It does not infrequently happen, that where two or more
churches of the same denomination exist in a town, a most unhappy,
unscriptural, disgraceful temper is manifested towards each other. All
the feelings of envy, jealousy, and ill will, are cherished and displayed
with as much, or more bitterness than two rival tradesmen would exhibit in
the most determined opposition of interests. This is peculiarly the case
where two churches have been formed, by a schism, out of one. Oftentimes
the feud has been perpetuated through one generation, and has been
bequeathed to the generation following. Can it be that these are churches of
saints? Can it be that these are all one in Christ? Can it be that these are
churches, whose rule is the word of Christ, whose conduct is
the image of Christ, whose end is the glory of Christ!!
Shame, public, deep, indelible shame on such churches! Is
it thus that churches quarrel—to find sport for their enemies? By all the
regard which is due to the authority of the Lord Jesus, by all the
constraining influence of his love, let such churches be impelled to
terminate their hateful strifes, which are not more dishonorable to the
cause of religion in general, than they are injurious to the interests of
piety within their own immediate sphere of action. With what bitter taunts,
with what sarcastic triumph do profane and infidel spectators point to such
scenes, and ironically exclaim, "See how these Christians love one
Let us guard against this evil where it does not exist,
and endeavor to suppress it where it does. Let us not look with envy and
jealousy on the growing prosperity of other societies. Let us not consider
their success as in any degree encroaching upon ours. If we succeed
more in our own church, let us be thankful—but not boastful! If others
take precedence, let us be stirred up to affectionate, holy emulation—but
not to envy and jealousy!
A worthy minister, who used to preach a week-day lecture
in the city of London, heard a friend expressing his regret that it was so
ill attended. "Oh, that," replied the minister, "is of little consequence,
as the gospel is preached by several others in the same neighborhood; and in
such a situation, for anyone to be very desirous that people should come and
hear the gospel from him, instead of others, seems as unreasonable,
as it would be for one of the shopmen in a large shop, to wish all the
customers to come to his particular part of the counter. If the customers
come at all, and the goods are purchased, in so far as he feels an interest
in the prosperity of the shop, he will rejoice."
Beautiful and rare example of true humility, pure zeal
and genuine love to Christ! Look at this, you ministers and churches, who
quarrel with your neighbor Christians, and scarcely speak well of them,
because they prosper! Shall we feel mortified when immortal souls are saved,
because we are not the instruments of their conversion? Shall we say,
if we cannot gather them into our church, let them not be
gathered? If two rival physicians, who had each as much as he could
do, when the plague was raging in a town, looked with envy and grudging on
each other's success, what would we say of their spirit? But such a
temper in these circumstances is far less criminal, than the envious
disposition of some ministers and their flocks.
There should be a spirit of mutual affection
between the members of different churches. They should love as brethren; and
that this might not be disturbed, they should avoid, when they meet in their
respective social circles, all detracting and uncharitable reference to
the others. Nothing is more common than for the Christians of one church
to make the circumstances and faults of those of another church, the leading
topics of conversation. Thus the coals of strife are kindled between these
Christian churches, and every one present lends his breath to fan the
flame. It is melancholy indeed, when our houses are thus converted into
temples for the god of this world, the divider of the brethren; and our
family altar is lent for an offering of scandal at his shrine.
Ministers, and leading people in the church, should
always set their faces against this mischievous gossip. All comparisons
between the talents of the ministers, and the respectability of their
churches, should be carefully abstained from! This is sure to do harm.
It is right for every church member to be attached to his own pastor—and he
may very innocently think that his minister is the best preacher in the
town—but it is insulting and mischievous to express his opinion to those who
prefer another pastor or church.
Also, it is common for the pulpit to be converted into a
source of the most disgusting adulation, and for a 'ministerial flatterer'
to flatter the pride of his flock—by telling them how superior they are to
all others in affluence, liberality, and influence. Such fawning, to say
nothing of its baseness, is exceedingly injurious. What is intended as a
compliment to one church is felt as an insult by all others in its vicinity.
All boasting should be most conscientiously refrained from, both on the part
of ministers and people. If they are in a state of spiritual prosperity, let
them be thankful—but not vain-glorious or proud of themselves. "Love does
not envy—it does not boast, it is not proud." 1 Cor. 13:4. The apostle
delivered a very keen rebuke on those who are the trumpeters of their own
fame, when he said, "In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the
Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the
world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so
wise!" 2 Cor. 11:17-19
Church members should never resent by coldness, and
aloofness of behavior, the conduct of those who leave THEIR church, to join
another church in the same town. They have a right to exercise their own
judgment as well as we do. And in their view, at least, have as good reason
for preferring the pastor to whom they go, as we have for continuing with
the one they leave. They may separate too hastily, and not on sufficient
grounds—but that is their concern, not ours. I have known cases in which
both the minister and his flock have refused even the civilities of ordinary
communion to those who have left their church to associate with another.
This is a most pitiful and unchristian disposition.
There are duties to be performed by the church in its
collective capacity towards other churches of the same denomination.
1. We should own them as churches of Christ,
cherish the most friendly and fraternal feelings towards them, and hold
Christian communion with them in all the duties of our common faith and
Such appears to have been the feelings of the primary
churches. "The churches of Christ greet you." Rom. 16:16. "Your sister
church here in Rome sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark." 1 Pet.
5:13. "You are taught by God to love one another, and you do it towards all
the brethren in Macedonia." 1 Thes. 4:9, 10.
2. We should receive their members when recommended to
us, and freely grant honorable recommendations of our members to them.
"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the
church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of
the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been
a great help to many people, including me." Romans 16:1-2. "As for our
brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.
Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride
in you, so that the churches can see it." 2 Cor. 8:23-24
3. We should co-operate with neighboring churches
for promoting the spread of the gospel, either by local or general
Many objects of vast importance to the spread of the
gospel in the world can be accomplished by the union of churches,
which cannot be effected without it. Union is power. Places of worship may
be opened, the faithful ministry of the word introduced, and churches
planted in dark, benighted villages; while all the grand and noble
institutions which are organized to save a perishing world, may by this
means receive additional support. United fires brighten each other's blaze,
and increase each other's intensity; and thus the association of churches
enkindles each other's zeal, and provokes one another to love and good
works. Nor is zeal the only Christian virtue promoted by such unions;
brotherly love is cherished and excited. The presence of messengers
from other churches at the annual meetings of our societies, produces a
friendly feeling and brotherly interest, not unlike that which a family
experiences, when gathered together at their reunion. One great end of
assembling the males of the Jewish nation three times a year before the ark,
was to keep up a brotherly feeling between the different and distant parts
of the nation. Nothing is so likely to cherish the fire of love, as the fuel
supplied by works of zeal.
4. We should be willing to give and receive ADVICE
in cases of difficulty and importance.
Of course, the independence of the churches, and the
right of private judgment, should be vigilantly watched, and sacredly
preserved. We have no dominion over each other's conduct, any more than over
each other's faith. The idea of 'control' is as repugnant to Scripture, as
it is to reason. And we are to resist unto blood, striving against the
usurpation of foreign compulsory interference. But advice does not
imply control. The dread which has been felt of the simple act of one
church's asking the advice of a neighboring minister, or an association of
ministers, in cases of extreme difficulty—shows a fear of domination, which
is perfectly childish. How consistent with all the dictates of reason, and
all the proceedings of civil life, is it, for two parties in a state of
perplexity, to ask the opinion of a third; or for one individual in
difficulty, to solicit the advice of another. When a minister and his flock
are in some critical situation, let them jointly agree to lay their affairs
before some two or three neighboring ministers and laymen of sound judgment,
for counsel and direction; and how often, by this simple, rational,
scriptural process, would a society be brought back from the brink of
ruin—to peace and safety!
But what if they should not take the advice thus given by
the third party? They must then be left to themselves, and would be but
where they were before. The disposition which scorns to ask, and refuses to
take advice, savors far more of the pride of self-sufficiency, than the love
of peace; and of the temper which courts interminable anarchy rather than be
indebted for the restoration of order, to the opinions and persuasions of
another. Men who stand out side of the 'mist of passion', can see more than
those who are enveloped in the fog.
5. We should take a deep interest in the welfare of
other churches, and in a suitable and proper manner express our
sympathy, and afford to them our assistance.
We should at our church meetings remember in prayer, the
cases of such as are in circumstances of affliction; and in the event of the
death of a pastor, how consoling would it be to a bereaved church, to
receive letters of condolence from neighboring churches! There is one way,
in which the most effectual help may be rendered by one church to another—I
mean, financial assistance granted from such as are wealthy—to those who
are poor. We are informed, Acts 11:29, 30, that the disciples at Antioch
sent financial gifts, according to their abilities, to the poor saints in
Judea. "Now about the money being collected for the Christians in Jerusalem:
You should follow the same procedures I gave to the churches in Galatia." 1
I am aware, that this is sometimes done out of a fund,
raised by the joint contributions of the churches in a county or district
association—but how great would be the effect produced, if a church, in its
individual capacity, were from year to year to send a donation to some poor
community in its neighborhood! What a lovely display of Christian feeling
would this be! How would it endear the churches to each other! It would
assist those to gain an efficient and settled minister, who, probably—but
for such help, would only enjoy the precarious labors of occasional and
incompetent preachers. The comfort of many faithful and laborious ministers
would be thus promoted, and the kingdom of Jesus Christ enlarged.
The rich churches in our large cities, and in the
country, who, without effort, can raise for your own pastors ample
salaries—I appeal to your liberality, on behalf of those many churches
scattered up and down the land, which are withering for the lack of a little
of that wealth, which you could spare, without lessening the comfort, either
of your minister, or your families. I would not rob the funds of Missionary,
or Bible Societies, to replenish the little store of gospel ministers at
home—but I will say, that no foreign objects should be allowed to interfere
with the claims of those deserving and holy men, who are laboring for souls
amid all the ills of poverty, and all the cares and woes which such ills
must necessarily entail.
Where is the favored individual, into whose lap the
'bounty of Heaven' has poured the abundance of riches, and into whose heart
divine grace has introduced the mercy which is full of good fruits? Here let
him find an object worthy of his wealth and of his zeal. Let him become the
nursing father of our poor churches. If he spends two thousand pounds a
year in this way, he may give forty pounds a year to fifty ministers.
What a means of usefulness! How many infant churches would smile upon him
from their cradle; and, as they turned upon him their eyes glistening with
gratitude, would exclaim, "My Father, my father!" In how many church-books
would his name be enrolled, amid the benedictions and prayers of the saints!