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Although it be no part of my present design to treat of the nature of schism, yet with respect unto what hath already been discoursed, 365and to manifest our unconcernment in the guilt of it, I shall, as was said divert to give a plain and brief account of it. And in our inquiry I must declare myself wholly unconcerned in all the discords, divisions, and seditions, that have fallen out among Christians in the latter ages about things that were of their own invention. Schism is sin against Christian love, with reference unto the deportment of men in and about the institutions of Christ, and their communion in them. As for contentions, divisions, or separations amongst men, about that order, agreement, unity, or uniformity which are of their own appointment, whatever moral evil they have had in them, they do not belong unto that church-schism which we inquire after. Such have been the horrid divisions and fightings that have prevailed at seasons in the church of Rome; a departure from whose self-constituted state, order, and rule, hath not the least affinity unto schism. It will not, therefore, be admitted that any thing can fall under the note and guilt of schism which hath not respect unto some church-state, order, rule, unity, or uniformity that is of Christ’s institution.
There are three notions of schism that deserve our consideration:—
1. The first is that of divisions among the members of the same church, all of them abiding still in the same outward communion, without any separation into distinct parties. And unto schism in this notion of it three things do concur:—
(1.) Want of that mutual love, condescension, and forbearance, which are required in all the members of the same church; with the moral evils of whisperings, back-bitings, and evil surmises, that ensue thereon.
(2.) All undue adherence unto some church offices above others, causing disputes and janglings.
(3.) Disorder in the attendance unto the duties of church assemblies, and the worship of God performed in them. This is the only notion of schism that is exemplified in the Scripture, the only evil that is condemned under that name. This will appear unto any who shall with heedfulness read the Epistles of Paul the apostle unto the Corinthians; wherein alone the nature of this evil is stated and exemplified. But this consideration of schism hath been almost utterly lost for many ages. Whatever men do in churches, so that they depart not from the outward communion of them, it would be accounted ridiculous to esteem them schismatics. Yet this is that which, if not only, yet principally, the consciences of men are to regard, if the will avoid the guilt of schism. But this notion of it, as was said, being not suited unto the interest or advantages of any sort of men, in the charge of it on others, nor any way subservient to secure the inventions and impositions of the most, is on the matter lost in the world.
3662. The second instance of ecclesiastical schism was given us in the same church of the Corinthians afterward; an account whereof we have in the epistle of Clemens, or of the church of Rome unto them about it; the most eminent monument of primitive antiquity, after the writings by divine inspiration. And that which he calls schism in that church, he calls also “strife, contention, sedition, tumult” And it may be observed concerning that schism, as all the ancients call it, —
(1.) That the church continued its state and outward communion: There is no mention of any that separated from it, that constituted a new church; only in the same church they agreed not, but were divided among themselves. Want of love and forbearance, attended with strife and contention among the members of the same church, abiding in the same outward communion, was the schism they were guilty of.
(2.) The effect of this schism was, that the body of the church, or multitudes of the members, by the instigation of some few disorderly persons, had deposed their elders and rulers from their offices, and probably had chosen others in their places; though that be not mentioned expressly in the epistle.
(3.) That the church itself is not blamed for assuming a power unto themselves to depose their elders, much less that they had done it without the consent, advice, or authority of any bishop or other church but only that they had dealt unjustly with those whom they had deposed; who, in the judgment of the church of Rome, unto which they had written for advice, were esteemed not only innocent, but such as had laudably, and profitably discharged their office; whereon the whole blame is cast on those who had instigated the church unto this procedure.
(4.) There was not yet, nor in a hundred and fifty years after, the least mention or intimation of any schism in a dissent from any humanly-invented rules or canons for order, government, or worship in any church, or religious ceremonies imposed on the practice of any in divine service, — that is, on any church or any of the members of it. There is not the least rumour of any such things in primitive antiquity, no instance to be given of any man charged with schism for a dissent from such a rule. Any such rule, and any ecclesiastical censure upon it, is apocryphal, not only unto the Scripture, but unto that which I call primitive antiquity. The first attempt of any thing a this kind was in reference unto the time and day of the observation of Easter. This was the first instance among Christians of an endeavour to impose the observation of human or church constitutions or groundless traditions on any churches or persons in them. And whereas that which was called a schism between the 367churches of Italy and Asia, or some of them, did ensue thereon, we have a most illustrious testimony from the best, the wisest, and the holiest of that age (for Irenæus in France and Polycrates in Asia were not alone herein), that the blame of all that division and schism was to be charged on them who attempted to deprive the churches of their liberty, and imposed on them a necessity of the observation of the time and season which they had determined on. After a rebuke was given unto the attempt of the Judaizing Christians to impose the observation of Mosaical ceremonies, from the pretence of their divine institution, on the churches of the Gentiles, by the apostles themselves, this was the original of all endeavours to impose human constitutions, for which there was no such pretence, upon the practice of any. And as it was an original not unmeet for the beginning and foundation of such impositions, being in a matter of no use unto the edification of the church, so it received such a solemn rebuke at its first entrance and attempt, that had it not been for the ignorance, pride, interest, and superstition of some in the following ages, it had perished without imitation. The account hereof is given in Eusebius, lib. v. cap. 21–23; as also of the rule which then prevailed, though afterward shamefully forsaken, — namely, that an agreement in the faith was the only rule of communion, which ought to be kept under any diversity in voluntary observations. And the discourse of Socrates on this occasion, lib. v. cap. 21, concerning the non-institution of any days of fastings or feastings, or other rites or ceremonies then in use, with the liberty which is therefore to be left in such things unto all Christians, is the plain truth, whatever some except against it, declared with much judgment and moderation.
This beginning, I say, had the imposition of unscriptural, uninstituted rites, ceremonies, and religious observations, among the churches of Christ, and this solemn rebuke was given unto it. Howbeit the ignorance, superstition, and interest of following ages, with the contempt of all modesty, brake through the boundaries of this holy rebuke, until their own impositions and observations became the substance of all their church-discipline, unto the total subversion of Christian liberty.
Wherefore, to allow church-rulers, or such as pretend so to be, a liberty and power to appoint a rule of communion, — comprising institutions and commands of sundry things to be constantly observed in the whole worship and discipline of the church, not warranted in themselves by divine authority, — and then to charge believers, abiding firm in the doctrines of the faith, with schism, for a non-compliance with such commands and appointments, is that which, neither in the Scripture nor in primitive antiquity, hath either instance, example, 368precedent, testimony, rumour, or report, to give countenance unto it. The pedigree of this practice cannot be derived one step higher than the fact of Victor, the bishop of Rome, in the excommunication of the churches and Christians of Asia; which was solemnly condemned as an intrenchment on Christian liberty.
3. After these things the notion of schism began to be managed variously, according unto the interest of them who seemed to have the most advantage in the application of it unto those who dissented from them. It were an endless thing to express the rise and declare the progress of these apprehensions; but after many loose and declamatory discourses about it, they are generally issued in two heads. The first is, that any kind of dissent from the pope and church of Rome is schism, all the schism that is or can be in the world, the other is, that a causeless separation from a true church is schism, and this only is so. But whereas, in this pretended definition there is no mention of any of its internal causes nor of its formal reason, but a bare description of it by an outward effect, it serves only for a weapon in every man’s hand to perpetuate digladiations about it; for every church esteems itself true, and every one that separates himself esteems himself to have just cause so to do.
In the following times, especially after the rise and prevalency of the Arian heresy, it was ordinary for those of the orthodox persuasion to forsake the communion of those churches wherein Arian bishops did preside, and to gather themselves into separate meetings or conventicles for divine worship; for which they were accused of schism and in sundry places punished accordingly, yea, some of them unto the loss of their lives. Yet I suppose there are none nosy who judge them to have been schismatics.
The separation of Novatus and Donatus from the communion of the whole catholic visible church, on unwarrantable pretences, is that which makes the loudest noise about schism in antiquity. That there was in what was done by them and their followers the general nature and moral evil of causeless schisms and divisions, will be easily granted. But it is that wherein we are not concerned, be the especial nature of schism what it will. Nor did they make use of any one reason whereon the merit of the present cause doth depend. The Novatians1515 Novatianus, or, as the name is given by Eusebius, Novatus, protested against the choice of Cornelius as bishop of Rome in a.d. 251, on the ground of his leniency towards those who, during the Decian persecution, had lapsed into a denial of Christ. He withdrew from communion with Cornelius, and procured his own ordination as bishop of Rome. At first, the Novatians, as those who joined him were called, held simply that no man who had shrunk from avowing Christ under the terrors of martyrdom should be admitted again into the church, whatever evidence he gave that he had repented of the sin. Latterly, they adopted a principle of African origin, that all who had lapsed into gross sins after baptism should be subjected to perpetual exclusion from the communion of the church. — Ed. (the modester sect of the two) pretended only a defect in discipline, in granting church-communion unto such as they would not have received, though they were apparently in the wrong, proceeding on mistaken principles. The Donatists pleaded only 369some personal crimes in some few bishops, fallen into in the time of persecution which they could never prove, and thereon grew angry with all the world, who would not condemn them and renounce their communion as well as they. These slight pretences they made the occasion and reason of renouncing the communion of the whole visible catholic church, in all its distributions for communion, — that is, all particular churches, — and confined sacraments and salvation absolutely unto their own parties. And hereon they fell into many other woful miscarriages, especially those of the latter sort. It is indifferent by what name any are pleased to call this evil and folly. A sin and evil it was, schism, or what you please to term it, and justly condemned by all Christians not joining with them in those days. And that which was the animating principle of the tumult of the Donatists1616 When the archdeacon Cæcilian was elected bishop at Carthage in a.d. 811, a party rose up against him, who chose Majorinus, and latterly, in a.d. 818, Donatus, as their bishops, in preference to Cæcilian; against whom they objected that his ordination as bishop was not valid, as Felix, bishop of Aptunga, who had ordained, had been a traditor; in other words, during the time of persecution, had delivered up the Scriptures to the heathen magistrates to be burned. — Ed. was a supposition that the continuation of the true church-state depended on the successive ordination of bishops; which having, as they thought (unduly enough), failed in one or two instances, it became the destruction of a church-state, not only in the churches where such mistakes had happened, as they surmised, but unto all the churches in the world that would hold communion with them.
But in these things we have no concernment. Other notions of schism besides those insisted on we acknowledge not, nor is any other advanced with the least probability of truth. Nor are we to be moved with outcries about schism, wherein, without regard to truth or charity, men contend for their own interest. Of those notions of it which have been received by men sober and learned we decline a trial by none, that only excepted, that the refusal of obedience unto the pope and church of Rome is all that is schism in the world; which, indexed, is none at all.
That which is now so fiercely pleaded by some concerning different observations of external modes, rites, customs, some more, or none at all, to make men schismatics, is at once to judge all the primitive churches to be schismatical. Their differences, varieties, and diversities among hem about these things cannot be enumerated; and so, without any disadvantage unto the faith or breach of love, they continued to be until all church order and power was swallowed up in 370the papal tyranny, ten thousand times more pernicious than ten thousand such disputes.
For a close unto this whole discourse concerning the original, nature, and state of gospel churches, I shall use that liberty which love of the truth puts into my possession. Churches mentioned in the Scripture, ordained and appointed by the authority of Jesus Christ, were nothing but a certain number of men and women converted to God by the preaching of the gospel, with their baptized seed, associating themselves, in obedience unto Christ’s commands and by the direction of his apostles, for the common profession of the same faith, the observance and performance of all divine institutions of religious worship, unto the glory of God, their own edification, and the conversion of others. These believers, thus associated in societies, knowing the command and appointment of Jesus Christ by his apostles for that end, did choose from among themselves such as were to be their rulers, in the name and authority of Christ, according to the law and order of his institutions, — who in the Scripture are called, on various considerations, elders, bishops, pastors, and the like names of dignity, authority, and office, — who were to administer all the solemn ordinances of the church among them. Unto this office they were solemnly appointed, ordained, or set apart by the apostles themselves, with fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands, or by other ordinary officers after their decease.
This was the way and method of the call and setting apart of all ordinary officers in the church, both under the Old Testament and in the New. It is founded in the light of nature. In the first institution of ordinary church-rulers under the law, the people looked out and chose fit persons, whom Moses set apart to the office, Deut. i. 13–15. And in the call of deacons, the apostles use the same words, or words of the same importance, unto the church as Moses did to the people, Acts vi. 3, asserting the continuation of the same way and order in their call. And whereas he who was first to be called to office under the New Testament after the ascension of Christ fell under a double consideration, — namely, of an officer in general, and of an apostle, which office was extraordinary, — there was a threefold act in his call: The people chose two, one of which was to be an officer, Acts i. 23; God’s immediate determination of one, as he was to be an apostle, verses 24, 25; and the obedient consent of the people in compliance with that determination, verse 26.
The foundation of these churches was generally in a small number of believers. But that church-state was not complete until they were supplied with all ordinary officers, as bishops and deacons. The former were of several sorts, as shall be proved hereafter; and of them there were many in every church, whose number was increased 371as the members of the church were multiplied. So God appointed in the church of the Jews, that every ten families should have a peculiar ruler of their own choice, Deut. i. 13–15. For there is no mention in the New Testament of any one single bishop or elder in any church, of any sort whatever, either absolutely or by way of pre-eminence. But as the elders of each church were many, at least more than one, so there was a parity among them, and an equality in order, power, and rule. Nor can any instance be given unto the contrary.
Of these churches one only was originally planted, in one city, town, or village. This way was taken from conveniency for edification, and not from any positive institution; and it may be otherwise where conveniency and opportunity do require it. The number in these churches multiplying daily, there was a necessity for the multiplication of bishops or elders among them. Hereon the advantage of some one person in priority of conversion, or of ordination, in age, gifts, and races, especially in ability for preaching the gospel and administering the holy ordinances of the church, with the necessity of preserving order in the society of the elders themselves, gave him peculiar dignity, pre-eminence, and title. He was soon after the bishop, without any disadvantage to the church.
For in those churches, in some of them at least, evangelists continued for a long season, who had the administration of church-affairs in their hands. And some there were who were of note among the apostles, and eminently esteemed by them, who had eminent, yea, apostolical gifts as to preaching of the word and prayer, which was the peculiar work of the apostles These were the ἄνδρες ἐλλόγιμοι mentioned by Clemens. Of the many other elders who were associated in the rule of the church, it may be not many had gifts for the constant preaching of the word, nor were called thereunto. Hence Justin Martyr seems to assign the constant public administration of sacred ordinances unto one president. And this also promoted the constant presidency of one, in whom the apostolical aid by evangelists might be supplied. These churches, thus fixed and settled in one place (each of them), city, town, or village, were each of them intrusted with all the power and privileges which the Lord Christ hath granted unto or endued his church withal. This power is called the “power of the keys,” or of “binding and loosing;” which hath respect only unto the consciences of men as unto things spiritual and eternal, being merely ministerial.
Every one of these churches were bound by the command of Christ to live in peace and unity, through the exercise of peculiar, sincere, and fervent love among all their members; as also to walk in peace and useful communion with all other churches in the world, 372according as they had opportunity of converse with them. And when on any occasion any division or schism fell out among any of their members in this church-state, it was severely rebuked by the apostles.
All these churches, and all the members of them, were obliged, by virtue of divine institution, to obey their guides, to honour and reverence them; and by their voluntary contribution to provide for their honourable subsistence and maintenance, according to their ability. Other church-state neither the Scripture nor antiquity unto the end of the second century doth know any thing of; which I shall hereafter more fully manifest, Neither was there any thing known then to be schism or so esteemed, but a division falling out in some one of these churches: which happened for the most part, if not only, by some of their teachers falling into heresy and drawing away disciples after them Acts xx. 30; or by various opinions about their guides, 1 Cor. i. 12; or the ambition of some in seeking the power and authority of office among them. To seek for any thing among those churches, wherein our present contest about schism is concerned, is altogether in vain. There was then no such subordination of churches, of many unto one, as is now pleaded; no such distinction of officers into those who have a plenary and those who have a partiary power only, in the rule of the church; no church with a single officer over it, comprehending, in a subjection unto its jurisdiction, a multitude of other churches. No invention, no imposition of any orders, forms of prayer, or ceremonies of worship not of divine institution, were once thought of; and when any thing of that nature was first attempted, it caused great troubles amongst them. In a word, the things on the account of a noncompliance wherewithal we are vehemently charged with schism were then neither laid nor hatched, neither thought of nor invented.
To erect new kinds of churches; to introduce into them new orders, new rules, rites and ceremonies; to impose their observation on all churches and all members of them; and to charge their dissent with the guilt of schism, that schism which is prohibited and condemned in the Scripture, — hath much of an assumed authority and severity in it, nothing of countenance from the Scripture or primitive antiquity.
But after that churches began to depart from this original constitution by the ways and means before declared, every alteration produced a new supposition of church unity and peace, whereto every church of a new constitution laid claim. New sorts of schism were also coined and framed; for there was a certain way found out and carried on, in a mystery of iniquity, whereby those meek, holy, humble churches or societies of Christ’s institution, who, as such, had nothing to do with the things of the world, in power, authority, dignity, jurisdiction, 373or wealth, in some instances wherein they got the advantage one of another, became in all these things to equal kingdoms and principalities, yea, one of them to claim a monarchy over the whole world!
During the progression of this apostasy, church-unity and schism declined from their centre, and varied their state according unto the present interest of them that prevailed. Whoever had got possession of the name of the church in a prevailing reputation, though the state of it was never so corrupt, made it bite and devour all that disliked it, and would swear that submission unto them in all things was church-unity, and to dissent from them was schism. Unto that state all the world know that things were come in the church of Rome. Howbeit, what hath been disputed about or contended for, of power, privileges, authority, pre-eminence, jurisdiction, catholicism, ways of worship, rule, and discipline, which the world is filled with such a noise about, and in the dispute whereof so many various hypotheses are advanced that cannot be accommodated unto such Christian congregations as we have described, are but the effects of the prudence or imprudence of men; and what it will prove the event will show.
Things of this nature being once well understood will deliver the world from innumerable fruitless, endless contests, sovereign princes from all disturbance on the account of religion, and private persons from the fatal mistake of intrusting the eternal concernments of their souls unto their relation unto one church and not unto another. I am not so vain as at this time to expect the reduction of Christian religion unto its primitive power, purity, and simplicity; nor do I reflect blare on them who walk conscientiously in such a church state and order as they approve of, or suppose it the best they can attain unto; only I think it lawful for all Christ’s disciples at all times to yield obedience unto all his commands, and to abstain from being servants of men in what he hath not enjoined.
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