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RELATIONS BETWEEN THE PRESBYTERIANS
AND THE INDEPENDENTS
MERCHANTS' LECTURE AT PINNERS' HALL—THE UNITED BRETHREN
IN LONDON—“ HeadS OF AGREEMENT "-PRINCIPLES OF CHURCH
URING the troubles which followed the passing of the
Act of Uniformity more than one attempt had been made to bring about a good understanding between the Presbyterians and the Independents. In 1672, while the “ Indulgence” of Charles II. was in force, some of the merchants and tradesmen of London had established a weekly Lecture—the Merchants' Lecture—to be delivered on Tuesday mornings in Pinners' Hall, Broad Street. The Lecture was for the defence of the Protestant religion against Romanism, Socinianism, and Infidelity. Four of the original Lecturers were Presbyterians; two were Independents.
In 1690, within two years after the passing of the Toleration Act, a serious attempt was made to draw the two denominations together and to suppress their distinctive names. On the side of the Congregationalists the most eminent ministers who took part in this project were Matthew Mead, of Stepney, and Isaac Chauncey, pastor of the Church in Mark Lane, which had formerly been under the pastorate of John Owen. Increase Mather, the eminent Congregationalist of Boston, Massachusetts, who happened to be in England, was also extremely active in promoting the union. On the side of the
1 See Note A, p. 484.
Presbyterians were Baxter, Bates, Annesley, Sylvester, Daniel Williams, and John Howe, who at this time was more closely associated with the Presbyterians than with the Independents. Eighty or ninety ministers entered into the Union. It does not appear that their action was either authorised or approved by their Churches; and no layman took part in their deliberations. The Union was formed by the ministers, and by the ministers alone.
The Document which defines the foundation of the Union is entitled Heads of Agreement assented to by the United Ministers in and about London, formerly called Presbyterian and Congregational.? Although the Churches had not been invited to express any judgment on the proposals, the scheme is not intended merely to promote brotherly intercourse among the ministers; it is " for the preservation of order " in the congregations that cannot conform ; and “the general concurrence of the people,” as well of the ministers in London and in other parts of the kingdom, is referred to as a proof that the work had been undertaken at a time when the Divine influence would "overcome all impediments to peace."
There are no longer to be any Presbyterians or any Congregationalists, and the controversies which had extended over more than a hundred years are to cease ; for, as the Preface declares,
“It's incumbent on us, to forbear condemning and disputing those different sentiments and practices we have expressly allowed for ; to reduce all distinguishing Names to that of UNITED BRETHREN; to admit no uncharitable jealousies, or censorious speeches ; much less any debates whether Party seems most favoured by this Agreement.”
1. The Agreement recognises the fundamental principle of Congregationalism—that personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is an indispensable qualification for church membership.
“None shall be admitted as Members, in order to Communion in all the special Ordinances of the Gospel, but such persons as are
· The Heads of Agreement were published in a quarto pamphlet in 1691. The pamphlet was reprinted in full in the Congregational Magazine for February, 1843. And see Calamy, Memoir of Howe, 180 fol. ; and Abridgment, i. 476-483. 3 Heads of Agreement, i.-ii.
4 Ibid., ii.-iv.
knowing and sound in the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion, without Scandal in their Lives; and to a Judgment regulated by the Word of God, are persons of visible Godliness and Honesty ; credibly professing cordial subjection to Jesus Christ." 5
2. It recognises another fundamental principle of Congregationalism—that every society of Christian men and women meeting regularly for worship, communion, and instruction in Christian truth and duty, is a Church.
“Particular Societies of Visible Saints, who under Christ their Head, are statedly joined together for ordinary Communion with one other, in all the Ordinances of Christ, are particular Churches, and are to be owned by each other, as Instituted Churches of Christ, though differing in apprehensions and practice in some lesser things."
3. It recognises the Independence of every individual Church-its right to choose its own officers, and the "authority” it has “received from Christ for exercising government.”
4. It recognises, though in terms suggested by Presbyterian traditions, the responsibilities and rights of the ordinary members of the Church.
“In the Administration of Church power, it belongs to the Pastors and other Elders of every particular Church (if such there be) to rule and govern ; and to the Brotherhood to Consent, according to the Rule of the Gospel." 8
All the early Independents insisted on the authority that belongs to the pastor and elders ; but it is doubtful whether any of them, except Francis Johnson, would have been willing to accept the terms in which the Agreement defines the power and duty of the people. Some expressions, indeed, might be quoted from John Robinson which approach very nearly to the same theory of the place of the commonalty in the Church, but they are inconsistent with the general spirit of his writings. It is true that the authority to give consent to the proposals of church rulers implies the authority to withhold it; but the language points to that theory of Presbyterian-Independency which was suggested by the troubles of the Church at Amsterdam at the beginning of the seventeenth century. 5 Heads of Agreement, 2–3.
6 Ibid., 2.
8 Ibid., 4
5. There is also a Presbyterian element in some of the articles of the Agreement in relation to the ministry.
(a) In the calling and choosing of a pastor it is agreed that “ordinarily a Church should not act on its own responsibility.
“In so great and weighty a matter, as the calling and choosing a Pastor, we judge it ordinarily requisite, That every such Church consult and advise with the Pastors of neighbouring congregations." 9
Such consultation would be regarded as wise and expedient by the most earnest Independents ; but to declare it " ordinarily requisite ” is a concession to Presbyterianism.
(6) The concurrence of the pastors of neighbouring congregations is also declared to be “ordinarily requisite ” in the ordination of a minister after he has accepted the call of a Church. This, too, is contrary to the severer principles and traditions of Independency.10 (c) And it is declared to be " expedient
" that before a pastor-elect is ordained, he should satisfy the pastors of neighbouring Churches that he has the qualifications which are necessary for the work of the pastorate.
“ It is expedient, that they who enter on the work of Preaching the Gospel be not only qualified for Communion of Saints, but also that, except in cases extraordinary, they give proof of their Gifts and Fitness for the said work, unto the pastors of Churches of known abilities to discern and judge of their qualifications ; That they may be sent forth with Solemn Approbation and Prayer ; which we judge needful, that no doubt may remain concerning their being called to the work, and for the preventing (as much as in us lieth) ignorant and rash intruders." i1
In other words, no man was to be ordained to the pastorate without the sanction of an informal synod or council. It has been the general custom of Independent Churches to invite the concurrence of neighbouring pastors in the ordination of their ministers, and the pastors who take part in an ordination have clearly the right—though of late years it has not often been formally and publicly exercised—to satisfy themselves that the minister they ordain has" gifts and fitness for pastoral work ; but the terms of this section disclose a distrust • Ibid., 6. 10 Ibid., 6-7.
11 Ibid., 7-8.
of the individual Church that would have provoked the antagonism of the earlier representatives of Independency.
6. The question whether there should be “Ruling Elders, who labour not in word and doctrine,” is left open. On this point the opinion of early Congregationalists was divided ; but the general judgment of English Congregational Churches from the time of Henry Jacob had recognised only two classes of church officers-pastors and deacons.12
7. While the agreement declares that none of our particular Churches shall be subordinate to one another, each being endued with equality of power from Jesus Christ”which is the genuine Congregational and Independent idea and is expressed in a genuine Congregational and Independent form—and while it further declares that “none of the said particular Churches, their officer or officers, shall exercise any power, or have any superiority, over any other Church or their officers,” it is agreed that occasional synods should be held-consisting of ministers only—and that the judgment of these synods should have great moral weight.
"1. We agree, That in order to concord, and in any other weighty and difficult cases, it is needful, and according to the mind of Christ, that the Ministers of several Churches be consulted and advised with about such matters.
“2. That such Meetings may consist of smaller or greater numbers, as the matter shall require.
"3. That particular churches, their respective Elders, and Members, ought to have a reverential regard to their judgment so given, and not dissent therefrom, without apparent grounds from the word
of God.” 13
8. In matters of faith it is declared to be sufficient
“That a Church acknowledge the Scriptures to be the word of God, the perfect and only Rule of Faith and Practice; and own either the Doctrinal part of those commonly called the Articles of the Church of England, or the Confession, or Catechisms, Shorter or Larger, compiled by the Assembly at Westminster, or the Confession agreed on at the Savoy, to be agreeable to the said Rule.” 14
On the whole, the Heads of Agreement are strongly in favour of the Congregational Polity; but the Congregation
12 Heads of Agreement, 12–13.
14 Ibid., 14-15.