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conception of the church as a mere voluntary association of men who may agree in religious thought.
Nor does Congregationalism, any more really than other Protestant communions, Lutheran or Reformed, organize "on the basis of a creed." It has creeds, as do all churches springing directly from the Reformation. It has, especially in one portion of its history, emphasized these creeds in the reception of church-members. We are not now defending this particular practice, but looking at principles. And from this point of view we deny that Congregationalism, any more than other evangelical denominations, or at all, makes a creed the foundation of a church. Each local society is a church of Christ. He is the one foundation, and not dogmatic formulas, even though Christ is their subject. Justification of this claim for Congregationalism is given in the citations from the Platforms already made. Church-members are those who "visibly belong to Christ," not those who simply think alike about Him. The creed question for Congregationalists in respect to church organization, as for all churches of the Reformation, arises in connection with the distinction between the church invisible and the church visible, and in determining the notes or signs of the latter. There is no difference in principle here between Congregationalists and the other communions to which allusion is made.
The stress of our contributor's criticism falls, therefore, on the refusal of Congregationalism to extend the conception of the visible and organized church beyond local societies. Here the Platforms come to his support. The Boston Platform (1865) says:
"As the notion of a visibly organized and governed Catholic Church has no warrant from the Scriptures; so the notion of a national church having jurisdiction over the particular churches in a nation is equally unwarranted. Under the gospel the visibly governed church is not ecumenical, nor national, nor provincial, nor diocesan, but only local or parochial, a congregation of be
lievers dwelling together in one city, town, or convenient neighborhood."
Unquestionably Congregationalism has thus far declined to call its churches a church with any implication of a government of the local societies by the whole body. Yet, no less beyond question has it, from the beginning, advanced the idea of a body of which local churches are members, and with reference to which all their duties are to be determined. The Cambridge Platform affirms that the communion of churches is obligatory, and it grounds the duty in their common relation to Christ as their "political Head." The language is worth quoting in full :
"Although churches be distinct, and therefore may not be confounded one with another, and equal, and therefore have not dominion one over another, yet all the churches ought to preserve church communion one with another, because they are all united unto Christ, not only as a mystical, but as a political head, whence is derived a communion suitable thereunto."
The later Platform is equally clear in principle and more explicit in
statement. It recognizes a "Visible Church Catholic," though it denies "a visibly organized and governed Catholic Church." It says that "all the churches ought to preserve church communion one with another, because they are all united to Christ as integral parts of his one Catholic Church, Militant against the evil that is in the world, and Visible in the profession of the Christian faith, in the observance of the Christian sacraments, in the manifestation of the Christian life, and in the worship of the one God of our salvation, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost." On the basis of this principle, which, it should be observed, recognizes the whole body of believers, a visible, catholic church, and is constructive, -Congregationalism has developed a system of church councils and associations coextensive with county, state, and national lines.
Whether or not it shall call itself the Congregational Church of the United States, or of some other country, is a question of definition. It regards itself in its totality as a part of the one visible church of Christ. If the word church describes a communion of churches, Congregationalism can appropriate the term. If the word signifies a body invested with governing power, it cannot appropriate it, provided this governing power necessarily conflicts with local autonomy. It is, however, to say the least, an open question whether a representative government springing directly from self-governing churches is necessarily antagonistic to local autonomy. At present, however, by its traditions and customs, if not by its permanent principles, Congregationalism admits of no governmental unity of churches. Beyond the point of association in the local church it refuses to carry the notion of government. It does, however, as we have seen, most emphatically affirm the idea of union. It makes this an obligation and a formative principle. It limits, or as we believe to be a truer conception, it completes the conception of the local church by bringing in the conception of the Church as a body. Every particular church is bound to govern itself as a part of the whole. In every act it is to regard itself as united, with all other churches, to Christ, the Head.
The only questions of importance at this point, therefore, between Congregationalism and communions which admit governmental unity, are, whether it is lawful, and if lawful expedient, to secure union in the things that are common and for ends that are common, in a governmental way, or solely in a moral way. To our apprehension these two questions will reduce themselves to one. The real issue is one of effectiveness in Christian work- an effectiveness measured not by immediate or partial results, but by the purity and power with which Christianity is propagated and maintained. If the Congregational polity is not as adequate to this end as some other, it is thereby judged, nor can any theory built upon the use of the word church in the New Testament be deemed conclusive against results which express, and principles which are founded in, the nature of Christianity.
For the present we distrust the alleged necessity of a governmental
unity. The Congregational principle includes and emphasizes unity, but makes the bond ethical and spiritual. It seeks to secure efficiency in Christian organization by fostering self-governing societies, and by using this developed individualism in free combination under the obligations of Christian fellowship and service. It has the advantage of making service the common and principal aim. One contributor rightly calls attention to the changed conception of government which has arisen since our Congregational fathers framed their system of church polity. This change is essentially a higher ethical conception of government. It involves an increasing recognition and gradual elevation of the moral bond of society. Congregationalism emphasizes the spiritual bond of union. So far as government resolves itself into moral influence it admits government on the largest scale. It prefers, however, until human nature in the Church is more controlled by the Christian spirit, to emphasize everywhere the spiritual bond of union, and to reduce governmental action, through human agents, to a minimum. The progress of society may make this latter species of action more and more pure, and its abuses less and less probable. But when government in the Church becomes perfectly safe, because it is a reflection of the mind of Christ, the difference between governmental and spiritual unity may become unimportant. Christ will reign by his truth and Spirit.
However this may be, it is evident that Congregationalism, if it is to maintain and approve itself in these strenuous, searching, and sifting times, must show that it has the energies and agencies of a great Christian communion. It must carry out its own principles on their catholic as well as individualistic side. It must think of itself rigorously, thoroughly, and constantly as a representative part of the one true Church of Christ, and as bound to maintain itself in the purity and breadth and freedom of such a Church. It may and should embrace many schools of thought. It violates its charter and name if it becomes in any wise a private association, or a combination of private associations, for scientific or philanthropic ends. Very plainly is it called upon to manifest its competency for aggressive Christian work, and for such organization as is requisite to its accomplishment. Here we are in full agreement with our contributors. There is a common and indescribably great work to be done by our churches on missionary lines, both at home and abroad. They are not engaged in it, or in contact with it, at all as they should be. One main difficulty, we are persuaded, lies in their having no opportunity to take that part in it which most awakens interest and stimulates effort. They are appealed to, constantly and impressively, to aid in it by prayers and contributions. Their individual relation to it as churches, still more the personal relation to it of the immense majority of church-members, is not made otherwise apparent, and cannot be made so, to any adequate degree, on present methods. The consequence is that our benevolent societies whose management
we are now not in the least criticising work over and over the same soil, use substantially from year to year the same constituency, enlarge but little the number of their supporters, and draw from far too small a section of the communities to which they appeal. Something is needed which will carry home to the general membership of the churches a sense of responsibility and awaken personal interest. The sense of responsibility cannot be separated from realization of power. Interest depends much upon participation. If the members of our churches are to be enlisted in the support of missionary work they must be made partakers in the work. To some extent this exists already by offerings and prayers. But these will be increased, if accompanied by practical contact with the work in its actual management and execution. At present all this is committed mainly to societies to which the churches, as such, sustain the relation of mere contributors by gifts of money and other offerings. We have no missionary societies which spring from the churches, and no general societies, apart from those developing by the female members of these churches, which have their root in local constituencies of churchmembers. Practically we have laid aside our Polity when we come to the chief work for which it exists. This is a bad showing for the Polity. Is it an evil in itself? We believe it to be a very serious one, not because of Congregationalism mainly, but for the work's sake. The method leaves unemployed the principle which is most essential to success that of interest awakened, sustained, and developed through personal participation in the conduct of missionary operations.
No such successful missionary organization has arisen in the history of Congregationalism as the Woman's Board, and its success is due to its use of the principle we have named, and which no one of our national societies embodies. It is from bottom to top a representative organization. It carries down to each auxiliary, and to each member of one, the sense of partnership in the common work. The same principle is illustrated in the remarkable growth of the Christian Endeavor Society. Every member is given something to do, and has responsibility put upon him and developed by his joining in the common endeavor. In our colleges government by the authorities is rendered almost unnecessary through the admission of all to personal share in it. There needs to be a development throughout the entire membership of the Congregational churches of a missionary consciousness. It exists in principle and potentially. It wants air, exercise, use. It will grow through action. It will be sturdier and more intense the more it is entrusted with responsibility. Responsibility and Representation are the watchwords of the hour, the open sesame to a true and great progress.
The organization should be from the local churches or circles up. We can think of nothing which would more enliven and invigorate our county conferences or associations of churches than their being entrusted with the supervision of missionary work, each within its own
borders and in appropriate relation to the larger missionary district defined by state lines, and beyond by those of our common country. The county Home Missionary Society would spring from the churches of the county; each county could in the same way be represented at the annual State Conference; and so by delegation yet higher circles be formed, ending in a truly national and representative Home Missionary Society. In the same way could be formed a national Foreign Missionary Board. The meetings of our National Council would then become occasions of the deepest practical interest, and be relieved of that rather inquiring and timid turn which is now somewhat apparent and quite natural. Most of all, the churches would be brought face to face with their work, and grow in the conviction of its obligation and in the joy of its performance.
COMMENT ON CURRENT DISCUSSION.
REVISION OF THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION.
THE "New York Evangelist," whose columns since the meeting of the Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church have contained much interesting discussion of Revision, says that "The subject has grown upon the mind of the Church even since the rising of the Assembly, and bids fair to take on larger dimensions than . . . the Assembly contemplated." The need of revision or some readjustment is sufficiently set forth in a single sentence by Rev. Henry J. Van Dyke, D. D. : —
"It is a sad fact and a grief to many hearts besides my own, that our Confession does not contain one declaration of the infinite love of God to men, nor one declaration of what every Presbyterian, Old School or New, devoutly believes, that Christ's sacrifice for sin is sufficient for all, adapted to all, and offered to all."
The same argument was prominent in the Presbyterial discussions which led to the recent action on Revision by the Assembly of the Free Church, Scotland. Quoting and, as we understand, indorsing Dr. Van Dyke's statement, the "Evangelist" puts this question to those who are satisfied with the Confession as it is: "Is it not possible to make some slight improvement on a Confession so destitute of the very core of the Gospel as this?"
The argument is conclusive enough as to an urgent need of a revision of the relation of the Presbyterian Church to the Confession. The creed no longer adequately expresses the church's faith. But the reasoning is not equally decisive as to the method of relief. The need is immense the Confession does not contain "the core of the Gospel"; a revision of the Confession which will supply such a lack cannot be "slight." The Confession is written from a particular point of view. The demand for revision requires that it be written from a very different point of view. This cannot be done by a little change of phraseology here and there, by an easy verbal omission or addition. In a word, the call for revision involves a conviction which requires for its satisfaction a new creed.