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To apply these observations to the case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States. They have heretofore been subject to the ecclesiastical authority of the Bishop of London. This authority was derived under a commission from the crown; which, though destitute of legal operation, found a general acquiescence on the part of the churches, being exercised no farther than to the necessary purposes of ordaining and licensing ministers. Hereby a connection was formed between the spiritual authority in England and the Episcopal Churches in America, the latter constituting a part of the Bishop of London's diocese.
But this connection is dissolved by the Revolution. Had it been a matter of right, it would have ceased with the authority of the crown; being founded on consent, and the ground changed, it can not be allowed of in future, consistently with the duties resulting from our allegiance.* Even suppose the Bishop of London hereafter exempted, by Act of Parliament, from the necessity of exacting the oaths, a dependence on his Lordship and his successors in that See would be liable to the reproach of foreign influence, and render Episcopalians less qualified, than those of other communions, to be intrusted by their country; neither (as may be presumed) will it be claimed after the acknowledgment of the civil independence, being contrary to a principle clearly implied in many of the institutions of the Church of England, particularly in the 34th Article of Religion, which asserts that "every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church, ordained only by man's authority, so far that all things be done to edifying." Though the Episcopal Churches in these States will not be national or legal establishments, the same principle applies, being the danger of foreign jurisdiction.
The ecclesiastical power over the greater number of the churches, formerly subsisting in some legislative bodies on this Continent, is also abrogated by the Revolution. In the Southern States, where the Episcopal Churches were maintained by law, the assemblies might well have been supposed empowered, in conjunction with the other branches of legislation, to regulate their external government; but now, when the establishments are overturned, it would ill become those bodies, composed of men of various denominations, (however respectable collectively and as individuals,) to enact laws for the Episcopal Churches, which will no doubt, in common with others, claim and exercise the privilege of governing themselves.
All former jurisdiction over the churches being thus withdrawn, and the chain which held them together broken, it would seem that their future continuance can be provided for only by voluntary associations for union and good government. It is therefore of the utmost consequence, to discover and ascertain the principles on which such associations should be framed.
" Were the British Colonies independent of their parent kingdom, the Episcopalians in this country would be a society independent of the national Church." (Dr. Chandler's Appeal farther Defended, p. 113.)
Whoever should consider the subject before us as merely speculative, and propose the suggestions of his own judgment or fancy, without attention to the sentiments, habits, and circumstances of the people interested, would probably have little weight, and would unquestionably not be useful. In the present investigation, therefore, it will be proper to keep in view the particular situation of the churches in question.
In most cases, where spiritual jurisdiction has been established or defined, such has been the connection between Church and State, that it was scarcely possible to adopt measures which did not show some traces of accommodation to political views; but this may be avoided in the present instance, where all denominations of Christians are on a level, and no Church is farther known to the public than as a voluntary association of individuals for a lawful and useful purpose. The effect of this should be the avoiding of whatever may give the churches the appearance of being subservient to party, or tend to unite their inembers on questions of a civil nature. This is unquestionably agreeable to the simplicity of the Gospel; it is conceived to be also, under the present circumstances, agreeable to good policy; for whatever Church shall aim at such objects, unless on account of an invasion of their religious privileges, will be suspected by all others, as aiming at the exclusive government of the country.
In the parent Church, though whatever regards religion may be enacted by the clergy in Convocation, it must afterwards have the sanction of all other orders of men, comprehended in the Parliament. It will be necessary to deviate from the practice (though not from the principles) of that Church, by convening the clergy and laity in one body. The former will no doubt have an influence proportioned to the opinion entertained of their piety and learning; but it will never (it is presumed) wish to usurp an exclusive right of regulation; a sentiment which can not more properly be expressed than in the following words of that great defender of the Church of England, Mr. Hooker : “ The most natural and religious course of making laws, is that the matter of them be taken from the judgment of the wisest in those things which they are to concern. In matters of God, to set down a form of prayer, a solemn confession of the articles of the Christian faith and ceremonies meet for the exercise of our religion, it were unnatural not to think the pastors and bishops of our souls, a great deal more fit than men of secular trades and callings—howbeit when all that the wisdom of all sorts can do is done for the devising of laws in the Church, it is the general consent of all that giveth them the form and vigor of laws."* And in another place : “But were it so that the clergy might give laws to all the rest, forasmuch as every estate doth desire to enlarge the bounds of their own li. berties, it is easy to see how injurious this would prove to men of other conditions." + The power of electing a superior order of ministers, ought to be in the * Ecclesiastical Polity, p. 402.
+ Page 437. 585364
clergy and laity together, they being both interested in the choice. In England, the bishops are appointed by the civil authority, which was an usurpation of the Crown at the Norman conquest, but since confirmed by acts of Parliament. The primitive churches were generally supplied by popular elections; even in the city of Rome, the privilege of electing the bishops continued with the people till the tenth or eleventh century; and near those times, there are resolves of councils that none shall be promoted to ecclesiastical dignities, but by the election of the clergy and people. It can not be denied that this right vested in numerous bodies, occasioned great disorders, which it is expected will be avoided when the people shall exercise the right of representation.
Deprivation of the superior order of clergy, should also be in the Church at large. In England it has been sometimes done by the civil authority, particularly in the instances of Queen Mary's Roman Catholic Bishops by Queen Elizabeth, and of the non-juring Bishops at the Revolution, which last occasioned a separation from the National Church, Sancroft and the others being still considered by their advocates as bishops of their respective sees, and Tillotson and his associates, reprobated by them as schismatics. So far is the civil policy of England from permitting an entire separation of ecclesiastical authority, that in Queen Ann's reign, when Bishop Watson was deprived for immorality, it was allowed that as a peer he might have objected to the Archbishop's jurisdiction, provided he had pleaded his privilege in time. It is well known, that the interference of the civil authority in such instances as the preceding, has been considered by many as inconsistent with ecclesiastical principles; an objection which will be avoided, when deprivation can only be under regulations enacted by a fair representation of the churches, and by an authority entirely ecclesiastical. It is presumed that none will so far mistake the principles of the Church of England, as to talk of the impossibility of depriving a bishop.
In England, dioceses have been formed before parishes, a church supposes one common flock, subject to a bishop and sundry collegiate presbyters, without the idea of its being necessarily divided into smaller communities, connected with their respective parochial clergy; the latter having been introduced some time after the conversion of the nation to the Christian faith. One natural consequence of this distinction will be, to retain in each church every power that need not be delegated for the good of the whole. Another will be an equality of the churches, and not, as in England, the subjection of all parish churches to their respective cathedrals.
The last circumstance to be here mentioned, is the impossibility that the churches should provide a support for that superior order of clergy, to which their acknowledged principles point; of consequence, the duty assigned to that order, ought not materially to interfere with their employ. ments in the station of parochial clergy; the superintendence of each will therefore be confined to a small district - a favorite idea with all moderate Episcopalians.
It is proposed to offer the outlines of a frame of Church government founded on the preceding sentiments.
CHAPTER III. The author offers the following sketch of a frame of government, though he is far from thinking.it complete; to make it so, even according to his own ideas, would carry him beyond the compass intended in this essay.
As the churches in question extend over an immense space of country, it can never be expected that representatives from each church should assemble in one place; it will be more convenient for them to associate in small districts, from which representatives may be sent to three different bodies, the continent being supposed to be divided into that number of larger districts. From these may be elected a body representing the whole.
In each smaller district, there should be elected a general Vestry or Convention, consisting of a convenient number (the minister to be one) from the vestry or congregation of each church, or of every two or more churches, according to their respective ability of supporting a minister. They should elect a clergyman their permanent president, who, in conjunction with other clergymen, to be also appointed by the body, may exercise such powers as are purely spiritual, particularly that of admitting to the ministry; the presiding clergyman and others to be liable to be deprived for just causes, by a fair process, and under reasonable laws; meetings to be held as often as occasion may require.
The assemblies in the three larger districts may consist of a convenient number of members, sent from each of the smaller districts severally within their bounds, equally composed of clergy and laity, and voted for by those orders promiscuously; the presiding clergyman to be always one, and these bodies to meet once in every year.
The continental representative body may consist of a convenient number from each of the larger districts, formed equally of clergy and laity, and among the clergy, formed equally of presiding ministers and others; to meet statedly once in three years. The use of this, and the preceding representative bodies, is to make such regulations, and receive appeals in such matters only as shall be judged necessary for their continuing one religious communion.
These are (what was promised) no more than outlines, which it will not be proper to dismiss without a few observations on the degree of power to be exercised in matters of faith, worship, and government.
For the doctrinal part, it would perhaps be sufficient to demand of all admitted to the ministry, or engaged in ecclesiastical legislation, the questions contained in the Book of Ordination, which extend no farther than an acknowledgment of the Scriptures as a rule of faith and life; yet some general sanction may be given to the thirty-nine articles of religion, so as to adopt their leading sense,* which is here proposed rather as a chain of
* Sappose, for instance, a form RESEMBLING that which Dr. Ferdinando Warner, a late ecolesiastical historian of the Episcopal Church, says (Book 16) was proposed in the reign of Charles II., by the Lord-keeper Bridgman, Bishop Wilkins, and Chief-Justice Hale, " to serve instead of all former subscriptions." The form was this: "I do hereby profess and declare, that I approve the doctrine, worship, and government established in the Church of England, as containing all things necessary to salvation, and that I will not endeavor by myself or any other, directly or indirectly, to bring in any doctrine contrary to that which is so established; and I do hereby promise, that I will continue in the communion of the Church of England, and will not do any thing to disturb the peace thereof."
union, than for exacting entire uniformity of sentiment. If the last be considered as a desirable object, the articles have undeniably been found insufficient for the purpose, which is not here said from an opinion that such was the intention of the compilers, but rather with a conviction that they designedly left room for a considerable latitude of sentiment; if to the above there be objected the danger of a public opposition between ministers, this obvious answer may be made: that the strictest tests ever devised, can not be so effectual to prevent such conduct, as the regulations contained in the 53d Canon, which considers it as indecent and punishable, independently of the merits of the doctrines litigated.
As to divine worship, there must no doubt be somewhere the power of making necessary and convenient alterations in the service of the Church. But it ought to be used with great moderation; otherwise the communion will become divided into an infinite number of smaller ones, all differing from one another, and from that in England, from whence we may expect considerable numbers to migrate hereafter to this country, who, if they find too wide a deviation from the ancient practice, will probably form an independent communion of their own. Whatever may in other respects be determined on this head, it is presumed the Episcopalians are generally attached to that characteristic of their communion, which prescribes a settled form of prayer.
On the subject of government, whether civil or ecclesiastical, there is great truth and beauty in the following observation of the present Bishop of St. Asaph: “The great art of governing consists in not governing too much." Perhaps it would be sufficient, if an immoral life were followed by exclusion from the sacrament and ecclesiastical employment; deprivation from church-benefices following, of course. The above is not to be understood as excluding the enforcing such rules as are necessary to preserve decency and order. As to excommunication, or an entire separation from the Church, however necessary it was in the primitive ages, when Christianity itself being not generally known, and misrepresented as a sanction for lewdness, treason, and clandestine murders, must have been essentially wounded by the immoralities of any of its professors; there is great room to doubt of there being the same use in it at present, when the vices of a professing Christian are universally known to be opposite to the precepts of his religion. Such are the tyranny and hypocrisy too frequently arising from the exercise of this power, that it may be thought safest to leave men to those great sanctions of duty, the will of God, and a future retribution-attended, as they will generally be with a sense of shame, dissuading from actions so notoriously scandalous, as to be a foundation for church censures.