[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
“LET all things be done decently and in order,” is a favorite saying, though seldom regarded with suitable respect by those who are wont to be charmed with the sound of the words. The two extremes in all associations, as respects government or rule, are despotism and anarchy. In some religious establishments there is, on the part of the rulers, an unrelenting and absolute tyranny, and on the part of the ruled, a passive servility, as if non-resistance and passive obedience were the cardinal virtues in a good sectarian. In other religious institutions there is, on the part of the rulers, no attribute of ecclesiastic authority, and on the part of the ruled there is the most licentious equality; which recognizes not either the letter or spirit of subordination. These doubtless are the extremes between which lies the temperate zone, or the “media tutissima via,” the safe middle way.
But there are extremes not only in one department of congregational proceedings; but in all. Let us take an example from some popular measures;–Here in this hierarchy “the canaille” or mass of the community have nothing to say or do in the creation of their teachers or rulers. They are neither permitted to judge nor to decide upon their attainments before they are invested with the office of public instructors. But there, in yonder religious establishment, every man, woman, and child, is constituted into a competent tribunal, and made supreme judge of the attainments of the person, and feel themselves competent to invest him with the office of a religious instructor, without further ceremony than their own unanimity or majority. For instance, Here is a church of thirty members, ten males and twenty females. One of the ten is, by some of the twenty-nine, supposed to be qualified to become a preacher, or as they under stand it, a public instructor. Now, of the nine males and twenty females, it so happens that there are six matrons who can read intelligibly the New Testament; and of the males there are about four of what might be called plain common sense, who can barely understand a piece of plain narrative composition. But among them, such as they are, they decide that A B is competent to be a public instructor, and then forthwith commission him to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Now the question is, Are they to be condemned or justified who consider this man legitimately introduced into the world as a teacher of religion? Is any other society bound to credit his pretensions or to receive him bona fide as a legally authorized teacher of the Christian religion, and ruler in the Christian church? Remember the question is not, Had the twenty females and the nine males, by and with his own consent, a right to create, appoint, and ordain him a ruler and teach or over themselves: but whether they have reason or revelation on their side, when they introduce him to all the world, as a regularly initiated minister, or ambassador, or teacher of and for Jesus Christ? That any society politically considered have a right to manage their own affairs as they please, is at once readily admitted; that any ecclesiastical community have a right to govern themselves by whatever laws they please, as far as the state jurisdiction extends, is also conceded; but that any society has any right to frame any regulations for its own government on Christian principles is what we cannot so readily subscribe. But without being further tedious on the subject of extremes, having simply shown that we are prone to run into them on both hands, I will proceed to my object in this part of my series of essays on the ancient order of things.
As we have many volumes on church government and church discipline; and as the Episcopal, Presbyterial, and Independent, all have claimed a jus divinum, we cannot be expected to have much new on the subject, or to have little regard to the merits of the questions which they have with so much warmth debated. We wish however while we write, to forget all that we have ever read or heard on this subject, save what the apostolic writings contain upon such topics. And as we prefer perspicuity to all other attributes of good writing, we proceed to state–
1st. That as the church, or congregation, or assembly, (as it is expressed by all these names,) is repeatedly called a kingdom–the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of heaven, it is fairly to be presumed, from the terms themselves, that the government under which the church is placed, is an absolute monarchy. There cannot be a kingdom, unless there be a king. They are correlative terms, and the one necessarily supposes the existence of the other. But we are not left to inference; for it was not only foretold expressly that “the government would be upon his shoulders;” but he claims absolute dominion in express and unequivocal terms, and lays all his disciples under the strictest injunctions of unreserved submission. All authority in the Universe is given to him–“Therefore, kiss the Son.”–“I have placed my king upon Mount Zion.”–“He shall reign over the house of Israel, his people, forever.” On this, as a first principle, I found all my views of what is commonly called church government. All the churches on earth that Christ has ever acknowledged as his, are so many communities constituting one kingdom, of which he is the head and sovereign.—The congregation or community in Rome, in Corinth, in Philippi, in Ephesus, &c. &c. were so many distinct communities as respected their component members or individuals, but these were all under one and the same government, as the different counties or corporations in the state of Virginia are all component parts of the state, and under the same government. In every congregation or community of Christians the persons that are appointed by the Great King to rule, act pretty much in the capacity of our civil magistrates; or, in other words, they have only to see that the laws are obeyed, but have no power nor right to legislate in any one instance, or for any one purpose. The constitution and laws of this kingdom are all of divine origin and authority, having emanated from the bosom, and having been promulged in the name of the Universal Lord.
There is no democracy nor aristocracy in the governmental arrangements of the church of Jesus Christ. The citizens are all volunteers when they enlist under the banners of the Great King, and so soon as they place themselves in the ranks they are bound to implicit obedience in all the institutes and laws of their sovereign. So that there is no putting the question to vote whether they shall obey any particular law or injunction. Their rulers or bishops have to give an account of their administration, and have only to see that the laws are known and obeyed, and hence proceed all the exhortations in the epistles to the communities addressed to submit to their rulers, as those who watch for their souls, and as those who must give an account of their administration.
This subject, it has appeared to me, is very little or very imperfectly understood in many congregations, and their meetings for church discipline are generally conducted in such a way as to divest every one in the assembly of every attribute of authority, and to place every one in the character of an interpreter of the law; and if not legislators, at least, they are all executors of it. But of this more hereafter.