BLTC Press Titles

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The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Church polity

by Abel Stevens


Propositions deduced from ecclesiastical history—Most of the first offices of the church temporary—Scriptural evidence—Watson's opinion.

The position so amply sustained by good authorities in the preceding chapter, namely, that though the principles of moral discipline are fully prescribed in the Scriptures, yet the particular forms of ecclesiastical government are left to the discretion of the church and the exigency of circumstances, must, we think, be obvious to all impartial readers of the New Testament. The history of the government of the primitive church further confirms it. The history of the early Christians presents the following facts :—

1. That in the beginning no systematic government existed in the church; it was a period of persecution and dispersion. Many offices were providentially created by the emergencies of the time, and disappeared with those emergencies, and acts were allowed, and necessary, in individual and lay members, which could not consist with an organized government.

2. It was soon found necessary to consolidate the church by a more systematic economy. It adopted the one nearest at hand and most convenient, namely, the conventional system of the Jewish synagogue, not the divinely appointed one of the temple. It thus derived from the synagogue its orders of presbyter and deacon.

3. That on the disappearance of the first and temporary offices, which were created by the earliest emergencies of the church, the two orders of presbyters or bishops, and deacons, were the only ones recognized as permanently established, presbyters and bishops being identical in order.*

* Let us not be understood to say, that the two orders ot presbyters and deacons were permanently appointed by divine authority. They were copied, we have said, from the synagogue, and merely because they were found convenient. If any section of the church should find these orders, or any other arrangements of church polity, incompatible with its circumstances, it can dispense with them, and assume any arrangement whatever which will secure its prosperity, and not interfere with the word of God. This remark is due to our Wesleyan brethren, who have but one order—that of presbyters ; and who, until lately, have not practiced the usual services of ordination. Anti-prelatical writers have losl much of the weight of their arguments by conceding too much and by seeming to assume, that though episcopacy, as a distinct order, is not of divine right, yet the orders of presbyters and deacons are. In fine, though government is essential to the church, there is no particular form of divine authority, and there is scarcely a greater insult to tho common sense of the age, or a greater provocation of the scorn of thinking men, than the belabored controversies and arrogant assumptions which the question has occasioned. It may be

4. That on the increase of congregations in the same place, and the consequent increase of pastors or bishops there, one of the bishops being selected to preside in the occasional consultations of the pastors, became thus gradually possessed of the general oversight of the local churches, and in time, the name designating the pastoral oversight, and applied before to all the pastors, namely, episcopos or bishop, was exclusively appropriated to him. In further time, this superintendency extended to the neighboring districts, and at last, with the growth of the church in numbers and wealth, the adventitious dignities and innumerable corruptions of diocesan, metropolitan, patriarchal, and papal episcopacy were introduced.

Let us examine these propositions more in detail. It is evident that several of the offices of the primitive church were temporary, from the description which the Scriptures give of them. In 1 Cor. xii, 28, we have a minute catalogue of them. " God hath set some in the church—first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that, miracles; then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." We have here eight different sorts of spiritual men; and by comparing this verse with the tenth, we may, perhaps, add two more—those possessing the power of discerning spirits and of interpreting tongues. But no one, it is presumed, will aver, that the apostle is here describing the ordinary and permanent officers of a Christian church. He is evidently speaking of the supernatural gifts and

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