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NEW SERIES, VOLUME:VIII. -
PUBLISHED BY T. MASON AND G. LANE,
J. Collord, Printer.
For thc Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review. ART. I.--GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN
THE APOSTOLIC AGE.
Whether there are three distinct orders of clergy, viz., bishops, presbyters or elders, and deacons, in the Church of Christ, or not, has been a subject of much controversy, ever since the reformation from Popery. The members of the Church of Rome have contended that these three orders have existed ever since the days of the apostles. To the bishops they ascribe the prerogatives of conferring ordination, and of jurisdiction, not only over the laity, but the other grades of the clergy. With this they connect their doctrine of succession from the apostles, by which they maintain that they can trace, in an unbroken line, all their bishops to the apostles in general, and to St. Peter in particular; that they only are the properly authorized ministers of Christ, and their Church the only true Church; that without this succession of bishops, which they say belongs not to Protestantism, there is no properly constituted nor authorized ministry, no valid ordinances; in short, no Church, no salvation.
The Church of England, in Britain, and the Protestant Episcopal Church, in America, claim apostolic uninterrupted succession through Rome, so as to exclude altogether the different Presby. terian Churches, both of Europe and this country, from being true Churches of Christ, or having either true ministers or valid ordi
And so far do some of them go as to declare that all Presbyterians, all Non-episcopal Churches, and Churches Nonepiscopal in their sense of episcopacy, have no hope of salvation, except in the uncovenanted mercies of God. The Methodist Episcopal Church, of course, must share the same fate, as her ordination is founded on the principle that the body of elders have the authority of ordaining vested in them, and consequently their ordination may properly enough be denominated presbyterial.
With our Presbyterian brethren we have little or no controversy on this point, as we and they mutually acknowledge the validity of each other's ministry, and the efficacy of each other's ordinances.
VOL. VIII.--January, 1837. 1
With Roman Catholics, the Church of England, or the Protestant Episcopal Church, we have no controversy as Episcopalians, properly so called, for we ourselves are Episcopalians, and of a sounder and more scriptural character; as we shall in the sequel endeavor to prove from Scripture and antiquity. We only contend against their high church and popish principles. We oppose only their exclusive claims, by which they unchurch every religious society on earth, except such as are episcopal in their sense of episcopacy.
We ought, however, in passing, to remark that all of them, (except the Roman Catholics,) are not equally rigid on this point. Some, both of the English and Protestant Episcopal Churches, will grant that other Churches than Episcopal are true Churches of Christ. Others of them maintain that their kind of episcopacy alone is of Divine right, and is the apostolic plan; but they are far from excluding other Churches that differ from them in church government from the character of true Churches. The third class do exclude from the character of true, all Churches not episcopal in their sense of the term. But though these various classes are to be found in the Churches alluded to, yet their doctrines and practice, as Churches, is to exclude from the list of true Churches the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregational Churches. Their reordaining ministers of these Churches who join their communion, and their refusing to commune or hold ecclesiastical intercourse with them, prove that they exclude these from the number of true Churches. From the Romish, English, and Protestant Episcopal Church, as claiming and practising the doctrine of exclusion, we must differ. Were they content simply to prefer their own ecclesiastical polity and usages—when these views left other Churches in possession of their just claims to our common Christianity-we would pass them by in silence. But when they attempt to unchurch other Churches of Christ, and throw them, as they do heathens, on the uncovenanted mercies of God, it is full time we would speak out and show that if the true scriptural apostolical succession be not found in the Methodist Episcopal Church, it is hopeless to look for it in the pale of those Churches who lay exclusive claims to its possession.
We maintain that these claims are too lofty, and that the principles on which they are founded, if carried out to their legitimate results, and not counteracted by sounder doctrines, are hostile to Christianity itself. The writer of this article would pass over these high pretences in silence, did he not think the simple are led astray by ideas which differ little from the old Jewish one of succession from Abraham. An examination into the government of the Church of Christ will therefore be important, that we may know whether the things in which we have been instructed are true or false.
That this subject may be clearly brought before us, we will consider the government of the Church: 1. As exhibited in the New Testament, and as it existed during the lives of the apostles. 2. In the age immediately succeeding the apostles, and as it is exhibited in the writings of the apostolic fathers. 3. As it existed in the second and third centuries, and as far as the time of Constantine the Great. 4. And finally, as it existed after the time of Constan