Leonard Woolsey Bacon.

Church papers: sundry essays in subjects relating to the church and ... online

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valence of it is comparatively modern.

Objections to this Theory of the Church. — The
objections to be levied against what we have called the
Rational and Scriptural Theory of the Church will exactly
correspond with those which have been raised, to no
effect, against the analogous theory of civil polity. They
may be treated with great brevity.

Objection 1. The principle proposed, of the duty of
deference to the de facto government of the Christian
community, cannot be accompanied with any distinct and
definite limitation, by which the occasional exceptions in
favor of disobedience or revolution can be determined.

The answer to this is to be found, not only in the
parallel doctrine and objection in civil polity, but a in
almost every part of ethical science." So rarely is the
exact boundary between right and wrong to be distinctly
defined in a formula — so generally are the final questions
on the application of moral rules left open for the decision
of the individual conscience — that there is a prima facie
presumption against any attempt to fix the course of right
action on a point of morals by a formula of permanent

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and universal application. 1 The objection is a clear
argument in our favor.

Objection 2. Under the doctrine here laid down, it will
be impossible to justify the Puritan separations from the
Church of England.

The first answer which we would make to this is that
it is a small matter to answer it at all. The second, that a
true judgment on those acts of separation must depend on
the circumstances surrounding each act ; on the character
of the parish church from which the separatists withdrew —
whether it was Christian or unchristian ; on the nature of
the grievances under which they labored, whether mere
annoyances or actual burdens on the conscience ; on the
probability of bringing the body of the Christian disciples
in that community into union under a purer rule. The
third answer is that if it does condemn the secession of
dissenters from the Church of England, it therebody
honors and confirms the judgment of our Puritan fore-
fathers of the best and earliest age, almost all of whom,
except the Pilgrims of Plymouth, abhorred the schism of
the separatists with a holy horror. The fourth answer
will be conclusive in many minds, — that the doubt which it
throws over the Puritan separations in England is more
than compensated by the discredit which it puts upon
many of the Baptist, Episcopalian, and Methodist schisms
in New England.

Objection 3. This view discredits many of the local
efforts for the propagation of Congregational institutions
at the West and elsewhere, as schismatic.

Answer. Very likely.

1. See the ample illustration of this matter, in its political bearing, in
Macaulay's History of England, VoL ii., pp. 103-5, Harper's 12mo. edition.

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Objection 4. This view brings in practical difficulty and
confusion, by making it often a matter of doubt what is
the Church of Christ in any community, and where its
government resides.

Answer. This difficulty is not peculiar to the ecclesias-
tical application of the theory. It is of frequent occurrence
in civil politics. Hardly ever is there a revolution or a
considerable attempt at revolution, in which it does not
become a very important and very perplexing question to
some consciences — Which are u the powers that be ?" It
is a question not only for the passive and indifferent, but
for the active leaders of revolution — first whether there is
ground and need for revolution, and then whether the dis-
satisfaction of the people, the incapacity of the adminis-
tration, and the combination of favoring circumstances
have or have not charged them with the power, and with a
trust for the redress of intolerable grievances, to the dis-
charge of which they are ordained of Grod. Not to allude
to very recent questions of personal duty which may have
perplexed honest consciences, the history of the mission
of Dudley Mann to Hungary, in quest of a government to
recognize, is one case in point Another is the amusing
story of Mr. John L. Stephens, whose Travel was never so
full of Incidents as when, with a diplomatic commission
in his pocket, he explored the various factions of a Spanish
American republic, in search of the right government to
which to present it. 1

It cannot invalidate the principle which we have enun-
ciated, that such difficulties are more frequent in eccle-
siastical politics than in civil. In secular matters, the

1. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. By John
L. Stephens.

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necessities of society are such that the rival pretensions
of different claimants to the supreme government within
the same territory become a nuisance so odious as to be
intolerable for an indefinitely protracted period ; and as
for the settlement of these claims by allowing each
claimant to govern its own partisans according to its own
laws, the plan is so unnatural, so inimical to the peace of
the community, that history has shown no disposition to
repeat the solitary instance of it which is found in the
present constitution of the Turkish empire, tempered
though it is, in that instance, by the beneficent rigors of
^ supervising despotism.

But the union and communion of all the Christian dis-
ciples of any community, instead of being, like politioal
union, a necessity, is only a duty. Consequently when
once factions have established themselves, in the Christian
commonwealth, there is no necessary limit to their con-
tinuance from year to year, and from generation to
generation. In the course of time the Christian mind
becomes so wonted, and the Christian conscience so seared,
to the wrong and evil of schism, that the doctrine of the
perpetuity of schism is accepted as an integral part of the
u evangelical scheme," and the sacred name of the Church
loses its proper meaning, of the commonwealth of God's
people, and becomes synonymous with its old opposite, a
alpemq or sect. The "problem of Christian union,"
which in the beginning no one ever thought of calling a
problem, is held to be soluble only by diplomatic dealings
between these churches, (which are not churches,) or else
by setting up in the vacant place formerly held by the
church, a new institution — a Young Men's Christian Asso-
ciation, or a Catholic Basis City Tract Society — that shall

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be the center of Catholic affection and the means of the
communion of saints.

In this state of a Christian neighborhood, doubtless the
question, Where is the church, is a difficult one. One
thing about it is plain, that it is not to be settled by
applying worn-out tests, such as papal authority, apostolic
succession, structural perfection, or democratic origin to
any fragment of the schism, and determining that to be
the Church. In some cases it will appear that there is a
Catholic church in the place, from which seditious spirits
have torn themselves away in wanton schism. Sometimes,
that the different churches, separate in name and form,
are united in substance and spirit, that their several pas-
tors, co-operating in every good word and work, are
really a presbytery or college of ministers for the one
Church of Christ in the town. Sometimes it will appear
that the Catholic Tract Society has become a sort of
church without ordinances, and that the president of the
Society is actual bishop of the town. But more commonly
the most that can be said is that the church in such a
community is existing in a state of schism ; as, in the
Eome of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the authority
of the state might properly be described as dispersed
among a number of families and factions. And the best
that any one can do in such a case, is, while joining him-
self in special fellowship where he will lend himself least
to the encouragement of faction, always to hold his
supreme allegiance to be due to the interests and authority
of the whole family that is named of Christ.

It is much in favor of any theory on such a subject as
the one which we have in hand, that its chief difficulties
lie in matters of application and detail. In these matters

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we would not speak with too much confidence. We majr
have wrought unsuccessfully in developing and applying
the analogy which is the theme of our article. But we
reach the close of the discussion with increased confidence
that in the just treatment of this analogy lies the only
hope of solving the problem of ecclesiastical polity.

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The term Home Evangelization has come into recent
use as the title of an enterprise in some respects novel,
and has thus acquired a conventional and limited sense-
In this use, it may be defined as the work of bringing
under Christian care and instruction the entire population
of a region occupied by Christian churches.

It is one of the three grand natural divisions of the
aggressive work of the Church. The first is Foreign
Missions, or the planting of the Gospel and the Church in

* Published in The Congregational Quarterly for April, 1862, under the title
* Home Evangelization.** The writer was at the time u Missionary at Large ' 1
for the State of Connecticut, under appointment of the General Association of
the State; and his chief thought was to induce the Congregational churches of
that State to accept the position of the parish churches of the State, leaving to
other sects the works of specialists in religion, to gather their congregations
here or there by ■ elective affinity." In pursuance of this idea, he effected a
Moral and Religious Census of a large part of the State, the results of which
^embodied in an octavo volume of statistics, formed the basis of a great deal
of good work. But the sectarian idea, as the normal conception of the church,
is too .deeply imbedded in the Christian mind of America to be easily dislodged
And where the sectarian idea prevails, the parish-idea is impossible.

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heathen lands. The second is Home Missions, or the
establishment and sustentation of Christian institutions by
the Chnrches of a Christian country in destitute regions of
the same. And the third is Home Evangelizations.

The name is less convenient and determinate than
jnight be desired. The term u Thorough Christianization"
has been recommended in place of it; and, again, the
title of a The Home Home Missions" has been aptly
suggested. But the thing signified under these various
titles is quite distinct and specific.

The work of Home Evangelization differs more in its
methods and agencies from Home and from Foreign
Missions, than either of these differs from the other. The
main agency of Home Evangelization is the Church. In
the Mission work, on the other hand, the Church is not so
much a means as an end; the mission- work proper
terminating, for a particular region, in the establishment
therein of pure and faithful churches. In estimating the
progress of a mission-work, we reckon by the number
of preachers commissioned, of stations established, of
catechumens and converts gained, of churches gathered ;
and in planning mission operations it is at once a right
principle and an apostolic usage, to aim at main centers
of influence, and beyond this to be guided by spiritual
indications and providential opportunities. On the other
hand, we estimate the progress of Home Evangelization
inversely by the number of households and souls in a
given region yet unreached by Christian influence and
instruction; and in planning the work, we make no dis-
crimination in favor of one community or neighborhood to
the exclusion of another; but so lay out the work, by a
division of the territory, as that every soul of the

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unevangelized population shall come at once under
responsible and actual oversight. In this respect, Home
Evangelization differs from any existing enterprise of
denominational "extension." Reports "of General As-
semblies and General Associations, "Conventions" and
" Convocations," agree in this, that instead of giving-
account of progress made toward the Christianization of
the territories which they represent, they report only
progress in sectarian aggrandizement or decline. Their
" Narratives of the State of Religion" give no intimations
of the State of Irreligion. Their accounts of the state of
the churches afford no information of the state of the
people. The absolute progress which is reported of the
several denominations, or of all together, may be a
relative loss; and while the churches "sit secure and
sing" of their prosperity, the gates of hell may be
rejoicing that, whatever may be the growth of Christ's
kingdom, it is overmatched by the growth of theirs.

Having now defined Home Evangelization, and dis-
tinguished it from the missionary work, whether abroad
or at home, and from the work ordinarily taken in charge
by the provincial bodies, clerical or ecclesiastical, of
different denominations,— having also indicated, incident-
ally, that the main agency for Home Evangelization is to
be the Church — we propose to discuss the subject further
in the following order :

I. In its relation to the individual Church;

II. In its relation to the mutual organization of the

churches of a given province ;

III. In its relation to Societies external to the organi-

zation of the churches.

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I. Home Evangelization in its relation to the individual

When the fact has been successfully pressed on the
Attention of a New England village or country town, that
there is present in their population a very large irreligious
element, outside of all ordinary Church influences and
u means of grace," one of the first remarks to be expected
from among the more earnest of the people, is that u we
ought to form a Society to inquire into and attend to this
matter." Some recommend, at once, to form a local Bible
or Tract Society, ("Auxiliary," &c. ;) to which the
objection is obvious that as neither Bible nor tract
circulation is going to accomplish the whole of the work
proposed, nor even any considerable part of it ; and as
the Society, if organized, could not afford to limit itself to
these modes of operation, it would not be a Tract Society,
and had better not call itself one. A u Young Men's
Christian Association" is suggested, which is incompetent
to the work for like reasons. There is no reason in
excluding aged or middle-aged Christians, or Christian
women, from a share in the work, and there are some
parts of it that cannot be well done, except by women. If
it were further considered what sort of a Society it should
be which could advantageously undertake the evangeliza-
tion of the township, it would be found desirable to have
it organized for permanence; constituted of all classes of
good Christians, with as little mixture as possible of
unbelievers ; equipped with all necessary officers and
ministers, but able to accommodate itself readily in this
to the exigencies of the work ; having arrangements and
Accommodations for frequent stated meetings, where plans
may be laid and reports received, and labor may be kept

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in the closest possible relation to prayer, and worship,,
and the study of the Divine Will. In short, we should
have described to us a Church. And in any community
occupied by a Church, to establish a separate u Society "
for the evangelization of the neighborhood, wonld be
simply to erect a rival to the Church, assuming to itself
some of the most important functions belonging to the
Church by virtue of its divine constitution, — functions
without the exercise of which the Church decays.

There is one notable argument urged in favor of
depending on a Society for Systematic Home Evangeliza-
tion, rather than on a Church ; to wit, that it is u good
and pleasant, like the precious ointment upon the head ; '*
that in a^work like this, of common interest to all
Christians, believers of different sentiments and denomina-
tions should have the opportunity of openly uniting.

The argument is suggested by a right and truly
Christian impulse, and founded on a misconception as to
the sphere and organ of Christian fellowship, too generally
prevalent, and too tenaciously rooted in prejudices and
institutions to be here refuted in a few words, but which
it is essential to the subject in hand distinctly to indicate*
The impulse is that yearning for the unity of the Church
and that love of all the brethren, which (notwithstanding
all apologies for sects, and pleas for perpetual schism put
forth in the name of catholicity,) are ever among u the
distinguishing traits of Christian character." The mis-
conception consists in believing that a Church is, and
ought to be, the embodiment of a schism, the repre-
sentative of a party, the fractional part of u a denomina-
tion;" and that the proper and divinely intended sphere
of Christian fellowship, of u the communion of saints " on

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the simple basis of the one faith, is not the Church, but —
the Tract Society. If you desire Christian union in the
evangelization of your town, (and you ought to desire it,)
seek it by making your Church a catholic Church, instead
of a schismatic one. Take down your diplomatic statement
of theological dogmas from where it now stands, as a bar
to membership, and receive henceforth, u whosoever
will," for the evidence that they believe on Christ, and
not for their profession of what they believe about him.
Then you will have u Christian union," not only in this,
but in every other proper work of the Church ; an<l if
after that your Calvi^ists or your Arminians, your
Episcopalians or your Baptists, or your Congregationalists,
desire scope for their various peculiarities of belief*
commend them to their respective tract societies and
" benevolent institutions."

One highly practical objection to substituting a Society
for a Church, in the work now under consideration, i»
this : that the Society is a temporary institution, the
Church a permanent one. Let interest in the work decay,
and the Society intermits its meetings, and by and by
expires. But however remiss in particular duties the
Church may become for the time, it continues in being,
ready for the return of the power. The Church is built on
a rock. The u auxiliary tract society " is not.

How the Church should conduct the work of thoroughly
evangelizing its own parish, is a large question. It
includes almost the whole subject of the administration of
an American church, parish, and u ecclesiastical society."
The literature of this subject is singularly meagre,
considering its importance, and the fact that it is the field

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of a distinct professorship in so many theological
seminaries. On the conduct of a family, of a school, of a
singing-school, of a Sunday-school, we have methodical
And systematic treatises in abundance, giving useful
directions in full detail. But when an inexperienced
young man, about to enter on the work of a pastor, asks
to be referred to a convenient and judicious manual
for his guidance, what book have we to recommend to

Of course there is no room for us in this Article to
state more than the merest outline of the work of a
church in its parish.

First, Have a Parish. That man will deserve well of
American Christianity who shall restore to its vocabulary
the lost word parish, in its proper use and meaning. In
our time and country, a minister's parish consists of the
families who take pews in the meeting-house, or in some
such way voluntarily connect themselves with the
congregation. When a minister speaks of the size of his
parish, he means the number of families who thus put
themselves expressly under his charge, or perhaps the
extent of the area within which they reside. When he has
gone the round of these families, he has visited his whole
parish. There are other families within the same area,
that belong to the Baptist or Episcopalian or Roman-
•catholic parish, and a large number that belong to no
parish at all.

Now in the original and proper use of the word, 1 it
means a territorial precinct allotted to a particular church

1. We like best the derivation of this word from the low Latin parochia, and
Greek ir&pctxt* — dwelling near, i. e., all the people who live near enough to a
church to receive its influence.

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as its field of missionary labor, within which that church
shall be responsible that no family is left without Christian
care and instruction. 1

Without assuming a circumscribed territory as its
field, no church can do anything effective and systematic
in the way of Home Evangelization. Without a parish, it
may do mission-rwork, selecting the best points for new
stations and centres of usefulness, and aiming at great
achievements in the propagation of the faith; but it
cannot labor, distinctly and determinately, for the
evangelization of the whole population, since the whole
is an indefinite quantity.

Consequently, the parish is one of the earliest of
Christian institutions, being next in order of time to the
Church. Without taking time' and space here to hunt up
authorities to sustain the remark, we may safely assert
that one of the earliest steps after the general establish-
ment of churches throughout the earlier lands of the
gospel, must have been the more or less formal recognition
by neighboring pastors and churches of the bounds of
their respective dioceses or parishes, whereby the special
responsibility of each for the thorough dissemination of
religious truth should be defined. To this day, in countries
of early, or of medieval Christianity, the parish-system —
hindered and stunted indeed by the overgrowth of corrup-
tions — is extant and useful.

In England, for instance, where this system has had

1. Doubtless many other ideas are associated with this word parish,— as, for
Instance, the idea of prerogative and exclusive spiritual jurisdiction, and the
idea of taxation for the support of the parish minister ; and doubtless these
associations have had much to do in excluding the word from its proper ase. But
It is used in this article, simply with reference to missionary or evangelizing
operations. It does not necessarily include more.


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much to contend with, in the deficiencies of the parish
clergy, and the withdrawal of great masses of the people
into a position of dissent, it is still the chief defense of
great tracts and populations from barbarism and utter
heathenism; — it has provided some sort of responsible
care — in name at least — for every household in the king*
dom. It is not without reason that thd Edinburgh Beview, 1
not wont to be lenient toward public abases, has
pronounced u the parochial system to be one of the greatest
and most beneficent of our national institutions."

The idea of the parish as a practical neoessity to the
church, was clearly conceived and fitly appreciated by the
fathers of New England. We may be permitted to speak
more specifically of Connecticut, where the definite
responsibility of every church for its own neighborhood —
its duty of providing Christian instruction and care fot all
within the fixed boundaries of its parish, were recognised
in the legislation of the State. The whole territory of the
State was divided and allotted to different churches*
There was no hovel so lonely or remote, no wanderer so
friendless, no man so outcast and degraded, as to be
unprovided with a pastor. And not only this, but every
church was provided with a charge— -a mission-field.*
There was no opportunity for any church in that great
fellowship of churches which then as now oocupied the
surface of the State — eased of its responsibility for thd
toil on which it stood — forgetful of the heathen at its

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconChurch papers: sundry essays in subjects relating to the church and ... → online text (page 4 of 26)