In determining the effect of any action of an individual church, it must necessarily be considered by what law the church was governed in the particular action under investigation. Upon the assumption that sovereignty rightfully belongs to every organized church, the mest erroneous and conflicting decisions have been promulgated in all ages, even before the apostles were taken from personal supervision of the administration of the affairs of the kingdom of Christ. Certainly in the perfect law of our King there is definite provision for determining every question which can arise in practical obedience to the directions which he has given. Whatever of difficulty may appear to be involved in the application of his complete law to any circumstances surrounding a church, there can be no defect in that law; the darkness is in our own ignorance of the things which God has revealed. It is of great importance, therefore, to carefully examine the subject in the light of that only standard of infallible direction, the law of the kingdom of Christ, as written in the New Testament.
The first certain and essential fact, to be observed in this investigation, is that the exclusive source of authority, and the only power in the church, is that which is immediately derived from her omnipotent King. However the system of popular sovereignty may be adapted to the government of the nations of thin world, it can never be recognized in the kingdom of Jesus, which is not of this world. This is plainly asserted by our risen Lord himself; and is by him assigned as the ground upon which his inspired apostles were to go and teach all nations. He does not bid them rely upon the support of created beings, whose breath is in their nostrils. Such dependence might fail them in the trying hour. Trusting exclusively in the presence of their Lord, they obeyed his direction; and in all subsequent ages they have gone in their recorded judgment, according to his commandment; and he has not failed to verify his word by manifesting himself with them alway, even unto the end of the world. When the words which they were inspired to write are taken by the Spirit of truth and shown to his saints, they never fail to recognize in them the testimony of Jesus, and thus he is with his witnesses. Without this divine revelation of Jesus in those writings, the mest earnest efforts of inspired apostles could never give the knowledge of God. Much less could they give instruction in the filings of the kingdom to those who were dead in the sin under which all men are already condemned by nature. Jesus Christ is the only absolute Sovereign. From him comes every blessing to each of his saints; and his faithfulness must fail before any good thing can be withheld from one of his little ones. It should never be forgotten that in the gospel kingdom, the new Jerusalem, “there shall be no mere curse.” The gracious law of liberty is fulfilled only by that perfect love which casteth out fear. In the gospel kingdom no slavish terror enforces unwilling obedience to the inflexible demands of a fiery law. Those who are governed by the Spirit of Christ are judged alone by the law of liberty. This principle shines in every ordinance of our King, since the admonition speaks to the saints expressly, saying, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much mere in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” – Phil. ii. 12, 13. He has given no commandment but that he has made his people willing to obey. None can know of the doctrine of Jesus, except they have the desire to do his will; and all such are included in the blessing written in the last chapter of the inspired record. To those who do not love him, Jesus has given no commandment. This principle is inseparably identified with the whole system of the kingdom of divine grace. There can be no room in this kingdom of love for discord and jealousies to find entrance. This is as true of separate church organizations as of individual members. Fellowship and love cannot be enforced I under penalties. It is not an oversight on the part of the Lord that no direction is given by which the church may enforce the respect due to her dignity when her decisions are not recognized. There can be no obedience to the law of Christ but that which is rendered as the mest joyous privilege of those who hear his commandment. Evidently such obedience cannot be rendered under the prompting of any other power but divine love.
As in the primitive churches wars and lightings among them originated in their lusts that warred in (heir members, so it has been in all ages since. It is impossible that such works of the flesh should be found among the gracious fruits of the Spirit. “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work; but the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality (or wrangling,) and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” – James ii. 16-18. It is well for all who love our Lord to carefully examine themselves by this infallible test; and whatever is condemned, must be rejected, even though it should manifest carnality in what we had supposed to be zeal of God. It is of himself and the saints to whom he writes, that James speaks in asking, “Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” Surely there can be no difficulty in discerning the difference between this work of the flesh, and the love which is the fruit of the Spirit. Crafty workers of iniquity may bewilder the unwary by a form of compliance with the letter of the discipline of the gospel, while in spirit they violate the law of Christ. Such evil workers are very earnest in claiming respect for their decisions; and they complain bitterly of all who prefer implicit obedience to the commandment of Jesus. Having secured from some organized church such action as sustains their carnal notions, they are very intolerant of all who question the authority which they have, supposed to be thus established. In support of decisions attained by adroit management, the dignity of the church is cited, and if opposing decisions are obtained in sister churches, these enemies of real peace are ready to proclaim war; and when sustained by civil power they have enforced their authority by the sword. According to the mest reliable records of history, by far the greater part of the bloodshed in the last nineteen centuries may be traced to the maintenance of the dignity of professed churches. Surely no subject of divine instruction can accept as truth the theory which makes the law of Christ the source of such abominable works of iniquity. The true church of Christ never did, and she never can, depend upon any earthly power for the maintenance of her dignity. When her King was nailed to the bloody tree, her dignity was not sacrificed. Even the accursed cross was glorified by the blood of that suffering Lamb of God, in whose death the sins of his chosen people were blotted out. It is the only ground of boasting with the saints that the grace of God in Jesus Christ has given them all the worthiness in which they can glory. This is universally understood by those who hope in the salvation of God which is in Jesus. None dare claim any personal merit or dignity. The song of the glorified myriads ascribes all worthiness to the name of Jesus exclusively. As the only Sovereign of heaven and earth, he reigns supreme. He has never delegated any of his honor to creatures, whether they be called popes, or bishops, or independent churches. All dignity and power are still in the hands of our divine King. His law is perfect; and no circumstances can arise for which that law has not provided. There is therefore no need that churches should have any authority committed to them. Nor has it been revealed that such power has ever been bestowed upon any company of mertals.
The only authority which can be justly recognized in any local company of believers, or individual church, is the power and privilege of implicit obedience to the word and spirit of the law of Christ. While acting under such direction, the authority of her King makes every word infallible as his own immediate decree. Certainly the correctness of such action does not depend upon the number of members by whom it has been adopted; nor can the validity of any doctrine or practice be derived from age or established custom of uninspired believers. While courtesy concedes the recognition of all actions of a sister church as presumably conformed to this supreme law of Christ, it is an unjustifiable extension of courtesy by which any church demands that other churches regard her action as above questioning. Only direct inspiration can be so received. Under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, every church will sincerely wish all her steps to be critically compared with the perfect law of Christ; and with humble submission to the word of the Lord she will gladly receive correction whenever her decisions have been without the warrant of inspired direction. The only and exclusive, authority of individual saints, or churches, is the authority to hear and obey the word of the Lord. All other actions are in contempt of the law of the only King and Lawgiver in Zion; and it is rebellion against him for his saints to render obedience to such decrees as have no higher authority than the commandments of men. They are not less guilty of idolatry in honoring such decisions of churches, than in giving heed to decrees of popes and ecclesiastical councils. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duly of man; for God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – Eccl. xii. 13, 14.
WM. L. BEEBE.
Warwick, N. Y.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 65. , No. 6.
MARCH 15, 1897.