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.
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CHAP. IV. The Order of Electing all th•…se Councils; with Consideration of the Time of their dura∣tion, and of the Times and Place of Meeting.

I. THe Election of the First Council is severally per∣formed in euery particular Church combined in 〈◊〉 Society; wherein there seldome is any variety of choice, and therefore no difficulty in the action: So that it may be performed either by Lifting up of Hands, or by a Silent Vote, when their Silence is the sign of their Concur∣rence.

I•… there be two Teaching Elders, the Church may send them •…oth, if they see good, as Antioch sent Paul and 〈◊〉, who were two Teaching Elders of that Church, Acts▪ 13. •…. And according to the number of Teaching El∣ders, whom they send, the like number of Ruling Elders, or 〈◊〉 Brethren▪ they are to send, and astociate with them.

II. This act of the Churches Election must be diligently, religiou•…y and sol•…nly attended and performed, a•… being 〈◊〉 and esse•…tially requisite, both for the Consti∣tution of all Councils, and for the Obligation of all Chur∣ches unto obedience▪

This act of the Church hath reference▪ not onely to the Constitution of the first Council, but also of all the rest. For 〈◊〉▪ Churches are the Efficient Causes of Council•…▪ none are to be chosen 〈◊〉 a Prouincial, National, or Oecume∣nical Synod, but such as were first chosen by some particular 〈◊〉 to 〈◊◊〉 a first〈◊〉▪ and •…o 〈◊〉 on the 〈◊〉 of 〈◊〉〈◊〉 to order.

Hence 〈◊〉 it must be carefully and expressedly put into th•…〈◊◊〉〈◊◊〉 of the Churches Election. That 〈◊〉 are chosen 〈◊◊〉 on the Ordinance of 〈◊〉 in all the Orders of it, both in Provincial, National, and Oecu•…e▪ 〈◊◊〉 even unto th•… highest point: for though all Page  19 that are th•…s elected and sent by the Churches; are not to be elected and sent to Provincial, National, and Oecumenical Councils, yet some of them are to be sent, and all of them are to elect and send. And therefore when the Church doth elect and send them to this first Council, they are, by this act of the Church, impowered to carry on the Ordi∣nance of Counsel, through all the Orders thereof, ev•…n to the top branch, either by electing others, or being •…ected themselves, unto those services of Christ, and of the •…∣ches.

III. The Time of this Election, is to be upon the Sab∣bath immediately preceding the stated time of the first Coun∣cils▪ Monethly Meeting: and then are they to be sent forth with the Prayers and Blessing of the Church.

IV. The Provincial Council doth consist of the choycest Instruments in all the first Councils, by whom they are cho∣sen and sent with their Prayers and Blessing: Every first Council electing the most holy, learned, and able Elders, both Teaching and Ruling, tha•… they have, who are most fit to promote and attain the end•… they are sent for, viz. so carry on the Ordinance of Counsel in a Provincial Synod, both by themselves, and by chusing such as may further promote the same in a National Council, &c.

V. The Time of this Election, is to be in that Session of the first Councils, which doth immediately precede the stated Quarterly time of the Provincial Councils Meet∣ing.

VI. The Order and Manner of this Election may be this: The Moderator of that Session may first put this to vote, whe∣ther they will send bu•… one▪ or more then one Teaching Elders▪ for by the good Providence and rich Grace of Christ▪ there may be s•…ndry able and eminent Lights in one first Council, and such, as that it were a publick injury and detriment to the Cause of Christ, if they be not sent. This provided, That according to the Number of Teaching Elders, a like Num∣ber of Ruling Elders be also sent with them.

The Manner of Election may be by Papers, if they see meet; which the Moderator and Notary are to take, and number, and manifest who are chosen: and such as are chosen, are by the Notary to be recorded.

VII. The National Council doth consist of the most choice, •…oly, able, and eminent Lights in all the Provincial Councils, by whom they are chosen, and sent forth with their prayers and blessing.

Page  20Every Provincial Council chusing the most holy and able Elders, both Teaching and Ruling, that they have among them, to constitute a National Council, and to carry on the Ordinance of Counsel, in that high and holy service of Christ, and of all the Churches in the Nation; ye•… and among other Nations if need be, and when there is a calling thereunto.

VIII. The Time of this Election, is to be in that Session of the Provincial Councils, which doth immediately pre∣cede the stated time of the Annual Session of the National Council.

The Order and Manner of their Election, may be in all respects according to the forementioned Election in the Provincial Synod.

IX. An Oecumenical Council, is to consist of the most holy and eminent Lights in all the National Councils, combined in this holy Ordinance of Mutual Counsel; and may readily be ordered by this standard, when the Lord shall in the riches of his grace, give opportunity to exercise the same.

Touching the Duration of these Councils.

X. Every one of these Councils doth continue in being, until, according to Order, a new Election be made; the new Election doth antiquate the old.

Hence, as the Primitive Church had Apostles alwayes in being, for their help; So there be at least three Orders of Ecclesiastical Councils, ever in being in every populous Christian Nation, who must at the stated Times, and may at any •…it time meet, when the affairs of Christ, and of any of the Churches do need, and duely call for the same.

And when Christian Nations shall be thus combined, there will be an Oecumenical Council ever in being: yea, and when all the World shall be combined, there will be a great Oecumenical Council ever in being▪ to order all ecclesiastical affaires, in unity, holiness and peace, all the World over.

XI. A principal objection ariseth against this fixing and stating of Councils; viz. That although pro-renascent Coun∣cils are a divine▪ remedy, when troubles arise, as it was at Antioch, who also then finished the Council, when the present work was finished: but of fixed, stated, and permanent Coun∣cils we have no example, nor doth there appear any ground i•… Scripture to bottom them upon.

Ans. The Primitive Churches had a stated and perm•…nent way of counsel eminently, and more then our stated and per∣manent Councils can be, for they had the Apostles and Evan∣gelists constantly among them.

Page  21And though they had fixed Elders in every Church, yet they did need the visitations, and frequently made use of the counsel of the Apostles and Evangelists, who were the permanent Councils of the Primitive Churches.

And though it hath pleased the wisdome of our great Lawgiver, to give us but one Example of an ordinary Coun∣cil, and that he hath done, to be our perpetual guide in our ordinary way; yet there be many examples of the Churches need of, and frequent use of the Apostles and Evangelists counsel, whom they had alwayes with them, or knew when and where to repair unto them for their help.

And we finde by much and long experience, that our Re∣forming Churches do stand in as much (if not more) need of constant and stated Councils, as the primitive Churches did▪ of the constant presence of the Apostles and Evangelists, alwayes for their directive, and often for their corrective •…elp.

We finde by experience, that our Churches do oftener need the directive help of Councils, then the corrective, and in both respects together we need them to be always in being.

Many good works for the promotion of the Gospel and Kingdom of Jesus Christ do stick long in the birth, and languish: yea, oft miscarry and vanish for want of the help of Councils.

Sundry Churches also, and remote places, ly long in the dark, without food and help, for want of the orderly care of setled Councils; Every bodies work is no-bodies. But when all Churches are in order, all know where their work lyeth.

Disorders likewise, and insuperable distempers, by long •…retting and burning in the bosom of sundry Churches, to the great dishonour of God, and scandal to the Saints, for want of stated Councils: some or other refusing (in the time of their temptations) to submit themselves unto the remedy, especially having that advantage, that without their consent, a pro-renascent Council may not be called; or if called by some onely, they have the less opportunity of doing good, and are in the more danger of doing hurt.

Nor can it be said that there is no example nor ground of stated and permanent Councils in the holy Scriptures, seeing the Apostles and Evangelists were so, and more, unto the Primitive Churches.

Hence also it was enough to give us one p•…tern of an or∣dinary Council, there was no need for the continuation Page  22 thereof, whilst the Apostles and Evangelists did survive.

Object. But doth not this strengthen the Argument for Bishops, and such like Superintendents over the Churches? for so they a gue.

Ans. Were there a like example in an ordinary way, set down in Scripture, for this work to be done by any one Man not extraordinarily called, as there is for a Council, then their Argument would have force with it; but such •…pattern, or precept for it, is not to be found. And the way of Councils, (which is clearly instituted) is sufficient to attain the end, as we have found by pracious and pienteous experience: though we are still defective, in that we have not our Councils stated, and we do finde great inconvenience by reason of that defect.

XII. These Councils, in the time of their duration, may multiply or cut short their Sessions, as need may require, according as the business of the Churches, and affairs of Christ may be more or less pressing and urgent.

XIII. There be two sorts of their Meetings,

  • Sta•…ed▪
  • Occasional.

The stated Meetings of the first Councils are every Moneth▪ and what if it should be on the •…irst Third day of the week, in every month, through the year?

The stated meeting of the Provincial Councils, are once every quarter: and what if two of them be the first Third day after the Sun touches the middle point of the summer and winter Solstices? And the other two, the first Third day after the Sun is in the Vernal and Autumnal Equin•…ial▪ With this consideration, that if the Sun touch any of these points upon the Third day of the week, then that is the day of meeting; if on any other day, then the Third day after.

The stated meeting of the National Council, is once a Year, and best in the Spring: and what if it be the last Third day of the First Moneth called March?

XIV. The Law of the Constitution doth call all these Councils to meet at the stated times, without any other order or appointment.

XV. It is very requisite that some eminent man preach a publick Lecture, on the day of the meeting of every Council, •…o draw many Saints together, and to raise a strong breath of Prayer, and to put the greater Solemnity upon so holy a work.

XVI. Occasional Meetings may be multiplied either by Page  23 intricacy of Cases, Variety of Opinions, Troublesomeness of Persons, Danger of Churches, Gross Scandals that can∣not proceed to Censure, because of some obstruction, with∣out the help of Counsel.

Such Occasional Meetings▪ if foreseen, may be appointed by the Council before they rise; if not foreseen, then they must be called by the Moderator then in being, and the No∣tary, by Letters under either of their hands, where distance of place requireth it.

XVII. The place of Meeting for these Councils, and especially of the first Councils is not to be limited, or tyed to any one place, because there be sundry Considerations about the place, whereof one may be prevalent at one time, and another time another: Sometimes the age, and unfitness for Travel of some eminently useful person; sometimes the common conveniency for all: Sometimes it may edifie to meet in that Church where the chief Trouble may at the present be, ard yet this not alwayes so, because the trou∣bles of Antioch were heard and setled at Ierusalem, where the best and ablest Counsel was to be had, with the least trouble and inconveniency unto any.