"I will build My church." Matthew 16:18
In our conversation upon the subject of church
government, it is very common to talk of the power or authority of our
churches. But in what does this power really consist, and how far does it
extend? Every church has certainly an unquestionable right to regulate all
its own temporal and spiritual affairs, to the entire exclusion of all human
interference and control whatever. But we must be careful not to carry the
idea of independence so far as to trench upon the dominion of Jesus Christ.
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 at
their stated, or occasional meetings, to consider themselves as met to
make laws, and set in order the affairs of the spiritual kingdom; and a
great deal is said about "our church," and "the 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 the authority, and consider
ourselves as doing the will of Christ. Nothing is left to our will,
to our wisdom, to our capriceóbut in all things we are to be guided
by the law of Jesus, 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 ownóbut are to be guided by those we find in the New Testament. We
have no power to legislateóbut merely to interpret the law,
and obey. When we meet, Christ is in the midst of us, not only by his
essential presenceóbut by his revealed will; and every authoritative voice
is hushedóbut that which speaks to us from the sacred canon. When a member
is proposed, we are not to ask, "Is he such an one as we think will add
respectability to our communion? is he of long standing in the ways of God?
is he peculiar in his habits?" but, "Is he such an one as Christ has
received?" When a measure is submitted for our adoption, we are not first to
inquire into its policyóbut 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 in Zion, 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. The papacy, and the
episcopacy, with other ecclesiastical corruptions, may be traced to a lack
of proper views of the nature of church power. Let it once be admitted that
a church of Christ has a right of legislating beyond what is written
in the New Testament, and there is no such thing as limiting the exercise of
this right, until the authority of Christ is superseded, and his church is
converted into a mere secular institution.