamental principles
and accredited usages of our system, confine disconnection with a par-
ticular Church, exclusively to the above methods'?

Great reliance is placed by the Council on the following provision of
the Platform. " Order requires that a member removing have letters
testimonial and of dismission whereof he yet is, unto the Church
whereunto he desireth to be joined. Until the person dismissed be
received into another, he ceases not by his letters of dismission to be a
member of the Church whereof he was. The Church cannot make a
member no member but by excommunication."

Now although the Platform possesses no authority by itself, and
nothing that it contains is necessarily a part of our ecclesiastical sys-
tem because found there, yet we admit that it is general, and perhaps
universal usage, to dismiss members wishing to leave a particular
Church, on the condition above specified. It is a wise and wholesome
practice for general purposes. But there are cases for which the
principle involved was not intended, and is certainly not adapted to
meet; and it comes in conflict with other universally acknowledged
principles of the Platform, and of our present ecclesiastical system.
It is provided in the Platform, and required now by Congregationalisna,



62

that church members, who wish to remove to a distance, should have
letters of dismission and recommendation to other Churches with
which they may wish to unite.

Now suppose a Church of ten members, all of which except one,
wish to go where Mr. Goss has gone, to California. It is their right
and privilege to have letters of dismission and recommendation to
other Churches in good standing, which they may find in that region.
The nine take letters — they remove — become members of the Cali-
fornia Churches against the wishes and earnest remonstrance of the
individual, who refuses to take a letter of dismission, and chooses to
remain as far as the circumstances allow, in his original position. Is
not the covenant which that individual made with the Church upon
his admission dissolved without his consent; and that not by death or
excommunication? With whom is he in covenant ? Who is bound
to watch over him? If he commit an offence, who shall deal with him
and take measures to reclaim him ? Perhaps it will be said — it is said
by some — that such person constitutes the Church. He is an assembly
by himself. He is a noun of multitude. He is a plural substantive in
the singular form, and nominative case independent. Well, suppose
he is a Church ; what then ? What sort of a Church is he? He is a
Church without covenant — without fellowship — without discipline —
without membership — without any thing which enters into the proper
notion of a Church. He is a Church, deprived of all the beneficial
uses of a Church, without answering any of the ends for which church-
organizations are instituted. He is like a complete watch, without
mainspring and wheels, and that keeps no time. He is a pair of shears
with one blade, and that blade without edge or point.

Now if the Council choose to consider such a person a Church, they
can do it. It would not surprise us. And we do not know that we
should be very much surprised, if they should please to consider a solid
block of wood a complete watch, because it was circular, and had a
watch-chain attached to it, and the representation of the dial-plate of
a watch on one of its faces.

Perhaps it may be said, that an individual left in such a situation
may be considered as a Church, and in some sense under the watch
and care of other Churches, according to the provisions of the Plat-
form for the discipline of erring Churches by others, who have main-
tained their steadfastness. But the same Platform informs us, that the
matter of a visible Church are Saints by calling, and this accords with
the views of all standard writers on Congregationalism. And what is
still stronger — " One terson is incapable of being a Church."
If the individual is not a Church by the Platform, then the articles of
the Platform relating to the discipline of Churches do not apply to
him.

Now here is a member of a Church made no member withont excom-
munication. His covenant with the Church is dissolved. Without
any censure and without his consent, he is cut off from all ecclesiasti-
cal connections. He is left with no one under any ecclesiastical obli-
gation to care for him and watch over him ; and, according to the
Council, is as really turned into the world for a time, as though he loere
excommunicated. In the language of the Result, with slight variations
— he is no longer in covenant, is a member of no local Church, and,



53

of course, is under the covenanted watch and care of no human being
on earth. And he is put into this condition, to use the language of
the Result again, " in a mode authorized by our system and perfectly
consistent with the vows of the covenant." Verily the new doctrines
of the Tabernacle Church and others are old doctrines after all !

Perhaps some would contend, that when the majority of the Church
perceived their measures tending to this result, they should have stop-
ped short of the catastrophe ; and should have left enough in the
Church to maintain its organization and beneficial uses. But who of
the number that were about to remove to such a distance should be se-
lected to hold the Church together? Under what obligations do the
principles of Congregationalism lay them to make the sacrifice? What
moral or Christian obligation would bind them in such a case. Should
they be detained at home, or forego the privilege of a connection with
the Churches where they reside, just for the sake of retaining a nomi-
nal relation to a distant Church, to which they could discharge no du-
ties, and from which they could receive no advantage, and that to
comply with the caprice or stubbornness of an unreasonable man ?
Some may say, that in case of obstinate unwillingness to take a letter
in such circumstances, the individual refusing might be disciplined and
excommunicated. But suppose the person to resemble some other
members of our Churches — full of zeal and making great pretensions,
and doing many things, with nothing tangibly erroneous, or so much
so as to furnish a ground of discipline, only possessing a holy self-
willedness, which in the eyes even of some who claim to be men of dis-
cernment, as well as others, passes for unusual strength of Christian
principle. It would not be consistent with the principles of Congre-
gationalism to exclude a person from the Church, for some unreasona-
ble pertinacity of temper. It would be too severe. Besides, if such
a measure could be resorted to, how easy it would be for the majority
to disband Churches? It is only for the opposing minority to be ex-
cluded, and then every obstruction is removed out of the way. It
would be as easy, nearly, to dissolve Churches in this way, as by a
direct disbanding vote.

If it should be further contended, that the person left in the condi-
tion supposed by withdrawment of members, could, by assistance of
Council or otherwise, receive accessions of those who would take the
Church by the hand and give it action and efficiency ; — we reply by
supposing the situation of things to be such, that there is no reasona-
ble prospect of this enlargement ; that there are other Churches
enough to meet the wants of the community ; that there is not the
least need whatever of an additional organization ; and that the prob-
ability amounts almost to a certainty, that the non-complying individ-
ual will be left without any church-relations or privileges at all, unless
he should resolve to abandon his awkward condition and connect him-
self with some Christian society.

And if the state of things were quite otherwise, it does not change
the uncovenanted, unchurched position of the individual, until the
accession be made. It would still remain true, that a Church could
make a member no member without excommunication ; and that a
majority could disband a Church, in opposition to the wishes of a
minority. If two were left by the departure of the majority, their



54

state would be but a little improved on that of a single individual.
How could discipline be maintained? How could the directions of
the xviiith of Matthew be pursued ? One offends against the other.
The person who receives the injury, converses with the offender pri-
vately ; but obtaining no satisfaction, proceeds to take the second
step. He applies to two or three brethren to make a second visit to
the aggressor. But to whom is he to resort ? You say, perhaps, that
in such an exigency, for which ecclesiastical law does not provide, he
seeks the assistance of brethren from a neighbor Church ; but the
second visit is attended with no better result than the first. He then
takes the third step, and tells his grievance to the Church. But what
and where is the Church in such a case ? Neither the offender nor
the injured person is such ; — it exists no where ; — it is a non-entity.
This mode of discipline is at an end. Suppose one to excommunicate
the other in a summary way, for an alleged public and scandalous
offence; and then suppose that the excluded person hurls defiance to
excommunication, on the ground that he was not put out by a major-
ity, as the covenant of the Church required. While the parties are in
this repellent attitude, we may imagine that one of the individuals, not
obtaining the consent of the other, for a Mutual Council, calls an Ex
parte one ; — that, for instance, whose Result we are reviewing. They
hear the case. They find that the covenant provides expressly, that
all questions in dispute shall be settled by vote of the majority. But
they have such high notions of the infrangibility of the covenant, that
they are a little perplexed. We suggest to them the expedient of put-
ting the disputants into scales, and letting the heaviest person be con-
sidered the majority. It could not be denied in such a case, that the
decision of the Church carried weight with it, although it might lack
the suffrages of numbers. But this would not remove the whole of
the difficulty, as the Council view the matter ; for whichever of the
individuals should have his opinions ratified by the Council, and be
considered as the Church, would by the very act be cvt off from all
church-connections and privileges, and cast out into the world. By
the act of recognizing him, the Church would unchurch him, and
leave him without a single human being covenanted to watch over
him.

If now we imagine one of this dual Church to withdraw from, the
other, in the mode pointed out in the Platform for the sound part of
such a body to secede from it, when it has become degenerate and
corrupt, this would not satisfy the Council ; for they are very explicit



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 37 of 51)