GOSPEL ORDER.

BROTHER JEWETT: - By some mismanagement among the Post-masters, I have not received the Sept., number of the ADVOCATE and MONITOR, but in a recent tour I had an opportunity of seeing it and of noticing the request of brother Ashbrook for your views and mine on the query, Whether one church has a right to disown another church, as a church of Christ, on account of corruption however great.

I am somewhat surprised, that any O.S. brethren should harbor the idea, that a departure from the faith should be no bar to fellowship; or that corruption should be held in estimation as if manifesting a body of persons, to be a church of Christ, equally with truth and disorder, and disorder equally with order. I readily admit, that there is no direction given in the New Testament, for churches dealing with and excluding other churches, as is the case with individual members. But be it also remembered, that the New Testament contains no authority for churches combining, or being bound together with churches in any external union or form, by which any such discipline, or exclusion, or act of dismissal, should be required to produce a separation. Neither do the scriptures justify us in owning the tares as wheat, the synagogues of Satan as churches of Christ, error as truth, or contempt of Christ as obedience to Him; nor our recognizing any body of people, not continuing steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship, as a gospel church. Such being the fact, relative to New Testament authority on the subject, the opinion of those spoken of by brother Ashbrook, stands at once condemned, as being antichristian usurpation, and not gospel order; I mean, that it is usurpation, which requires us to fellowship everything brought in by the will of man. I will, however, enlarge a little on this subject.

The Redeemer’s interest, as established in the world, is called a kingdom, but a kingdom not of this world; accordingly we find its manifestation under the ministry of the apostles. The Apostles, as they planted churches, instead of combining them under territorial governments and these again being made subject to a great central, visible power, after the manner of the governments of this world – gathered a little flock at Antioch, one at Ephesus, at Philippi, several in the region of Galatia, called the churches of Galatia. Each of these was organized as a distinct church, having its own bishops or elders and deacons; and when addressed, were addressed distinctly as a church, whether on doctrine, order or discipline; so that in each place, where the gospel standard was planted, the kingdom of Christ appeared only as a little flock meeting together for worship, having nothing in its appearance calculated to alarm the fears of the governments of this world, as though it were a power growing up to overturn their authority. It is true, jealousies and opposition were aroused against these lambs of Christ, but not by any just provocation from the Gospel.

When the interest of Christ collectively is spoken of, it is called the church, as it is the one body of Christ; but when spoken of as manifested in the world, the churches, and the churches of the saints, are mentioned; each a little flock by itself having no other bond of union with each other, than that invisible bond of being made to center in Christ, and on being quickened by the one Spirit; and having no visible form of union {except the congregating of individuals in church relation,} but the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and being “called in one hope of their calling.” But so soon as Antichrist began to gain power in the churches, the propensity to mould the visible form of the church into a conformity to the kingdoms of this world, was manifested; and we quickly find territorial bishops, assuming a control over all the churches in a certain district, and these again uniting under the government of patriarchs, or of archbishops and a Pope. And when the Reformation took place, the same disposition was manifested, in all the reformed churches, to have their government conformed to the kingdoms of this world; and each sect has to this day its confederacies and combined government over the churches. We can but be struck, in reading history, with the distinction in narrating the state of the Novatians and Donatists, {as those who separated from the corruptions of the early church were called,} from that of the other sects, these are only spoken of by their churches, whilst others are mentioned by their bishoprics, patriarchies, &c. The same peculiarity is observable in the history of the Waldenses. No instance can be produced, wherein the Baptist churches, either during the apostolic period, or after their separation from the corruptions of the churches, until since the reformation, were confederated into any kind of territorial bodies, or under any external form of central government, or oversight. During the former part of the 17th century, the Baptists in England took it into their heads to try to get rid of the peculiar odium and persecutions, which as Baptists they had suffered. To accomplish this they held general meetings to agree on a one confession of their faith; these meetings they ultimately molded into constituted associations, by which under the notion of advisory councils they might keep an oversight over the churches and prevent their showing any departure from the one confession of faith, lest they should be charged with duplicity in putting it forth, as Mosheim does the Mennonites. And, as an additional preventative against contempt and persecution, they adopted measures, such as the establishment of schools &c., for having an educated ministry. From this move, associations have become general among the Baptists.

If then brother Ashbrook’s enquiry has reference to the case of associated churches, whether they as so associated have a right to put from their connection any church, however corrupt, he has applied to a wrong person to solve it. I know of no better source to apply to on this point, than to the same book, in which they find them authority for being combined into associational bodies, which probably may be the epistles of St. Hermes, or St. Simon the Sorcerer, if such epistles exist. As associations grew out of an attempt by the Baptists to avoid that peculiar persecution, to which they as a peculiar people had been subjected; and were an imitation of what existed among some of the reformed churches, I cannot approve of them; though I would bear with them as I find them among my brethren, for my brethren’s sake. Although associations as I find them among the Old School, are shorn of their antichristian power, yet there remains the form of a central control in their constitutional compacts; and I can but think their testimony against the concentrated governments, established among the New School in their Boards, &c., would be less liable to be objected to, were they themselves clear of all appearance of sanctioning human confederacies in religion. Were I, therefore, to express an opinion upon this point, it would be, that churches which find themselves unpleasantly confederated with other churches by any constitutional bonds, should at once dissolve their compact and reinstate themselves in that independency, as churches, in which we find the churches in the New Testament, owning no Lord, but Christ, and no religious ties beyond the church, but those of brotherly love and a mutual interest in the common salvation; being free each church to act for itself, and show out by its doctrine and practice, what in truth it is, wheat or tare, a church of Christ, or of antichrist; and each church alike free to recognize another body as a gospel church, or an antichristian combination, according as they may judge that they discover the marks of the one or the other.

But if brother Ashbrook has reference to the action of churches as such, independently of any associational control, then I would say to him, that he must admit that there is a standard given in the New Testament, by which to test a church, whether it be a gospel church, or belong to that opposing power brought to view in the Scriptures; or that there is not. If there be no such standard or pattern given, then is there no alternative left but for us on the one hand to assume the judgment seat and decide according to our own opinions, who belong to Christ and who do not; or on the other hand, to extend undistinguished fellowship toward everything coming under the name of the christian religion, in doctrine, from Socinianism to Predestinarianism; and in order, from the Quaker to the Papist. But if there be such pattern or standard given in the New Testament, what right have we to acknowledge any body of persons as being a gospel church, unless such body possess the characteristics given in the New Testament of a church of Christ? And even if a true church had once worshipped in any place and had been succeeded by a people corrupt in doctrine and practice, would it not be manifest, that the golden candlestick had been removed? And shall we, when the Lord has done this, persist in calling the succeeding corruption truth, the darkness light, and the mixed mass a candlestick of beaten gold?

But on this point, discretionary forbearance is to be used. A church may be bewitched from the simplicity of the Gospel, as were the Galatians, and yet life be there; so that they will bear the word of admonition and return from their wanderings. But if they are deaf to the word and throw themselves into the embrace of strangers, or lose their individuality of action, in any of the confederacies of antichristian benevolence, shall we still consider such a church to be “espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ?” II Cor.11:2.

But again, if Scripture prophecy be good authority, there is abundant authority for the people and churches of Christ to stand separated from every branch of Antichrist. What means the voice, Come out of her, my people, &c., if Christ’s people are not to separate themselves from the antichristian interest? Or whence would war arise between the seven headed Beast and the saints, if all are to be blended in one common fellowship? Why the “woman clothed with the sun,” fleeing into the wilderness to the place God had prepared for her? And why the two witnesses prophesying in sackcloth, if the true church was not to separate and be a distant interest from those churches, which by corruption had become antichristian? Rev., 11th & 12th chapters. Whence came the present Romish, Greek and Nestorian churches, but from churches originally planted by the apostles, and being what they now are by corruption? If the churches of Christ have no right to be separate from corrupt churches, then ought Christ’s dove, his undefiled, still to have been linked in fellowship and union with the great whore, who has her name Mystery, Babylon the Great, &c. Neither should there have been any distinct revelation of that Wicked, whom the Lord shall “consume with the spirit of his mouth,” as a distinct interest from the true churches, if the corrupted and uncorrupted were to be mingled together in one common mass. II Thes.2:8. Or why were the disciples and churches of Christ warned of the coming of false prophets and of antichrist, if they were not to beware of them, and not be deceived by them, &c.?

On a little reflection, on the nature of the two religious interests brought to view in the New Testament, I think, brother Ashbrook will be convinced, that they cannot walk together in peace, until righteousness can have fellowship with unrighteousness and light have communion with darkness. See Amos 3:3 & II Cor.6:14.

With the apostolic exhortation, “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean,” &c. {II Cor.6:17,} I conclude.

S.TROTT.
Nov. 8, 1843.