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stead of unity; and their great length, by bringing to light all the minor differences, and ranking them indiscriminately with the fundamentals, and making them the basis of separate churches, inevitably must tend to throw into the shade our real fundamental union and perpetuate the schisms in the body of Christ.
The third bond of union among the primitive Christians, was the mutual acknowledgement of each other's acts of discipline. If an individual was excommunicated or under censure in one church, he could not obtain admission into any other. As a security against imposition, it was customary for persons in good standing, when travelling into strange places, to take letters of introduction, or certificates of their good standing from the pastor. When any one was destitute of such certificate, his application for church privileges was always rejected. To these letters Paul refers, and expresses the opinion, that he would need no such document among the Corinthians, as he was well known to them: "Need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all This same custom was prescribed in the church for centuries, and numerous synodical decrees were enacted for its confirmation. In the apostolic Canons or Regulations we find the following:
Canon 12. Ει τις κληρικος ή λαικος ἀφωρισμένος, ήτοι ἀδεκτος, ἀπελθων εἰς ἑτερα πολει, δεχθη άνευ γραμματως συστατικών, ἀφοριζέσθω και ὁ δεξαμενος και ὁ δεχθεις.” + That this regulation prevailed from the very days of the apostles, is highly probable, because, as we have seen, Paul himself makes mention of letters of this nature. At the oecumenical or general council held at Nice, in the year A. D. 325, at which were present ministers from the greater part of the christian world, the following resolution, or canon, was adopted:
Resolution or Canon 5. In regard to those persons, whether clergymen or laymen, who have been excommunicated by a bishop, the existing rule is to be retained, namely, that they
* 2 Cor. 3: 1-4.
+ If any excommunicated clergyman, or a layman who has been excommunicated, or denied admission (as member of the church), go to another city and is received without letlers of recommendation, both he who receives him, and the person thus received shall be excommunicated.
shall not be restored by any other than by the one who excommunicated them. Inquiry ought however to be instituted, whether their expulsion from the church was not occasioned by a contentious spirit or some other mean or hostile passion. And in order that this may be properly done, there shall annually be two synods held in each province, and at these meetings of the bishops, suitable examinations shall be instituted, in order that every person may see the justice of the excommunication of those who transgressed against (the regulations of) the bishop, until the assemblage of bishops shall, if they see fit, pronounce a milder sentence. One of those synodical meetings shall be held before the spring fast, the other in the fall.*
At the council or synod of Antioch, held in A. D. 341, sixteen years after that at Nice, a resolution of just the same import was passed:
Resolution 6. If any person has been excommunicated by his bishop, he shall not be restored by any one else than that bishop himself, unless his case has been examined by the council or synod, and a milder sentence been obtained. This regulation shall be applicable alike to laymen, presbyters, deacons, and all the clergy.†
From these testimonies it is abundantly evident, that the churches in the earlier centuries fully acknowledged the disciplinarian acts of each other: nor is it difficult to perceive the salutary influence which would result from such mutual marks of confidence. Carried to a reasonable extent, they would give an efficacy to church discipline, which it has almost entirely lost in modern times. This regulation would cherish brotherly love between the churches, and tend to give visibility to their union.
The fourth bond of union among the primitive Christians was sacramental and ministerial communion. This feature is one of very extensive application and most salutary influence on the different portions of the christian church. The apostle Paul may be regarded as inculcating it in his declaration to the Christians at Corinth; "For we being many, are one bread and one body (that is, you at Corinth, I and my fellow-Christians here at Ephesus, from the midst of whom I am addressing you, are
* Fuch's Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen, Vol. I. p. 394. + Ibid. Vol. II. p. 62.
one body); for we are all partakers of that one bread."* Accordingly we find, that in the earliest period to which the records of christian antiquity extend, every church received to communion as fully as its own members, the members and ministers of every other acknowledged christian church on earth, upon evidence of their good standing. Strangers coming from other churches were required to present letters or certificates of their standing; and all Christians, whether clergy or laymen, regarded it as a duty to commune with the members of any other church, at which they happened to be present. It was a common custom for Christians in the earlier centuries, when travelling, to take such certificates of membership with them; and when stopping in a city or town, they sought out the Christians living in it, and received from them every mark of attention and friendship. These letters were termed literae formatae or γραμματα τετυπωμενα, as they were of a particular form to prevent counterfeits; they were sometimes denominated epistolae communicatoriae, or γραμματα κοινωνικα, letters of ecclesiastical communion or fellowship.t
The broad principle of scriptural christian communion extends indiscriminately to all whom we regard as true disciples of Christ. Thus it is laid down by Peter in his vindication, when censured for communing with Gentile converts: "thou wentest in to men uncircumcised and didst eat with them." His argument is thus summed up, after he had detailed the facts on which it rested; "Forasmuch as God gave them the like gift, as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?"
It is equally certain that ministerial communion and official acknowledgement pervaded the church in her primitive ages. The regulations made by different synods or councils to prevent the abuse of this privilege incontestibly establish its existence. But even in the apostolic canons we find the following:
Canon 32. Μηδενα των ξενων ἐπισκοπων ή πρεσβυτερων ή διακόνων άνευ συστατικων προσδεχεσθαι· καὶ ἐπιφερομένων αὐτῶν ἀνακρινεσθωσαν· και ήμεν ώσι κηρυκες της εὐσέβειας προσδεχεσθωσαν· εἰ δε μηγε, την χρειαν αὐτοῖς ἐπιχορηγήσαντες,
1 Cor. 10: 17.
Neander's Allgemeine Geschichte der Christlichen Religion und Kirche, Vol. I. p. 320.
Acts 12: 3, 17.
εἰς κοινωνιαν αὐτους μη προσδέξεσθε· πολλα γαρ κατα συναρπαγην γινεται.
At the synod of Carthage, held A. D. 348 or 349, it was resolved that " no one shall receive a minister without letters from his bishop."†
If furnished with suitable testimonials a minister in one part of the church was acknowledged as such in every other, and if present at public worship was ordinarily invited to take part in conducting the services.
The tendency which such free sacramental intercommunion as opportunity offers with all over the whole earth who present credible evidence of genuine discipleship, cannot readily be calculated. The views and principles and feelings which it presupposes, constitute important elements of the millennial union of the future church. God grant their speedy dissemination over the church universal!
The fifth means by which unity was promoted and preserved among the primitive Christians, was occasional epistolary communication. Of this fact we have abundant proof in the epistles of Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius and Barnabas, who are termed apostolic fathers, because they lived partly in the apostolic age. Some of these epistles are doubtless spurious and all corrupted, yet enough remains to answer the purpose for which we adduce them to show that they were letters written to different churches to promote doctrinal and ecclesiastical union among them. The age immediately subsequent to the apostles furnishes numerous instances of such epistolary communion of the churches. From Eusebius we learn that Dionysius of Corinth about the year A. D. 160, sent abroad numerous epistles of this kind. "And first (says Eusebius*) we must speak
* "Let no one receive strange (foreign) bishops or presbyters or deacons without letters of recommendation; and the letters that are brought must be examined. If they prove to be pious preachers (preachers of piety) let them be received: but if they do not; their immediate necessities should be supplied, but they must not be received into communion. For many instances of fraud have occurred in this matter." Koepler's Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, Vol. IV. p. 240.
+Fuch's Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen, Vol. III. p. 35.
* Eusebius, IV. ch. 23. Καὶ πρῶτον γε περὶ Διονυσίου φατέον· ὅτι τε τῆς ἐν Κορίνθῳ παροικίας τὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς ἐγκεχείριστο θρόνον, καὶ ὡς τῆς ἐνθέου φιλοπονίας οὐ μόνον τοῖς ὑπ ̓ αὐτὸν, ἀλλ ̓ ἤδη καὶ τοῖς
of Dionysius, who was appointed over the church at Corinth, and imparted freely not only to his own people, but to others abroad also, the blessings of his divine labors. But he was most useful to all in the general epistles which he addressed to the churches. One of them is addressed to the Lacedaemonians, and contains instructions in the true religion, and inculcates peace and unity: one also to the Athenians, exciting them to the faith and the life prescribed by the gospel, from which he shows that they had swerved, so that they had nearly fallen from the truth since the martyrdom of Publius, their leader (bishop) which happened in the persecutions of those times. The necessity of such letters as means of christian instruction, is at present superseded by the universal dissemination of the holy Scriptures; yet as bonds of christian union, they may still be occasionally resorted to with the happiest results, especially between Christians of distant countries as a substitute for personal intercourse. We cannot but commend the epistle of the venerable Dr. Planck of Germany, to the General Synod of the Lutheran Church in this country, as also the epistles of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches of the United States to the Christians of the same denomination in Europe. Still, all these epistles bear on their front the badge of schism; for they were addressed by particular sects of Christians, not to Christians of another country generally, but only to Christians of the same sect. They are epistles from followers of Paul and Apollos in one land, to disciples of the same leaders in another. So completely has sectarianism separated the several denominations, that by many it is regarded as immodest to address any others than those of our own sect. Instead of that community of interest between all the members of Christ's body, which the apostle inculcates, "so that all the members should have the same care one for another, and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it;"* sectarianism has taught each
ἐπι τῆς ἀλλοδαπῆς ἀφθόνως ἐκοινώνει· χρησίμωτατον ἅπασιν ἑαυτὸν καθίστας, ἐν αἷς ὑπετυποῦτο καθολικαῖς πρός τὰς ἐκκλησίας ἐπιστολαῖς· ὧν ἐστιν, ἡ μὲν πρὸς Δακεδαιμονίους, ὀρθοδοξίας κατηχήτικη, εἰρήνης τε καὶ ἑνωσέως ὑποθετική· ἡ δὲ πρὸς ̓Αθηναίους, διεγέρτικη πιστέως καὶ τῆς κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγελίον πολιτείας· ἧς ὀλιγωρησάντας ἐλεγχεῖ, ὡς ἀν μιχροῦ δεῖν ἀποστάντας τοῦ λόγου, ἐξ οὗπέρ τὸν προεστῶτα αὐτῶν Πού πλιον μαρτυρῆσαι κατὰ τοὺς τότε συνεβῆ διωγμοὺς.
* 1 Cor. 12: 26.