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 43 of 51)
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exist, until they are all safely located in a Christian home.' We think
the Council rather inconsistent with themselves, in the position which
they have taken on the alleged misapplication of the right of the ma-
jority to govern. If the majority cannot dissolve the body for the
reason, that an act of dissolution is not an act of government, then
how can a Church cease to exist by a unanimous consent and transfer
of the relations of the members to other Churches? Is not this an act
of " destruction " 1 Is not the government of that Church thereafter
rendered impossible? To be sure, the dissolution does not take place
by a direct disbanding vote ; but the Council contend, that what cannot
be done directly cannot be done indirectly. The Church is gone, and
though its members may be attached to other organizations, yet the
Church, as a Church, is just as effectually destroyed as a house is de-
stroyed, which is taken all to pieces and its parts wrought into a hun-
dred other edifices.

The Council attempt to strengthen their position, against objections
drawn from the analogy of civil communities. "Appeal has been
made," they say " in defence of this mode of proceeding, to the rights
of communities to revolutionize governments by the vote of majorities.
But the cases are totally unlike. No nation exists by covenant like
that, which gives its being to a Congregational Church." Here the
ground of this argument appears to be shifted. They had just rested
the impossibility of dissolving a Church on the alleged fact, that an act
of dissolution was not an act of government, but of destruction. Now
it rests on another ground, that such an act violates covenant obliga-
tion, — that the Church is a peculiar body unlike a nation, because it is
united by the ties of a compact. Whether the covenant is an impedi-
ment to dissolution is a question that has already been discussed, and
need receive no further attention here.

But they add, — " Moreover, the right of revolution and of disbanding
are not the same. No nation or people ever attempted so to disband



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Itself, as to destroy all public ties between citizen and citizen, by let-
ters of recommendation among other nations." Now we do not rest
the authority of a Church to disband, on revolutionary grounds. A
revolutionary right exists in all individuals and public bodies, in extreme
cases. It is a right not under law and according to the forms of law,
— it is not a repeal of law according to established usages and princi-
ples, — but it is an avowed resistance and subversion of all law, the
justification of which is placed on the ground of a most imperative
necessity. The Council seem to intimate that no nation has a right
to revolutionize, in such a sense as to destroy all existing forms of gov-
ernment, without providing another. Now a revolutionary right, in
the strict sense of the term, and the right to change one mode of gov-
ernment into another, are not necessarily identical. The latter rnay
be and often is a constitutional legal right, but the former is never.
The people of the United States have the extreme right of dissolving
their government, against established laws and constitutional provisions.
They have also, under the Constitution, and in the mode which that
instrument provides, a right to change the form of government from
republicanism to a monarchy, or oligarchy, or a pure democracy. It
is not usual for communities to claim, or rather exercise, the right of
destroying one organization, without providing another. But if it
should plainly appear that the good of a people would be better pro-
moted by dissolution, without an attempt at substitution, and leaving
portions of the original confederacy to reorganize according to their
views of duty and interest, they would have the same right to do the
one as the other. We, however, as before intimated, place the au-
thority of a Church to dissolve on constitutional Congregational prin-
ciples. The right we maintain to be just as real, as it would be, if
there were an express provision in the covenant of Churches, that a
majority or a certain number, which the majority might fix by a posi-
tive regulation, should disunite the organization, whenever they thought
the circumstances justified such a measure. Our reasons have been
given. The Council may call this not an act of government, but sui-
cide. But it certainly is an act of government, if it is executed by
the governing power in the usual way of transacting business, in re-
spect to those who are subject to its authority. It is one of the highest
acts of government. It may be called " suicide," but it is no more so
than the dissolution of a peace convention, or a political convention,
or an ecclesiastical Council, when the particular purposes of "such as-
sociations have been accomplished. The term "suicide," was used in
the discussions of the Conference, in application to this subject, al-
though the very persons who employed it, would, without any compunc-
tions of conscience for the crime, have committed this very act of
suicide, on the meeting of the Conference itself, in a few hours after,
if they had been successful in covering their object. If the act of
dissolving bodies is suicide, we suppose that adjournment is putting the
body subjected to the act, in a state of suspended animation. What
right has a majority to do that? It is not an act of government. The
proper sphere of the right to govern is in the government of the body ;
but adjournment is putting the body into a state in which it cannot
be governed, during the period for which it ceases to be associated.
This is not an act of government, but an act of suspending the vital



92

■functions. The reply to this probably will be, that the adjournment
of a body is only a means of putting it into a better condition to fulfill
its functions. And that as its members need rest and refreshment, the
only condition upon which the association can be continued and its
objects accomplished is, that there should be intervals of suspension to
enable it to supply those natural wants, the relief of which is essential
to life. Now it is well known, that assemblies often adjourn for the
discharge of other duties, social, political, and religious, that grow
out of other relations, which they sustain to God and the world.
They have other connections than those which bind them to the par-
ticular body, with which they are united. They have other and often
higher obligations to discharge, as members of society and citizens of
the world. They adjourn their sessions for the purpose of discharging
other functions ; that is, whenever their active connection with any
particular organization interferes with other and superior claims, they
suspend such connection, and give these claims the preference. For
the same reason, they dissolve. Their association for a particular
purpose is one mode of fulfilling their duties to God and mankind.
The reason for this union may be only temporary. An uninterrupted
continuance of the association, or the existence of it beyond a certain
time, may be inconsistent with other claims of indispensable obligation.
Why should not the organization be suspended or dissolved, as cir-
cumstances require?

So of a Church. In respect to a particular given Society of this
kind, it may or may not be a wise and useful institution. Its situation
may be such that it is not wanted. It may withdraw its members from
such connection, as would place them in a condition to be much more
useful, than they can be in the relation which they at present hold.
The members of this particular Church have also obligations to dis-
charge to the Church Universal. They are members of the kingdom
of God. The duties devolving on them in this capacity are as binding,
as the duties to this smaller community. They are much more so.
And if these limited duties interfere with others of a higher character,
there can be no hesitation as to the proper course to be taken. Any
particular organization, or form of doing good, must be abandoned,
when it interferes with the general welfare. It is as much the duty to
destroy in some cases, as it is to build np ; and in some circumstances
majorities of associated bodies are never acting more appropi-iateli/ —
never using the potver of government, which they possess, to better pur-
pose, than when they dissolve the organization and commit what the
Council call an act of suicide. It is a principle running through the
natural and moral world, that destruction is necessary to better and
more useful forms of reproduction. The corn of wheat must die to
multiply itself and become more extensively useful. It was necessary
even for the Council whose Result we are considering, to dissolve,
although we can have no security that its members will be ever asso-
ciated again in high debate, to shed their brilliant light on the Essex
Churches.

It will be of no avail to the Council to allege here, that the objection
lies not against the discontinuance of a particular local church-organ-
i/ation, but against its dissolution, before there is a transference of its
members to other connections. The Church, as a Church, has ceased



93

to exist in either case. As a Church, it is destroyed, and the Council "
contend positively that it cannot put an end to its own existence, be-
cause an act of destruction is applying the power of the majority out
of its sphere, and cannot be an act of government. Then certainly
it cannot cease to exist in any mode, whether with transference or
without. When they say, that a Church cannot be dissolved, until ail
its members are safely placed in other organizations, then they give an
additional reason, and altogether shift the ground of the objection as
before stated. And for a consideration of it in this form, we refer our
readers to previous pages.

The Council state the new principle, as they call it, in another form.
" It is the right," say they, " not only to destroy their own rights but
to plunder others of theirs." If the Council feel any disposition to ac-
cuse us of any severity of language in the remarks which we have
made, we hope that they will check themselves by a review of some of
their own phraseology. We are charged with setting up a principle
of plunder, with advocating the doctrine that a majority may lawfully
rob a minority of their rights, as well as destroy their own. Other
forms of expression occur of a similar tenor. We have a right to de-
fend ourselves against such attacks, and in doing so to use stronger
language than has been employed.

But to return. The charge is utterly false. If as we have main-
tained, it is a principle of Congregationalism, that majorities can dis-
band, and all the members of a Church enter it on an implied under-
standing of such a condition, then their rights are no more violated,
when the act is performed, than would be the right of an opposing
minority, when an Ecclesiastical Council, or a World's Convention for
the promotion of peace, or anti-slavery, or Christian Union, vote to
dissolve, because the reasons for their further continuance have ceased,
and the duties of the members call them to other spheres of labor and
usefulness.

The Council proceed with some objections and questions, which
have more tendency to operate upon the feelings of undiscerning and
unstable men, than to produce conviction in reflecting minds. " We
cannot but wonder," say they, " what can be the cause, that so much
zeal is manifested in behalf of the right in question. If the disband-
ing of a Church were some great good, some glorious result for which
Churches were ordained, we could understand it. But what Church
once organized does not naturally desire to live and bless the world,
&LC. Why do we find no where in the Bible any directions as to this
mode of dissolving Churches, for which so much zeal is manifested 1
Why do we find no such directions in any earlier or later works on our
church-polity? Is not this a significant fact? Does it not proclaim
the truth, that to live and increase is the great end of a Church, that
its death is an event to be deprecated as unspeakably mournful? "

We can inform the authors of the Result, that the interest and activ-
ity exhibited by those who take the affirmative of this question, are
owing in a considerable degree to the violent attacks made upon them
by their opposers. They were put on the defensive; and as those
who took the lead in the assault are well known to such as know them
Bt all, to be men of very excitable dispositions, and bent on attaining
iheir object, the defence necessarily assumed a more active character,



94

' than if those who had undertaken it, had been called to encounter an-
tagonists of a less vehement temperament. As both the Conference
and the Tabernacle Church were contending for what they honestly
supposed to be a just principle, they were not willing to yield it to
clamor and pertinacity ; and were determined to maintain their position,
until some sufficient reasons were offered for abandoning it. These,
neither the discussions nor the Result have furnished ; and they will
wait for further light before they change their ground.

As to the good which is to result from the application of the princi-
ple for which we contend, we have no doubt, that very beneficial results
would flow in some cases, from the dissolution of Churches. We think
if those members of the late Howard Street Church, who have so im-
properly procured the recognition of themselves as the Church which
no longer exists, had acquiesced in the vote which disbanded them,
instead of striving to maintain a feeble existence as an independent
body, they would have conducted with much more benefit to themselves
and the interests of religion in Salem. If the condition of the city of
Salem requires another religious society of the Orthodox persuasion,
we are well convinced, that it should be commenced as a new enter-
prize, which would be free from the odium under which the present
Howard Street Church labors, and with a new name, in another part of
the city, and divested as much as possible of all associations with the
dissolved organization. It would then attract towards itself those who
would give it a character which would command the confidence of
the community, and be likely to answer its purposes. If the popula-
tion of Salem should receive a large increase, the Howard Street Asso-
ciation would probably utterly fail of doing any thing of consequence,
to meet the increasing religious wants of the citizens, and would em-
ploy resources that would be better directed to the assistance of some
other enterprize. We have known several instances of attempts being
made to establish new Churches, with a view to meet the religious de-
mands of the community, which, either in consequence of the mistake
of those who projected the undertaking, or a change in the condition
of the place where they were commenced, have proved total failures.
The judgment of the most wise and conscientious has been convinced
that it was a waste of effort and means to prosecute the plan, — that it
ought to be abandoned, — and that the labor of those who have the in-
terests of religion at heart could be much better expended in another
direction.

There ought to be, and we have no doubt there is, a power in the
majority of a Church, or in such a number as a majority shall declare
competent to decide in such cases, to dissolve the body against the
wishes of an unreasonable and head-strong minority, who are blindly
determined to uphold a cause that is not only sinking and desperate,
but which withdraws aid that is needed for other more promising modes
of promoting Christianity. It certainly is a glorious result of the ap-
plication of the principle which we advocate, when the interests of
religion are much more effectually secured by its use, than they could
be by its abandonment.

The Council ask, " What Church once organized does not naturally
desire to live and bless the world till Christ shall come,"&c. Suppos-
ing it does have this desire, does that prove that the desire is reasonably



95

indulged? And if it is an unreasonable desire, should it be gratified?
If a Church finds itself in such a situation, that it can better subserve
the cause of religion by ceasing to exist, and adopting some other form
of advancing Christ's kingdom, it should desire to die, and bless the
world in those modes which are pointed out by the providence of God
and the Great Head of the Church.

We have further to say, that, if the natural desire of a Church to
live, is any reason why it should not be dissolved, it is equally/ good
against its existence being discontinued in any mode; and as the Coun-
cil allege it to be right and expedient for a Church to put an end to its
being, by unanimously incorporating itself with other bodies, we have
only to ask them to give us a reply to their own argument, which is as
valid against their principles as ours.

" Why do we find no where in the Bible, any directions as to the
mode of dissolving Churches? Why do we find no such directions in
any earlier or later works on our church-polity ? Does it not proclaim
the truth that to live and increase is the great end of a Church, that
its death is an event to be deprecated as unspeakably mournful, and
that no directions are given as to this newly invented mode of self-de-
struction ? " In these questions, two things are mixed together which
ought to be kept distinct. When the Council ask, " Does not this
proclaim the truth that to live and increase is the great end of a
Church," they ask a question which implies as strong an objection to
a mode of terminating the existence which they concede to be author-
ized, as to that which they deny to be valid. But before they close the
question of which this is a part, they slip in other words, which essen-
tially vary the interrogatory and turn it in their favor. The words are,
" and that no directions are given as to the newly invented mode of
self-destruction." Here the ground of objection is so changed, that it
seems to lie, not so much against the " unspeakably mournful," and
much to be deprecated death of the Church, as to the alleged uncon-
gregational mode of dying. The Council may gain some advantage
to themselves with those who read cursorily, and with their prejudices
strongly enlisted in favor of the principles of the Result; but we think
they will lose on the whole more than they gain, by such a mode of
reasoning. The cause will be suspected, which needs such defence.
" If," say the Council, " in the inevitable providence of God, a Church
once formed must cease to exist, let it be either by the act of God tak-
ing all its members to heaven, or by so placing them under the care
and watch of other Churches that the Church shall not cease to exist
till they are safely located in a Christian home." Such a temporary
cessation of all relations as we conten)plate, occurring between the
time letters are taken from the disbanding Church, and that in which
a connection is formed with another, though it might not in some cases
embrace a period of twelve hours, the Council think a shocking viola-
tion of the covenant, and an outrageous abandonment of Congrega-
tional principles. We have endeavored to show, that their position is
groundless, that the covenant is unbroken, that the principles of our
system are retained without any infringement by such procedure, and
that the evil, which sometimes may happen of one or more being left
without the covenanted watch and care of any Church, is incident to
the process or procedure, which the Council themselves allow, — and.



96

which we now say, must be submitted to, as one of those imperfec-
tions of human things which cannot be removed, without incurring a
greater mischief than the removal is designed to remedy.

Having endeavored to show that there is nothing in the principles
of the Congregational system, which forbids the disbanding of a
Church when sufficient reasons exist for so doing, it is not necessary
for us to proceed farther. But we wish to draw the attention of our
readers to a principle, which has an important application to the sub-
ject in discussion, and which has been entirely overlooked in the Re-
sult. We have alluded to the distinction between the wrong of an
act and the invalidity of an act. The Council seem to take it for a
conceded and undoubted point, that, if an act of the Church is wrong,
it is necessarily of no authority, and may be treated as an entire nullity.
They have reasoned upon a false assumption, and the Result betrays a
great want of discrimination upon this point. How is it with regard
to civil regulations? Take, for instance, the law of this Common-
wealth relating to the marriage institution, as it was before its modifi-
cation by the Legislature — now in session. It required a publication
of intention of marriage some days previous to its solemnization — cer-
tain designated persons only are allowed to unite the parties, and they
are prohibited from exercising their power except within prescribed
limits. But if all the prescriptions of the statute are violated, the vio-
lation does not nullify the marriage; that is just as valid, as if every
regulation had been strictly complied with. The parties offending are
indeed liable to punishment; but the bonds of marriage are not to be
sundered. There are other marriages which are ipso facto void, those
which are formed within the prohibited degrees of affinity, and when
new connections are entered into by persons whose partners are living.

Very inexpedient and unjust laws are sometimes made by legislative
bodies, and very unjust decisions given by the highest civil tribunals,
which themselves are of as much authority as if dictated by the most
perfect wisdom ; and can no more be treated with disregard than the
most righteous laws and judgments ever promulgated. Unconstitutional
laws of the United States Congress can be set aside by the judgment
of the Supreme Court ; but who can nullify the unconstitutional deci-
sions of that high tribunal ? And what power is there to render in-
valid such laws as are within the constitutional competence of Con-
gress to enact, even though they may be in some cases much more
detrimental to the rights of individuals and the interests of the public,
than some which are most palpable infringements of constitutional
provisions? The distinction between wrong and valid acts is clear
enough without discussion. And the idea of the Council, that "an
act of the majority" can be ^'vetoed by its own intrinsic iinlaiofulness ,"
is, if we may borrow other words of their own, " too absurd to be
thought of for a moment." The question would simply be, not whether
an act had passed or had been voted; but whether the act was in itself
intrinsically right or wrong! And this question no vote, although
unanimous, could ever decide.

Now it is the theory of Congregationalism that every Church is
independent ; by which we mean, that there is no ecclesiastical power
or body that has any jurisdiction over it. Its acts cannot be controlled
or invalidated by any higher authority. Ecclesiastical Councils and



97

Synods have only the power of giving advice, without the least right
to any other kind of interference. And if a Church violates its cove-
nant obligations or infringes on the principles of Congregationalisni,
or tramples on the rights of individuals, the acts cannot be revised and
rendered void by any -power above the Church itself. Individuals who
suffer unjustly from church-censures, or any measures which the
members pursue, may be received into other Churches, if they are
disposed to admit them ; but they cannot be put into their former con-
dition without the consent and act of the Church which has inflicted
the wrong. Minorities cannot render null and void the acts of ma-
jorities. The majority is the Church ; and if you say that the acts of
the majority can be properly considered church-acts only when they
are conformed to the regulations of the Church, we reply, that it is
for the majority to interpret these rules, and to decide whether they
have been infringed or not. And the moment you admit that the
minority can decide this point, advised or not advised by Councils,
you make the minority a majority, and give to the latter the rights and
powers of the former.

Sometimes members of a Church may be, they not unfrequently
are, most unjustly excluded from the Church with which they are con-
nected. What is the remedy? Not a reversal of the act of the



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 43 of 51)