Part 17 THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH The word church simply means an "assembly" or "congregation," and must have some other word joined to it to determine its nature: namely, the "church of God;" the congregation collected by God, and devoted to his service: the "church of Christ;" the whole company of Christians wheresoever found; because, by the preaching of the gospel, they are called out of the spirit and maxims of the world, to live according to the precepts of the Christian religion. This is sometimes called the "catholic" or "universal" church, because constituted of all the professors of Christianity in the world, to whatsoever sects or parties they may belong; and hence the absurdity of applying the term "catholic," which signifies "universal," to that very small portion of it, the Church of Rome. In primitive times, before Christians had any stated buildings, they worshipped in private houses; the people that had been converted to God meeting together in some one dwelling house of a fellow convert more convenient and capacious than the rest; hence "the church that was in the house of Aquila and Priscilla," Rom. xvi, 3, 5; and 1 Cor. xvi, 19; and "the church that was in the house of Nymphas," Col. iv, 15. Now, as these houses were dedicated to the worship of God, each was termed kuriou oikos, the "house of the Lord;" which word, in process of time, became contracted into kurioik, and kuriake; and hence the kirk of our northern neighbors, and kirik, of our Saxon ancestors, from which, by corruption, changing the hard Saxon c into ch, we have made the word "church." This term, though it be generally used to signify the people worshipping in a particular place, yet by a metonymy, the container being put for the contained, we apply, as it was originally, to the building which contains the worshipping people.
The church of Christ was considered an enclosure; a field, or vineyard, well hedged or walled. Those who were not members of it were considered without; that is, not under that especial protection and defense which the true followers of Christ had. This has been since called, "the pale of the church," from palus, a stake; or, as Dr. Johnson defines it, "A narrow piece of wood, joined above and below to a rail, to enclose grounds." As to be a Christian was essential to the salvation of the soul, so to be in the church of Christ was essential to the being a Christian; therefore it was concluded "there was no salvation out of the pale of the church." Now this is true in all places where the doctrines of Christianity are preached: but when one description of people professing Christianity, with their own peculiar mode of worship and creed, arrogate to themselves, exclusive of all others, the title of "THE... church;" and then, on the ground of a maxim which is true in itself, but falsely understood and applied by them, assert that, as they are THE... church, and there is no church beside, then you must be one of them, believe as they believe, and worship as they worship, or you will be infallibly damned; -- I say, when this is asserted, every man who feels he has an immortal spirit is called on to examine the pretensions of such spiritual monopolists. Now as the church of Christ is formed on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone, the doctrines of this Christian church must be sought for in the sacred Scriptures. As to fathers, councils, and human authorities of all kinds, they are, in this question, lighter than vanity; the book of God alone must decide. The church which has been so hasty to condemn all others, and, by its own soi-disant or self-constituted authority, to make itself the determiner of the fates of men, dealing out the mansions of glory to its partisans, and the abodes of endless misery to all those who are out of its antichristian and inhuman pale; this church, I say, has been brought to this standard, and proved by the Scriptures to be fallen from the faith of God's elect, and to be most awfully and dangerously corrupt; and to be within its pale, of all others professing Christianity, would be the most likely means of endangering the final salvation of the soul. Yet even in it many sincere and upright persons may be found, who, in spirit and practice, belong to the true church of Christ. Such persons are to be found of all religious persuasions, and in all sorts of Christian societies. Of this glorious church every Christian soul is an epitome: for as God dwells in the church at large, so he dwells in every believer in particular: each is a habitation of God through the Spirit. In vain are all pretensions among sects and parties to the privilege of the church of Christ, if they have not the doctrine and life of Christ. Traditions and legends are not apostolic doctrines, and showy ceremonies are not the life of God in the soul of man.
Religion has no need of human ornaments or trappings; it shines by its own light, and is refulgent with its own glory. Where it is not in life and power, men have endeavored to produce a specious image, dressed and ornamented with their own hands. Into this, God never breathed; therefore, it can do no good to man, and only imposes on the ignorant and credulous by a vain show of lifeless pomp and splendor. This phantom, called "true religion," and "the church," by its votaries, is in heaven denominated "vain superstition;" the speechless symbol of departed piety.
The government of the church of Christ is widely different from secular governments. It is founded in humility and brotherly love: it is derived from Christ, the great head of the church, and is ever conducted by his maxims and Spirit. When political matters are brought into the church of Christ, both are ruined. The church has more than once ruined the state; the state has often corrupted the church: it is certainly for the interests of both to be kept separate. This has already been abundantly exemplified in both cases, and will continue to be, over the whole world, wherever the church and state are united in secular matters.
"The chief priests were sore displeased," or, "were incensed." Incensed at what? At the purification of the profane temple! This was a work they should have done themselves, but for which they had neither grace nor influence; and their pride and jealousy will not suffer them to permit others to do it. Strange as it may appear, the priesthood itself, in all corrupt times, has ever been the most forward to prevent a reform in the church. Was it because they were conscious that a reformer would find them no better than money-changers in, and profaners of, the house of God, and that they and their system must be overturned, if the true worship of God were restored? Let him who is concerned answer this to his conscience.
"No secular arm, no human prudence, no earthly policy, in suits at law, shall ever be used for the founding, extension, and preservation of my church." But the spirit of the world says, "These are all means to which we must have recourse; otherwise the cause of God may be ruined." Satan, thou liest!
How strange it is that people professing Christianity can suppose, that, with a worldly spirit, worldly companions, and their lives governed by worldly maxims, they can be in the favor of God, or ever get to the kingdom of heaven! When the world gets into the church, the church becomes a painted sepulcher; its spiritual vitality becomes extinct.
I believe God never intended that his church should have the civil government of the world. His church, like its Founder and Head, will never be a ruler and divider among men. The men who, under pretense of superior sanctity, affect this, are not of God: the truth of God is not in them; they are puffed up with pride, and fall into the condemnation of the devil. "Woe unto the inhabiters of the earth," when the church takes the civil government of the world into its hands! Were it possible that God should trust religious people with civil government, anarchy would soon ensue; for every professed believer in Christ would consider himself on a par with any other and every other believer: the right to rule and the necessity to obey would be immediately lost, and every man would do what was right in his own eyes; for, where the grace of God makes all equal, who can presume to say, "I have divine authority to govern my fellows?" The Church of Rome has claimed this right; and the pope, in consequence, became a secular prince: but the nations of the world have seen the vanity and iniquity of the claim, and refused allegiance. Those whom it did govern, with force and cruelty did it rule them; and the odious yoke is now universally cast off. Certain enthusiasts and hypocrites, not of that church, have also attempted to set up a fifth monarchy, a civil government by the saints! -- and diabolic saints they were. To such pretenders God gives neither countenance nor support. The secular and spiritual government God will ever keep distinct: and the church shall have no power but that of doing good; and this only in proportion to its holiness, heavenly-mindedness, and piety to God.
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