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RANTERS - Section Three: Whether There be any Order or Government in the Church of Christ

By Robert Barclay


      In answer to this proposition, I meddle not at this time with those, that deny any such thing as a Church of Christ; I have reserved their plea to another place. Neither need I be at much pains to prove the affirmative, to wit "that there ought to be go vernment and order in the Church of Christ," unto the generality of our opposers, both Papists and Protestants, who readily confess and acknowledge it, and have heretofore blamed us for want of it. Though now some them, and that of the highest pretenders , are become so unreasonable, as to accuse us for the use of it; improving it as far as they can, to our disadvantage; for such is the blindness of partial envy, that whereas the supposed want of it was once reckoned heretical, now the present performanc e of it is counted criminal.
      These, then, to whom I come to prove this thing are such, who having cast off the yoke of the cross of Christ in themselves, refuse all subjection or government; denying, that any such thing ought to be, as disagreeing with the testimony of truth; or tho se, who not being so willful and obstinate in their minds, yet are fearful or scrupulous in the matter, in respect of the dangerous consequences, they may apprehend such a thing may draw after it.
      For the clearing then as well the mistakes of the one, as answering the cavils of the other, I judge, the truth of these following assertions will sufficiently prove the matter; which I shall make no great difficulty to evidence.
      First, That Jesus Christ, the king and head of the Church, did appoint and ordain, that there should be order and government in it.
      Secondly, That the Apostles and Primitive Christians, when they were filled With the Holy Ghost, and immediately led by the Spirit of God did practice and commend it.
      Thirdly, That the same occasion and necessity now occurring, which gave them opportunity exercise that authority; the Church of Christ hath the same power now as ever, and are led by the same Spirit into the same practices.
      As to the first, I know, there are some that the very name of a church, and the very words of order and government, they are afraid of. Now this I suppose hath proceeded, because of the great hypocrisy, deceit and oppression, that hath been cloaked with the pretence of these things; but why should the truth be neglected because hypocrites have pretended to it? The right institution of these things, which have been appointed and ordained of God, must not, nor ought not to be despised, because corrupt men have abused and perverted them. I know not any thing that hath been more abused and perverted in the whole world, than the name of Christian; shall we then renounce that honorable title, because so many thousands of wicked men, yea antichrists, have fal sely assumed it to themselves? The man of sin hath taken upon him to sit in the temple of God, as God; yet we must not therefore deny, that God is in his temple. If the synagogue of Satan assumed the name of the Church of Christ, and hath termed her oppr ession and violence, the power and authority thereof; therefore must not the Church of Christ and its authority be exercised, where it truly is accord ng to his mind? This I prefix to warn all to beware of stumbling at things, which are innocent in them selves; and that we may labour to hold the steady, even path of truth, without running in either of the extremes. For that Jesus Christ did appoint order and government to be in the Church, is very clear from his plain words, Matt. xviii. 15-18; verse 1 5: "Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother;" ver.16 : "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mout h of two or three witnesses every word may be established;" ver.17: And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican;" ver.18: "Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." From which scripture it doth manifestly and evidently follow, First, That Jesus Christ intended, there should be a certain order and method in His Church in the procedure toward such as transgress. Secondly, That he that refuseth to hear two is become more guilty (as hardened) than in refusing to hear him that first reproved alone. Thirdly, That refusi ng to hear the judgment of the Church, or whole assembly, he doth thereby exclude himself, and shut out himself from being a member; and is justly judged by his brethren, as an heathen and a publican.
      And lastly, that the Church, gathering or assembly of (God's people, has power to examine and call to account such, as appearing to be among them, or owning the same faith with them, do transgress; and in case of their refusing to hear, or repent, to exc lude them from their fellowship: and that God hath a special regard to the judgment and sense of his people thus orderly proceeding, so as to hold such bound in heaven, whom they bind on earth, and such loosed in heaven, whom they loose on earth; I am pa rtly confident that no rational man will deny, but that these naturally follow from the above-mentioned Scripture; and if there should be any found so unreasonable, as to deny it, I could prove it by necessary and inevitable consequences: which at prese nt, as taking it for granted, I forbear to do. If it be reckoned so great a crime to "offend one of the little ones," that it were better for him than so do," that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea;" wit hout question, to offend and gainsay the whole flock, must be more criminal, and must draw after it a far deeper judgment. Now, if there were no order or government in the Church, what should become of those that transgress? How should they be again restored? Would not this make all reproving, all instructing, all caring for, and watching over one another, void and null ? Why should Christ have desired them to proceed after this method ? Why doth he place so much weight upon the judgment of the Church as to make the refusing of hearing it to draw so deep a censure after it; which he will not have to follow the refusing t o hear one or two apart, though the matter be one and the same? And so as to the substantial and intrinsic truth of the thing, there lies the same obligation upon the transgressor to hear that one, as well as all; for that one adviseth him to that which is right and good, as well as the whole; and they do but homulgate or confirm that, which that one hath already asserted yet Jesus Christ who is the author of order, and not of confusion, will not have a brother cut off, or reputed a publican, for refus ing to hear one or two but for refusing to hear the Church. And if it be objected, "that the Church of Rome, and all other false churches, make use of this Scripture and cover their persecution, and cruelty, and oppression by it; and thou sayest no more than they say:" I answer; I suppose no man will be so unreasonable as to affirm, that the Church of Rome abusing this Scripture, will make it false in itself; but how we differ in our application of this Scripture, shall be spoken of hereafter. I am not now claiming right to this power, as due to us, (that is reserved for another place,) but this, I say, is that, which I now aver to be manifest from the Scripture testimony, and to be in itself an unquestionable truth, "that Jesus Christ intended there s hould be order and government in his Church;" which is the thing at present in hand to be proved; which if it be so really true, (as it cannot be denied,) then I hope it will also necessarily follow, that such, who really and truly are the Church of Chri st, have right to exercise this order and government.
      Secondly, That the apostles and primitive Christians did practice order and government, we need but read the history of the Acts, of which I shall mention a few pregnant, and undeniable testimonies, as we may observe in the very first chapter of the Acts, from verse 13 to the end, where, at the very first meeting the apostles and brethren held together after the ascension of Christ, they began orderly to appoint one to fulfill the place of Judas; it may be thought, this was a needless ceremony: yet we see how the Lord countenanced it. I hope, none will say, that the apostles' appointing of these two men, or of him, upon whom the lot did not fall, contradicted their inward freedom, or imposed upon it; but both agreed very well together; the one in the will and movings of God in appointing, and the other in the same in submitting to their appointment.
      Moreover, after they had received the Holy Ghost, you may read, Acts vi.,so soon as there was an opportunity, how they wisely gave order concerning the distribution to the poor, and appointed some men for that purpose. So here was order and government, a ccording to the present necessity of the case: and the Lord God was well pleased with it, and the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. Might they not have said then, as some say now, we will give our cha rity to whom we see cause; and we will take no notice of your appointments and orders? Whether would God have approved of such, yea, or nay ?
      Thirdly, When that the business of circumcision fell in, whether it was fit or not to circumcise the Gentiles ? We see, the apostles saw not meet to suffer every one to follow their own minds and wills: they did not judge, as one confusedly suppos eth, that this difference in an outward exercise would commend the unity of the true faith: nay, they took another method. It is said expressly, Acts xv. 16: "And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter;" and after there had been much disputing about it (no doubt then, there were here diversities of opinion and judgments) and the apostles and elders told their judgments, and came also to a positive conclusion. Sure, some behooved to submit, else they should never have agreed. So those that were the elders gave a positive judgment; and they were bold to say, that it pleased not only them, but the Holy Ghost. By all which it doth undeniably appear, that the apostles, and primitive saints, practiced a holy order and government amo ng themselves: and I hope, none will be so bold as to say, they did these things without the leadings of the Spirit of God, and his power and authority concurring, and going along with them.
      And that these things were not only singular practices, but that they held it doctrinally, that is to say, it was doctrine, which they preached, that there ought to be order and government in the Church, is manifest from these following testimonies: 1 Co r. iv. 15, 16, 17. (15:) Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." (16:) "Wherefore, I beseech you be ye followers of me." (17:) "For this cause have I se nt unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord; who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways, which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every Church." Here the apostle Paul is very absolute: First, In that he desires them to be followers of him. Secondly, In that he sends a teacher, yea, a minister, and eminent bishop or overseer of the Church, for to put them in mind of his ways, which be in Christ, as he taught in every Church. No doubt, there were apostate s, and dissenting spirits in the Church of Corinth, that gave Paul occasion thus to write, as he testifies in the beginning of the Chapter, how he was judged by some of them; he shows, how they were grown high, verse 8: "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us," etc. Might not these dissenters of the Church of Corinth have reasoned thus against Paul? Did not this Paul teach us, at first, to mind the measure of grace in ourselves, and follow that ? (for no doubt, that was Pa ul's doctrine) but now he begins to lord it over us, and tells us, we must be followers of him. Might not they have judged the beloved Timothy to be far out of his place ? Might they not have said, it eems it is not God that moved thee, and sent thee her e by his Spirit; but lordly Paul, that seeks dominion over our faith; it seems, thee comest not here to preach Christ, and wish us hearts; but to mind us to follow Paul's ways, and take notice, how he teaches in every Church: we are not concerned with hi m, nor with his messenger, nor with none of your orders; and so forth. Doth not this run very plausible? I question not, but there was such a reasoning among the apostate Corinthians; let such as are of the same kind among us, examine seriously, and meas ure their spirits truly thereby. Yea, he goes yet further in the following chapter, verses 3, 4. Verse 8: "As absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed." Verse 4: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc.
      Would not one think this to have been a very presumptuous word? And yet who dare offer to condemn it ? From all which I shall shortly observe, that it seems, it was judged no inconsistency nocontradiction, to be followers of the grace in themselves, to b e persuaded in their own hearts, and also to be followers of the apostle Paul and of his ways; because his ways and example was no other, than the Spirit of God in themselves would have led them to, if they had been obedient. Therefore, he found it needf ul to charge them positively to follow him, without adding this reason.
      Next, the great argument the apostle uses to persuade them hereunto, upon which he mainly insists, because he had begotten them into the truth: "Ye have not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you thruoght the gospel; where fore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." So he makes that as the cause; which the same apostle also in his expostulation with the Galatians, putting them in mind, how he preached the gospel to them at first, and chapter iv. verse 15: "Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? For I bear you record, if possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and given them unto me." We see then, that the Lord hath, and doth give such, whom he hath furnished, and sent forth to gather a people unto himself, care and oversig ht over that people; yea, and a certain authority in the power over them to bring them back to their duty, when they stray at any time; and to appoint, yea, and command such things, as are needful for peace, and order, and unity's sake; and that there li es an obligation upon such, as are so gathered, to reverence, honor, yea, and obey such as are set over them in the Lord. For saith the same apostle, 2 Cor. it. 9: "For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obed ient in all things." And chapter vii. ver. 13, 15: "Yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all." Verse 15. "And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obed ience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him."
      Now this will not at all infer, as if they had been implicitly led of old; or that such as having the same authority to exercise it now, sought dominion over their brethren's faith, or to force them to do anything beyond, far less contrary to what the Lo rd leads us to do by his Spirit; but we know (as they did of old) that the enemy lies near to betray under such pretences. And seeing in case of difference the Lord hath, and doth, and will reveal his will to his people, and hath and doth raise up member s of his body, to whom he gives a discerning, and power and authority to instruct, reprove, yea, and command in some cases; those that are faithful and low in their minds, keeping their own places, and minding the Lord, and the interest and good of his t ruth in the general over all, shut out the murmurer; and the Spirit of God leads them to have unity, and concur with their brethren. But such as are heady and high-minded, are inwardly vexed, that any should lead or rule, but themselves; and so it is the high thing in themselves, that makes them quarrel with others for taking so much upon them: pretending a liberty, not sinking down in the seed to be willing to be of no reputation for its sake. Such, rather than give up their own wills, will study to ma ke rents and divisions, not sparing the flock; but prostrating the reputation and honor of the truth even to the world, minister to them an occasion of scorn and laughter, to the hardening of them in their wickedness and atheism.
      Besides these scriptures mentioned, I shall set down a few of many more, that might be instanced to the same purpose.
      Ephes. v. 21: "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God."
      Phil. ii. 8:" Let nothing be done through let each esteem others better than themselves."
      Verse 29. "Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such in reputation."
      And iii. 17. "Brethren, be followers together of me; and mark them, which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample."
      And iv. 9. "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."
      Col. ii. 5. "For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the Spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ."
      I Thess. v. 12. "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them, which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you."
      Verse 13. "And to esteem them, very highly in love, for their works' sake; and be at peace among yourselves."
      Verse 14. "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men."
      2 Thess. it. 15. "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions, which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."
      2 Cor. x. 8. "For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority (which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction) I should not be ashamed."
      Now though the Papists greatly abuse this place, as if hereby they could justify that mass of superstition which they have heaped together; yet except we will deny the plain scripture, we must needs believe, there lay an obligation on the Thessalonians t o observe and hold these appointments, and no doubt, needful institutions, which by the apostles were recommended unto them: and yet who will say, that they ought or were thereby commanded to do any thing contrary to that which the grace of God in their hearts moved them to?
      2 These. iii. 4. "And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do, and will do the things, which we command you."
      Verse 6. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition, which he received of us."
      What more positive than this ? and yet the apostle was not here any imposer. And yet further, verse 14: "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed."
      Thus, Heb. xiii. 7:" Remember them, which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation."
      Verse 17: "Obey them, that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account: that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you."
      Jude 8: "Likewise also these filthy dreamers dignities."
      I might at length enlarge, if needful, upon these passages; any of which is sufficient, to prove the matter in hand: but that what is said, may satisfy such, as are not wilfully blind and obstinate. For there can be nothing more plain from these testimon ies, than that the ancient apostles and primitive Christians practiced order and government in the Church; that some did appoint and ordain certain things; condemn, and approve certain practices, as well as doctrines by the Spirit of God: that there lay an obligation in point of duty upon others to obey and submit: that this was no encroachment, nor imposition upon their Christian liberty; nor any ways contradictory to their being inwardly and immediately led by the Spirit of God in their hearts: and la stly, that such as are in the true feeling and sense, will find it their places to obey, and be one with the Church of Christ in such like cases: and that it is such, as have lost their sense and feeling of the life of the body, that dissent and are diso bedient under the false pretence of liberty; so that thus it is sufficiently proved, what I undertook in this place.
      Thirdly, I judge, there will need no great arguments to prove, the people of God may and do well to exercise the like government upon the very like occasion. For even reason may teach us, that what proved good and wholesome cures to the distemper of the Church in former ages, will not now (the very like distempers falling in) prove hurtful and poisonable; especially if we have the testimony of the same Spirit in our hearts, not only allowing, but commanding us to do so. It is manifest (though we are sorry for it) that the same occasions now fall in; we find, that there are that have eaten and drunken with us at the table of the Lord, and have been sharers of the same spiritual joy and consolation, that afterwards fall away. We find, to our great grief, that some walk disorderly, and some are puffed up, and strive to sow division, laboring to stumble the weak, and to cause offences in the Church of Christ: what then is more suitable and more Christian, than to follow the footsteps of the flock, and to labour and travel for the good of the Church, and for the removing of all that is hurtful; even as the holy apostles, who walked with Jesus, did before us? If there be such that walk disorderly now; must they not be admonished, rebuked and withdra wn from, as well as of old ? Or is such to be the condition of the Church in these latter times, that all iniquity must go unreproved ? Must it be heresy or oppression to watch over one another in love? to take care of the poor ? to see, that there be no corrupt, no defiled members of the body, and carefully and Christianly deal with them, for restoring them, if possible? and for withdrawing from them if incurable? I am persuaded, that there are none, that look upon the commands of Christ and his apostl es, the practice and experience of the primitive Church and saints, as a sufficient precedent to authorize a practice now, that will deny the lawfulness or usefulness hereof: but must needs acknowledge the necessity of it. But if it be objected as some h ave done, do not you deny, that the Scripture is the commands or practices of the Scripture are not a sufficient warrant for you now to do any thing, without you be again authorized, and led unto it by the same Spirit? and upon that score, do you not for bear some things both practiced and commanded by the primitive Church and saints?
      Well, I hope, I have not any thing weakened this objection, but presented it in its full vigor and strength; to which I shall clearly and distinctly answer thus:
      First, Seasons and times do not alter the nature and substance of things in themselves; though it may cause things to alter, as to the usefulness, or not usefulness of them.
      Secondly, Things commanded and practiced at certain times and seasons fall of themselves, when as the cause and ground, for which they were commanded, is removed; as there is no need now for the decisions about circumcision, seeing there are none to contend for it; neither as to the orders concerning things offered to idols, seeing there is now no such occasion; yet who will say, that the command enjoined in the same place, Acts xv. 20, "to abstain from fornication" is now made void ? Seeing there i s daily need for its standing in force, because it yet remains as a temptation man is incident to? We confess, indeed, we are against such, as from the bare letter of the Scripture, (though if it were seasonable now to debate it, we find but few to deal with, whose practices are so exactly squared,) seek to uphold customs, forms or shadows, when the use for which they were appointed, is removed, or sufficiently elsewhere answered our opposers in the case of water baptism, and bread, and wine, etc. So th at the objection, as to that, doth not hold; and the difference is very wide, in respect of such things; the very nature and substance of which can never be dispensed with by the people of God, so long as they are in this world; yea, without which they c ould not be his people. For the doctrines and fundamental principles of the Christian faith; we own and believe originally and principally, because they are the truths of God; whereunto the Spirit of God in our hearts hath constrained our understandings to obey and submit. In the second place, we are greatly confirmed, strengthened, and comforted in the joint testimony of our brethren, the apostles and disciples of Christ, who by the revelation of the same Spirit in the days of old believed, and have l eft upon record the same truths; so we having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, "I believed, and therefore have I spoke;" we also believe, and therefore we speak. And we deny not, but some, that from the letter have had the notion of these things, have thereby in the mercy of God received occasion to have them revealed in the life; for we freely acknowledge, (though often calumniated to the contrary,)that whatsoever "things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that w e through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope." So then I hope, if the Spirit of God lead me now unto that which is good, profitable, yea, and absolutely needful, in order to the keeping of my conscience clear and void of offense towards God and man; none will be so unreasonable as to say, I ought not to do it, because it is according to the Scriptures. Nor do I think it will savour ill among any serious, solid Christians, for me to be the more confirmedand persuaded, that am led to thi s thing by the Spirit, that I find it in myself good and useful; and that upon the like occasions, Christ commanded it, and the apostles and primitive Christians pracfaced and recommended it.
      Now seeing it is so, that we can boldly say with a good consciencein the sight of God, that the same Spirit which leads us to believe the doctrines and principles of the truth, and to hold and maintain them again, after the apostasy, in their primitive a nd ancient purity, as they were delivered by the apostles of Christ in the holy Scriptures; I say, that the same Spirit doth now lead us into the like holy order and government to be exercised among us, as it was among them, being now the like occasion a nd opportunity ministered to us; therefore what can any Christianly or rationally object against it? For that there is a real cause for it, the thing itself speaketh; and that it was the practice of the saints and church of old, is undeniable. What kind of ground then can any suchopposers have (being such, as scrupling at this, do notwithstandingacknowledge our principle) that this were done by imposition or imitation, more than the belief of the doctrines and principles ?Seeing as it is needful to use all diligence to convince and persuade people of the truth, and bring them to the belief of it, (which yet we cannot do, but as truth needful, when a people is gathered, to keep and preserve them in unity and love, as becomes the Church of Christ; and to be careful, as saith the apostle, "that all things be done decently, and in order;" and that all that is wrong be removed, according to the method of the gospel; and the good cherished and encouraged. So that we conclude, and that upon very good grounds , that there ought now, as well as heretofore, to be order and government in the Church of Christ.
      That which now cometh to be examined in the third place is,
      First, What is the order and government we plead for?
      Secondly, In what cases, and how far it may extend ? And in whom the power decisive is?
      Thirdly, How it differeth, and is wholly another than the oppressive and persecuting principality of the church of Rome, and other anti-christian assemblies.

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