Leonard Woolsey Bacon.

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the pure word of Grod is preached and the sacraments be
duly administered." Their definition of a church may or
may not have been complete. But it is not necessarily an
absurdity because Dr. Emmons says so.



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OF CURRENT CONGREGATIONALISM. &

II. The theory of the origin of the church in a

SOCIAL COMPACT LEADS TO ABSURD CONCLUSIONS.

Here again we are relieved of the necessity of extended
argument, by the analogy, already claimed in defense of
this theory, between the church and the civil state. The
notion, long abandoned by wise men, but prevailing still
among shallow demagogues — that it is the constitution
that creates the nation, and not the nation that makes the
constitution, runs parallel, in its whole length, with the
notion that it is the covenant which makes the church, and
not the church that makes the covenant. But not to pass
this point by without the compliment of an argument, we
venture briefly to trace a line of reasoning which is
familiar already to all who have studied the elements of
political philosophy.

1. If the church is simply a voluntary association,,
subsisting by virtue of a compact between its members,,
then the church is ipso facto dissolved, whenever the
mutual compact is violated.

2. If the church has no other power than what is
derived from the covenant of its members, then it has no
further sanction for its authority than the ordinary
obligation of its members to veracity and fidelity.

3. The terms of the social compact can bind none but
the original confederators. The theory might serve in
some measure for a Baptist church; but it is incompatible
with any view of infant church-membership.

4. Neither is the theory compatible with the duty
(which is nevertheless universally insisted on by the
advocates of this theory) of individual Christians to join.
the church. For it is essential to the nature of such
" voluntary associations " and this is much vaunted in*



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10 THE RADICAL FALLACY

vindication of this polity — that members of the society
are, so far as the society is concerned, all equals or fellows.
{See Wayland's Moral Philosophy, p. 335.) Now if the
.church, or club, one year after its formation, shall
Approach an individual Christian in its neighborhood with
a claim of moral obligation that he shall join it, he is
certainly entitled to claim, on his part, to be placed on
terms of perfect equality with the original corporators.
If he is to enter freely and equitably into covenant,
lie has a right to demand that the dictation of the terms
of the covenant shall not be wholly on one side. But
it will be impossible to modify the covenant for his
•case only; for then there will be a different set of
reciprocal rights and duties with respect to him, from
those which subsist with respect to the other members.
The only course possible to be pursued in such a case is
to dissolve the church and take a new start. If he is
bound to join the church, the church is bound to join him.
5. But to relieve this difficulty, it is now claimed that
the terms of the mutual obligation, like the duty of
mutually entering into obligation at all, are not subject
to be determined by the will of the corporators, but are
imposed in advance by a superior authority. In this case,
what becomes of the voluntary convention as the source
of ecclesiastical rights and duties ? A covenant which is
only the expression of duties previously binding, in a
community in which membership is a duty of itself,
anterior to the act of initiation, is certainly not the source
of a great deal of authority. The "voluntary association"
is one of that peculiar sort into which the members are
u compelled to volunteer." Such a "social compact" is
not very useful, even to stop a gap in an ecclesiastical



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OF CURRKNT CONGREGATIONALISM. 11

theory. And as this is the only service it was ever supposed
to be good for, let us hope that the preposterous and
antiquated fiction will quit the stage. Strange, that having
so long been scouted from civil polity, it should have
lingered to this day in ecclesiastical polity !

6. Finally, in the attempt to escape this reticulation of
Absurdities, the theory of the social-compact church takes
to itself one absurdity more. The individual believer, in
any community, is bound to join the church (Cambridge
Platform, ch. iv. §6. Saybrook Platform, ch. i. §8,) but
the church is not bound to receive him. u It is essential
to every voluntary society to admit whotn they please into
their number." So declare Dr. Emmons and the Con-
gregational Board of Publication (Scriptural Platform,
p. 6;) and although it immediately appears that this
liberty of the church, essential to its very nature as a
voluntary society, is restricted to admissions in conformity
with the rules of the Gospel, it does not distinctly appear
in the writings, still less in the practice, of these theorizers,
that the inalienable rights of a voluntary society are thus
restricted with regard to the exclusion of persons from
their communion. One work of acknowledged authority,
indeed, leans to the open communion view, as we judge
from such expressions as these: " Him that is weak in the
faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations;" "Whoso
shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me,
it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about
his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the
j»ea." But the recent works generally, and the recent
usage almost universally, carry the " social compact "
-theory to practical conclusions as consistent as may be.
If the only conditions of the existence of a church are that



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12 THE RADICAL FALLACY

certain Christians ( a being of a competent number," which
number nobody undertakes to define) should u covenant
to walk together according to the gospel," it is obviously
to be inferred that certain of their Christian neighbors
(being of a number more or less competent) may be left
(to use a phrase not classical but expressive) u out in the
cold." These residuary Christians, being severally under
obligation to u join themselves to some particular church/'
are constrained therefore to set up an opposition church
in the same village! This, forsooth, is the church polity
of the apostles! A theory of the church, indeed! — say
rather a theory of infinitesimal and" endless schism — a
theory which, disseminated through Christian communities
of many different ways of thinking and modes of adminis-
tration, has already borne fruit after its kind throughout
the one Church of Christ which in in all the world.

III. The club theory op the Church results ik
vicious practices.

If any are content with the present aspect of the
churches, even of the Congregational churches, as entirely
normal and right, we have little to say to them on this
head. But to those otherwise-minded we would briefly
indicate some of the existing abuses and abnormities
which are directly traceable to this fundamental fallacy of
current Congregationalism.

1. The indignities practi&d and tolerated against the
authority of the church. — When the church itself declares
that it receives its " powers from the consent of the
governed," is it strange that whenever these powers begin
to press hardly on any one, he should forthwith u better
the instruction," and claim the right to retract a promise
given without consideration, and without a distinct



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OF CURRENT CONGREGATIONALISM. 13

appreciation of its bearings ? Will it be denied that this
u right of secession " is both claimed and freely exercised
by members of our churches, and that too, sometimes,
with open insult to the church, and ostentatious scorn put
upon their own plighted word ? Nay, is it doubted that
this right is substantially conceded in the administration
of the churches? A deliberate violation of a secular
contract, a flagrant perfidy to the terms of a business
copartnership, would be commonly deemed matters justify-
ing the extreme discipline of Christ's house. Bat the case
of one who in some freak of admiration for a surplice, or
under some burden of scrupulosity concerning baptism,
openly renounces and breaks the solemn compact to which
he has freely made himself a party, and which he has
confirmed with the public oath which our churches are
accustomed to administer at the initiation of their mem-
bers — is such a case as this commonly held to involve any
moral elements, or to be worthy of discipline as perjury?
In fact this covenant is commonly assumed, both by
churches and by candidates for membership, with the
slightest and vaguest possible expectation that it will be
kept. In a country church of three hundred members,
not only the church as a body by votes, but each
individual member rising for himself, promises to watch
over and care for the young candidate ; and the candidate
in turn promises the like to the members. Does he know
who they are with whom he has exchanged these vows ?
He knows the minister and deacons, but the names of the
rest of the three hundred are scattered over a confused
chronicle reaching back through generations of church
clerks, more or less accomplished and accurate. Do the
other parties to the contract know him? If he is diffident



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14 THE RADICAL FALLACY

and retiring, their knowledge of him extends to this, that
he has lately come to town, and perhaps u works in the
factory." In the course of time he moves to the West y
and is lost sight of, until at the accession of a new pastor
the records of the church are everhauled, and his name
being discovered, and nothing being known of his where-
abouts, it is moved, seconded, and unanimously voted,
that his name be dropped from the catalogue.

Is this an exaggeration, or is it a fair specimen of the
procedure of an average New England church ? Unless
our personal experience has been a very peculiar one, it
is the ordinary usage of these churches to have from time
to time a " dropping season," at which coolly, deliberately,
and without a thought of perfidy or vow-breach, they
renounce their solemn promises of watch and care toward*
the very persons who, as wanderers, most need their
churchly faithfulness ; and the u compact " is held to be
dissolved by mutual consent. And, further, this u purging
of the catalogue" is commended and approved on all hands
as a token of activity and fidelity.

2. We name, as the second class of abuses arising from
the radical fallacy, the usurpation of undue ecclesiastical
authority over the individual conscience.

It has come to be deemed a fine expedient for carrying
certain points of conduct or of doctrine with young dis-
ciples, to incorporate in the ceremonies of initiation into
church fellowship, professions and promises which at the
time they will not be able to refuse without extreme
embarrassment, perhaps not without the forfeiture of
church communion, but which, once assented to will hold
them thenceforward. Thus it comes to pass that we may
not unfrequently find a church-covenant with a total-



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OF CURRENT CONGREGATIONALISM. Ifr

abstinence pledge, or an anti-slavery resolution, or a tract
against dancing, or a gloss upon the fourth commandment,:
in its belly. The design of such specifications is to re-
inforce doubtful points of discipline; so that in cases
where the majority of the church are not quite assured of
the decisiveness of scriptural authority on their side, they
may have the matter u nominated in the bond " of mutual
compact. If the Bible does not cover the case, ther
covenant must. Partly in this category, also, and partly
in the next, are to be reckoned the codes of dogmatic
theology imposed by churches upon the conscience of the
novice, under the misnomer of Confessions of Faith. They
are not confessions of faith, but professions of opinion.
They do not say u I believe ow," but u You believe that. ,r
They are universally understood to be, not the spon-
taneous expression of the candidate's opinions, but thfr
church's view of what ought to be his opinions, to which.
he is compelled to assent. It grows doubtless out of a.
just sense of the importance of scriptural views, that these,,
according to the u social compact " theory of the churchy
are made a matter of contract between the church and its
catechumen, and attached to its covenant of initiation^
Somehow, nevertheless, the contract for opinions is apt to-
fail of a due observance,

3, The final and most fatal charge against the club
theory of the church is this : that it results in the rending
qf the hody qf Christ. It deliberately accepts the separa-
tion of the people of Grod into sects and schisms, as the
normal and permanent order of % the church. Any volun-
tary association of u visible saints," under a compact of
mutual fidelity in the G-ospel, is a church, no matter what
principles of exclusion they may adopt toward other



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16 THE RADICAL FALLACY

visible saints about them. The u platform " of their
mutual compact may prescribe whatever arbitrary condi-
tions of admission, in addition to u visible sanctity/' the
-convenience or the caprice of the first squatter-sovereigns
of the congregation may suggest.

A great many pleasing sentiments of Christian love,
and of the proper oneness of Christ's church must be
sacrificed to the advantage of having a snug, homogeneous,
peaceable little Zion of our own. It shall be held that
the stumbling of one weak in faith upon doubtful disputa-
tions — that the offending of a few of the little ones,
ignorant or ill-indoctrinated, and their falling for lack of
recognition and brotherly care, — are minor evils compared
with that of tolerating men of u dangerous tendencies/'
So, instead of a church of Christ in any community, you
shall have a Calvinistic church, a Total Abstinence church,
an Anti-Slavery church, a Congregational church. All
this is designed for ihe discouragement of error, in forget-
fulness that the very organization of the exclusive and
immaculate church necessitates the organization of errorist
churches whenever and wherever there are Christian
errorists. A grand system for the discouragement
of error, this, which compels error to organize and
perpetuate itself in a corporation ! A splendid success,
the New England experiment for the suppression of
Methodism, Anabaptism, and Episcopalianism, by inserting
a vow of Calvinism, Psedo-Baptism and Social Compact in
the Congregational church-creeds !

Against this Law of Schism, abhorrent to the Christian
heart, and at enmity with the law of Christ, the reaction
has begun. May Grod speed it !



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OF CURRENT CONGREGATIONALISM. 17

There was a time when, to many earnest minds, the
maintenance of the principles of free and popular civil
government seemed to be identified with the defense of
the fallacious and now obsolete theory of the origin of
society in a Social Compact. The theory perished in the
lapse of two generations, but Civil Liberty, instead of
perishing with it, now disencumbered of the body of its
death, makes freer progress every year, and wider con-
quests.

There may be those now, who will tremble at any attack
on the figment of Ecclesiastical Social Compact, fearing
lest, if that theory should be overthrown, the foundations
of freedom in the church would be destroyed, and the best
thoughts and hopes of the founders of Christ's church in
New England perish together. The fear betokens no
worthy confidence in the truth of the principles of church
liberty. The truth cannot suffer by its riddance of such
an incubus of falsehood. Long after men shall have
learned to think of the u Platform " of Dr. Emmons, as
they now think of the u Oontrat Social " of Rousseau, the
principles of church liberty, better administered and
understood than now, will still be found leading the
advance of the gospel and of Christian civilization.



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18 FIVE THEORIES OF THE CHURCH.



II.



FIVE THEORIES OF THE CHURCH.*



The author of the u Thirteen Historical Discourses, on
the First Church in New Haven/' * vindicates the authority
of that church, organized by mutual agreement in a
meeting of the Christian people of the colony, by analogy
with the civil government of the colony, organized in like
manner, about the same time. After describing the
u plantation-oovenant," under which as a provisional
government the colonists lived for fourteen months, the
author records the meeting in Mr. Newman's barn, the
framing of the church and of the state, the choosing of the
u seven pillars," and finally the election and ordination of
the church officers. He then proceeds as follows : —

u The question doubtless arises with some — Could such
an ordination have any validity, or confer on the pastor
thus ordained any authority ? Can men, by a voluntary
compact, form themselves into a church? and can the

* From the Congregational Quarterly, January, 1864.

l. Thirteen Historical Discourses on the completion of Two Hundred Years
from the Beginning of the First Church in New Haven. By Leonard Bacon.
Hew Haven, 1838.



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FIVE THE0RIE8 OF THE CJHUBCH. 19-

church thus formed impart to its own officers the power of
administering ordinances? If Davenport had not been
previously ordained in England, would not his administra-
tion of ordinances have been sacrilege? Answer me
another question: How could the meeting which convened
in Mr. -Newman's barn, originate a commonwealth ? How
could the commonwealth thus originated impart the
divine authority and dignity of magistrates to officers of
its own election? How could a few men coming
together here in the wilderness, without commission
from king or parliament, by a mere voluntary
compact among themselves, give being to a state ? How
can the state thus instituted have power to make laws
that shall bind the minority ? What right had they to
erect tribunals of justice? What right to wield the
sword ? What right to inflict punishment, even to death,
upon offenders ? Is not civil government a divine institu-
tion, as really as baptism and the Lord's supper? Is not
the ' duly constituted ' magistrate as truly the minister of
God, as he who presides over the church, and labors in
word and doctrine? Whence then came the authority
with which that self-constituted state, meeting in
Mr. Newman's barn, invested its elected magistrates ? It
came directly from God, the only fountain of authority.
Just as directly from the same God, came the authority
with which the equally self-constituted church, meeting in
the same place, invested its elected pastor. Could the one
give to its magistrates power to hang a murderer in the
name of God, — and could not the other give to its elders
power to administer baptism." l

The argument thus popularly stated is sharply conclusive
ad hominem against those who hold the popular statement
as to the sanction of civil government. The American
idea of the state implies the American idea of the church.
The parity of reasoning the betwixt the two is perfect.

l. Bacotfg Historical Discourses, pp. 41, 42.



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20 FIVE THEORIES OF THE CHURCH.

But the analogy here drawn is good for much more than
this. It has only to be cleared of expressions which point
its immediate application to a particular class of gain-
sayers, to furnish a theorem by which, reasoning from
sound principles in civil polity, we may discover fallacies,
and establish the truth, in ecclesiastical polity. For
several reasons, let us take the particular instance quoted
above as the text of our whole discussion. First, because
the argument will be clearer if stated in relation to a
particular instance; secondly, because almost the only
cases in which history distinctly discloses, side by side,
the origin and earliest processes of civil and of eccle-
siastical government, are this and like cases in early
American history; thirdly, because the passage quoted
has actually been, in the mind of the present writer, the
germ out of which his argument has grown.

At the outset, let us guard against one source of mis-
apprehension which will be more effectually obviated as
the discussion proceeds. The church and commonwealth
of New Haven Colony did not originate in the meeting in
Mr. Newman's barn. They had existed at least fourteen
months already. The u Two Hundred Tears from the
Beginning of the First Church in New Haven," which are
commemorated in these discourses, date from the landing
of the colonists, not from the mutual compact. And the
civil state was coeval with the church. So that when it
comes to strictness of speech, the question, Can men by
voluntary compact form themselves into a church ? — and
the other question, Could the meeting in Mr. Newman's
barn originate a commonwealth ? are to be answered (so
far as the present instance shows) in the negative. That



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FIVE THEORIES OF THE CHURCH. 21

meeting could not create what was already in existence. 1
What the meeting did was to organize both the church
and the State. According to u Congregational usage "
this is the same thing with originating them; but accord-
ing to the exact use of the English language it is some-
thing different.

Coming now to the question, What was the origin of
the New Haven Colony Commonwealth and Church ? and
What were the source and channel of their authority, if
any they had ? — there is room for five different answers,
according as the respondent holds one or another of five
different theories of polity, civil and ecclesiastical. Let us
name them :

I. The Papal Theory.

II. The Bourbon Theory.

III. The Formal Theory.

IV. The Jacobin Theory.

V The Eational and Scriptural Theory.

I. The Papal Theory.

It is a u fundamental principle of the papal canon law,
that the Roman pontiff is the sovereign lord of the whole
world ; and that all other rulers in church and state have
so much power as he sees fit to allow them to have/'
Under this principle, the popes have claimed the power
u not only of conferring benefices, but also of giving away
empires, and likewise of divesting kings and princes of
their crowns and authority." 2

The theory thus set forth is a very simple and intelligible

1. That thig is the view accepted by the author of the "Discourses" is
sufficiently implied both in the title-page and in the preface of the volume.

2. Murdoek's Mosheim, vol. ii. p. 340.



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22 FIVE THEORIES OF THE CHURCH.

one, and its application to the case in hand is nowise
doubtful. The heathen territory of New England had
been disposed of long before the Puritan migration by the
gift of a pope to a Catholic prince, 1 and therefore whatever
claim of jurisdiction should be set up within that territory
by any body of colonists, whether in the name of a charter
from a heretic power, or under color of a purchase from
the barbarous tribes in possession, or under pretense of a
so-called inherent right of self-government, must be simply
an intrusion and a usurpation. It would be not only
devoid of right in itself, but a violation of the divine riglit
of the pope's grantee.

In like manner, any assumption of the functions of the
church or ministry in this colony, otherwise than through
the ways appointed by the head of the church, would be
void and invalid, and therefore sacrilegious. Furthermore,
it would be schismatic, as intruding a separate church
authority within a territory and population already placed
under the special spiritual jurisdiction of some bishop,
or if not so placed, then remaining under the immediate
pastoral care of the bishop of Rome.

Obviously, according to this theory, the first step for
the colonists to take to secure a regular and valid govern-
ment, in church and state, is to become reconciled to the
Catholic church.

II. The Bourbon Theory. This theory agrees with
the first mentioned in declaring all lawful authority, civil
and ecclesiastical, to be derived from God through a con-
tinuous succession of men. It differs from it. in this : that
whereas the former holds that there is but one line of this

1. Bancroft's U. S., vol i, p. 10.



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FIVE THEOBIES OF THE CHUKCH. 23

succession — the line of the popes — and that to all rightful
secular and spiritual rulers, in any generation, their
authority flows through the pope for the time beings



Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconChurch papers: sundry essays in subjects relating to the church and ... → online text (page 2 of 26)