Communion of churches, or, The divine management of gospel-churches by the ordinance of councils constituted in order according to the Scriptures as also the way of bringing all Christian parishes to be particular Reforming Congregationall Churches, humbly proposed as ... a means of uniting those two holy and eminent parties the Presbyterians and the Congregationals ...
Eliot, John, 1604-1690.

CHAP. I. Prolegomena; or, Things premised.

I. THere be two holy Publick Societies famous in the Gospel:

  • 1. A Church of Believers.
  • 2. A Council of Churches.

A Church of Believers, is a company of visible Sainte combined together, with one heart, to hold Communion in all the instituted Gospel-worship, Ordinances and Disci∣pline, which Christ hath sitted for, and given unto a parti∣cular Church. Such a Company are frequently called A Church. See a few places: Acts 2. 47, & 11. 26. & 14. 23, 27. 1 Cor. 11. 18, 20, 22, &c.

A Council, is a Society of particular Churches in Com∣munion, by their Representatives, for their well-being, and well-ordering all things among them, by mutual, Coun∣sel, in Truth, Peace, and Holiness. Our Pattern is, that Great Council, Acts 15. which consisted of two Churches, in an ordinary way expresly agreed, to give and take counsel: and it is le•… as a Standard and Pattern, •…ow the great Or∣dinance Page  2 of Counsel is to be used and managed for the well∣being of Churches, to the worlds end.

II. The Constitution of both these Buildings or Socie∣ties, are eminent and observable in the Gospel.

The first of these, viz. A Church of Believers, is first instituted by Christ himself, and afterward put in practice by the Apostles; Matth. 16. 18. Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church The Rock confessed is CHRIST: Christ Confessëd, is the Foundation of the Visible Church Peter confessing, is an hewn stone, squared to the foundation*; a Believer made Ecclesiastically visible, sitted for Church-building and fellowship.

A company of such Confessors, or a company of these confessing Believers,

1. Have power to joyn together into a Gospel Church∣state, as they did Acts 1. 13, 14. Continued with one accord: so Acts 2. 46.

2. They have power to call Officers, by whom they be∣come an Organick Body, and sitted to administer and enjoy all instituted Worship: Acts 1. 15, 23. Peter stood up in the midst of the Disciples; And they appointed two. Acts 6. 3. Brethren, look you out men. Acts 14. 23. By bolding up bands made Elders.

3. By the Ministry of these Officers, the Church doth actually enjoy such Ordinances as are instituted by Christ, for their Edisication;

  • Directive, in Word, Sacraments, Prayer, Singing of Psalms, and Collections: Acts 2. 42. They con∣tinu•…ct stedfastly in the Apostles doctrine, and sel∣lowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Col. 3. 16. Teaching one another in Psalms and Hymns▪ &c.; •…1 Cor. 16. 1, 2. Every first day lay by it self, &c. for 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is the Neuter Gender, as well as Masculine, and is so to be read, be∣cause they had two distinct Collections •…t that time▪ The Collection for Ierusalem was by it self, a publick, not a private Collection.
  • Corrective: 1 Cor. •…5. 425. When gathered together, deliver to Sa•….

III▪ The administration of, and participation in all these Ordi•…ances, (while we are in this flesh, and state militant) are in full of variety of difficulties and temptations, espe∣cially where Churches are numerous, that the work cannot long be carried on (a while it sometimes may, viz. while Page  3 the Churches are under the eye of an adversary, and when there be Elders eminent in Piety, Humility and Ability) without stated help.

The help which the Lord hath instituted, is Counsel.

When Antiech had trouble in some points of Doctrine, the Remedy which the holy Ghost applied, was Counsel▪ given them by a formall Council, Acts 15.

When Corinth wanted help in a point of Discipline, the Apostle doth help, by ministring Counsel unto them, 1 Cor. 5. 3, 4, 5. and he counselleth the Church to Excommunicate the man, the sinner.

Excommunication is a sharp Rod, made up of seven most severe and terrible Twigs; or a strong Purgation, com∣pounded of seven violent Ingredients; viz.

  • 1. He is cut off from visible Communion with Christ in the Church.
  • 2. He is cut off from familiar Communion with the Saints in Worship.
  • 3. He is cast out of the usual walk of the Spirit.
  • 4. He is cast out of the House of God, as unsavoury Salt, or a loathsome thing that doth offend.
  • 5. He is thrust out of the Paradise of God, from eating the Tree of Life, viz. Christ in the Sacrament of the Supper, where the Spirit sitteth as in his Sealing-office.
  • 6. He is cut off from familiar Civil Communion with the Saints; he may not be invited to eat with them.
  • 7. He is delivered to Satan, and that by the Sentence of Christ, through the hand of his Spouse the Church and all this to be inflicted upon a Brother.

Ah! who trembles not to minister such a Pill, to lay on such a Rod? And therefore it had need to be managed and administred with all care, fear, and clearness. And all this sheweth, and much more might be produced to shew, what need there is of Counsel; which, after thirty or forty years experience in the way of Congregational Churches, in fulness of liberty, we finde more and more need to insist upon, and that in such a fixed and ordered way, as that thereby men may be tyed to attend unto Counsel.

IV. A Council is constituted Acts. 15. where the wisdome of the holy Ghost hath given us a Pattern of the least, and of the greatest Councils, as our N. E. Divines have well ob∣served. There cannot be a less Council then that was, for there were but two Churches mentioned; and there cannot be a greater, and more compleat one, because there were Page  4 the greatest Counsellors, a most compleat Pattern, even the Apostles of Jesus Christ; teaching, That if there be but two Churches, they may enjoy the Ordinance of mutuall Counsel, though more incompleatly. But if there he many Churches, then they are to be ordered according to the Pat∣tern of Comblning Churches into compleat Councils. Of which in the next Chapter.

V. Christ, who hath all power, Mat. 28. 20. hath derived all Ecclesiastical Power first unto the Apostles, that they by Institution mi•…ht distribute the same unto several Offices in the Church. Hence▪

As all Church-Officers, especially Elders, and more espe∣cially Teaching Elders, are ordinary Successors of the Apo∣stles, in their several branches of Church power: So Coun∣cils of Churches are their eminent ordinary Successors, in point of Counsel, and that in several respects.

First, Because in Councils there is most light, and nearest to infallibility: and the more compleat, the better; though the most compleat Council may erre, because they have not a promise of infallible assistance.

Secondly, Because when the Apostles themselves had con∣stituted Churches, they did guide and counsel them how to use their power; as Paul did the Church of Corinth, 1 Cor.•…, 4. the Apostle did not act the Censure himself: and so is that of Paul to be interpreted, 1 Tim. 1. 20. I have deli∣vered to Satan; viz. as I did the incestuous Corinthian, by giving such counsel to the Church, whereof they were Members. In thus doing, Councils succeed the Apostles.

VI. Inasmuch as Councils are Publick Assemblies, and that not onely Ecclesiastically publick, but Civilly also, when they are held with openness and boldness. Hence, Civill Authority hath influence, by Law and Command, to give al∣lowance unto such Assemblies; and so they have an Ex∣trinsecall Efficiency in calling Councils: but the Intrinsecall and proper Efficients of a Council, are the Churches, who elect and send Messengers to that end.

VII. The Members constituent of a Council, are Church-Messengers.

The persons sent ought to be Elders, of both Orders, Teaching and Ruling▪ to represent the whole Church; or in defect of Ruling Elders to represent the people, Faithful Brethren▪ eminent in holiness and wisdome, who are as El∣ders: Acts 15. 2. Certain other of them Ver. 22. Chosen men, chief men among, the Brethren. Ver. 32. Being Prophets alsoPage  5themselves. And the reason hereof is, Because, as the tem∣ptation of Learned men, is to affect a Prolacy over the peo∣ple: So the temptation of the Fraternity, is to affect a Morellian Democracy. And therefore the wisdome of God hath by institution ballanced all Ecclesiastical Coun∣cils with Members of both sorts, that may ballance each other, by Number at least, though not in Weight, yet enough to prevent any prevalency of a temptation, either to sub∣jugate the Churches under any Prelatical Usurpation of the Learned; or to elevate and intoxicate the Fraternity, to affect any inordinate power: which rather, and more effe∣ctually te•…ds to enervate and evacuate Government, then to preserve any Lawful and just Liberty of the Brotherhood.

The end of the Churches sending these Messengers, is to manage the Ordinance of Counsel in due order.

VIII. The Organick parts of a Council, whereby they are enabled to manage their affairs in Prudence and Order, are Moderators,•…nd Notaries: the choice of whom is the first act they do, to compleat themselves to be fit for action.

It may sometimes edifie, to change Moderators every new Session, part•…ly to train up each other unto that special work of Christ, in the management of the Affairs, and in caring for the publick welfare of all the Churches; and also to take trial of mens Gifts, Spirit and Abilities unto that high service; that so, when there may be special need, they may know who is most fit to manage the Council at such •… time, for the glory of God, and for the most effectual Edi∣fication, and publick well being of the Churches.

Though Moderators may be often changed, it is not fit: that the Notaries should be so often changed.

IX. The Power of Ecclesiastical Councils is onely Dogma∣tical, or Doctrinal: Power of Censure is by the Lord fixed in the Church; and hence, when any appeal unto a Council, it is for further and more clear light from the Scripture, and for conviction thereby, but not for the Exercise of any Juridical Power.