Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

were at first admitted to these councils, as the " brethren" evidently had been in the apostolic age; but in process of time the bishops secured all this power to themselves.* These conventions were merely provincial, and embraced the churches of only one particular country or province. The entire christian church was not yet united by any supreme judicatory, having jurisdiction over all its parts, as eventually occurred under the papal hierarchy; but here we find for the first time a visible union of all the acknowledged churches in a particular country under one ecclesiastical judicatory. Such an extensive union in one judicatory, could not long fail to abridge freedom of investigation and liberty of conscience; if its powers were not purely those of an advisory council, and its advice confined to matters originating between the smaller judicatories and contemplating their relation to each other, and the progress of the church in general.

Again, the primitive unity of the church of Christ did not consist in the organization of the whole church on earth under one visible head, such as the pope at Rome and the papal hierarchy. We shall not here stop to prove, that the power given alike by the Saviour to all the apostles,† could not confer any peculiar authority on Peter: nor that Peter's having professed the doctrine of the Saviour's Messiahship, on which the Lord founded his church, does not prove that he founded it on Peter himself, making him and his successors his vicars upon earth. It is admitted by all Protestants that the pope is a creature as utterly unknown to the Bible as is the Grand Lama of the Tartars. It is well known, that the papal hierarchy is the gradual production of many centuries of corruption. In the third century the churches of a particular kingdom or province, were united by provincial synods; but it remained for the ardent African bishop Cyprian, after the middle of the third century, by an unhappy confusion of the visible with the invisible church, to develope in all its lineaments the theory of a neces

Neander sup. cit. p. 324.

Matt. 16: 19: And I will give unto thee (Peter v. 18) the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Chap. 18: 1, 18: At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, etc.-He said-Verily I say unto you (disciples v. 1) whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

sary visible union of the whole church on earth in one uniform external organization, under a definite apostolic succession of bishops, as the essential channel of the Spirit's influences on earth, transmitted by ordination.* It is only under the influence of this confused theory, that enlightened and good men could believe in the impossibility of salvation without the pales of their own visible church! That such a man as Augustine, could advance the following sentiments in the official epistle of the Synod assembled at Cirra in the year 412: Quisquis ab hac catholica ecclesia fuerit separatus, quantumlibet laudabiliter se vivere existimet, hoc solo scelere, quod a Christi unitate disjunctus est, non habebit vitam, sed ira Dei manet super ipsum. Quisquis autem in ecclesia bene vixerit, nihil ei praejudicant aliena peccata, quia unusquisque in ea proprium onus portabit, et quicunque in ea corpus Christi manducaverit indigne, judicium sibi manducat et bibit, quo satis ostendit apostolus, quia non alteri manducat sed sibi-communio malorum non maculat aliquem participatione sacramentorum, sed consensione factorum.† And in his own work "De fide et symbolo," written about twenty years earlier, he says: "We believe that the church is both holy and universal (i. e. one). The heretics, however, also denominate their congregations churches. But they, by entertaining false views concerning God, do violence to the christian faith: the schismatics on the other hand, although they agree with us in doctrine, forsake brotherly love by creating pernicious divisions."

It is easily perceptible, how this erroneous idea of the necessary visible combination of all the churches under one organiza

* Neander's Kirchengeschichte, Vol. I. p. 330, 331.

Fuch's Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen, Vol. III. p. 303. "Whoever separates himself from this universal church, however praiseworthy he may suppose his general conduct to be, shall not obtain life on account of this crime alone, that he is separated from the unity of Christ, but the wrath of God abideth on him. But whoever leads an exemplary life in the church, shall not be injured by the sins of others, because in it (the church) every one shall bear his own burden, and whoever eateth the body of Christ unworthily, shall eat and drink judgment to himself, by which the apostle clearly shows, that as he eats not for another, but for himself,-it is not the communion with the wicked in the reception of the sacraments, which contaminates any one, but his assent to their evil deeds."

Koepler's Bibliothek der Kirchenvater, Vol. IV. p. 240.

tion, as the supposed exclusive channel of the divine influence and favor, would naturally tend to facilitate the ultimate adoption of the papal hierarchy; for here, and here alone, in the holy father, is to be found one visible, tangible head, adapted to the one universal visible church. That this opinion however, was not that of the apostles or of the apostolic age, is confirmed by the concurrent testimony of all writers in the earlier centuries. On this subject an interesting testimony has reached us in the Apostolic Canons, so called because the work professes to be and in the main is a collection of the principal customs and regulations for the government, discipline, etc. of the christian church during the first four centuries from the days of the apostles. It was most probably compiled shortly after the time of Augustine, in the middle of the fifth century, and clearly proves that the exclusive pretensions of the bishop of Rome were not acknowledged even at that time: It reads thus:

Canon 33. The bishops of each nation should know the principal one among them, and regard him as their head (rovs ἐπισκόπους ἑκαστου έθνους ειδεναι χρη τον ἐν αὐτοῖς πρωτον, καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ὡς κεφαλην) and undertake nothing of importance without his advice. But each one should himself attend to what belongs to his own church and neighborhood. But even he ought to do nothing without consultation with others (ἄλλα μηδε ἐκεῖνος ἀνευ της παντων γνωμης ποιειτω τε). Herein consists the true unity (of the church), and such a course will tend to the glory of God through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit."

In short it is well known, that the bishop of Rome did not obtain even the title of universal bishop until, in the seventh century, "Boniface III. engaged Phocas, the Grecian Emperor, who waded to the throne through the blood of Mauritius, to take from the bishop of Constantinople the title of oecumenical or universal bishop, and to confer it on the Roman pontiff." His dignity as a temporal prince he did not receive till in the eighth century, when the usurper Pepin, in consideration of the aid afforded him by the pontiff in treasonably dethroning his predecessor, granted "the exarchate of Ravenna, and Pentapolis" to the Roman pontiff, and his successors in the pretended apostolic see of St. Peter. There can therefore be no question as to the truth of our position, that the primitive church was not united under one visible head, such as the pope and papal hierarchy.

[ocr errors]

Finally, it is certain that the unity of the primitive church did not consist in absolute unanimity in religious sentiments. This assertion may appear startling to some. "What!" (some of my readers may be ready to exclaim) " was there any diversity of opinion in the primitive church, under apostolic guidance? we have always supposed, that there existed a perfect agreement on all points among the first Christians, and that the proper method to restore the primitive purity of the church is to insist on agreement on all points from those who could unite with us as a church of Christ." This opinion has also prevailed for many centuries, and has been the prolific mother of extensive and incalculable evils in the christian church. It has led to the persecution and death of millions of our fellow men under the papal dominion, it has caused endless divisions and envyings and strife in the Protestant churches.

Its fallacy we think appears from the following considerations: It is rendered highly probable by the fact that the Scriptures contain no provision to PRESERVE absolute unity of sentiment on all points of religious doctrines and worship if it ever had existed. Many points of doctrine and forms which men at present regard as important, are not decided at all in the sacred volume. Other points are inculcated in indefinite language, which admits of several constructions. The diversity of views derived from these records by the several religious denominations of equal piety, of equal talent and equal sincerity, indisputably establishes the fact, that they do not contain provision for absolute unity of sentiment among Christians. Now as all admit the substantial similarity of the oral instructions of the apostles to the primitive Christians, and their written instructions in the sacred volume, it follows that the impressions made on an audience of primitive Christians would be the same; except perhaps in the case of a few individuals who might have opportunity of personal interviews and more minute inquiry with the apostles. With the greatest facility the Author of our holy religion could have made such provision. He did by inspiration endow his apostles with every requisite qualification not naturally possessed by them, and led them into all necessary truth. Now as they have left many points of doctrine and forms of worship and government undecided, and as they do not express with philosophical precision the doctrines which they do teach, it is a just inference that one reason why these minor differences are not obviated in the church, and all truly pious, able and faithful Christians do VOL. XI. No. 29.

15

not agree on all points is, that the sacred volume has not made provision for such absolute unanimity. Let no one here assert that human language is so deficient, and the education and habits of men so diverse, that they will impose different constructions on any composition. The contrary is the case. Even uninspired men of well disciplined mind, have often expressed their views on these topics in language which is not misunderstood. Is there any doubt, in any well informed mind, as to the opinions taught on the several topics which separate the principal protestant churches, by Calvin in his Institutes, or by Whitby on the Five Points? In regard to the meaning of some protestant creeds there has been, it is true, not a little controversy. But the framers of these Confessions designedly used language somewhat generic and indefinite, in order that persons of not entirely accordant sentiments might sign them, and modern disputants of each party have endeavored to prove these creeds favorable only to their own views. Or, persons charged with deviation from an adopted creed, and believing themselves to adhere to its general tenor, are naturally inclined to interpret its indefinite or generic terms in favor of their own views, whilst their opponents, pursuing a contrary course, strain those same expressions as far as possible in a different direction. But it will not be denied, that it would be no difficult task for any well educated divine to make, in a single octavo page, such a statement of doctrines, as would distinguish any one of the prominent protestant denominations from all others,-to frame a creed, concerning whose real meaning, there would be no difference of opinion. Therefore, as the written instructions of the apostles and other inspired writers, do not contain provision to produce absolute unanimity among the pious since the apostolic age, and as these very written instructions were addressed to the primitive Christians, and were the only inspired instructions which many of them possessed; there can be but little doubt, that if a dozen of those Christians had been required to state their views on all the points of diversity between protestant Christians, it would have been found, that the impressions then made by these books, were not more definite than those which they now produce on the same points of doctrine. And as the oral teaching of the apostles was doubtless substantially the same as their recorded instructions; the impression made by them on the entire primitive church was probably the same so far as doctrines are concerned; whilst it is evident, that in re

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »