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There are, indeed, pastors amongst us who might be safely trusted with this matter, but I have known others—and good men too-who, if the matter had been left in their hands, would have needed no revival of religion to enlarge the roll of membership.
But I call special attention to the chief point in Mr Knowles' paper-throwing the responsibility on the applicant. There has been much said and written in favour of this practice of late, but if it should become the practice of our churches, where would it land us? This principle has surely had a fair trial. It has been acted upon for a long time by some of the churches in Scotland, and the result is patent to all. Instead of separating the church from the world, it has gathered the world into the church, and thus shorn the church of her strength to do the work the Master has put into her hand.
If Christianity is to save the world, it must be through the instrumentality of a church of saved men, who will not only earnestly proclaim the doctrines of the gospel from the pulpit, but also exemplify them in the purity and benevolence of their lives, but in order to this, more strict attention must be given to the admission to membership. A great battle has yet to be fought on this subject, and we Congregationalists, because of our principles, are bound to lead the van.
A CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER. 1st Feb. 1876.
P.S.—Here I intended to close my letter, but since the above was written I have read in the Daily Review a report of a speech delivered at a church soiree in the Kinnaird Hall, Dundee, on the evening of the 31st ult., by the Right Hon. W. E. Baxter. From this speech I cite the following passage because it bears closely on the subject of my letter.
“ There are practices prevailing among the Scottish Independents regarding the admission of members, in the celebration of the communion, and in the business of church meetings (which have really nothing to do with their particular form of government) which, whatever may have been their origin, are inquisitorial, inconvenient, and deterrent to all well-balanced, refined, and cultivated minds. They cannot too soon give place to the general usage of Christendom.”.
We have here an example of the tendency to relax our principles, of which I have spoken, carried to an extreme for which we were scarcely prepared. I make no attempt to answer the indefinite and sweeping charges here brought against our churches, but there are one or two points in the question which I desire to notice.
The inference which will be generally drawn from it will be that the speaker would have us retain our particular form of government, but abandon our principle of admission to our fellowship. If this be Mr Baxter's meaning, he might have gone one step further, and in plain language advised us to give up our form of government also, for certainly if we are not careful about maintaining our principle of fellowship, the liberty which our system allows would prove a curse rather than a blessing. Congregational Independency is the best of all systems in the hands of good men, but woe to the church which would apply its principles to a heterogeneous mass of human beings.
And really, when looking at the last sentence of the passage I have quoted, it does seem as if the speaker does advise us to give up our church govern. ment, and allow our congregations to be absorbed in other communions. What does he mean by asking us to conform “ to the general usage of Christendom?” Would he have us admit our members according to the general usage of Christendom? I do not think that in these matters there is a general usage in Christendom. I suppose the most prevalent usage is that of Episcopacy. If we conform to this, of course our particular form of government is abandoned. In this system the voice of the congregation has no place.
If there be practices in any of our churches deterrent to “ refined and cultivated minds,” provided the refinement and culture be of a moral and spiritual nature, the sooner they are done away with the better. But instead of our churches following the general usage of Christendom, they had better, so far as practicable, follow the usage of those early churches whose members first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then to one another by the will of God.
THE CONGREGATIONAL UNION AND THE SECRETARYSHIP.
DEAR SIR,-All your readers are by this time aware that a new appointment will fall to be made to the office of Secretary of the Congregationa Union, at the approaching annual meeting. At any time such an appointment is an important one for the churches of which that Union is composed, whether aid-receiving or aid-giving, and never was it more so than at present. Certainly it will not be easy to find one in every respect qualified ; perhaps impossible. But if we believe the Saviour has received gifts for his Church on earth, among which gifts, men qualified to fill important offices are certainly included, and if we believe in the power of prayer, may we not feel assured, that in answer to earnest believing prayer made to the great Head of the Church, He will guide us with wisdom, and shew whom He would choose ?
While prayer is the first duty of all the friends of these churches, it is not less certain that the answer to prayer is to be looked for, only in so far as they use their best judgment, freed from all personal or local bias, and keeping before them, as their one aim, the glory of God, and that, in the present instance, through the instrumentality of these churches.
Perhaps the want of concert on such occasions is often due to an unconscious difference of opinion as to the duties of the office, or even as to the objects of the organization to which the office belongs. It is not without reason that we should be reminded of this, in the words of the second and third regulations of the Congregational Union.
II. This Union shall not be regarded as, in any sense, an ecclesiastical court or corporation, possessing or pretending to possess authority over the Churches ;-all such authority being contrary to the first principles of Congregational polity ;-but simply in the light of a CHURCH-AID AND HOME Mission SOCIETY.
III. In accordance with this view of the constitution, the objects of the Union shall be, --First, To afford to Churches connected with it such pecuniary aid as may be required, to enable them, to the best advantage, to maintain the ordinances of the Gospel among themselves, and to promote its interests in their neighbourhood ; Secondly, to employ approved Preachers, in more limited or more extended itinerancies, throughout the country at large ; Thirdly, To encourage movements designed to originate new Churches in the larger towns; and, Fourthly, To cultivate Christian affection, fraternal intercourse, and cordial co-operation in all that relates to the interests of the Associated Churches. It
appears to me that there are not wanting occasional indications, as if these very simple objects of this “ Church Aid and Home Mission Society' had acquired an unconscious extension in the minds of some friends. Wherever this is the case, it cannot but affect the conceptions of what the
duties and qualifications of the Secretary should be. If it be thought that there ought to be such an extension of the objects of the Union, (in which I for one do not agree), let it be proposed and adopted if it be seen fit. But till this is done, the Secretary to be appointed should be chosen for his qualifications to fulfil the duties in keeping with these simple objects. What these qualifications are must be very obvious. In addition to “business habits,” (the want of which is so often regretted, but cannot be blamed so long as there is not more provision for their formation in the course of ministerial training), the holder of the office should be a man of eminent prudence, so as to afford a guarantee against the risk of endangering the relations of the pastors and members of churches whom he will be called to visit ; of sympathetic temperament, so that pastors and deacons may resort to him, not so much as an official, as a friend; and of evangelistic zeal, so as to endeavour that the churches of the Union shall merit again the name by which they were so honourably known at first," the Missionaries." It would be almost essential too, that he was well acquainted with “the traditions of the churches," and that he had had some considerable experience of their working.
I do not enter upon the question whether it would be well to appoint one wholly devoted to the work of Secretary, further than to say on the one hand, that the qualifications indicated would require to be possessed by such a one in even a greater degree ; and on the other, that if such a one were to be found, it would be out of the power of the Union to appoint hiin unless some Congregations were to contribute much more to its funds than they seem able to do at present.
These remarks are made with no particular reference whatever. They would be altogether out of place if they were. One only would I venture of a more positive character, viz., that it is earnestly to be hoped that the general committee will be able to make such a recommendation to the annual meeting, as will commend itself to their ready adoption. Nothing, almost, is more to be deprecated, than throwing down such a question before a popular assembly such as the annual meeting of the Congregational Union -not an elected body of delegates, but almost a fortuitous gathering, mainly composed of the members of the churches of the town in which the meeting happens to be held for the year.
Only let the question be approached in the committee and at the annual meeting, in the spirit indicated at the commencement of this letter, and with a readiness on the part of everyone to give up his preconceived ideas for or against any particular person, or place of residence, whenever it is seen that his doing so will facilitate the choice of that brother, who seems, all things considered, to come most nearly to the possession of all the necessary qualifications, and then we may hope for such an appointment as, with the divine blessing, may be of signal benefit to the Union, and to the churches of which it is composed.
I close by quoting an observation which may be thought to have scarcely a bearing on the subject in hand, and yet I believe it is never out of place. It was made by one eminently honoured by God in the ministry of the gospel,
was, I suppose, the fruit of his own observation. It was somewhat to the following effect :—“Whenever we seek to push our own ism, that ism will go down, even although we may honestly believe that the cause of Christ will prosper as a result of our success. But when we reverse the order, so to
speak,—when we seek first the conversion of souls, and the stirring up telievers to aim at greater spiritual attainment, so as to become living epistles of Christ, then our ism will indeed prosper, almost without our consciously seeking it.” Does not the history of our churches confirm this? Probably these churches were never more progressive in number and influential in example, than when the word Congregationalism" was scarcely ever pronounced. It is a significant fact, that for many years the organ of these churches did not even bear the name. On turning up the index to one of the early volumes, I find “Congregational” occurs only once, and then it is in connection with a “Union of Congregational Churches for preaching the gospel.” Our fathers were none the less true, earnest Congregationalists.—I am, yours truly,
NEWS OF THE CHURCHES. DUNDEE.—WARD CHAPEL.—A social meeting of the church and congregation asse
ssembling in Ward Chapel, Dundee, was held in the Kinnaird Hall in the end of January. There was a large assembly. The Rev. Charles Short, M.A., the pastor, occupied the chair; and beside him on the platform were the Right Hon. W. E. Baxter, M.P. ; the Rev. Dr Pulsford, the Rev. John Tait, the Rev. Mr Piper ; Bailie Robertson, Councillor Henderson, Mr John Moir, &c. After tea
The Chairman delivered an introductory address. In the course of his remarks he stated that the total number of members was 464. Fifty-three persons had become members of the church during the year, and four new deacons had been elected with singular unanimity, A Young Men's and a Young Ladies' Bible Class were both well attended and well conducted. Ward Chapel Sunday School was as large as the schoolroom would allow, and had a sufficient and efficient staff of teachers. A Young Men's Literary Society met weekly under the presidency of the pastor, and monthly public lectures were given by gentlemen of literary ability, which were well attended. Two district missions—one in Dudhope Crescent and the other in the Seagate-were in good working order. The one was superintended by Mr Allan ; and the other by Mr John Kidd, who had drawn round him a noble band of workers. The Ladies' Clothing Society was active and useful. There were two other Sunday Schools in different districts of the town-one at Dens Schoolroom, conducted by Mr James Brown, assisted by a good staff of teachers ; another at Laing Street, which was a Children's Church in the morning, conducted by Mr William Duncan, and a Sunday School in the evening, superintended by Mr John M‘Lauchlan. The number of teachers employed in helping in those various missions and schools was about sixty-five, and the number of children taught something over 800. They contributed to the London Missionary Society, the Congregational Union of Scotland, the Theological Hall, and various other societies, and the whole sum collected for church purposes and for different Societies during the past year had been between £ 1 300 and £1400, and the income of the church something greater than the expenditure. (Applause). That was only a rapid summary, omitting all details and explanations, but it was sufficient to show their people that one of the religious functions of a church was benevolent educational work, and that a good number among them were alive to their responsibilities and duties. He thought he might say in their name that they did not intend to relax in their efforts-(applause)—that they did not intend to rest and be thankful (applause).
Congregationalism Past and Present. Mr Baxter, M.P., who was warmly received, said -Having been connected with Ward Chapel for as many years as nearly constitute a generation, I could not refuse the request of its office-bearers to come in this evening and participate in the proceedings of your annual meeting. As a change of residence and of occupation has debarred me from taking an active interest in the affairs either of any particular congregation or of this denomination in general, perhaps you will allow me to avail myself of this opportunity to give expression to a few thoughts regarding the relation of Congregationalism to the existing ecclesiastical condition of Scotland. First and foremost, let me say that I hope we have got quit of that spirit of exclusiveness and self-importance, not to say 'self-righteousness, which was too painfully characteristic of the sect a quarter of a century ago. (Applause). Assuming, perhaps rightly, that the Independent Churches were more like the earlier models than others, their members seemed to think that they were better than their neighbours, and were prone to adopt a tone which it would not be easy to justify. It is not my desire to reflect upon good men of the past generation who were naturally led into this mistake. Its origin is not difficult to discover, and its history may be traced from the darkest days of religion in Scotland down through many a struggle to the present period of more enlightenment and charity. Let us hope that the last of it has died away, and that as a consequence of this change there will be no attempt to retain or rehabilitate either small churches or unnecessary mission stations in parts of the country where other equally efficient agents have fully occupied the field. (Applause). My desire is that we as a denomination should fully recognise the fact that Scotland is Presbyterian, and eschew the bad example set us by some of our Episcopalian friends, whose recent utterances seem to point to two conclusions equally fallacious-namely, that Episcopacy is now making great progress amongst a people who formerly disliked it; and, secondly, that truth is monopolised by that denomination. The longer I live and meditate upon these things the less consequence do I attach to differences with regard to Church government. The New Testament says very little about it; and whatever may be their theories, the practice of Protestant Churches is very much alike. There are two points connected with our ecclesiastical affairs which I should like to place before our brethren on the other side of the Tweed. In the first place, that the great bulk of the people of Scotland belong to one or other of the three large Presbyterian denominations—the Established Church, the Free Church, and the United Presbyterian Church -all the other sects being a mere handful; and that there is nothing whatever, either in doctrine or discipline, to prevent a future union between them on the basis of disestablishment. (Applause). The second point is that, notwithstanding the name, the practice of the Presbyterian bodies in Scotland not connected with the State is in many essential particulars-such as the choice and election of a minister and the management of finance—to say the least of it, very like Congregationalism. But although Presbyteries by no means exercise the power which they have theoretically, they are valuable as Courts of arbitration, and tend to some extent to prevent that unseemly wrangling and squabbling which—and you do not require to go far for examples—have reflected discredit on our Scotch Congregationalism. It appears to me that many of us do not understand the true principles of Christian union, and this remark does not apply exclusively to any school of thought amongst us. There are men holding what are called advanced opinions who speak and write of others whose views are not exactly similar in a tone of illiberality much to be deprecated; and on the other hand there are those who do not seem to see that heresy-hunting does not accord either with the spirit of the Gospels, or with the spirit of the age. Allow me only one other remark. There are practices prevailing among the Scotch Independents regarding the admission of members, the celebration of the Communion, and the business of Church meetings (which have really nothing to do with their pariicular form of government) which, whatever may have been their origin, cannot too soon give place to the general usage of Christendom. We Con