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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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 39 of 51)
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to two or three or any number 1 If every member unites with the
Church under this liability, and it is a part of the covenant which he
makes, that he may be put into such a condition by the majority, does
it make any difference to him, so far as his rights are concerned,
whether others happen to be placed in the same predicament? This is
in our view a sufficient reply to the reasoning contained in the second
objection alleged by the Council, drawn from the nature of civil con-
tracts. We maintain that no contract is violated by such a procedure
on the part of the majority ; and that all those solemn appeals about
introducing a lower standard of morality into the Church than exists

in the world, rest upon no foundation. They have not produced on
our minds the alarming impression which they were designed to create,
and we leave them to pass for what they are worth, with all who are
disposed to bestow upon the subject an impartial consideration.

Perhaps it may be argued by our opponents, that the application of
the principle should not be extended beyond the single case specified ;
that, upon considering the provisions of the Platform in connection
with each other, we must understand that the framers intended to leave
the principle in the system, restricted as it would be to extreme in-
stances, by the effect of the whole instrument ; and, that it would be
comparatively safe and harmless in its operation, because it would
always require a majority consisting of all the members but one to
disband a Church.

To this we reply, first, — that, if the Council will admit the introduc-
tion of the principle at all, they make a concessiou which overthrows
all their earnest reasoning about the wrong and violence which a
Church would perpetrate in any instance, by releasing itself from the
watch and care of one of its members.

Secondly, — that as two or three would not make a much better
Church for practical purposes than one, and that, as in those cases
where there was no necessity for a Church, and no prospect of acces-
sion, it is wrong and against the views of standard Congregational
writers, that such a Church should exist. The reason of the thing
requires the principle to be extended, so as to allow a Church to dis-
band when they are under such circumstances, — as many as three con-
stituting an opposing minority. In fact, just so far as these few mem-
bers are incapable of performing the functions of a Church, the prin-
ciple does of necessity extend itself, when ail the rest exercise their
undoubted right of withdrawing, and connecting themselves with other
Christian societies.

Thirdly, — it does not appear, that the framers of the Platform had
the subject so distinctly before their minds as to lead them in any of
their regulations to have any special reference, direct or indirect, to
this matter. Their Platform states, that, " a Church cannot make a
member no member except by excommunication," — without any qualifi-
cation, and without providing for cases where the declaration comes
in collision with other articles. And the allegation, that one member
cannot make a Church, is found in such connection as to furnish us
evidence, that they particularly intended it as an exception to the pro-
visions which relate to the dismission of members, and the conflict
between these provisions was, at the time, present to their contempla-
tions. The principle comes or is let into the Platform, without any
thing which appears particularly designed to modify or limit it ; and
so of course must be left, subject to the regulation and application of
the majority, according to the exercise of their best judgment, in-
structed and guided by the word of God and the spirit of Congrega-

Now it being established, that the majority are to govern in all cases
where no restraint is imposed upon them, and that under this condition
they are to apply the principles of the Congregational system in all
those cases, to which they think they fairly extend, — every person who
unites with the Church is admitted with this understanding. And it


is a part of his covenant, that he is to be subject to the will of the
majority thus explained, and also, according to the views we have
taken, that he is liable to have his connection with the Church dis-
solved, by a vote of the major part to disband, when they think that
there are justifiable reasons for such a course.

It adds to the force of our argument, that this is the view taken by
persons of great respectability not connected with the Essex South
Conference, and whom, if their names were mentioned, the Council,
we should hope, would not be very ready to tax with a want of famil-
iarity with the principles of our fathers. The Council are pleased to
denominate the position which we have undertaken to defend, a " new
theory," a " new doctrine! " We have only to retort with some varia-
tion, the language employed in the " Congregationalist." If they had
been more familiar with the history of the New England Churches,
they would have known that it is not new, but that there have been
quite a number of instances of the disbanding of Churches by acts of
the majority, previous to that of the Howard Street ; and that the usage,
taking into view the fact that it is only in a few extreme cases that
such a measure as dissolution could be thought expedient or necessary,
is decidedly in favor of our doctrine. This usage helps us to interpret
Congregational covenants. Usage gives construction to them, just as
former acts of legislation under the provisions of a political constitu-
tion are appealed to, that we may fix the construction of some parts,
about which there has arisen a diversity of opinion.

In order not to be misunderstood, and to correct the misstatement
of our position by the Council, we here say, that we do not maintain
that a Church has the right, by a mere majority of the brethren who
happen to be present at a particular meeting, to declare the covenant
dissolved. Our principle is, that the meeting should be properly noti-
fied, the subject plainly presented and discussed, and the vote justly
taken. We contend for no hasty measures, no taking of undue advan-
tage, no deception, nor any thing which is inconsistent with the prin-
ciples of ihe Gospel, and the most deliberate and just expression of
the opinions of the Church. In regard to this point, we feel that we
have been most inexcusably misrepresented.

And now when the Council "earnestly ask, when and where has
the great Lawgiver and Head of the Church given the right to a mere
majority of the brethren of the Church to declare their covenant dis-
solved throughout the whole Church," &c. — we have only to say, that
if they ask for express permission in so many words, we find it just
"when and where" they find the prohibition so to do! If they will
show us the chapter and verse where this is interdicted, we will point to
the passage where the allowance is given. If, however, they intend
this form of interrogatory only as a rhetorical flourish; — if they merely
design to ask in sounding phraseology the simple question, what au-
thority the majority of a Church has to disband, we refer them to the
principles of the Word of God, of Congregationalism, and common

4. As one of their reasons against our views of this subject, the
Council point us to the dangerous consequences to which they lead.
" Admit," say they, " the right of a Church thus to disband itself by the
vote of a majority, for the sake of getting rid of 'embarrassing mem-


bers,' and what minority in a time of division and excitement would
be safe 1 One or two bold and daring men might be very embarrassing
to a backsliding and worldly-minded majority. Some influential person
who fears discipline, may regard those who desire to bring his case up
as very embarrassing elements in the Church. Nothing now remains
to be done but to watch his opportunity, rally his forces, gain a major-
ity and vote to dissolve the Church and form a new organization," &c.

Now we have to say in answer to this, that the power which the
Council must concede to the majority, is capable of great abuse. Just
consider what power they possess. They have a right to elect and
dismiss a pastor, — to change the creed, — to determine and apply the
rules of discipline, — to inflict excommunication. Is there no danger 1
Is there no danger of the misuse of such power ? If Churches had
the unrestricted choice of the pastor as they once had, and as they still
have in some cases, might not a wrong-minded and unsound majority
impose an unfaithful and heretical pastor on the minority? And con-
sidering the influence which the Church now has, restricted as she is,
in her full action as to the choice of the pastor, by her connection
with another body, yet taking the lead in the settlement of the minis-
try, and directing to a great extent, the feelings and action of the asso-
ciation with which she is united, — who does not see that it is practicable
for a majority with lax views, greatly to injure a faithful and pious kw
in the same Church, by the selection of a preacher who entertains
fundamentally erroneous opinions of the Gospel, and whose influence
shall be against vital religion? Cannot the degenerate majority of a
Church so administer the rules of discipline, as to exclude all of those,
the purity of whose lives and the fidelity of whose reproofs cause them
great annoyance? Cannot a Church become so corrupt and so im-
properly manage its affairs, as to defeat the very end of its organization,
and render it even worse than useless? The Council themselves ad-
mit this, so far as discipline is concerned. 'J'hey say that "any other
discipline than Christian discipline is a thousand times worse than no
discipline." And on the same principle, the majority may be so de-
fective and erroneous in their whole character and action, as to become
worse than useless, — a mere nuisance to the minority and the commu-
nity. Wki/ should not the innjority be deprived of all power, as well as
the power of disbanding ; seeing that it is capable of such abuse and
may become such a formidable engine of mischief and oppression?

We wish to direct the attention of our readers to one or two expres-
sions of the Council, which unfairly change the state of the question.
" Nothing now remains to be done but to watch his opportunity, rally
his forces, gain a majority," &c. Just as if we contended that the
rules of the Church should be such, as not to forbid some of its un-
principled members, to take an undue advantage of some favorable
occasion for which they have been watching, when a majority of per-
sons of their own character happened to be present, and thus to effect
their iniquitous purposes. We have protested against this unfairness
before, and now repeat, that all Churches should have such regulations,
as to prevent hasty action, and protect themselves from the conspiracy
of those, who might be disposed to avail themselves of a temporary
majority to accomplish some nefarious object. If it should be replied,
that ail precautionary rules of this sort might be disregarded and tram-


pled under foot, in times of great commotion and strife, — we have
only to say, that those who would be guiUy of such flagrant mis-
conduct in these respects, would be just as likely to despise all the reg-
ulations of the Church, whatever they might be; and it would be just
as easy for them to watch their opportunity, rally their forces and gain
a majority to excommunicate the faithful members who annoyed them,
as to get rid of them by disbanding and reorganizing. We conceive,
that the arguments which the Council have employed against the power
which we advocate, arguments drawn from its liability to abuse, are
weapons which can with equal facility be turned against themselves;
since they arc quite as strong against the possible perversion of such
authoiity, as by their own acknowledgment the Church possesses.

5. The Council further object to our principle, that it leads its ad-
vocates to such unjustifiable modes of defending it. They say that it
obliges them "to depreciate the necessity and importance of particular
Church covenants, or of being in connection with any local Church at
all." We know not to what the Council refer in these remarks.
While we are glad to have it in our power to say, that there are a good
number of the members of the Essex South Conference, who are free
from the extravagant notions of the covenant which the Council ex-
press ; and while we earnestly hope that they will always preserve their
balance of mind, sufficiently to keep them from running into such
strange conceits, — we utterly deny the charge of the Council, and feel
ourselves aggrieved by their unjust impulation.

The arguments by which the Council undertake to sustain the
charge are as follows.

The community has, therefore, been told by leading ministers, in publie
arguments on this subject, before the pastors and delegates of a Conference
of Churches and the attendant assembly, that the Bible no where expressly
requires a covenant of the members of a Church to walk together in the
same Church as essential to salvation or the church-state, and that there is
no certain evidence that the apostolic Churches were so constituted by a for-
mal mutual covenant among their members, as to make a dissolution incon-
sistent with church-order or the Christian profession. Their covenant, it is
intimated, was only with the great Head of the Church ; they were held to-
gether by inward ties^ and they worshipped together or apart as the occasioE
required. Of the same nature is the theory to which they resort of a mem-
bership in a general or Catholic Church, Avhich still continues after a partic-
ular Church is disbanded. In consequence of this, they tell us, the members
of a disbanded Church are not unchurched, nor deprived of any of their
church rights and privileges.

In this quotation there are some things probably true, and some
things misstated. Individuals may have said, that " the Bible no
where expressly requires a covenant of the members of a Church ta
walk together in the same Church, as essential either to salvation or a
church-estate, and that there is no certain evidence that the apostolic
Churches were so constituted by a formal mutual covenant among their
members, as to make a dissolution inconsistent with church-order."
And if they did say this, they soid what is true ; and what implies no
more depreciation of church-covenants than the incontrovertible truth
itself implies. And if the Council see fit to quarrel with the truth, —
let them settle the controversy with Hiin who is the source of all t^uthi


But that any members of the Conference said or intimated, that the
covenant was onli/ with the great Head of the Church, and that " they
worshipped together or apart as the case required," is not true without
very material explanation and modification. Neither is it true, that
they said, that those who had been excluded from a particular Church
by its dissolution were not "deprived of any of their church rights and
privileges." Some of the individuals connected with the Conference
believe with Dr. Dvvight and others, that baptism introduces the subject
of it into the Church general. How far this opinion prevails, we do
not know. It was natural for those who had embraced these views to
make use of them, in defending the position, which they had taken
against their assailants. But that they avowed, or seemed to think this
general church-membership to be almost or quite equal to that in any
particular Church is not true. Nor is it true, that they hold any opin-
ions which lead them to undervalue the necessity and importance of
local organization. Dr. Dwight's opinions in respect to general church-
membership were not at all inconsistent with his having a sufficiently
high appreciation of the value of local church-covenants. His opin-
ions on this subject are quite as much entitled to respect, as those of
any one of the Council, or of their united opinions combined in the
Result which they have given to the public.

The Council say, that they could easily show that all the above sen-
timents imputed to the defenders of the disbanding power are utterly
unsound ; and so they have thought that they could do some other
things, which nevertheless they have not been able to accomplish. But
they do not undertake to perform that which, as they allege, it is easy
for them to do, because, as they intimate, it does not touch the real
question in controversy. But they bring the sentiments to the test of
Congregational usages and principles. They say that these conflict
with the Congregational system, as exhibited by our principal writers,
and that the Cambridge Platform teaches a different doctrine. Two
of the questions to be tried are — first, whether in the opinion of Con-
gregationalists the Bible expressly requires a covenant of the members
of a Church to walk together in the same Church, as essential to a
church-state ; and, secondly, whether the Apostolic Churches were so
constituted by a formal mutual covenant among their members, as to
make a dissolution inconsistent with church-order or their Christian
profession ?

We will now quote a part of the fourth section of the fourth chapter
of the Cambridge Platform. " This voluntary agreement, consent, or
covenant — although the more express and plain it is, the more fully it
puts us in mind of our mutual duty and stirreth us up to it — yet we
conceive the substance of it is kept, where there is a real agreement
and consent of a company of faithful persons to meet constantly in
one congregation for the public worship of God and their mutual edi-
fication ; which real agreement and consent they do express by their
constant practice in coming together for the public worship of God
and by their religious subjection unto the ordinances of God there ;
the rather, if we do consider how scripture covenants have been
entered into, not only expressly by word of mouth, but by sacrifice, by
hand-writing and seal; and also sometimes by silent consent, without
any writing or expression of words at all." It was plainly the opinion


of the framers of the Platform, that it is not essential to the existence
of a Church, that there should be any express, formal or written cove-
nant. Silent consent without any writing or expression of words at
all is sufficient. This is, doubtless, precisely the opinion of those who
are referred to in the Result of Council. They did not deny, that Chris-
tians should be united together in church-organization ; but they de-
nied that the precepts of Scripture or apostolic practice required, that
the covenant which binds them should be express or formal, or a
written instrument with all its precise and stringent phraseology. And
this is evidently the opinion of the framers of the Platform ; for, they
would not have admitted for a moment, that a silent and implied cove-
nant would be sufficient, if the Scriptures, in their view, required a
formal and expressed one. Sometimes the omission or variation of a
word, in pretending to quote the avowed opinions of others, will pro-
duce serious misrepresentation. The "leading ministers" whose
opinions are quoted, not only asserted that the Scriptures no where
expressly require a covenant, but that they no where required an express
covenant. The stress of their declaration rests on this word. It is
true, as we have before asserted, that the Bible does not expressly
require any covenant ; but this was not the whole truth which was
asserted, nor the thing particularly intended. The word or a form of
the word express, as it was inserted but once in the quoted declaration,
is put by the Council in the wrong place, and varies the point and
force of the sentiment.

The object of those who made such declarations was, to meet those
high notions of the indissoluble nature of the covenant, which their
opposers held in common with the Council ; and not at all, as the
Council represent, to deny that the Apostolic Churches were held
together by a mutual compact of some kind, or that such compact is
not necessary to a church-condition. We have seen that such an
informal, implied and silent covenant as they suppose, would be per-
fectly Congregational, according to the views of the authors of the
Platform, if the Churches choose it, in preference to one of a different
character. And this the members of the Conference quite naturally
supposed went to show, that the fathers of our system did not cherish
those over-strained notions of the rigid nature of the covenant, which
have been so confidently imputed to them. We have no particular
concern here with the pertinence or force of the argument. Those
who made use of it are abundantly competent to defend themselves;
but for the Council to infer, that those who employed it have a less
high esteem of the necessity and value of church-covenants, or to
suppose that all those, who cannot go with them to the same extrava-
gant lengths, hold a covenant in low estimation, — is like the Romanist
charging the Protestant with undervaluing the rite of baptism, because
he does not unscripturally and superstitiously suppose, that that cere-
mony itself, by its inherent virtue, conveys grace to the soul.

With respect to the array of authorities produced by the Council to
show, that Congregationalism does not admit of the idea of a universal
Catholic Church, independent of its embodiment in particular assem-
blies, we have only to add, — that we rest no part of our argument on
the opinions which they attempt to explode.


The Council, as we have seen, express alarm at the dreadfully da»»
gerous tendency of our principles. We have already made some
remarks on that point. They further say, that these theories of the
defenders of the church-dissolving power, tend directly to lead the
community to believe, that it is of very little consequence whether they
are members of a particular Church or not, or are in covenant or not,
and thus to aim a blow at the very vitals of our Churches, and utterly
dissolve the bonds of the whole system. — Now we think we have
shown, that these theories are a part of the principles of Congrega-
tionalism, and if they tend to such fearful results, the Council who
profess to be such faithful adherents to the system had better revise
their opinions on the subject of church-polity. What do they propose
to do with those provisions of our system, which allow a majority by
withdrawal to other Churches to dissolve their covenant with one of
their associates, when charged with no offence, and release themselves
from their watch and care, and turn him adrift on the "cold world" —
which the Council insist cannot be done, without a glaring infringe-
ment of Congregational principles and a flagrant violation of the most
solemn obligations ? What will they do with the provision, which
allows two to be treated in this manner, who are almost as incapable
of performing the functions of a Church as one ? The Council either
admit these consequences from the principles of our system or they do
not. If they do not admit them, then let them no longer assume to
be such valiant expounders and defenders of Congregationalism. If
they do admit them, then let them hold their peace about the perni-
cious tendency of our theories, and learn their punctuation table
better, than to apply their interrogation and exclamation points exclu-
sively to us, when they are quite as much wanted at home.

6. The Council, after establishing what they confidently suppose to
be the fundamental principles and usages of Congregationalism, in op-
position to the views of the Tabernacle Church and those who coincide
with them, and then expressing their " undissembled wonder and
astonishment " at the " phenomenon," as they call it, which is pre-
sented of persons " claiming to be inspired by a reverence" for these
principles, and then " engaging with all their might in the work of
destroying them," proceed to account for the wonder. They profess
to have arrived at the solution. Timid and superstitious persons see
wonderful objects in the dark, and imagine the most astonishing and
awful spectres in those very things, which excite no uneasiness and
apprehension in the daylight. Some persons who seem to "see ghosts
in trees and rocks," reason down their imaginations, and resolve the
awful phenomena into familiar objects, whose outlines are imperfectly

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 39 of 51)