26 February, 2007

Gillespie on the Necessity of Presbyteries and Synods

I have been spending time in two very important books on Presbyterian church government. The first is Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiastici which was written in 1646. The second is Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland, In the Points of Ruling Elders, And of the Authority of Presbyteries and Synods by George Gillespie. This one was written in 1644. The Gillespie work is a great read for those interested in reading on church government, but do not have a lot of time to devote to the study. Each chapter is very short and to the point. Below is one chapter which is illustrative of the length and the spiritual depth of the book. Thank you to my friend Shawn Anderson who recommended it to me. Shawn just spent over one year studying this issue in depth. He will have a bibliography available for us all soon.

We have another reason to add, and it is borrowed from lawless necessity; for without a subordination among ecclesiastical courts, and the authority of the higher above the inferior, it were utterly impossible to preserve unity, or to make an end of controversy {60:A} in a nation. A particular congregation might happily end questions and controversies betwixt the members thereof, and so keep unity within itself (and not so neither, if the one half of the congregation be against the other), but how shall controversies betwixt several congregations be determined if both of them be independent? how shall plurality of religions be avoided? how shall an apostatizing congregation be amended?
It is answered, (1.) If a particular congregation neglect their duty, or do wrong to another, the civil sword may proceed against them to make them do their duty. (2.) A particular congregation ought, in difficult cases, to consult with her sister churches; for so much reason dictates, that in difficult cases, counsels should be taken of a greater number. (3.) Sister churches, when they see a particular congregation doing amiss, out of that relation which they have to her, being all in the same body, under the same head, may, and ought to admonish her, and in case of general apostasy, they may withdraw that communion from her which they hold with the true churches of Christ.
But these answer are not satisfactory. The first of them agreeth not to all times; for in times of persecution the church hath not the help of the civil sword: a persecuting magistrate will be glad to see either division or apostasy in a congregation; but so it is, that Christ hath provided a remedy, both for all the evils and diseases of his church, and at all times. The church (as was said before) is a republic, and hath her laws, courts, and spiritual censures within herself, whether there be a Christian magistrate or not.
The second answer leaveth the rectifying of an erring congregation to the uncertainty of their own discretion, in seeking counsel from a greater number. And, moreover, if this be a dictate of reason, to ask counsel of a greater number when the counsel of a few cannot resolve us, then reason, being ever like itself, will dictate so much to a congregation, that they ought to submit to the authority of a greater number when their own authority is not sufficient to end a controversy among them.
To the third answer we say, That every private Christian may and ought to withdraw himself from the fellowship and communion, either of one man or of a whole congregation, in the case of general apostasy. {60:B} And shall an apostatizing congregation be suffered to run to hell rather than any other remedy should be used beside that (commonly ineffectual) remedy which any private Christian may use? God forbid.
What I have said of congregations I say also of classical presbyteries: How shall sentence be given betwixt two presbyteries at variance? How shall a divided presbytery be reunited in itself? How shall an heretical presbytery be reclaimed? How shall a negligent presbytery be made to do their duty? How shall a despised presbytery have their wounded authority healed again? In these and such like contingent cases, what remedy can be had beside the authority of synods?

1 comment:

tam said...

Thanks for this Nate. The more I read of the principles of Presbyterianism, the more I love them. Presbyterian Church govt has many wise and unifying features.

I recently read a larger work on the subject, so so good. The Grand Debate between the Independents and Presbs at Wesminster. Gillespie's stuff is much shorter and more easily comprehended.