Church-Assemblies and the power of censures.
THere are Assemblies in our Church, as were in the A∣postolick Church, Act. 1. 15, 16. Act 6. 2, 3, 4. Act. 11. 1, 2, 3. Act. 15. 6, 7, 8. &c. They handle only matters meerly ecclesiasticall, what is scandalous, and what may edifie, Mat. 18. 18, 19, 20. 1 Cor. 5. 5, 6. but no things ci∣vill which belong to the civill Magistrate, Luk. 22. 25, 26, 27. Luk. 12, 13, 14, 15. Rom. 13. 4, 5, 6. compared with Rom. 12. 6, 7, 8.
Assemblies in our Church are of foure sorts. 1. Sessi∣ons of every particular Congregation who hath power of discipline in things belonging to themselves, such as is to rebuke publickly these who sinne publickly, as 1 Tim. 5. 20. to admit or not admit to the Sacrament, to order de∣cently the publick worship, 1 Cor. 11. 20, 21. 1 Cor. 14. 33, 40. Tit. 1. 5. Hence there was an Eldership ordained in every Church, Act. 4. 23. Also seeing every particular Congregation is a visible ministeriall Church, having power of the Keyes in preaching the Word, though they be but a small number, as two or three assembled in Christs name, Mat. 18. yet have they a promise of Christ, of his presence for binding and loosing, Mat. 18. 18, 19, 20. in things which belong to themselves.
The second Assembly is a Classis of many Pastors and El∣ders from sundry congregations who have power of ex∣communication, Page 321 in respect that the person excommunica∣ted doth keep company with many consociated Churches, and so as a leaven may infect many, 1 Cor. 5. 4. Mat. 26, 59. Joh. 11. 47. Act. 20. 17, 18. and for this cause one Pastor of a single Congregation not being able to ordaine a Pastor (because it wanteth example in the Word of God) therefore a Colledge of Presbyters, or a Presbytery of Pa∣stors and Elders, who have power larger then a Session, e∣ven to excommunicate and ordaine Pastors is necessary in the Church, which ordaineth Timothy to be a Pastor, and so may deprive and excommunicate him, 1 Tim. 4. 14. Act. 20. 17, 18, 28, 29. These are to assemble together, and to prophecy two or three by course, and others sitting by are to judge, that every mans gifts may be tryed by the Pres∣bytery and the Church edified, 1 Cor. 14. 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32. and howbeit these Prophets were extraordinarily gifted, yet their preaching by courses and the authoritative trying and judging of the gifts of the Prophets and Pa∣stors cannot be extraordinary, for if that were extraordi∣nary and temporary, there should be now in the Church no Colledge of Pastors who are to try the Pastors, that they lay not hands on them suddenly, 1 Tim 5. 22. and are to take care to commit the Gospell to faithfull men who are able to teach others, 2 Tim. 2. •. Tit. 1. 5, •. therfore is this Pres∣bytery in our Church, 1 Tim. 4. 14.
The third Assembly is the meeting of many Pastors of a Province, or a greater number of Congregations, who handle matters of discipline which concerne the whole Province, and many moe Congregations, which differeth not from the Presbytery, but that it is a greater Presbyte∣ry containing moe Pastors and Elders: so we thinke, be∣cause there were many Pastors and Elders at Jerusalem then at Corinth, therfore the meeting of Pastors and El∣ders of Jerusalem and the Churches about, Act. 21. 18, 19. was a Provinciall Assembly, so the meeting of the Elders of Ephesus, being more then an ordinary Presbytery, be∣cause of the multitude of that Church, Act. 19. was of the nature of a Provinciall Assembly, or a greater Presby∣tery, Act. 20. 17, 18.
Page 322 The fourth Assembly is a generall Assembly of many Provincef, and is a cleare warrant of our Nationall Assem∣bly, as Act. 1. 15. where the eleven Apostles were, Act. 6. 2. where the twelve Apostles were, and Act. 15. where Jerusalem, Antioch, Syria, and Sylicia are met in their principall guides, Apostles, Brethren, Elders: with us the King or his Commissioner is present, as in the Natio∣nall Assembly of the Jews, was King David, 1 Chron. 13. 1, 2. Asa, 2 Chron. 15. 9. Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29. 4 Josiah 2 Chron. 34 29 for the King beareth the Sword, and is there as a politick President, and nursing Father, Esa. 49. 23. Rom. 13. 4. The members of the Councell are Pastors, Doctors, Elders, as Act. 15. 23. sent by the Churches for that effect, Act. 15. 2, 3. All the Churches have place to speake, propound and reason in an orderly way, as there the multitude spake, v. 12, 13. but none have decisive voices save only Commissioners, as Apostles and Elders, Act. 15. v. 2, 6. Ch. 16. 4. Ch. 21. 25. The acts of the Assembly oblige all the absents, not present in all their members, as v. 23 24, 28. Act. 16. 4. ch. 21. 25. not because of the authority of the Church, but because of the matter which is necessary and agreeable to Gods word, as Act. 15. 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. In this Assembly a Moderator is chosen, who ordereth, propoundeth, and gathereth the voices, as Acts 15. either James or Peter. Silence is kept that one onely speake at once, as v. 7. first Peter, after him Barnabas and Paul, v. 12. after them James, v. 13. and these who speake are to speake to the Assembly or Moderator, not to parties, as v. 13. Men and brethren. Also a Clerke is chosen who wri∣teth the acts of the Assembly, as v. 23. they wrote letters after this manner. The Commissioners carry home from the Scribe of the Assembly, the decrees of the Pastors and Elders to be observed by them, as Act. 16. 4. Christian prudency and natures light teacheth the time and place for the next Assembly to be appointed most conveniently, for the •ase of all the Churches.
Where matters are difficile to inferiour Assemblies, and parties wronged, and there is no small dissension, then Page 323 references and appeales are made to the greater Assem∣blies, and they determine that Paul and Barnabas, or A. B. and S. •. goe to Jerusalem, or the place of the next Assembly to the Pastors and Elders about this question, as 1, 2.
All our inferiour Assemblies have brotherly correspon∣dence by mutuall advise and counsell one with another, but none have authoritative power over another, as 1 Cor. 16. 1, 2, 3, 4. 2 Cor. 8. 1, 2, 3. Col. 4. 17. By reason of our Assemblies, no man though most eminent in gifts, piety, or authority, may play the Diotrephes, 3 John v. 10. or hath power to cast out the brethren out of the Church.
2. By Assemblies order of gifts, and subordination of the part to the whole is maintained, as Antioch is inferiour to both Antioch, Jerusalem, Syria, and Cilicia convened in a Synod, Acts 15. v. 23. compared with 28. Acts 6. both the Church of the Hebrewes, and the Church of the Grecians are subject to a Synod of Apostles and Disciples, v. 2. and Peter a pillar of the Church, and Paul inferiour to none of the greatest Apostles, are subject to Synods, Acts 11. 1, 2, 3. Acts 21. 19, 20, 21, &c.
3. By Assemblies, schismes, dissentions, Acts 15. 2 and errors or heresies subverting the soules of these of parti∣cular Churches, Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, ver. 23, 24. are removed out of the Church, and unity preserved. In keeping of the Decrees of Assemblies particular Churches doe well, v. 28. and so are the Churches established in the faith, and increase in number daily, Acts 16. 4, 5. and Re∣ligion is restored to it's purity, and the Land enters into Co∣venant to seeke the Lord God of their Father, and rejoyce at the oath, and seeke the Lord with their whole desire, and he is found of them, 2 Chron. 15. 12, 13, 14, 15. and this have we found, So long as we were as Judah, who ruled with God, and was faithfull with the Saints, Hos. 11. v. 12. and went not to Gilgal, nor up to Beth-aven, Hos 4. 15.
In Church-censures, we proceed thus: In private faults if a brother offend a brother, he is admonished alone by the offended; If that gaine him not, he is admoni∣shed before two or three; If that prevaile not, the mat∣ter Page 324 is brought before the Church, which hath power of the keyes; If he obey not the Church, he is excommu∣nicated, Mat. 18. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. in more hainous and publike faults the scandalous person is not so dealt with; but where the fault is grosse and hainous, the of∣fender more quickly is delivered to Satan, as 1 Cor. 5. 4. 1 Tim. 1. 19, 20. Where obstin•cy and wilfull impeni∣tencie is added to lesser scandals, the offender is excom∣municated, as 1 Thes. 3. 14. yet with great meeknesse and longanimity; for he is three Lords dayes publikely admonished, and three Lords dayes publikely prayed for, as this gentlenesse is required in the Lords servants, 2 Tim. 24, 25 before they cut off any, 1 Cor 4. 21. The cen∣sures publike of the Churches are rebukes in publike as Paul requireth, 1 Tim. 5. 20. and that the rebuke may be publike, and the rebuked may make publike confes∣sion before the offended Congregation: He standeth in a publike place, which we call the stoole or pillar of repentance, which hath both a warrant by natures light, which requireth that he who speaketh to a multitude should stand in a place where all may commodious•y heare to whom he speaketh, as Judg. 9. 7. Deut 27. 12, 13. And also in Scripture, by Salomons example, who on a scaffold spake to the people, 1 Chron. 14. 30. and the practise of Ezra, who read to the people the booke of the Law in a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose, Nehem. 8. 4. which also is a warrant for a pulpit.
2. To this publike rebuking, there is a second censure adjoyned, which is a debarring of the offender from the Lords Supper, 1 Cor. 11. 28. which is our lesser excom∣munication.
3. Our third censure is the greater excommunication, which is done by the whole Congregation, as all other censures, but divers wayes by the Presbytery or Elder∣ship judicially and authoritatively, by Paul his pastorall spirit, 1 Cor. 5. 4. the Minister in the Churches name pronouncing the sentence, 1 Tim. 1. 20. and and by the people, 1. consenting and approving, 1 Cor. 5. 4, 5, 6. Page 325 2. Mourning and being humbled at the sinne, 1 Cor. 5. 2. 3. Abstaining from all brotherly fellowship and fami∣liarity with him, 1 Cor. 10. 11, 12. except where the law of nature require duties of us, as the sonne to the excommunicated father owes love and honour, and con∣versing with him, Exod. 20. 12. For a commandement naturall and simply morall obligeth more, and in the roome before the positive and lesser commandement, as Hos. 6. 6. Mat. 12. 3, 4, 5, 6. yet is the excommunicated excluded onely from the publike prayers and seales of the Covenant, not from private prayers and hearing of the word, 1 Thes. 3. 15. For the Church intendeth in that censure the saving of his spirit in the day of the Lord, 1 Cor. 5. 5. and the hearing of the word is that neces∣sary meane of salvation, Rom. 1. 16. 1 Cor. 1. 18, 21. Rom. 10. 17. 1 Pet. 1. 23. The contrary order not unlike to this is kept in confirming authoritatively the Churches love to the excommunicated person being penitent, and in pardoning and forgiving him when he heartily sor∣roweth for his sin, 2 Cor. 2. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. From this cen∣sure no member of our Church is exempted; yea a scan∣dalous Pastor is by the Presbytery deprived and excom∣municated, as he was ordained by them, 1 Tim 4. 14. 2 Tim. 2. 14. and he who hath committed c•ying and hainous sins is scarce ever to be readmitted in the mini∣stery, as being hardly found such an one as is described, 1 Tim. 3. Tit. 1▪ 5, 6, 7. except it be seen to all that he hath obtained mercy in a conspicuous and large measure, as 1 Tim. 1. 13, 14, 15, 16.