4. — The Church: Its Organization.

From what we have already seen, in considering the unity of the Church, it will be clear that what we have to say now regarding the organization of the local assembly applies to the whole Body. The Lord has not given different organizations for different localities. We are still dealing with the Church as a whole, though with local features.

We might say at the outset that Scripture gives no hint of looseness in the matter of Church organization. Many speak with indifference of these things, and under the guise of broad-minded liberality allow room for the greatest divergence of views on these questions. Nay, the effort is made to show that Scripture itself is, in the main, silent as to the matter, and has only given us the outline, to be filled out in detail pretty much as men please, or as apparent exigencies may arise in various places; that certain problems of organization were left to be solved by the sanctified reason of the Church, which would gradually find out what plan was best suited to meet the varied and growing needs of a body ever increasing in size and importance, and whose interests would become with each year more complex. And so, in this very premise, men open the way for all manner of variety and of contradiction. What wonder is it then, that we find sects all contending for their own forms of existence, and, as a result, dividing the one Church of Christ almost beyond recognition? And then, instead of being abashed by the havoc thus made, men tell us that these very divisions are a part of the beauty of church organization, intended by Providence to foster a spirit of generous rivalry, and to increase by emulation the zeal of all! So far will even Christian men be led as apologists for their own disobedience and neglect of Scripture!

The reason, perhaps, why Scripture is thought to be silent as to the details of church organization, is that it is taken for granted that a varied and complicated mass of machinery is necessary. As in the gospel sinners stumble at the way of salvation, not because of any obscurity or complication in it but from its very simplicity, so saints fail to see the beauty and order of the Church as found in Scripture because of the absence of what is not only unnecessary to its well-being but absolutely cumbersome. And yet, does not nature itself teach us that simplicity as well as order is "nature's first law" — order, because of simplicity? All the great forces of nature — gravitation, the action of light, heat, and electricity — are simple. It is man who makes machinery, but he is wise enough not to attempt to intrude it upon the domain of the great forces of nature. He does not attempt to assist them. If the Christian likewise would look for the Church and its organization apart from the machinery which he attempts to add to it, he would find it, too, in all its beauty and simplicity in the word of God.

It may naturally be asked what are the special hindrances to seeing the simplicity of church organization? And to this we may answer, Several principal ones.

1. The almost universal habit of giving a name to some portion of the professing Church is one great barrier to a clear understanding of what Church organization is. Of course, the division lies deeper than the name; but that diverts the mind from the Scriptures, and gives authority to the denomination and its rules. If we expect to find Scripture for the various forms of government prescribed by the different denominations, we will be disappointed. Scripture knows neither the one nor the other, save to condemn both (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 1 Cor. 3:3; 1 Cor. 11:18, 19).

2. Growing out of denominationalism, the next hindrance to a clear understanding of Scripture-teaching that we will mention is the use of creeds or confessions of faith. We need only point to the slight put upon the word of God by these human systems of doctrine, and ask, Can we expect them to aid in the understanding of that which they virtually displace? Take as an illustration the following definition of the Church, from the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England: "A congregation of faithful men in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly administered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." Here we are held to a human priesthood, and all else taught by that denomination as essential to a true church. Little wonder that an important requisite for church unity in their eyes is the maintenance of "the historic episcopate."

3. Rut this brings us to consider a third great obstacle to receiving the simple teaching of Scripture as to the organization of the Church; — the place occupied by the clergy both in the minds of the people and in the economy of the various denominations. By clergy we mean that class of men who are supposed, by reason of their office, to have a special nearness to God, and special rights in the way of ministry of the Word and administration of the "sacraments." Let us say at the outset that we have the highest regard for every devoted servant of Christ, wherever found or called by whatever name. That there are multitudes of such among the clergy we would not for a moment deny. What we have to say is not against men, but against a system which we are sure is not only a hindrance to blessing for the Church of God at large, but a great burden to many conscientious men who are galled by its yoke.

The word clergy is derived from the Greek cleeros, the primary meaning of which is "lot," and it is so used in describing the division of our Lord's clothing among the soldiers who crucified Him (Matt. 27:35, etc.). We find it used in the same way in describing the appointment of Matthias (Acts 1:26); but in that same connection we have that use of it which has probably been the origin of the word as we know it. "For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part (Gk., lot) of this ministry" (Acts 1:17; also ver. 25). This use of the word approaches the derived meaning of "inheritance" or "portion," and which we find applied to the portion of all the people of God (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12). In 1 Peter 5:3, "Neither as being lords over God's heritage," the word "God's" is not in the original. The Revised Version renders it, "Neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you." But a more evident, and more accurate, rendering would be, "Not as lording it over your possessions;"* the thought evidently being that they were not to rule God's people as if it were their own possessions. But the translation of the Revisers is significant as indicating the bias of a clerical position. They look upon a company of God's people as their "charge," their "flock," and in a sense their personal property, that which has been allotted to them, and so translate a passage which is meant to guard against this very thing. And this is the error that underlies all thoughts of a clergy, whether it be of the priests of the church of Rome and England, or the more modified forms as found in the various Protestant denominations. They form a special class with distinct privileges and special duties, who thus assume a position, gradually and unintentionally no doubt at the first, utterly inconsistent with the rights of the Church as a whole. So true is this, that it may be almost said, as the French despot declared, "The state is myself," the clergy is the Church. The clergy must preach the word; the clergy must administer the sacraments; the clergy must make the laws. A church without a clergyman is like a body without a head. Now with such thoughts of a special class in the Church of God, it is impossible to come to a right understanding of what that Church is. In a succeeding paper on the ministry of the Church we will have occasion to take up this subject of the clergy in connection with ordination. What has been said is sufficient to show why the very idea of a clergyman, which is nowhere mentioned in Scripture, is a veil over the truth as to church organization.

{*J. N. D.'s version of the N. T., with note.}

4. Similarly the sacraments, so-called, have become, in the hands of those who misuse them, a means of darkening truth. Baptism instead of a simple initiatory act, administered by any Christian man, becomes the door into the Church, is administered by the clergyman, and too often is regarded as an essential to salvation; or on the other side is pushed into undue prominence and made the sign of a party and the test of fellowship. The Lord's Supper, from a sweet and happy memorial feast, where all the Lord's people, gathered about Himself, recall His love stronger than death, becomes a formal, too often a superstitious act, presided over necessarily by a clergyman who is compelled to usurp the functions of the whole people.

5. This brings us lastly to note the prevailing misconceptions about worship which also prove a barrier in the way of the simple seeker after God's order. Worship is a priestly act, and all God's people are priests. To confine it to one person, tends to put him alone in the place of priest, which Rome does, and is followed at greater or less distance by all other denominations. To confound preaching with worship is another common mistake which tends in the same direction, as well as degrading worship to a subordinate position.

To recapitulate: A true knowledge of the Scripture teaching as to church organization is hindered by general misconceptions as to the necessity of denominational names and creeds; as to the clergy, sacraments and worship. A person with such misconceptions would probably define a proper church organization to be one "formed by a company of Christians gathered under some denominational name, held together by the adoption of a doctrinal creed, presided over by a regularly ordained minister, who administers the sacraments and presides over the worship!' Does this sound like a libel? Our sad answer must be, Look around and you will find expression of scarcely anything else. But we are bold to say that, to get a scriptural idea of church organization, we must eliminate, or change almost every feature given in the above definition.

Let us then come to the Word of God, and seek from Him His thoughts as to this most important subject.

We have said that one great hindrance to the apprehension of the Scripture truth as to this subject was its simplicity. Let us bear this in mind, as we seek to place side by side with the misconceptions of human reason the simple teachings of God's word.

1. Instead of the Babel of many names, Scripture gives us but the One Name, — a name above every name (Phil. 2:9), — the beautiful name (James 2:7, Gk.), which is put upon all God's people without distinction — the name of Christ. They are called Believers (Acts 5:14), Disciples (Acts 9:1), Christians (Acts 11:26), and Saints (Eph. 1:1); but never is one of these names used to distinguish one portion of the Body of Christ from another: on the contrary, they serve as links to bind them all together. Thus we have the answer as to the name of the church organization. The names which God has given us in His word are enough: we need no others, for they would but divide and not unite us. Let not this be passed slightingly over as unimportant. Such is not the thought of the apostle: "Now this say, That every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" "While one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" (1 Cor. 1:12, 13; 1 Cor. 3:4). Modern sectarian divisions are but the development of those germs which the apostle sought so earnestly to destroy — mere exhibitions of pride and carnality, as far as the systems are concerned, parting those who love the same Lord and are taught of God to love one another.

2. Next, in answer to the question to what form of doctrine the Church subscribes, Scripture answers, The word of God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine" (2 Tim. 3:16). "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). From these and multitudes of other passages we know that the Scriptures are inspired, that they are truth, that they are eternal, and that they are all-sufficient. Why, then, should there be a creed? Is it to make the Scripture more plain? "All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge" (Prov. 8:8, 9). Can man's words state truth more plainly than God's? If they were used as other writings upon Scripture, for purposes of exposition, this objection could not be urged against them; but when they tacitly accuse Scripture of being ambiguous, obscure, or not sufficiently definite for doctrinal statements, we must reject them.

3. What does Scripture put in the place of a regularly ordained clergy, taking charge of all ministry and worship? The Holy Ghost. He it is who dwells in the Church, His temple (1 Cor. 3:16), who teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:9-16) , who leads our prayers (Rom. 8:26, 27; Jude 20), and praises (1 Cor. 14:15). If He use instruments it is never by virtue of any office they may have: He is not confined to any one man. "All these [various gifts] worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will" (1 Cor. 12:11). We will enter more fully upon this when we come to consider the subject of worship. We would here, however, seek to press upon every conscience the immense importance of the presence of the Holy Ghost, the presence personally and immediately of a Divine Person who has absolute authority and control, whose delight it is to minister the things of Christ to His beloved people, to unfold the Scriptures, to quicken the spirit of prayer and praise, to press upon us the importance of doing all things "decently and in order." Baptism will not be neglected; the Lord's Supper will have a place and a meaning it never had before; discipline will be administered; the graces of liberality to those in need, and fellowship in the gospel and the Lord's servants will abound if He is unhindered, unquenched.

Does this seem like begging the question? It is God's answer to the needs of His Church. He knew we would fall into utter confusion, that we would multiply machinery, that we would resort to every expedient which the ingenuity of man could suggest — all in vain, save to show our helplessness, so He gave us the Holy Spirit. Rome claims the Pope as Christ's vicar on earth, with absolute power of control and direction. This pretension Protestantism rightly rejects, but fails to see the true Vicar of Christ, "whom the Father will send in my name" (John 14:26) , and therefore lays itself open to the taunt of Rome for its independency and rationalism. If we grasp this truth of the Spirit's presence we have reached an answer as to what is the teaching of Scripture regarding the organization of the Church; and we might put that answer in the form of a definition: "The obedient recognition of the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit, gathering believers to the name of the Lord Jesus, subjecting them to the word of God, and taking entire control of worship, ministry, and discipline." In the proper place we will enlarge upon the various features we have pointed out: at present we would call attention to the simplicity and yet sufficiency of this organization. Is anything lacking? Will contingencies arise not provided for? Impossible! The name of Christ; the presence of the Holy Spirit; the word of God to guide. Thus organized a company of believers is ready for any duty or privilege; and no emergency can arise that will call for any new machinery. The Holy Spirit is all-sufficient.

Let us dwell upon this. The distinctive characteristic of the Christian dispensation is the personal and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Faith is shown by counting on this presence. Human organizations, no matter how wisely effected and administered, are a hindrance to the manifestation of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We know this is not believed by many conscientious Christians, but we appeal to Scripture for justification, and entreat them to consent to God's order, reminding them too of their responsibility so to do.