Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

themselves on the Cyprianic ground. The “historic episcopate" depends on Christ as its only head, and owns his supremacy only. It is precisely what Calvin demands in the place of the papal vicariate to which the Western bishops had degraded themselves in his day. Alas! that amid the disorders of the times the restoration of such an episcopate was too readily despaired of. The Calvinists of the synod of Dort recognized this misfortune, speaking of the Anglican bishops, and lamenting that their own Church had not been “so blessed” as to retain their order. And never let it be forgotten that Baxter* and the Presbyterians of England asserted that their position did not bind them to oppose episcopacy, but only the exclusion of presbyters from a synodical share in church government. This Cyprian himself would have approved, for he goes further, and includes lay-assistants —omni plebe adstante.

Thus, I have discussed the idea in its element, deprived of questions that might encumber it. For these there will be room should it ever lead to the consideration of details. The identity and continuity of the episcopate, in conformity with the Nicene constitution, should be candidly studied as a separate question.

But enough for the present to conclude with what the Presbyterians said to Charles II. in A. D. 1661 : “We are induced to insist upon the form of synodical government conjunct with a fixed presidency or episcopacy ... it being agreeable to the Scriptures, and the primitive government; likeliest to be the way to a more universal concord, if ever the churches on earth arrive at such a blessing.” #

* On Church Government, part iii, chap. i, p. 274, in which he maintains "An episcopacy desirable for the reformation, preservation, and peace of the churches." Leighton's Works, p. 637, Edinburgh, 1840.

+ Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V, epistle xiii, p. 294. Elucidation, iv, p. 411.

# See Archbishop Leighton's Works; quoted from "Two papers presented to His Majesty by the Reverend Ministers of the Presbyterian persuasion in London, 1661."

a Clelaware

THE RELATION OF THE PRESBYTERIAN PRINCIPLE TO THE

HISTORIC EPISCOPATE.

The Presbyterian principle is usually summed up in the three propositions of the rights of the people, the parity of the min. istry, and the unity of the Church. More largely stated, that is to say Presbyterianism holds that, (1.) The visible Church of Christ consists of all those who profess the true religion (together with their children); and that it is in the Church as a whole, not in any part of or class in it, that the continuity, life, and all the functions of the Church subsist and all Church power radically vests, and by it that all Church powers ultimately are exercised : (2.) To this Church Christ has given a ministry for its instruction, government and administration, which, by apostolic appointment, consists fundamentally, in each local church, of a body of presbyters with their helpers the deacons; but normally, by a differentiation of function which we believe to have apostolic sanction, of a “bishop” (or "pastor," or " teaching elder,”) standing as primus inter pares at the head of a board of presbyters, together with the helping deacons : (3.) The visible Church is universal, and ought to realize its catholicity in a visible unity; and it is most in accordance with the principles involved in the institutions prescribed by the Scriptures that its unity should be given visible expression through representative courts constituted of the equal presbyters of the several congregations, through which the universal Church exercises its governing powers and each part is subordinated to the whole. This conception of the constitution of the Church comes into contact with the prelatic theory at very many points. There is much that the two have in common; and there is much, and much that is fundamental, in which they are at variance. Among these differences the question of the “historic episcopate ” takes by no means the chief place. The insertion of it, however, among the unchangeable marks of the true Church in the somewhat remarkable proposals for “ home reunion” issued by the American bishops in 1886 and repeated by the Lambeth Conference of 1888, gives it temporary importance, and forces us to take into careful renewed consideration the relation of the Presbyterian principle to this item of the prelatic theory.

So approaching the subject, we may outline the Presbyterian position toward the “historic episcopate” in the following propositions.

1. The “ Presbyterian principle” is irreconcilably out of harmony with the theory that the “historic episcopate” is essential to the being of the Church. With the whole conception of what is commonly known as the High Church theory, the theory according to which episcopacy is not only a lawful method but the only lawful method of Church organization, and without a distinct order of “bishops” a Church ceases to be a Church--is without ordination, without a valid ministry, without valid administration of the Lord's supper, without the covenanted promise of blessingthe Presbyterian conception of the Church stands in fundamental opposition. It denies that the continuity and life of the Church and the fulfillment of God's covenanted promises have been conditioned upon the perpetuation of any external form of organization, and much more that God has suspended the continuance of saving ordinances in the world upon the unbroken preservation of what has been justly called “ the mere ligature of succession,” that is, the scrupulous performance of the rite of ordination. According to the Presbyterian principle, as according to the whole body of the Protestant confessions (including the Articles of the Church of England) and the earliest fathers, the criterion of the true Church is “the word and the sacraments," or, more simply still, “the word,” that is, the profession of the true religion. It heartily adopts the definition of Irenæus, that “where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace;” and it asserts, with all the emphasis of a profound conviction, that it is this Church-the "congregation of faithful men”—which the Scriptures call “ the pillar and ground of the truth," to which all the promises are given, in which all powers inhere, and upon which all graces creating offices are poured out from on high. If the invitation of the American bishops to the Church at large to accept the “historic episcopate” means to imply that episcopacy as a form of government is of the essence of the Church, Presbyterians are bound to look upon it as a schismatic proposition with which they can have no dealings. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we observe a tendency among High

Churchmen of adequate learning and historical sense to abate somewhat the extremity of this position. “No one,” says Mr. Charles Gore in his in many respects admirable treatise on The Church and the Ministry (p. 344) : No one, of whatever part of the Church, can maintain that the existence of what may be called, for lack of a distinctive term, monepiscopacy, is essential to the continuity of the Church. Such monepiscopacy may be the best mode; it may most aptly symbolize the divine monarchy; it may have all spiritual expediency, and historical precedent on its side; nay, more, it may be of apostolic institution: but nobody could maintain that the continuity of the Church would be broken it in any given diocese all the presbyters were consecrated to the episcopal office, and governed as a co-ordinate college of bishops. We submit that it is then an inconsistency for Mr. Gore to invalidate Presbyterian orders, as he does, and that solely on an unscriptural and unprimitive over-estimation of the “ mere ligature of succession."

2. The truth of history prevents Presbyterians froin allowing that the “ historic episcopate ” is an apostolic or priinitive institution. Here, no doubt, it is necessary to define somewhat closely what we mean by the “historic episcopate.” Presbyterians also believe in and possess an “ historic episcopate,” the apostolicity and primitiveness of which they are ready to defend, and the members of the same communion with Bishop Lightfoot ought to be the last to deny. But the primitive parochial episcopate already possessed by Presbyterianism, the apostolic authorization of which has been so admirably re-argued by Dr. Lightfoot, is certainly not what is intended by the “historic episcopate” which the American bishops ask the Presbyterians to adopt. But to ask us to-day to allow that the episcopate, in any other sense than is illustrated by the Presbyterian pastor ruling over the local church as primus among his equal presbyters, is “a part of the sacred deposit of Christian faith and order committed by Christ and his apostles to the Church,” is to ask us to affirm what the well-nigh universal consensus of competent scholarship pronounces to be against historical verity. No result of biblical exegesis is more certain than that the New Testament knows nothing of an episcopate separate from the presbytery which governed every organized Church. No result of the critical study of primitive Christianity is more sure, or more universally recognized among competent scholars of all schools, than that the episcopate rose out of the presbyterate, and only gradually acquired powers and extension until it became, in the third century, the superior and diocesan “historical episcopate” that we are now asked to adopt as part of “the deposit committed by Christ and his apostles to the Church.” What is confessed scarcely needs arguing; let us observe, then, that the best scholarship among the prelatists abandons the New Testament field, and appeals to the right of long prescription. Thus Dr. Sanday genially writes :

Our confessional differences represent not conflicting and irreconcilable conceptions of the original constitution of the Church, but only successive stages in the growth of that constitntion. The Church passed through a Congregational stage, and (if we exclude the activity of the apostles as exceptional) it also passed throngh a Presbyterian stage. If any one wishes to single out these stages, and to model the society to which he belongs upon them, he is zealous for a pure and primitive polity; he clings to the Bible, and what he finds in the Bible ; he will not allow himself to wander far from that ideal which he thinks that Christ and his apostles have left him. Can we condemn him for this? Shall we not rather say, ευδοκιμείτω και επί τούτω ? Nor yet need that prevent us from thinking that we have a “ more excellent way” of our own. We do not think it right to limit the promises and their working to a single generation. The whole Christain world was in a state of movement which did not cease with the death of the last apostle. The impulse once given to it was too strong to spend its strength so soon. I cannot myself think that fifty years, or even a hundred

years more or less, in the date in which an institution became fixed, makes so vital a difference in its character. The cold eye of science may look at these things and point out the causes that were in operation. Those causes were the fruit of human experience, groping its way toward the means best adapted to its end—the preservation and due transmission of the word. Even science will probably decide that there has been a “survival of the fittest;" that under the circumstances of those times a better constitution could not easily have been devised.*

3. Presbyterians cannot allow that the "historic episcopate” is essential to the well-being of the Church, or even that it is the best or the natural form of church government. They hold that the proof that our Lord and his apostles did not insti

* The Expositor, November, 1988, pp. 335, 336. Compare, also, Plummer's The Pastoral Epistles, p. 107; Stanton's Lectures on Church Doctrines, series iii, pp. 16, 17, and Gore's The Church and the Ministry, pp. 269, 270.

« PredošláPokračovať »