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contended, and the people have admitted, that the rights of the Church were stronger than the rights of the members, that the prosperity of the Church must be secured at the expense of the believer's peace and independence ; that, in a word, every thing must be made to yield to the Church.”
p. 80. The writer must have drawn on his imagination for this. Ecclesiastical writers have never contended, nor have the people admitted, any such thing. Certainly, so far as our reading extends, the doctors of the Church have always and uniformly taught that the Church exists for the individual, not the individual for the Church, and that she is to be submitted to solely as the means in the hands of God of redeeming and sanctifying the individual soul. This is wherefore Churchmen so earnestly contend for the Church, so willingly obey its commands, and so cheerfully lay down their lives in its defence.
The question of a conflict of rights between the Church and the individual, which the Examiner regards as the great question of the age, is no question at all; for there never is and never can be a conflict of rights. It has never been held by any one of any authority in the ecclesiastical world, that the rights of the Church are stronger than the rights of the members, and that the rights of the members must yield to those of the Church. Rights never yield; claims may yield, but not rights. Establish the fact that this or that is the right of the member, and the Church both respects and guaranties it ; nay, the Church goes farther, and presumes the rights she cannot vindicate to herself to be the property of the individual. But where the Church has the right to teach and command, she does not come in conflict with individual rights by demanding submission, for there the individual has no rights. To hold him, within the province of the Church, to obedience, is only holding him to obedience to the rightful authority. When the law says to the individual, “Thou shalt not steal,” it infringes no right; because the individual has not, and never had, any right to steal. It is sometimes a convenience to be acquainted with the views of those we wish to oppose.
But, passing over this, we may say, the Examiner holds, that, in the usual sense of the term, our blessed Saviour founded no church; he merely taught the truth, and, by his teaching, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection, deposited in the minds and hearts of men certain great seminal principles of truth and goodness, to be by their own free thought and affection developed and matured. The Church is nothing but the mere effect
of the development and growth of these principles. " It is but a consequence” of the effect of Christianity upon those who are “ separately brought under its influence.” These, taken collectively, are the Church. These organize themselves in one way or another, adopt for their social regulation and mutual progress such forms of worship or internal discipline as are suggested by the measure of Christian truth and virtue realized in their hearts. This is all the Church there is. If you ask, What is its authority? the answer is, “ A fiction, a fiction which has cheated millions and ruined multitudes, but a fiction still." p. 83. This, in brief, is the church theory of Liberal Christians, and, in point of fact, the theory virtually adopted by the great body of the Protestant world, and the only theory a consistent Protestant can adopt, if not even more than he can adopt without losing his consistency. The insuffiency of this theory it is our purpose in the following essay to point out, by showing that with it alone it is impossible to elicit an act of faith. We shall begin what we have to offer by defining what it is we mean by the Church, and what are the precise questions at issue between Catholics and No-Churchmen. We do this, because the Examiner and its associates do not seem to have any clear or definite notions of what it is Catholics contend for, when they contend for the authority, infallibility, and indefectibility of the Church, nor what it is of which we really predicate these important attributes.
The word church, it is well known, is used in a variety of senses. The Greek &xx.noia, ecclesia, rendered by the word church, taken in a general way, means an assembly, or congregation, whether good or bad, for one purpose or another ; but is for the most part taken in the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers in a good sense, for the Church of Christ. The English word church, said to be derived from Kúgios and oixos, the Lord's house, would seem to designate primarily the place of worship ; but as ořxos, like our English word house, may mean the family as well as the dwelling or habitation, the word church may not improperly be used to designate the Lord's family, the worshippers as well as the place of worship; in which sense it is a sufficiently accurate translation of the Greek &xxinoia, as generally used by ecclesiastical writers.
1. By the Church we understand, then, when taken in its widest sense, without any limitation of space or time, the whole of the Lord's family, the whole congregation of the faithful,
united in the true worship of God under Christ the head. In this sense it comprehends the faithful of the Old Testament, not only those belonging to the Synagogue, but also those out of it, as Job, Melchisedech, &c., – the blest, even the angels, in heaven, the suffering in purgatory, and those on the way. As comprehending the blest in heaven, it is called the Church Triumphant; the souls in purgatory, the Church Suffering; believers on the way, the Church Militant ; not that these are three different Churches, but different parts, or rather states, of one and the same Church. But with the Church in this comprehensive sense we have in our present discussion no concern. Our question obviously turns on the Church Militant.
2. The Church Militant is defined by Catholic writers to be “ The society of the faithful, baptized in the profession of the same faith, united in the participation of the same sacraments, and in the same worship, under one head, Christ in heaven, and his vicar, the sovereign pontiff, on earth.”
But even this is too comprehensive for our present question, — to indicate at once the precise points in the controversy between Catholics and their adversaries.
3. We must distinguish, in the Church Militant, between the Ecclesia credens, the congregation of the faithful, and the Ecclesia docens, or congregation of pastors and teachers.
The Church, as the simple congregation of believers, taken exclusively as believers, is not a visible organization, nor an authoritative or an infallible body. On this point we have no controversy with the Examiner; for we are no Congregationalists, and by no means disposed to maintain that the supreme authority in the Church, under Christ, is vested in the body of the faithful. The authority of the Church in this sense we cheerfully admit is “a fiction," "a mischievous fiction,” as the history of Protestantism for these three hundred years of its existence sufficiently establishes.
When we contend for the Church as a visible, authoritative, infallible, and indefectible body or corporation, we take the word church in a restricted sense, to mean simply the body of pastors and teachers, or, in other words, the bishops in communion with their chief. We mean what Protestants would, perhaps, better understand by the word ministry than by the word church, — although this word ministry is far from being exact, as it designates functions rather than functionaries, and, when used to designate functionaries, includes the several orders of the Christian priesthood, — not merely the bishops or pastors, who alone, according to the Catholic view, constitute the Ecclesia docens. Nevertheless, to avoid the confusion the word church is apt to generate in Protestant minds, we shall sometimes use it, merely premising that we use it to express only the body of pastors and teachers, by whom we understand exclusively the bishops.
Now, the question between us and the No-Churchmen turns precisely on this Ecclesia docens. Has our blessed Saviour established a body of teachers for his Church, - that is, for
, the congregation of the faithful ? Has he given them authority to teach and govern ? Has he given to this body the promise of infallibility and indefectibility? If so, which of the pretended Christian ministries now extant is this body? These are the questions between us and No-Churchmen, and they cover the whole ground in controversy. On each of these questions they assert the negative, and we maintain the affirmative. To show that the negative cannot be maintained, and that the affirmative must be, and can, is our present purpose.
There is now no mistaking the points to be discussed.
I. We take it for granted that the writer in the Examiner admits, or intends to admit, the divine origin and authority of the Christian religion, and that the name of Jesus is the only name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.” We shall take it for granted that he holds the Christian religion to be not merely preferable to all other religions or pretended religions, but the only true religion and way of salvation. We are bound to do so, for he is a doctor of diviniity, a professedly Christian pastor of a professedly Christian congregation, and it would be discourteous on our part to reason with him as we would with a Jew, Pagan; Mahometan, or Infidel. We are bound to assume that he holds, or at least intends to hold, that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only law of life, without obedience to which no one can be saved ; and, since he makes Christianity and the Church coextensive, that out of the pale of the Church, as he defines it, there is no salvation. The Church, he says, comprehends and is composed of all the followers of Christ. No one, then, who is not in the Church is a follower of Christ. If the Gospel of Christ be the only law of life, no one not a follower of Christ can be saved. Consequently, no one not a member of the Church of Christ can be saved.
To deny this is to reject Christianity altogether, or to fall
into complete indifferency. If men can be saved, or be acceptable to their Maker, in one religion as well as in another, wherein is one preferable to another? If the Christian revelation was not necessary to our salvation, why was it given us, and why are we called upon to believe and obey it? why did God send his only begotten Son to make it, and why was it declared to be of such inestimable value to us? If Jesus taught that salvation is attainable in all religions, or in any religion but his own, why were the Apostles so enraptured with the Gospel, and why did they make such painful sacrifices for its promulgation ? If they had not been taught to regard it as the only way of salvation, their conduct is unaccountable ; and if it be not the only way of salvation, they and their Master can be regarded only as a company of deluded fanatics, whose labors, sacrifices, and cruel deaths may indeed excite our pity, but cannot command our respect. We shall presume the writer in the Examiner sees all this as well as we, and therefore shall presume that he holds with us, that all mankind are bound to worship God, that there is but one true way of worshipping God, and therefore but one true religion, and that this true religion is the Christian religion. He who does not admit this much can hardly, by any allowable stretch of courtesy, be called a Christian. This premised, we proceed.
1. In order to be saved, to enter into life, or to become acceptable to God, one must be a Christian. To be a Christian, one must be a believer. No one is a Christian who is not a follower of Christ. Every follower of Christ, according to the Examiner, is a member of the Church of Christ. But, according to the same authority, the Church is a company of believers. Therefore a Christian must be a believer. He who is a believer is a believer because he believes something. Therefore, in order to be a Christian, it is necessary to believe something.
The Examiner must admit this conclusion ; yet some Unitarians have the appearance of denying it. A short time since, we read an article in a Unitarian newspaper in this city, written by a distinguished Unitarian clergyman, in which the writer maintains, that, although faith is indispensable to the Christian character, belief is not; yet he fails to define what that faith is which excludes or does not include belief. Dr. Channing, in
. his Discourse on the Church objects to all forms, creeds, and churches, and declares that the essence of all religion is in supreme love to God and universal justice and charity towards our neighbour. Yet we presume he wishes this fact, to wit,