In a former communication, I proposed to consider some errors which have crept in among the Baptists, ten of which were named as principal errors, and to each of which special regard was to be paid in a particular and separate paper, and first in order stood “Ecclesiastical Councils.” These bodies have of late assumed an importance, and consequence in Church Legislation, which ought to alarm every friend to Gospel order, and cause an immediate and serious inquiry among the sons of Zion, for the “Old Paths” and the “Good Way,” with an accompanying determination to walk therein, when found. They originated in their present form in the corruption of the Church in the early ages, and received a great proportion of their importance, from the royal sanction of Constantine, when he solemnized the Marriage of “Church and State.” It is not necessary at this time to specify the particular Councils, which at different times have set, to dictate laws to Zion, or Babylon, to make Creeds and confessions of faith, – by which to make and punish Heretics. Our object is not to amend or reform them, but to destroy them; or prove that they ought to be destroyed; at least in their present form. The only way then is to appeal to the old Statute book, which like the Book of the Law in king Josiah’s days, seems to be hid in the rubbish, and look for what is there written; and if the modern proceedings will not compare therewith, let us reject the inventions of men and obey the law of the Lord. The only account of a Council in the New Testament, is that recorded in Acts, which convened at Jerusalem to settle a difficulty that occurred at Antioch through the influence of certain Judaizing teachers, who taught the disciples that unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses, they could not be saved. For the purpose of deciding this question, the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to the church (not council) at Jerusalem, to state the cause of dissention and get advice; or otherwise to receive the word of the King to decide the matter. So the church at that place, consisting of Apostles, and Elders, and Brethren, came together to hear the case and consult concerning it. Observe the order no council of the neighboring ministers was called, bu the “whole church” came together. It pleased the “Apostles, and Elders, with the whole church, to write thus;” and direct thus and so. No answer was given, however, till one or two of the Apostles stood up and declared the word of the Lord; then no doubt remained, but the question was settled forever. Here was a church which lacked wisdom in a question of gospel doctrine – in their emergency they did not send for a delegation of Ministers and lay members from “sister churches,” to come and organize themselves into a council, with a moderator and clerk, to hear and determine the cause over the Head of the Church, and give forth a decree which the church must accept under penalty of excommunication from the fellowship of “the churches.” Far otherwise: the enquiring church hears her own cause, and all evidence is given to her. The matter was wholly her own; the evil speakers or doers have no voice or part in carrying the matter to Jerusalem. The appeal is wholly by the church. She appoints the messengers to go to another church, to know the truth in the affair. She sends the cause of grief, and says in substance, “Brethren, have you any light on this subject?” The answer is made by a whole church in her collective capacity, as soon as she had light; for she did not seem to know at first, but Christ was there and in his light they saw light: then they made answer. It was the word of the Lord, and the matter was at rest. How plain, how simple, is the order of Christ! The Apostles are now in every gospel church, but on any question where their word is not understood they are virtually absent. Another church may have been taught on that question by the Spirit of truth, and be able to give the King’s word; and that will satisfy the enquiry, prove their fellowship, and edify the whole. The Spirit of Christ dwells in the order he has appointed, and dwells there to direct his discipline and order his own house. He is a swift witness against evil doers of every kind. See his testimony against Ananias, &c. On the other hand, the moment we depart from the word of the Lord, we are lost. No matter how sincere we are, if we have not the Spirit of truth to guide us, we shall surely walk in darkness. Our councils and consultations assume a legal or parlimentary form. The Rev. Mr. _______, is Moderator, and Mr. ________, Clerk. One part of the church accuses the other to this Ecclesiastical Court, and witnesses from all parts – both believers and infidels, men that fear God and that fear him not – are brought into the church, to prove facts in true legal form. Such a mode of procedure cannot result in truth, unless the spirit of errors leads into truth. Can any voice or word of testimony be heard in Zion but the voice of her King, or the voice of his Spirit? The uncircumcised and the unclean, can they be witnesses in the church of the living God? Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor was not more contrary to the law of Moses, than the calling in the members of anti-christ or unbelievers to act in the church, is contrary to Gospel. The house of God is spiritual, her worship is spiritual, her discipline is spiritual also, and so is her fellowship; and whatever mars or makes inroads on it, but be corrected or all is confusion. The mode of correction must be according to divine appointment, or the remedy will be worse than the disease. The church is the only body of which Christ is the head, and he is the only spiritual head. So every other body must of course have some other head, and every other head is carnal. Therefore a “council” being a worldly body, (its being composed of believers alters it not,) its decisions must be on worldly principles, and not after Christ. Any departure from scripture is a corruption; therefore the order of a modern council being contrary to, and a departure from scripture, is corrupt; and a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. We need not wonder, therefore, at the gross violations of, not the law of Christ only, but of all law and decency, by such bodies. Hence the consequent schisms, contentions and divisions, that have almost uniformly followed their labors. The effect of the Jerusalem council was peace, and the effect of these is confusion. – Witness the conduct of one which was held in Hartford, and censured, Mr. H. Gren for doing what they themselves declared was right and ought to be done! which doings were published by Messrs. Gren, Luther Savage, and James Hammer. Witness also the doings of one which sat at Waterford, to destroy the character of Elder Caleb Green, because he was opposed to their money getting schemes, (which were repealed by a subsequent council at the same place) and published by him and stand on record to the everlasting shame and contempt of the actors. Witness also the doing of one which set at Litchfield, South Farms, in Nov. 1831; which turned out both the Church, and the accused Members, and witnessed amongst themselves in private, declaring that they had some testimony which it was improper for any body to hear. The accused Brother was condemned, the Church with three or four exceptions refused to concur, and those few were recognised as the Church, and excommunicated the others some twenty or more, and quarrelled them away from the Meeting House by violence, the record of a like transaction can be found no where short of Madrid, at the office of the Secretary of the Inquisitor General!!!
This statement* is not made to criminate these Councils above other Councils, or to exonerate these condemned Brethren, but to show that no good results from disorderly attempts to set things in order, even though good men make them, and to caution Brethren to look for the truth and wherein they have departed to return again. The Church in “propria forma,” is the only tribunal to try and decide religious controversies by the word of Christ and the Apostles, through the light and teaching of the Spirit of truth, the “unction from on high.” Let thy unim and thumium by with thy Holy One. Every other tribunal is from beneath, and its decisions tend to confusion; while they professedly strive to make peace, and yet walk not in the commandments of the Lord, and the order he has established. We say, “what peace;” so long as thy Mother Jezebel, and her witchcrafts are so many.
Signs of the Times
Volume 1, No. 4
January 16, 1833
*Some further account of the doings of this Council will be published hereafter.