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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. R. Graves
From The Great Iron Wheel, 1860
And, I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth." Rev. 13:11.
The system of Methodism cannot justly claim to be a Church of Christ, because of human origin, an invention of men.
Were you asked if the economy of the Christian Church is of divine origin and appointment, you, in common with every other Christian, would answer, most emphatically, Yes. Nor would you recall the decision to qualify it, unless the ruin it brought upon your own system of church organization might occur to you.
That the Church of Christ is of divine origin, and, as a visible Christian institute, was set up at a definite time in the Christian era, every sect on earth feel forced to admit. Why, sir, in what light would a Protestant Christian be regarded in our day, who held and taught that the Christian Church was merely a human institution, a man-invented society or organization, like the institutions of Odd Fellowship and Masonry, and like them, subject to all the modifications of man's ever fluctuating and capricious fancy!
Would not Christendom unite in a holy crusade against the sentiment? Would not Christians regard such a doctrine as degrading the Church, and depreciating Church relationship to a level with membership in those societies?
Now, Methodism, considered as a church or a society, is purely and clearly of human origin and device, and of a very recent date, indeed, it cannot boast of as an illustrious a founder as Masonry, nor of as high antiquity, by some thousands of years.
Solomon is claimed (I do not pretend to say it) as the inventor of Masonry, and the cause of its organization, the building of the Temple; while John Wesley, when an unconverted man, is the boasted founder of Methodism, and the cause of its being organized into a Church was the Revolutionary war!!
Masonry has equal, yea, far superior claims to Methodism, to assume the title, and demand the regard and consideration of a Church of Christ; and this cause, i. e., its human origin, constitutes my second objection to accord to Methodism the title and regard of Christian Church.
My position may, and doubtless will be regarded by some unreflecting minds, as uncharitable in the extreme. But charity rejoices in the truth, and, I ask you, sir, and every candid man, to detect a flaw in the reasoning that forces me to this conclusion. Hate, if you will, but hear me.
If Methodism is a mere human contrivance or "scheme," (for so some of your first writers have denominated it) as are the above-named institutions, then, this fact of itself, decides that it can lay no claims to the regard and authority of a Christian Church, superior to them.
Methodism may do good, and so do they. Many Methodists may be good men and Christians, and so are many Masons and Odd Fellows. Many sinners may have been converted under preachers in Methodist societies, and so have many sinners been converted under ministers who are members of Masonic and Odd Fellows' lodges, but bear it in mind, that neither Masonry nor Methodism ever saved or ever will save a soul.
If a stream cannot rise higher than its source, then I cannot impart that of which I am not myself possessed. No more can a man clothe an institution or religious system of his own creation with authority superior to that of which he is himself possessed. The days of inspiration have passed, consequently one man has as good a right to invent a religious system as another, and to gain supporters to it as another has to his, and so each man, or each dozen men, might invent a dozen new "Churches," but each Church would possess no more authority or sanctity than the man himself possessed, and to repudiate these Churches would only be rejecting the works and inventions of men.
For Christians to support such inventions or religious schemes, and observe the traditions and commandments of men for religious duties, is to be the followers and servants, yea, worshippers of men, for we are the servants of those whom we obey, and the worshippers of him whom we serve. Man has most violently felt the force of this in all ages. Those who have arbitrarily given laws, civil or religious, to communities or nations, have either been inspired as Moses, or have pretended to be so, as did Minos, Lycurgus, Numa, Mohammed, down to Ann Lee and Joe Smith, "because," as said Milton, "they wisely forethought that men would never quietly submit to such a discipline, as had not more of God's hand in it than man's." Do not all monarchs and despots claim a "divine right" to rule?
Indeed, was revelation silent as the grave upon the question, our reason, the intuitive convictions of our consciences, our sense of the moral fitness of things would decide the question beyond appeal. The arguments they, one and all, bring up, are weighty and conclusive, that the discipline of government of the Church of Christ is of divine appointment.
Because it is the most important of all the external of the Church or religion. No one thing so determines the destiny of a nation or community as its government. A good government will conduct a nation to prosperity, and secure the welfare and happiness of its subjects, while a bad one will sooner or later overwhelm it in ruin, and entail wretchedness and woe. Nothing more than the laws and regulations of a society concerns and influences a people's happiness and well-being. No nation or community can be truly prosperous with an ill-regulated government.
Well said the immortal Milton:
"Some do not think it for the ease of their inconsequent opinions, to grant that church discipline is platformed in the Bible, but that it is left to the discretion of men. To this conceit of theirs I answer, that it is both unsound and untrue; for there is not that thing in the world of more grave and urgent importance throughout the whole life of man, than is discipline. What need I instance? He that hath read with judgment, of nations and communities, of cities and camps, of peace and war, sea and land, will readily agree that the flourishing and decaying of all civil societies, all the movements and turnings of human occasions, are moved to and fro as upon the axle of discipline." (Milton Works)
You will admit, sir, that the unity of all Christians, in faith and practice, is of the highest importance, since the world will never be persuaded to believe the gospel until Christians are one, (see Christ's prayer, John 17.)
Now a diversity of adverse forms of Church organizations separates Christians, and this engenders strifes, discord, emulation and hatred. They become identified in feeling and interest with the peculiar form of polity they have selected, and they are tempted to resort to all means to preserve it, promote its extension, and to resist the encroachments of a different one, and thus these diverse forms of Church polity precipitate all Christendom into a fierce and deadly antagonism. This state of things will never improve, infidelity be driven from the world, nor the heathen receive the gospel, until Christians "see eye to eye and speak the same thing," and there is but "one FOLD and one shepherd."
Now if Christ left the form of church polity to the discretion of man, one man or society of Christians has an equal right to frame a polity as another, and as each will see something to mend, we will, in the course of time, see as many different churches as there are ambitious men, able to draw off a party. It is this horrible God-dishonoring and Christ-rejecting doctrine that has already given birth to the 640 sects that have arisen, and it now stands forth, offering a free charter and encouragement, saying to unhallowed ambition that covets self-aggrandizement and notoriety, You can found a church, and fix places of honor, authority, rule or profit for yourself and coadjutors!"
If Christ appointed any of the externals of his church, we are compelled to conclude he fixed the most important. To say he did not is to impeach his wisdom.
The government of his Church is the most important of all externals, from every conceivable consideration, He must then have appointed it, by giving principles that would determine it, or giving a pattern of government in an organized body.
It would be not only an impeachment of his wisdom, to suppose he left that part of his Church to be devised by man, which if badly devised, would prove the subversion of his whole design, but it would reflect upon his goodness. "I-low can we believe that God would leave his frail and feeble, though no less beloved Church here below, to the perpetual stumble of conjecture and disturbance in this our dark voyage, without the card and compass of discipline?" (Milton Works)
Such a supposition would make Christ a less desirable and less faithful lawgiver than Moses! and Paul tells us he was more faithful. (Heb.3:2, 4) Did not God charge Moses to make every part of the old tabernacle, which was only a shadow of the new and true house, according to the heavenly pattern, and is the glorious and really true house left to be shaped and patterned according to the thousand varying fancies of men, and like Methodism, subject to be changed by every General Conference?
Well said Milton, when he lifted his warning voice against the Episcopal Church framers of his day, "Did God take such delight in measuring out the pillars, arches and doors, of a material temple? Was he so punctual and circumspect in lavers, altars and sacrifices, soon after to be abrogated, lest any of these should have been made contrary to his mind? Is not a far more perfect work, more agreeable to his perfections in the most perfect state of the Church militant, the new alliance of God to man."
"God never intended to leave the government of his Church, delineated here, to be patched afterwards and varnished over with the devices and embellishings of man's imagination." No, the beneficent Saviour left this work not to the inventions or desecrations of men nor angels, but came down himself "to set up his kingdom," and not only published the principles of its constitution, but gave an example, and when leaving, solemnly charged his disciples, and through them his ministers in all ages, to see it, that they taught his followers to "observe all things whatsoever he had commanded," and this forbids the observance in religion or the Church, of anything he has not commanded!
The government must of necessity be a definite character to promote the highest welfare and happiness of the membership. All governments do not do this equally. All governments, save one, actually destroy the very inalienable rights with which the God of nature endowed man, and thus contravene the wisdom of God in man's creation. Who, better than God, knows the character of government that would be the best and certainly calculated to secure the greatest good of his children?
No man, or class of men, has the wisdom and prescience to devise such a government. It, of necessity, should partake of the character of the doctrines of religion, it needs to be a perfect one, and
who but God is equal to this work? Let the history of human governments illustrate the weakness and inability of man to devise governments or organizations that have the strength to endure, and at the same time respect all the natural rights of man.
If left to men, they would devise it so as to promote their own ends. Where is there an organization framed by men, civil or religious in which places of distinction, power or emolument, are not found? Look at Monarchism, Episcopacy and Presbyterianism. What do we see? Kings, bishops, and ruling elders, superior orders, lording it over God's children and Christ's heritage. They have made "right and left hand seats," because they wished to occupy them. "Of what excellency and necessity then Church discipline is, how far beyond the faculty of man to frame, and how dangerous to be left to man's inventions, who would be every foot turning it to sinister ends; how properly also it is the work of God as father, and of Christ as husband of the Church."
If the government of the Church is left for the clergy, or any set of men to frame, then Christ put it in the power of men to oppress his children. They might, even unintentionally, frame a polity that would prove oppressive.
Such a power delegated to ministers, would tend to foster their pride, and inflate them with the idea of their superiority to their brethren.
If given to one man or class of men, it concedes the fact that there are superior and inferior classes or orders in the Church, those who determine the laws of the Church, and its regulations and practices, giving rites and ceremonies, etc.; and it would teach that there are Rabbis, i. e., authoritative "teachers" or "masters" in the Church.
Where, in the New Testament, has Christ or his apostles specified the person or persons who are to do this all important work? Whom has he empowered to determine the discipline, make and change laws for his kingdom? Angels might as well presume to fix the laws that regulate the worship of the Church of the first-born in heaven, as Ministers, Bishops or Popes, to make and change the laws of Christ's kingdom on earth!
Your own Bascom has well said, "The right of deciding what are the will and mind of God, in matters of faith and discipline, by prescriptive interpretation, is conceded in the Scriptures to no man or body of men, exclusively."
Bishop Bascom in this solitary passage drives a dagger, through and through, the very vitals of Methodism. Does not a body of Methodist clergy, the General Conference, claim the right, exclusively, to interpret, and even legislate proscriptively, "matters of faith and discipline," for Methodism? Where then do you get your authority for your proscriptive interpretation and legislation, if not from Christ? From John Wesley?
How dare the General Conference change, add to, and take from the statute book of Jesus Christ, and the law book of his church and kingdom, every four years, if they do indeed consider the Methodist Episcopal Society the Church, or a part of the kingdom of Christ, and the Discipline its laws and polity? What insolent presumption! What daring impiety! That discipline, and history, is a dark mountain of condemnation to Methodism!
Man seems instinctively impressed that the disciplinary laws of the Church which command his implicit obedience, on pain of his exclusion, are, and of right ought to be, as divinely appointed as baptism and the supper.
If the impression on every man's conscience is any proof of the existence of a God, (and all writers use the argument,) it is equally in proof of the Divine appointment of Church discipline.
But supposing the organization, discipline, laws, etc., of any given Church were of man's invention and enactment, no man could submit to them without serving man and rejecting Christ.
Finally and conclusively, If the visible organization of the Christian Church is of man's device, then it is not only of no moment what that form may be, but it is not necessary that there should be one at all! Admit it to be man's work, then like all his other creations it is his creature, it belongs to him, and he has a perfect right to do with it as he pleases, it is subject to his own caprices, he can change its form, every year, or abolish it altogether.
Each religious society now in existence has as good a right to abolish its present polity as it had to create it, and suppose all should abolish their forms today, there would be no visible Church in the world, so far as they compose it. It is their privilege, whenever it is their pleasure to do so. God has nowhere commanded them to make governments for him, and he nowhere forbids them, but rather everywhere commands them, to abolish tradition.
Do you feel prepared to advocate the legitimate consequence of Pedobaptistic position upon this point? What are they? If Christ gave no principles of be observed, and no direction, but left it open for all to satisfy their likings in Church making, then any man or woman may at any time invent and set up a society with a polity and discipline, yes, and membership too, to suit their fancy, and call it a Church of Christ, and call upon you, sir, to acknowledge it as such, and to commune with it, and, as you are a warm advocate for open communion, you could not object!