(John Angell James, "Christian Fellowship" 1822)
"I will build My church." Matthew 16:18
The power of a church is simply a right to put their
own interpretation upon the laws of Christ, and to
obey His laws, in the way which they think will be
most agreeable to Him.
This is neither understood nor remembered with as
much distinctness as it should be. Hence it is a very
usual thing for churches to consider themselves as
met to make laws, and set in order the affairs of
the spiritual kingdom. A great deal is said about
"our church," and "rules that we have established
in our church." OUR church?! When did it become
OURS? The church is Christ's! The rules WE have
established?! The sole right of making laws, is with
Him to whom the church belongs!
The church is a kingdom, of which Christ is sole
monarch! The New Testament is His spiritual code,
and all the power we have, is to execute the laws
which He has already established!
In the whole business of church government, we
are to acknowledge His authority, and consider
ourselves as doing His will. Nothing is left . . .
to our will,
to our wisdom,
to our caprice;
but in all things we are to be guided by the
law of Jesus, as laid down in His Word!
In the choice of officers, in the admission of members, in
the exercise of discipline--we are not to act upon views
and principles of our own. We are to be guided by those
we find in the New Testament. We have no power to
legislate; but merely to interpret the His law--and obey.
When we meet, Christ is in the midst of us, not only by
His essential presence--but by His revealed will. Every
authoritative voice is hushed--but that which speaks to
us from the sacred Word of God.
When a new member is proposed, we are not to ask,
"Is he such a one as we think will add respectability
to our church? is he of long standing in the ways of
God? is he peculiar in his habits?" Our only question
is, "Is he one who Christ has received as His child?"
When a new measure is submitted for our adoption,
we are not first to inquire into its policy; but whether
it is in exact accordance with the general principles
and spirit of the New Testament.
Every act of church government must be an explicit
acknowledgment of the authority of Jesus, as King of
HIS church, and an act of obedience to HIS laws!
It is impossible for this sentiment to be stated too
frequently or too forcibly. It lays the axe to the root
of all the errors on church government, which have
crept into the world.