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Athanasian Creed, that brandished over Europe the thunders of the Vatican, or that kindled the fires of Smithfield. It may be said, that when Dissenting Churches exclude a heretic from their communion, they deprive him of no civil rights. True: his civil rights are not at their disposal : they deprive him of all that is in their power, the comforts of Christian society. But has not every society a right to make its own laws ? No, not Christian churches : their laws are made for them by their Master; and they cannot legislate without renouncing, virtually, the Christian character. Personal liberty of thought and opinion is essential to a Christian Church.
As many sincere friends of religious liberty do not take this view of the subject, it is expedient to advance some considerations in its proof.
It is very clearly contrasted with the more prevalent notion, by the Rev. H. Taylor, (Ben Mordecai,) in his reply to Gibbon, in a work entitled “ Thoughts on the Grand Apostacy." " Mr. G., speaking of excommunication, says, " It is the undoubted right of every society to exclude from its communion and benefits, such among its members as reject or violate those regulations which have been established by general consent.' Reply. This may be true of civil societies, but gives no right to excommunicate or banish from Christian communion ; because the laws which give a right to such communion, are not regulations established by general consent, but laws established by Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. When the pure and humble religion first gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, the apostles claimed no dominion over the faith of Christians. The Christians of different churches were no otherwise connected with one another, than as they were all connected with Christ their head; all of them were to look up to him, and not only every church was thus independent of any other in matters of faith, but so was every individual, and consequently no one had any power over another in such matters; and they have no more power now than they had at first : I speak of matters of faith, and the right of communion, and the affairs of another world.”
A church means neither more nor less than an assembly, which may be either orderly or tumultuous, stated or accidental. In the New Testament it commonly means an assembly of the disciples of Christ, for the purposes of worship and mutual edification, from which none were excluded but those whose immoral conduct disgraced their profession.
Numerous conversions are recorded. The convert, on professing his belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, became immediately entitled to all the enjoyment and advantage arising from attendance on Christian worship, the Lord's Supper,
and the society, instruction, and friendship, of Christians. This profession was, therefore, the only term of communion. No precept, no fact, can be alleged, to prove that more than this was required.
It is abundantly demonstrated in Locke's “Reasonableness of Christianity,” that this profession alone constituted a Christian. Every Christian was a member, as his abode might change, of every Christian Church. There was no such thing as " admission into a particular churchi, distinct from admission into the general body of believers. The modern practice of refusing such admission, or of defining Christianity, or of making more than being a Christian necessary for Christian fellowship, is altogether without scriptural warrant.
Converts were generally baptized, but not in consequence of the requirement of churches. It was an individual concern, with which they had nothing to do. “ We affirm,” says Robinson, ,56 that baptism is not a church ordinance, that it is not naturally, necessarily, and actually, connected with church fellowship, and, consequently, that the doctrine of initiating into the Christian Church by baptism, is a confused association of ideas, derived from masters whose disciples it is no honour to be. -- Into what church did the disciples of John enter by baptism? Was Jesus Christ admitted a member of a Christian Church by baptism? Or into what church did the eu,
much enter, when Philip alone baptized him in the desert ?-It is remarkable, that this positive law of baptism is not enforced by any penalties, and herein it differs from all other positive institutes. By what right, then, do we affix to the breach of it such a severe penalty as exclusion from church fellowship?" (Works, III. 170—172.) I allude more particularly to this subject, because the Baptists, who hold strict communion, are the only denomination of Christians who can plead for their restriction any thing like scriptural authority.
These converts might be in gross ignorance, or error, on many subjects: the apostles were, when first associated with their Master. But when once a belief in Jesus, as the Messiah, was produced, the rest was left for further instruction; and though a considerable diversity of opinions might remain, yet that diversity was not deemed inconsistent with their claim to the Christian character, and all its privileges.
To this argument from facts, no objection can be raised from directions for pursuing a different course in the more matured state of Christian society. No such directions can be produced. The permanent law of religious association is, “ Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” (Romans xv. 7.) “ Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ?" (Romans xiv. 1, 4.)
Immorality, persisted in, disqualifies for the purposes of religious society; and for this cause, and this alone, the founders of Christian Churches gave them authority to exclude. They have no right to do so on any other pretence whatever. The heretic, (Titus iii. 10,) who was to be rejected « after the first and second admonition,” appears evidently, from the use of that term, the connexion of the passage, and the declaration “ he that is such, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself,” to be, not the conscientious holder of erroneous doctrines, but a partisan, one wishing to form a clan, and raise dissension, and employing means, or pursuing an object, of the wickedness of which he was conscious.
Christians of different opinions are, doubtless, at liberty to associate for the promotion of those opinions, and to exclude from such combinations those who do not think with them. They may unite to recommend Calvinism or Arminianism, Adult Baptism or Pædobaptism, Trinitarianism or Unitarianism; they can then frame what laws they please : but they ought never to identify these associations with Christian Churches, in which they are not authorized teachers, but fellow-disciples; and where they have no right to