« PreviousContinue »
What is Presbyterianism ? An Address delivered before the
Presbyterian Historical Society, at their anniversary meeting in Philadelphia, on Tuesday evening, May 1, 1855. By the Rev. Charles HODGE, D. D. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication. PROFESSOR HODGE, of Princeton, is perhaps, of all men in his own ecclesiastical connection, best qualified to answer intelligently and authoritatively, the question which he undertakes to discuss in the elaborate discourse now before us. Additional authority is given to his representation of the Presbyterian theory by the imprimatur of the Board of Publication constituted by, and responsible to the supreme judicatory of "the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America."
“My object,” says Professor Hodge, “is neither conviction nor persuasion, but exposition." We may say then, without any disrespect to the Professor's logic, that having read his pamphlet with some care, we are neither persuaded nor convinced. He speaks not to schismatics or separatists from “the church," but to the Presbyterian Historical Society, with whom to argue in behalf of their own church polity, would be VOL. XIV.
a work of supererogation. He gives them notice, therefore, that he will only " attempt to unfold the principles of that church polity, which (they) as Presbyterians, hold to be laid down in the word of God. Let us remember this announcement. The purpose of the discourse is not argument, but exposition; and the Presbyterianism which it expounds, 'is not the Presbyterianism of expediency, or of voluntary compact among Christian congregations, confederating with each other at their discretion, according to their special sympathies and affinities, but that Presbyterianism which is jure divino.
The plan of the discourse, as might be inferred from the well known character of its author, is simple and lucid. Setting aside Erastianism and Quakerism, he finds extant in Christendom four radically different theories of church polity, the Papal, the Prelatical, the Independent or Congregational, and the Presbyterian. Thus he comes to his starting point:
• The three great negations of Presbyterianism—that is, the three great errors which it denies are-1. That all church power vests in the clergy. 2. That the apostolic office is perpetual. 3. That each individual Christian congrega. tion is independent. The affirmative statement of these principles is–1. That the people have a right to a substantive part in the government of the Church. 2. That presbyters, who minister in word and doctrine, are the highest permanent officers of the Church, and all belong to the same order. 8. That the outward and visible Church is, or should be, one, in the sense that a smaller part is subject to a larger, and a larger to the whole. It is not holding one of these principles that makes a man a Presbyterian, but his holding them all.' Pp.6,7.
Each of these three principles is discussed at great length, not only in the way of exposition, but also with much array of argument, the Professor having apparently forgotten the distinctive purpose with which he began. As we have no sympathy with the Popish and Prelatical negations of Presbyterianism, we are natūrally most interested in those parts of the discourse, which have some bearing on the difference between the Presbyterian system and the Congregational. We read not merely as critics, but rather as learners. Congregationalists by inheritance and by conviction, we desire to learn as exactly as we can, not only how wide the difference is between our own system and that of which Professor Hodge is the expositor, but also how far the two systems are agreed. The first topic, then, of the discourse before us, is one which demands our attention. We also maintain "that the people have a right to a substantive part in the government of the church, but we are curious to know whether the Presbyterian sense of that proposition is just the same with ours.
After defining the nature of church power as theocratic, and showing that "everything is to be done in the name of Christ, and in accordance with his directions,” our author proceeds :
* The church, however, is a self-governing society, distinct from the State, having its officers and laws, and, therefore, an administrative government of its own. The power of the Church relates, 1st, To matters of doctrine. She has a right to set forth a public declaration of the truths which she believes, and which are to be acknowledged by all who enter her communion. That is, she has the right to frame creeds or confessions of faith, as her testimony for the truth, and her protest against error And as she has been commissioned to teach all nations, she has the right of selecting teachers, of judging of their fitness, of ordaining and sending them forth into the field, and of recalling and deposing them when unfaithful. 2. The Church has power to set down rules for the ordering of public worship. 8. She has power to make rules for her own government; such as every Church has in its Book of Discipline, Constitution, or Canons, &c. 4. She has power to receive into fellowship, and to exclude the unworthy from her own communion.' pp. 7, 8.
All this we hold, as Congregationalists. But we cannot refrain from wishing that Professor Hodge had answered, in his own lucid way, a question which does not appear to have occurred to him. What is the church," of which all this is
“The church, we are informed, “is a self-governing society, distinct from the state.” Of course, “the church, of which our author affirms this proposition is not a congregational or parochial church. What is it then! Is it the universal church-the great company of those who profess the true religion, together with their children,” dispersed through all lands? Certainly not. What then? Is it a national church-for example, the church in the United States, including all “ those who profess the true religion, together with their children," between Canada, on the North, and Mexico, on the South ! Take the word "church,” in that sensea sense notoriously unscriptural—and judge whether that could have been what the author was thinking of, when he wrote, or when he pronounced the paragraph, showing what the church has power to do. Did he use the word “church” to signify what is sometimes called a “sect” or “denomination”-a body
” of professed Christians, dispersed over the country in many local
congregations, which are connected with one another by compact, and united into a so-called “church in the United States," on principles of elective affinity ? In that sense of the word, his paragraph becomes intelligible, but where is the scriptural warrant for investing a mere schism or separation among Christians—a simple and complete aiperis—with the dignities and prerogatives of the church ?” 'Surely he does not mean to challenge these prerogatives and powers, as belonging exclusively to his own sect. Even if, with some of his brethren, and with the General Assembly which claims his allegi
ance, he refuses to recognize “the New School body" as "a
« church," and even if he should deny church power to every anti-Presbyterian denomination, he could not refuse to admit that the Reformed Dutch Church in the United States is completely a “church" in his sense of the word, and has all church powers; or that the German Reformed Church in the United States is another “church” of the same kind and rank, and the Associate Reformed another. We cannot make out that “the church” to which he attributes the four powers above enumerated, is any thing else than a sect, separating and distinguishing itself by confessions of faith and terms of membership, by rules for the ordering of public worship, and by its book of discipline, from the general body of “those who profess the true religion.”
At present we make no inferences from our author's indefinite or equivocal use of the word most essential to the subject of his discourse. We only ask our readers to observe and remember the fact that if there is such a thing as the church in the United States, including those who profess the true religion, with their children;" and if the four powers above mentioned are not the legitimate powers of a local or congregational church, and are not on the other hand the powers of the church universal spread through all lands, then those powers, so far as the states and territories of this Union are concerned, belong not to what is called the Old School Presbyterian Church, nor to the Reformed Dutch Church, nor to any other sect or denomination of Christians separately considered, but only and exclusively to the aggregate body of those in this land “who profess the true religion, with their children," for they are the church, and these so-called churches are only so many schismatical organizations.
Our author proceeds to show that church power, as he has described it, does not belong exclusively to the clergy, but is vested “in the church itself-that is, in the whole body of the faithful.” He states with much force and eloquence, the importance of this principle, as related to intellectual freedom and to civil liberty. But as we read his eloquent assertion of popular power in matters ecclesiastical, we find a sentence which seems to reach further than its author suspected :
“This, it will be perceived, is a radical question-one which touches the es. sence of things, and determines the destiny of men. If all church-power vests in the clergy, then the people are practically bound to passive obedience in all matters of faith and practice, for all right of private judgment is then denied. p. 9.
Undoubtedly the question of the right of the people to ecclesiastical self-government—the question of the right of the people who constitute a church, to judge and determine for themselves on points of doctrine, of worship, of order and of discipline—is a question reaching to the very roots of character and of destiny. Undoubtedly, if the faith and all the duty of individual Christians in the church, is under the absolute authority of a clerical body judging and ruling in the name of Christ, the people, both collectively and individually, are bound to an implicit obedience; and when judgment has been pronounced, no right of private judgment remains. But what if "all church power vests in” some great representative body --some synod or general assembly-whose judgment and determination must be taken for the judgment and determination of the church? What becomes of the right of private judgment in that case? “ The church,” we must remember, “ has the right to set forth a public declaration of the truths which she believes, and which are to be acknowledged by all who enter her communion." Can there remain then to individuals after the church has pronounced judgment on a matter of faith or practice, any right of private judgment other than the right of separation from the church and of protest against it? So far as the right of private judgment is concerned, what is the difference, whether that judgment of the church which legiti. mately overrules all private judgment was pronounced by a synod consisting of bishops and theologians only, or by a synod consisting of preaching clergymen and ruling laymen in equal numbers? In either case, must not the persistent exercise of private judgment by a malcontent minority, result in separation from the church? In brief, is it, or is it not Professor Hodge's doctrine of Presbyterianism, that the individuals who find themselves in a minority, must either surrender their private judgment in passive obedience to the judgment pronounced by the supreme judicatory, or find relief by going over to another denomination? Is “the church” which he is talking about, anything else than a sect!
Our author guards his doctrine of church power by two limitations. First, the power of the church “is subject to the infallible authority of the word,” and secondly, the exercise of that power “is in the hands of duly constituted officers." Both these limitations are important-especially the first ; and important to the Congregational theory, no less than to the Presbyterian. All acts of any church, which contravene the rules and principles of the word of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, or which are not in conformity with that word, are acts of usurpation, unconstitutional, illegal and void. It is on this